Fr. Terry Gatwood: What is Right

Sermon delivered on Trinity 15A, Sunday, September 24, 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: Exodus 16.2-15; Psalm 105.1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1.21-30; Matthew 20.1-6.

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

A landowner is looking for day workers for his vineyard. He goes to the marketplace, first thing in the morning, roughly 6 a.m., finds some willing laborers, agrees on the wage of a denarius for the day, and sends them to his vineyard.A landowner is looking for day workers for his vineyard.

He goes to the marketplace, first thing in the morning, roughly 6 a.m., finds some willing laborers, agrees on the wage of a denarius for the day, and sends them to his vineyard.He goes back to the market place at in the morning, at noontime, in the afternoon,  and again in the evening, each time finding workers and hiring them for what remains of the day. However, unlike the first hiring where a specific wage was negotiated (a denarius), at each of these subsequent hirings the landowner simply promises to pay “whatever is right”. There’s the sense here that the landowner is well known and has a good reputation among the people there—that laborers would be willing to work for “whatever is right”—trusting the landowners judgment to make that determination. There is a high level of respect and trust for this man.

Perhaps that’s why when it came time for the wages to be paid out as the landowner had promised, the surprise wasn’t that those hired later received a denarius, but that those who were hired first received that sum as well.

And those first hired weren’t too happy with this—they grumbled. I can almost hear them saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me! We’ve been here all day and earned our denarius. They’ve only just arrived! This isn’t fair!” I can almost hear them saying that because I would be tempted to say or think that myself.

The first hired laborers had their own notions of what fairness and generosity should look like in this situation and when the landowner didn’t meet those expectations, they complained about his unfairness. To them, this just wasn’t right. This wasn’t just. They felt cheated because of the generosity of the landowner toward the later hires.

It quickly becomes apparent the real complaint isn’t about the landowner’s fairness (because as he points out he did honor the original agreement in full), but his generosity. Even though they received the usual daily wage, the first hired workers begrudged the landowner paying what he thought was right—which was his prerogative it being his money and vineyard. The owner is well within his right to dispense from his treasury as he sees fit.

The unsettling thing about this parable is that like all the others, Jesus starts it with the words “For the kingdom of heaven is like…” and within the following lines, in the words and actions of the landowner and the workers, we hear echoes and see images of life in the Church.

In parallels drawn between the landowner of the parable and God I’ve heard descriptions like extravagant, abundant and lavish, used to describe the generosity demonstrated in this parable. And at one time I would have wholeheartedly agreed with such descriptions—that was until I came to a realization that such adjectives were based on my impoverished image of what generosity looked like—that the only reason this looked extravagant is because my expectations were far too low bar to begin with. Compared to what we might experience from day to day in this middle place, the already-but-not-yet phase of the Kingdom of God on earth, these things may indeed seem to be extravagant, abundant and lavish. But for the Kingdom of Heaven this is the operational standard. And this pouring out of God’s blessing has already begun in our lives in our baptism, and continues in prayers answered, people healed, and every time we feast at the table of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And it will be all the more so when the middle place we live in is finally the final place where we will live forever with the Lord.

We come to Scripture with our own pre-conceived notions of what grace, mercy and divine generosity look like—operating under the illusion that our ideas are somehow close to how God truly works. And then a parable like this shows the Kingdom of God is nothing like we could ever imagine. Not even close sometimes. A God who gives graciously to all, simply because He has decided that is what he is going to do, in the words of the landowner “to pay whatever is right”—that is, right in the Divine economy and not necessarily right according to what makes sense to us.

Consider the history of our ancestors as we recalled in the appointed lesson from Exodus this morning. God had brought our ancestors out of intense bondage in Egypt, and lead them through a place that appeared to be a death trap for them. They were hot, they were hungry, they were wandering through a place they had never known and they wondered why they hadn’t just stayed behind in Egypt and tried to make the best of the thing there. God heard the grumbling of his people there, and he sent them quail, and he fed them with bread from heaven. This bread, which they called manna, was nothing like they had ever seen before. Manna was made into cakes and breads, and tasted like it had been baked with honey. It was delicious to the taste. But it was something unexpected, and something already in the mind of the Lord to give to them to sustain them on their journey. This unexpected blessing to them was called manna, because, as the word literally means “what is it?,” they didn’t know what the thing was. But it fits part and parcel with what we know about the nature and character of the God who saves us and whom we serve. A rich and wonderful blessing, followed by more blessings, not as a result of any extra special thing anyone had done, but because it is how God works in this world to show his great love for us. But they still grumbled about having these great blessings in the middle of a deadly desert later in the narrative of the five books of the Law, this time in Numbers. The manna wasn’t enough for them. Others had fish and other meats; they wanted that too.

And as evidence of our fallen sinfulness, rather that simply being overwhelmingly grateful to be called to live for and serve such a God, whose graciousness is more than we could have ever dared hope or imagine, we get distracted by comparing what we think we have been given by God, with what we think others have been given by Him. Note, the qualifier, “what we think”, because truth be told we have no clue just how much God has blessed us with. And yet we are tempted to try and compare, and then, God forbid, complain should we fear being “short-changed”—begrudging another the blessing of God because we think they ‘got more than they deserved’.

Truth is, none of us gets what we deserve—thanks be to God. Rather we get what God thinks is right. Should you wonder what that might be, the service of Holy Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer is a good place to start.

We thank you, almighty God, for the gift of water  to sustain, refresh and cleanse all life.  Over water the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation.  Through water you led the children of Israel  from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  In water your Son Jesus received the baptism of John  and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ,  to lead us from the death of sin to newness of life.  We thank you, Father, for the water of baptism.  In it we are buried with Christ in his death.  By it we share in his resurrection.  Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, in joyful obedience to your Son,  we baptize into his fellowship those who come to him in faith.  Now sanctify this water that, by the power of your Holy Spirit,  they may be cleansed from sin and born again.  Renewed in your image, may they walk by the light of faith  and continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Or this prayer after the baptism:

May God, who has received you by baptism into his Church,  pour upon you the riches of his grace,  that within the company of Christ’s pilgrim people  you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit, and come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.

You might also want to play close attention to the words in the liturgy for Holy Communion in a few minutes, to hear how Jesus’ very body and blood are given for you. Of course if that’s not enough, and you need more, you can always go to Holy Scripture and read for yourself of God’s blessings. Please do dig into your Bibles at home and rediscover God’s love and desire for you.

Remembering of course that this all unfolds differently in each of our lives—given that we are all unique individuals in various and diverse circumstances this makes sense. We’re gifted differently, have different personalities, and are called to different types and settings of ministry. We aren’t able to fully grasp all that God has done for us, how could we ever expect to figure out all He has done for someone else?

The only time we should give thought to how God has blessed another is if we are remembering them in prayer asking God’s mercy for them, or giving thanks for what God has done for them.

Beyond that, we would do better to keep our eyes on Christ, cultivating grateful hearts for all that we have received, and if there is any dissatisfaction in our prayers, it’s directed toward ourselves, asking that God might help us recognize, use and live fully in the graces bestowed on us as his children. Not because we deserve it but because in His love He determined this is what is right.

Let us pray:

O Lord, You brought us out of bondage and into freedom that we might honor and serve you. You gave a cloud for cover in the daytime, and fire to guide us during the night. Your people asked you for food, and you provided exactly what was needed. Your people were thirsty, and you opened the rock to provide a stream of water, so much so that it flowed like a river in the desert. You remember your promise you made to our father, Abraham, and to his descendants forever. You bring your people out with joy, and we your chosen ones will sing from our hearts. May we ever be thankful for your undeserved and unearned blessings, rejoicing all the way, and stand ready to receive from you what it is you have prepared for us. This we pray through the blessed name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory, with you and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

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

Bishop Stephen Kewasis Nyorsok: Trust in the Lord

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 14A, September 17, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. Today we welcome Bishop Stephen from the Anglican Church in Kenya. Check him out.

To listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here. There is no written text for the sermon.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 14.19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14.1-12; Matthew 18.21-35.

History of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2017

From here.

exaltation of the holy crossAfter the death and resurrection of Christ, both the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem made efforts to obscure the Holy Sepulchre, Christ’s tomb in the garden near the site of His crucifixion. The earth had been mounded up over the site, and pagan temples had been built on top of it. The Cross on which Christ had died had been hidden (tradition said) by the Jewish authorities somewhere in the vicinity.

According to tradition, first mentioned by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem in 348, Saint Helena, nearing the end of her life, decided under divine inspiration to travel to Jerusalem in 326 to excavate the Holy Sepulchre and attempt to locate the True Cross. A Jew by the name of Judas, aware of the tradition concerning the hiding of the Cross, led those excavating the Holy Sepulchre to the spot in which it was hidden.

Three crosses were found on the spot. According to one tradition, the inscription Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum (“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”) remained attached to the True Cross. According to a more common tradition, however, the inscription was missing, and Saint Helena and Saint Macarius, the bishop of Jerusalem, assuming that one was the True Cross and the other two belonged to the thieves crucified alongside Christ, devised an experiment to determine which was the True Cross.

In one version of the latter tradition, the three crosses were taken to a woman who was near death; when she touched the True Cross, she was healed. In another, the body of a dead man was brought to the place where the three crosses were found, and laid upon each cross. The True Cross restored the dead man to life.

In celebration of the discovery of the Holy Cross, Constantine ordered the construction of churches at the site of the Holy Sepulchre and on Mount Calvary. Those churches were dedicated on September 13 and 14, 335, and shortly thereafter the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross began to be celebrated on the latter date. The feast slowly spread from Jerusalem to other churches, until, by the year 720, the celebration was universal.

In the early seventh century, the Persians conquered Jerusalem, and the Persian king Khosrau II captured the True Cross and took it back to Persia. After Khosrau’s defeat by Emperor Heraclius II, Khosrau’s own son had him assassinated in 628 and returned the True Cross to Heraclius. In 629, Heraclius, having initially taken the True Cross to Constantinople, decided to restore it to Jerusalem. Tradition says that he carried the Cross on his own back, but when he attempted to enter the church on Mount Calvary, a strange force stopped him. Patriarch Zacharias of Jerusalem, seeing the emperor struggling, advised him to take off his royal robes and crown and to dress in a penitential robe instead. As soon as Heraclius took Zacharias’ advice, he was able to carry the True Cross into the church.

For some centuries, a second feast, the Invention of the Cross, was celebrated on May 3 in the Roman and Gallican churches, following a tradition that marked that date as the day on which Saint Helena discovered the True Cross. In Jerusalem, however, the finding of the Cross was celebrated from the beginning on September 14.

A Prayer for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2017 (1)

Almighty God,
whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ
was lifted high upon the cross
that he might draw the whole world to himself:
Mercifully grant that we,
who glory in the mystery of our redemption,
may have grace to take up our cross and follow him;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2017

During the reign of Constantine, first Roman Emperor to profess the Christian faith, his mother Helena went to Israel and there undertook to find the places especially significant to Christians. (She was helped in this by the fact that in their destructions around 135, the Romans had built pagan shrines over many of these sites.) Having located, close together, what she believed to be the sites of the Crucifixion and of the Burial (at locations that modern archaeologists think may be correct), she then had built over them the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was dedicated on 14 September 335. It has become a day for recognizing the Cross (in a festal atmosphere that would be inappropriate on Good Friday) as a symbol of triumph, as a sign of Christ’s victory over death, and a reminder of His promise, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)

Read and relish it all.

All About Holy Cross Day 2017


Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Roodmas)

 September 14, 335 

Roodmas1 — more commonly known simply as “Holy Cross Day” — was first begun to commemorate the Dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection, built by St. Helena holy-cross-graphic-2(Constantine the Great’s mother), in Jerusalem in A.D. 335 — but the true Cross was found shortly thereafter, also by St. Helena, so the two events were joined.

The story of the finding of the True Cross, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

In the year 326 the mother of Constantine, Helena, then about 80 years old, having journeyed to Jerusalem, undertook to rid the Holy Sepulchre of the mound of earth heaped upon and around it, and to destroy the pagan buildings that profaned its site. Some revelations which she had received gave her confidence that she would discover the Saviour’s Tomb and His Cross. The work was carried on diligently, with the co-operation of St. Macarius, bishop of the city.

The Jews had hidden the Cross in a ditch or well, and covered it over with stones, so that the faithful might not come and venerate it. Only a chosen few among the Jews knew the exact spot where it had been hidden, and one of them, named Judas, touched by Divine inspiration, pointed it out to the excavators, for which act he was highly praised by St. Helena. Judas afterwards became a Christian saint, and is honoured under the name of Cyriacus.

During the excavation three crosses were found, but because the titulus was detached from the Cross of Christ, there was no means of identifying it. Following an inspiration from on high, Macarius caused the three crosses to be carried, one after the other, to the bedside of a worthy woman who was at the point of death. The touch of the other two was of no avail; but on touching that upon which Christ had died the woman got suddenly well again.

From a letter of St. Paulinus to Severus inserted in the Breviary of Paris it would appear that St. Helena herself had sought by means of a miracle to discover which was the True Cross and that she caused a man already dead and buried to be carried to the spot, whereupon, by contact with the third cross, he came to life. From yet another tradition, related by St. Ambrose, it would seem that the titulus, or inscription, had remained fastened to the Cross.

After the happy discovery, St. Helena and Constantine erected a magnificent basilica over the Holy Sepulchre, and that is the reason why the church bore the name of St. Constantinus. The precise spot of the finding was covered by the atrium of the basilica, and there the Cross was set up in an oratory, as appears in the restoration executed by de Vogüé. When this noble basilica had been destroyed by the infidels, Arculfus, in the seventh century, enumerated four buildings upon the Holy Places around Golgotha, and one of them was the “Church of the Invention” or “of the Finding”. This church was attributed by him and by topographers of later times to Constantine. The Frankish monks of Mount Olivet, writing to Leo III, style it St. Constantinus. Perhaps the oratory built by Constantine suffered less at the hands of the Persians than the other buildings, and so could still retain the name and style of Martyrium Constantinianum. (See De Rossi, Bull. d’ arch. crist., 1865, 88.)

A portion of the True Cross remained at Jerusalem enclosed in a silver reliquary; the remainder, with the nails, must have been sent to Constantine, and it must have been this second portion that he caused to be enclosed in the statue of himself which was set on a porphyry column in the Forum at Constantinople; Socrates, the historian, relates that this statue was to make the city impregnable. One of the nails was fastened to the emperor’s helmet, and one to his horse’s bridle, bringing to pass, according to many of the Fathers, what had been written by Zacharias the Prophet: “In that day that which is upon the bridle of the horse shall be holy to the Lord” (Zechariah 14:20). Another of the nails was used later in the Iron Crown of Lombardy preserved in the treasury of the cathedral of Monza.

Scientific study of the relics of the True Cross show it to be made of some species of pine. The titulus crucis  —  the wood on which the inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38 and John 19:19)  —  is made of an olive wood. The titulus has been scientifically dated to the 1st c. and the script is still legible (interestingly, the Latin and Greek are in reverse script), though the Hebrew is missing due to the entire thing being halved, the second half having been lost in the 6th century. It is from the Latin inscription  —  “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum” that we get the abbreviation “I.N.R.I.” that is found on many Crucifixes.

The titulus crucis and relics of the True Cross can be seen in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

 1“Rood” is the Middle English word for “Cross.”

Conflict Resolution, Jesus-Style

Sermon delivered on Trinity 13A, Sunday, September 10, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. There has never been a better day to consider how you handle your conflicts as a Christian.

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

Lectionary texts: Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13.8-14; Matthew 18.15-20.

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

Have you ever stopped to consider what an awesome privilege it is to be called to be one of God’s people in Christ? While the Church is many things, above all else it is a living organism composed of redeemed followers of Jesus, you and me. As such, we are called to do business in ways that are fundamentally different from the way the world does business. In our gospel lesson this morning our Lord tells us how we should resolve conflicts between each other and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

Before we look at the model for conflict resolution Jesus commanded us to use, it is necessary for us to lay some groundwork so that we approach this subject with our minds right and in the proper Spirit. Some Christians believe that there should never be any conflict between Christians. You know, love your neighbor and all that. But this viewpoint simply does not take into account the human condition. We are all badly broken and prone to self-righteousness, some more than others, and so conflict is bound to erupt, even among Christians who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. Not only that, but there are times when perfectly legitimate and unsullied viewpoints will clash. Even a superficial reading of Scripture bears this out. Proverbs 27.17 tells us that, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend (NLT),” and sometimes conflicting opinions will actually bring much-needed clarity and wisdom about an issue. For example, Barnabas and Paul got into a sharp disagreement over whether to take Mark (the gospel writer) with them on their next missionary journey. Apparently the young Mark had lost heart and deserted Barnabas and Paul during their previous (and dangerous) mission work and that landed him in St. Paul’s doghouse. The disagreement between St. Barnabas and St. Paul became so sharp that the two parted ways and we have no record of them ever seeing or speaking to each other again, a sad ending, considering they had survived many perilous situations together during their missionary journeys (Acts 15.36-41). Surely Barnabas and Paul had legitimate reasons for wanting to take or leave Mark with them and in this particular instance they couldn’t work it out. But this doesn’t make their conflict illegitimate or immoral. Sometimes things like this happen because we live in a broken world and there can be more than one correct perspective regarding a situation. As a happier postscript to this story, we know that St. Paul and St. Mark were eventually reconciled and that St. Paul counted on St. Mark’s companionship and faithfulness as the former languished alone and abandoned in prison awaiting his execution (2 Timothy 4.9-18). This gives us a hint as to what Jesus was driving at when he gave us this model to resolve conflict and to the fact that St. Paul was faithful to it because he was eventually reconciled with St. Mark. So as Christians, we need not fear conflict with other faithful Christians and should accept that legitimate conflict is inevitable. If that is true, then the question before us is how to resolve conflicts faithfully when they arise.

Before we answer that question, we must first look at some assumptions behind Jesus’ model for conflict resolution. For us to follow Jesus’ command about how to resolve conflicts with other believers within his body, the Church, we must approach conflict resolution with a clear understanding of the human condition and a profound sense of humility, leaving behind our built-in sense of self-righteousness. We can only do this if we first share the radical view St. Paul had about the leveling of human distinctions that has occurred in Christ. What does that mean you ask? It means that St. Paul believed and taught that every one of us stands under the just and holy judgment of God, that there is no one who is good. All of us are sin-sick to death and in desperate need of the Lord’s healing that is available to each of us in the shedding of his blood for us on the cross and in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. Without the saving death of Jesus who loved us and died for us while we were still his enemies, none of us has a hope or a future. None of us. Therefore none of us enjoys an inherent advantage or high ground when it comes to disputes. To be sure, there are some instances where one party is clearly in the right and the other clearly in the wrong, but that does not have blanket application because in the next instance the tables might just as well be turned because we are all profoundly broken and enslaved to the power of Sin without help from the Lord. When we understand this about ourselves and the love God has for us as demonstrated supremely in the death and resurrection of his Son, we enter conflicts with the required sense of humility about ourselves and with the understanding that the person with whom we are in conflict is also a greatly-beloved and rescued sinner by God’s grace, and only by God’s grace, just like we are. When we forget who we are and our status before the Almighty and Holy God without the blood of Christ shed to reconcile us to God, our inherent sense of self-righteousness will kick in and we will immediately see our needs and our views as superior to those of the person with whom we are in conflict. And if reconciliation is the goal of Jesus’ conflict resolution model, we all know that bringing a haughty sense of self-righteousness to an argument is surely the kiss of death in terms of being reconciled with one’s opponent.

This is why St. Paul spent so much time telling his churches to love one another and to bear each other’s burdens, even when some people are like fingernails on a chalkboard to us. None of us is superior to the other in God’s eyes. We are all guilty sinners deserving of nothing but God’s righteous condemnation and death. But because God loves us more than God hates our sins, God as acted to redeem us in and through the cross of Christ and to raise us to new life with our risen Lord and Savior. That’s why we must always enter a conflict with a fellow Christian with a baptismal mindset where we acknowledge that we have died with Christ and are raised with him. That is what makes us right, nothing else. If you enter a conflict with this in mind, you will be amazed at the difference it makes in how you see and treat your opponent.

We see this dynamic clearly at work in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Hear him as he chastises that little congregation for taking each other to court over various disputes:

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints [fellow members]? In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that (1 Corinthians 6.1,7-8).

If we do not understand that Paul always operates from the perspective of Jesus Christ, we are likely to conclude that Paul is a lunatic in admonishing the Corinthians as he does here. But when we see that behind Paul’s admonishment there is a firm belief that because all Christians are rescued by the blood of Christ—being rescued while we were still his enemies, no less—why should we not imitate our Lord’s love for his enemies and bear their wrongs instead of insisting on our rights? I cannot tell you how many times my, um, “interesting” sense of humor has gotten me in trouble with others because I inadvertently offend them at times. Now if I were to bring my natural sense of self-righteousness to bear against the offended, I might snort and say something like they are too sensitive and need to get over themselves. But there is no humility in that. There is no recognition that the one I offended is as beloved in Christ’s eyes as I am and that I might actually be in the wrong. So instead of getting all huffy, which will surely escalate the argument and perhaps damage our relationship long-term, why not swallow my pride for the sake of the other? Doing so imitates our Lord’s self-giving love for the sake of us both and in the process, goes a long way in reestablishing holy Christian fellowship between two redeemed believers of Christ’s body. If all of us had this mindset consistently, think of how much stronger and blessed we would all be because our relationships would be nourished and strengthened. Nobody wants to feel the sting of rejection. Nobody. So behind our Lord’s command is the command to be humble and faithful, just like he was and is.

Turning now to the actual model itself, our Lord commands us to gently confront the one who offends us. Again it is important for us to remember that this is how we are to treat fellow believers inside the Church. We are to confront each other because we are commanded to love each other enough not to let our relationships deteriorate. Jesus always has in mind reconciliation where possible. This should make sense to us. After all, Christ died to reconcile the world to God. So why wouldn’t he want us to be reconciled to each other after our disputes?

But many of us do not want to confront those who offend us because then we open ourselves up to criticism. When we confront another, we must be prepared to hear their perspective about us and about how we might have contributed to a dispute or conflict. It’s easier for us to get all self-righteous. So instead of confronting the person who offends us, we try to run down that person to others. We engage in gossip and backbiting. Did you hear about Maney? He’s at it again. He’s always so critical and standoffish. You just can’t talk to him. And he’s quick to spend our hard-earned pledges on stupid stuff. This is not conflict resolution, my beloved. This is backbiting and evil speaking and is called triangulation, drawing a third party into our conflict. These are wicked behaviors that dishonor our Lord and his love for us because they foment ill will and actually escalate conflict. They do not serve to promote reconciliation.

Or sometimes when we are offended about something that goes on in the church, we might decide to withhold our pledges as a way to voice our disapproval. Does Maney think we really need a new church building? What’s wrong with this one? I’ll show him. No more giving until he comes off his mark. Do you see how this kind of thinking and behavior does not help anyone? The problem still exists and persists, festering until it explodes. This kind of thinking is born out of self-righteousness that makes us think only we can be right, and the offending person never has the chance to defend his position. To be sure, there may be times when withholding our money might be necessary, but not until all the facts are laid out for all to see and consider. Better for us to confront our offender and lay out our case to him first so that we can listen to his perspective as well. But we are to do so in private so as not to publicly embarrass the person. Again, keep in mind what we have said about the need to approach the person in humility and with the deep understanding that the offender is greatly beloved in Christ and stands redeemed in God’s eyes, just like we are loved and redeemed. And so we confront our offender, and we cut to the chase, not sugarcoating the issue or trying to rationalize the fact that we are offended. If we can work out our differences, then Jesus tells us we have gained a brother or sister and God’s approval, thanks be to God. A vast majority of arguments could be ended this way and the parties reconciled if we would only follow this model.

But there are some cases in which the offending person refuses to come off his mark and the person offended must then bring evidence and witnesses to bear against the offender, again not to humiliate her or “win” an argument, but to seek reconciliation with the offender. This should be done with extreme care, not to mention with much prayer, because it indicates that there has been a serious breach between two believers and one of them apparently is digging her feet in for a fight. Again, the emphasis is on confronting the offender, not speaking evilly about the person or engaging in backbiting about the person with others. There is no room for that among believers who all stand under God’s judgment and mercy. If after confronting our offender with witnesses and further evidence of her wrongdoing, the offender repents, we have won a sister and reconciliation is achieved, thanks be to God.

But our Lord was wise enough to know the human heart and how desperately sick it is. He knew that there would be some who would not repent of their offenses even when confronted by compelling evidence and witnesses. And so he commands us to take the issue before the entire parish. This is the nuclear option of conflict resolution and should be used sparingly and with great trepidation. We cringe when we hear this because we have become so private and individualistic. But if there is a cancer in the body, it must be excised for the health of the body. Doing so should never be done hastily and it should always be done in sorrow. But even here our Lord has in mind reconciliation. The person is not excommunicated to be punished but in the hope that the offender will come to his right mind, repent, and be reconciled to the rest of the body of Christ. We can see this played out again in St. Paul’s letters. At the church of Corinth there apparently was a man who was having sex with his stepmother. The congregation had done nothing about it, apparently in the name of grace. But Paul would have none of it. After all, he had asked the Romans how they who had been freed from their slavery to Sin and Death by the blood of Christ could go on living in a lifestyle that fostered their old death-producing slavery. So here Paul tells the Corinthians the same thing. Expel the man, he tells them, not to punish him but to perhaps help him come to his senses so that he will bear the fruit of repentance and be restored to fellowship with the Lord and within the body of Christ because his sins were damaging everyone, not just those immediately involved (1 Corinthians 5.1-5).

This is tough stuff, my beloved, and thankfully most of us won’t need to escalate our conflict resolution to this level. But if we love others enough, we must be willing and able to confront them for our sake as well as theirs and the body of Christ’s because we are called to live out our life and faith together. If we fail to confront those who offend us because we are uncomfortable in doing so, we are essentially declaring we really do not love them enough to be concerned about our mutual health and life together. Of course, we cannot force offenders to change, but we can and must love them enough in the power of the Spirit to confront them about the destructiveness of their behavior to themselves and to our relationship in the hope that they will. In doing so we realize that we could easily be in their position except by the grace of God. This Spirit-driven knowledge is essential in conflict resolution, Jesus-style. So we don’t gossip. We don’t triangulate (bring in another person to do our work), we don’t speak evilly about the offender to others, and we don’t remain silent and seethe. We are called to love the other enough to confront him or her because we know we are all greatly beloved by Christ and are all forgiven and redeemed sinners. This is the basis of conflict resolution for Christians within the Church, my beloved. It is based on the Good News we are to embrace and trust, now and for all eternity. For the sake and honor of our Redeemer’s holy name and for the health of his body here at St. Augustine’s, not to mention our own health, I implore us all to resolve our conflicts in the holy and faithful way our Lord commands. Doing so is a powerful testimony to the world that there are better ways of being human, and it starts by patterning our lives after Jesus our Lord, especially in how we handle conflict when it arises. 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. Terry Gatwood: Must

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12A, Sunday, September 3, 2017 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. It’s a splendid day to listen to this sermon.

To listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 3.1-15; Psalm 105.1-6, 23-26; Romans 12.9-21; Matthew 16.21-28.

“Must” is a harsh word – a hard word! It doesn’t leave room for anything else!  It is an “either-or” word.  What “must” happen will happen!  Whatever is going to take place is not subject to negotiation or arbitration!

That is what was so jarring to Peter when Jesus made it plain that he “must” go to Jerusalem where he “must” suffer many things and he “must” be killed!

This “must” simply could not be, so far as Peter was concerned. He had just come from confessing that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and Jesus had commended him for having seen so clearly who Jesus was over against all the rumors running amuck among people who had been impressed with him.  Peter acknowledged that “others say Jesus is John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 

None of those names, however, were adequate to the task of identifying exactly who Jesus was, Peter said.  He recognized Jesus to be “the Son of the Living God” – and “the Son of the Living God” was not to suffer and be killed and buried – at least not in Peter’s mind.  All the others agreed with him.

So Peter “took him aside and began to rebuke him,” as any good child of God should do.  If Jesus kept talking like that people would begin to wonder about him.  They would say that he could never do that which everyone agreed the Christ,  the Messiah, should do if he gave himself over to suffering, dying and being buried.  He should be the one in charge…the one who would lead the people of God in a revolt against the hated Roman regime, free Israel from its oppressor and renew the reign of David. He, David, was God’s Anointed One whose renewed manifestation in this man Jesus would restore the glory of the old Israel.

So this talk about being killed – which was to say that instead of him controlling what was ahead of him (as the Messiah certainly should be in control) was outrageous. He spoke of becoming subject to the ruling authorities instead of overthrowing them, instead of establishing a power base to control events.  That turned all expectations of the Messiah inside out and upside down.  The Messiah was to be in command of what was happening.  He should not speak of beingcontrolled by others.  He simply MUST stop talking like that.

That was Peter’s “MUST”!

But it wasn’t Jesus’ “must.” Nor was it the Father’s “must.”

Why “MUST”? Why Not At Least “Maybe”?

It was Jesus’ urgent statement concerning the necessity to be killed and buried that was first and foremost in Peter’s rebuke.  Anyone who was even semi-acquainted with the dangers in Jerusalem knew that it had the reputation of being the city where prophets are put to death.  But the “must” suggested that Jesus intended to be put to death there, and that is what bothered Peter.

After all, one could go to Jerusalem and NOT suffer and be killed and buried!  Since he clearly knew the danger, he could put up his guard against the danger.  He could call on his disciples to be prepared to defend him in that perilous city.  Moreover, he was very popular among the general population, and surely people would make quite a stir if anybody even tried to kill Jesus, would they not?

Furthermore, this “must” had the implication of temporal immediacy along with the implied danger itself. It was as though Jesus, having established a purpose in his going to Jerusalem, was now virtually rushing toward whatever that end of which he spoke was.

Little did Peter – nor anyone else around this little band of men – have any idea concerning what Jesus’ eye was really set upon. None had any idea of what was driving this urgent necessity.  Only Jesus himself knew that it was precisely for this hour that he had been born.  What had been behind everything prior to this from birth to baptism to words to miracles to conflict with the religious authorities – all had been preparation for this moment.  As he put it a short time before his death, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”  

Whose “Must” is Behind This?

Who made this moment a “must”? Surely you who have placed your trust in Jesus for your temporal and eternal welfare know who made this moment “necessary,” do you not?  It was for the sin of the world that this death was necessary – and we are part and parcel of that “sin of the world.”

The rebellious actions of our first parents have been repeated in numberless ways throughout the time between theirs and ours by people just like us. Not “just like us,” in fact, but repeated over and over by us, ourselves.  This defiance of God’s will and word is so deeply imbedded in all the children of those parents that it cannot even be fully recognized much less dispelled, driven out, purged from those deepest parts of our human heart – those dark subterranean vaults deep within us where we rarely if ever dare to visit much less to purify – those places called “sin” that pop up seemingly out of nowhere in ways that frighten even those of us who know they are there – often when we least expect them to appear.

We, ourselves, find it difficult and even nigh unto impossible to even recognize or admit to that which is hidden in those deep recesses of our inner beings much less to deal with them. But those things that we can neither fully realize or deal with, the Father knows them.  And once in a while someone realizes they are there and cries out, as did the psalmist, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.”  Psalm 19:12

It was for us, for those deepest “hidden faults” no less than for our more obvious shortcomings, that Jesus knew he “must” go to Jerusalem where he “must” suffer and die.  It was because of us that it was “necessary” for Jesus to suffer and die and be buried.  But it was not only because of us that he had to do this.  It was for us, mind you, that he did it!

But precisely because of that his “must” was also generated by none other than the Father himself. He did not send his Son merely as a “good will gesture” to the world.  The Father sent his Son to the world with a “must” written into his heart.  The Father’s will and intent to redeem the world through this man Jesus was the source of Jesus’ “must.”  He had to do it because the Father had sent him – and the Spirit had enlivened him in Mary’s womb – for this very hour!

Satan had attempted to short-circuit all this from the beginning of his ministry. Jesus had had to firmly, resolutely and decisively tell Satan to “BE GONE” after he offered to give the whole world to Jesus if he would just recognize Satan’s control of the world – and therefore his ability to hand it over to Jesus lock, stock and  barrel if only Jesus would give him such a recognition.  He needn’t “pay the price” for a world that Satan would gladly and simply “give him,” hand it over to him, no questions asked.  Why go to a cross when Jesus could have it so easily?

That same sharpness rang out when Peter tried to short-circuit his route as he set his foot toward Jerusalem. “Never shall you suffer and die,” Peter insisted.  “That is not how a Savior goes about his work of saving!”  But again the sharp rebuke from Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me!”

His life was no longer to be lived in the mere shadow of the cross. Now that cross was his priority, his destiny.  His purpose was now clearly defined.  His mission of salvation was immediately at hand in those moments whether Peter knew it or not – or whether Peter approved of the method or not.

The Problem Wasn’t Hearing. It Was NOT Hearing!

All that still laid before them, to be sure. It was quite hidden from Peter, of course, when he rebuked Jesus, intending to interfere with this divinely ordained “plan of salvation.”  Peter’s ears, however, had been quietened long before Jesus said that all this “must” take place, for Peter either had not heard or else had heard and simply disregarded the final “must” that Jesus uttered – “and on the third day be raised.” Peter had quite other plans for Jesus’ future in mind.

Even if he had been able to listen to that last part of what Jesus “must” do, however, he would still have had a hard time really hearing it, for everybody knew that people who are killed are not raised again on any day. Killed is killed – and that certainly “must NOT” happen to Jesus in Peter’s pre-resurrection world.  Yet it was in Jesus “being raised again” that his death was confirmed as pleasing to the Father – as having completed, that for which he had been made flesh, the “satisfaction for our sins” that was at the root of his crucifixion. “It is finished,” he said in his dying.

Yes, this “must” rings loud and clear in this text when one follows Jesus to his death and resurrection.

A “NEW Must” Surfaces Out Of Jesus’ “Must”

Once it was clear that the “must” of Jesus was incontrovertible, beyond negotiation, in all likelihood the disciples shook their collective heads in resignation, heaved a sigh of acquiescence, and quietly but reluctantly agreed among themselves that they would have to let him have his way even though all were equally agreed that he was fashioning a very risky path.  We are told that Thomas had even resignedly said, following the uproar surrounding the raising of Lazarus shortly before they entered Jerusalem, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

It must nevertheless have caught them up short to hear Jesus now put another “must” before them.  This time it was THEY who “must” do something, though!.  The word “must” is not found, but it is implied: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  He who had said he “must” go to Jerusalem where he would suffer, die, be buried and then be raised again now told them plainly that if they wanted to go with him, they must be prepared to share the same “fate” that was his.

Jesus spoke of the path that he “must” follow and linked it to the path that his disciples “must” also walk. The verbs are as strong as the “must” Jesus used to define their way of walking with Jesus..  “Deny himself;” “take up his cross;” “follow me” to the cross they had to take up for themselves.  They “must” die to their “old selves” so that a “new self” could be raised from the dust of the death of their old selves just as Adam was created out of dust.  They “must” suffer the loss of all the former values that had been set before them and by which they had lived as the desired ways of life before they knew Jesus.  Only when they suffered that loss could an entirely new set of values replace them.  They would of necessity have to reorient their whole worldview and life toward the “Good News” that God had acted decisively and ultimately through Jesus to displace the world of sin with a world of godly righteousness.

None of this was entirely “new” to them, of course, for from the beginning of his ministry Jesus had made all this clear – as early as the Sermon on the Mount – to those who would be his disciples. But now, as we say, “the rubber had to hit the road” as they turned their steps to Jerusalem.  Now they were on their way to the city that killed the prophets as they accompanied Jesus.  Now his path was to become their path, his dying was to become integral with their own life and dying (as it has become integral to our lives in our baptism).  Now one’s welfare and life was to be laid on the line, both literally and spiritually, in the shape of a cross upon which the “old being” was to be hung so that, having buried it, it could be raised to a new baptismal life.

Refusing to do so was to lose the very thing that they had sought when they had initially put their lives into the custody and guardianship of the man who now insisted that he must go to Jerusalem – taking those who would follow him to the hill called Calvary. To “gain the whole world” was to “lose it,” but to go with Jesus to the death of sin so that the richest life imaginable would be theirs – that was the new ambition!

With those words “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” Jesus laid all the chips on the table.  There wasn’t a “maybe” available.  There wasn’t a “follow me now and then” available.  There wasn’t a “wait a while and I will come” available.  The cross was a finality – and those who would take up his cross, which essentially meant turning one’s entire life over to him who offered to make it available, were not offered ways of compromise or negotiation.  It didn’t have to do with deeds done now and then.  It didn’t have to do with a balancing of good and bad in one’s life.  It didn’t have to do with merely an appetizer or a dessert to life.

It had to do with the whole of their lives.  Would they turn loose of everything that they were so tempted to hang onto, giving it all away to the wind, and take up a cross-shaped life.  That may have meant persecution, but little did that matter.  It may have meant hardships of many kinds.  It may have meant being considered an “outsider” to the world; appearing to be a stranger to the values so treasured by those around them.  Or it may have meant actually suffering and dying in the confession of the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as Peter had so clearly named him and for which name Peter died as a Christ-confessor.

It was an “all in” proposition – not just for them, but for us here, also – one and all. Are we willing to go with him who “must” go to suffer, be killed, buried and be raised again – or is it just more than you care to undertake?

One must always remember, though, that the question is “What will a person give in return for his life?” Is one willing to die to all that the world has to offer so that one is free to go with him who calls us to “come and follow me”?  What, after all is said and done, “will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life”?

Through his work on the cross, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, God has made it possible for us to follow him, to carry our cross daily, to find real, true, and abundant life. In his must we have the strength to carry out our must

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