The Christian Case for Creation

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Lent A, February 19, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-2.3; Psalm 136.1-26; Romans 8.18-25; Matthew 6.25-34.

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

What can we learn from our lessons this morning with their emphases on creation and new creation? For starters, our lessons provide us with a healthy antidote to the gnostic beliefs we all carry around with us. You know, the idea that things spiritual are good and things material are bad. As we shall see, we need to lose those beliefs as quickly as possible. The creation narratives also set the stage for our understanding of what it means to be a human being created in God’s image and how we should interact with God, God’s world, and each other. And as Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, many of us need to broaden our understanding of salvation so that it matches the rich view contained in the NT. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

I am not going to offer you a day-by-day interpretation of the creation narrative in our OT lesson (and I see many of you breathing a deep sigh of relief about that). The narrative is pretty straightforward. What I want to do with Genesis 1 is to use it to remind us of who we are and why creation matters. Before we begin, however, I want to make this appeal. Please read the text for what it is instead of for what it isn’t. The writer of Genesis never intended the creation narratives to be a science lesson or to answer all our questions about God’s creative activity. How, for example, was there light before God created the sun and the moon and the stars (Genesis 1.3, 1.16)? The writer of Genesis is not interested in trying to answer these kinds of questions. He is only interested in telling us that God is the author of, and Lord over, all that is.

If you understand this simple appeal, you will stop feeling the need, for example, to enter into pointless and irrelevant debates about “creation vs. evolution.” The writer of Genesis and his ancient audience, along with audiences up to ca. the 18th century, would have been astonished that some of us feel the need to have these kinds of pointless arguments because the text was never written to be a book of science (cf. 2 Timothy 2.23, e.g.,). It was written, quite simply (or complexly), to tell us that God is the Creator of our world and all that lives in it, not to mention the vast universe in which our world exists. We are meant to read the texts with wonder and awe, and to see the goodness and importance of creation itself. Why would God create a physical world with its creatures and pronounce it all good if creation weren’t important to God? Does not compute! If you insist on bringing science into the creation narrative, then consign it to its proper place in seeking to investigate how God’s magnificent creation works so that we can better align our activities to be in harmony with it! When we can relax and start reading the texts for all they’re worth, without feeling the need or pressure to defend their veracity, we will be astonished at what we can learn from them and have our faith deepened in the process.

So what are some things we can learn from the creation narratives? I want to focus on three things. First, we learn that creation matters to God. How do we know this? Because God created it in the first place and God doesn’t create for no reason! Duh. Second, we learn that precisely because creation matters to God, that God is actively involved in his world and our lives. We see no less than our Lord Jesus himself affirm this truth in our gospel lesson. Why are you anxious about food and clothing he asks? Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. They are not anxious, despite being quite vulnerable to a variety of forces, humans included. They reflect God’s glorious goodness and beauty and God takes care of them because God created them (like you) and God provides for their needs because he cares for them, just as he provides and cares for you. Notice our Lord, contrary to some religious thinkers of his day, did not condemn food and drink. He simply acknowledges that God knows our needs and will provide for them. This does not suggest an absentee or uncaring Creator!

We need a healthy dose of reminders like this because we are constantly bombarded with the old heresy and lie of gnosticism. This worldview goes something like this. Things spiritual are good because they pertain to the realm of God (did you notice in that statement the inherent hostility toward things physical and the subtle denial that God really created things good as the creation narratives testify?). And if you want to know God you need a special gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge, hence the term gnosticism. The deeper the knowledge, the higher the plane of consciousness one can achieve. There are a million varieties of gnosticism, but all make the same basic claim. The world of the spirit is good; the physical world is bad. Of course, to hold this belief is to completely ignore Genesis 1-2, not to mention the rest of the biblical testimony. Perhaps that is why so many in our world today try to discredit those narratives!

So why should we care about gnosticism? Well, for starters, it means that if we drink the gnostic Kool-aid we no longer have to care about God’s world and the things in it, our bodies included, because material things are evil and will ultimately pass away. It’s all about things spiritual and knowledge of God. So who cares how we treat each other and God’s world, or what we do with our bodies? It’s all going to be destroyed one day because all things physical are inherently evil! As we will see in a moment, the NT writers, especially Paul, have something to say about that!

The third thing we learn from the creation narratives has to do with human beings as God’s image-bearers. What does it mean to bear God’s image and why should we care? To answer these questions, think for a moment about the nature and function of a temple. Temples are temples because followers believe they house the deity they worship. Thus, for example, God’s people Israel believed that the Temple at Jerusalem housed their Creator God. In other words, the dimensions of heaven (God’s space), and earth (human space) intersected and God lived with his people there. To be sure, as Solomon acknowledged, the Temple could not contain God, but God dwelt there with God’s people nevertheless. So it therefore wasn’t uncommon for temples to house the image of the deity worshiped there (the Jerusalem Temple excepted).

Now imagine for a moment that the creation narratives in Genesis are telling us that this whole world is God’s temple and that God created us in his image to run his world, so that human beings reflected God’s goodness and beauty and love and truth out into the world as we assumed our role as stewards and rulers over God’s world on God’s behalf. (Why all image-bearers are not beautiful like me and could use a facelift like Fr. Gatwood or Carl or Dr. SAC Collins is a result of the Fall, but I digress.) Notice then in our role as stewards over God’s good world, we assume both royal and priestly functions. We function as royalty because God appointed us to rule over God’s creation (Genesis 1.28). We function as priests as intermediaries between God and his good world. This is why both the OT and NT make the claim that God’s people function in these two roles. Before the Fall, when Adam and Eve functioned as God created them to function, God’s world and everything in it was very good (Genesis 1.31) because we were fulfilling our God-given responsibilities as God’s image-bearing creatures.

Notice too that Genesis tells us about the nature of our image-bearing. God created humans, we are told, male and female. The sentence construction indicates an equality and the need for there to be both male and female for God’s image to be complete. There is no suggestion that males are superior to females (much as I hate to admit it, being the good chauvinist I am). No, God created them male and female to be rulers over God’s world on God’s behalf. If we understand this, two things follow. First, since all humans bear God’s image, there is no excuse for slavery or caste systems or exploitation or murder or anything else that damages or destroys God’s image-bearers. In fact, Genesis 9.5-6 makes clear that because every person bears God’s image, every person is therefore inviolate, making murder a heinous crime that demands the life of the murderer (love your enemies, anyone?). Yet how often do we discriminate and want to subordinate others out of some sinful sense of pride and/or superiority?

Second, when God made humans in his image, male and female, we see the reason for marriage, although the Genesis texts do not use that word. God’s first command to humans was to procreate and God created males and females with complementary sexual organs for that purpose. In our highly sexualized and polarized world today, where sensual pleasure and political rights are king, this critical function has gotten completely lost in the shouting. Marriage—the life-long union between male and female—exists so that humans can procreate and live in an orderly fashion as communities with the family being the essential unit of those communities. In other words, marriage and the family provide the needed structure and stability for our relational needs to be met and for humans to carry out God’s creative commands to reproduce and rule over God’s world. And as Fr. Bowser reminds us with annoying regularity, when we ignore or live contrary to God’s good and original creative purposes for us as God’s image-bearers, we bring trouble and dysfunction on ourselves and our lives. Marriage exists because God created humans male and female, and gave us essential functions commensurate with our human dignity as God’s image-bearers. It is simply not a political or social right, much as some would like it to be.

So if God created everything good and is actively involved in his world and our lives, what happened? What about all the darkness and evil and pain and ugliness in this world and our lives? Two words: The Fall (Genesis 3.1-17). The first humans decided they didn’t want to be God’s stewards. They wanted to be God and this got us kicked out of paradise and brought evil and corruption into God’s good world, along with God’s curse on his creation. To be sure there is much beauty and goodness still in God’s world and our lives. But there is also much pain and sorrow and ugliness. Human sin and the evil it unleashed at the Fall is the reason for things like birth defects and diseases, and puts to rest the lie that God makes people a certain way.

But of course the Good News is that God has acted on our behalf to rescue his good world and its creatures from the destructive effects of the Fall. God’s rescue plan that includes Israel and ultimately Jesus, along with us as part of the reconstituted Israel in the form of the Church, is what Scripture is all about, and here is where many of us need to up our game in terms of our view of salvation. Contrary to what many of us have been taught, salvation isn’t about being right with Jesus so we can go to heaven when we die. That’s a Greek and gnostic view of salvation. No, as Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, the NT view of salvation is much more comprehensive than dying and going to heaven. The NT view of salvation proclaims that in the death of Jesus, God has forgiven our sins so that we can once again have a real and life-giving relationship with him and begin to act as God’s true image-bearers. Not only do we have forgiveness of sins, God has broken the power of Sin over us, freeing us to worship the one true and living God again instead of the false idols we love to worship, like money, sex, power, and security. And when God raised Jesus from the dead, God inaugurated his plan to bring about healing not only to us, but to all creation, and this is what Paul is getting at in our lesson today.

God’s plan of salvation means that we are rescued to live in God’s new heavens and earth about which Revelation 21.1-7 speaks. Contrary to what gnosticism teaches, God is going to rescue and restore his good but fallen world and its creatures, and the resurrection of Jesus gives us a preview of what that looks like. When our Lord returns in great power and glory to finish his work of redemption and healing, God’s old, broken and cursed creation will be replaced by new creation. We will be given new resurrection bodies that are compatible with God’s new world. Whatever that looks like, make no mistake about it—there will be new creation, not no creation. We are talking a new physical existence that is no longer sin-marred and evil-infested. Our eternal future is not a disembodied state as the gnostics want us to believe. It is a reembodied state patterned after the nature of our Lord Jesus’ resurrected body. New heavens. New earth. Devoid of sin, sorrow, suffering, and dying. No wonder creation is groaning for the day when God’s image-bearers will rule it in the manner God always intended!

This puts to rest the lie that our bodies are ours to do with as we please because ultimately they are unimportant to God. Don’t you know, Paul asks the Corinthians incredulously, that your bodies are the temple of God’s Holy Spirit who lives in you (1 Corinthians 6.19)? Don’t you know, asks Paul in our lesson today, that your bodies are supremely important to God because God intends to raise our mortal bodies and give us new ones when Christ returns (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.35-57)? Therefore treat your bodies accordingly, along with the bodies of others, because they matter to God and you will be called to account for your stewardship of them. This has all kinds of implications for us in terms of sex, marriage, what we put into our bodies, how we treat each other, and how we treat God’s world around us. God created us to be God’s image-bearers and honors us with these creative tasks. Will we not seek to imitate the one true human who ever lived, Jesus, the very embodiment of God (talk about the ultimate image-bearer!!)?

In sum, God wants us to be truly human because being so means that God will be able to reestablish his creation to its original goodness. God has acted on our behalf to restore us to our right mind and God’s creative purposes for us so that we can begin to live them out right now and fully in the new creation. This is the essence of the Good News we are to live and proclaim, my beloved, now and for all eternity. What an awesome privilege. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Ministry of Reconciliation

Sermon delivered on the 3rd Sunday before Lent A, February 12, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to hear the audio podcast of todays sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Deuteronomy 30.15-20; Psalm 119.1-8; 1 Corinthians 3.1-9; Matthew 5. 21-37.

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

Immediately after His Baptism and following the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, presents a discourse of moral teachings we have come to know as “The Sermon on the Mount.” It is a portion of these instructions that we experience in today’s Gospel. Jesus eloquently presents a series of specific and shared understandings or interpretations of the law of Moses and contrasts them with a renewed way of looking at these matters. He begins these statements with, “You have heard that it was said” and by concluding, saying, “but I say to you”; thus, presenting the true intent of the law through the lens of Jesus’s message.

St. Augustine of Hippo stated in his book “Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount” that “if anyone, will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian Life”

One of those standards highlighted in today’s Gospel that I want to share with us today is reconciliation. Jesus, through specific examples, shares with His disciples the negative impact of unresolved and conflictive human interactions, offering at the same time a mechanism for accountability and a path towards mending broken relationships.

For real reconciliation to occur, we must not only meditate and identify the offense, but also value the relationship that may be jeopardized by such offense. It requires openness of heart to engage in dialogue and to seek the restoration of that particular relationship. God desires for us to live in relationship with one another. When our relationships are broken, other areas of our lives may become off-balance to the extent that, at times, it may impact our ability to function.

Broken relationships separate us from one another and, in some ways, from God. At times, we are oblivious to the impact of our actions in the life of others. Our intent may be genuine or without malice, and the impact in others may be devastating. Pride may also play a significant role, impeding us from reconciling with those whom we love and those who love us, and from those who differ from us. As Christians, we are called love the Lord our God, to walk in God’s ways, and to keep God’s commandments, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We are called to build bridges, not walls.

In the current state of affairs in our nation, a difference of opinions at the political and ethical level has caused a visible divide among families, friends, and communities. It is practically a common occurrence to hear friends “defriending” each other’s pages in social media as a result of political debates or opposing points of views about relevant and challenging topics.

How may we find common ground in the midst of our differences? How may we, even during challenging and uncertain times, create spaces for dialogue and reconciliation? Jesus came to this world to reconcile us with God. It is that ministry of reconciliation that encourages us to create spaces for healthy and productive dialogue. It is that ministry of reconciliation that urges us to remain faithful to our vocation of love where we reject sin while embracing the sinner.

As a chaplain student one of the things I learn is Empathy. Author and researcher, Brene Brown, shared a cartoon about “Empathy versus Sympathy”. Brown shares that “Empathy feels connection while sympathy drives disconnection”. She describes empathy as the ability to take on the perspective of another person while staying out of judgment, recognizing the emotions in other people and communicating that. Brene accurately states that “Empathy is a choice and it is a vulnerable choice.”

Having empathy for those with whom we differ may provide us an opportunity to listen attentively to their perspectives, creating spaces for holy conversations that may lead to reconciliation or even positive changes in the midst of profound and basic disagreement of ideology.

We can choose to nurture our divides and remain in a state of tension and dissension, or, we may decide to be open to the movement of the Spirit and focus on that which unite us, God’s love for humanity, and work together through our disagreements.

There is a story of a married couple who argue frequently. They have been married for 38 years. Both of them were known to have strong characteristics and were quick to temper. One evening they engaged in yet another heated and emotionally charged conversation. The wife, reaching a point of no return, decided to pack a few things and walk away. While packing, she noticed that her husband placed another suitcase next to her and started packing as well. With a huff, she asked him, “Where in the world are you going?” Her husband responded, in an angry tone, “I don’t know. I am going wherever it is that you are going!”.

Similar to the case of this married couple, our disagreements, political or not, are not sufficient ground to separate us. We are bonded by something greater. Avoidance of contact is a defense mechanism we may use to evade our responsibility to foster reconciliation and unity. Reconciliation is hard work. It is holy work.

Preaching in Guatemala in August of 2011, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, in his sermon, he shared that, “The gift of the church to the world is reconciliation. We have been given it as a gift for ourselves so that we may know God, and we have been given it to learn.”

As a church, we have a unique opportunity to become bridge-builders during this historic time in America. We have a chance to exercise our vocation and prophetic voices in powerful and unique ways, at the same time that we spread and teach the gift of reconciliation in our nation.

Jesus, our model, faced confrontations with determination and compassion. It is a healthy and necessary balance to mend and maintain challenging relationships. Jesus’ determination ensured that the dignity of every human being was respected. His compassion showed God’s love to those who were difficult to love. May we find holy balance in these challenging times to maintain a reconciliatory tone while challenging the injustices against God’s children in a way that foster dialogue and build bridges. Not an easy task, but a necessary one.

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

February 12, 2017: Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Abraham Lincoln pictureToday is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. He would be 208 years old! The president is one of my heroes, primarily because of the role he played in saving this country. Mr. Lincoln had a wonderful spirit about him and his humility, compassion, and willingness to forgive his enemies arguably saved this country from a terrible aftermath following our Civil War. Reconstruction was hard enough as it was, but at least we did not have guerrilla warfare to contend with, something that would have probably done us in as a country forever.

We healed as well as any country could following a civil war. If you don’t believe me, check out other countries who have suffered through a civil war. Most of the time it didn’t turn out well. The reason our country’s reconstruction went relatively well is because of President Lincoln. He set the tone for U.S. Grant and the other Union commanders by insisting that they treat the vanquished with dignity and respect. Lincoln insisted that the rebels would not be treated harshly or punitively and as a result, everyone else followed suit, including the Confederate commanders.

Of course, this wasn’t all Lincoln’s doing, but as president he set the tone for others to follow as great leaders always do. It would have been just as easy to hang all the rebel commanders and make life miserable for the vanquished. But Lincoln knew better. He knew how that would turn out. It would have been interesting to see how much more quickly we would have healed as a nation had Lincoln lived to serve a full second term. Instead, the zealots and self-righteous decided to “fix” Lincoln’s initial proposals for reconstruction and nearly managed to destroy all that President Lincoln had sought to establish in the process.

I am convinced God put Abraham Lincoln in our history for a reason. His presidency is more evidence that God has blessed this country. Whether that blessing continues today is debatable.  But that’s a different story for a different day. Today, it is fitting that all Americans honor our 16th president and give thanks to God for placing the right man in the right situation at the right time. Happy birthday, Mr. President, and thank you for your service to our country.

True Worship = Liturgy + Lifestyle

Sermon delivered on the 4th Sunday before Lent A, February 5, 2017, 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: Isaiah 58.1-12; Psalm 112.1-10; 1 Corinthians 2.1-16; Matthew 5.13-20.

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

What are we to make of the Lord’s stern rebuke of his people’s worship in our OT lesson today? Is there anything we can learn from this smackdown? Indeed there is and this is what I want us to look at this morning. What constitutes real worship?

In our OT lesson, we see the Lord, through his prophet, taking his people to task for their worship behavior. The Lord tells Isaiah to announce to his people that they are rebels. And how are they rebellious? They have the audacity to worship the Lord, to seek after the Lord and his ways. They delight in drawing near to him. They seek God’s righteous judgments and do all the right things like humbling themselves before God. And God’s response? God calls them sinners and rebels for doing so. We listen to the prophetic announcement and we want to say to God, “Say what? What are you talking about God? We thought you want us to worship you and humble ourselves before you and do other pious things like fast and pray! I mean, look at us! We’re good Anglicans. We use proper liturgy in our worship. We listen to your Word each week and hear excellent preaching on it (well, at least when Fr. Maney is preaching). We come to your table each week and feed on our Lord Jesus’ body and blood. We pray the Prayers of the Peeps and act all holy and stuff. Are you telling us that this doesn’t please you? Are you suggesting that we too are rebels and sinners, just like your people Israel? Surely you jest!” To which the Lord replies, “No I don’t and don’t call me Shirley [rimshot in the background]!” So what’s going on here (besides bad standup comedy)?

The answer lies in a careful reading of the entire text. Of course God wants us to worship him because we inevitably become what we worship. That is why regular corporate worship of the one true and living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is so critically important to those of us who want to have a real and life-giving relationship with our only Source of life. Our worship will help shape us to become more like God our Father who reveals himself supremely in Jesus the Son so that we can become the truly human beings God created us to be.

The key to understanding Isaiah’s timeless prophetic criticism of the way God’s people worship is found in verse 2a: “Day after day they seek me [in worship] and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation [or church] that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God.” In other words, God knows that worship is more than just personal piety. It is more than just us acting all holy and stuff on Sunday mornings, critically important as regular corporate worship of God is. But true worship of God extends far beyond Sundays. We are to worship God 24/7 in our lives. In other words, Who and how we worship on Sundays must translate into action so that we think and speak and act like the true image-bearing creatures we really are. Without this corresponding action, our worship will sooner or later turn into idolatrous self-worship where we pat ourselves on the back for being such “good” and “holy” people. This, in turn, inevitably leads us to become proud and self-righteous people who are ready to pronounce judgment on all who are not like us. When that happens, we really don’t have a chance to practice God’s righteousness and justice because we are too busy practicing our own distorted sense of righteousness and justice. The result? More darkness instead of God’s light.

Real worship of God, worshiping God in spirit and truth (John 4.24), always involves our acknowledgement that we don’t rule God’s world, God does, and that God has rightful claim of our individual and corporate lives because God is our Creator. When we act selfishly, we cut ourselves off from God’s love and power and should not expect to find that which we need to live truly human lives. But when our worship leads us to act in ways that are consistent with our call to be God’s image-bearing creatures who reflect God’s love, mercy, righteousness, grace, and justice out into the world, then we discover that we have tapped into a power that is far greater than our own and in that power, we find our peace and purpose for living. That is what God promises in our OT lesson when he tells us that he will be before and behind us, and when we call to him for help he will be present to us (v.8b-9a). And if you were paying attention to this morning’s psalm, this is exactly what the psalmist promises us. In short, when we practice God’s righteousness and justice, and not the world’s or our own often distorted sense of righteousness and justice, we will become like God in the best sense possible. What an awesome privilege!

This dynamic is also what Jesus is talking about in our gospel lesson today. Jesus was calling Israel to be Israel, to be the human agents who brought God’s healing love to the world. But Israel could not do that by being just like the world, chasing after false gods (idols) and practicing injustice and all kinds of self-serving and corrupt behavior. Neither can we as Christ’s body, the Church, live up to our Lord’s command to be his salt and light to the world when we follow our own distorted and self-centered ways instead of his. If we are to be Jesus’ light to the world so that the world (along with us) can finding healing and peace, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. Paul tells us as much in our epistle lesson when he tells us that he resolved to know nothing but his crucified Lord. For you see, this is how God has overcome the world—through suffering and self-giving love, a love that was present in all that Jesus taught and did during his life, a love revealed supremely on Calvary. On the cross, God defeated the dark powers and principalities by breaking the power of Sin (a force) and offering us forgiveness of our sins so that we no longer have to be enslaved by the dark powers. This is why personal piety—worship, prayer, regular reading and study of Scripture, the eucharist, and fellowship—is so critically important. When we partake in these means of grace, we learn what God has done for us in Christ, i.e., we learn to experience God’s healing love and forgiveness, and we learn what God wants and desires us to be as his image-bearers. God wants us to embody his generous love, his faithfulness, his justice, his mercy, his grace, and his righteousness so that God can use us to bring his kingdom to bear on God’s broken and hurting world and its peoples. The kingdom doesn’t come in full until the Lord returns to finish his saving and healing work. But God uses us to advance his reign on earth and we can have confidence that anything we do faithfully in the name of the Lord is not done in vain (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.58), thanks be to God!

The world will look at us like we are crazy. It will hate our sense of righteousness and justice and love because they are rooted in God and God’s wisdom—the wisdom of the cross which is not the world’s—and that means we will suffer for the Name. But we are to take heart. When we are Christ-bearers to the world, we are confident that the power of God will sustain us because as Paul also reminds us, we are not only God’s image-bearers, we are given the Holy Spirit, who lives in us to strengthen and uphold us to do the work God calls us to do, just like God promised us through his prophet Isaiah and our Lord himself (see, e.g., John 14.18-27).

So how are we to be Christ’s salt and light to the world? We start by loving all comers, friend and foe alike. But we don’t love them according to how the world tells us to love others. We do not give in to the beloved’s disordered desires. We love them by desiring what is best for them, by desiring for them the righteousness and goodness of God as revealed in God’s word and supremely in God’s Son, Jesus. We must be very clear on this point, my beloved. If we do not love others with the love of God, we cannot make any claim to loving them at all.

Beyond this, there are a million ways to embody the love of God and to be the light of Christ to the world. In what ways is Christ calling us to be his light, corporately and individually? Let me jump-start your thinking about this. Every time we offer forgiveness instead of revenge, every time we seek the other’s good over our own, every time we manifest the generous heart of God to others in need, we allow Christ’s light to shine in and through us. In this season of irrational fear and discord in our nation, our words and actions in the political arena can bring Christ’s light and love to bear, not to mention his peace. Instead of demonizing our opponents, we resolve to debate the issues. Instead of fear-mongering, we remind others that Jesus is Lord and Caesar (whoever that might be) is not. We are kind to those who abuse us and speak the truth to power, even when we know we will get blasted for doing so. And let us not forget our own family as the Lord reminds us in our OT lesson. Let God’s reign begin at home in how we treat our spouses and children. Let us be faithful and kind and self-giving toward them. If we have children (or grandchildren), let us be bold enough to act like parents (or grandparents) and speak the truth in love to them, daring to love them enough to encourage them to use their God-given talents to the glory of God and warning them about the dangers and lies that are beckoning them to join in the fun to their ruin, all the while masquerading as the glamorous, the sexy, the hip—things like illicit drug use and the idols of popularity, sex, identity, greed, prestige, power, and the rest.

Is this hard work? You bet it is because much of the world does not want to hear about God’s love and righteousness. And if you’re from my generation, there will be this fear that we are starting to sound like our parents, meaning that we have lost our ability to be cool along with our hair. But we need to get over that lie and delusion that was foisted on us years ago and not let it deter us. We mustn’t hide under a basket Christ’s light made real and manifest in our lives. One thing is certain. Being Christ’s light and image-bearers is not for the faint of heart. But as we have seen, we are not people who have faint hearts. We are a people who are loved and claimed by the living God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us so that we can live with him now and forever, and who gives us his Spirit to equip us to do the work he calls us to do. And because of that great love, we are a people with a real present and future, unlike those who reject God and his Christ. This is worship that is pleasing to God. This is the Good News we are to live and proclaim, now and for all eternity. What a great privilege it is for us to be called to this life-giving work, which after all is the very definition of liturgy (the work of the people)! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Happy Birthday, Dad

JFM at BooteryToday would have been my dad’s 94th birthday, something I really can’t wrap my mind around. He’s been dead for almost 13 years and I still miss him. Oh, don’t misunderstand. I know where he is and I am not unhappy for him because he is enjoying his well-deserved rest with the Lord as he awaits his new resurrection body. So no regrets there.

No, I just miss him. I miss being around him and enjoying his company. I miss his gentle humor and his great wisdom. I miss his big heart and him being the patriarch of our family.

God blessed me richly in giving me a father who loved me and served as a great role model for me and the community in which he lived. For that I am thankful and I try to conduct myself in ways that would make dad proud. Not real good in doing that lately, though.

Happy birthday, dad. I love you. Thank you for giving me the greatest gift a son could ever want—you.

CD: Ohio Groundhog Buckeye Chuck Predicts More Winter

Oh boy. I think we better send this guy over to Pennsylvania.

MARION, Ohio – Pennsylvania has Punxsutawney Phil, Ohio has Buckeye Chuck, and both groundhogs this year predict six more weeks of winter.

Officials in Marion say Buckeye Chuck reportedly saw his shadow Thursday morning in the central Ohio city. Legend holds that winter will last another six weeks if the furry rodent sees his shadow on Feb. 2. If he doesn’t see his shadow, then spring will come early.

This is the second consecutive year that the state’s official groundhog has seen his shadow.

Punxsutawney Phil also called for six more weeks of cold weather on Thursday.

Read it all.