When God Puts Us to the Test

Sermon delivered on Trinity 16A, Sunday, September 27, 2020 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: Exodus 17.1-17; 78.1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2.1-13; Matthew 21.23-32.

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

In one way or another all our passages this morning remind us, uncomfortably so for many of us, that God puts us to the test on occasion. What’s that all about? Toward what end? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Before we look at why God tests us on occasion, we need to place the question within the context of the overall biblical narrative of God’s rescue plan for us and God’s creation so that we don’t arrive at some screwy or misguided conclusions like we usually do whenever Fathers Sang or Madanu preach. We recall that the overarching story of Scripture is about how God is busy rescuing his creatures and world from our slavery to the power of Sin that results in Death and the corrupting spread of Evil. This story, beginning with God’s call to Abraham and ending with Jesus Christ, also tells us much about the nature and character of God our Father who has acted decisively in Jesus Christ to reconcile us to himself, doing so even while we were still God’s enemies (2 Cor 5.19; Rom 5.6-10). What kind of God would act that way? Short answer: a God of perfect love and justice, a God who calls his wayward people to himself through the self-giving love and death of his Son to rescue us both from our slavery to Sin and from ourselves. God did and does this primarily through human agency because as our founding documents (Genesis) make clear, God created humans in his image to be his wise stewards and rulers over God’s good creation. Before the Fall, before our first ancestors decided to try to be God’s equals, this arrangement worked swimmingly well. God lived with Adam and Eve in paradise causing them to enjoy perfect physical, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being. Because God makes us for himself, we suffer terribly and ultimately die when our sins cause us to be separated and alienated from God. We’ve all been to this dance. We all have experienced anxiety, loneliness, isolation, alienation, hostility, and fear in our lives and these are but a handful of manifestations that happen when we are unreconciled to God. To put it bluntly, our sin makes us sick and ultimately kills us. That is not what God wants or intends for us and we have nobody but ourselves to blame for our predicament. 

But as Genesis also makes clear, from the time of our Fall and the rupture of our perfect relationship with God our Father, God has been at work drawing us back to himself and making himself and his character known to us. From the heavenly ladder and ascending/descending angels in Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28.10-16) to God’s promise to be with us (Emmanuel) in Christ’s birth announcement (Mt. 1.21-23) as well as in the Great Commission (I will be with you always even to the end of the age, Mt. 28.20) to the glorious promise of new creation in Rev. 21.1-7, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God is with those whom he calls to bless and provide for them. This is the biblical context that we must keep clearly in mind as we ask why God tests us. The short answer here is to see if we really trust God’s goodness and promises contained in the overarching story of Scripture, i.e., have we ceased striving to be God’s equals? This is of course more for our benefit than God’s. God knows our hearts and all that we do (cf. Ps 139). We often act dazed and confused about such matters and often don’t know how genuine our faith, hope, and love are until they are tested. As with all things in life, clarity is always our friend because it helps us see with what we are dealing. We need to trust God if we ever hope to live our lives without fear and hopelessness, i.e., we need to know that God is trustworthy so that we can live as fully human beings.

The question for God’s people, then, is pretty straightforward: Do we trust that God is good to his promise to provide for us and to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and Death? Or to use OT parlance, do we believe the Lord with us or not? Each of our lessons this morning provide a case study of sorts to help us answer that question. We start with our OT lesson (and our accompanying psalm lesson that exhorts us to learn that God is trustworthy and teach our children that truth). In it, we see God leading his people in the wilderness after he has rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. God had promised his people to bring them to the land he promised their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but first God had to free them from their slavery to the Egyptians (we read that story several weeks back). For Israel, the Exodus was and is the defining moment where God acted decisively on his promise to save Israel from her enemies. We (hopefully) know the story. God called Moses to lead God’s people out of Egypt and then rescued them from the pursuing Egyptian forces by parting the waters of the Red Sea, bringing Israel through those dark and menacing waters and drowning the Egyptians who pursued them. Once through that first impossible obstacle, God then led his people through the next major obstacle—the wilderness, guiding them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Now I am not the brightest star in the sky, but I would think that had I lived in that generation and experienced God’s mighty act of power in both the Passover, where God killed all the firstborn Egyptian males, thereby compelling Pharaoh to let God’s people Israel leave, and then experienced God’s rescue through the Red Sea, that I might be convinced God had the power to rescue me from any situation. After all, I had seen God’s power first-hand and that was proof God was good to his word to rescue my people and me from our slavery. So why would I worry about God providing for us as we wandered through this foreboding wilderness with its lack of food and water? Hadn’t God shown us enough for us to trust God? 

Apparently not because in our story today we see the people grumbling against both Moses and God, clearly showing their lack of trust in both. Why did we follow you out here, dude? Did God bring us out of Egypt to kill us? We’d be better off in our slavery back in Egypt. At least there we had enough to eat and drink. Ah, the human condition in all its glory! Charming. Clearly God’s people did not trust God to provide for them in their current situation, stark and foreboding as it was, despite the fact they had seen God do even mightier things in the Passover and at the Red Sea. And Moses was no better. Of course he would have been concerned for his life; his stoning was a real possibility! But this is the same Moses who had seen God call him kicking and screaming to be Israel’s leader and mighty prophet, equipping Moses along the way to grow into God’s call to him. Surely Moses knew God had the power to deliver on his promises to take care of his people. But there he was complaining and grumbling to God right along with God’s people!

The logic of the story set where it is in Exodus also suggests that God had brought his people to this point to test them. Did they believe in God’s goodness, love, and power to provide for them or not? God knew they didn’t trust him, but surely many of the people there didn’t know that because their faith hadn’t been tested in the context of the wilderness. It’s a sad story with a happy ending because God provided once again for his people. Water gushed from a rock and God’s people found the drink they needed to survive and continue their journey to the Promised Land, but not before they had grumbled to God, effectively accusing God of not being with them or caring about them or being able to provide for them. Sound familiar (if it doesn’t you might want to look in the mirror!)?

And what did God do? Did God give up on them? Did he leave them to their own devices? Did he destroy his rebellious and unbelieving people? Of course not! That is not who God is. Instead, God provided for his people and invited them to use this episode to bring about repentance and instill a greater trust of him in them. But the people of God were apparently slow learners. It seems the sins of pride and presumption found in Adam and Eve about which I spoke two weeks ago run deep in all of us. Before we stop and sneer at the ancient Israelites’ lack of faith in God’s goodness and provision as they wandered through the wilderness, we should stop and do a self-check as we wander through our own wilderness. 

What wilderness, you ask? We don’t live in the wilderness. We live in metro Columbus. Well, we may not live in a physical wilderness but we certainly wander in a spiritual one these days. Who among us won’t be elated to see 2020 with its pandemic and social unrest and increasing bitterness and rancor give way to a new year? We watch increasingly godless, lawless forces intent on destroying our nation burn down our cities and we wonder where our political leaders are in the midst of it all. We live in fear of getting the “Rona” and it isolates us and makes us more afraid and crazier than we already are. We see nothing but strident partisanship and rancor among our so-called leaders and wonder if there are any statesmen or women left. Closer to home, some of us have lost jobs during the pandemic and have a legitimate concern about financial collapse. We learned this past week that Westerville has rejected our occupancy permit app. Then there have been a spate of serious illnesses in our parish family. We pray fervently and nothing seems to happen. Where is God in all this, we cry out in anger, fear, and desperation? This morning some of you will come up for healing prayer and anointing and then go away, apparently not having your prayers answered (although some of you will experience answered prayers). What are we to do with that? Yesterday I spoke with a woman whose faith is greater than anyone I have personally known. She loves the Lord passionately and unconditionally, yet there she is in a hospital, apparently slowly dying a painful death from cancer. I’ve prayed hours for her and in every way I know how. I’m at the point where I don’t how to pray for her or what to pray for; I can only groan, trusting that the Holy Spirit is present in my groans and is praying for her in and through them as promised (Rm 8.26-27). Why won’t God answer? Does he not care? Is he powerless to answer? This is the stuff we read about in today’s OT lesson, my beloved, and experience in our lives more often than we would like. 

Yet it is the consistent testimony of Scripture, the Word of God, and the lives of the saints that the Father does know our worries and fears and that God does have the power to act on our behalf. But do we believe that? How many of us believe the lyrics of the song, Great Is Thy Faithfulness? Do we really believe God’s mercies are new every morning, lyrics that are based on Lam 3.16 that the prophet Jeremiah uttered as he surveyed the unthinkable: a desolate Jerusalem, the very home of God, burnt to the ground by God’s enemies and God’s people taken into exile. Do we have that kind of faith to sing that song during the times we walk through the dark valleys of life? The Father’s trustworthiness is there to be had every day if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, your presence here among us this morning being proof positive that God is gracious to us every day. It is to the glory of God and further proof that God’s promises are trustworthy and true that so many of us do believe God really is present in his world providing for us every moment, despite our being worn down on occasion by the circumstances and situations of life and the human condition. That is our challenge, my beloved, and that is why God tests us. He wants to show us he is dependable and trustworthy so that we can continue to grow in our trust in God, even when everything swirling around us suggests that God and his mercy and provisions are nowhere to be found.

Turning to our epistle lesson, we see St. Paul asking something similar to the church at Philippi. Do you trust Christ enough to let him change the way you treat your fellow family members in Christ he asks? For those of us who call ourselves Christian, the challenge to trust God can be even greater than for God’s people Israel. While we can recall the Passover and Exodus to remind us about the power and ability of God to rescue and provide, our foundational salvation event is Christ’s death and resurrection. It is harder for us fallen humans who strive and grasp to be God’s equals to see God’s power in the cross. But that’s exactly what St. Paul and the rest of the NT writers proclaim! On the cross we see the power of God to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and Death, the cross being the very instrument of shame and human degradation. It’s hard to see God’s power in a naked and pierced man dying a godforsaken death as a condemned criminal. But that is the surprising power and promise of God made known to us, a promise vindicated by God’s mighty act of power when he raised Christ from the dead to signal the abolition of death one day. It is a hope and promise we must live with because it is yet to be completely fulfilled. We don’t have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight that makes even the dullest of us look brilliant. No, we are in the wilderness right now and so we must walk in faith, trusting in the promise and power of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The extent we believe in the power and promise of Christ’s saving death and resurrection is the extent we will continue to believe in God’s ability to provide for us and rescue us from all that corrupts, dehumanizes, demeans, and demoralizes us.  

The fact that God became human to rescue us from the darkest power of all—Death, despite our ongoing rebellion against God, despite our insistence on kicking God upstairs so we don’t have to bother with him in the living of our days (because of course we think we know better than God), is compelling evidence that God does love us and is providing for us. He’s given us his Holy Spirit to heal and change us for crying out loud! What more do we need? Whatever it is we think we need, we likely won’t get if it goes against what God the Father knows we need to develop a healthy love and trust in his power. And so, as St. Paul reminds us in epistle lesson, our trust starts with how we treat our families. We are to work out our faith in fear and trembling because we know that, “…God is working in [us], giving [us] the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Phil 2.12-13). What on earth is St. Paul saying? Is he telling us our salvation from God’s wrath is accomplished by following the rules Scripture and the Church have set over the years? Uh, nope.

As v.13 makes clear, St. Paul is talking about the power of God working in his people. As St. Paul reminds us elsewhere, Christ has died for us to rescue us from the ravages of Sin and Death, and here he calls us to believe our story, a belief based on the bodily resurrection of Christ. We call this belief “faith” and faith always manifests itself in obedience. In the context of the letter, St. Paul is reminding God’s people in Christ to embrace our salvation won for us by God himself in and through Christ. God calls us to work with him to bring his healing love to the world around us, starting with our own families and the family of God, the Church, the context St. Paul addresses here. We are to imitate Christ in his self-giving love and treat each other accordingly because to do that is to imitate God the Father himself. When we live this way we demonstrate our belief and trust in God’s promise that he has rescued us from Sin and Death in and through Christ. 

St. Paul is not talking about being a doormat for people. To the contrary, he is urging us to accept our dignity as those who are loved by Christ and rescued from Sin and Death in and through his self-giving death and God’s mighty act of resurrection. We each have different situations and folks to deal with in our lives and we each have to figure out what that looks like as we act together as the people of God. St. Paul immediately reminds us we don’t have to do any of this on our own. The Christian Faith is not another form of failed human self-help. As we have just seen, God has given us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, to heal and restore God’s image in us one minute at a time. Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, don’t see much spiritual growth in our lives but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. We don’t see ourselves aging everyday or our hair growing. But if we look at pictures from ten years ago or decide we need a haircut, we are reminded that change has indeed taken place despite our inability to perceive it at the moment. The Holy Spirit working in us is like that. Sometimes he produces spectacular results. Most of the time, however, he works in us quietly, gradually healing and restoring us to God the Father. Regardless of speed or outcome, the point is that we are called to live as people of God by the power of God, not our own, and we are called to trust in that power always. We can see that trust in the lives of saints, both living and dead, and we are called to trust their experience and testimony, along with our own, to trust in God’s ability to provide for us, an ability that stems from God’s great love for us. That’s the test we face, my beloved. We see the power of God. We have the testimony from God himself that he is in Christ reconciling the world to himself, you and me in all our unloveliness, so that we will not die an eternal death. That’s why we need to know our story. That’s why we need to encourage and exhort one another. That’s why we need to put the needs of others ahead of our own—not because they are superior to us or their needs are more deserving than ours—but because doing so imitates the self-giving love of God made known in our crucified Savior. That’s why we sometimes have to correct each other, not out of a haughty sense of pride or presumption, but out of a deep love for those whom God loves more deeply than we can ever imagine. That’s what working out our salvation in fear and trembling looks like on the ground. We know we are loved by God and have been rescued from Sin and Death by him. Now we are called to live out that trust obediently, imitating our crucified Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the challenge and the promise. It can get discouraging that we keep making the same mistakes over and over, trusting in anything and anyone but God our Father (we see the same rebellious distrust in our gospel lesson but I do not have time to interpret that for you this morning). Yet we also know that despite our unbelief, despite our waywardness and rebellion, God keeps pursuing us relentlessly because he loves us and wants us to live forever in his promised new world. Let us pray to the Father for the grace to believe his promises and know his character made known supremely in Jesus Christ our Lord, and revealed to us new each morning by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. And yes, my beloved, let us live out our faith (trust) together as the Father calls us to do. To do so, however imperfectly, means we have passed the test. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Bishop Julian Dobbs: Real Living. Do You Know What it Looks Like?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 15A, Sunday, September 20, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The bishop caught Father Bowser’s anti-writing fever so there is no text for today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast, click here

Lectionary texts: Exodus 16.2-15; Psalm 105.1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1.21-30; Matthew 20.1-16.

Ordained Ministry: Living Out Your Call (It Ain’t for Sissies)

Sermon delivered at the ordination of Dr. Jonathon Wylie to the sacred order of Priest, Friday, September 18, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 6.1-8; Psalm 119.33-40; Ephesians 4.7-16; St. Luke 10.1-9.

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

Tonight is your big night, soon-to-be Father Wylie (God willing and the bishop consenting), and already your ministry is in trouble. Instead of preaching at your ordination the bishop has called in the second string to preach. Perhaps you shouldn’t quit your day job quite yet. Or perhaps you’ve got even bigger fish to worry about. Cardinal Mercier in speaking to his ordinands once said, “Remember, God chose you to be a priest because he could not trust you to be a layman!” Maybe having a second stringer preach at your ordination is the least of your worries. I don’t know. 

All teasing aside, it is my privilege to preach at your ordination tonight. While I would never admit this in public, I know you are going to be a superb priest, young man—Oh wait. I just admitted it. Bishop, is it time to call in the third string? Father Gatwood is here with us tonight—and as such, I want to remind and exhort you to two sacred duties as a priest in Christ’s one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. There are more than these two duties but there are not less, and I take my cue from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in our epistle lesson tonight. 

First as you begin your ordained ministry, I urge you to be first and foremost a good pastor (shepherd) to the people you will serve. The work we do as clergy is above all else relational on all kinds of levels. We are called to party with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (and everything in between). You must be willing to forgive those who grieve you, especially the EGR folks (extra grace required—the bishop knows how to do this very well because he has to deal with EGR clergy like me all the time, so learn from him how it’s done because he does it superbly). Of course you must also be willing to forgive yourself when you miss the mark or get it wrong. It means you must be willing to confront folks pastorally when they go astray and gently try to help them get back on track. You must also be humble enough to let them do likewise to you when you miss the mark. This all requires that you love the people you serve, love being defined as desiring and advocating the best for yourself and your parish family, and that of course means pointing folks to Christ as the way to live their lives. We have an excellent example of what I am talking about in 1 Corinthians 5. There St. Paul confronts the church at Corinth about allowing a stepson to sleep with his stepmother, all in the name of “grace.” How can you let this kind of sexual immortality go on? St. Paul demands. Not even the pagans allow this kind of depravity! He continues by saying:

You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship. …I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church…Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns (1 Corinthians 5.1-2, 5).

Notice carefully the apostle’s love for his people here, a love that made him confront them about behavior that clearly had the ability to destroy them as God’s people in Christ. But St. Paul did not advocate punishment for its own sake. The discipline he imposed had a restorative purpose. Yes, the man was involved in an egregious sin, but he was still dearly loved by Christ and worth the effort to seek his restoration to Christ’s body despite the man’s catastrophic moral failure. Love Christ’s people enough to help them get back on track and then help them keep on track. That’s the essence of being a good pastor to your people. Encourage them. Support them. Uplift them, and yes confront them when necessary, but always out of a deep sense of love for God’s people and out of a sense of profound humility. Remember, as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). We all are in desperate need of Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. Your job as a pastor to God’s people is to model this for them, however imperfectly you do so. God will honor your work done faithfully, whether you see it first-hand or not.

Aside from confronting folks, which very few of us like to do (and the ones who do probably shouldn’t be our fellow clergy), most people who go into ordained ministry like to pastor folks because they have a heart for God and his people. But there’s another aspect to pastoring that many of us are reluctant to do. As we have just seen, sometimes wolves infiltrate God’s people and try to disrupt and corrupt them via false teaching or whacky ideas or evil behavior. And what are good pastors to do? Like St. Paul, they shoot the wolves to protect Christ’s family. Corrupt ideas/behavior and bad teaching are like cancer. If you let them spread, the whole body gets infected and dies, and so you must cut out the cancer before it metastasizes. Nobody likes to do this and you must be patient, humble, and circumspect in doing so, always consulting with your bishop for guidance and support in this difficult task. But if you love God and his people enough and want to be a good pastor to them, you must be willing to shoot the wolves when necessary to protect those whom you serve (and yourself as well) when they rear their ugly heads. May God always give you the needed reticence, wisdom, grace, strength, toughness, and love to be a good pastor to his people. 

All this of course requires a good deal of prayer, self-examination, Bible study, and a willingness to be part of a community who loves you and will support you, and who will hold you accountable, both in good times and bad. Don’t make the mistake that many clergy do and try to be a rugged individualist in your work. That’s the last thing God’s people need, starting with you and your own family. Find folks, both lay and clergy, you trust and with whom you can share your joys, sorrows, trials, and tribulations (and as long as we have our current bishop, lean on him as well. He is a pastor par excellence). Trusted friends allow you to think, speak, and act badly in private so that you can act well in public. We are called to live life together as God’s people. Don’t make the critical mistake of trying to do your ministry in isolation. The world, the flesh, and the devil will conspire to pick you off.

Likewise, I am constantly amazed at the number of clergy I know who have almost no semblance of a devotional life, and who ignore the rich devotional history/tools the Church provides, our Anglican tradition included, to give them the spiritual strength and compass needed to be a good pastor. Don’t become part of the vast spiritual wasteland that sadly exists among God’s people and ignore your spiritual health, my brother. It will undo you quicker than greased lightning. Make your devotions a regular and integral part of your daily discipline and when possible, do them with others. The Lord will surely bless you if you do. Again, as St. Peter warns us, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8). Don’t become another of Satan’s victims like many clergy have become on occasion. A robust devotional life will go a long way in helping you avoid the Evil One’s traps.

If you are a good pastor to your parish family, your second sacred function as a priest will be much easier because you will have built up good relational capital and folks are always more willing to listen to those whom they love and respect. What is that second function you ask? I’m glad you did because it will allow me to finish this sermon in short order. The second sacred function you are charged with is to teach those you serve their own Story as lived out in Word and Sacrament so that they too will be able to withstand the dark powers and their human agents that corrupt and destroy God’s good world and people. Time does not permit me to explore this in any detail. Instead, I want to exhort you to proclaim God’s word boldly and with power, God’s power, both in Word and Sacrament. We Christians have the only answer to the desperate times in which we live: the gospel of Jesus Christ. But over the last several centuries, at least in the West, holy Mother Church has lost her voice and her boldness to proclaim Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead, to a world who desperately needs to know him. So help those entrusted to you to learn the Five Act Play as Tom Wright has dubbed the narrative that is contained in the Old and New Testaments: Creation, Fall, Israel, Christ, and the Church in the end times. We live in perilous times when godlessness and lawlessness seem to be winning the day. We are at each other’s throats more often than not, and if we continue this course, our nation cannot stand. But we are people of God and therefore have the power of God—a power made known supremely in Christ’s saving death and resurrection—to help us navigate through these times. How desperately the world needs to hear the central message of Scripture: That God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5.19). The Church cannot stand if she refuses to believe her own story. So teach that story contained in God’s holy Word and in the holy Sacraments of the Church. Don’t ignore either one. Preach and live the gospel of Christ boldly and expect your people to do likewise. Teach your people to feed on the holy power contained in the Sacraments. It is our only hope and this too is your sacred task as a priest. 

Remember, you are not called to save the world. God has already done that in Christ. As a priest in Christ’s body, you are charged with the sacred responsibility of equipping God’s people for the arduous task of living faithfully in this mortal life. None of us can do this on our own. But the Christian faith is not another version of human self-help that inevitably must fail. It is about the power of God to overcome all that is evil and corrupt, and it has the power to heal, transform, and redeem, despite our best efforts to the contrary and messy as that looks at times. If you will be a good pastor and bold evangel to God’s people, however well or poorly you do so, have the confidence that God will use your ministry to help bring his kingdom on earth as in heaven. This is the sacred privilege and task of every human being as divine image-bearers, especially God’s ordained ministers, and I charge you tonight, soon-to-be Father Wylie, to devote your considerable skills and talents to this call, all the while resting confidently in the Lord, who is your life and strength and power all the days of your life. The extent you are able to carry out these sacred duties is the extent God’s people under your care will grow up to the full stature of Christ—or to use OT parlance since you are an OT scholar, to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God (Micah 6.8)—so they have the ability to withstand all that assails them as Christ’s people. Again, remember always to rely on and trust in the power of him who calls into existence things that don’t exist and who raises the dead to life (Romans 4.17). I know you will do a great job with these daunting tasks because I know you do believe and trust in the Lord’s great love and power for his people and you. Be assured too, my dear brother, that you will have my ongoing prayers and affection as you live out your call to ministry. God bless you. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Judging vs. Judgmentalism

Our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans concludes today. Sermon delivered on Trinity 14A, Sunday, September 13, 2020 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: Exodus 14.19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14.1-12; Matthew 18.21-35.

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

This morning we conclude our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Hang on to your hats and keep up with me because there is a LOT for us to cover. Before we look at what the apostle has to say today, I want to take a moment to review some of the highlights we have looked at over the summer. In the first 12 chapters of Romans, St. Paul has reminded us of the awful predicament we humans find ourselves in. We are all slaves to that outside and hostile power that Scripture calls Sin and it both corrupts and kills us. No one is immune to its power and no own can free themselves from its grip without the help of someone more powerful than Sin’s power. That someone of course is God and St. Paul has proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ to us: That at just the right time, while we were still helpless and enemies of God, God moved on our behalf to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death by becoming human and dying for us. Only by the blood of the Lamb shed for us can we hope to be spared from God’s just judgment on our sins and rebellion. For those who believe God has acted on our behalf in Christ by taking on his own judgment himself, there is now no condemnation for our sins despite the fact that the power of Sin still weighs us down in this mortal life. This is all a free gift given us out of the Father’s great love and tender mercy for us. As St. Paul tells us in chapter 11, “God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone” (v.32). Simply remarkable. But the apostle also makes clear that we are to respond to God’s great love and mercy by imitating our Lord in the living of our days instead of following our own selfish ways, relying on the powerof God to help us do so. In biblical parlance this is called repentance, turning back toward God in the power of the Spirit. As we have said repeatedly, the Christian faith is not another form of self-help. If that were the case it would have no Good News to offer and we would remain dead in our sins. 

Now in today’s epistle lesson, St. Paul continues to exhort us to holy living and reminds us in yet another context to rely on the power of God to do so. Here he addresses how we should treat each other as fellow Christians, both within our parish family and beyond. Before we look at what St. Paul says, we must keep in mind two very important points. First, underlying all his teaching here was St. Paul’s deep faith in the love and mercy of God made known in Jesus Christ. As we have seen, we were bought with the price of Christ’s own precious blood and are united with him by faith and through baptism. We are saved from our sins by God’s grace, not by what we do or don’t do. St. Paul summarized this nicely when he said, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10.9). It is faith in Christ that matters, a faith that heals hearts and minds and transforms life, however imperfectly and messy that looks. And because of that faith, we no longer belong to ourselves, but to Christ. 

Second, it is critical for us to understand that here St. Paul was not talking about issues that define the Christian faith, e.g., Christian teaching that Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine, or his saving death and bodily resurrection from the dead that signaled the defeat of death and the inauguration of God’s new creation. These doctrines and others were clearly taught in the NT and over the years the Church developed a consensus that reflected its one mind about these issues, various heresies and false teachings that regularly spring up notwithstanding. For issues of first importance, issues that affect our salvation and standing with God, St. Paul and the early Church held a much different view than he teaches in today’s lesson. We can see this in his rebuke of the church at Corinth for allowing a stepson to sleep with his stepmother, all in the name of “grace.” Any kind of sex outside the context of marriage is a sin and Scripture clearly teaches this throughout, despite many in today’s world who try to persuade us otherwise. How can you let this kind of sexual immortality go on? St. Paul roared. Not even the pagans allow this kind of depravity!

You are so proud of yourselves, but you should be mourning in sorrow and shame. And you should remove this man from your fellowship. …I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church…Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns (1 Corinthians 5.1-2, 5)

Or consider his response to the Judaizers who had infiltrated and corrupted the church in Galatia by teaching that Christians had to be physically circumcised to be saved, violating St. Paul’s clear teaching on justification by faith and denying the power and efficacy of Christ’s death and resurrection. As far as St. Paul was concerned, those false teachers were wolves in sheep’s clothing. And what should you do with wolves who infiltrate Christ’s flock to corrupt and destroy it by teaching falsely? You shoot the wolves to protect the flock. Accordingly he told the Galatians, “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters.” (Gal 5.12-13a).

Contrast this to what St. Paul teaches in today’s epistle lesson about issues of secondary importance, issues for which Scripture fails to provide a clear answer and/or which have never been settled in the history of the Church. In the church at Rome in St. Paul’s day those issues included dietary restrictions and the observance of holy days. In our day, the issue of the role of women in the Church or charismatic issues would be examples of these kind of secondary importance issues. Here St. Paul addresses the weak and the strong in faith. By “weak” St. Paul did not have in mind that these folks lacked faith in Christ but rather they didn’t understand that their faith in Christ meant that they were free from all previous legalistic requirements such as dietary laws or observing certain religious festivals. These requirements were not a basis for their Christian faith but rather part of their observance of it, i.e, they believed they had to follow these practices in order to walk with Christ properly. The weak in this context were most likely Jewish converts who struggled to cast off the old or at least blend them with the new teachings of the faith. 

For St. Paul, it wasn’t the fact that these Christians observed dietary regulations/religious festivals. If doing these things helped them grow in their relationship with Christ, he would have been all for it. What the apostle is concerned about here is that by doing these things the weak would not perceive themselves as weak but rather saw themselves as upholding high religious standards and principles, all the while looking down their noses at those who didn’t uphold these practices (the “strong”) because the strong didn’t see them as important for growing in their relationship with Christ. For them, Christ’s death and resurrection had set them free from their slavery to Sin and Death so that they didn’t have to observe such religious regulations. To use an example from our day, tomorrow is the Feast of the Holy Cross. There are devout Christians who will observe this feast as part of their devotional/discipleship practices and St. Paul would approve. However, if those who observe Holy Cross Day believe that those who don’t are somehow inferior Christians or that their rescue from Sin and Death depends on them observing it and other Feast Days of the Church, rather than trusting in the efficacy of Christ’s death and resurrection to save them, then St. Paul would likely take issue with these “weak” Christians of our day. Who are you to judge a fellow Christian for whom Christ died? We have a word for this and it’s called judgmentalism.

The problem of judgmentalism wasn’t just with “weak” Christians. “Strong” Christians also looked down their noses at those who did follow such practices. To despise a fellow believer in Christ suggests that the “strong” held their “weaker” family members in contempt out of some sense of superiority. Why are you weak guys observing dietary laws or religious holidays? You don’t need any of them to have a relationship with Christ. Christ has truly set us free. Make sure you stay free. Stop engaging in things that aren’t necessary. Loser. 

Again, keeping in mind that St. Paul is talking about secondary issues here, the apostle warns both sides not to judge the other. We need to be careful about terms here, my beloved. When the NT warns us not to judge, it is not telling us to suspend moral judgment on behavior and thinking. There is far too much perversity in this world and to be living sacrifices to God requires us to make those kinds of judgments! What St. Paul is talking about here is the sin of pride and presumption. Each side condemned practices (or lack of them) out of a sense of superiority and sadly we continue to do this all the time to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Just look at Father Maney! He eats and drinks too much and preaches lousy sermons. He can’t be a Christian in good standing! And why does Father Sang cross himself? That’s just weird. Or Dr. Falor. Why he hasn’t prayed the daily office since Moby Dick was a minnow! I pray the office everyday and I’m pretty sure that makes me a better Christian and more pleasing in Christ’s sight! And how about those wussies who didn’t come back to chapel today to worship like we have? Second rate Christians for sure! Real men don’t eat quiche and real Christians don’t stay away from church. You get the idea. Nowhere does St. Paul prohibit vigorous discussion and debate over issues of secondary importance, only our presumptive judgment on our opponents. Iron sharpens iron. Presumptive condescension produces rancor, ill will, and hopeless division. It separates rather than unites. This same argument would also apply to interdenominational conflicts within the Church regarding secondary issues. It’s one thing to prefer your own tradition. It’s quite another to condemn those who don’t see it your way.

Looking beyond our parish family and the Church catholic we see this kind of presumptive pride and sneering all the time, especially in politics today. It’s the way of the world and we are not to participate in it. Our sin is not that we disagree with those who do not share our political views. Our sin is in presuming our views make us more pleasing in God’s sight than our opponents. Still don’t believe me? When you heard St. Paul ask, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?” who did you think of first? The person who has passed judgment on you and your views/practices and got you all hot and bothered, or did you think about yourself? If you’re like me, you probably thought about instances where you have been wronged rather than the times you served as a stumbling block to another’s faith. That, my beloved, is a sure sign of pride and presumption and St. Paul has some stern words for us here: Be careful of your judgmentalism and the proud presumption behind it. We all have to stand before God’s judgment seat and give an account of our lives to God. This should be enough to strike fear in anyone who takes the judgment of God seriously.

So what’s going on here? Is this the same Paul who earlier proclaimed the Good News that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ? If no condemnation, how can St. Paul say something like this, both here and in 2 Cor 5.10? St. Paul is not talking out of both sides of his mouth. What he is reminding us is that only God knows our hearts and minds and only God has the power to judge. It simply won’t do to make God’s grace an idol. We can’t presume because we say the right words and do the right things that God owes it to us to not condemn us. When we presume God’s mercy and grace on us while at the same time we are unwilling to extend them to others, or when we see ourselves as being superior to others because of what we do (or don’t do) compared to them, we are setting ourselves up as de facto judges and claiming moral superiority over them. Remember, we have been bought with a price. We are saved only by the blood of the Lamb shed for us to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin, a free gift from the Father’s loving and generous heart. Without that, none of us has any real hope to be spared from the fires of hell because as St. Paul has already warned us in chapters 1-3, all have sinned and all will therefore be judged. 

This in no way negates what he has said earlier. God did bear his own judgment on our behalf when he took on our flesh and became human. At just the right time Christ did die for us, even while we were helpless and still God’s enemies. There is indeed nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God made known in Jesus Christ. But this is God’s gift to give out of his tender love and mercy for us, not ours to presume. And because it is God’s free gift to us, it is God’s prerogative to withhold them from us if by our lives and our tongues we demonstrate clearly that we see the cross as nothing more than a get-out-of-jail-free card for us so that we can continue behaving as badly as we did before we knew Christ. We cannot and dare not presume God will rescue us from his judgment just because we call ourselves Christian or we read snippets of the Bible, come to church regularly, and partake in the Eucharist while all the time running down and sneering at our opponents. Our life and death are God’s, not our own, and we dare not presume otherwise. To be sure, we can rely on God being good to his word and promises to us that he has indeed rescued us from Sin and Death and from his terrible judgment in and through Christ. But we dare not presume it and show our presumption in how we mistreat or judge others with haughty contempt. 

Christ tells us virtually the same thing in his parable in our gospel lesson this morning. The first servant had an impossible debt to pay, just like we cannot save ourselves from God’s just judgment on our rebellion and sin. The king took pity on the servant and forgave his impossible debt at great cost to the king. And what did the servant do? Did he realize the great grace and mercy offered him? Did he resolve to treat others similarly? Not a chance! He went after a fellow servant who owed him a manageable debt and refused to offer him the same grace he had begged the king to grant him. And our Lord’s punchline? If you want God to forgive you, you’d better do likewise. Don’t presume you have it automatically. Forgiveness is God’s prerogative and God owes us nothing other than judgment. So if you want God to forgive you, you’d better forgive others freely. We pray it every week in the Lord’s Prayer. Do you pay attention to it or dismiss it as inconvenient?

This warning not to presume God’s mercy and grace provides us with a healthy balance to help us live out our faith. We’ll surely get it wrong and no amount of do gooding will make God obligated to rescue us from his judgment. The knowledge that we all must stand in front of God’s judgment seat and give an account of our lives is the great equalizer and provides us with a much needed dose of daily humility. Yet we also dare to approach his throne with hope, trusting in God’s promise that there really is now no condemnation for those who put their hope and trust in Christ and live out their faith, however badly that might look at times. When we realize God owes us nothing but judgment but has moved instead to rescue us from that judgment, we can have confidence that the Holy Spirit will use that knowledge to heal and humble us and so be made ready to receive the eternal crown of glory in the new creation. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Father Santosh Madanu: The Debt of Love

Our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans continues today. Sermon delivered on Trinity 13A, Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

Prayer: Lord Jesus we thank you for choosing St. Paul the Apostle, who inspires and encourages us to have passionate love towards God and genuine love towards one’s neighbor.  Bless our family of St. Augustine to be changed by God to make a difference for God

Even we write millions of books about love of God- Jesus Christ and teach and preach millions times about love of neighbor as yourself, still there is message yet to preach about love of God and love of neighbor.  Because the infinite love, God the Father has for us, and the reality of love of neighbor has  to be taken not as a dream or ideal but the authentic nature of God that we need to have that should enable us to share our goodness, kindness, concern and love to our fellow human beings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

What Jesus Christ said about the love of Neighbor as the second  greatest commandment, St. Paul repeats it, saying any other commandments are summed up in this word, “ Love your neighbor as yourself”………..

What does it mean?

True Christianity is based on the realistic world. Love of neighbor is not a great idea or ideal like communism.  Communists think of that the rich share their wealth with the poor. It should not be taken as a beautiful ideal commandment. But it should be taken as great commission one has to practice indeed.

If at least half of the Christians in the world taken it and practiced it in their lives- embracing all human beings with the sincere love, there will be transformation of human beings and the world will be changed into happiest place in turn it becomes heaven on earth.

A measure of self-respect may come from living according to the twin principles, “owe nothing to anyone,” and “no one owes me anything.

The apostle Paul speaks to the Christian community in Rome; Romans 13:8-14. There, he calls believers to live according to the principle that one obligation can never be settled: the debt of love.

Paul unfolds his gospel of grace in chapters 1-11. In light of that gospel, he calls his audience to offer their bodies “as a living sacrifice” (12:1-2). The rest of chapters 12-13 begin to show the practical outworking of sacrificial living. Paul’s audience can begin to see what it means to “be transformed by the renewing of [their] minds” so as to “discern what the will of God is” (12:2).

It means thinking and acting in a way so as not to please oneself but others (verses 3-8), and it means making one’s love for others genuine (verses 9-21). Paul addresses the Christian community’s relationship to governing authorities in chapter (13:1-7), recalling his appeal, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (12:18). Now in 13:8-14, he recapitulates the theme of love for others. This sets the tone for the exhortations of chapters 14-15, in which Paul calls stronger and weaker believers to live together in mutual love (14:14).

The catchword “owe” connects 13:7 to 13:8. Paul shifts from addressing obligations to the governing authorities to addressing obligations to one’s neighbor. His audience is to have no outstanding debts except to love one another. The reason for this debt is, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled (pleroo) the law” (verse 8b).

Paul clearly means the Mosaic Law, because he lists four of the Ten Commandments: do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, and do not covet. It may seem that he contradicts what he went to great lengths to establish earlier in the letter, that through Christ, believers have died to the law to live anew in the Spirit (7:4-6).

Paradoxically, however, believers have died to the law so that the law may be fulfilled in them. Paul’s audience may recall the last time he appealed to a commandment. In 7:7, he explained how sin took advantage of the commandment, “You shall not covet,” to produce covetousness.

Nevertheless, he says, the law itself is not equated with sin, but is “holy and righteous and good.” Rather, sin is what makes the commandments deadly (7:11). The solution, then, is not to dispose of the law altogether, but to deal with sin.

God sent Jesus to break the relentless hold of sin and death over human beings, “in order that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled (pleroo) in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4; see 13:8b). For those who are in Christ and living by the Spirit, Paul can now say that, “You shall not covet,” with the other community-oriented commands listed, is constitutive of the law of love (13:11-14).

This is what Jesus said: All the law and the prophets hang on two commands, love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:34-30; see also John 13:34-35). It is also what Jesus himself did.  Paul presents Christ himself as the example to follow: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, Jesus lived for the sake of others, making his love for others genuine at the cross. Jesus says Love one and another as I have loved you.

In 13:11-14, Paul shifts the vision of his audience to see the command to love one’s neighbor in light of the future day of salvation (see 8:18-25). He writes of the salvation approaching “us,” highlighting its community orientation. The appeal to awaken from sleep and lay aside the deeds of darkness evokes the appeal not to be conformed to “this world/age” (aion) in 12:1-2.

Paul also writes about this idea elsewhere, explaining that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (aion; Galatians 1:4). Those who are in Christ belong to a new age with new values. 

Since believers belong to the age of light and day, they are to put on the armor of light (verse 12). This is synonymous with putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 14). In the context, to put on Christ is to imitate him in loving one’s neighbor through self-sacrificial service. The love that believers express is a weapon against the darkness and the flesh as the community moves together towards the day of salvation.

The debt of love can never be settled because we grow up into the salvation that is ours in Christ by loving our neighbor through the work of the Spirit. The working out of our salvation is a community undertaking, making impossible for us to live as free agents.

For salvation is near to us now St. Paul says.  What does that mean?

It means when I believe Jesus is real, he is my Lord and my savior,

It means when I believe the teaching of Jesus Christ and the Bible are living word.

It means when I believe that Jesus died for my sins on the cross and rose on the third day

It means when I transform my life and put on Christ

And it means when I love my neighbor as I love myself.  This is what it meant to be salvation is near to me.

Let us hold fast the salvation that is given as a gift right now.

Let us reflect the word of God from the book of Exodus of today’s reading because it is very relevant in today’s situation – Covid 19:

God the Yahweh, made true indelible mark on the people of Israel with the event of Passover- It is the Passover of the Lord because he alone is true living God. Our God is very clear about executing judgement on Idol worship and worshiping other gods like Hindus, who has thousands of gods like Ganesh, Rama, Kristina, Venteshvarudu, Vishnu etc.

God the Yahweh says “the blood shall be sign for you where you live” The blood of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only sign that we live.  For we believe in His justification, Jesus made satisfaction on behalf of all humanity and washed away the sin of the world through His precious blood.  That is why we remember and celebrate every Sunday this Lord’s Supper- the Eucharist.

God the Father says” I will pass over you and no plague shall destroy you”.  Yes, God the Father is passing over us – over St. Augustine Family.  Be prepared to welcome Him.  Because, we need this plague, Covid-19 should be destroyed and we will be saved.  This day, Sunday. September 6/2020 should be the day of remembrance for us.  We celebrate it as a festival to the Lord today.  For the Lord delivered from this Covid19.

Prayer: May the indwelling holy spirit direct us to take the commission of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves and to make the difference in the lives of many. And to live like Jesus, love like Jesus and not to water down our own witness to Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus we thank you for choosing St. Paul the Apostle, who inspires and encourages us to have passionate love towards God and genuine love towards one’s neighbor.  Bless our family of St. Augustine to be changed by God to make a difference for God

Even we write millions of books about love of God- Jesus Christ and teach and preach millions times about love of neighbor as yourself, still there is message yet to preach about love of God and love of neighbor.  Because the infinite love, God the Father has for us, and the reality of love of neighbor has  to be taken not as a dream or ideal but the authentic nature of God that we need to have that should enable us to share our goodness, kindness, concern and love to our fellow human beings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

What Jesus Christ said about the love of Neighbor as the second  greatest commandment, St. Paul repeats it, saying any other commandments are summed up in this word, “ Love your neighbor as yourself”………..

What does it mean?

True Christianity is based on the realistic world. Love of neighbor is not a great idea or ideal like communism.  Communists think of that the rich share their wealth with the poor. It should not be taken as a beautiful ideal commandment. But it should be taken as great commission one has to practice indeed.

If at least half of the Christians in the world taken it and practiced it in their lives- embracing all human beings with the sincere love, there will be transformation of human beings and the world will be changed into happiest place in turn it becomes heaven on earth.

A measure of self-respect may come from living according to the twin principles, “owe nothing to anyone,” and “no one owes me anything.

The apostle Paul speaks to the Christian community in Rome; Romans 13:8-14. There, he calls believers to live according to the principle that one obligation can never be settled: the debt of love.

Paul unfolds his gospel of grace in chapters 1-11. In light of that gospel, he calls his audience to offer their bodies “as a living sacrifice” (12:1-2). The rest of chapters 12-13 begin to show the practical outworking of sacrificial living. Paul’s audience can begin to see what it means to “be transformed by the renewing of [their] minds” so as to “discern what the will of God is” (12:2).

It means thinking and acting in a way so as not to please oneself but others (verses 3-8), and it means making one’s love for others genuine (verses 9-21). Paul addresses the Christian community’s relationship to governing authorities in chapter (13:1-7), recalling his appeal, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (12:18). Now in 13:8-14, he recapitulates the theme of love for others. This sets the tone for the exhortations of chapters 14-15, in which Paul calls stronger and weaker believers to live together in mutual love (14:14).

The catchword “owe” connects 13:7 to 13:8. Paul shifts from addressing obligations to the governing authorities to addressing obligations to one’s neighbor. His audience is to have no outstanding debts except to love one another. The reason for this debt is, “for the one who loves another has fulfilled (pleroo) the law” (verse 8b).

Paul clearly means the Mosaic Law, because he lists four of the Ten Commandments: do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, and do not covet. It may seem that he contradicts what he went to great lengths to establish earlier in the letter, that through Christ, believers have died to the law to live anew in the Spirit (7:4-6).

Paradoxically, however, believers have died to the law so that the law may be fulfilled in them. Paul’s audience may recall the last time he appealed to a commandment. In 7:7, he explained how sin took advantage of the commandment, “You shall not covet,” to produce covetousness.

Nevertheless, he says, the law itself is not equated with sin, but is “holy and righteous and good.” Rather, sin is what makes the commandments deadly (7:11). The solution, then, is not to dispose of the law altogether, but to deal with sin.

God sent Jesus to break the relentless hold of sin and death over human beings, “in order that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled (pleroo) in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4; see 13:8b). For those who are in Christ and living by the Spirit, Paul can now say that, “You shall not covet,” with the other community-oriented commands listed, is constitutive of the law of love (13:11-14).

This is what Jesus said: All the law and the prophets hang on two commands, love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:34-30; see also John 13:34-35). It is also what Jesus himself did.  Paul presents Christ himself as the example to follow: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, Jesus lived for the sake of others, making his love for others genuine at the cross. Jesus says Love one and another as I have loved you.

In 13:11-14, Paul shifts the vision of his audience to see the command to love one’s neighbor in light of the future day of salvation (see 8:18-25). He writes of the salvation approaching “us,” highlighting its community orientation. The appeal to awaken from sleep and lay aside the deeds of darkness evokes the appeal not to be conformed to “this world/age” (aion) in 12:1-2.

Paul also writes about this idea elsewhere, explaining that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (aion; Galatians 1:4). Those who are in Christ belong to a new age with new values. 

Since believers belong to the age of light and day, they are to put on the armor of light (verse 12). This is synonymous with putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (verse 14). In the context, to put on Christ is to imitate him in loving one’s neighbor through self-sacrificial service. The love that believers express is a weapon against the darkness and the flesh as the community moves together towards the day of salvation.

The debt of love can never be settled because we grow up into the salvation that is ours in Christ by loving our neighbor through the work of the Spirit. The working out of our salvation is a community undertaking, making impossible for us to live as free agents.

For salvation is near to us now St. Paul says.  What does that mean?

It means when I believe Jesus is real, he is my Lord and my savior,

It means when I believe the teaching of Jesus Christ and the Bible are living word.

It means when I believe that Jesus died for my sins on the cross and rose on the third day

It means when I transform my life and put on Christ

And it means when I love my neighbor as I love myself.  This is what it meant to be salvation is near to me.

Let us hold fast the salvation that is given as a gift right now.

Let us reflect the word of God from the book of Exodus of today’s reading because it is very relevant in today’s situation – Covid 19:

God the Yahweh, made true indelible mark on the people of Israel with the event of Passover- It is the Passover of the Lord because he alone is true living God. Our God is very clear about executing judgement on Idol worship and worshiping other gods like Hindus, who has thousands of gods like Ganesh, Rama, Kristina, Venteshvarudu, Vishnu etc.

God the Yahweh says “the blood shall be sign for you where you live” The blood of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only sign that we live.  For we believe in His justification, Jesus made satisfaction on behalf of all humanity and washed away the sin of the world through His precious blood.  That is why we remember and celebrate every Sunday this Lord’s Supper- the Eucharist.

God the Father says” I will pass over you and no plague shall destroy you”.  Yes, God the Father is passing over us – over St. Augustine Family.  Be prepared to welcome Him.  Because, we need this plague, Covid-19 should be destroyed and we will be saved.  This day, Sunday. September 6/2020 should be the day of remembrance for us.  We celebrate it as a festival to the Lord today.  For the Lord delivered from this Covid19.

Prayer: May the indwelling holy spirit direct us to take the commission of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves and to make the difference in the lives of many. And to live like Jesus, love like Jesus and not to water down our own witness to Jesus Christ.

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