Fr. Terry Gatwood: Simeon, Anna, and Larry

Sermon delivered on the feast of Candlemas (transferred), Sunday, January 28, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no audio podcast of today’s sermon because one has to be smarter than the recording device.

Lectionary texts: Malachi 3.1-4; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2.14-18; Luke 2.22-40.

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

Last Sunday, after everyone went home, and the vestry met for a short while with Bishop Jackson, I went home expecting a relaxing evening before heading back to the office early Monday morning. I went into my house, changed over into my gym shorts and t-shirt, and started to get comfortable with my family as the day wound down. This is the routine we have come to expect on most typical Sunday’s, but it turned out that this would not be that kind of day.

Shortly after changing over and plopping myself on the couch I received a message from a family member that I should come to the hospital to visit with the man Larry whom I added to our church intercessions list. While he was already not doing well he had taken a very quick turn for the worst. So I put my trousers and shirt back on, grabbed my jacket, communion kit, and oils and headed out for Riverside Hospital. My rest and relaxation had to be put on hold.

When I arrived at the hospital I was greeted by a large group of family whom I had not seen in many years. They were all spending time quietly at the bedside of Larry. His children, grandchildren, wife, cousins, and friends sat there expecting the worst to happen in very short order.

As I stood there greeting the group I heard a familiar voice from behind me in the doorway, one that I had not heard in nearly fifteen years. “Well, I know you” said the comforting voice. I turned to look and saw an old friend with whom I had attended high school. She had been given charge of caring for Larry in these his finals days. Immediately any discomfort I had felt about seeing this family member of mine was soothed as I knew the kind of person she was, and had seen her to be even more through our keeping up over social media. During a dark time there was someone present through whom holy light kept breaking forth from, enlightening the whole room. These are the kinds of faithful people we hope to encounter during these difficult moments of life.

That remarkable enough a thing that I stand here today and tell you about it, but something that was more remarkable about this day was about to happen. We’ll get to that here shortly.

In Jerusalem, about two thousand and fifteen years ago another remarkable thing happened. In keeping the law for her purification, Mary, with Joseph and Jesus, went up to the Temple forty days after the birth of Jesus to offer sacrifice to God. This was a routine event for the Hebrew women of the day. At the same time, Joseph presented Jesus there to the Lord, as every first-born son was to be designated as holy to the Lord. This, again, is a very routine thing for any Hebrew family at this time.

But what seemed to be something that was going to be very common to them, although his conception and birth was anything but common, a funny thing happened on the way into the Temple. Standing there was a man named Simeon, who had been led inside by the Holy Spirit.

By this time Simeon was a very old man. The Bible describes him as a “righteous and devout” man, who was looking forward to Israel’s consolation. He was looking forward to comfort in the midst of great discomfort and suffering. Being a devout man, and righteous, he was also no doubt a man who knew the truth of God’s promises contained in the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit rested upon him, and he knew from these Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit in his own heart and mind that he would not leave this world until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, the true Consolation of Israel.

Reaching forward, and taking the 40-day-old baby Jesus into his arms, this devout man of God began to praise God. The promise of God was being fulfilled right in this moment before his very eyes, and the fulfillment could be held in his very arms. This small child, the one whose blood had been shed in his circumcisions 32 days earlier and shown to be very much a human like those he came to save, and whose blood would later be shed for the salvation of all the world, was the one who had been promised. What inexplicable joy filled Simeon’s longsuffering and hopefully expectant heart as he cried out in praise and thanksgiving!

“Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A light to enlighten the nations,
And the glory of your people Israel.”

God’s promises are true, and Simeon’s hope has come. The Holy Spirit who had caused him to know these things through the Scriptures, through his prayers, and his hope, now is providing for his joy. He confesses the true nature of the child Jesus. Not only is this a baby boy of the faith, but he is the author of it. He is the salvation of all. And in knowing this now to have come to pass, Simeon bids the world farewell, knowing his days are now short. But he does so in the faith and knowledge of the Christ who has come. How comfortable the death of a man who knows Christ.

Imagine being Mary or Joseph here. Although they were no strangers to the mighty movements of God, this is still a moment of pure amazement and wonder. But Simeon goes on.

Blessing Mary and Joseph, Simeon turns his face intently toward Mary, saying to her: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

The life of Jesus, according to this devout man, this confessor of Christ, and this prophet, is to be a tumultuous one. There will be great joys and great sorrows ahead. And here the Holy Spirit by the lips of Simeon lays the groundwork for the life, ministry, and coming death of the baby whom he just held in his arms.

So, now they can get on with their business after this, right? Nope. God sends yet another, a prophetess called Anna. She too has lived far beyond her expected years. This woman, being a widow, has devoted her entire life to fasting and praying at the Temple. Lips that should have already been in the grave here continue to pour out words of praise and thanksgiving, they continue to pray in the Spirit, and in this moment are about to prophesy to others about this child Jesus, whom she also recognized for who he is.

What a completely unexpected day this little family is having. Fully thinking they were going to go and do the things appointed for them in the Law they instead find themselves in the midst of something God has been planning since the foundations of the world were laid. This is a moment of cosmic significance, as it signals the salvation of the world, the redemption of the whole creation, that is always inherent in the life and witness of the texts of the Old Testament. Jesus is written on those pages, and is an active participant already in leading his people toward their salvation, toward himself.

It is an amazing thing to see God moving in such a powerful way in the world. And nothing God does is without purpose. As the Apostle tells us, “God works all things for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose.” And to do this he came in human flesh, he became one of us, with all the frailties that come with the human package. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” so that we might have confidence in him, sharing in flesh and blood with him as his brothers and sisters, that he can be, and is, for us that merciful and faithful high priest who serves in the presence of God the Father. He was tested, like we are tested and will be tested, and is able to help us during these times of temptation and trial. This is the child Jesus who was shown to Simeon and Anna. This is the one about whom they started telling others. He is the one we share with our neighbors so that they too might be called his brothers and sisters.

I have made many hospital visits over the last twenty years. Most of them tend to go the same way, so there is a routine nature to most of it. Last Sunday, expecting one home life routine but trading it in for what I expected to be another type of routine event I found myself in the midst of God moving yet again. Larry, who had not been a participant in the life of the Church for many years, but who had been baptized as a kid, confessed Christ. It was one of the kids who had been there to visit who shared the Gospel with him, and another senior citizen who had prayed with him at that time.

I walked into that room fully expecting it to be a terribly sad affair, and I was among those who was and is sad, but instead what I found was the presence of the Holy Spirit and the joy that he brings when he reveals Jesus for who he is, unfolding the truth of the Scriptures that the heart may understand and be transformed. There was prayer, praise, and hymn singing by the time I departed that day. Peace and comfort, testimony of God’s goodness, and the true love of Christ was so thick in there it was like being grabbed up and hugged so warmly and tightly. The Lord came into the room and revived the hearts of those who needed consolation so badly. And he did it no more than in the heart of Larry.

Larry went into that hospital one man, but now that he prepares to leave this mortal world he will be leaving it a new creation in Christ. In his own words, “I know who my savior is, and I can’t stop praising him.” Just like Simeon and Anna another will go home with praise on his lips because of that blessed child is who is the true light of the world.

May we find our hope in him that at our own end we may leave with such praise on our mouths. Thank you, God, for Israel’s consolation and ours, and for being the only one whom we can trust for our salvation. For when through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us, gives light to us in our darkest times and in the shadow of death, guiding our feet into peace breaks into our hearts, we can do no other. Praise the Lord for his great and glorious love toward us.

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Answering the Call to Follow Jesus

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2B, Sunday, January 14, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon (and who wouldn’t?), click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51.

Today, I want us to look at the passage from John and 1 Samuel and think about what it means to answer the call to follow Jesus. I suppose, in a sense, every sermon is about what it means to follow Jesus – but there are things I want to draw on this morning out of the lesson.

The gospel scene is set for us as Jesus decides to head for Galilee, and that’s when the encounter with Philip begins. The first thing we notice is actually very easy to miss…

Right at the start of the story, John says: “Jesus found Philip”.

Philip didn’t find Christ. Christ found Philip.

The truth at the heart of the Christian story is not that you and I have found Christ, but Christ has found us.

We did not decide for God. God decided for us.

And the narrative that runs throughout the Bible is of a God who constantly seeks out his people.

And that’s the case right from the beginning of Scripture. If you remember in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, realised they were naked and were embarrassed, so they hid. And, in verse 8, God is walking in the garden and looking for Adam and Eve and in verse 9: “But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’” Right from the beginning of time, God has been seeking us out and finding us.

So let us never think that we chose God: he has chosen us! As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world…”

And this is important because the knowledge that God has sought us out, rather than us choosing God, is crucial in keeping us humble before God. And once Jesus finds Philip, he issues a single command: “Follow me”. Philip is compelled to follow Jesus.

Philip follows Jesus, and bears witness to Nathanael. But Nathanael is skeptical, and he questions Philip.“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In our day and age, an argument might arise, but Philip does not enter into an argument of words, he simply says, come and see. Nathanael goes to see, and although scholarship is unsure of the meaning of the fig tree, it is obvious that Jesus knows something about Nathanael that no one but God incarnate could know. Jesus had identified Nathanael before Philip had spoken to him when he was under the fig tree. God knows who and what we are. Our Lord also knows that we can accomplish great things for the Kingdom. God called each of us in our own unique way so as to serve him by doing what he has called us to do. And i guess by now we all know that it is to make a difference for Him

In the Old Testament lesson, God called Samuel, and Samuel is confused until Eli finally perceives that God is calling Samuel. And then, Samuel responds with the familiar, here I am. God gives Samuel some difficult information. Samuel tells Eli what God has planned, and Eli accepts his fate. The point is that God calls, we listen, and then do what we are called to do.

The tasks we are called to do are all difficult because of our frailty as humans, but they are not beyond our capabilities. What we are called to do might be unpleasant for us, but they are done for the love of God. think about Medical doctors, they are called to relieve the suffering of humans. But part of their call is also to inform family members that a loved one has died, or has terminal cancer, or will never walk again. We do not have to understand what we are called for, in fact, there is no way we can understand because we are not God. We have to trust that God will make all things right in the end. We have to trust that God knows, not just what is best for us as individuals, but what is best for all in the Kingdom of God. What we do know for sure is that we are all mortal. Our flesh will die, but we get the chance to live on by the acceptance of our Lord, and the acceptance of what we are called to do.

Tomorrow is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, It can only be imagined that Martin Luther King felt much like the Apostle Paul in his call to spread the Good News. Paul was harassed, beaten, persecuted, and probably executed for his belief in spreading the Gospel of our Lord. Violence was not acceptable for either man as a way to spread the Word. Both men wrote letters while jailed. Dr. King’s most famous letter is probably his letter written from the Birmingham jail. The letter is addressed to eight clergymen in Birmingham who had suggested that King needed to wait to pursue his cause. The timing was not correct, King should wait on political leaders to change and let the process change the abuses and denial of rights being inflicted on Blacks. The eight men consisted of a Presbyterian pastor, Southern Baptist minister, Jewish Rabbi, Roman Catholic bishop, two Methodist bishops, and two Episcopal Bishops; a fairly ecumenical group.

Dr. King heard the call of our Lord. He was given his instructions, and he knew that his difficult information had to be given to the leaders of this country. He knew that the status quo had to change, and waiting was no longer an option. But, he also knew that any form of violence corrupted the message. In order to follow his call, the message he sent had to be one of change through non-violent means. He knew that the message of Jesus to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself applied to all persons, friend and enemy.

Jesus knows us before he calls us. He knows what we are all capable of, and he knows that the instructions we receive in our call will probably be difficult for us. But, we can all do it. We can all follow and serve the Lord. As long as we are alive, we can answer the call of our Lord. We are disciples. Discipleship is an active engagement with Jesus. It is also an active engagement in the world in which we live.

Hopefully, it is not necessary for any of us to risk our freedom or our lives in order to answer our individual calls. But it may take us out of our comfort zone, and cause us more than a little discomfort. It might even cause us discomfort to think that our Lord knows all that we do, and all that we can do. We can take the instruction of the eight clergymen in Birmingham, and wait for the system to set things right. Or we can accept the call of our Lord. We can acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, and follow him. We can do what is unpleasant in this broken world to ease the suffering and injustice that exists. We do not have to fix it all. As individuals, we do our part, and hope that others are answering the call and doing their part. We are changed by God to make a difference for Him. Here I am Lord, speak for your servant is listening.

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

The Power of God in Jesus’ Baptism and Our Own

Sermon delivered on the feast of Christ’s baptism, Epiphany 1B, Sunday, January 7, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. It’s the perfect time to jump into the waters of baptism to reflect on God’s power.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19.1-7; Mark 1.4-11(12-13).

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

Happy new year, St. Augustine’s! Today we celebrate our Lord’s baptism and our own. But what’s it all about? Why care about either? This is what I want us to look at this morning. To understand the significance of our Lord’s baptism, we must place it within the proper context of the history of God’s salvation as contained in Scripture. Otherwise making sense of his baptism and our own will be impossible. First and foremost we must look at Christ’s baptism as the NT’s answer to the longing for God’s return to God’s people contained in so much of the OT.

Appropriately, our assigned OT reading is from Genesis 1. The writer declares that in the beginning God created the heavens and earth out of nothing, or as the text puts it, the Spirit (or wind) of God hovered over the chaos of the waters. Over against the darkness, chaos, void, and nothingness that is like the nothingness of death, God’s creative word issued forth God’s life-giving light that signals the goodness and orderliness of God’s creative power. We note that this light is not the light produced by the sun or the moon. Those two heavenly bodies were not created until later. No, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is present from the beginning and is instrumental in bringing about life from nothingness and order from chaos. More about that in a moment. This life-giving light, unlike the light of the sun and moon, is available only to those who are the people of God, born of the Spirit, the water, and the blood (1 John 5.8). The point of the creation story is that God created his creation to be good and God created humans in God’s image to run God’s good world on God’s behalf. As the psalmist writes, this world and all that is in it pulses with God’s ongoing goodness and creative power. Without the life-giving power and presence of the Spirit, there is no life or order or peace. There is only chaos and death. As we ponder and reflect on this aspect of God’s life-giving and creative activity, we are reminded that God’s Spirit and presence can bring light and peace out of the darkness and chaos in our own lives if we only will let him. Do you believe this about God’s Spirit?

As we have just seen, the original goodness of God’s creation was despoiled by human sin and rebellion that brought about God’s curse on us and all creation and opened the door for the forces of darkness, evil, and chaos to get a foothold within God’s good world to further despoil and corrupt it and us. We don’t have to look around us very far to understand that within the beauty and goodness of God’s world, human sin and the dark powers behind it constantly unleash new chaos in God’s world and our lives. That’s what all sin and rebellion against God is at its core: chaos. Whether it’s the chaos of disease or dysfunction or infirmity or madness or poverty or war or alienation or strife, our rebellion against God produces the darkness of chaos that is directly opposed to God’s original creative purposes and the life-giving light of God’s love and grace for us and God’s world.

This corruption and perversion of God’s good created order is why God called his people Israel into existence. As God promised Abraham, God would bring God’s blessing and healing love to the world through Abraham and his descendants. But sadly God’s people Israel were every bit as susceptible to the darkness as the world to which they were to bring God’s healing love. As St. John tells us in his gospel, the people, God’s people Israel included, loved the darkness better than the light of God’s life-giving love because our deeds are evil (John 3.19). That’s why folks reject Jesus. Of course God knew this before he ever formed Abraham in the womb. But as Scripture repeatedly insists throughout its narrative, God is faithful to God’s promises and God’s promises and purposes can never be defeated. And so God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the one true Israelite through whom the world and its people would be redeemed.

This brings us to our gospel lesson with its narrative of Jesus’ baptism, and with it we begin to appreciate St. Mark’s ability as a skillful storyteller. In his narrative, St. Mark invites us to see the spectacle of God operating in the confines and constraints of human history to bring about our salvation. As the Son rises from the waters, he sees the heavens torn apart and the God’s life-giving Spirit—the same Spirit who brooded over the waters of chaos in the beginning to bring light out of darkness—descending on him to commission and empower him to embark on his life-saving work as God’s Messiah. The verb St. Mark uses to tell us that the heavens were torn open is used in only one other place in Scripture, in Isaiah 64.1. There the prophet’s anguished plea on behalf of his sin-sick and beleaguered people who walk in the darkness of their evil deeds is for God to tear apart the heavens to rescue his people by forgiving them their sins and establishing God’s good and healing justice on earth as in heaven. In using the same verb for tearing apart the heavens in relation to the Holy Spirit’s descent on Jesus, St. Mark is inviting us to see that in Jesus’ forthcoming ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension, the anguished cry of God’s people everywhere is finally being answered, and here we see the breathtaking power and initiative of God at work, but not in the way we expected or anticipated.

Instead of destroying the enemies of God’s people in a mighty act of power as God had done to the Egyptians at the Red Sea, instead of giving God’s people a mighty warrior Messiah to liberate them from the grip of Rome as many Israelites expected, God himself came as promised, but in weakness and great humility, to break the power of Sin and Evil over God’s people and free us to be the human beings God created us to be. In other words, God sent his Son to suffer and die a humiliating and shameful death on our behalf. Listen to St. Paul’s take on it:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation (Rom 5.6-9, NLT).

Elsewhere in Romans Paul affirms that we are indeed no longer under God’s just condemnation for our sins because of the blood of Christ shed for us on the cross that enabled God to condemn our sins in the flesh without having to condemn us along with it (Romans 8.1-4).

This is the power and initiative of God we are witnessing in Jesus’ baptism, my beloved. We see the power of the Father descending on the Son through the Spirit and affirming that Jesus is indeed God’s beloved Son, commissioning our Lord to embark on his surprising and life-giving ministry that would lead to Calvary and an empty tomb. In God telling Jesus he is God’s beloved Son, St. Mark takes us back to the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 42.1, who will bring God’s justice to the nations. As we’ve just seen, the Servant would not do this in the way the world expected God to act. The Servant would embody God’s great love and perfect justice through his own suffering and death, and in the process we would find God’s light, life, and rescue from our slavery to the darkness, thanks be to God! Amen?

Curiously, the lectionary omits the next two verses in Mark but I want to read them to you because they are important in helping us see the critical importance for us as God’s people to have God’s Spirit dwell in us. Hear St. Mark now. [At once] “[t]he Spirit compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.” (Mark 1.12-13). Do you see what’s going on here? The dark powers know that something radically different is happening, and they don’t like it one bit. The result? The prince of darkness, Satan himself, immediately confronts Jesus to derail his life-giving mission as the Son of God. But Jesus has the power of the Spirit, and only the Spirit, to strengthen him and enable him to overcome Satan’s temptations, unlike our first human ancestors. And here is a key to help us look at God’s power available to us in our own baptism.

Have you ever looked at your faith, at your claim to love God, and been tempted to fall into despair over your folly and faithlessness? You profess love for God but as you examine your life, you see yourself committing the same sins over and over, no matter how hard you try to do otherwise. I suspect many of us are in this boat and if you are one of these folks, then remembering your baptism is the perfect antidote. Why? For two reasons. First, remembering our baptism testifies to us in a powerful way that in this sacrament—the outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible reality—we are not responsible for our salvation. God is. Let me repeat that to you. We are not responsible for our salvation. God is. God is responsible for our salvation because only God has the power to break the power of Evil and Sin that has enslaved us. Only God’s light has the power to overcome our darkness. Only God has the power to give life and conquer death, and baptism is God’s ordained way of uniting us with our Lord Jesus, God’s only Son and Messiah, who broke the power of Evil and Sin over us and freed us from God’s just condemnation by bearing our punishment in his own body. St. Paul puts it this way:

[H]ave you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6.3-6, NLT).

Let the Good News that St. Paul proclaims here, the only Good News that has the power to heal your despair, sink in. He is telling us that we are joined to Christ who bore our punishment in his body so that one day we can anticipate sharing a new bodily existence like Jesus enjoys. We no longer need to fear God’s condemnation nor death because God the Father has taken care of it through God the Son. When we read about God telling Jesus he is God’s beloved, our baptism reminds us that God is speaking those same words to us as well. We too are God’s beloved sons and daughters. Not because of who we are or what we’ve done or not done, but because of who Christ is. And in and through the mystery of our baptism, we are united to our Lord Jesus Christ so that we are assured we will share in every good thing that Christ enjoys. No wonder Martin Luther, who was prone to fits of depression and despondency, would cry out in the midst of his darkness, I am baptized! I am baptized! The next time you are feeling hopeless about your relationship with God, perhaps you should do likewise until your darkness subsides. It’s likely you too are under demonic attack. And if you really do not believe the words God directed to Jesus at his baptism, then you frankly do not know the love and heart of God the Father made known supremely through the cross of God the Son and made available to you in the power and person of God the Holy Spirit. Don’t ignore that last bit about the Spirit. It’s critical to your daily living.

Why? In addition to having our baptism remind us that our future is secure in Christ, our Lord’s baptism also reminds us we have real power to live our mortal life in ways that are pleasing to God. And this is critically important because the Christian faith demands that we live in faithful obedience to our Lord Jesus. We have the power to do so as St. Paul just told us, despite being thoroughly broken people. We no longer have to live in slavery to Sin because like Jesus, we have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us put to death our sinful nature. This doesn’t mean we will live sinless lives. Hardly. As St. Paul reminds us, no one is finished with sin until we die (Romans 6.7). But here again, we see God’s power at work in our lives to help us overcome our slavery to Sin. So even though we are thoroughly infected by Sin, it does not have to conquer us. This is where many of us get tripped up because we fail to believe in the promise of God to give us his Holy Spirit to help us be real human beings who live in peace and God’s light. Our future is secure because we belong to Jesus and we have the power to overcome our darkness by the light of God’s Spirit. As the NT makes clear, everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit and the Spirit equips each of us with gifts. That’s one of the points Luke wants us to see in our strange little NT lesson from Acts. We are given power to live and gifts that God will use to bring his light to bear here on earth. Are we up for the task? Of course not! We are all losers and ragamuffins! But again, it’s not about us. It is about the power of God working in and through us to accomplish what God wills, despite our warts and flaws.

So what do Spirit-filled people look like? As St. Paul tells the Colossians, you will see Spirit-filled people loving each other, forgiving each other, putting up with our mutual shortcomings and not thinking too highly of ourselves. We will see folks serving each other, praying for each other, and supporting each other. We will be filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5.22). Spirit-filled folks avoid being involved in sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, and envy, mainly because by the Spirit’s help and power we are putting to death the pride and other darkness in us, however slowly and imperfectly. We won’t be successful all the time, of course. But we will be more often than not. And when we fail, we confess our sins to Almighty God knowing that God forgives us, which makes us quick to be merciful to others when they offend or hurt us. This knowledge of God’s love for us made known supremely in Jesus Christ, along with our faith in God’s power to help us live in his light and not the darkness, is enough to not only sustain us through the living of our days, but also to produce in us joy, even when we walk through life’s darkest valleys. I believe this is true even for those poor souls who have been robbed of their minds and/or the ability to make willful, conscious decisions. I believe this is true because I know the love of God made known to us in and through his Son. This is why remembering our baptism is important, my beloved. It is an outward and tangible sign that we are God’s by virtue of our union with God’s Son, imperfect as our lives are. It is the basis for us to live together as members of Christ’s body, the Church. It is the Good News that brings us hope and joy, 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.

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2018 (3)

Christ is God, for he has given all things their being out of nothing. Yet he is born as one of us by taking to himself our nature, flesh-endowed with intelligent spirit. A star glitters by day in the East and leads the wise men to the place where the incarnate Word lies, to show that the Word, contained in the Law and the Prophets, surpasses in a mystical way knowledge derived from the senses, and to lead the Gentiles to the full light of knowledge.

For surely the word of the Law and the Prophets when it is understood with faith is like a star which leads those who are called by the power of grace in accordance with his decree to recognize the Word incarnate.

The great mystery of the divine incarnation remains a mystery for ever. How can the Word made flesh be essentially the same person that is wholly with the Father? How can he who is by nature God become by nature entirely human without lacking either nature, neither the divine by which he is God nor the human by which he became one of us? Faith alone grasps these mysteries.

—Maximus the Confessor, Five Hundred Chapters 1, 8-13

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2018 (2)

Matthew 2:1-12

Let us now observe how glorious was the dignity that attended the King after his birth, after the magi in their journey remained obedient to the star. For immediately the magi fell to their knees and adored the one born as Lord. There in his very cradle they venerated him with offerings of gifts, though Jesus was merely a whimpering infant. They perceived one thing with the eyes of their bodies but another with the eyes of the mind. The lowliness of the body he assumed was discerned, but the glory of his divinity was now made manifest. A boy he is, but it is God who is adored. How inexpressible is the mystery of this divine honor! The invisible and eternal nature did not hesitate to take on the weaknesses of the flesh on our behalf. The Son of God, who is God of the universe, is born a human being in the flesh. He permits himself to be placed in a manger, and the heavens are within the manger. He is kept in a cradle, a cradle the world cannot hold. He is heard in the voice of a crying infant. This is the same one for whose voice the whole world would tremble in the hour of his passion. Thus he is the One, the God of glory and the Lord of majesty, whom as a tiny infant the magi would recognize. It is he who while a child was truly God and King eternal. To him Isaiah pointed, saying, “For a boy has been born to you; a son has been given to you, a son whose empire has been forged on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6).

—Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 5.1

The Epiphany of our Lord for 2018

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

—Matthew 2:1-12 (NLT)

In this way marvel was linked to marvel: the magi were worshiping, the star was going before them. All this is enough to captivate a heart made of stone. If it had been only the wise men or only the prophets or only the angels who had said these things, they might have been disbelieved. But now with all this confluence of varied evidence, even the most skeptical mouths are stopped.

Moreover, the star, when it stood over the child, held still. This itself demonstrates a power greater than any star: first to hide itself, then to appear, then to stand still. From this all who beheld were encouraged to believe. This is why the magi rejoiced. They found what they were seeking. They had proved to be messengers of truth. Their long journey was not without fruit. Their longing for the Anointed One was fulfilled. He who was born was divine. They recognized this in their worship.

—Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 7.4

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2017-18—Day 12

Today concludes the series of Christmas reflections from the Church Fathers. I hope you have enjoyed them and trust that God will use them to enrich you and bring you closer to him. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Christmas is the day on which the Creator of the universe came into this world. This is the day on which the one who is always present through his power became present in the flesh. He came in the flesh with the intention of curing human blindness so that once we were healed we might be enlightened in the Lord. Then God’s light would no longer be shining in darkness but would appear plainly to people who wanted to see it.

—Augustine, Sermon 195, 2

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2017-18—Day 11 (3)

In the very act in which we are reverencing the birth of our Savior, we are also celebrating our own new birth. For the birth of Christ is the origin of the Christian people; and the birthday of the head is also the birthday of the body [the Church]. As the whole community of the faithful, once begotten in the baptismal font, was crucified with Christ in the passion, raised up with him in the resurrection, and at the ascension placed at the right hand of the Father, so too it is born with him in this nativity.

For all believers regenerated in Christ, no matter in what part of the whole world they may be, break with that ancient way of life that derives from original sin, and by rebirth are transformed into new persons. Henceforth they are reckoned to be of the stock, not of their earthly father, but of Christ, who became Son of Man precisely so that they could become children of God; for unless in humility he had come down to us, none of us by our own merits could ever go up to him.

—Leo the Great, Sermon 6 for the Nativity

The Twelve Days of Christmas 2017-18—Day 11 (2)

Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal creator of all things, today became our Savior by being born of a mother. Of his own will he was born for us today, in time, so that he could lead us to his Father’s eternity. God became human like us so that we might become God.

We sinned and became guilty; God is born as one of us to free us from our guilt. We fell, but God descended; we fell miserably, but God descended mercifully; we fell through pride, God descended with his grace.

—Augustine, Sermon 13 on the Time