About Fr. Maney

Fr. Kevin Maney received his PhD from the University of Toledo in Curriculum and Instruction, majoring in educational technology and minoring in educational leadership. He completed his studies for a Diploma in Anglican Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, and did his coursework almost entirely online. He was ordained as a transitional deacon in the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) on February 9, 2008 and as a priest in CANA on May 1, 2008. He is now the rector of St. Augustine's Anglican Church in Westerville, OH, a suburb of Columbus. St. Augustine’s is part of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word (ADLW) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Ash Wednesday Sermon: Reconciled to God: Restoring the Image

Sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday, February 26, 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: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10; St. Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21.

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

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 day season we call Lent. It is a time for self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. The season of Lent reminds us that something is terribly amiss in God’s world and our lives, that without the love, mercy, goodness, justice, and power of God, we remain hopelessly alienated from God and each other. Lent therefore is a time for us to focus not so much on ourselves but on the power of God manifested most clearly in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. So tonight I want us to look at what must be done to be reconciled to God and each other because too often we Christians get it wrong at precisely this point. So bear with me and stay with me. This is a long and complex sermon, but the Lord has given it to me to preach and it is critical that we get this right.

In our OT and psalm lessons, we are reminded starkly that we are alienated from God and therefore under God’s just and right judgment. It is here that many of us tune out. We simply don’t want to hear this and if we are honest with ourselves, we must confess we don’t know what we must do to make things right between God and us. To help us think about our dynamic with God and each other, I have found it increasingly helpful to reflect on these issues in light of the overall big picture contained in Scripture. A week ago Sunday you recall that we looked at the creation narratives because they give us insight into God’s original creative intentions for the world and us. We saw that God created everything good, that creation matters to God, especially in light of God’s promise to heal and redeem it, and most importantly we saw that God created humans in his image to be his good and wise stewards who reflected God’s goodness, righteousness, justice, and love out into his world to allow it to flourish and prosper. As God’s image-bearers, we were created to always reflect God’s character and glory. That’s what image-bearers do. Before our rebellion against God, we saw how beautifully things worked. Creation flourished (the garden was paradise that was doubtless beautiful and radiant and healthy) and humans enjoyed continuous intimate and life-giving communion with their Creator. Whether death was part of that picture has been much debated. If death existed prior to the Fall, it was certainly not seen as punitive or juridical. What we can say for certain is that there were no physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual maladies like disease, fear, alienation, rancor and the like. The first humans knew their place as God’s image-bearers and acted wisely to reflect God’s love and goodness out into his world and enjoyed all the benefits of perfect communion with God. 

But that all changed with the Fall, when humans rebelled against God and attempted to usurp God’s role as Creator and God. This resulted in the destruction of the life-giving and healthy communion between God and his creatures and resulted in God’s cursing creation. Human rebellion also allowed the outside and hostile forces of Evil to enter into God’s good world to corrupt it and us. Our alienation from God caused us to be hostile to God and introduced all the awful diseases of body, mind, and spirit that afflict so many of us today. In short, God’s image in us became marred, but thankfully not totally destroyed. This resulted in our inability to reflect God’s love and goodness out into the world to sustain it and allow creation to celebrate and flourish like it did before the Fall. This is the overall problem defined in the story of Scripture. God created all things good and created humans in his image to run his good world. As long as God’s image remained complete and whole in humans, paradise resulted. But once humans rebelled and God’s image became distorted in us, all hell broke loose on earth and throughout the cosmos because the powers of Sin and Evil were allowed to gain control to enslave us and corrupt God’s good world and our lives. The story of Scripture is therefore the story of how God intends to right these wrongs, no small or easy task, and Lent invites us to remember this story and what our role in God’s rescue plan might be so that once again, we might become the full image-bearing creatures God created us to be to rule his creation wisely and lovingly. In other words, this is the overall big-picture context for Lent and beyond. 

This context hopefully will help us think about our Scripture lessons tonight. In our OT lesson, we hear God calling his people to repent of their sins that have caused them to become alienated from God as his image-bearers. We recall that God had called Israel to be the agents through whom God would heal his sin-sick and corrupted world. But here we see Israel had failed miserably and were in terrible danger of falling under God’s awful judgment on all things evil when God returned to put his creation back together again. Instead of reflecting God’s goodness and justice and righteousness and mercy and love out into God’s world so that God could bring healing to the nations, Israel became ingrown and selfish because they had turned to false gods to worship and as a result developed a false image of those gods. This happened because we always reflect and eventually turn into that which we worship. Sound familiar? The result was chaos and destruction. The nations were not being healed because Israel was not reflecting God’s image properly into their world and lives, and judgment awaited God’s people as a result. And here we must be crystal clear in our thinking about God’s judgment. If we see God as an angry ogre who is bent on punishing us for our sins, we will naturally see God’s judgment as vindictive and restrictive. Eat your veggies! Don’t screw up! Behave yourselves! Make better decisions or I will punish you. That’s why you need to repent! But this thinking gets it so wrong on so many levels and reflects how thoroughly is our enslavement to the power of Sin—Sin defined as that semi-autonomous and alien power that is stronger than we are—because this thinking distorts who God really is and makes repentance all about us. Nothing could be further from the truth because if we think of our sins as misbehaviors or bad choices on our part, we totally misunderstand the nature of sin and God’s judgment on it.  

Sin, biblically defined, is missing the mark. And what is the mark? Being God’s image-bearers who reflect God’s love and goodness out into the world. But we have been enslaved by that outside power of Sin so that we are compelled to act in ways that emphatically do not bear the image of God. We have unhappy marriages so we cheat on our spouse. Our sex lives are not fulfilling so we turn to pornography. We disagree with others about politics or religion (or whatever) and we resort to name calling and ad hominem attacks or back-biting and evil speaking about them. Others do us wrong and we seek revenge. We worry if we’ll have enough resources to live so we cheat, steal, and deceive. Worse yet, we hoard our resources and don’t share them with those in need. You get the point. We turn inward and miss the mark. How do these behaviors and attitudes reflect the goodness, love, mercy, and justice of God to heal his broken and hurting world? How do they reflect God’s character and glory? We cease to become God’s image-bearers and become Sin and Evil’s image-bearers instead. Every time we act selfishly or cruelly or deceitfully, every time we speak or think in hostile ways about God and others, God’s image in us is marred a bit more and the result is chaos, anger, rancor, hostility, anxiety, and alienation to name a few. How can a loving and just God allow this kind of stuff to go on indefinitely? What kind of loving parent would stand by idly and watch his or her children being corrupted by outside forces? How can God not judge murder, rape, rapacity, cruelty, and the like? A good, just, and loving God must judge this kind of evil and those who perpetrate it. We all get this. But our enslavement to the power of Sin also corrupts our concept of God so that we mistake the nature of God’s judgment, projecting onto God our own anger and distorted motives for behaving in the ways we do. But if we learn to see God’s judgment as liberating us from our enslavement to Sin’s power and restoring us to be his image-bearing creatures again, we learn to see, if not lament, the necessity of God’s judgment on Evil and sin. 

One more note about sin before we move on to look at repentance. Sin is a theological concept. For those who do not know or believe in God, there is no such thing as sin. That’s because there is no standard by which to judge behavior. If one doesn’t know God, one cannot possibly discern what it means to be God’s image-bearer. Such people will scoff at the notion of sin and the need for repentance because they are happy to march to the tune of their own moral drummer, and that drummer will usually be anything or anyone but God. They will also scoff at the cross, seeing it as unnecessary and barbaric (cf. 1 Cor 1.18-25). This explains why St. Paul put forth all the apparent contradictions about himself in our epistle lesson. Those who didn’t know God skewered him (as they will us). But he was well known, loved, and protected because of his faith in the power of God made known in suffering love. I remind us of this because it points us to the Good News of our redemption. For us to be aware of sin is to be aware of God and God’s will for us as his image-bearers, and to be aware of this means that we have already come under God’s loving care for us. The question is, what will we do with that knowledge?

We hear God through his prophet Joel call for God’s people to repent, to turn back to God and God’s ways so that God’s image can be restored in them (and us) so that we can once again be the humans God created us to be. But because we are so thoroughly enslaved to the power of Sin, God’s call to us to repent gets corrupted and we make repentance about us. It’s not. To believe repentance will end our alienation from God and God’s judgment on our sins is to believe that we actually have the power to free ourselves from our enslavement to the power of Sin. That is a lie and a delusion and we as Christians must be very careful to understand what God’s call to repentance is really all about. Think about it. If we really had complete control over our thinking, speaking, behaving, and decision-making then of course repentance would remove God’s judgment of those sins. We just right the wrong. But that’s not how it works, does it? How many times have you resolved to repent of a behavior, only to keep on doing the same thing over and over despite your sincere desire to change your ways? It happens to me all the time and it happens to every one of you (how many of you, e.g., are still keeping your new year’s resolutions?). It is analogous to a drug addict who resolves to get off the juice without any outside help only to find himself relapsing time and again. He cannot fix himself. To be sure, we have the freedom to choose and make decisions and that makes us responsible for our thinking/doing/speaking, whether for good or ill. But because we are so thoroughly enslaved by Sin’s power, our decision making is often corrupted. We often want the wrong without even realizing it. This is what is going on in our gospel lesson where Jesus condemned the motives for doing good and holy acts like giving to the poor, praying, and fasting. There’s nothing wrong with these things. In fact, they all are designed to help us focus on God rather than ourselves so that we can be better image-bearers. But our slavery to Sin’s power corrupts our motives for doing these acts (we want others to see how good we are when we are actually Sin’s slaves) and this results in further sin and alienation from God, the very opposite result for which these acts were intended. Our sins are simply symptoms of our slavery to Sin’s power, not the root cause. Until our slavery to Sin’s power is dealt with and we are freed from its grip, the problem of our alienation to God will not and cannot be fixed because God’s image cannot be fully restored in us.

So the issue is not about making better decisions or strengthening our resolve. These things are all self-help delusions and non-starters. That’s why repentance will not turn away God’s severe judgment on the evil we all commit, whether or not we recognize the evil. Again, what needs to be done is to break our enslavement to the power of Sin so that we are freed once again to make the good and wise and healthy decisions God originally gave us the ability to make that allow us to function as God’s image-bearers. The Good News of course is that God has done exactly this for us in the cross of Jesus Christ. Without the cross, we can repent till the cows come home and nothing good will come of it, at least not over the long haul.  

God knows all this, of course, and God loves us and wants to restore his image in us so that we can once again function as healthy and wise human beings who freely choose to act in the manner of God. To do that, our slavery to Sin has to end. In our epistle lesson tonight, St. Paul makes the enigmatic statement that God made Christ to be sin even though Christ was sinless. What on earth did St. Paul mean? A sea of ink has been spilt over this, but one thing we can say with certainty is that on the cross, God broke Sin’s power over us so that we are no longer enslaved by it (cf. Col 2.13-15) and freed with the help of the Spirit to act and choose wisely after the manner of Christ (to repent). In other words, in the cross of Christ, God set the conditions needed for him to restore his image in us once again so that we can be fully reconciled to God. We don’t know how all this works, but we do know this. On the cross, God condemned our sin in the flesh and absorbed his own terrible but right judgment so that he could spare us (Romans 8.3-5). Jesus, the Son of God, did this willingly and in complete cooperation with the Father to free us from our bondage to Sin’s power. To be sure, Evil still exists in us and the world and will continue to exist until Christ returns to judge and put an end to all of it at the resurrection of the dead, but we believe that our slavery to Sin’s power has been broken by an even greater power: the goodness, love, and mercy of God the Father through the sacrifice of God the Son. There is no self-help here. There is nothing but God’s help. Self-help is doomed to fail always. God’s help never does. This is Good News at its finest. God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves and all that he requires from us is to believe that he has taken care of the problem of Sin and our alienation from God. We call this putting our faith in Jesus Christ and him crucified.

This changes how we view repentance. As we have seen, God has acted on our behalf to free us from Sin’s power to enslave us before we ever became aware of the notion of sin. We no longer have to fear God’s judgment on our sins because God has already condemned our sin in the flesh and our fallen nature, and taken his condemnation on himself to spare us. We repent, then, in sorrow but also with great joy and thanksgiving. We realize we are no longer slaves to Sin but to God, all made possible in Christ’s death and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit living in us. Our repentance is therefore not about avoiding God’s judgment as much as it is about allowing God to restore his image in us so that we can begin to bring God’s goodness and health and life back into God’s world. Being mortal and fallen creatures, despite God’s great act of mercy and grace on our behalf on the cross, we will sin from time to time, but we turn to God for forgiveness and resolve to repent out of joyous gratitude for God’s great grace toward us, however imperfectly that might look in our lives, because we believe we are freed to act as God’s image-bearers again, people who will love instead of hate, who will have mercy rather than condemn, who will work hard to reflect the goodness of Christ, the only true image-bearer of God. Put another way, we know repentance won’t and can’t save us for reasons we have already seen. That’s not a problem because we are already spared God’s condemnation on our sins before we ever repented or were even aware of the danger in which our sins put us! Instead, having been freed from our slavery to the power of Sin, repentance is about doing what we need to do to allow God to continue his saving work in and through the cross of Christ to heal us and restore his image in us until that day when it is fully restored in the new creation so that we can do the work and be the people God created us to do and be. A good self-check question regarding how well we are repenting would be as follows: How accurately am I reflecting God’s image out into his world, i.e., how closely does my thinking/speaking/acting reflect Jesus Christ? We look to Jesus as our standard of measurement.

That is why even as we repent and feel great sorrow over our sins we have committed against God and others as David did in our psalm lesson, we can also rejoice that we have a God who loved us and gave himself for us so that his image in us might once again be restored. As we’ve seen, that won’t happen fully until Christ returns to raise the dead and usher in God’s new creation. But as St. Paul tells us in the verses preceding our epistle lesson tonight, we are already new creations, i.e., God is restoring his image in us, because of the cross of Christ and the work of the Spirit. This is a God worthy of our love and adoration. This is what the season of Lent asks us to reflect on. When we see that our repentance and prayer and fasting are all responses to God’s love and mercy and have nothing to do with turning away his severe decree on our wickedness because the Father has already rescued us through the Son, we are ready to enter Lent with the proper mindset and spirit. During this season of Lent let us resolve to repent of our false and corrupt gospel of self-help and self-righteousness, acknowledging our helplessness to free ourselves from our slavery to Sin and thanking God for doing that on our behalf out of his great love for us. Let us resolve to rely on the power of God to restore his image in us and let us act accordingly in the power of the Spirit. Doing so will truly give honor, power and glory to the One who loved us and gave himself to us from all eternity to do what it takes to restore his life-giving image in us. May the name of the Holy Trinity be praised and blessed forever and ever.

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

Archbishop Foley Beach’s Ash Wednesday Letter

It’s worth your read.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; and by reading and meditating of God’s holy Word – BCP2019, p. 544

Dearly Beloved in Jesus Christ,As you and I begin the observance of Lent on this Ash Wednesday, I want to ask you to build into your Lenten observance specific times of prayer (and fasting) asking for God’s intervention in the spread of the Coronavirus in North America and all around the world.Dr. Nancy Messionnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, said yesterday that it is only a matter of time before the virus now labeled COVID-19 begins to spread across North America.  Saying that schools and businesses should begin preparing now, she said: “I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.”This is where you and I can make a difference in prayer.  If you are going to give up something this Lent, give up “time” and use that time in prayer. If you are going to take something on this Lent, take up specific times in intercessory prayer.  Ask God to eradicate this virus. Ask him to intervene.  Ask him to help public health officials, doctors, and government officials with wisdom and guidance. Ask him to heal the victims and comfort those who have lost loved-ones.  Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing this virus right now in China, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Iran, Italy, and so many other places.God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and sound judgment (2 Tim.1:7).  Let us walk and live in God’s wisdom asking for his help, and trusting in His mercy.

In Christ,

The Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach

Archbishop and Primate, Anglican Church in North America

Received via email.

Lent 2020: Abbess Egeria Describes How Catechumens were Instructed in 4th Century Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Pilgrimage, 45-46

Lent 2020: Prayer, Fasting, Mercy

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

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

—Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 43

2020: Abbess Egeria Describes Fasting in 4th-Century AD Jerusalem During Lent

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

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

Pilgrimage, 27-28

Lent 2020: Fasting as a Lenten Discipline

The season of Lent with its emphasis on self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter is quickly approaching. One of the Lenten disciplines I commend to you this year is fasting. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about fasting and so I offer you some great insights from Dr. Scot McKnight’s excellent book, Fasting: The Ancient Practices. Hear him now:

Fasting is a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments (p. xii).

St. Athanasius, one of the architects of Christian orthodoxy, knew the formative powers of the sacred rhythms of the church calendar. That calendar weaved in and out of mourning over sin (fasting) and celebrating the good grace of God (feasting). “Sometimes,” he says of the church calendar, “the call is made to fasting, and sometimes to a feast [like every Sunday when we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection].”

…St. Augustine took fasting into a another area of formation. One way for Christians to find victory over temptation, St. Augustine reminded his readers, was to fast. Why? Because it is sometimes necessary to check the delight of the flesh in respect to licit [not forbidden or lawful] pleasures in order to keep it from yielding to illicit pleasures.

These two themes—fasting as a sacred rhythm in the church calendar and fasting as a discipline against sinful desires—are perhaps the most important themes of fasting in the history of Christian thinking (p. xv).

Dr. McKnight offers his own excellent definition of fasting:

Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life (e.g., death, sin, fear, threats, needs, sickness). Does it bring results? Yes, but that’s not the point of fasting. Those who fasted in response to grievous sacred moments frequently—but not always!—received results, like answered prayer. But focusing on the results causes us to misunderstand fasting entirely.

Which leads us now to see fasting in an A —> B —> C framework. If one wants to see the full Christian understanding of fasting, one must begin with A, the grievous sacred moment (e.g., death, sin, fear, threats, needs, sickness). That sacred moment generates a response (B), in this case fasting. Only then, only when the sacred moment is given its full power, does the response of fasting generate the results (C)—and then not always, if truth be told. [So, e.g., in response to sin we fast and can receive forgiveness.]

What we are getting at here is very important: fasting isn’t a manipulative tool that guarantees results. The focus in our deepest Christian tradition is not moving from column B to column C but the A —> B movement. Fasting is a response to a sacred moment, not an instrument designed to get desired results. The focus in the Christian tradition is not “if you fast you will get,” but “when this happens, God’s people fast [emphasis added] (pp. xviii-xix).

Dr. McKnight develops these ideas in the subsequent chapters of his book and I wholeheartedly commend it to you for your edification. As always, it is critically important for us as Christians to know why we do what we do. This pertains to worship and the various spiritual disciplines, fasting included. Therefore, this Lent I encourage you to fast regularly as a means to help you become a more Christ-oriented person and to live a cruciform (cross-shaped) life.

To purchase Dr. McKnight’s book on fasting, click this link.

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday 2020

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

A Third-Century Church Father Offers Practical Advice About Praying

As we near the season of Lent with its emphasis on self-examination, repentance, and prayer, here is some very practical advice on the latter from one of the early Church Fathers, Origen of Alexandria (d. 254AD). Notice his emphasis on the whole person, body included, in prayer. May his writing help you in your own praying, during Lent and at other times.

It seems to me that those who are about to come to prayer, if they withdraw and prepare themselves for a little while, will be more earnest and attentive in regard to their prayer as a whole. They should put aside every kind of distraction and disturbance of mind, and recollect as far as possible the greatness of God to whom they come, and that it is a sacrilege to approach God lightly and carelessly and with a kind of disdain; and they should cast off all alien thoughts. Thus ought they to come to prayer, as it were stretching out the soul before the hands, and directing the mind to God before the eyes, and raising up from the ground the reason and making it to stand toward the Lord of all. All malice toward anyone who appears to have wronged them they should cast aside insofar as they wish God to bear no malice toward themselves, since they have injured and sinned against many a neighbor, or else are conscious of deeds of various kinds that they have committed contrary to right reason. Neither ought they to doubt that, as there are countless attitudes [position] of the body, that attitude in which the hands are stretched out and eyes lifted up is to be preferred to all others, since the body brings to prayer the image, as it were, of the qualities suitable to the soul. We mean, however, that these attitudes should be given preference unless an obstacle opposes. For where there is an obstacle it is permissible on an occasion to pray suitably in a sitting position, on account of a disease of the feet that may not be disregarded, or even lying down, through fever or some such sickness. And also, on account of circumstances, if we are sailing, let us say, or if our business does not allow us to withdraw and offer the prayer that is due, it is permitted to pray without even seeming to do so.
And as for kneeling, that it is necessary when one is about to accuse oneself of one’s sins before God, supplicating him for healing therefrom and for forgiveness thereof, it ought to be known that it is a symbol of one who is abject and submissive. Paul says: ‘‘For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” Spiritual kneeling, so named because every creature falls down before God “in the name of Jesus” and humbles itself before him, appears to me to be indicated in the words: ‘‘That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth.”

Origen, Treatise on Prayer 31, 11, 549-552

Father Philip Sang: Transfiguration Time

Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday A, February 23, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang has turned over a new leaf in preparation for Lent. He has actually produced a manuscript for his sermon, which you can read below. To listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 24.12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1.16-21; St. Matthew 17.1-9.

May the words of my mouth and meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you oh Lord our rock and our redeemer, in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen

A teacher in a Sunday school class was reading the story of the Transfiguration. As she read, she noticed one little boy seemed confused.

When she was finished she asked him, “Johnny, why don’t you tell us where Jesus was in this story. He replied, “Oh, he was on a mountain.”

“Yes, that’s right; said the teacher, “Do you remember why he was up there?” Johnny answered with a confused look, “I guess that’s where his arithmetic class was held .”

” The teacher looked at him and wondered what he meant. “What do you mean, arithmetic class?” “Well” Johnny replied, “The Bible said, ’Jesus went up on the mountain and there he BEGAN TO FIGURE ” ’ The teacher smiled and said,”The scripture said, He went into the mountain and there He BECAME TRANSFIGURED NOT BEGAN TO FIGURE. “

It is Transfiguration Time.

Jesus walked with his disciples as he taught them. He explained over and over what was to happen to him and what they would need to do. They witnessed his miracles: the healings, the feedings, his words of grace and love to the sinners and to the broken.

It sounds pretty straight forward, right? I think we imagine we would be smarter or pay better attention or just listen more carefully than the disciples if Jesus were speaking with us.

If we were those disciples, we’d surely understand about him asking us to leave our families and our lives to follow him…as Father Santosh preached a couple of weeks ago, that doesn’t seem too hard to understand.

So, let’s make believe, just for a moment or two, that we are one of those disciples in today’s gospel story. I’d like you to try, if you can, to actually picture yourself with Jesus that day. Walking up the side of the high mountain, listening to him as you always did. Picture this in your mind. Close your eyes if you need to. You and Jesus, walking up the mountain, listening to him talk about God’s Kingdom and how you will be part of it.

How do you feel? Are you confident? Excited? Are you scared? Are you thinking of going back down the hill? You are busy talking, listening, tired from the climb and then in Matthews words, “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”

How would you have experienced this? We can read the words that explain Jesus’ change in appearance but how in the world would you, if you were standing there, understand this? Jesus’ clothing shining dazzling white and Elijah and Moses there with him?

Thinking about this I’ve had more empathy for Peter recently. After trying to place myself directly into this gospel story, I totally understand why he was trying to do something. If you don’t understand something, just start being functional, right? He is scared and he says awkwardly to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark’s account adds, “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified”.

This, I imagine, was the reality of being a follower of Jesus. Moments of amazement and joy at the miracles and thoughts of a new kingdom where the last would be the first, the meek would inherit the earth and those who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness would claim the kingdom of God; followed closely by intense times of confusion and terror of the unknown. Peter has experienced these two feelings at the same time before and here he is again. Wanting to be helpful, trying to care for the temporal needs of Jesus and much to his amazement Elijah and Moses but knowing somehow that something has changed. Something is different, something important has just happened here and although he doesn’t seem to recognize it, something has also begun to happen to Peter.

There is just no way one could, no way you could, no way I could, be the same after experiencing Transfiguration Time.

Transfiguration is classically defined as: a : a change in form or appearance : METAMORPHOSIS

b : an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change

What I have wondered, what I have pondered and what I have imagined is: Who was actually changed in this experience? Was Jesus different after this encounter with the Holy? Matthew says. ”Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

It appears that after this announcement, after Elijah and Moses left the scene, it is simply Jesus with them again. Did Jesus change or was he always God’s son, God’s beloved?

I would like to suggest that it was in fact the disciples with him that day that began to be transfigured or began their metamorphosis that day.

The time for being confused and terrified had to soon come to an end. As those who would have to carry on the ministry of Jesus to bring this new Kingdom of God to fruition as the Church, it was time to know to whom they were committing their lives, to whom they all belonged and that they now were also the beloved children of God.

There is just no way one could, no way you could, no way I could, be the same after experiencing this, transfiguration time.

Transfiguration Sunday is right before Ash Wednesday and the church’s season of Lent because it marks a final turning point in this metamorphosis of the disciples. In the next weeks they will walk with Jesus on his journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. They will understand the peril they will face, that their own ends will not be any better than Jesus’. They will share in his passion, struggle to understand why they agreed to follow him in the first place, deny knowing him, and then try to be able to comprehend his resurrection and their part in this Good News that would be shared to the four ends of the earth.

Transfiguration Time

a : a change in form or appearance : METAMORPHOSIS

b : an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change It was them who were transfigured that day. A metamorphosis, a spiritual change. There was no going back, no being the same after experiencing this, transfiguration time.

Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:16-18

“…we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the

Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son,

whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from

heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”

I wonder though, getting back to us, to you and to me, if you were with Jesus that day, saw him with his clothes shining brighter than anyone could bleach them, standing with Elijah and Moses. What would you have done?

In what way would you begin to be transfigured, to begin a metamorphosis, to start to be spiritually changed? In what way have you already traveled with Jesus and changed so much that there is no turning back, no being the same after experiencing this?

Do you have an idea of how you might travel with Jesus during this season of Lent and to share in his Passion, to understand the highs and the lows of being a follower of Jesus today?

This is the heart of the matter: Each of our lives is different. Not all are called to serve God in the same way BUT all who have seen the bright light of the North Star or the shining garments of God’s beloved, all who experience transfiguration time, are in fact called to follow that light and in fact to BECOME that light for others. I’d like to leave you with that thought today.

Over these next weeks of Lent moving toward Holy Week and Easter, how will you personally reflect this Epiphany light in your world?

Start today, start where you can and remember… there will be no turning back, no being the same after experiencing this transfiguration time.

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

February 22, 2020: Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Today is George Washington’s birthday. He would be 288 years old! To our great detriment, Americans are forgetting about our first president. This is sad, in part, because without him, there would not likely be the USA that we know today. Do yourself a favor and learn about this extraordinary man with whom God blessed this country.

To the world’s amazement, Washington had prevailed over the more numerous, better supplied, and fully trained British army, mainly because he was more flexible than his opponents. He learned that it was more important to keep his army intact and to win an occasional victory to rally public support than it was to hold American cities or defeat the British army in an open field. Over the last 200 years revolutionary leaders in every part of the world have employed this insight, but never with a result as startling as Washington’s victory over the British.

On December 23, 1783, Washington presented himself before Congress in Annapolis, Maryland, and resigned his commission. Like Cincinnatus, the hero of Classical antiquity whose conduct he most admired, Washington had the wisdom to give up power when he could have been easily become dictator. He left Annapolis and went home to Mount Vernon with the fixed intention of never again serving in public life. This one act, without precedent in modern history, made him an international hero.

In the years after the Revolutionary War, Washington devoted most of his time to rebuilding Mount Vernon, which had suffered in his absence. He experimented with new crops and fertilizers and bred some of the finest mules in the nation. He also served as president of the Potomac Company, which worked to improve the navigation of the river in order to make it easier for upstream farmers to get their produce to market.

Read it all or pick up this book and really get to know the Father of our Country.

Presidents’ Day 2020: George Washington’s Birthday

Washington’s Birthday was celebrated on February 22nd until well into the 20th Century. However, in 1968 Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law to “provide uniform annual observances of certain legal public holidays on Mondays.” By creating more 3-day weekends, Congress hoped to “bring substantial benefits to both the spiritual and economic life of the Nation.”

One of the provisions of this act changed the observance of Washington’s Birthday from February 22nd to the third Monday in February. Ironically, this guaranteed that the holiday would never be celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, as the third Monday in February cannot fall any later than February 21.

Read it all.