Father Santosh Madanu: Good Stewards for God’s Resources

Sermon delivered on Trinity 15C, Sunday, September 13, 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: Jeremiah 32.1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91.1-6, 14-16; 1 Timothy 6.6-19; Luke 16.19-31.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40. 

Learn that Jesus wants us to share with others. 

Understand our need to follow Christ’s example. 

Learn that God sees the attitude of our heart.

What happens to a rich person who loves his money more than his neighbor and laughs at those less well off? What happens to a nation that glorifies such attitudes? Plenty. We live in times when this is happening all around the world. A day is coming when all such abuses will be judged.

Almost daily we hear stories of how the rich and powerful get ever richer and more powerful. We’re awash in global wealth, yet the wealth will be concentrated in fewer hands as we near the end of this age. Meanwhile, the poor will get poorer by comparison. The abuses will get to the point where economic slavery will sap the life from many (Revelation 18:13).

Jesus had no qualms in confronting such attitudes. He spoke a parable to warn us not to love money more than people. He confronted religious leaders who were lovers of money, telling them that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:14-15).

There is the judgment of God based on how we use the resources as a good steward and love of neighbor. 

Luke 16:19  conveys spiritual truth. This parable of the rich man and Lazarus is one of the most dramatic and pointed of the parables. It’s the only one where the main character is given a name, perhaps in part to make it more personal for each of us reading this. Real people are impacted by our actions. We have it in our power to be a force for good. This story should motivate us to take a deep hard look at the legacy we’re building each day.

The parable begins by telling us, “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). This man dressed in the finest clothes and ate well every day of the year. Nothing is wrong with these pursuits in and of themselves. But this man was not willing to share his wealth. He lived by the “zero sum” rule—he wanted the whole pie for himself. None of it could be shared with others because, in his twisted way of thinking, that would leave less for him.

We hear often that Microsoft founder Bill Gates regained the title of world’s richest man—his net worth this year soaring to more than $70 billion. Mr. Gates’ wealth grows even as he is working very hard to give much of it away through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At least he and other billionaires realize their wealth can do much good to alleviate pain and suffering among the world’s poor. I find it a remarkable story that a fabulously rich man works full time to give away his money and then sees it continue to multiply.

The rich man in this parable personifies an attitude of hoarding: “I have what is mine, I worked hard for it and no one gets a penny, lest I have less than what I had.”

Christ contrasts the rich man to the poor beggar named Lazarus who was wracked with sores and reduced to being laid at the gate of the rich man hoping any amount of charity would come his way. Neither the wealthy tycoon nor anyone else gave him an ounce of care.

First of all, Jesus teaches here that heaven and hell are both real, literal places. Sadly, many preachers shy away from uncomfortable topics such as hell. Some even teach “universalism” – the belief that everyone goes to heaven. Yet Christ spoke about hell a great deal, as did Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews. The Bible is clear that every person who has ever lived will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Like the rich man in the story, multitudes today are complacent in their conviction that all is well with their soul, and many will hear our Savior tell them otherwise when they die (Matthew 7:23).

This story also illustrates that once we cross the eternal horizon, that’s it. There are no more chances. The transition to our eternal state takes place the moment we die (2 Corinthians 5:8Luke 23:43Philippians 1:23). When believers die, they are immediately in the conscious fellowship and joys of heaven. When unbelievers die, they are just as immediately in the conscious pain, suffering, and torment of hell. Notice the rich man didn’t ask for his brothers to pray for his release from some purgatorial middle ground, thereby expediting his journey to heaven. He knew he was in hell, and he knew why. That’s why his requests were merely to be comforted and to have a warning sent to his brothers. He knew there was no escape. He was eternally separated from God, and Abraham made it clear to him that there was no hope of ever mitigating his pain, suffering, or sorrow. Those in hell will perfectly recollect missed opportunities and their rejection of the gospel.

Like many these days who buy into the “prosperity gospel,” the rich man wrongly saw his material riches as evidence of God’s love and blessing. Likewise, he believed the poor and destitute, like Lazarus, were cursed by God. Yet, as the apostle James exhorted, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (James 5:5). Not only do riches not get one into heaven, but they have the power to separate a person from God in a way that few other things can. Riches are deceitful (Mark 4:19). It is certainly not impossible for the very rich to enter heaven (many heroes of the Bible were wealthy), but Scripture is clear that it is very hard (Matthew 19:23-24Mark 10:23-25Luke 18:24-25).

True followers of Christ will not be indifferent to the plight of the poor like the rich man in this story was. God loves the poor and is offended when His children neglect them (Proverbs 17:522:922-2329:731:8-9). In fact, those who show mercy to the poor are in effect ministering to Christ personally (Matthew 25:35-40). Christians are known by the fruit they bear. The Holy Spirit’s residence in our hearts will most certainly impact how we live and what we do.

Abraham’s words in verses 29 and 31 referring to “Moses and the Prophets” (Scripture) confirms that understanding the revealed Word of God has the power to turn unbelief into faith (Hebrew 4:12; James 1:181 Peter 1:23). Furthermore, knowing Scripture helps us to understand that God’s children, like Lazarus, can suffer while on this earth—suffering is one of the many tragic consequences of living in a sinful and fallen world.

The Bible says our earthly lives are a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Our earthly sojourn is exceedingly brief. Perhaps the greatest lesson to learn from this story, then, is that when death comes knocking on our door there is only one thing that matters: our relationship with Jesus Christ. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26Mark 8:36). Eternal life is only found in Christ. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12). The truth is, if we wish to live apart from God during our time on earth, He will grant us our wish for eternity as well. 

 “If you board the train of unbelief, you will have to take it all the way to its destination.”

There’s a lot of that in the world today, as there has been in every age.  The Kappa Beta Phi is a fraternal organization of Wall Street’s leading executives from the major banks, equity firms, brokerage houses and other major corporations. Their motto, Dum vivamus edimus et biberimus, is Latin for “While we live, we eat and drink.”

 Use all your wealth to honor God. Use it for you and your family and to help others as you are able. This approach reminds us that, as James 1:17 tells us, God is the source of every good and perfect gift.

 The rich man wasn’t lost because he was rich. He was lost because he did not listen to the law and the prophets. Will you be lost for the same reason?

It is a terrible warning that the sin of Dives was not that he did wrong things, but that he did nothing.

The climax of Jesus’ application is verse 13: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (see also Matthew 6:24). If God is our Master, then our wealth will be at His disposal. In other words, the faithful and just steward whose Master is God will employ that wealth in building up the kingdom of God.

God to the Rescue

Sermon delivered on Trinity 14C, Sunday, September 22, 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: Jeremiah 8.18-9.1; Psalm 79.1-9; 1 Timothy 2.1-7; Luke 16.1-13.

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

Every once in awhile, the preacher is confronted with lectionary readings that make him wonder how many drugs the selection committee did before choosing them. For me, today’s readings is one of those times. As I read over them initially, I scratched my head and muttered, What were they thinking? Where is there a unifying theme on which to preach? Why didn’t I make Father Bowser preach today? Is there no balm in Gilead for me? No mercy? Fortunately for me (and you), the Holy Spirit is much smarter than I am and by God’s mercy, he finally showed me a theme on which to preach, and that theme is God to the rescue. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

The whole story of the Bible is about how God has come to rescue his sin-sick and evil-corrupted world, a world and its creatures God never intended to create. God, the writer of Genesis tells us, created all of creation good and pronounced his human image-bearing creatures and the world over which they ruled to be very good (Genesis 1.31). But then we turn to our OT and psalm lessons, more hard-to-hear lessons like last week’s, and there’s not much good to be found in them, let alone very good. So what happened? Two words: Human sin. Our rebellion against God and his good will for us got our first ancestors booted out of paradise and by Jeremiah’s day in the sixth-century BC, the situation had become truly desperate. We see anguish from all parties concerned: from the prophet, from God, and from God’s people. God’s people living in Jerusalem, the place where they believed heaven and earth intersected at God’s Temple located there, desperately wondered where God was as the Babylonians besieged their city. Why was God not coming to their rescue? Had the Lord abandoned them? Yes I have, said the Lord. You have chased after other gods, i.e., you have chased after unreality, and in doing so you have provoked me to anger. You have provoked me to anger because I love you and I am jealous that you are pursuing other lovers even though you are married to me. When you chase unreal things, you don’t even realize how desperately sick they make you and how wickedly you behave. And now, you must pay for your sins of idolatry and social injustice. God’s condemnation of his people Israel’s sins was to send an invading army to utterly destroy Judah and its chief city Jerusalem. Think how we would feel if we knew God planned to destroy Washington, DC, then multiply that fear and horror by a thousand-fold, and we can begin to understand what is going on in our OT and psalm lessons (the latter is a lament after the fact while the former gives us a glimpse into the people’s reality before Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple burnt to the ground, a sure indication that God had abandoned his people there).

Jeremiah saw all this and was as appalled as God’s people were. Being a prophet is not easy (none of us want to hear our desperate plight before God that our sins cause) nor are prophets immune to having their hearts broken. Jeremiah grieved for his people because like the God who sent him, he loved his people, even though he had to say hard things to them. Jeremiah also grieved for his people because many of them were oblivious to the dire straights they were in. Their worship of all things false in this world had numbed their spiritual senses and this compounded the problem of their sins. Think about it. What kind of people besides me irritate you the most? Are they not those who are in trouble but who steadfastly refuse to see their predicament and admit they are in error? Folks like this tend to blow up relationships of all kinds because they refuse to acknowledge that perhaps they are wrong about some very important matters and this creates a sense of arrogance and proud self-righteousness. They are quick to judge and condemn others while refusing to acknowledge their own sins and they make it extremely difficult for others to forgive them. They exist in families, in churches, in government, in businesses, and elsewhere. Their denial of the reality of their predicament or the evil of their thinking/speaking/behavior makes them insufferable and as long as they steadfastly refuse to see the reality of their condition, repentance is never possible. Why repent of something when you are convinced you are doing nothing wrong? This is part of what was going on in Jeremiah’s day and it continues to plague us in our own.

Jeremiah in his wisdom realized that living like fools did not protect his people from God’s judgment on their sins. We can live in La-La Land all we want. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are the arbiter of truth, that there really is no objective Truth or right or wrong. It’s all a social construct, it’s all what we think truth and right and wrong are. We couldn’t be more mistaken. The prophet was also wise enough and humble enough to realize he was not immune to the human race’s slavery to the twin powers of Evil and Sin and because he loved his people as God loved them, the prophet wept for himself and for his people because judgment was coming and most were going to their destruction, clueless about what caused their fate. That’s why they cried out in terror asking where God was and why God had apparently abandoned them. They couldn’t possibly imagine their sins were the cause. Hard as it is to hear our OT and psalm lessons these last two weeks, there is a reason we must: They, like all the other biblical warnings, are there to remind us that unless we repent of our proud and wicked ways and stop pursuing false gods like money, security, fame, power, sex (insert your favorite idol here), and turn to Christ, we all face the awful judgment of a righteous God who will ultimately tolerate no evil to corrupt his good world. God created us to represent him and run his world. When we act evilly, we in no way reflect our Creator and that’s a problem. So if we are wise, we will thank God for loving us enough to warn us about our desperate plight before him so that we have time and opportunity to do something about it (turn to Christ). 

But here’s the problem with the OT. Jeremiah asked in desperation if there was no balm in Gilead for the healing of his people? Was there no physician? No medicine for the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health of God’s people? Sadly, Jeremiah would probably have answered no to his desperate questions. God had promised a Messiah to heal and rescue God’s people, but no Messiah was in sight. What a terrible predicament to be in! Many of his people were ignorant of their sins and to make matters worse there was no rescue in sight. 

That is why we Christians are not exclusively OT people. We are old and NT people. We no longer have to wait for a solution because it (or rather he) has already arrived. Hear what St. Paul has to say in Romans 11.32. Talking about why many in Israel refused to believe that Jesus was and is the Messiah, and what a problem that was for the veracity of God’s promises to Israel, St. Paul makes the astonishing statement that, “…God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.” Now if we don’t understand clearly our desperate need for God’s redemption, we will forever be ignorant of what great and wonderful things the living God has done for us in Jesus Christ and this statement will make no sense at all. Why would God imprison us in disobedience so that God could have mercy on us? Because without the blood of Christ shed for us to cleanse us from our sins and reconcile us to God, our only Source of life, there is no hope for us. None. What St. Paul is getting at is that God can and will use our disobedience to accomplish our rescue from his terrible judgment and an eternity in hell. When by God’s grace we become painfully aware of our sins and how they separate and alienate us from God so that death and destruction are our only lot, we are ready to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead for our sake. Here is God to the rescue. It is literally in Jesus’ name (the Lord saves), and it is by God’s power, mercy, and grace that we are rescued. Should we mourn our sins? Absolutely. But if we stop there we are no better off than Jeremiah! To the contrary, our mourning should lead to our rejoicing because of what God has done for us in Christ. He imprisoned us in disobedience so that he could use it rescue us and restore us to life and health, i.e., God turned an utterly hopeless situation into good! As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, this is God’s will for us, that everyone should be saved! God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners, and we who believe that God rescued us from his terrible judgment by taking on our flesh and bearing his right judgment on our sins to spare us, must now align our desires with God’s. That’s why we are to pray for leaders, even when they are pagans and vehemently oppose us. Think it through. God called Israel through Abraham to be God’s light to the world. God continues to call Israel—God’s reconstituted people in Christ—to reflect his goodness, mercy, truth, justice, and righteousness out into the world. It’s hard to do that when we are cursing our enemies and acting just as badly as they are instead of praying for them and bearing patiently with them because we want them to know Christ like we do. How different our political arena would look today if even a majority of Christians took this charge seriously. There would be a lot less vitriol and condemnation. There would be more focusing on issues and less on ad hominem attacks. God wants all to be saved and so should we, especially because God rescued us when we too were God’s enemies and as undeserving as our enemies (picture in your mind the political leader you detest most and apply St. Paul’s teaching to that person from now on). 

This is what is also going on in our gospel lesson. Remember that Jesus was telling a parable. He wasn’t giving us financial advice or telling us to cheat our enemies. As we’ve just seen, Israel was called to be the light of the world to bring God’s healing love to all people. But Israel had perverted her call. Instead of praying for her enemies and asking God to heal and forgive them, many in Israel prayed that God would execute his judgment on the nations who were hostile to God’s people. This ran contrary to God’s purpose and charge to them. Likewise with us. It is perfectly acceptable to pray for God’s justice to be done. But we must always do so with the realization that we are no different from our enemies, that all have sinned and stand under God’s just judgment without the intervention and mercy of Christ. The outside world matters to God, just like we do, and God wants us to use all our resources, especially spiritual resources like prayer, to demonstrate God’s concern for all humans, not just the ones we happen to like. This is a tall order for us, my beloved, but we do it in the power of the Spirit who strengthens us to do the work he calls us to do.

There are many applications to this dynamic, but I focus on just one today. This discussion reminds us why the forty day period of prayer and fasting is so important for the life of this parish. God calls us to be his light to the world and we do that now. But our homelessness is not something that pleases God because it diminishes our capacity to do God’s will and to be God’s people. God has rescued us from eternal death and destruction through the blood of Christ and he expects us to call on him in our troubles as well as when the good times are rolling. We are called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ boldly and we are not to be ashamed of doing so. Our culture tries to beat us down and silence us, mostly in the name of “freedom,” in this context, a euphemism for doing the evil our fallen and disordered hearts desire. But true freedom always comes from being obedient to God our Savior, not following our own distorted and selfish desires. Only then can we be truly human. God has rescued us from that predicament and given us hearts and minds to worship him and proclaim the Good News to others. Can God use a homeless people to do that work? Yes he can. We are living proof of that. But that falls short of the goodness and glory of God who desires the very best for all people, especially those who love him. Let us therefore resolve in the power of the Spirit, to be good stewards of God’s goodness, mercy, and grace, and to live and work and be the people God calls us to be. Let us call on the Lord to end our homelessness and then do our part in cooperation with God. Let us do so always with a thankful heart and spirit because we no longer have to worry about God’s judgment and can eagerly look forward to the day we will get to live in his presence and see him face-to-Face. 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 Foundation for Real Healing

Sermon delivered on Trinity 13C, Sunday, September 15, 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: Jeremiah 4:11–28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1.12-17; Luke 15.1-10.

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

Today we hold our quarterly healing service. But what is the basis for our healing? Obviously the power of God but are there other factors involved? Our lessons today give us some insight into this question and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

Our hard-to-hear OT and psalm lessons remind us in a graphic way that we are a sin-sick lot. God tells his prophet Jeremiah that his people Israel are stupid and lack understanding. Why? Because they are skilled at doing evil and do not know how to do good. Likewise the psalmist makes the stark observation that there is no one who does good, not one single person. To the contrary God sees that many increasingly refuse to believe that God even exists! The result? God’s people and the human race in general are alienated from God and ripe for God’s terrible judgment on our wickedness. This is tough stuff because it refers to you and me. Not only that, our rebellion against God’s perfect and good ways corrupts the land. God created us to care for his creation, land included, and when we refuse to reflect God’s goodness out into the world, the land suffers along with us (strip mining and pollution-caused catastrophes, anyone?), this on top of the fact that creation already suffers under God’s curse for the sin of our first ancestors. 

Not only do our sins result in God’s judgment on them (if you haven’t figured it out yet, God detests any form of evil, even as he loves us), our sins make us sick: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally because they separate us from our only source of life and health: God our Creator who sustains us. End our sin-caused alienation from God and every kind of illness, malady, and land corruption go away (new creation, anyone?). So today you get the punchline to the sermon’s title right away. Value added. You can nap in peace now and still pass the quiz at sermon’s end. But here’s the problem. If we believe the OT (which we should), we are powerless to heal our sin-sickness by ourselves. Our sin destines us to wander in the wasteland of the wilderness even as we live in our million dollar mansions and grow fat on our sumptuous diets and enjoy the glut of consumer goodies produced by our economy. Human knowledge and technological advancements may allow us to overcome the corruption of the land and to an extent heal many of our sicknesses, but we cannot cure the root cause of all illness: our alienation from God.

But it is to the glory of God our Father that the grim message about Sin contained in the OT is not the final word, that the OT was always a story awaiting its completion, and that final word is the coming of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. To be sure, the human condition about which I have just spoken did not change from the OT to the NT periods. Neither has it changed today. We are more sophisticated in hiding, rationalizing, and dressing up our alienation from God, but the psalmist’s charge about the wickedness of the human race remains true and valid today. So what changed?

The Good News, of course, with its proclamation that God has fulfilled his promise to Abraham to address our sin-sickness and heal us through Abraham’s family. God has accomplished that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God become human, to rescue us from our slavery to the power of Sin that has bound us ever since our original ancestors got booted out of paradise. We get a glimpse of the heart of God in our gospel lesson this morning and it is the key to our healing at the deepest level of our being. In response to his opponents’ criticism that he was always partying and hanging out with folks who were most despised in his culture, our Lord told two parables about the relentlessly loving heart God the Father has for his image-bearing creatures.

In the first parable, we see the shepherd (God through Christ) leaving his flock behind to search for the one lost sheep. What kind of sheep was that? Was it the cutest one? The one who nestled up to the shepherd to sleep? The one with the finest wool? No, the shepherd went after the sheep because it was lost. No prerequisites, no qualifications except disqualification (sin). No structure of personal piety, no good sense (it got lost), no obedience. This was the one that got a ride home on the shepherd’s shoulder. This one is you and me in all our inglorious chaos and vanity and baggage we carry around. The message here is that there is nothing we can do to get a ride home; it is entirely up to the Shepherd searching for and finding us, and the Shepherd is willing to search us out! And here we need to be clear about what this parable isn’t saying because too often it has been used to excuse ongoing sin which fosters ongoing alienation from God. Christ was not saying that God accepted the people he hung out with as they stood. Sinners must repent so that God can heal us. The sheep didn’t run away from the shepherd once found; it let the shepherd carry him back home. God searches for us and calls us to repentance, not because God hates us but because God loves us and wants to heal us. He searches for us as we are (rebellious and hostile toward him, skilled at doing evil and not knowing how to do good without the help of God), but God doesn’t expect us to stay as we are. The folks who hung around Jesus had to resolve to give up their lifestyles that made them sick so that God could thoroughly heal them. Likewise with us. The old Scottish preacher, George MacDonald, put it like this:

I thank you, Lord, for forgiving me, but I prefer staying in the darkness: forgive me that too.”

“No; that cannot be. The one thing that cannot be forgiven is the sin of choosing to be evil, of refusing deliverance. It is impossible to forgive that sin. It would be to take part in it. To side with wrong against right, with murder against life, cannot be forgiven. The thing that is past I pass, but he who goes on doing the same, annihilates this my forgiveness, makes it of no effect..Let a man have committed any sin whatever, I forgive him; but to choose to go on sinning—how can I forgive that? It would be to nourish and cherish evil! It would be to let my creation go to ruin.”

There is no excuse for this refusal. If we were punished for every fault, there would be no end, no respite; we should have no quiet wherein to repent; but God passes by all he can. He passes by and forgets a thousand sins, yea, tens of thousands, forgiving them all—only we must begin to be good, begin to do evil no more.

None of this negates the power of the parable in which our Lord tells us about the great love the Father has for us; in fact, it reinforces it. That is why there is rejoicing in heaven. God has brought another lost sheep back into the fold and the Father’s heart overflows with joy because he loves each and every one of us in all of our disarrayed glory! Imagine you are that lost sheep our Lord finds. What would be your reaction? Would it not be one of instant relief and healing? Would you not be rejoicing and want to please the One who loves you despite your hostility toward him and wants you to be his forever?

Elsewhere the NT tells us a definitively about the Father’s great love for us made known in Jesus Christ. We are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb shed for us. Our sins have been put away. God’s desire for justice and mercy has been accomplished on the cross so that we are spared of God’s terrible judgment on our sins because God took it on himself; and our slavery to the power of Sin has been broken. We know this because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and we have been given God’s Spirit to help us lead new lives when we have the good sense and humility to let the Shepherd carry us home on his whipped and crucified back.

So why aren’t we all healed? There are many reasons (as well as a great enigma surrounding it all), but I only have time to explore one of those reasons with all its complexity. Some of us are self-loathing. Like David in Psalm 51, we know our transgressions and our sin is ever before us. We can’t believe that a good and righteous God could ever love us, let alone have mercy on us. We read about God’s hatred of all things evil and we conclude that because of our sins, we too are evil and therefore outside of God’s love and mercy. The Good Shepherd would never come looking for us. We are beyond saving. But our self-loathing comes from the world, the flesh (usually from within ourselves), and the devil. It ignores the truth about the love and mercy of God made known in Jesus Christ and him crucified for our sins and for our sake. When our self-loathing prevents us from accepting God’s love for, and mercy upon us, we effectively run away from the Good Shepherd or refuse to let him put us on his shoulders to carry us home. Our self-loathing is a subtle form of pride and alienation against God, all dressed up in pietistic language and thinking, and it distinctly goes against the parable of the lost sheep, which is all about the love and mercy of the Shepherd, who seeks out the least, the lost, and the self-loathing. As a result, our alienation from God continues because we falsely believe God can’t and won’t love us and we never are open for the core healing that comes when we are reconciled to God our Father through Christ. If you are one of those self-loathers, STOP IT!!! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!!!! I plead with you to take this parable to heart and give your Father a chance to show his love for you. You will not be disappointed.

And here is where the parable of the lost coin comes into play because it speaks as much about God’s perseverance as it does about rejoicing over finding the lost. As we saw, Christ implicitly calls us to repentance in the parable of the lost sheep, and many of us consciously seek to repent but often find ourselves failing miserably. This is especially bad for you self-loathers; it just adds fuel to the fire. Does that mean we really haven’t repented and remain lost? The parable of the lost coins suggests otherwise. Repentance is not a one time deal or event. Neither is our relationship with God a one time event. We are a work in progress. St. Paul recognized this when he made the astonishing claim in Romans that we will share in a death and resurrection like Christ’s because we are baptized in him (Romans 6.3-5). He then immediately acknowledged that we are not done with sin until we die (Romans 6.6-7). That means we will sometimes fail to miss the mark but that in no way negates the power of the cross and Christ’s victory over Sin and Death for us. The cross is the eternal sign of God’s great and relentless love for us, that God is patient and perseveres in his pursuit of us, despite our flaws, weaknesses, self-loathing, and rebellion. This is because God created us for life and creation, not death and destruction. God’s love for us means the Father wants the best for us and has acted as only God could on our behalf to bring us safely home to him where there will be no more sickness or sighing or alienation or death. 

St. Paul also serves as a poster child for this mind-boggling promise. He wasn’t just a lost sheep. He was a wolf who actively devoured the sheep by persecuting God’s reconstituted people in Christ out of a sincere but mistaken belief that Christ was not the real deal until Christ got a hold of him. St. Paul’s story reminds us that sincerely held beliefs about God, wrong as they can be when we do not humbly submit to God’s word, cannot rescue us. Only God can rescue us. St. Paul, chief of sinners because he actively persecuted God’s people in Christ, is saved by the One who pursued him relentlessly and patiently until he repented of his evil. The message? Nobody is beyond hope. Nobody is beyond the healing love and mercy of God. We simply have to accept the gift offered to us unconditionally. The extent to which you have accepted the gift is the extent you will find healing.

In a few moments we will invite you to come for intercessions and anointing to be healed. As you come forward, do so with a thankful and believing heart and mind, imperfect as both are. Your faith and resolve to follow Christ, however imperfectly you might live it, is evidence of God’s love for you and his willingness to heal you. Therefore, don’t be afraid. Continue to examine your heart and your life and resolve to ask the Lord Jesus to heal you of anything that causes you to remain alienated from God. Give thanks to the Great Shepherd, the one who pursues you relentlessly because he loves you beyond your ability to understand—not because of who you are or aren’t, but because of who God is—and let this God heal you to your very core. The Good News of Jesus Christ is this: You are created in the Father’s image to reflect his goodness and love, but you rebelled against that purpose. Despite your rebellion, God loves you and has acted on your behalf to end your stupidity and skill at doing evil so that you are freed to do what is truly human, good, and life affirming (i.e., it’s not about you, stupid, it’s about God). In giving you this great gift you will find both his peace and your healing, thanks be to God! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Funeral Sermon: The Resurrection: The Abolition of Death

Sermon delivered on Friday, September 13, 2019 in Deshler, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Revelation 21.1-7; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15.1-26, 35-38, 42-44a, 53-58; John 11.17-27.

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

Good morning. I am Father Kevin Maney, rector of St. Augustine’s Anglican located in suburban Columbus, OH where my wife and I live. I am preaching today because Bob asked me to. He told me that my sermons reminded him of the peace and mercy of God. Flattered, I asked him what he meant by that and he said my sermons reminded him of God’s peace because they pass all understanding, and God’s mercy because they seem to extend forever. 

Bob and I go back over 30 years and we spent a lot of time talking about faith and life and death, among other things. I also had the joy and privilege of teaching his two daughters when they were in high school, and because Bob and I had such a unique and tight relationship, Susan and Baby R. didn’t have a prayer. If you are expecting me to eulogize Bob today, you will be disappointed. I do not come to eulogize the dead because even the most eloquent eulogies will not bring the dead back to life. Instead I come to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and raised because only Christ can and will restore the dead to new life. 

For those of us who knew and loved Bob, especially his family, these last several months have been grueling to say the least. He was afflicted by a host of illnesses that caused him and those of us who love him to suffer and grieve. His death, while a blessed release from an astonishingly rapid decline, is the ultimate form of evil because it robs us of our human dignity as God’s image-bearers and can leave survivors stunned and angry. Death ends permanently the relationships we cherish most about being human in this mortal life. We can no longer see our beloved, hear them, touch them, smell them or interact with them. Our Lord Jesus also knew this about the evil of Death because he snorted in anger at his friend Lazarus’ tomb just before raising him to life (John 11.38). Death is our ultimate enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15.26). It entered God’s good world as the result of human sin and has inflicted its evil on us ever since. Like Martha in today’s gospel lesson we want to throw our hands up in the air in desperation and ask why God allows this to happen.

But if you paid attention to our gospel lesson, you heard Jesus talk about a breathtaking hope—hope defined as the sure and certain expectation of things to come, not wishful thinking—as he gave Martha and us an ultimately more satisfactory answer to her “why” question about Evil and Death. Jesus did not answer her question directly. Instead, echoing Psalm 23, he acknowledged that while Evil and Death still exist in God’s good but fallen world, he had come to destroy their power over us, which he did, at least preliminarily, in his death and resurrection.

That is why Christian funerals are so important. They serve to remind us that for those who are in Christ, Evil and Death do not have the final say because of God’s great love for us expressed in the death and resurrection of Christ. As Jesus tells us in our gospel lesson, resurrection isn’t a concept, it’s a person, and those like Bob who are united with Christ are promised a share in his resurrection when he returns to raise the dead and usher in God’s new world. Jesus’ new bodily existence attests to the fact that we as humans—body, mind, and spirit, the total package—matter to God, and that new bodily existence, not death, is our final destiny for all eternity. This is what resurrection is about. This is what we celebrate today.

St. Paul talks about the nature of our promised resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 and it is worth our time to see what he has to say. St. Paul tells us that unlike our mortal body that is subject to disease, decay, and death, the resurrection body with which we will be clothed will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. It will be a spiritual body, that is, it will be a body animated and powered by God’s Spirit instead of being animated and powered by flesh and blood. This means that our new body will no longer be subject to all the nasty illnesses and decay to which our mortal body is subjected. Whatever our new body looks like—and surely it will be more beautiful and wonderful than our minds can comprehend or imagine—it will be impervious to death and suited to live in God’s promised new world, the new heavens and earth. 

When Christ returns to raise the dead and usher in the new creation, the dimensions of heaven and earth will no longer be separate spheres for God and humans respectively, and which currently only intersect. Instead, as Revelation 21.1-7 promises, the new Jerusalem, NT code for God’s space or heaven, will come down to earth and the two will be fused together in a mighty act of new creation so that all forms of darkness and evil will be banished and we will get to live in God’s direct presence forever. There will be no more sorrow or sickness or suffering or pain or death or evil of any kind. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ and get to live forever with our new body and limitless new opportunities to be the humans God created and always intended for us to be. To be sure, this promise of new heavens and earth has not yet been fully realized and so we must wait in hope and faith for our Lord Jesus to return to usher it in. But even if we must wait, the promise of new creation is the only solution that will ultimately satisfy our hunger for justice and life because only in God’s new creation will all the injustices and hurts be made right and evil vanquished. In this case, Bob’s life will be fully restored (what better justice for the injustice of Death?) and severed relationships caused by death will made whole and complete again, a life of perfect health and happiness that will last forever, thanks be to God! What can be more just and awesome than that?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we should not grieve. That would be cruel nonsense. You don’t love a person for an entire lifetime and then not grieve his loss when he dies. But as St. Paul reminded the Thessalonians, we are to grieve as people who have real hope and not as those who have none at all. It is this resurrection hope, the promise of new bodily life in God’s new heavens and earth, that we claim today. Our resurrection hope is the only real basis we have for celebrating Bob’s life, because without union with Jesus, none of us have life in this world or the next.

I want to close by telling you a story that powerfully sums up our Christian hope. 

In 1989 Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, wife of Emperor Charles of Austria died. She was the last Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, and Queen of Bohemia—one of the last members of the storied House of Habsburg. Her funeral was held in Vienna, from which he had been exiled most of her eventful life. After the service in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, her body was taken to the Imperial Crypt, where some 145 Habsburg royals are buried. As the coffin was taken to the Crypt, an ancient ceremony took place. A herald knocked at the closed door, and a voice responded, “Who seeks entrance?” The herald answered, “Zita, Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary.” From within came the response, “I do not know this person.” The herald tried again, saying, “This is Zita, Princess of Bourbon-Parma, Empress of Bohemia.” The same reply was heard: “I do not know this person.” The third time, the herald and pallbearers said, “Our sister Zita, a sinful mortal.” The doors swung open.  

And so we return to Jesus’ question to Martha and us in our gospel lesson. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this? If you do, then act like the resurrection people you are! I don’t know why God allows all the suffering and bad things that happen in this world. I don’t know why Bob had to deal with the illnesses and the evil of cancer that he did. I don’t know why he declined so rapidly. I don’t know why his daughters, especially Cathy, had to be subjected to the heavy burden of caring for their failing father. None of it had to go that way, yet it did. 

But I do know this. Bob has been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb shed for him on the cross and made fit to stand in God’s holy presence forever. He will be clothed one day with a new body patterned after the body of his Lord Jesus and set free to love and use his talents in spectacular new and old ways that honor God and others forever. I know that on the cross, his sin, along with ours, has been dealt with once and for all. I know that Death will be abolished in God’s new world because Sin will be abolished and Death is the result of Sin. Both will be absent in the new heavens and earth. I know all of this because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. 

The promise is mind-boggling. But the God we worship is mind-boggling. After all, we worship the God who has the power to raise the dead and call into existence things that don’t exist (Romans 4.17). Jesus’ promise that he is the resurrection and the life is ours, not because we are deserving, but because of who God is, the God who created us to have life with him forever, and who is embodied in Jesus Christ raised from the dead. That is why we can rejoice today, even in the midst of our grief and sorrow. Because of his faith in Christ who loves him and who has claimed him from all eternity, the doors of heaven have swung wide open for Bob and he is enjoying his rest with his Lord Jesus until the new creation and the resurrection of our mortal bodies come in full. And that, of course, is Good News, not only for RLR, but also for the rest of us, now and for all eternity. 

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

Faith, Ministry, and God’s Sovereignty

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12C, Sunday, September 8, 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: Jeremiah 8.1-11; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-18; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14.25-33.

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

In one way or another, today’s lessons confront us with the enigma of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. If God is sovereign over us and the events of his world, how can God hold us responsible for our actions? God is in charge, right? Everything is fixed. We’re just doing what God predestined us to do so why bother? Why try? What’s the point? And given that today we have blessed our various ministries, how does the enigma of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility come into play? These are some of the confusing things I want us to look at this morning (and hopefully not get you or me even more confused than we already are as we do)!

We start with our OT lesson from Jeremiah. God tells his prophet to visit his local potterer and there God schools Jeremiah (and us) about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. God likens the potterer to himself. God created us and can therefore choose to do whatever God pleases to do with us; after all, God is our Creator and sovereign. And God is good. In the context of our lesson, of course, God is referring to his upcoming judgment on his rebellious and idolatrous people who live in Judah. The Lord reminds Jeremiah that all people (the nations) are his because God created everything and everyone, and now God is going to use one of those nations to bring destruction on his people Israel living in Judah for their ongoing and stubborn rebellion against God (the northern kingdom of Israel had already suffered the same fate at the hands of the Assyrian Empire about 125 years earlier). The message? God is sovereign. He can do as he pleases, just like the potterer Jeremiah was observing. Judah’s goose was cooked. It was a done deal.

Not so fast, my friends. Don’t try to become little Calvinists quite yet because after declaring his sovereign right and power to summon a nation to enact God’s judgment on his people for their sins against him, God makes the astonishing statement that we his creatures can actually have a say in God’s sovereign decision-making. If God’s people abandon their false gods along with the false and dehumanizing practices that accompany the worship of them, the one true God, the sovereign Lord over all that is, will relent in imposing his judgment on Judah. But if they repent and then think they are in the clear and start worshiping all things false again, they will once again bring upon themselves God’s fierce judgment. God can and will change his sovereign mind depending on how his people decide to live (or die). There you have it. The enigma of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, two seemingly contradictory realities. Nowhere does Scripture try to explain how it works, just that it does. God created us in his image and gave us moral capabilities and the will to use those capabilities (or not), and God expects us to act morally to reflect his goodness, love, justice, and mercy out into his world so that the world and its peoples will come to know, worship, and praise their Creator, not get sidetracked with all things false and death-dealing.

Now of course Jeremiah was written BC—before Christ, and so things have changed a bit. In Christ God has reconciled us to himself on the cross. God did this on his own initiative while we were still God’s enemies and hostile toward God (some of us sadly remain so today). But God’s love and justice can be seen clearly in the cross of Christ. Again, Scripture does not tell us how this all works, only that it does. It’s called having faith and trusting in the veracity of God’s word contained in Scripture and in God’s Word become flesh. And if God really is God, if his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55.8), then we should expect to be confronted on occasion with enigmas and things we do not fully understand or can’t adequately explain, things like the sovereignty of God vs. human responsibility or how Christ’s blood shed for us broke Sin’s power over us and reconciled us fully to God despite our lingering sinful behavior. It’s simply above our pay grade. We are asked to accept it by faith because we believe it truly comes from God our sovereign and is grounded in history. So we believe that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15.3), i.e., we believe in the sovereign power of God to reconcile us to himself in the way he chose to do that. But we also believe that we have the power to choose, i.e., we must choose to believe in Christ and follow him (human responsibility) before God will relent in imposing his fierce and right justice on us and our sins. 

We see this theology being worked out in our epistle and gospel lessons. St. Paul reminds both slave and slaveholder about the good they can do when they share their faith. They both have an incalculable debt they owe Christ. In his death they have new life and are reconciled to their Creator so they no longer need fear his judgment on them. Elsewhere St. Paul has reminded us that there is no longer any distinction for those who have a real relationship with Christ. It doesn’t matter if we are male or female, slave or free. We are Christ’s and we are to behave accordingly. For Philemon and Onesimus this meant perhaps doing the hard and detestable thing: freeing a slave and returning to a slave owner respectively. Do that, says St. Paul, and you and the world will see the good you do and how effective your faith can be. Put another way, St. Paul might have said do the hard but right thing (take responsibility for your actions) and then marvel at how the sovereign God will use your efforts to bring about further reconciliation and his kingdom on earth as in heaven. Was God going to destroy the institution of slavery whether Philemon and Onesimus did the right thing? Of course. God is sovereign. But when God’s image-bearers behave in ways that mimic God become human (Christ), how much more can God do! There is a great (and enigmatic) dynamic at work here but it should be tremendously comforting to us that God is in charge and that God actually invites us to work with him as he heals his good creation and creatures gone bad. Let’s be clear about this. Only God can bring about the final healing (salvation) of the world and its peoples, but God honors us by inviting us to cooperate with his sovereign rule. This means we aren’t so concerned about the results as we are about cooperating with our Creator and Sovereign.

In our gospel lesson, we see our Lord telling his followers the same thing. Do you want to follow me? You’d better consider the costs and benefits before taking the plunge. If you decide to follow me, you must make me your number one priority. Christ’s use of the word hate is startling here and needs some clarification. In this context, hate can (and probably does) mean a lesser secondary attachment, and there is biblical precedence for this meaning. We are told, e.g., that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. This didn’t mean God detested Esau; it means Jacob held priority over Esau by virtue of having secured the Lord’s blessing through Isaac’s blessing. Moreover, given Christ’s high view of marriage and family and his stern condemnation of adultery, he surely doesn’t call us to detest our family and love only him. Why would he tell us to love the one who beats us and despise the ones who nurtured us? St. Matthew probably convey’s Christ’s intentions better when he tells us that Jesus said whoever loves family more than him couldn’t be his disciple. Here again we are confronted with human responsibility. If we expect to enjoy the saving benefits of Christ won for us in his death and resurrection, we have to make him the top priority in our lives, even over those whom we love. This notion of God’s sovereignty vs. human responsibility also argues against universal salvation. God is willing to relent or change his mind about his fierce judgment on human sin and has acted on our behalf to do so because he knows we are powerless to break our slavery to Sin without the cross and help and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But God gives us the freedom to choose to follow Christ and honors our choices. Some will choose badly, others will choose wisely. God is still sovereign but requires that we have skin in the game.

So how does this apply to the blessing of our ministries today? When we believe in God’s sovereignty we can engage in those ministries with great joy and perseverance because we know that when we do the work God calls us to do, both inside and outside our church family, God will bless that work, no matter how meager or average or dysfunctional our work might be. Having said that, God calls each of us to ministry and gives us a choice. If we engage in ministry, we are doing what God calls us to do. If we refuse, then we effectively thumb our nose at God and tell him we have other priorities in life greater than God. Each decision has consequences. Statistics, e.g., tell us  that about 20% of members do the work of the parish. For those who do the work, they get tired and resentful and God is not glorified in this. But the minority need to remember that God is sovereign and will bless their work no matter how tired or incomplete they and their work are. For the 80% who choose to let others do the work, while Christ died for you to reconcile you to God the Father, the notion of human responsibility suggests that Christ will be questioning your faith and discipleship. How does your refusal to have skin in the game proclaim your faith in Christ? How does your non-commitment increase the perception that the gospel has the transformative power to do good as St. Paul proclaimed in our epistle lesson? It is God who saves and it is God who expects a thankful response to his free gift, not to earn our salvation but to acknowledge his love, mercy, grace, and sovereignty displayed in Christ crucified. God never calls us to do that which we are incapable of doing, but God gives us gifts and expects us to use them in his service and the service of others, no matter how great or small.

Likewise with our homelessness. As I spoke two weeks ago, this has become an intolerable burden for me and I pray God will make it an intolerable burden for you. God will find us a home (think Exodus) and God wants us to have a home (think the New Jerusalem). But God is waiting to hear our collective cry. It won’t do for any of us to sit on the sideline on this and so starting next Sunday, I am calling us to a 40 day period of prayer and fasting. I will be sending out a letter to the parish this week that includes a prayer for you to use if you don’t know how to pray thusly. I have charged the vestry with taking leadership in this effort and to interact with you during this 40 day period. To be sure, a parish is more than a building. But we need a home that we can turn into our own sacred space to worship God. We need a home so that new ministries can be birthed and new educational and fellowship opportunities can be offered. Homelessness is never a good thing, especially for God’s people, and we are a homeless people right now. I thank God for the love and graciousness of CCPC. But this is not our home and we dare not be content to see our participation in God’s family here at St. Augustine’s as a Sunday morning frozen chosen experience. As we have seen, that simply will not do. God will overcome our sloth and indifference but he will not reward or honor it, and this is not who we are as God’s people at St. Augustine’s Anglican. 

Let me be clear. I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on you, nor am I being judgmental. We all fall short of the prize and when I preach a sermon like this, which is not often, the first person I look at is the one in the mirror. I simply want us to work through together some of the ramifications of the enigma of God’s sovereignty vs. human responsibility. I therefore encourage you to view this sermon as an invitation for you to do some deep self-reflection about your theology and discipleship. We worship a great loving and merciful God who honors us as his image-bearers and who has given himself to us to rescue us from his judgment and eternal death. Let us show God and the world that we are a thankful and energetic people who answer God’s call to us to do the work God calls us to do, confident that God will use our work to help achieve his purposes for us and for the people whom we love and serve on his behalf. We need a home to best answer that call, so let’s ask God to show us his sovereign power on our behalf. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Marks of a Believer

Sermon delivered on Trinity 11C, Sunday, September 1, 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: Jeremiah 2.4-13; Psalm 81.1, 10-16; Hebrews 13.1-8, 15-16; Luke 14.1, 7-14.

To be faithful to the proposal by our Rector, Rev. Dr. Kevin Maney to preach on the series from the book of Hebrews, my sermon or rather teaching today is based on our epistle reading from Hebrews and I am honored to go last on these series. If you will not remember all we have preached on this book of Hebrews you can always go back and read the sermons or listen to podcasts on the website. The conclusion is most of the time the climax of everything. I hope as we conclude on these series that we will be blessed together as we learn and grow to maturity as christians.

How do we go about living as Christians in a society where we find ourselves increasingly on the margins?

Our need to answer that question places us close to the original congregation that received the message of encouragement that we read today from Hebrews, these believers struggled to hold on and hold out in the face of pressures from the broader society as well. In listening to the word addressed to them, we may also hear a word for ourselves.

In the last chapter the writer of Hebrews rounds out his sermon with a set of ethical teachings. These words form an interconnected series about how to live as a community of faith in an indifferent or even hostile world. They provide practices that set our community apart from its broader culture. To return to the image of the Christian life as a race as the writer calls it, these words of exhortation function as marks of the trail. They keep us on the path and on our way to the goal. The goal set for us as believers.

The first mark of a believer, which forms the foundation for all the rest, is love. The writer focuses our attention in two directions. First, he points us to the love of fellow believers in community: “let mutual love continue” (13:1). The word used here is philadelphia, the Greek noun expressing the love between brothers and sisters. We are family, and we must continue to nurture and strengthen that bond if we are to find our way.

But love also has an external dimension. As we show love to our brothers and sisters, we do not wall ourselves off as members of a distinct tribe. We are also to show love to the stranger through the gift of hospitality (13:2). In the first century, hospitality was a practical virtue because inns were disreputable places. There were no Ramada Inns or Motel 6s.

Though our circumstances are different, hospitality—paying attention to the stranger— remains a vital demonstration of love. We must become welcoming and inviting congregations. We are reminded that when we are hospitable, we too receive gifts because we may entertain “angels without knowing it” (13:2). Perhaps the writer was thinking about Abraham (Genesis 18) or Gideon (Judges 6) or Manoah (Judges 13). For all of these characters, hospitality led to new stories of good news, new possibilities, new life, and new avenues of service.

A second mark of a believer being on the trail is to show care in times of distress. Our lesson today mentions two crises in particular: those who are in prison and those who are being tortured (13:3). In both cases, we are taught the depth of compassion in its sense of suffering-with-others. Our life is a life in the body, and just as Jesus as our great high priest identifies with our tests and shares our vulnerability, so we should also identify with those of our sisters and brothers undergoing crises.

The third mark our epistle lesson puts across to us today is in the area of fidelity: we should honor marriage, and we should be faithful to our marriage covenants. Such faithfulness sets us apart from the broader culture and strengthens the bonds of the community. Infidelity is not a private matter. It weakens the fabric of community, and those who are faithless bear responsibility for the wreckage their lack of steadfastness produces.

Contentment with what we have is the fourth mark of a believer being on the trail as the epistle says (13:5). We do not greedily seek more to secure our lives. Rather we are to trust in God’s promises of presence and protection. Quoting first from Deuteronomy 31:6, 8 (see also Joshua 1:5), we are reminded that God will not leave us or forsake us (13:5). Yet, God is not simply present. As Psalms 118:6 demonstrates, God is our helper, so we need fear no human action or institution (13:6).

A fifth mark is loyalty and constancy. We should remember those who have spoken the word of God to us, for their faithfulness stands as an example for us (13:7). The ultimate example of faithfulness, of course, is Jesus (12:1-3), who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8).

The final mark is proper worship, and, in particular, proper sacrifice. That advice is no surprise, since worship has been central to this sermon. We are to make an offering of thanksgiving in response to the blessings we have received under the new covenant. First, we are called to offer a sacrifice of praise as we confess Christ’s name. But acceptable sacrifice moves beyond the arena of worship and confession. As those who have received grace and trust in God’s provision, we are called to extend such grace toward others through doing good and by sharing what we have. We honor our generous God by living with open hands. We do not cling to our resources in order to secure our own lives in the face of an uncertain future. Instead, we share what we have as divine gifts entrusted to us as stewards of God’s bounty.

This final mark, with its focus on acceptable worship, underscores the unity of all these admonitions. Having called us to give thanks and offer our acceptable worship to God (12:28), the writer of the book of Hebrews now spells out the various dimensions of that worship. Acceptable worship does not find expression solely in ritual acts in the assembly or sanctuary. It infuses all of life.

Thus in our love for each other or for strangers or in our care for those in crisis, we are worshipping God. In our sharing that reflects our trust in God rather than possessions, we are worshipping God. In our faithfulness to our covenants and vows and to the example of those who have gone before us, we are worshipping God. We embody this way of life, not on the basis of our guilt or in any effort to secure God’s favor, but because God’s grace transforms and empowers us. Jesus, whose constancy knows no end, has opened for us a new way to God so that we may approach God’s throne with confidence. In response, we offer both our praise and the witness of all of our lives with thanks and praise.

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