Fr. Terry Gatwood: Shall We Continue to Sin?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2A, Sunday, June 25, 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: Genesis 21.8-21; Psalm 86.1-10, 16-17; Romans 6.1b-11; Matthew 10.24-39.

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

“Shall we continue in sin?”

This is Paul’s opening question in Romans 6:1.

It’s not necessarily the case that someone in Paul’s audience actually believed that it would be a brilliant idea to “continue in sin,” as if it no longer mattered what they were doing. Rather, this was Paul’s way of rhetorically advancing his argument forward to answer the questions that might not have been asked, but that issues that yet need to be addressed pastorally. The question derives from Paul’s claim in 5:20 (“where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”).

It also arises from firsthand experience that the radical gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ led to accusations of a moral anarchy amongst the Christian communities. For he writes in Romans 3:8, Why not say, as some slanderously claim that we say, ‘Let us do evil that good may result?’” These folks’ condemnation is well deserved for completely missing the point and continuing on as if grace were a holy mulligan.

God’s grace extends to the ungodly and utterly and completely obliterates any attempts to claim justification on any other ground. God’s grace mocks silly distinctions on the basis of human ideals, ideologies, and other lines in the sand we draw to sort out the good folks from the riff-raff. This might lead to the conclusion “Well, if it’s the case that our boundaries and our laws are meaningless, dear Paul, then let’s just all be ungodly sinners all of the time.” Paul says no. Such an thought reflects an anemic understanding of what grace and justification actually are. This passage should lead to deeper reflection on both how we understand grace and justification in and through Jesus Christ.

This section of Romans is a piece of a much longer argument being made by the Apostile, the second part of which also begins with a similar rhetorical question in 6:15: “Should we sin since we are not under law, but under grace?” The present passage (which really should extend through 6:14) is difficult to isolate from 6:15-23. This will part of next week’s lectionary readings, but let me read it to you today, starting at verse 11:

 ”In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your motal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.  When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.

In the first section, Paul draws attention to the bedrock of what it means to be a believer in Christ Jesus, what the new reality consists of. In the next section, Paul addresses what the working out of that foundational reality looks like. The entirety of Romans 6 is closely linked to Paul’s thoughts about Christ as the new Adam in Romans 5, and to the reality of freedom from the law in Romans 7. For Paul, death to sin is the necessary flipside of being united to Christ the new Adam. And it is linked to death and to the law. If we have not truly been transferred out of the land of Sin, then we have not been united to Christ, nor have we transferred from the hold of the law.

In this first section (verses 1-14), Paul makes two main moves, centered on what the community took for granted: baptism. First, Paul speaks of baptism as death. Second, Paul links baptismal death to death to sin.

Whatever we might draw from this passage about baptism, one thing is clear: baptism is more than another event that takes place in the life of a person, like graduation, where all the relatives come and celebrate. And it’s more than a religious ritual where church members commit to one another in word but not action, not taking up the ministries God is calling them to where the spiritual gifts God has given them are to be employed. Baptism is very serious business.

Death through baptism is not merely a spiritual metaphor. Throughout Paul’s letters, this “death” to old humanity is very real. The language Paul uses emphasizes that this death is a “knowable” reality. In verse 3 Paul speaks of “not knowing” to remind his audience that baptism is baptism into death with Christ: “Do you not know that all of us … were baptized into his death?” In verse 6 he writes about “knowing” that the old humanity was crucified, with the result that the body of sin is destroyed. And in verses 8-9, Paul writes, “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will live with/in him, knowing that … death no longer lords over him.”

It is this knowable experience of “death” to the old humanity that enables Paul to eschew social convention (Galatians 3:28), to dare to risk folly and persecution rather than play according to the world’s “wisdom” and seek fame (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), and to actually say that obedience to the law avails nothing in terms of “marking” someone as being in or out of God’s favor (1 Corinthians 7:19).

Many Christians today struggle with the idea of being “dead to sin.” When Paul talks about “dead to sin,” is this the same thing as “sinless”? The problem might be that we operate with a moral perfectionism system of thought where “sin” refers to the individual acts we do that miss the perfection mark.

The contexts suggests that Paul is working with an understanding of sin as an operating force, something that exercises dominion over people, a mode of living in the world defined by corruption of God’s good creational intentions for humanity and the world. Given the overall context of what Paul says about Adam and Christ in Romans 5 and the law in Romans 7, it makes sense to consider that in baptism believers have died to their previous existence, of slavery in the land of Sin. They have been rescued by death, to be brought into a new land and a new existence.

The resonances with the Exodus of Israel are thick in Paul’s narrative imagination. Like Israel, those who are baptized in Christ have passed through waters, being separated from enslavement to all that was before, and they’ve been transferred like Israel by God’s delivering hand into a new existence. Does this mean that the Israelites changed? Yes and no. The important point is that they’ve been transferred from one reality to another. Paul’s concluding statement makes the point: “Consider yourselves on the one hand dead to sin, but on the other hand living to God in Christ Jesus” (6:11).

The rhetorical question in 6:1 reflects a shallow understanding of the transformation that God’s grace brings about. God’s grace moves the ungodly to a new land and changes their identity and the nature of the rules that govern their lives. God’s grace is no excuse to remain unchanged. Paul is not preaching moral anarchy. Nor is Paul advocating an understanding of the Christian life as untransformed. It does not give us pardon while we keep playing in Sin as we always have, only feeling better because we believe God overlooks it. In dying with Christ, we no longer dwell in the land of Sin, we become God’s new creation in Christ. This is our new reality! Justification and grace are not only forensic or the easing of guilt; they are regenerative. Baptism is not a security; it is a reality changer. Therefore, in the newness of this life let us rejoice together, recognizing the new life given to us at the font, and feast together at the table the Lord prepares for us for our living in this new land of the redeemed.

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

Carl: On Being and Not Being Yourself

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1A, Sunday, June 18, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

One of our bright young stars, Carl, is our guest preacher today.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 18.1-5, 21.1-7; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; Romans 5.1-8; Matthew 9.25-10.23.

Be yourself, a phrase, an admonishment really, that I’m sure all of us have heard at one point or another in our lives. This phrase shows up in different forms throughout the ages, whether it is my generation’s pithy take—“you do you”; Polonius’ advice to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet—“to thine ownself be true”; or this great philosophical statement from Taylor Swift—“just be yourself, there is no one better.” While there is a certain truth to this idea of being yourself, the constant stream of self-affirmation that flows through the veins of today’s culture can be overwhelming and the constant pressure to find your true self and then be that person can be exhausting. On most days, we probably find ourselves more in line with screenwriter Joss Whedon’s view on this topic: “Remember to always be yourself. Unless you suck.” Here, Whedon reveals a deep truth that gets obscured by the affirmative language that gets thrown around so easily today: what if I suck? What if I don’t like myself? Everyone is telling me to be myself, but if they really knew me, would they like me?

So, what do we do? If you’re anything like me, and I hope for your sake you aren’t, you start trying to make yourself better. You start with the man (or the woman) in the mirror, and you ask him (or her) to make a change—surely you can take a look at yourself and find out how to not quite suck so much! It’s that easy, right? Wrong. As preachers everywhere have taken great joy in pointing out, most of us can’t even keep a New Year’s resolution for longer than a couple weeks, so how in the world are we going to clean up the deep, ingrained dirt in ourselves? And here we arrive at the crux of the matter, and what I’m going to be taking up for the remainder of the sermon: we can’t change ourselves into the selves we would like or the selves we think we should be, but we are still called by God to be ourselves. God has called you to be you, or, as Fr. Ric likes to say, to discover your sacred why…even when you don’t like yourself.

I can already hear the questions in your heads. Doesn’t the Bible say the heart is desperately wicked? Doesn’t Jesus tell us to deny ourselves? If we are fallen, then being ourselves is a bad thing, right? Is Carl really already using the same question posing tactic that Fr. Kevin uses all the time? Yes, yes, yes, and, yes. Rest assured, I will answer these objections, real or imagined, in due time, but for now let’s get into our texts and see what they have to say about being ourselves and how God views us.

Now, I want to establish an important idea for this message up front: the notion that we have a true self and many false selves. God is calling us to be our true selves, while the world and the evil powers are desperately trying to convince us that one of our false selves will do. Heck, even we try to convince ourselves of the truth of our false notions of ourselves. In the midst of all these different pressures and expectations we experience, it can often be hard to hear the voice of the Spirit, gently guiding us toward who we are. Look at Abraham in our Old Testament reading for today. It took God a long time, in human terms, to fulfill his promise to Abraham, and with the birth of Isaac, we see God’s promise coming true. But, let’s not forget that even though God had told him directly that he would be the father of many nations, Abraham, yielding to pressures within and without, took that matter into his own hands when he had a child with Hagar. He did not trust what God had revealed to him about his true self.

God knows that we, just like Abraham, are prone to forget or doubt who we really are, but he does not condemn us for it. Rather, he provides us with material signs and gracious communities around us to remind us who we are. For Abraham and the Israelites, one of these material signs was circumcision, as we saw in today’s Old Testament reading. Circumcision served as a material reminder of God’s covenant with Abraham, the things he had promised, and his stance toward Israel. In Isaac’s circumcision, Abraham remembers God’s promises and who God has called him to be.

One last thing before I move on to the Gospel reading. In our Old Testament lesson, we see a God who keeps his promises—he may fulfill them in his own time, but he keeps them. When God tells you who you really are, he doesn’t intend to let you be anything less. Furthermore, he will use, even redeem, your past failings and mistakes in this process. Consider Sarah, who, in Genesis 18, laughs at the suggestion that she could have a child. The Lord asks her if she laughed and she denies it, afraid and embarrassed. Fast forward to our reading for today and we see Sarah saying, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” God has turned her laughter of scorn and disbelief into laughter of joy, he has turned her failure to bear a child into Isaac, and he has not forgotten his promises to his covenant people. Thus, when God tells us who we are, we know he will be faithful to those promises, even when we screw up.

In our Old Testament reading we see a God who keeps his promises, and in our Gospel reading today, we see God, in the form of Jesus, equipping and commissioning those whom he has called to make a difference in the world. Here, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples, telling them to go and preach the good news of the kingdom, to go out as laborers in the harvest, and he says a couple things that I want to look at more closely. Jesus says, “Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” If you’ll permit me a slightly creative reading here, Jesus is telling the disciples to be themselves. He doesn’t tell them to make sure that they look a certain way or talk to certain people, all he tells them to seek out the worthy, the ones who will recognize the truth in what the disciples are doing. And if they don’t, well, just go ahead and shake the dust off your sandals as you leave—don’t worry what they think about you, because all that matters is what I think of you.

This is made even more evident in the next section of the passage, where Jesus tells the disciples that they will be brought before the powers of this world, who will try to make them conform to their ideas of selfhood. They will be flogged, persecuted, and put to death because the Lord has called them out and they have refused to continue living as a false version of themselves. How are they enabled to do this, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven? I’ll point out a couple things from this passage that lead nicely to our New Testament reading. First, Jesus tells them this: “You received without payment; give without payment.” Here, Jesus reminds them of their status in the kingdom as ones who have received an inestimable gift simply because they are loved by God. This ragtag group of men, many who were outcasts of society, have been transformed by the renewing grace of God. Knowing who they are—embraced and loved by God, but utterly dependent on his grace—allows the disciples to give without asking for reimbursement. They are telling and showing others what they have experienced: that God does not require payment, he does not require you to gain more wealth or become a better person, he only wants you…no strings attached.

Second, Jesus tells the disciples to get rid of any preconceived notions they might have of how they need to act or what they need to say to the powers that will persecute them. He says instead, “For what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” We just celebrated Pentecost a few weeks ago, where we were reminded about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and how God sent his Spirit to dwell with us. We have the Spirit, and, as a result, that relationship with God through Jesus and his Spirit forms a part of our true selves. The Spirit spoke through the disciples, and speaks through you and through me, and reminds us who we are in relationship to God. And when that happens, it doesn’t matter who you think you need to be or how you see yourself, because God sees you and speaks through you, the real you, no matter how you feel.

This brings us to our New Testament reading, where I may just finally answer some of those questions I said I was going to answer at the beginning of the sermon. So, who are we, really? How does God see us? And what do we have to do about that? Alright, let’s take these questions one at a time. Who are we? To put it simply, I’m going to default to Martin Luther—we are simul justus et peccator, simultaneously sinners and saints. Our identity as Christians is composed of our sinner-ness on one side of the coin, and our sainthood on the other. Now, for Luther, this meant that even though we are justified through faith, we still have a sin nature and we still are subject to the human tendency to mess things up and hurt others. And while I don’t have any problems with that idea, I want to take this in a slightly different direction.

Okay, so if we are sinners and saints, how does God see us? Does he love us as saints when we do good things, and get mad at us when we sin? It’s very, very easy for us to think that God deals with us in that manner, and even if we don’t think that, we often act like it. We have our own form of Christian multiple personality disorder, where we believe that God loves us unconditionally, yet we act as if God is sitting up in heaven doing some bookkeeping on us: “Well, today Carl gave that homeless guy some money, plus three points. Eh, but he got really angry while in traffic, so minus five. He’s got some work to catch back up.”

To put an end to all this talk of score-keeping, let’s turn to our New Testament reading, particularly verses six through eight: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” While we were sinners, Christ died for us. Before we did anything, God loved us. Before we made a move toward God, he made a move toward us. If God proved his love for us while we were still sinners, why would that change once we’ve accepted his love? And, while we’ve all heard a message about Roman 5:8, I’m hard-pressed to remember hearing about the subversive, upside-down nature of the verses that precede it.

“Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.” Why would God send his Son to die for sinners, and not for the righteous and the good? Because in all our attempts at righteousness and goodness, when we believe that they can save us or please God, we are creating false selves and God is not interested in our false selves. As Robert Capon delightfully quips, “Jesus came to call sinners, not the pseudo-righteous; he came to raise the dead, not to buy drinks for the marginally alive.” Any efforts to be strong, to prove ourselves to God, are efforts to climb out of the weakness that lies at the core of us. But, Christ died for sinners when we were weak and when we are weak. Any attempt to shed that weakness is an attempt to raise ourselves by our own power. Those attempts are unnecessary, because God doesn’t just see us lying in the grave, throw some dirt on us, and tell us to get ourselves out…he’s the one in the business of raising the dead.

In Christ’s death and resurrection, the power of which continues to sustain us day after day, God does not see us as loathsome sinners, but instead sees us as saints, brimming with light and overflowing with glory. And here we encounter the other facet of our true selves, our sainthood. Yes, we are sinners, but we spend a lot of time thinking about that, and, often, not in productive ways, some of which I’ve tried to push back against this morning. But it’s very hard for us, or at least for me, to understand that God does not see us that way anymore…that’s what the cross means after all. Through his death, Christ was reconciling us and Creation to God, thus, we are reconciled. There is no penance for us to pay, Christ paid it, and, guess what, I’m pretty sure God threw that bill in the fire. It’s gone, forever. God keeps his promises. God wants us to be our true selves, not the ones we think we need to be. And he sees us as our real selves, just as he intended.

So, what does all of this mean for us? First of all, I hope that the knowledge that you are loved and adored by the God of the universe no matter what you do brings you some peace and joy. God sees you as you truly are, as he created you, and all the sin in the world doesn’t change that. Secondly, I think there is a great freedom in understanding that many of the ways that we think of ourselves are false, and these conceptions are not how God sees us nor are they our true selves. With this freedom comes the power to step forward boldly in the power of the Spirit, just like the disciples and discover who God has made us to be. As Abraham reminds us, God keeps his promises, and he is doing a work in us, tearing down the false selves we so readily build, gently nudging us ever forward in our journeys with him. I want to leave you with a verse from one of my favorite hymns, “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” that sums up my message this morning:

“Let not conscience let you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.
This he gives you, This he gives you, This he gives you:
‘Tis the Spirit’s glimmering beam.”

Why the Trinity Matters

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday A, June 11, 2017, 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: Genesis 1.1-2.4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13.11-13; Matthew 28.16-20.

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

Today is Trinity Sunday where we focus on the triune nature of God. What does that mean, you ask? Well, let me tell you. When your priests drew straws to see who would have to preach today, I lost. I was hoping Fr. Gatwood would draw the short straw as he has a much greater propensity to make himself look foolish. But no, I am the lucky one who gets to show you the size of my peabrain. I have the unenviable task of musing on how God can exist as three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—which is what we mean when we talk about our triune God—and yet still remain one God. In other words, I am given the task of explaining to you the unexplainable. No problem, as this short video demonstrates.

Given the minefield of bad teaching about our triune God, it seems to me the best way for us to approach this subject is to look at how God has chosen to reveal himself to us in Scripture and experience. Doing so allows us to look at God in the various contexts the Bible speaks about God and hopefully we can gain some edifying insights about who God is and why knowing this triune God is important to us and our faith.

We begin by looking at God the Father, the Creator of heaven (God’s space) and earth (human space) and all that fills both dimensions. It is important for us to get our understanding of creation right because if we don’t, our understanding about God will not be right, precisely because God is our Creator. See the creation rightly and we will surely begin to see our Creator rightly. As the first part of the creation narrative in Genesis makes clear, God spoke into existence out of nothing this vast cosmos with its overlapping dimensions of heaven and earth (more about that in a moment). After each creative period, God looked at his finished work and declared it to be good. And then on the sixth day, God created humans in God’s own image and declared us and his creation to be very good. And astonishingly, as our psalm lesson and Genesis 1-2 make crystal clear, God in his wisdom created us humans in his image to rule over God’s good creation on God’s behalf. And please, folks, don’t treat Genesis as a book of science. Please. The writer of Genesis is not at all interested in how God created the cosmos. He is interested in the fact that God created the cosmos and all that that entails. Don’t get sucked into foolish debates over false dichotomies as some opposed to the Judeo-Christian faith would like.

So what does this teach us about creation and God the Father? Let’s start with the obvious. The first thing we must be clear about when we think about creation is that it is good. God wanted to bring his creation into existence and did so because it pleased him. For whatever reason, God values physicality, not just things immaterial or spiritual. That means we too are to value God’s creation and see it as good. This has all kinds of implications for us as Christians, from how we see the environment and interact with it to how we see and treat each other as Paul summarizes in our epistle lesson. We were created to be stewards of God’s good world, to take care of it and to reflect God’s goodness and glory out into the world by our faithful stewardship of it. God did not create this world for us to exploit and abuse it. He created us to take care of it. Faithful stewardship of this world is a good indicator of our understanding of the goodness of God’s creation and creative activity. Likewise with how we treat other humans. Given that every human being bears at least a semblance of God’s image (granted some have worked very hard to obliterate that image), how we choose to treat others (or mistreat them) will serve as a powerful indicator of our proper understanding of the goodness of God’s creation and the importance and goodness of God’s image-bearing creatures.

Second, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 1.18-20, the goodness and beauty of God’s creation give us glimpses of the beauty, goodness, and power of God so that no one has an excuse for not worshiping God or giving thanks to God for God’s good gifts. This is seen most clearly in our psalm: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers/ the moon and the stars that you have ordained/ What are mortals, that you should be mindful of them/ mere human beings, that you should seek them out?” Despite the mind-boggling size of this universe, here we are on this tiny planet, the focus of God’s attention and love. This gives us a constant insight into the importance of creation and the mind and purposes of God the Father, thanks be to God!

Last, the creation narratives remind us of the proximity and overlapping nature of heaven and earth. We see this most clearly when the text tells us that God created humans in God’s own image for the purpose of running God’s world on God’s behalf. This is temple language, which suggests God created this vast cosmos to function as a temple. Temples are temples because they are believed to house the deity for which they are built. In the case of creation, God is the builder and we are to reflect God’s image out into the world, which serves as God’s temple. In effect, we are living statues that actually have functional meaning and purpose.

This, of course, points us to the fact that God is present and active in his creation and our lives, contrary to the lie of deism that was foisted on us and that argues God is nothing more than an absentee landlord who is neither active in his creation or particularly cares about it or us. But Genesis attests God the Father does not work that way. What kind of Father would God be if God abandoned us to our own devices? Short answer: A lousy one. Indeed, before we humans rebelled against God, a disastrous event better known as the Fall, the creation narratives suggest that God was present and active in God’s creation to a far greater extent than he is today. There is nothing that happens in this world or our lives that is outside the purview and love of God our Father. Nothing. As Christians, therefore, we should not believe in happenstance or accidents or fate because of God’s active presence in his world. If God were indeed absent, this world would be utter chaos because at its heart our sin is both chaos and lawlessness. But despite the pervasiveness of human sin, God’s world is not entirely chaotic because God is a God of peace, not disorder (1 Corinthians 14.33). Just because the heavenly dimension is invisible to us doesn’t mean that God is far away. When we understand these fundamental truths about God and creation, it makes it a lot easier for us to love and obey God. What child who really loves his parents wants to displease them, especially when he knows they are always around? When we understand that God’s creation and creative purposes are good and for our good, we have objective Truth we can use to assess the goodness (or not) of our own thoughts and behaviors. And when we realize God is actively present in God’s world and our lives, this knowledge can be balm for our troubled hearts and minds when we fall victim to the forces of chaos and evil. In sum, God the Father is a good and loving Creator who created this world and us good, and its goodness, as well as ours, is of primary importance to God.

Of course, we all know that our first ancestors didn’t get the memo about being God’s good and faithful stewards over God’s creation. We weren’t and aren’t interested in being created in God’s image. That would consign us to a subordinate position to God. No, we wanted to be made in our own image so that we could run the show without God in the picture. You can read about the sad story of the Fall in Genesis 3. Our sinful rebellion caused God’s curse to fall on his good creation and allowed the forces of evil to enter and corrupt God’s good creation and creatures. We were no longer running God’s world on God’s behalf. Our sin and rebellion allowed the dark powers to usurp that role from us and enslave us to their power. This resulted not only in the corruption of God’s world and us, it also led to our death. As St. Paul reminds us, sin leads to death and none of us can escape its power because we are all enslaved to the power of Sin (Romans 6.16, 7.7-24).

Now if God were some unloving tyrant who doesn’t care about his creation and creatures, God would likely abandon his project of creation and start over. But as we have seen, this is not the case. God loves his creation and creatures and is faithful to it and us. This means that God isn’t going to start over. God is going to put things right. God intends to reverse the curse and rid his good creation and creatures of all that corrupts and dehumanizes it and us. In other words, God intends to rid his creation of the forces that hate God and his creation and to put us back in charge again. If we stopped right here (sorry, we’re not), this would tell us all we need to know about the heart and mind of God the Father. Despite our stubborn rebellion, despite our hostility toward God and God’s purposes, God loves us and wants to restore us to our full humanity. God wants us to live, not die, and so God moved in a most unexpected way to do this. God became human to die on a cross for our sins to free us from our enslavement to Sin and Death so we can become the fully human creatures God created us to be.

We, of course, are talking about the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. As St. John tells us, Jesus is the co-eternal Son of the Father, through whom the world was made (John 1.1-14). As St. Paul tells us, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became human to rescue us from the dominion of darkness and transfer us to God’s kingdom of light (Colossians 1.13-23). God became human so that God could manifest his justice by rightly condemning our sins in the flesh, our entrenched rebellion and wrong-doing, bearing his right and just judgment himself. God loves us and wants to free us from our slavery to Sin and his terrible judgment on all that is wrong with us and God’s world, and so God the Son willingly took on God the Father’s right condemnation of our sins so that we would not stand condemned (Romans 8.1-4). Once we are freed from the power of Sin, i.e., once we receive forgiveness of our sins, we are ready to start ruling God’s good world once again as God’s faithful stewards. This is the story of salvation contained in the Bible, my beloved. God did not save us to take us to heaven and abandon his creation. That is a form of the old gnostic heresy that devalues creation. No, as St. Paul reminds us,

[All] creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed [at the Lord’s Second Coming and our resurrection from the dead]. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8.19-21)

This is why Jesus’ resurrection is so important. In God’s new creation, a creation that will be a physical world in the manner of God’s current creation, God’s purposes for us as his image-bearers will be fulfilled completely. Our new bodies will no longer be susceptible to or corrupted by sin and we will therefore have the ability to fulfill God’s creative responsibility God gave to us.

This has several implications for us right now. We are reminded that we are set free from our sins for a reason and a purpose. That purpose is to learn how to be fully human beings once again. We cannot possibly hope to learn this if we are still enslaved by the power of Sin, which corrupts and dehumanizes us. But we are freed from its power, albeit only partially now, because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Unlikely as it seems in this crazy world in which we live, it is the NT’s adamant insistence that by the Son of God’s death and resurrection, God the Father has broken the power of the dark forces and has begun to restore us to our rightful role as God’s good image-bearing creatures (e.g., Luke 10.18; Romans 16.20; Colossians 2.15; Revelation 20). To be sure, this requires an act of faith because we all know evil, while defeated, is not yet finished. But its day is coming and we will see it in full when our Lord Jesus returns to raise us from the dead and finish his saving work for us and God’s creation that he started in his Incarnation.

So what does this look like for us on the ground? How does our understanding about God’s eternal plan to rescue God’s good but corrupted creation and creatures and restore it and us to our original goodness affect our behavior? I offer the following suggestions to jump-start your own thinking and reflections on these things. First, it makes the Great Commission in our gospel lesson an imperative for us. If the biblical narrative of God’s salvation in and through Jesus Christ is true, it is imperative for us to proclaim it to others. Of course, human nature being what it is, many will not listen to us. But some will and therefore we must obey our Lord’s command to preach the gospel and make disciples of all different kinds of folks. If, as Scripture teaches and we believe, salvation is possible only through the Son of God, and if we claim to actually love others, how can we not be about the business of proclaiming the gospel to those who have not heard it or who don’t know Jesus? Only Jesus is the resurrection and the life. This is why we must get our understanding of God the Father and the goodness and purpose of creation right. We must proclaim the biblical gospel, not a gnostic one. This is our image-bearing duty.

Second, if God has rescued and freed us from the dark powers that have enslaved us so that we are healed to become his image-bearing creatures again, then our focus must be on practicing our redeemed humanity right now. We do this by actively imitating the Son of God in his self-giving and self-denying love for others. This means we must learn to truly love and forgive and serve. It means our center of gravity is God, not ourselves, and all that that entails. Put another way, this life serves as a training ground for our eternal life in God’s new creation. This is impossible on our own, of course. But the gospel is not a gospel of self-help, much as we want to make it to be that. We cannot imitate the Son of God without the power and presence of the third person of the Trinity—God the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who makes the risen but invisible Jesus available to us, to lead us into all truth and teach us how to obey our Lord. It is the Spirit who helps us overcome the forces of evil and chaos we all have within us and who helps us defeat the Satan and his minions. From our salvation to the living of our days, we must learn that the gospel is not about self-help or trying harder. To be sure, we must put in our sweat-equity in learning how to become fully human again, e.g., we must make disciples and love one another as Christ loves us. But we must also remember that we are in the position to do this only because of what God the Father has done for us in and through God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Our actual salvation is based only on God’s work in Christ and fulfilled in the power of the Spirit, not ours. If we can begin to grasp and wrestle with this astonishing Truth, we will discover that we have a Power that is not our own that helps and frees us to live according to God’s original creative purposes for us. That must translate into Good News, my beloved, despite the chaos still present in God’s world and our lives, the Good News of our astonishing and loving triune God, 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.

FN Opinion: D-Day: The Greatest Day of the 20th Century

The men of D-Day knew they could not fail. There was no substitute for victory. Winston Churchill knew the price of failure too. “If we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.” Churchill knew that with victory, “All Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”

Operation Overlord commenced at just after midnight on June 6. As British Glider troops secured Pegasus Bridge near Caen, the American airborne armada was on its way to the Cotentin Peninsula. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions had orders to secure the various causeways and roads connecting Utah and Omaha Beaches to the Normandy interior.

Within minutes of crossing the Normandy coastline, the vast air armada ran into thick clouds and intense anti-aircraft fire. Many of the 870 C-47s carrying both divisions separated from their “V-of-V” formations and became lost, with each plane flying seemingly blind toward the drop zones.

As the enemy fire intensified, disoriented pilots began to unload the airborne troops. In the dead of night, many of the paratroopers landed alone, miles from where they were supposed to be. Separated from their buddies, their officers, their platoons, even their divisions, the paratroopers nevertheless began to move out to their objectives. Some of them located other soldiers from their companies. Some fought with troopers from another division. Some fought alone.

As dawn broke on June 6, the Allied fleet opened-up on the German coastal defenses with naval gunfire and rockets. Under the impression that the bombardment had killed or wounded a large percentage of the German defenders, the troops of the 4th, 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions, and the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, boarded Higgins landing craft.

Read it all.

June 6, 2017: On a Personal Note

On this date in 2010 at First United Methodist Church in Van Wert, OH we debuted the anthem commissioned in my mother’s memory, Longing to Draw Near by Craig Courtney. My grandparents Maney were married 100 years ago on this date in 1917, my dad participated in D-Day on this date in 1944, I graduated from high school on this date in 1971, and my daughter Bridget graduated from high school on this date in 2008. June 6 has been a big day for the Maney family!

June 6, 2017: General Eisenhower’s D-Day Speech

From here:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

— Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

June 6, 2017: Remembering D-Day

Today (like this year, a Tuesday in 1944), marks the 73nd anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the greatest amphibious assault the world has ever known (and hopefully will ever know). Sadly, most of those valiant soldiers are now dead, and our country is the poorer because of it.

The Normandy invasion was a terrible and costly effort on the part of the Allies and must have been horrendous to those who had to face the deadly onslaught of the Nazi defenders. I would commend Stephen Ambrose’s book, D-Day, to anyone who is interested in this monumental battle. Ambrose was a wonderful storyteller, which all good historians are, and meticulous in his research. He weaves an absolutely riveting and terrifying tale of what the first troops landing in Normandy that day faced, and anyone with a semblance of imagination who can put himself in those soldiers’ shoes is sure to wonder if he could have faced that deadly fire with the courage and resoluteness that those soldiers did. I am simply awe-struck by it all.

John F. Maney at Normandy waiting to land.

I am also proud that my own father, John F. Maney, was part of that great and historic event. Fortunately, he did not have to hit the beaches until D+2 because it wasn’t until June 8th that our forces were able to establish a beachhead substantial enough to land a significant artillery presence, of which he was part. Like many of his generation, my dad is now dead, but one of my fondest memories is when we went back to Uffculme, England in 1984 to visit where he was stationed. We went into a pub to get some supper and find a place to sleep that night, and ultimately were led to a man who had been a “honey-dipper” while dad was stationed there, prior to D-Day. When Roy entered the pub that evening, he shook my dad’s hand and said to him, “Hello, young soldier.” He then welcomed dad back and thanked him for his service. It was as poignant a moment as I have ever experienced because my dad was no longer young and was no longer a solder; but he had been there, and he had been part of that monumental effort. I will always treasure it.

Thank you, young soldiers, for your bravery and determination in defeating an unspeakable evil that was Nazism. You paid a terrible price so that the rest of us can enjoy our freedom. I hope and pray we do not forget you or your generation, or the price freedom sometimes requires to persevere. Likewise, I pray we will not forget what it means to live responsibly in this democracy of ours so that we will not abuse the freedoms for which so many of you fought and died.

Who are your heroes from that generation? If they are still alive, take a moment today and thank them for being who they are.

Kendall Harmon: Cremation: Have We Thought it Through?

For Christians, being the resurrection people we are, this should be a no-brainer. But it’s not. The Church in the West has generally dropped the ball on this issue, mainly because many in the mainline don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ or the promise of new creation with all its physicality, resurrected bodies included. And so many faithful Christians are left to fend for themselves when it comes to these kinds of decisions. Canon Harmon does a succinct and thorough job parsing it all out. See what you think.

At a MINIMUM my plea, to follow Paul in Romans, is for each person to make up his or her own mind. In other words, think it through. What I regularly find with contemporary Christians is that they have no problem with cremation, but when I raise objections they cannot answer them. So please understand that I am writing this to encourage you think against me in the body of Christ. Cremation is a matter on which Christians differ with one another, but that difference is to be an encouragement to us to think more deeply about the subject. (I just wrote “we will gladly do the burial either way” and then I looked at it a long time and realized that “gladly” might be misconstrued! We will surely do your burial no matter what you decide).

Often the cremation question is formulated backwards. The question should be why should Christians do anything other than bodily burial? I wish to press this question by noting that it can be shown that as secularization increases, cremation increases. This ought at least to give us pause.

Bodily Burial should be preferred for at least three reasons. (1) Bodily burial best allows for honest grief. This is the least important reason, but it matters a lot in our culture which for the most part STILL lives into Ernest Becker’s book title THE DENIAL OF DEATH. In such a culture, it is all the more important to enable people honestly to face up to the reality of death. The whole practice of the “death industry” is in the other direction.

Think about it. A coffin looks like a person–the same size, etc. When it is lifted it FEELS like a person, and the weightiness suggests the weight of the gift of life God gave. When it is lowered into the ground it feels like we are burying a person-same weight, height, etc. Cremation takes us away from these things–an urn is not the same size or weight as a person, etc. Also, the whole symbolism of the pall (the white linen cloth placed over the coffin) as the resurrection body is altogether lost without a coffin.

(2) The whole symbolism of cremation is exactly backwards. Christians believe in bodily resurrection. They should therefore respect the body in every possible way–how does cremation achieve this? The images for hell are: destruction, punishment, and exclusion. Fire is a key element of the scriptural teaching (there is no evidence, by the way, for Gehenna as a garbage dump, as is continually alleged in the literature). If you say a prayer over a body in an English Crematorium as my doctoral supervisor Geoffrey Rowell did, you actually look into the fire as the body is disposed of. LOOKING INTO THE FIRE? What kind of symbol for resurrection is that?
In contrast, in bodily burial, we look to the Lord, we look to the future, and we confess our faith in God who will make a new heaven and a new earth.

(3) The whole structure of Christian theology ought to challenge us here as well. Creation-fall-redemption-glorification is a profoundly earth-affirming and bodily faith structure. We were made of the earth and given bodies in creation, Christ took on full-bodiedness in the incarnation and was fully bodily resurrected, and we await one day our new and glorified bodies. Certainly our belief in the resurrection of the body is a factor here, but there is more: the whole sacramental approach to life and faith is in view. Bodily Burial is an affirmation of our bodily creation, an affirmation of our bodily redemption, and a proper anticipation of our bodily glorification.

Read it all

Fr. Ric Bowser: Pentecost: A Much-Needed Supernatural Event

Sermon delivered on Pentecost Sunday A, June 4, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.1-21; 1 Corinthians 12.3b-13; John 20.19-23.

There is no written text for today’s sermon because like the rest of the associate priests at St. Augustine’s, Father Bowser has not yet learned how to write. Click here to listen to the sermon podcast.

The Battle of Midway

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942), the decisive turning point in the war against the Japanese during World War II. It was unique in that the opposing navies never fired a direct shot at each other. It was all fought through the air.

Read more about Midway here and check out the video below.

For you history buffs who want the real thing, check out this video below.