The God We Worship

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 10C, July 31, 2016, 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: Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 107.1-9, 43; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21.

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

Who is the God you worship? By that, I am not asking if you worship the God of our Christian faith: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three in one and one in three. I am talking instead about the character and nature of God. So, for example, do you worship the God of perpetual anger, one who is always snarky and on the lookout to punish you every time you slip up? Do you worship the God who is a perpetual grandfather, you know, a rather doting old fellow who takes a hands-off approach with us because, well, he’s really chilled out over the years and everything will turn out all right in the end anyway? Or do you worship a God somewhere in between? How we answer this question about the nature and character of God is more than just an intellectual exercise. It has serious and profound implications for how we relate to God and each other as well as what it means for us to be God’s image-bearing creatures. Our lessons this morning each have something to say about who God is and this is what I want us to look at.

We start with our OT lesson and the essential question it raises. What will be the final factor that determines the outcome of human history? Certainly, the biblical answer to this question is God, because God is Lord over all creation, history included. With that in mind, we can put the question another way. Is God going to right all the wrongs in his world so as to restore it to its original “very good” state (Genesis 1.31), or is God going to eventually destroy his sin-corrupted creation and creatures?

Here is where the God we worship comes into play. If we worship the God of fire and brimstone, the God who hates his creatures and creation, and who is very eager to consign most of us to hell, we are likely to answer that God is going to destroy this sin-corrupted world because it’s bad. We point to passages like the ones in our epistle lesson where Paul tells us to set our minds on things in heaven, not things on earth, because the wrath of God is coming. The implication, of course, is that as Christians we are heaven-bound so as to escape the final wrath of God that will consume this wicked world and all the evil-doers in it. But is this what our lessons this morning really teach? The short answer is no, and it points us to the dangers of pulling texts out of the broader contexts in which they were written to either form incorrect notions about God or bolster the preconceived (and often incorrect) ones we already have. If you are doing this, STOP IT!

Getting back to our question as to what God is going to do about the problem of his good creation gone bad, we hear a very clear answer in our OT lesson. Earlier in Hosea 1.2, God had commanded his prophet to marry a whore because his wife would symbolically represent God’s faithless people Israel. If the God we worship is an angry, unforgiving God, we would expect God to destroy his people because they had chased after the native gods of the original folks who lived in the promised land. After all, God hates all sinners and is a jealous God who cannot tolerate any competition from false and unreal gods for his people’s ultimate loyalty. Right?

But now in today’s lesson, we read something quite astonishing. Here is God telling his prophet how he, God, has been like a mother to his people. God has freed them from their slavery in Egypt and taught them how to be his people so they could be God’s light to the world. And God’s people’s response? They consistently thumbed their noses at God and walked away from him, rejecting his love and tender nurturing care so that there was no way they could possibly be God’s light to the world to heal the nations.

Not unsurprisingly, God gave them up to their own desires and eventually sent his people into exile. In other words, God’s holy and just wrath fell on his stubborn and rebellious people, proving once again that God really is an angry God, bent on punishing his people when we screw up, right? Not so fast, my friends. Punishment there was. God’s people did go into exile for their rebellion, but this was not the last word. After God laments his people’s rebellion, God makes this astonishing declaration:

How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath (Hosea 11.8-9).

Notice the repetition of the phrase, “I will not,” which underscores God’s refusal to surrender his people to everlasting destruction. Despite their sin and rebellion against him, God cannot ultimately give up his people because God loves them. God cannot ultimately destroy his people like God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, here represented by the cities of Admah and Zeboiim. Yes, God had to send his people into exile to wake them up to the fact that he is God and has called them to be his people so that they could be God’s light to the world. And sadly, Israel did not repent. But despite this, God could not destroy them because God is a God of holy and sovereign love who will not treat his people according to their wayward and stubborn rebellion (cf. 1 John 4.8,16; 2 Timothy 2.13). Here we see Hosea answering the cosmic questions of history that we asked earlier by showing us how God has chosen to deal with a particular people, his people Israel whom God called through the patriarch Abraham. We hear the astonishing news that no sinfulness, no apostasy, no stubborn refusal to repent, can finally overcome the love of God who wills to save his people and give them new life in the future. God’s loving grace rules the day. Punishment for sin (exile) there would be, but new life would be the ultimate rule of the day, thanks be to God!

We see this same hope expressed in our psalm lesson this morning. The psalmist speaks of the love of God who rescues his people from their distress and who will ultimately restore us to be the kind of image-bearing creatures he created us to be in the first place. This is what it means for God to be sovereign. God is going to do what God is going to do, and whatever that looks like, it will ultimately be done in love, because God is holy and sovereign love. Are there consequences for sin? Of course, but God’s love and sovereignty will not allow for the ultimate destruction of God’s people and we can all breathe a sigh of relief because of it.

So what does that new life and new future look like? The NT answer is Jesus, and we see the answer playing itself out in our epistle lesson this morning. Last week, Paul talked about dying and rising with Christ in baptism. We share in a death like Jesus’ so that we can also share in a resurrection like his. In other words, Paul is reminding us about a central truth of our faith. We were once dead people walking who had no future because we were alienated and hostile to God. But on the cross, God took care of that alienation as well as the sin and evil behind it, so that we are transferred from the power of darkness (death, the ultimate exile) to the kingdom of his beloved Son (life, the ultimate rescue). Just as God raised Jesus from the dead and so destroyed death, so God will do for us who put our hope and trust in Jesus. God has rescued us so that we can be God’s light to the world and thus bring God’s healing love to the nations, i.e., to those around us, thereby giving glory to God’s holy name. This is the hope and future for God’s people that Hosea pointed to, only now it didn’t apply just to Jews but to non-Jews as well.

Now in today’s lesson, Paul reminds us of who we are—Jesus’ people, who are part of the reconstituted family of God that includes Jews and gentiles. Because we are going to share in Jesus’ resurrected future, we are to set our minds on becoming like Jesus, who is currently hidden from us in heaven, God’s space. And while Jesus may be out of sight, he certainly isn’t out of mind because as Paul reminds us, he is going to return one day to execute God’s wrath on those who simply refuse to be the fully human beings God created them to be. That day’s in the future, however, and what that looks like remains to be seen. In the meantime, Jesus remains with us in power of the Spirit, and because of our union with him, we are enabled to live our lives in ways that are pleasing to God. Paul isn’t talking about individualistic lifestyles (it’s all about God and me). He’s talking about living life together as members of Christ’s body, the Church. That’s why we are to put aways things that can destroy relationships like anger, wrath, malice, slander, and greed. Paul doesn’t intend for this to be a comprehensive list of things for us to avoid. In fact, compared with Jewish lists of rules, his lists are very circumspect. No, Paul is reminding us of the truth that is ours when we give ourselves to Jesus. He gives us the power to become like him so that our lives are aligned with our Creator’s original intentions. When that happens, we become Jesus’ light to the world and in the process find our own happiness.

But we want to argue with Paul. You are crazy, Paul! It doesn’t feel like anything’s changed! We are still messy folks who get it wrong as much as we get it right. How can you say we have been raised with Jesus? Paul would surely answer that part of being a Christian is learning to believe what doesn’t feel true at the moment. We do that by grasping the truth that we have died and our lives are hidden with Christ, i.e., we are united with Christ in the power of the Spirit and that union helps us become the kind of people God calls us to be despite our messiness and serious flaws. This is what Paul means when he talks about the renewal of our mind. As a result, we are no longer our own, but Christ’s. And because Christ lives, so will we, even though our bodies will die (cf. John 11.25-26). This is the God we worship, the God who became human to die for us so that we could ultimately live, despite who we can sometimes be. Is this the God you worship?

We see the same emphasis on us being God’s in our gospel lesson, only with a negative twist. Jesus was not railing against having plenty. That wasn’t the man’s sin. It was perfectly reasonable for him to build a barn for his bumper crop. His sin was that he never thought about giving any of his bounty away. To be sure, the man had worked his fields. But at the end of the day, his crops were the result of God’s gracious generosity to him, and God expects us as his image-bearers to be generous to a fault, i.e., to reflect God’s gracious generosity and love out into his world. But when we choose to live for ourselves, we cease to be God’s image-bearers, and that’s a problem. You want to find life, God asks us? Give yourself and your wealth away because only when you lose your life will you save it. The great lie of wealth is that it deceives us into thinking we can control our own destiny. But as the parable reminds us, we are not guaranteed another day, and our wealth can never change that fact. Our lives our God’s, not our own, and we had better not let ourselves worship a false idol like money and so give away our only certainty: God himself, who is also our only hope and life and future.

So what do we do with all this? First, we use today’s lessons along with the rest of Scripture to remind us that the God we worship is a holy God, the God who is love. We must use passages like the ones we read today to put to death the false gods we construct and which are destructive. We must be clear in our thinking about who God is because living faithful lives is not for the faint of heart. We try to live faithfully and find that we are at war with forces within us that don’t want to die and a world that is fundamentally hostile to God and his ways, not to mention God’s people. As a result, we can find ourselves to be frustrated morally because we know what to do but are often unable or unwilling to do what is right, and when we do what is right we find ourselves mocked and despised. This is because our final triumph will only come with Christ’s return. But we mustn’t let that discourage us because we have died and our life is hidden with Christ who is in heaven, and who is immortal. The fact that we cannot currently see Jesus does not change the reality of our situation as his people. We belong to Jesus, who has overcome evil, sin, and death on the cross for us. And we are being transformed into his image because we are his, even with our desperate flaws, even when our transformation is not apparent to us. We must believe this, my beloved, not because we are called to whistle through the graveyard, but because it is true. It is the very promise of God to us. When we believe God’s promises, it gives us hope, not only for our future but for the here and now. So the next time you are confronted with moral failure, big or small, or opposition from those who hate you because you belong to Jesus, or just overwhelmed by life in general, remember these words from the sovereign Lord who has chosen to love you, and who died for you so that you can live.

How can I give you up, [your name]? How can I hand you over, O my people? How can I destroy you? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not destroy [you]; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. Take heart and hope, [your name], for you are mine (cf. Hosea 11.8-9; Isaiah 43.1).

When by God’s grace this truth becomes a living part of you, you will surely know you have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Peter Enns: Christianity 101 for Politicians

A spot-on analysis by Dr. Enns, who has never been afraid to speak his mind. If you read his whole piece, don’t read it as an anti-Republican polemic. It’s not. It’s a critique of how political parties and politicians misuse God for their own purposes, and the Republicans certainly do not have a monopoly on that. See what you think.

Every Christian who wants to become a political leader should be forced to study the book of Revelation for a year and then pass a test of one simple question: “True or False: The Christian hope will be realized through political means.” Whoever says “true” should be forced to watch N. T. Wright videos about the kingdom nonstop for a year (starting with this one) and then take the test again every year until they get it right.

The book of Revelation is weird because it is full of ancient Jewish symbols of apocalyptic disasters and such. Teasing out what all those symbols mean is not for the weak, but neither is it necessary to get the gist of the book as a whole.

The main message of the book is all about how wrong it is when an earthly power (the Roman Empire, for this ancient writer) claims a divine stamp of approval and divine authority.

Despite what it might look like to the naked eye, Rome, with its powerful armies and emperors, is not in charge. Rather, paradoxically and counterintuitively, the slain Lamb of God—the crucified and risen Jesus—is in charge.

Therefore—and I can’t stress this enough, people—Revelation is a call to God’s people at any time to be faithful to Christ over and against the “world system.”

As biblical scholar Michael Gorman puts it in his book Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation, Revelation is a critique of “civil religion”—of tying the Gospel to any political system.

Instead Christians are called to practice “uncivil religion” where Jesus is not tied to the state or aligned with any wanna-be king, and God is not dragged down into our political squabbles as if the Creator has chosen sides. Rather, followers of the slain Lamb stand firm in God’s kingdom and call earthly powers to account.

When I juxtapose the unholy prayer of civil religion at the RNC with the political tone of the Bible (and we’re just scratching the surface) is really makes me think Christians have lost their minds if they can’t see through how very sub-Christian—even anti-Christian—the Republican rhetoric is.

Read it all. (HT: Jesus Creed)

Deacon Terry Gatwood: Praying in Step with Jesus

Sermon delivered on Sunday Trinity 9C, July 24, 2016, 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: Hosea 1.2-10; Psalm 85.1-13; Colossians 2.6-19; Luke 11.1-13.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

If I tried to recall the number of times I have prayed the Lord’s Prayer I probably could not tell you. You all, likewise, likely could not come up with a number either. We pray it together at least 52 times per year, if we count only the Sunday’s. But then there are the Daily Office prayers where it is included in both the morning and evening liturgies. That’s 14 more times per week. And then there are other times for me when putting my boys in bed that we pray it together. Another 5-7 times each week. And then all of the other random times when we might pray it with others or by ourselves. So the number is probably between 52 and 780 times each year. But that’s only one year. I’m 33 and learned the prayer when I was around four or five. Some of you have a few more miles ahead of me on this. 22,620 is the higher end number I’ve figured that I could be close to if I were as diligent in prayer as I would ideally like to be, but the real number is probably not quite that high. Some of you in this room may have prayed through it even more than 22,000 times. That’s a lot of miles on the same words. And that’s a lot of math I’ve just figured for someone who majored in History and cowered in fear from math.

This prayer is something that has been taught to us, and that we teach to others, either directly by personal instruction, or through our prayers or participation in the liturgy. Quite often I have heard people tell me that they do not know how to pray, or are afraid of praying in front of others. And I fully understand that from the many traditions that I’ve been exposed to in my life. Often the same folks will give these long and beautiful, powerful sounding prayers that sound like mini sermons. The Lord certainly hears these prayers, but they can create in others a sense that they aren’t qualified to pray aloud in a meeting of disciples, or that they don’t know what to say because they don’t have the breadth and depth of Christian knowledge that another might have. You can pray because you can learn to pray. You don’t have to be afraid or embarrassed. If your prayer is something as simple as “Jesus, I love you,” or, “Lord, help us,” (which is a prayer I often say when Fr. Kevin begins one of his jokes), you are tracking quite well. And, as Jesus responded to his disciples’ request to teach them to pray, you also can pray in the same way that he taught them.

Each week we relearn the prayer together during the liturgy of the sacrament. We hear the bidding of this prayer when it is said, “And now as our savior Christ has taught we boldly pray…”  We do this together, verbatim. But it isn’t by some simple formula that we pray. We hear this and pray together a method that Jesus has taught us when we don’t quite know what to say. We address the King of the Universe, Creator of all things as our Father, sharing in an intimate relationship with the one true Holy God who is over all.

We call for his Kingdom to come into this earth in real time and space that we might see his redemptive work making new the whole of his creation, and the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is where this Kingdom continues to grow in the world, going forth with the Good News of Jesus Christ and God’s love for all, until His coming again in glory and the full consummation of the Kingdom that has only yet been inaugurated in our time.

We ask God for nourishment. In the Gospel according to St. Luke I cannot see this as primarily a spiritual food, which it also is, but actual food. For the people who would have first prayed this in the earliest days of the Church they would have been expecting Jesus to return at any time (as we should consider now). As they had this expectation they would ask of the Lord to feed them that they may have the physical strength to get through the tasks of living and sharing the Good News of Christ for just one more day. We ask God for food, just like our ancestors have asked, and the Lord provides it.

We also have been taught through the Lord’s Prayer to confess our sins and seek forgiveness for them, as we also forgive the debts others might have toward us. Luke phrases this part of the prayer differently than is found in Matthew’s Gospel. We seek forgiveness of transgressing the law of God in thought, word, and deed, while at the same time forgiving others their debts by which they are indebted to us. Luke is pointing out that material things should never be a reason to cause a breakdown in the community. When we pray like this, we pray for forgiveness in a spiritual sense from our sins, and in a tangible way for us to lay aside quarrels with others over what they may owe to us. The Lord will help us through these very real, very difficult things of breaking from sinful patterns and building strong, loving community through sacrifice.

To ask a Jewish person during the first century if he had “been saved,” or if he knew Jesus as his “personal savior” would have been nonsensical to him. The Lord and the individual is where the sin is taken care of through confession, absolution, and the forgiveness only God can give; the debts that are owed are within the community, and we all find ourselves in debt to one another from time to time. And sometimes that debt must be forgiven for the sake of the community, the basic theme found in Jewish, and here in Jesus’, thinking. Our salvation comes in the context of the Church, which God has made a part with others. Christ has saved us, he is still saving us, and we shall all together be saved finally together as one body of Christ on earth. Building each other up now is vital to the mission of the Kingdom of God as revealed through this prayer.

We are now taught in the last petition we are to ask for salvation from the time of trail, and from bringing in the completion of this petition from Matthew, also the Evil one. Believe it or not, there are still evil forces at work in this world. I do not say this to point toward some nebulous concept of evil. There is real evil, brought by Satan and his demons. Our prayer here is that when we find ourselves in times of temptation, just as Jesus Christ was tempted in the desert and withstood the devils charming and attractive wooing, we too would be given strength by God to withstand the pressing upon us of engaging in sin that can so easily destroy us and lead us into a league with Satan and his demons, thus rejecting God as our Father.

This prayer taught to us by our Lord is a good gift to us for us to use, literally and as a guide to how we shall pray and why. It’s the text of Scripture that has been preserved for us that we might received and used not only for helping us in our prayer life, but as a point of clarity where we can find what it is the Lord is calling us to, and how he is changing us to serve him.

The words of Jesus Christ are to us a good and holy gift, assuring us of our salvation, and pushing us forward in our mission to seek the lost and treat all of God’s creation with respect and dignity. It teaches us who God is, and what he is like. His essential character is that of a Father who loves all his, and he delights in giving good gifts to his children. God is concerned with our being holy, and in fostering loving, holy community with our brothers and sisters, and seeing the Church built up, and organized to do the mission of his Church, his Kingdom in this world.

If anything, The Lord’s prayer teaches us that our ultimate dependence is upon the Lord, and that we are united together under Christ our Head in a way that should be protected and encouraged. Life as a Christian is not just a vertical relationship between me and Jesus, which it is only in part, it’s also the horizontal relationships between us, the one’s whom the Lord has called.

So you can pray; and you need not be ashamed. Pray with the words of the Scripture. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, and then pray in the way you have learned in the Lord’s Prayer through whatever you would like to pray about.  This prayer, and the collect prayers that can be found in the Book of Common Prayer in the tradition of the Lord’s prayer, are all great resources for getting you started in your journey into a robust prayer life

May the Lord bless you in this practice of such an important spiritual discipline.
In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Christian Hope of Glory

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 8C, July 17, 2016 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: Amos 8.1-12; Psalm 52.1-9; Colossians 1.15-28; Luke 10.38-42.

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

In our epistle lesson this morning, Paul tells us that he is working to make the word of God fully known to us so that we will be let in on a profound mystery. God’s mysteries for the apostle and the rest of the NT writers are things previously unknown but now revealed to us by God. And what is this thing Paul is talking about? It’s none other than Christ in us, the hope of glory. But what does Paul mean by that? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Contrary to what many of us think, the mystery revealed to us in Christ isn’t about getting right with Jesus. It isn’t just about Jesus and my salvation, although that is certainly part of what Paul is talking about. No, Paul has in mind something much richer and more exciting. He is talking about how God has revealed to us his promise to redeem his good creation gone bad, us included. If we don’t understand this fundamental promise, that God has promised to heal and redeem his broken creation, both the physical and spiritual dimensions of it, Scripture won’t make a lot of sense to us because that’s exactly the story it has to tell.

Take our OT lesson for example, with its uplifting message of the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel’s happiness, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by. The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord God; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!” (Amos 8.2b-3). Many of us hear judgment oracles like this and conclude that God surely must be the supreme tyrant and ogre who is always angry with us and just waiting to rain on our parade, preferably with fire and brimstone. This (false) god we conjure up in our minds is determined that we should not have a good time and unfortunately has the power to enforce his wishes.

But to read these texts in this way does violence not only to the text but to God himself because we almost completely miss the point of what is going on in the story contained in them. We must always keep in mind that the OT is the story of God’s interaction with his called-out people Israel, the people whom God chose to help him heal and redeem his good but sin-corrupted world. You can and should read the background for this narrative in Genesis 1-11 and God’s call to Abraham starting in Genesis 12. God’s people were supposed to reflect the glory and love of the one true God to the nations around them who did not know God and who worshiped false and destructive idols, because we inevitably turn into the idols we worship. But instead of acting in the truly human ways as God created them for, and the people God called them to be, so that they could show others who did not know God a much better way, Israel astonishingly adopted the ways of the nations they were supposed to convert! Sound familiar?

Now in our OT lesson, we see the fruit Israel is bearing, and it ain’t real tasty. As was God’s habit, God sent a spokesman to speak to his people on God’s behalf, in this case Amos, and we learn that after repeated warnings Israel had rejected God’s call to turn from their false and dehumanizing ways of living that had resulted from God’s people worshiping false and dehumanizing idols. And here we get a glimpse of what was happening. Merchants had made profit their idol and this resulted in all kinds of shady economic practices and the poor being exploited. These greedy folks were so eager to line their pockets they cut short their God-mandated sabbath rest and the festivals that were to produce real and heartfelt worship of the one true God. We all know what endless work does to our body, mind, and spirit, and we all know what happens when we fail to worship God regularly. We get flat worn out and our hearts get hardened. These folks presumably pursued their wealth for the same reason we pursue wealth so hard: for power and control. Implicit in these behaviors was the notion that God could not be trusted to provide. No, these folks wanted to be in control instead of aligning their lives and work to mesh with God’s good creative purposes for human living and work. It’s not that God wants us to sit around waiting for him to drop good things into our laps. It’s about who is in charge of things, us or God? When we choose the former over the latter, all hell breaks loose.

So after repeated warnings, we see God announcing the end of his people’s happiness. Their celebrating would turn into mourning when God’s final judgment fell on them. It would be so terrible that even the creation would mourn for God’s people, and we are reminded once again that God created us to be wise stewards over God’s creation so that when we act selfishly and myopically, all creation suffers, not just humans (cf. Romans 8.22). If we understand the backdrop to this story, we see what’s going on. To be sure, God is not happy with sin because sin corrupts and dehumanizes, and causes chaos and evil to erupt. But there’s more to the story than this. We see God the Father angry at his children for not living up to their purpose as God’s people. Instead of reflecting the glory of God and the promise of his redemption outward to those who desperately needed it (whether they knew it or not), God’s people had turned inward and saw their status as God’s people as a privilege with no accompanying responsibility. To make matters worse, many of them had turned away from worshiping God and worshiped false gods or idols. As parents we all get this dynamic, especially if we have dealt with children who wanted nothing to do with being part of the family. It gets messy and complicated in a hurry and that is what is going on here, only on a cosmic level. God’s people had refused to live up to their calling to help bring God’s healing to the world and in the process they had adopted lifestyles that were destructive and dehumanizing. Real love never wishes that for the beloved. Never.

And then we read a strange thing happening as part of God’s judgment on his people’s bad behavior. God would withhold his word from them and the effect would be devastating. As Genesis 1-2 make clear, without God’s word to bring order, there is only chaos, chaos in all creation and chaos in our personal lives. As Fr. Bowser continually reminds us (does that mean he is doing a lousy job of preaching if he has to keep reminding us of what he tells us?), if we do not align our lives to God’s good creative purposes for us, we can expect our lives to be chaotic and we will personally experience all kinds of physical, spiritual, and mental chaos. Here in our OT lesson we see the same thing happening to God’s rebellious people Israel. Go figure.

When God’s word is absent in our lives, we instinctively know it and it terrifies us because we know that without God’s word, we will not experience God’s order, God’s blessing, God’s fulfillment of his wonderful purposes, and God’s forgiveness. Here God is telling his people that he is withdrawing from them, giving them up in judgment to their own evil desires, and the people frantically search for that which they’ve lost. No wonder their happiness has turned to mourning! Remember, this is not about God raining on people’s parade and denying them a good time. God is condemning those behaviors that cause suffering and injustice (chaos) to break out on folks, especially on the poor, the weak, and the helpless. How can God’s love spread throughout his creation to heal it if God’s people will not cooperate?

Before we look at what Paul has to say about this, we need to stop for a moment and reflect on what this means for us because we too are called to bring God’s healing love to the world. God’s judgment on Israel’s greed and love for injustice falls on our own practices. It reminds us we cannot be two different people, ones who worship God on Sunday and then go to our areas of work to worship the god of avarice and greed. It means we must look carefully at all sides of the burning social issues of our day so that we can best bring God’s healing to bear on them. It reminds us that we have to pursue justice, hard as that can be at times, so that the poorest and weakest of our day do not suffer at our hands. When we stop looking after the needs of others, darkness and chaos will surely descend on us as it did for God’s people Israel.

Thankfully for us, however, we are not entirely like Israel because as Paul reminds us, God has become human in the man Jesus to be the faithful Israel and so complete God’s plan to heal and redeem his good world hijacked by human sin and the evil it unleashes. Paul further reminds us that we belong to Jesus, who is the firstborn of all creation, and who rules over God’s current creation and will rule over God’s promised new creation. He tells us that on the cross, evil has been defeated and we have been reconciled to God. Paul doesn’t spell this out in any detail, only that this is what God has accomplished. Evil has been allowed to do its worst to Jesus and has failed to destroy him. Instead, God raised him from the dead and in doing so, ushered in God’s new creation, God’s newly healed and redeemed world in Christ. Not only that, but God has called us as Jesus’ people to be human agents of God’s new creation in the world. When we believe that God really has overcome evil and reconciled us to him in and through Jesus’ death on the cross, we know that we too will share Jesus’ ultimate fate of resurrection so that what happened to our Lord will also happen to us. We become a forgiven people in Christ and we have confidence that we can stand before God as Jesus’ people, despite our sins.

And as Jesus’ people, we are called to work on deepening our relationship with him so that we do know without a doubt that the above promises are true and that we too are part of God’s promises to heal and redeem his good creation. This is the mystery Paul talks about in our lesson today. Jews are not the only ones who are called to be part of God’s new world. Gentiles are called to be part of it as well, specifically Gentiles who put their hope and trust in Jesus and who develop a living and active relationship with our living and active Lord. This is what it means to have Christ in us, our hope of glory. It means he is available to us at all times in the power of the Spirit to love us and heal us and help us live as people who have real hope, even in the midst of our present adversities, because we have faith that we too will share in his risen glory. What this means on a practical basis is this. As Jesus’ people, we know first and foremost that we are loved and forgiven by our Creator so that we know the real heart of God. This, in turn, means we are to live our lives patterned after Jesus for the sake of others. We look out for each other and care for each other. We are careful not to pursue our own self-interests at the expense of others. We are quick to forgive and slow to judge in self-righteous ways. We are tenderhearted toward each other and bear each other’s joys and burdens. Every time we do these things, the new creation becomes a fuller reality. And it all starts by engaging with Jesus, the Word of God. No wonder our Lord reminded Martha and the others that Mary was doing the needful thing by sitting at his feet and listening to him teach God’s truth and wisdom. It’s the very truth and wisdom that enables us to know we have Good News and to live it, 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.

David Brooks: Are We on the Path to National Ruin?

12brooksWeb-master768I never really understood how fascism could have come to Europe, but I think I understand better now. You start with some fundamental historical transformation, like the Great Depression or the shift to an information economy. A certain number of people are dispossessed. They lose identity, self-respect and hope.

They begin to base their sense of self-worth on their tribe, not their behavior. They become mired in their resentments, spiraling deeper into the addiction of their own victimology. They fall for politicians who lie about the source of their problems and about how they can surmount them. Facts lose their meaning. Entertainment replaces reality.

Once facts are unmoored, everything else is unmoored, too. People who value humility and kindness in private life abandon those traits when they select leaders in the common sphere. Hardened by a corrosive cynicism, they fall for morally deranged little showmen.

And then perhaps there’s a catalyzing event. Societies in this condition are culturally tense and socially isolated. That means there are a lot of lonely, alienated young men seeking self-worth through violence. Some wear police badges; some sit in their rooms fantasizing of mass murder. When they act, the results can be convulsive.

Read and reflect on it all.

Fr. Philip Sang: Obedience to God

Sermon delivered on Trinity 7C, Sunday, July 10, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Amos 7.7-17; Psalm 82.1-8; Colossians 1.1-14; Luke 10.25-37.

Throughout scripture we hear many stories of how God uses the least likely of people to do great things. The stories of Amos and the Good Samaritan and of Paul are such stories.

Amos was a shepherd and he tended to sycamore-fig trees in the Judean countryside.    Amos was not a prophet nor was he the son of a prophet, but he loved God and devoted his life to serving God and he was an honest man. God came to Amos one day in a vision and Amos saw God holding a plumb line. We know that a plumb line is a very simple yet necessary tool which is used to ensure the straightness of a wall which will be strong and long lasting. God wants us to have a good and right relationship with him, one that is free from sin and using a plumb line as a measure will be our guide as to how to be right with God.

The people in the northern kingdom of Israel were becoming too complacent, they were worshipping idols and were oppressing the poor and so God was not pleased with them.    God asked Amos to tell the people that if they did not change their ways he would pass judgment on them. Of course when Amos delivers God’s message to the Chief Priest Amaziah, who then tells Jeroboam the King of Israel, they were not at all concerned about God’s message, they seemed to only want to maintain their own positions so they would not listen to anything God had to say.

This always seems to present a problem when leadership takes on their own ideals instead of following the path of God. Amos was the least likely messenger in the eyes of the Chief Priest and the King of Israel, and they were quite happy to keep things the way they were.    Since they did not heed God’s message to change their ways, very soon trouble befell their country.

But Amos was a faithful servant of God and he obeyed God’s command to prophesy to God’s people of Israel. The church today is also called to obey God’s command, are we willing to obey God’s call when it comes to us?    Are we willing to speak the truth in love to our leaders, or anyone else for that matter, when we see something being done that is not right and we have prayed about it and we feel that the Spirit is telling us to say something? This is not an easy thing to do, but oftentimes God calls the least of us to deliver such a message, and it is up to us to obey that call.

Paul is another faithful servant of God who traveled far and wide to tell the story of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and the Jews.    Paul is writing to the people of Colossae telling them that he has been continually praying that they may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. There was a connectedness between Paul and the people of Colossae which comes through prayer, and it is said that Paul never did visit Colossae, but he prayed for the people and encouraged them to live in the ways of God. When we pray with our heart it becomes the active presence of God’s Spirit at work in our life. So when we do our intercessory prayers, as we are going to do in a moment, we do not really have to know the people we are praying for, but to hold them up in prayer brings them into the presence of God.

In the gospel story about the Good Samaritan, again we see how God uses the least likely person to do a great deed. The Jews hated the Samaritans, they thought of them as the scum of the earth because they were a mixed race and the Jews thought of themselves as pure descendants of Abraham, but in God’s eyes we are all the same because we are all made in the image of God.

We all know the story of the Good Samaritan, it was probably one of the first Bible stories we heard as a child.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, he is on his way to face a trial by people who did not like him because he threatened their authority and they are planning to get rid of him. This of course is very heavy on Jesus’ heart, and then he meets a young lawyer who wants to know what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus and the lawyer had quite a dialogue and then  the lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus then tells the lawyer the story of the Good Samaritan.

Let us take a look at this story again and I invite you to put yourselves into each of the characters in the story.

Think yourself as person who was beaten up by robbers and left as dead. You have been stripped of all your money and most of your clothes, and you have been beaten up, blood is everywhere and you are hurting very badly. You hear people passing by but no one is stopping to help you; and you are so weak that you are unable to cry out for help.

How often have you felt like this in your life? When you have experienced some hard times whether it is an illness, the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or you are feeling depressed and you desperately want someone to take the time to talk and listen to you, but no one seems to be coming to offer a helping hand or ear; so you just sit there and hurt.

Now you are the Priest or Levite who is on their way to the Temple; and out of the corner of your eyes you see that someone is laying by the side of the road and is bloody and dirty.    If you should stop to help you will become unclean and you would have to go through the ritual of cleansing before you could go into the Temple.    You are in a hurry so it is better for you to pass on the other side of the road so the hurt man does not see you.    And you say very convincingly to yourself, that it is better that I follow the law than to stop and show mercy.

How often have you passed someone on the road that seems to need help, but you just speed along, or you saw someone at work, or at church or even in your family, having a hard day, but you did nothing to help because it is easier to leave it for someone else to help them.

And now you are the Samaritan, and you are not liked by the Jews.    But as you are riding along the road you happen to notice that there is a man laying there who seems to have been hurt – yes, he is bleeding and he has been stripped of some of his clothes. You stop and pour oil and wine on his wounds and then put on some bandages, and you take the person to get help.

At sometime in your life you have shown love and compassion to the stranger as you go on your journey.

Then there is the Innkeeper, the Caretaker; you keep a nice Inn for travelers who pass your way and want to spend the night. A Samaritan has just come in and has brought in a man who has been very hurt; you are asked to take care of this man until the Samaritan passes by next week, and he has given you some money to take care of him. Your business is hospitality so of course you will take care of the sick man.

Hopefully at some time in your life you have taken in a stranger and shown hospitality to them; as you guys did to my family and I when I we came as a strangers, and when you did, it gave you great joy. To us who received the hospitality from you the warmth we felt kept us here to date.

Then Jesus asks the young lawyer who of the three people did he think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? The lawyer answered, “The one who showed Mercy,” and Jesus told him to go and do likewise.

Having placed ourselves as each of the characters in this story, I would suspect that we can identify with each one of them; that at some time in our life we have represented all these people. Jesus wants us to show love and compassion to all God’s people, because EVERYONE is our neighbor. How does this make us feel and how do we now answer the question as to who is your neighbor. The story of Jesus is the story of Love and the story of the Good Samaritan is also a story about Love; these two stories are tied and held together with a LOVE that is so strong that Jesus gave himself up for everyone of us so that we might live a life free from the bondage of sin.

When we gather here each week for Worship, our Service nourishes us so that we can go out into the world to live the life Jesus wants for us. We are inspired to use the plump line to guide us in building a strong faithful relationship with God. We are encouraged to show compassion, love and mercy to everyone so that we will inherit eternal life. We are fed with the food of forgiveness and love which strengthens us and gives us the courage to face life’s challenges. We learn to be open to hearing God’s call as we follow what the Spirit is telling us; and then we are sent out filled with God’s Love and Peace to sustain us until we gather again.

As I conclude, like Paul, I sees the church community as one body and I pray that you  “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.”

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

Lincoln on the 4th of July and Declaration of Independence

lincoln19In the 1850s, Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric was suffused with a profound sense of loss. He considered it shameful national backsliding that a new affirmative defense of slavery had arisen in the South. At the time of the Founding our nation had merely tolerated slavery; now, it was an institution actively celebrated in part of the country.

In a letter in 1855 despairing of ending slavery, Lincoln wrote to the Kentuckian George Robertson that “the fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day–/for burning fire-crackers/!!!”

At around this time, Lincoln fastened on the Declaration of Independence as “his political chart and inspiration,” in the words of his White House secretary John G. Nicolay.

He made it the guidepost by which the country could return to its lost ideals. His example shows the enduring vitality and the endless potential for renewal that is inherent in the Declaration.

Some good stuff here. See what you think.

Our Declaration of Independence

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America…

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, declaration_of_independence_630Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Read and reflect on it all. A country without God as its basis and foundation cannot be free.