Fr. Santosh Madanu: The Prodigal Son

Sermon delivered on Lent 4C, Sunday, March 31, 2019 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: Joshua 5.9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5.16-21; Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, you help us through the parable of prodigal son, the spiritual lesson, that we are meant to receive your life, your love and mercy as a gift from you.  Enlighten our minds to set our hearts on your infinite mercy and forgiveness. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The interesting thing about today’s Gospel parable is that it is such a down to earth, that one way other we are all connected to this story.

The so called prodigal son wants to leave home, wants to have his own way and wants to have independence from the family.  This is something some of us have experienced as a youth.  It is very natural occurrence.  The desire to leave home and have our own space is absolutely normal and at the same time necessary.  Sooner or later we will have to take flight from the comfort of our parents and guardians.  But whereas, the prodigal son goes wrong, when he found independence to reject fathers’ love, the family values, cultural system and tradition.

There is great search for happiness and fulfillment in life then and now.  Today’s society emphasizes on sensual and material enjoyment.  The problem was that the prodigal son thought he could find happiness by satisfying his desires whether moral or immoral.   

What can we learn from Jesus Christ’s parables of the prodigal son?  In the world of broken relationships, it taches us a lesson of dep love and hope.   A key lesson of the parable of prodigal son is always hope for reconciliation. In the parable Father represents our heavenly God the Father.

Let us reflect the story.   A man had two sons.  One day the younger one came to him with a demand:   he wanted an early disbursement of his inheritance. And taking his portion of wealth he traveled to far distance country. Which means the son no longer wanted to live under his father’s roof. He no longer wants to walk with his father (Amos 3:3)

Could it be that the son had emotionally left the home long before he physically walked out of the door?

In time the son burned through his money and found himself penniless.  Immoral living with his friends and high living, beyond his means, reduced him to do manual labor.  Today it is easy to spend money on super comforts and super luxurious things. His friends were with him as long as he had money.  He had no satisfaction of his life.  He began to evaluate his situation.

What would you do in such a situation? Would pride prevent you from returning home or restoring the relationship?  Would stubbornness push you toward self?

Perhaps you actually find yourself at present in a position (situation) similar to that of that of the prodigal son.  You have been estranged from a parent or a friend and feel you cannot return to him or her.  You can’t bring yourself to pick up the phone or reach out and begin to mend a broken relationship.  It is sad feature of life today.  We are connected by so much social media yet can’t always connect at the deepest level of love and meaning.  You can have hundreds and thousands of friends on Facebook but all alone in your life at the most critical moments.  It is vital to have good friends to receive counsel, encouragement and support.  It is necessary to have fellowship to keep relationship open for love and care.

Returning to Christ story, it now reaches the most critical point.  The young man comes to his senses when he realizes the servants in his father’s home have plenty of food and do not go hungry.  He says “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father I have sinned against heaven and before you….imagine the moment of humility, he is at the end of his rope.  All his natural confidence is gone, he realizes he can’t go forward on his own.  He decided he must return home.  The journey is now at its most crucial moment.

It is never too late.

How many of us waiting for our brother or sister, mother or father, friend or relative to return to you- back to have relationship that have been severed long ago?  We have not lost hope. We wait for a letter, an email, a call or to footsteps on the path to your house. You and I personally need to take initiate to call them.  Let us not wait for many months and years.  Because the lost time can’t be regained.

There was news sometime in the past carried the story about 87 year old man who was reunited with his daughter after 40 years.  He had divorced her mother when the daughter was four, and he last saw her when she was 12.  For more than 40 years he didn’t see his child.  She grew up, married, and had children and grandchildren.  One day she called him on the phone and said, “This is Dona, your daughter.”  The man discovered he had a family he knew nothing about.  He quickly agreed to meet and began making up for the lost time, knowing time could not be regained but determined not to allow any more to be lost.

This is how it will be one day, for those who wait with prayer, fasting and alms giving.  The prodigals will return.  They will be moment to say, I want a relationship once again with you.  In today’s parable it is not we wait for our Father God rather He waits on us to welcome us back home.  In all the religions of the world, human being is seeking for God where as in Jewish –Christian, God is seeking for us.

A message about deep love

Jesus Christ gave this parable to encourage families. God’s great plan of salvation is based on relationships on the family structure and fellowships. This is the law of love- the love of the parent for the child. The deep love of the father for his children.  This parable is about each one of us. God the Father stands waiting for the time when each of His children will at last realize the need for a lasting and satisfying relationship with Him.  And God’s deep desire to bring the reconciliation within His creation.

Holding out Hope

The parable of lost son is a parable for today.  It offers hope for all who long for reconciliation.   Reconciliation with son, parent or friend.

 Even the hope is deferred and heart is sick, there is the promise of hope will blossom into a tree of life (Proverbs13:12)

The Father’s years of hope and longing are summed in the declaration,” This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” Luke 15:24.

We may think this is a good place to end.  But Jesus wants us to know the reaction of the elder son.

And how do we react in this situation for our brother or sister who left the home for their pleasure and selfishness?

The older brother in the story honored his father and helped in the business. But in fact he was not having true loving relationship with his father and he was not happy with his brother.  He too was selfish.  He too was very disobedient. His heart was with hatred and selfishness. He demonstrated the dislike, intolerance and hostility which is opposing the compassionate loving nature of his own father.

He is not only angry with his brother but angry with his father too.  He feels favoritism and he feels indifference in treatment as a manifested injustice by his father.

He refused to join the party.  On hearing of his son’s anger, the father pleaded him to join in welcoming home his brother.  But he couldn’t because, as he put it: “These many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; yet you never gave me young goat that I might make merry with my friends.  But as soon as this son of yours came, who have devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him”.  Luke 15: 29-30

Once again the father showed wisdom:  “Son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours.  It was right that we should celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found”.

We need to have unbroken bond with our loving Father God.  The loyalty, dependability and trust should prove that we don’t need party or grand celebration to demonstrate God’s love for us.  Because we are already sharing His infinite love and experiencing His unending care for us.

*There is always hope for the reconciliation.  Never to give up.

What do the actions of prodigal son teach us?

They teach us the depths to which our own misuse of freedom will bring us bad consequences.  If we are bent on leaving God, things will go badly for us.  We will be humiliated in the uncaring world.  The farther we get from the Father’s loving care, the worse off we will be, and our best course is to return to God and His forgiveness.

What do the actions of the father teaches us?

The first lesson is that the father will not treat a son as a hired servant.   The younger son is still a son!

As a result, his returning is something to be celebrated! 

Father tells his second son “Son you are always with me.”  This means a reassurance to the elder son that he has not lost his place in the family.  His place is secured. And father tells the elder son” and all that is mine is yours. This is because the division of property has already been taken place.  The younger son took his third, so the two-thirds that remain will go entirely to the older son.

The spiritual lessons from this parable we can draw are:

* When we turn our backs on our heavenly Father, mortal sin is a real possibility.  Therefore as we enjoy free will we need to seek God’s will for us.

* This shows us God’s reaction towards us when we return from being lost in sin and bad decisions.

* God loves every one equally.   God loves sinner and saints in the same way.  Let us come to the bosom of tender compassionate God the Father. Amen.  

An Ancient Christian Theologian Muses on Prayer

Prayer is the offering in spirit that has done away with the sacrifices of old. “What good do I receive from the multiplicity of your sacrifices?” asks God. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and I do not want the fat of lambs and the blood of bulls and goats. Who has asked for these from your hands?” 

What God has asked for we learn from the Gospel. “The hour will come,” he says: “when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. God is a spirit,” and so he looks for worshipers who are like himself. 

We are true worshipers and true priests. We pray in spirit, and so offer in spirit the sacrifice of prayer. Prayer is an offering that belongs to God and is acceptable to him: it is the offering he has asked for, the offering he planned as his own. 

We must dedicate this offering with our whole heart, we must fatten it on faith, tend it by truth, keep it unblemished through innocence and clean through chastity, and crown it with love. We must escort it to the altar of God in a procession of good works to the sound of psalms and hymns. Then it will gain for us all that we ask of God. 

Since God asks for prayer offered in spirit and in truth, how can he deny anything to this kind of prayer? How great is the evidence of its power, as we read and hear and believe. 

Of old, prayer was able to rescue from fire and beasts and hunger, even before it received its perfection from Christ. How much greater then is the power of Christian prayer. No longer does prayer bring an angel of comfort to the heart of a fiery furnace, or close up the mouths of lions, or transport to the hungry food from the fields. No longer does it remove all sense of pain by the grace it wins for others. But it gives the armor of patience to those who suffer, who feel pain, who are distressed. It strengthens the power of grace, so that faith may know what it is gaining from the Lord, and understand what it is suffering for the name of God.

In the past prayer was able to bring down punishment, rout armies, withhold the blessing of rain. Now, however, the prayer of the just turns aside the whole anger of God, keeps vigil for its enemies, pleads for persecutors. Is it any wonder that it can call down water from heaven when it could obtain fire from heaven as well? Prayer is the one thing that can conquer God. But Christ has willed that it should work no evil, and has given it all power over good.

Its only art is to call back the souls of the dead from the very journey into death, to give strength to the weak, to heal the sick, to exorcise the possessed, to open prison cells to free the innocent from their chains. Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the faint-hearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand firm.

All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look up to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer.

What more needs be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honor and power for ever and ever. 

—Tertullian (d. ca. 225 AD), On Prayer, 28-29

Presumption: It’s Not for Lent

Sermon delivered on Lent 3C, Sunday, March 24, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 55.1-9; Psalm 63.1-8; 1 Corinthians 10.1-13; Luke 13.1-9.

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

Two weeks ago we looked at what it takes to observe a holy Lent. I suggested that observing a holy Lent is not about us or our ability to follow the rules set forth by God. Instead, I suggested that keeping a holy Lent starts with our presence at the foot of the cross of Christ with thankful hearts. It starts by acknowledging the power of God to change us and opening ourselves up to the presence of his life-changing Spirit. Observing a holy Lent is about God’s power working in our lives, not our ability to follow the rules. Many of us need to hear this message on a regular basis because many of us are all about the delusion of self-help. We also need to hear that God loves us and is merciful and gracious to us because many of us have a hard time loving ourselves, so it is natural for us to believe that God doesn’t or can’t love us either. Today, our readings point us in a different direction, one that is not nearly as popular or comforting as the topic of my last sermon. In various ways, our readings warn against the sin of presumption in all its destructive forms and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

We begin by acknowledging our aversion to talking about the power of Sin in our lives. We live in a day and age in which it is simply not acceptable to talk about the seriousness of sin. Doing so lands us in the cultural doghouse and we find ourselves labeled as haters, bigots, and the like. Even those brave enough to dare suggest there is Truth as well as rights and wrongs tend to deflect the topic of human sin by talking about the sins of others. Doing so allows us to avoid having to address our own sins, not to mention our standing before God. Our sin avoidance, especially when it comes to our own sins, is nothing new. We see it alive and well in our gospel lesson when our Lord was asked about those killed by Pilate and who had fallen victim to man-made disaster. What about those people, Jesus? Were they worse sinners than us? We ask these kinds of questions all the time. What about those killed in the recent Ethiopian airliner crash? Were they worse sinners than us? Or what about the victims of the various floods, cyclones, and tornadoes? Were they worse sinners than us? Did they really do stuff that was bad enough to warrant death? Or how about victims of AIDS? Isn’t that God’s punishment on them for their sins? Behind such questions, of course, is the old belief that God punishes us for our sins while “good people”—and we always include ourselves in that category—escape such punishment because, well, we’re good people. Do you see the presumption behind these questions? Some sins are more deserving of punishment than others, especially when we are talking about the sins of others and not our own. We don’t seem to realize that from the perspective of God’s perfect holiness, all sins are abhorrent because all sins corrupt and dehumanize, and because God loves us like he does, this is not acceptable to God. What parent, for example, would always allow his children to tell little white lies, especially if in allowing this pattern, he might teach them to become chronic liars? No, God wants the best for his image-bearers and therefore abhors anything we do that corrupts and chips away at God’s image in us. The problem is that we humans don’t take sin as seriously as God does, especially when it comes to examining our own sins. Our Lord’s message in response to our sin-aversion is pretty stark. You’d better knock that kind of thinking off while you still can and focus on repenting of your own sins. Otherwise you are going to fall under God’s good and just judgment just like they did, whether or not you think your sins are serious enough to be judged.

St. Paul says something equally worrisome in our epistle lesson. Here he is addressing Christian presumption that goes something like this. Hey God, I’m a baptized Christian and I come to Christ’s holy table each week for communion. Therefore I can do whatever I darn well please because you have to forgive my sins since I’m a baptized Christian and take communion and stuff. Never mind that I gossip and speak evilly about my neighbor and those in my parish family (especially those I really dislike). Never mind that I criticize, lie, cheat, or steal. Never mind that I sit in haughty self-righteous judgment over my fellow Christians and refuse to admit I am ever wrong. Never mind that I sneak in an affair or two or am addicted to porn. And me turning a blind eye to human need and suffering, all the while rationalizing my stinginess? That’s OK too because, hey! I’m a baptized Christian and you have to forgive me, God. It says so right there in the rules somewhere. Welcome to Christian presumption at its finest where we presume God must forgive us because we are Christians. While St. Paul firmly believed that baptism and holy communion are necessary for our membership into Christ’s family (the Church) and for our salvation, he never saw them as some kind of magic that guarantees God’s forgiveness and mercy while allowing us to live our lives in ways that corrupt, dehumanize, and lead us to eternal destruction. Again, this is not love on God’s part. How can a loving God desire our destruction? This is our attempt at turning our relationship with God into one of codependency where God enables our fallen desires and pride to run rampant. The season of Lent, therefore, is an appropriate time for us to reflect not only on our own sins (that will keep us occupied for a good long while) but also on the love and mercy of God.

So is there an appropriate form of presumption for us Christians to have? Yes there is and it is implicit in all our readings. It is quite appropriate for us to presume that without God’s intervention and help we will fall under his terrible and just judgment on our sins, irrespective of our level of denial about the seriousness of those sins. This kind of presumption takes sin seriously and acknowledges our utter helplessness to fix ourselves or our standing before God. Many of us balk at this because it makes us feel bad. I’ve heard it a gazillion times. But is it thoroughly bad news when we acknowledge our terrible predicament before a just and holy God? If so, why do we confess each week that we follow too much the devices and desires of our own hearts? Why do we acknowledge that there is no health in us? Is it just to make us feel as rotten as possible and lower our self-esteem? Does God get some kind of delight in calling us out for our sins and making us feel rotten? 

Of course not (and if you think that, now is a good time for you to examine your unholy assumptions about who God is and what God wants). When we presume that our sins leave us without recourse and under God’s good and just judgment, and that we are utterly unworthy of God’s forgiveness, it begins to cultivate the necessary humility in us to accept God’s unwarranted love and forgiveness, and that helps make us ready to spend time at the foot of the cross with a thankful heart. When we realize that we can do nothing to make us right in God’s eyes except for the love of Christ made known supremely on the cross, we are developing a Spirit-led antidote for the kind of unhealthy and unholy presumption we’ve just talked about. God wants to forgive us because God loves us, despite our unloveliness. But God also wants us to be the fully human creatures he created us to be and that means we have to turn from our unhealthy self-love and pride and turn to God so that we can be healed. It’s the kind of mindset we find in our psalm lesson this morning with its hunger and thirst for God and the psalmist’s realization that nothing is more desirable than God’s love and care for him. When we realize there is nothing we can do to earn God’s mercy and love, but that God offers both to us because of who God is, it opens us up to God’s healing power made known to us in Christ, and him crucified, through the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we confess our sins—to be forgiven and healed, and because we are confident that God will.

When we realize that it pleased God to rescue us from our slavery to Sin by way of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18-25) and to heal us in the power of the Spirit, and that God did so while we were utterly helpless and still his enemies (Romans 5.6-8), we look at God’s gifts of love and mercy through the lens of a grateful and penitent heart instead of through the lens of sinful presumption. This in turn increases our desire to love God for his awesome love for us made known supremely in the cross of Christ, and we are perfectly content to spend time at the foot of our Lord’s cross because we realize it is here, and only here, that we find healing, forgiveness, and salvation. As we continue our Lenten journey, my beloved, may we desire the grace to be bold enough and humble enough to see our sins as God sees them, and to give thanks to God for freeing us from the power behind our sins to make us his own. Then we can come to Christ’s table, rejoicing in our baptism, with a humble and contrite heart, the kind that pleases the Father, and be reminded that we are invited to the Father’s great banquet because we truly are Christ’s own, 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. 

St. Patrick’s Day 2019: Some Reflections on Maney Family History

Speaking of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Augustine’s mentor, Augustine writes:

But I had no notion nor any experience to know what were his hopes, what struggles he had against the temptations of his distinguished position, what consolation in adversities, and the hidden aspect of his life—what was in his heart, what delicious joys came as he fed on and digested your [God’s] bread. He for his part did not know of my emotional crisis nor the abyss of danger threatening me. I could not put the questions I wanted to put to him as I wished to do.

—Confessions, 6.3.3

John F. ManeySeventy six years ago on March 10, 1943, my dad was inducted into the U.S. Army in Van Wert, OH. He was 20 years old at the time. A week later on St. Patrick’s Day, he left on a train for Camp Perry up by Lake Erie to begin his basic training. I never asked him what he felt like the day he was inducted (or at least I do not recall asking him because I do not know how he felt). Neither did I ask him about his thoughts and feelings as he left for basic training a week later (or at least I do not remember us ever talking about that). As I reflected on this, I wondered why I didn’t ask him about these things when he was alive? I wondered what it is about me that stayed my hand so that I didn’t ask him the questions I would love to ask him about today but can no longer do so.

Then I read the above passage from Augustine and realized that perhaps my experience is not all that uncommon. To be sure, maturity helped me take a much deeper interest in my parents’ lives as I began to realize that they too were human, just like me, and had similar hopes, fears, dreams, and worries that I have. But even now, I think of a million questions I would like to ask them but never did. Why did I not think to ask them about these things when they were alive? It is both baffling to me and frustrating.

Why is it that often we do not realize what we have until it is gone or taken from us? I suspect one answer to this perplexing question is that it is a product of alienation that our sin and self-centeredness has caused, an alienation that often exists between God and us and between humans. I know that when I was a young man, I thought I had better things to do and think about other than my parents and their experiences. I simply didn’t realize how impoverishing that was.

So on this day, I am thankful for my dad’s service to his country. I am proud of what he did in Europe during World War II. I am thankful that God kept him safe during the war and gave him to me as a father. I am also thankful for the men and women of my dad’s generation. They truly did save the world from the unspeakable evil of Nazism and militarism.

Take time today and do two things. First, stop and give thanks to God for blessing us with the “Greatest Generation,” and for the sacrifices they made for this country. Second, if you have parents, grandparents, or other family members still living, take time to talk with them and get to know them better. Ask God to help you learn about their hopes and dreams, their fears and worries, and share yours with them. Doing so will help you appreciate God’s great gift of family and friends.

Thank you, young soldiers, and thank you, God, for blessing us with them.

Lent 2019: Abbess Egeria Describes How Catechumens were Instructed in 4th Century Jerusalem

Fascinating. It was no easy or light thing to become a Christian in those days.

I must also describe how those who are baptized at Easter are instructed. Those who give their names do so the day before Lent, and the priest notes down all their names; and this is before those eight weeks during which, as I have said, Lent is observed here. When the priest has noted down everyone’s name, then on the following day, the first day of Lent, on which the eight weeks begin, a throne is set up for the bishop in the center of the major church [behind the site of the cross], the Martyrium. The priests sit on stools on both sides, and all the clergy stand around. One by one the candidates are led forward, in such a way that the men come with their godfathers and the women with their godmothers.

Then the bishop questions individually the neighbors of the one who has come up, inquiring: “Does this person lead a good life? Obey parents? Is this person a drunkard or a liar?” And the bishop seeks out in the candidate other vices which are more serious. If the person proves to be guiltless in all these matters concerning which the bishop has questioned the witnesses who are present, the bishop notes down the candidate’s name. If, however, the candidate is accused of anything, the bishop orders the person to go out and says: “Let such a one amend their life, and when this is done, then approach the baptismal font.” He makes the same inquiry of both men and women. If, however, some are strangers, such people cannot easily receive baptism, unless they have witnesses who know them.

Ladies, my sisters, I must describe this, lest you think that it is done without explanation. It is the custom here, throughout the forty days on which there is fasting, for those who are preparing for baptism to be exorcised by the clergy early in the morning, as soon as the dismissal from the morning service has been given at the Anastasis [site of the empty tomb]. Immediately a throne is placed for the bishop in the major church, the Martyrium. All those who are to be baptized, both men and women, sit closely around the bishop, while the godmothers and godfathers stand there; and indeed all of the people who wish to listen may enter and sit down, provided they are of the faithful. A catechumen, however, may not enter at the time when the bishop is teaching them the law. The bishop does so in this way: beginning with Genesis and going through the whole of Scripture during these forty days, expounding first its literal meaning and then explaining the spiritual meaning. In the course of these days everything is taught not only about the Resurrection but concerning the body of faith. This is called catechetics.

When five weeks of instruction have been completed, they then receive the Creed. The bishop explains the meaning of each of the phrases of the Creed in the same way as Holy Scripture was explained, expounding first the literal and then the spiritual sense. In this fashion the Creed is taught.

And thus it is that in these places all the faithful are able to follow the Scriptures when they are read in the churches, because all are taught through those forty days, that is, from the first to the third hours [6am-9am], for during the three hours instruction is given. God knows, ladies, my sisters, that the voices of the faithful who have come to catechetics to hear instruction on those things being said or explained by the bishop are louder than when the bishop sits down in church to preach about each of those matters which are explained in this fashion. The dismissal from catechetics is given at the third hour [9:00am], and immediately, singing hymns, they lead the bishop to the Anastasis, and the office of the third hour takes place. And thus they are taught for three hours a day for seven weeks. During the eighth week, the one which is called the Great Week [Holy Week], there remains no more time for them to be taught, because what has been mentioned above must be carried out.

Now when seven weeks have gone by and there remains only Holy Week, which is here called the Great Week, then the bishop comes in the morning to the major church, the Martyrium. To the rear, at the apse behind the altar, a throne is placed for the bishop, and one by one they come forth, the men with their godfathers, the women with their godmothers. And each one recites the Creed back to the bishop. After the Creed has been recited back to the bishop, the bishop delivers a homily to them all, and says: “During these seven weeks you have been instructed in the whole law of the Scriptures, and you have heard about the faith. You have also heard of the resurrection of the flesh. But as for the whole explanation of the Creed, you have heard only that which you are able to know while you are still catechumens. Because you are still catechumens, you are not able to know those things which belong to a still higher mystery, that of baptism. But that you may not think that anything would be done without explanation, once you have been baptized in the name of God, you will hear of them during the eight days of Easter in the Anastasis following the dismissal from church. Because you are still catechumens, the most secret of the divine mysteries cannot be told to you.”

—Pilgrimage, 45-46

Jesus and the Temptations

Sermon delivered on Lent 1C, Sunday, March 10, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Due to technical difficulties, there is no audio podcast for today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm 91.1-2, 9-16; Romans 10.8b-13; Luke 4.1-13.

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

Today is the first Sunday of Lent and our assigned gospel lesson always deals with the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. If you saw the title of this sermon and wondered if I were going to have us sing some good old Motown music in the name of Jesus (apologies to those of you too young to remember or even know about the Temptations), you will be sadly disappointed. I’m not. Rather I want us to reflect seriously this morning on what it takes to observe a truly holy Lent (and beyond).

The way to observe a truly holy Lent is to start with Jesus and this leads us to our gospel lesson this morning. We note that just before today’s lesson on our Lord’s temptations, St. Luke has given us another one of those strange genealogies that are interspersed throughout the OT (Luke 3.23-38). In this particular genealogy, by its arrangement he tells us that Jesus is the Son of God who is descended from Adam, our first human ancestor. In arranging his material this way, the evangelist surely wants us to see that where our first ancestors failed when tempted by Satan, thereby allowing Evil and Sin to enter and corrupt God’s good creation and creatures, our Lord succeeded in resisting Satan’s wiles; the tide is turning. Evil has met its match. 

Put another way, St. Luke does not want us to separate the cross of Jesus Christ, which signaled the defeat of Evil, from his initial temptations because it is in the wilderness that our Lord begins to successfully engage the power of Evil to defeat and ultimately destroy it when God’s new creation comes in full. The challenge for us is to recognize what Jesus does as success instead of failure. While that is easy to do when we read about Christ’s exorcisms and healings of possessed and sick people, possession and sickness being two manifestations of the power of Evil, it is less intuitive for us to look at Christ’s passion and death and see the Victory won over Evil by the Son of God. Our Lord’s victory over Satan in the wilderness matters because we too are subjected to the devil and his minions’ power, i.e., Evil, every day of our lives the same way he was. Take a look around you. Look at the increasing vitriol and polarization in politics and on social media. Every day we are bombarded with all kinds of bad news from murder to abuse to addiction to you name it, and it wears us out. Much of this happens because we give in to the temptations our Lord resisted. If we are ever to have any real hope of rescue from Evil, we need to know from where our help comes (more about that in a bit).

Before we look at what else St. Luke has to tell us in our lesson, we need to say a word about the devil. In our day and age with all its “sophistication” and other forms of human-invented baloney, it can be pretty dangerous for us as Christians to acknowledge we believe in the existence of Satan and his minions (the dark powers and principalities). We’re liable to be mocked as fundies for starters and it will go downhill from there. While we should not look for Satan under every rock, if you are one of those poor souls who steadfastly refuses to believe in the devil, you are to be pitied, because Evil is real and it’s personal, and your refusal to believe in the reality of Evil personified as the devil assures that you will ultimately succumb to his power and he will eventually destroy you because of your delusions. If you are one of those folks, I would humbly suggest that the starting point for you to observe a holy Lent is to repent of your foolishness and acknowledge the terrifying reality of Evil in this world and our lives. 

Having dispensed with the background info needed for us to look at our Lord’s wilderness temptations, it is time to look at each temptation to see what St. Luke is inviting us to learn. We begin by noting that faithfulness to God does not always involve taking the easiest road; in fact, it usually is quite the opposite. The devil and his minions will come after us with a vengeance as they do not want us to live godly lives. The only way for us not to be overcome by Evil, and our only hope to be healed and made whole by the love of God, is for us to have the Holy Spirit living in us, just like Jesus had in the wilderness, to give us the power to trust in God’s power, not our own, and to heal us one inch at a time. 

We see this issue emerge in the first temptation because it questions God’s care and provision for us. Satan’s declaration to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…,” which assumes he is, subtly appeals to Jesus to use his power to end his famished state. We all get this because most of the time when we are in dire straights we frantically try to meet our own needs. We plot, devise schemes, threaten, bully, etc., to make sure we get what we think we need. The assumption behind our behavior, of course, is that God is either incapable or unwilling to provide for us, which makes our good words about God look like a farce. What good Father will let his children go in need? So here Satan tempts Jesus by appealing to him to act to provide for himself rather than relying on God. Jesus responds by telling Satan that humans don’t live by bread alone. Here our Lord demonstrates his understanding that our well-being depends on much more than us being well-fed. If we do not stop trying to be God, no matter how well- fed we are, we will still be desperately broken, lonely, alienated, and under God’s terrible judgment. 

In the second temptation, we see Satan inviting Jesus to engage in false worship by appealing to the natural human tendency to grab power to achieve our selfish needs and ends. Here we see how Satan’s half-lies work. Satan tells our Lord that the kingdoms of the world have been given to him to give to anyone he pleases. We look around at the wreckage of human leadership from Hitler to Pol Pot to Stalin and other mass murderers and we are tempted to believe Satan is telling the truth. But it’s a half-lie because only God is sovereign over the nations and only God does with nations what God is gonna do with them, not the devil. The latter has power only to the extent God allows, mysterious and enigmatic as that is for us to contemplate. The point here, though, is for Jesus to worship the means of the world like we do: power, coercion, force, brutality, threats, tyranny, injustice, corruption (and the Evil behind them), to name just a few, to achieve his calling as Lord of the world. But Christ would have none of it. He would become Lord and Savior of the world by obeying God and going to the cross to defeat the power of Evil and our slavery to Sin. If you don’t get this point, you’ll never get Jesus at all.

The third temptation is similar to the first one. Here the devil seems to be saying to Jesus, before you begin your work as God’s Son and Messiah, you’d better make sure God will take care of you by clearing the way to protect you. Right. The way of the Son is the way of the cross. In his death we find life and freedom, forgiveness and health. We see this temptation echoed at Calvary when the mocking bystanders challenged Christ to come down from the cross to save himself. As St. Luke subtly reminds us, although beaten in this first round, the devil would continue to show up to tempt Jesus all the way to the cross. In defeating the devil by not succumbing to these temptations, our Lord shows us that while he is fully God, he is also fully human. Each one of us has been tempted likewise and each of us has failed. This realization reminds us that contrary to popular belief, Jesus didn’t just waltz through life with no afflictions because he was and is the Son of God. Instead, this reminds us that our Lord probably experienced afflictions with temptations to a degree none of us could ever really imagine.

And now we are ready to get to the point of how to keep a holy Lent. If you are expecting me to say that if you want to observe a holy Lent, do like Jesus did, you are going to be disappointed even more with this sermon than you already are because I am not going to tell you that. I have learned over the years that it really is quite unsporting of preachers to tell their peeps to do something that is impossible for them to do. The gospels don’t tell us the story of our Lord’s wilderness temptations so that we can copy him and find his success. While it is always good to copy our Lord, we will not be able to do what he did. If we were able to overcome temptations as he did, Christ would not have had to die for us as Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson. Jesus is our Savior precisely because he accomplished what we could never do, even on our best, holiest days, and if you don’t really believe that, you’ll never have a holy Lent, no matter what stuff you give up and other disciplines you establish. So we shouldn’t read this story with the delusional thinking that we can successfully imitate our Lord and resist every temptation that afflicts us the way he did. We can’t. We are too corrupt, too sick, too power hungry, too selfish, too hostile and alienated from God and each other for that to happen. In other words, we are too infected by the power of Sin to fix ourselves. So trying to observe a holy Lent by doing like Jesus did to overcome temptation is an exercise in futility. Don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting we should shrug our shoulders, give up, and wallow in our slavery to Sin. Doing so would be celebrating our eternal damnation and that’s never a smart thing for us to do. Nor am I suggesting we shouldn’t try to imitate Jesus. We absolutely should, always relying on the power of the Spirit. Just don’t expect to achieve the results Christ did! Neither should you hear me telling you that because of all our hopeless brokenness you are beyond hope and such a wretch that you are beyond salvation and cannot become Christlike in your behavior. While we all are wretches, none of us is without hope because it has pleased God to rescue us by sending his Son to die on our behalf so that when God sees us, he sees a five star beloved child in a five star evaluation system, despite our sins and wickedness. He sees us this way because we are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, who died for us to break our slavery to Sin, albeit incompletely in this mortal life. So let’s stop kidding ourselves about our ability to overcome the power of Sin. None of us can on our own and that’s the point.

The place to start in observing a holy Lent is on our knees at the foot of the cross, lamenting that we helped nail Christ to it but also, and equally important, to rejoice and give thanks to God for his great and undeserved love for us made known in Christ Jesus. When by God’s grace we realize that we are so hopelessly broken and beyond rescue except by the love and mercy of God the Father made known in the death and resurrection of God the Son and affirmed in our hearts and minds by God the Holy Spirit, we must have a heart bursting with joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving that God has rescued us forever from his right and terrible judgment on our sins and made us worthy to live with him forever starting right now. Our thanksgiving for this precious and profound gift will have at least a two-fold effect on us. First, it will lead to genuine sorrow on our part for responding to such great love so selfishly and corruptly. True thanksgiving will help motivate us to want to become more like Christ, not because we are told to or think we are supposed to, but because we want to become like our Savior who is the epitome of life. After all, if we are grateful to surgeons who by their skill have alleviated our illness, why would we not be grateful to God for rescuing us from his terrible judgment on our evil and eternal death? This, in turn, tends to help create in us generous hearts in the manner of our OT lesson, although generosity certainly isn’t restricted to just giving money. It involves giving ourselves in ways that reject the systems of the world that are controlled by the dark powers, i.e., by our rejecting power and domination as a means to achieve our ends, and by having a completely different set of ends in the first place. 

If you really want to observe a holy Lent (and beyond), start at the foot of the cross with a thankful heart for God the Father who loves you enough and has the power to overcome your unlovability. God rescued you in and through Christ, not because of your good deeds or because you deserve being rescued or any of that other baloney, but rather because it pleased God to do so as St. Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 1.18-25. Observing a holy Lent means realizing first and foremost that God is God and we are not, and to rejoice in the gift he freely offers to us. Put another way, it means learning to trust the goodness and mercy of God, not our own clever devices. May we all observe a holy Lent this year (and beyond), my beloved, because when we do, no matter how badly we observe it, we know we truly have Good News and are participating in it, now and for all eternity. We have this Good News, not because of who we are, but because who God is. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

March 10, 2019: This Day in Maney Family History

John F. Maney under a tree at Ufculme, EnglandOn this day in 1943 my dad, John F. Maney, was inducted into the army at the age of 20 (the tree in this picture under which dad sat is outside a house in Uffculme England that was used as battalion HQ. I have a picture of that tree 40 years later when dad and I visited in June 1984). A week later he left on a train from Van Wert, OH for Camp Perry on Lake Erie. What a way to start the decade of your 20s.

Lent 2019: Prayer, Fasting, Mercy

There are three things by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

—Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 43

Lent 2019: Abbess Egeria Describes Fasting in 4th-Century AD Jerusalem During Lent

When the season of Lent is at hand, it is observed in the following manner. Now whereas with us the forty days preceding Easter are observed, here they observe the eight weeks before Easter. This is the reason why they observe eight weeks: On Sundays and Saturdays they do not fast, except on the one Saturday which is the vigil of Easter, when it is necessary to fast. Except on that day, there is absolutely no fasting here on Saturdays at any time during the year. And so, when eight Sundays and seven Saturdays have been deducted from the eight weeks—for it is necessary, as I have just said, to fast on one Saturday—there remain forty-one days which are spent in fasting, which are called
here “eortae,” that is to say, Lent.

This is a summary of the fasting practices here during Lent. There are some who, having eaten on Sunday after the dismissal, that is, at the fifth or the sixth hour [11:00am or noon], do not eat again for the whole week until Saturday, following the dismissal from the Anastasis [site of the cross]. These are the ones who observe the full week’s fast. Having eaten once in the morning on Saturday, they do not eat again in the evening, but only on the following day, on Sunday, that is, do they eat after the dismissal from the church at the fifth hour [11:00am] or later. Afterwards, they do not eat again until the following Saturday, as I have already said. Such is their fate during the Lenten season that they take no leavened bread (for this cannot be eaten at all), no olive oil, nothing which comes from trees, but only water and a little flour soup. And this is what is done throughout Lent.

Pilgrimage, 27-28

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday 2019

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing you have made
and forgive the sins of all who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever. Amen.