W. David O. Tayler (CT): When Jesus Doesn’t Calm the Storm


As I think back to that moment, with a mass of primeval waters rushing by us on either side of I-10, I still can’t make moral sense of Hurricane Harvey. Not today; not in the middle of it. But I do find myself profoundly grateful for the people of God and the countless good citizens who choose to be with us, and with my hometown, in the middle of the storm.

If Jesus weeps over the death of a friend, gone too soon from this earth, then Phaedra is right to weep too for all that has gone wrong in Houston. If Jesus offers his Spirit so that his disciples might be a renewed people, then the only reasonable thing for us to do as God’s people is to somehow, someway become Christ’s wounded healers to a hurting world.

For now, that’s the only way I can figure out how to cope with Hurricane Harvey.

Read it all.

From Augustine’s Confessions on His Feast Day 2017

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


People of God

Sermon delivered at the parish dedication festival of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Sunday, August 27, 2017, in Westerville, OH. A beautiful day to consider what it means to be one of God’s people in Christ.

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

Lectionary texts: Revelation 21.9-14; Psalm 122; Hebrews 12.18-24; Matthew 21.12-16.

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

Today we celebrate the sixth anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church. We didn’t call it that on that first Sunday morning in May when we met in our living room to do a Bible study and eucharist. But we call ourselves that today with 69 folks on our roster. We are people of God, part of the body of Christ here in Westerville. But what does that mean and what are some implications of that meaning? This is what I want us to look at today.

What do you think about when you hear the word “church”? Most of us say we’re going to church today. Does that mean church is a building? Not exactly. While buildings are critically important, they are not the church. So if buildings are not the church, who or what is? The quick and simple answer is the church is the people of God, the body of Christ, and as such it means we are called to live a different kind of existence. At first blush, when we come together as God’s people we are tempted to forget that deep truth. We want to be our own people instead, not God’s. As good Americans we busily organize ourselves in ways to get church business done. Many of us think that we are simply a human organization, just like all human organizations. We form a parish leadership council, the vestry, that represents the parish to make our decisions and run our parish. We write by-laws. We have a finance committee to help oversee our parish’s finances and propose operating budgets. You get the idea. This is the stuff out of which any human organization is made. And so we tend to draw on human wisdom derived from organizational, educational, and business theory and models.

But did you notice what was missing in that description? Where’s God in it all? Oh sure. We come to worship God (hopefully) every Sunday, but do we include God in our decision-making and see God as the foundation on which everything else must be built?I suspect if we are really honest with ourselves, many of us would answer no to those questions. Who’s got time for that God jazz while we are busy running the show and tending to the daily needs of our parish? When we let this mindset get entrenched, we are in serious trouble, my beloved, because it means we have lost sight of what it means to be people of God and part of the body of Christ. Here’s an example of what I am talking about. I read an article this past week in which a private Catholic school removed a statue of Mary and the baby Jesus out of concern that it might be “alienate” prospective students so that their parents wouldn’t sign them up and the money would stop rolling in. Now to be clear, a Catholic school is not the same as a parish. But in theory it is being run by the Church and the principle at work is the same. I think it’s safe to say that the leaders of this school have forgotten what it means to be people of God. They are too busy pandering to the whims of the public because they are concerned about their survival. Trust God for that? Well that kind of thinking is just cray-cray. Everybody knows God is too busy or too grouchy with us to have time for stuff like that. And before we get too uppity in our thinking about these school leaders, how many times have we kept our mouths shut or tried to hide that we are Christians because we feared doing so would make us unpopular? If you are like me, it’s been more times than I can count or remember. We would rather be delusional in our thinking that we know better than God than to actively seek God’s will and submit to it.

So what does it mean for us to be the people of God? I just hinted at it. First and foremost it means that we trust God to provide for us and to guide us in everything we do, both as individuals and together as his people. It means that we are a people who have a real future and a hope because of what God has done for us in Christ. It means that we are a forgiven and redeemed people who have done and can do absolutely nothing to merit this mercy bestowed upon us. And because we are recipients of God’s lavish love and mercy, it means that we are a people of utter joy. Let’s look at these things in more detail and as we do, ask yourself if these things characterize who you are (and who we are) as God’s people.

As people of God there are at least two major reasons we should trust God. The first is creational. God created humans in his image to run God’s world on his behalf. This, of course, requires that we have an intimate relationship with our Creator, and Genesis gives us glimpses of what that looked like before Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the garden. They conversed regularly and intimately with God to know his mind and will for them and for their stewardship of his creation. In other words, God was active in their lives and in God’s world. It’s pretty hard to be a good steward if the boss isn’t around to let you know what that looks like and to help you fulfill his wishes for you and your stewardship. The result? Paradise and human flourishing. That is God’s will for us. Our first ancestors were morally innocent and free to be what God created them to be. They were not beset by fear or anxiety or hatred or loathing or physical, emotional, and mental disorders. They were happy and they flourished. If we have a healthy creational theology we understand our place in the world and our relationship to God our Creator, and we understand that our Creator is actively involved in our lives and accessible to us in multiple ways. No room for an uncaring or absentee God in this picture. Do you have this kind of understanding about your relationship with God and your role in God’s world?

But of course paradise didn’t last very long because like us, our first human ancestors decided they knew better than God about what it takes for them to flourish and so they rebelled against God and found themselves thrown out of paradise. You can and should read the sad story of this spectacle in Genesis 3, and you should read it regularly because doing so will give you much-needed perspective on the human condition and God’s response to us. So what did God do when we rebelled against him? Did he destroy us and start over? Obviously not. We’re here talking about it today. Did God punish and abandon us? Well yes, God did punish us. God gave us over to the power of Sin so that we became its slaves, which leads to death, not just our physical death but to a permanent Death. God also put a curse on the entire creation so that it groans under our lousy stewardship and longs for the day God brings about our liberation (cf. Romans 8.18-25). So punishment and curses for our rebellion there were. This story doesn’t play well anymore in our age of tolerance and self-esteem. I suspect many of us really don’t pay much attention to the deadly seriousness of our condition before our holy and just God, nor do we dare let ourselves think too much about God’s holy wrath against Sin because it would terrify us utterly.

Why do I spend time talking about Sin and Death with you on a regular basis? Every time I do, my beloved bride hates it and I hear about it. Ruby Sue has started a petition to get me to stop. Carl has threatened to immolate himself. And the Patricks have emptied their pool and invited me over to take diving lessons. So why do I spend so much time talking about Sin and Death? Is it because I am just a creepy, dark guy who loves sharing my misery and self-loathing with you? Well, that’s probably true but there’s a much more compelling reason I do so. If we do not understand the utter hopelessness of our condition before Almighty God and our utter powerlessness to break free from our bondage to Sin and Death, we will never really understand what God has done for us in Christ nor have a basis for trusting God or having joy in the fact that we are recipients of his unwarranted mercy toward us. For you see, if we live our lives not believing that without God’s help we are utterly doomed to destruction, we will never be in the position to see or appreciate the death and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for us. Instead, we’ll schlep along thinking that while maybe we do have some bad things in us that need to change, we’re not that bad and therefore don’t deserve the kind of punishment we’ve been talking about. We therefore delude ourselves into thinking that we don’t really need God’s mercy, or that God is merciful to us because we’ve earned it somehow. After all, everybody knows that God helps those who helps themselves, right? It’s there in the Bible, isn’t it?

Well no it isn’t. That narrative is part of our disobedience. As our Lord himself reminded us when asked who could be saved, he replied, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19.26). And St. Paul tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). This is not a pretty picture of our situation, folks, and for our sake we’d better get our minds wrapped around it. But here’s the thing. God did and does more than punish human sin, and God does so not because God is an angry ogre but because God loves us and wants us to flourish by being the human image-bearers that God created us to be. God knows the hopelessness of our situation and our total inability to fix ourselves, and God has done something about it on our behalf because of God’s great love for us. We see God’s loving and gracious response to human sin as early as the book of Genesis. When Adam and Eve were hiding from the Lord after their rebellion, we see God walking through the garden, searching them out. And even after God expelled his rebellious creatures from the garden, God clothed them to cover their nakedness and provided for them in many other different ways.

Then as we heard in last week’s epistle lesson that Fr. Sang did not preach on (thanks, Father, for causing me more work), St. Paul makes the most startling and remarkable statement about God’s judgment on our rebellion. He tells us that God imprisoned all in disobedience so that God could show mercy to all (Romans 11.32). Let that sink in. God has consigned us to disobedience, not to punish us but to allow God to be merciful to us. We get other glimpses of the heart and character of God in St. Paul’s letters. In Romans 5, for example, he tells us that while we were still God’s enemies Christ died for us so that we could be reconciled to God and saved from God’s holy wrath that will come on unbelieving mankind. So let’s get this straight. While we were still sinners, while we were still God’s enemies, God became human to die on a cross to spare us from God’s own right and just wrath against our disobedience? Yep. And what are we required to do in return? Sacrifice our first-born? Live an austere and joyless life? No. We are called to have faith that God loves us so much, that it pleases God so much to rescue us from the power of Sin and Death despite our ongoing rebellion against him, that God became human to die for us to make this happen. Everyone gets to be included in the reindeer games if they choose. Everyone. My beloved, if you really start to wrap your mind around this with the help of the Spirit who lives in you, there is no way you can not be joyful and want to love and obey this God who is made known to you in Jesus Christ.

This is the basis for our NT and epistle lessons this morning. Both St. John and the writer of Hebrews talk about our present and future with God. Both assume we have a present and future with God because of what God has done for us in Christ. We can rejoice with the angels in the new Jerusalem, biblical language for the uniting of heaven and earth in God’s new world, not because of who we are—if that were the case there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth—but because of who God is. God calls us to be his people so that we can flourish and be the human image-bearing creatures who run God’s world faithfully on God’s behalf. We are a people who have been plucked from the mouth of Hell and Death to become citizens of God’s new world, and it starts right now. Once again, we have this hope, not because of who we are or what we do, but because of who God is and what God has done and is doing for us in Christ and the power of the Spirit. This really is Good News, my beloved, and all God asks us to do is to believe that God has done this for us so that we have a real desire to act in accordance with God’s will. Who in his or her right mind would be afraid to follow a God like this? Who in his right mind would not want to put God at the center of his or her life? Only God in Christ can and does offer us real life and power to live. Our riches don’t, our station in life doesn’t, our fame doesn’t, our racial or sexual or ethnic identities don’t. Only Christ gives life and he calls us to share his life with him.

This is what it means to be the people of God. Are there organizational elements in how we worship and do life as God’s people? Of course. But here is how and why we are different. Until the Lord returns to consummate his saving work, we are given the Holy Spirit who mediates Jesus’ presence in our lives. We are his people, bought with the price of his own dear blood. Therefore we are a living organism who make up our Lord’s body. We are his eyes, his ears, his heart, his compassion, his love, his mercy, his righteousness, and we are called to act accordingly. That means we are to first and foremost make him the center of all that we think, do, and say. It means we are called to trust him, even when we don’t fully understand his call to us.

In light of all this, let us pause and celebrate the fact that we are part of the people of God who have a real hope and a future because we believe in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for us in a terrible and costly act so that we might have life and have it abundantly, now and in the new Jerusalem where we will live in God’s presence forever. Or as our patron saint, Augustine of Hippo, prayed so poignantly, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they find their rest in thee.” God our Father makes this abundantly possible for us through the saving work of his Son Jesus our Lord and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the Good News we are called to celebrate and trust in my beloved, 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.

Fr. Philip Sang: Receiving What is Not Deserved

Sermon delivered on Trinity 10A, Sunday, August 20, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church. Westerville, OH. What a splendid day to listen to this fine sermon! Praise God that Father Sang has even learned how to write!

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 45.1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15.10-28.

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

In our readings today, the theme that i see running across is receiving what is not deserved. In the story of Joseph and his brothers, the guilty brothers were “so dismayed at [Joseph’s] presence,” they were failing to hear his words and believe them. I imagine their minds were caught between, “Is this Egyptian prince going to kill us, or will dad kill us for selling his favorite son and lying to him that the lions ate Joseph?” They heard words, but that could not have faith in them. They could not believe that they were receiving such treatment from their brother whom they sold. They did not deserve.

In the first part of the gospel, we have entered into a setting that keeps us from realizing that the Pharisees had just complained to Jesus about his disciples eating food without washing their hands first. They complained that the tradition of the elders was not being maintained. Jesus then “called the crowd to him and said, “It is not what goes in the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

The disciples then whisper to Jesus that the Pharisees took offense at what Jesus just told the crowd. The Pharisees had missed the point of God’s Law and had forgotten the warning of Isaiah. The words of the Torah had been read, but the Pharisees had a failure to understand and communicate the intended meaning properly.

Jesus then used a parable about the blind leading the blind, when he told the disciples why the Pharisees were offended. Peter stood up and said to Jesus, “Explain this parable to us.” Obviously, there was a failure to understand the precise reason how Pharisees with working eyesight and a crowd without any blind people could be called “blind.”

In the letter that Paul wrote to the Romans, there was doubt about how the Jews could still call themselves “the chosen ones of God,” when they had screamed out that Jesus should be killed. They sold Jesus into the slavery of a punished prophet. Paul explained how disobedience today does not mean disobedience tomorrow; so even though the Jews killed Jesus, they are still called God’s children. Though they don’t deserve Jesus had explained to Peter and the disciples, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” That statement reflected verbally and vocally that one’s inner level of defilement – or righteousness – presence of or lack of either and both – comes out through the words you use. We speak from the heart – good or bad as Jesus spoke; but his words did not sink into the disciples’ hearts.

As they walked into Canaan, some crazy Canaanite woman began shouting at them. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” The disciples urged Jesus to ask her to go away, causing him to say, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus was a Jew, with only Jews following him. He was, in essence, a Jewish ram leading twelve mindlessly lost sheep, who were now frightened by a woman that was not one of them. Before anyone could tell the woman to shut up, she ran before them and knelt down before Jesus. She said, “Lord, help me.” She prayed for mercy. Her words spoke the truth of her heart. Jesus told her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to dogs.” At that moment, Jesus had just come up with another parable. Peter had asked Jesus to explain the “blind leading the blind” analogy. Now, Jesus was talking about children, and food, and dogs, none of which were a part of that present reality.

But, the Canaanite woman understood what Jesus was saying. Her immediate response was, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” She understood she was like a dog, begging for help, completely dependent on the master. Yes she did not deserve but was pleading for mercy. She understood that she was not invited (yet) to sit at the table with the master, able to have a full bowl of food, meaning she was not allowed (yet) to follow Jesus as a disciple and be fed by his words so they filled her heart with understanding. She understood that she would be happy if only one crumb would fall her way, a crumb that would save her daughter from demonic possession. Jesus exclaimed, “Woman, great is your faith!” Finally, finally someone is getting it! Jesus said (in essence), “You understand because my words have missed your mind and hit your heart.

Back to the Old Testament lesson, we see how the outpouring of emotion, between Joseph and Benjamin, where there was hugging and weeping and kissing taking place in front of the other brothers, that was when the brothers could begin to talk to Joseph once again. When they processed his words in their minds, they were speechless. They could not communicate.

But, when their minds were triggered by their hearts, they cried, realizing their level of defilement, while FEELING how amazing it was to be forgiven for their sins. Though they did not deserve The brothers wept before the words could come from their mouths. Their heart would then be the source of their confessions and repentance, they realized they had been dogs, blessed by a crumb of forgiveness from the master’s table. They did not deserve the mercy and the love they are receiving.

The focus that needs to come from today’s readings is we are all in one or more states of being that the words of Scripture highlight. We are blind, until our eyes are opened to see the truth. We are headed to a fall in the pit, until we see the right path that must be taken. We lead others to do as we do, when we have no clue about what it is we should do. We are led by evil intentions more often than by righteous emotions. We take offense at those who understand things we misinterpret. We like to feel special as lost sheep, crying out for our leaders to run off outsiders. We ask Jesus to explain everything for us, rather than becoming emotionally one with God, so that our mind speaks as Jesus, knowing in our hearts what God’s plan is.

In the Gospel reading, it was a stranger that readily recognized Jesus as “Lord” and as a “Son of David.” She knelt before His presence and prayed, not for herself directly, but for her daughter, whom she loved with her heart. Her prayer was answered because of her faith. I am sure we all have experiences where our prayers have been answered. Not because we deserve. When we pray we pour out words from the heart. Still … Many times, we do not realize how well our prayers have been answered, until years after the fact. It is in hindsight that our eyes can be opened so we can see. The length of time between prayer and realization of a crumb being within our grasp, depends on our persistence and dependance on God as emulated by the canaanite woman. Faith does not make things easy, it makes them possible Paul wrote, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” There “may be mercy” granted, once our understanding with our brain is replaced by a faithful heart. You effect the outcome.

Let me conclude by sharing a testimony, I once prayed earnestly to God for a sign that I was doing the right thing, making radical changes in my life, while trembling that everything I was embarking upon had no clear future. This is when i had to leave my family in Kenya to come to the united states to study not knowing how things were going to be, Philarice in Kenya and i here in the states. With the college I was attending, I was only approved to received Tuition assistance but not living expense. It was hard life but this foreigner kept going through the Grace, mercy and love of God send through his people. Once i was done with schooling i was caught in between taking the job i had been offered back in kenya and moving to the states for the unknown. I chose the latter trusting that God will provide, and truly he has provided. On our arrival we decided to settle in OH, columbus to be specific, where we knew only one person, Christopher. God led us to st. Augustine’s where we have found mercy and love not that we deserved it, but it is because of the love of God, especially being outsiders or dog as Jesus calls. We prayed with the support of the church that God lead me to find a job that would provide for our needs and enable me to serve his people. In 2014 I took another turn into chaplaincy which this church has been part of my support and encouragement. You have shown us Grace, mercy and love of God. to cut the long story short, as I speak I am happy to announce that I graduated from my residency as a chaplain on Tuesday from OSU and God has Graciously answered the prayers that Father Kevin asked you to pray for me to get a job. I have accepted offer of a job as a chaplain staff with OSU wexner medical center as a chaplain effective today. Join me in giving thanks to God for his Grace, Love and mercy.

As I said earlier the prayer of the canaanite woman was answered because of her faith. When we pray we pour out words from the heart. Still … Many times, we do not realize how well our prayers have been answered, until years after the fact. It is in hindsight that our eyes can be opened so we can see. The length of time between prayer and realization of a crumb being within our grasp, depends on our persistence and dependance on God. How I pray this morning that God will grant us his Grace, mercy and love as we surrender our lives to Him.

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

Where’s God?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 9A, Sunday, August 13, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. What a perfectly good day to listen to a brilliant sermon!

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 37.1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105.1-6, 16-22; Romans 10.5-15; Matthew 14:22-33.

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

Our world seems to be coming apart at the seams, doesn’t it? In this country alone people are angrier than ever at each other, and more intolerant of behavior and thoughts they do not share or support. Charlottesville, VA is the most recent example of this sad reality. We seem to revel in dissing each other on social media and elsewhere, and the bedrock values we once shared as a nation, most notably the Judeo-Christian tradition, seem to be crumbling away before our very eyes. Worldwide, the threat of terrorism isn’t going away and who can not be concerned about the bombast that we hear coming out of the governments of N. Korea and the United States? Nuclear war anyone? Some of us here struggle with debilitating health issues or pressing financial worries or alienated relationships with family members and/or folks we once considered trusted friends. Things are not all bad, of course, but they are bad enough, and for those of us who profess to be Christians, the steady streams of bad news that continue to bombard us inevitably start to beat us down and wear us out. We wonder where God is in it all. If God is all powerful and all present, why are things so chaotic? This is what I want us to look at this morning because frankly we as Christians have allowed a massive lie to be foisted on us and we must develop clear-headed and biblical thinking about this issue to combat the lie.

That lie, of course, is that God is not active or present in God’s world, leaving us to solve our own problems. It goes by many names: Epicureanism, Deism, et al., but they all posit the same lie. God is absent and essentially uncaring. Where’s God in the world? Well, he’s checked out and we’re on our own, baby. Given the human condition, that ought to scare us to death because if true, it means we are in a hopeless situation with no way out. Human self-help is a lie and a delusion and those who espouse it are whistling through the graveyard.

And while we might be tempted to think that this belief system of an absentee God is a relatively modern one, it is not as our OT lesson attests. Today’s story begins the final saga of the book of Genesis with its story of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have seen how God promised to bring his blessing and healing to God’s sin-sick world through Abraham and his descendants, and we have also seen that all the patriarchs were not always shining examples of blessed and virtuous behavior. Old Jacob, whose name means deceiver, is deceived one more time in this story—itself a story of human wickedness and folly—this time by his own sons. We are introduced to Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son by virtue of having been birthed by his beloved wife Rachel, who was now dead. Jacob just couldn’t help himself and showed egregious favoritism to young Joseph, something that caused resentment leading to hatred in his older brothers. Not only that, but the writer tells us Joseph had ratted out his brothers for behaving badly, surely not a good recipe for fostering brotherly love and affection. To add insult to injury, Joseph had also told his brothers of a dream he had where his brothers and father would one day bow down in homage him, an integral part of today’s story that the lectionary inexplicably leaves out. We are not told if this dream came from God, although given the OT treatment of dreams in general it probably did. We are simply told that this dream was perceived by both Joseph’s brothers and Jacob to be an indication of Joseph’s arrogance. We can understand his brothers’ anger and jealousy, even if we cannot excuse their murderous desires. Keep in mind this is the family through whom God promised to bring God’s blessing to the world.

Now in today’s story Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers who are off tending sheep. When Joseph finally finds his brothers, they realize that they are presented with a golden opportunity to kill their hated little brother. Reuben, the eldest brother, pleads against killing Joseph but the brothers nevertheless strip Joseph of his robe—the hated symbol and ongoing poke in their eye of their father’s favoritism—and throw him into an empty cistern to die. Shockingly, the brothers display a callous disregard of their own wickedness by sitting down to eat, apparently oblivious to the evil of their plot! Again, remember this is the family who will bring God’s blessing to God’s sin-sick world. Are you scratching your head in bewilderment yet or do you get what’s really going on here?

And then more opportunity presents itself. A band of traveling Midianite traders “just happen” to be passing by (yeah, right—ain’t no such thing as coincidence in God’s world) and Judah forms a plan to spare Joseph’s life. Let’s sell him into slavery, he says! Oh Judah. How kind and considerate of you. And so Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and devise a plan to lie to their father about his fate. They dip Joseph’s robe in animal blood and tell Jacob that his beloved son has met a deadly fate at the paws of wild beasts. Hear again Jacob’s reaction:

Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep. Meanwhile, the Midianite traders arrived in Egypt, where they sold Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Potiphar was captain of the palace guard. (Genesis 37.34-36, NLT).

We can all relate to Jacob’s great grief over his son. But do you see the evil involved here?

Jacob’s sons, the heirs to God’s promised blessing of the world, were perfectly content to kill their brother and ultimately sell him into slavery. They were perfectly content to deceive their own father to cover their tracks, all because of their hatred and jealousy of Joseph. It’s not a pretty picture, folks. It not only describes their life but ours. We may not have sold anyone into slavery or plotted murder, but we all have our fair share of evildoing toward our enemies, not to mention our friends, neighbors, and especially God. That’s the human condition the Bible addresses. And the obvious question in all this mess is where is God in it all? Why did (and does) God let this kind of evil continue? It’s an invitation to believe in an absentee and uncaring God, right?

Well no it isn’t. For the ancient Hebrews who heard and read this story, even in exile, the answer to that question is that God is actively at work, both in Joseph’s dreams and in the “chance happening” of the Midianite traders passing by. God’s redemption is being achieved, even when it is not apparent to us, by those we reject, the weak and powerless, Joseph in this case, and ultimately in and through Jesus Christ. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, God chose the weak and foolish in the world to shame the strong and the wise, and to bring about our redemption (cf. Isaiah 53.3-6; Romans 5.1-11). God used the evil intentions and behaviors of Joseph’s brothers, as well as our own, to accomplish God’s purposes. As Joseph would eventually tell his brothers after he became second in command in Egypt and was reunited with them there, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today” (Genesis 50.20). God would deliver his people Israel from their slavery in Egypt at the Passover and ultimately rescue his people—those who put their hope and trust in his Son, Jesus Christ—from our slavery to Sin and Death.

And here is the challenge for God’s people then and now. Do we believe that God really is active, even in the midst of the chaos that appears to be ruling God’s world? Can we, despite the apparent evidence that confronts our senses and our sense of order, really put our hope and trust in this sovereign God of ours? The biblical answer, not to mention the answer of God’s people over time and culture, is an emphatic yes. But as St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, it takes faith, not superhuman effort on our part. We don’t need to go up to heaven to find God. God has descended to us in the person of Jesus the Messiah! We don’t need to go down to the abyss to find Christ. He has already been raised from the dead to conquer on our behalf Sin and Death forever, and we who are his people need to fear Death and Hell no longer.

My point is this. When we talk about faith, we are not talking about ascribing to a set of rules or doctrines. We are talking about establishing a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. Only when we know this God made known to us in Jesus, only when we put our ultimate hope and trust in this God do we need to no longer fear as Jesus commands us. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Just ask St. Peter in our gospel lesson this morning. Initially he had faith in our Lord because he got out of the boat and started to walk toward Jesus. But then he shifted his attention from Jesus to the waves and voila! St. Peter began to sink. Surprise, surprise. One of the things St. Matthew wants us to learn from this story is that when we keep our eyes on Christ, the eternal Son of the Father who broke the power of Sin and Death for us in his death and resurrection, we don’t need to be afraid of the waves of life that threaten to overwhelm us. But we in our pride and stupidity want to be in charge and we look to ourselves and our own clever devices to rescue ourselves from the stormy seas of life. Until… Until… Until we are told we have terminal cancer or our best friend or beloved family member dies or our finances collapse suddenly or we are struck with a debilitating illness. Only when we are confronted by evil and hatred and wickedness, both within ourselves and outside beyond our control, do we realize how utterly foolish and futile this thinking is, and in the interim we continue to try to live our lives based on the lie that we actually are in control of things. But there is no one who has the power of life other than Jesus. No one. And those who stubbornly refuse to see this have little reason to hope for a bright future of any kind, both in this life and hereafter. It is a sorrowful spectacle of human folly indeed that is well documented in Scripture.

So Scripture encourages us to know this sovereign God, the God who shows himself to us in Jesus Christ, who rules the waves and brings good out of evil as our gospel and OT lessons attest. And what kind of God is this that we are encouraged to get to know? God is not an absentee landlord who doesn’t care about us or our situations. God is not an angry or vindictive God who waits eagerly to whack us up side the head the first time we misbehave. No, this is the God who humbled himself and became human for our sake. This is the God who sent his own dear Son to die for us while we were still God’s enemies (have you really considered how breathtaking that claim of St. Paul’s is??) so that we might become aware of our desperate lot and future without God and put our trust in this God of the cross and thus be rescued from the ultimate evil of Sin and Death. This is the God we are invited to get to know and love. Most of us don’t have a clue as to the seriousness of our Sin and rebellion against this sovereign God of ours who loves us and gave himself for us. So we have apostles like St. Paul who vigorously write to tell us about this God and invite us to know and love God the Father through God the Son.

We get to know our sovereign and triune God by remembering. We read stories like the ones in our lessons today and remember what God has done for us. We remember the times God has acted in our lives in great and small ways, through God’s people and through the chances and changes of life. We remember that nothing has changed, that the world has been chaotic since our first ancestors rebelled against God in the garden of paradise. We read these stories to remember that God has the power to overcome the chaos of our lives and world, but often in ways that are not readily apparent to us so that we learn to have the humility of a creature, not the Creator (cf. Isaiah 55.6-11). We dare read the story of Christ’s death in astonished hope, that the God in which we are invited to have faith is the God who died for us while we were still God’s enemies to rescue us from our ultimate exile which is death and eternal separation from our Creator who wants us to live, not die. That’s why we must read Scripture—to learn God’s character and to learn how to flourish as God’s creatures by following God’s ways and commands as demonstrated supremely in Jesus our Lord. That is why we come together to worship God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and to receive our Lord’s body and blood each week. That is why we are called to pray continually to this God who loves us, who is active in our lives, and who has the power to overcome all the chaos around and within us.

To be sure, this promise to overcome will not be fully consummated until our Lord’s return. But it is a true and valid promise nevertheless and it is being partially fulfilled right now in the context of our lives. Jesus is the only way, the only truth, the only life we have. Will you listen to this God? Will you do the things you need to do, do the required remembering, to trust this God’s sovereignty and love for you and respond accordingly? The challenges are great, just like the waves St. Peter encountered. That’s why we must remember to be reminded that our Lord’s love for us and power over the dark forces are greater than their power. God has conquered them in the most unexpected way—on the cross of a naked, bloodied, pierced, and utterly humiliated man who also happened to be the very Son of God. This is how our God works much of the time—through weakness. And God calls us to trust in God’s goodness, ways, and power, a power made manifest supremely in weakness. We aren’t called to believe this in our own strength. That would be impossible. We are called to believe this in the power of the Spirit, who mediates our Lord and Savior’s presence to us and who helps transform us into his people. This is where God is, my beloved, in the power of the Spirit and in God’s cruciform people. Stake your life on it. Please. Don’t settle for other, lesser gods that cannot give you life. Stake your life on the One who has given you the Good News of Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord, now and for all eternity. You won’t be disappointed. You have God’s very word on it. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

The Stream (Joshua Charles): What’s Wrong With Millennials? Partly, Their Parents’ Divorces

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Don’t ever let anyone tell you, even your kids, that divorce doesn’t matter or that there are not consequences to sin. They are dead wrong and if you believe them, you are in denial.

But what is certain is that my generation has seen more of divorce than any other. The family — the God-made bedrock of our lives, our education, our moral formation, and for many of us our faith — has been shattered.

It’s a terrifying thing to see your parents spend decades in a relationship, only to see it all go down the drain. You have to ask, “If this happens so much to good people, after decades of marriage, what hope do I have for a successful marriage?”

The question many Millennials invariably ask is “For what?” Many of our parents have been horrible teachers of marriage and family life, for invariably even a good family life that ends in divorce cannot avoid a peculiar sense of vanity. Precious things that seem wasted always will.

You cannot look askance at the generation so ill-taught and judge them for undervaluing what you taught them to esteem cheap. As the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote, “It is not young people who degenerate. They are ruined only when grown men have already been corrupted.”

By all means edify, encourage and lovingly correct my generation on marriage. But before judging it, make sure you are being honest about the world you gave them.

Read the whole heartbreaking thing.

Father Terry Gatwood: Having Enough

Sermon delivered on Trinity 8A, Sunday, August 6, 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 32.22-31; Psalm 17.1-7, 16; Romans 9.1-5; Matthew 14.13-21.

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

Sometimes, when we read through a passage of Scripture, we find that it is the text that is reading us, showing us the things God has revealed to his people throughout the ages that also stand to be true of ourselves. This morning’s Old Testament lesson is one such passage, that if wrestled with for any length of time, does just that.

Jacob is an interesting man. By interesting, I mean we can see a reflection of humanity in general in his story. Always cooking up some scheme to promote himself, to secure his own destiny, to take care of good ol’ number one. We can recall, even from his birth, his mother in great pain with both him and his brother Esau wrestling within her womb, that he had some quality of character that is being emphasized in the text that is not quite on the level. In fact, his name, Jacob, means “heel grabber” or “supplanter,” remembering the prophecy from the angel of the Lord who said “the older shall serve the younger,” and the fact that as they were birthed into this world Jacob was grabbing onto the heel of his older brother, Esau. Jacob’s story includes his swindling his brother out of his birthright for food and drink, and the taking of a blessing from his ailing, blind father by following his mother’s instructions to to wear the skins of the goats that had been slaughtered for Isaac’s food. Jacob had successfully cheated his brother twice in a short time. It wasn’t long before he received in return the sort of unscrupulousness he had been dealing out when he was given Leah in marriage instead of Rachel, whom he was forced to wait longer to marry.

But Jacob had a few moments of clarity where his eyes were opened wide by the Lord himself, revealing to Jacob his providence and love toward him, a love that will ultimately work to transform Jacob into the man God was seeking to use to bless all the people of the earth. The first of these happens shortly before the marriage debacle in Laban’s house when Jacob saw the ladder reaching into heaven, the Lord’s angels ascending and descending it, and God himself standing above the ladder, repeating the same promise to him that was made to Abraham concerning the land, his abiding presence, and the blessings to be poured out to all through him and his offspring.

The second is that which we have heard this morning, and it comes in the context of Jacob’s fear of his older brother Esau, whom he supposes is coming to take him out for his past swindling. Jacob has much to fear here, since much of his success has been built on quite a bit of self-centered, egotistical scheming. Jacob is fleeing from Laban and Naman, headed back to his homeland with his family and all of his possessions, but the direction he is headed in is where Esau still resides. And when he hears that Esau is coming toward him with four hundred men he splits his party into two camps, hoping that if Esau sacks one he’ll still come out with the other. He also instructs all those who will go ahead of him to try to cut a deal with Esau so that he can continue to live. After sending his wives, female servants, and his children across the river ahead of him, he makes camp. This is where the truly interesting bit happens.

A man (who this man is we are unsure…is he just a man, an angel, the Lord himself? The Scripture does not tell us) wrestled with Jacob until the breaking of the next day. Jacob, the man who was in immediate fear for his life, refused to let go of the man until he would give him a blessing. All night long, through exhaustion and pain, Jacob wrestled with this unnamed person, giving the fight all he had, just barely hanging on. The man touched Jacob on his hip, causing it to come painfully out of place. But Jacob still hung on, waiting for the man to give him a blessing, possibly the last one he would ever receive. And as the morning sun began to break upon them from the east, starting to spread those pink and yellow streaks through the darkness upon its arrival, the man finally relented and gave to the unrelenting Jacob a blessing. But with this blessing Jacob received something else: a new name. No longer is he called supplanter or heel grabber, but now he is called Israel, striven with God, struggler. Saint Ambrose comments: “The new name was presented to him for the new people,” as though this name is not only given here to Jacob, but to the whole people of God as a sign of their spiritual strife.

This all night wrestling match was not merely a test of physical strength for Jacob now Israel, but rather was the physical manifestation of that which was happening in his soul. His struggle in life wasn’t merely one of making himself secure, of having enough, but of realizing God’s faithfulness to him even in those times when Jacob was less than faithful in all of his scheming and self promoting. God isn’t actively trying to withold this blessing from Jacob, but human lives are lived in a pressure cooker that prepares hearts to receive it. To have the blessing of God is most important, even if his life is about to soon end and he has to endure through some terrible event to receive it. The worry about having enough is beginning to pass, and all because Jacob just continued to hang on. That limp that was given him as he journeyed forward would serve as a reminder of this, and to remind all of God’s people when the time would come that the first Israel was wounded as a sign to them just as the perfect Israel, Christ, will be someday.

What is it to have enough? What is it to have God’s blessing? This question is also seen, and I think answered, in the Gospel appointed for today. Surely, most of us have heard of Christ’s miracle of the loaves and fish. This is on every basic Sunday School curriculum for children all around the globe, and finds its way into our appointed texts for Sunday’s and the Daily Offices quite often. Jesus did a miraculous thing there. But what was the point?

In the passage we read that it was getting to be late in the day, and there was an enormous crowd of five thousand men, not counting the women and children who had accompanied them to see Jesus. Jesus had just healed many of their sick, and they were hungry for more from him. But as night was beginning to fall, their hunger for whatever they wanted from him was being overcome with a hunger for food. So, the disciples, thinking like many of us would, said to Jesus, “we should send all these folks away into town so they can get something to eat.” That makes sense, right? The place where they were was desolate, and folks hadn’t really prepared to be out there all day I suppose, so they didn’t have enough for all these people to eat.

“But Jesus,” says the Gospel writer…I love when a sentence starts like this in the Gospel, because we know we’re about to get the meat and potatoes type stuff straight from our Lord’s mouth. “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
“But Lord! We don’t have enough! There’s only five loaves and two fish.” Goodness, do I hear myself in that that.

Jesus turns to his disciples and instructs them to bring the food to him. Showing the perfect faith always envisioned for Israel, the one who perfectly represented Israel as their true King, turns toward heaven, and says a blessing. Breaking the loaves, he gives them to his bewildered disciples, and tells them to give them to the people in the crowd.
“How in the world are we ever going to have enough to feed all these people? This is crazy!”

But as they continued to serve the bread and the fish the food continued to remain plentiful. It remained so much so that when everyone had eaten their fill there remained twelve baskets full of leftovers, much more than that with which they had begun.

Under God’s care, and according to his provision, when he decides to call his people to something that to us may seem impossible for lack of resources, there will always be enough. God doesn’t put his people to the task of moving his Kingdom in this world forward without providing. Yet, like Jacob in his scheming during those times when God was silent, it is a human tendency to worry about the provisions that one has on hand. God’s silence in the meantime doesn’t erase the promises he has made in his call of his beloved, nor does it mean the call has changed. Rather, what he has set his people to do is what they should continue to do until clearly told otherwise. And all the while, God’s people will inevitably struggle with the Lord, sometimes coming out with a limp, for the struggle we have as mortals attempting to understand the mind of the Immortal One is a task that can be frustrating, especially during those times when we really want a clear voice to be sounded right now. For to be sure, it isn’t easy, and we may come out of it beat up, but we still must strive to hang on. God wants to bless his people, to see them accomplish the mission to which he has called them, but his people need to be prepared for it. And this is no more true than when we worry about having enough.

God has blessed us already, St. Augustine’s. Absolutely, without a doubt, the Lord has blessed us. But I also notice a lot of us walking around with some limping. This is a good thing. Keep striving with the Lord, holding fast to the promises, and set your hearts to serve him faithfully. There will always be enough when we are following the command of our Lord, for he has already given to us himself, his body and his blood, and has awakened our hearts to the reality of the resurrection, his and ours. So with joyful, thankful, and faithful hearts approach his table of grace today, and be sanctified by him, knowing that in him we always have enough.

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