The Surprising Power of the Gospel

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4C, Sunday, July 14, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Amos 7.7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1-14; Luke 10.25-37.

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

What are we to make of the prophetic oracles contained in our OT and psalm lessons with their fearsome message of God’s judgment on human sin? Or what can we expect to happen to us when we fail our Lord’s challenge to us to act like good Samaritans toward our neighbors (and even our enemies)? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

To begin, it will be helpful to look at our lessons through the lens of locus of control. On whom is the responsibility placed? Locus of control implies being in charge so this is a critical question for us to answer. Who is really in control of God’s world, God or us? In our OT lesson, the Lord, though his prophet (or mouthpiece) Amos, clearly condemns Israel’s idolatry which had led God’s people to practice all kinds of perversity and injustice. This is no small matter because we always become what we worship, whether for good or for ill. Despite God’s repeated calls to his people to repent, they stubbornly refused to do so, choosing instead to worship all kinds of false gods instead of the one true living God, the God who had called them to be his people. Their stubborn refusal to repent would lead to their exile to Assyria some twenty-five years later. And when Amaziah the priest challenged Amos’ prophecies, he too found himself under God’s terrible judgment. The locus of control seems to be with God’s people, presumably because they had a real choice. God called them to repentance and expected them to choose wisely, giving them the freedom to do so. But God’s people failed to choose wisely and found themselves under God’s ultimate judgment of exile. 

Likewise, in our psalm lesson, God condemned the rulers of his people for ruling unjustly as God called them to do. Instead of protecting the weakest and most helpless in society, Israel’s rulers had apparently ruled as the rest of the world’s rulers ruled. They took care of the rich and powerful while ignoring the needs of others. While God had given his human image-bearers the freedom and power to be stewards over creation, Israel’s rulers had failed to learn the ways of God and ruled instead in the darkness and evil of the world’s ways. This resulted in God’s judgment on them and their rule: exile and death. Once again the locus of control seems to be with the rulers. God had given them the free will and ability to choose wisely to rule on God’s behalf and they had failed to do so. Like God’s people Israel over whom they ruled, Israel’s rulers found themselves under God’s fierce and terrible judgment for failing to act faithfully as God’s image-bearing stewards.

Turning to our gospel lesson, the locus of control seems to remain with humans. In his parable about the good Samaritan, our Lord tells us unequivocally that we are to act like the true image-bearers that God created us to be. How do we do that? In part, by loving our neighbor, neighbor broadly and inconveniently defined to include anybody and everybody in need, enemies included. It won’t do to treat well just those we like and love. No, we are to treat all human beings well because all human beings are created in God’s image, even if some have worked really hard to destroy that image. But what happens to us when we don’t follow the good Samaritan’s example in our Lord’s parable? While Jesus didn’t explicitly tell us, the implication is that we too will fall under God’s judgment because we will have failed to act wisely (in the manner God expects). The locus of control still seems to be with us. We have a choice to do as Jesus tells us to do and many times we fail to act accordingly.

Now for those who do not believe in God or have any notion of Sin and its power to destroy, this is no big deal. They go blithely along without a clue or care in the world, at least about locus of control when it comes to acting rightly in the image of God, supremely modeled by our Lord Jesus Christ. But as Scripture makes clear, ignorance is no excuse; neither is it bliss in this context. Those who deny God or reject God’s commands for us to act rightly will still come under God’s judgment and this should bring us no joy because we too are in the same boat. God calls us to act justly and rightly and all too often we miss the mark, acting selfishly and myopically, pursuing our own broken desires and interests. This can cause us great anxiety, especially if we believe in God’s righteous-ness and justice. If God truly is good and right, how can God not judge our sinful behavior and us? God gave us free will to choose between right and wrong and expects us to choose the right, much like we as parents expect our kids to choose the right. So when we miss the mark, i.e., when we sin by failing to act as truly human beings God created us to be, the consequences fall on us because we have a choice and fail to choose wisely. Consequences follow.

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking as St. Paul pointed out in his letter to the Romans. While we do have free will and ostensible freedom to choose, ever since our first ancestors rebelled in the garden and got expelled from paradise, the human race has been held captive by an alien and hostile power better known as Sin. I am not talking about the misdeeds we do (our various sins). I am talking about Sin, that dark power that has enslaved us and greatly circumscribes our fee will. Don’t believe me? Check out Romans 7 for starters. How many times have you resolved to do the right thing, only to find yourself thwarted? For example, how are those new year’s resolutions you made in January coming along? Want to lose weight? No problem. Go on a diet. Want to break your addiction to porn? No problem. Just stop looking at it. Want to stop smoking? Just put down those cancer sticks. Right. Naiveté anyone? Because we have free will and the ability to choose wisely, because we are made in God’s image and therefore have God’s spiritual DNA, it should be no problem for us to do these things. We are blessed with locus of control! But the history of the human race since after the Fall tells a grimly different story. Father Bowser spoke of it two weeks ago when he talked about the “egoic mind,” our fallen nature. We all seem to have a bent toward sinning beyond our control that makes us behave and speak and think in ways that sometimes just baffle us. This is the power of Sin at work and it has enslaved all of us to one degree or another. 

Let me be crystal clear. I am not talking about a “devil made me do it” mentality. Nor am I absolving us of any responsibility for our actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I am suggesting is that the myth of unfettered free will and locus of control is just that—a myth. There are dark forces at work in our world that have enslaved us and cause us to work in some very ungodly ways at times, some more so than others, much to our chagrin. Even so, our behaviors fall under the judgment of God. We can’t and won’t be able to use Sin’s power over us as an excuse when we stand before God’s judgment throne and are required to give an account of our lives. 

So what’s the answer? So far, there’s been no Good News in what I have just said. If we are enslaved by an outside power that hates us and wants to see us destroyed, what to do? St. Paul has the answer for us in our epistle lesson. The Father, he tells us, “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1.14). St. Paul, of course, is talking about Christ’s death and resurrection. God knows we don’t have the power to break our slavery to Sin, desperately as we might want to be freed from its tyranny. And so God broke Sin’s power over us on the cross, bearing its full weight himself, so that we could be truly free to act as fully human beings who are created in the Father’s image. We will indeed have to give an account of our lives when we stand before God’s judgment seat, but we will hear the verdict of not guilty because we have put our whole hope and trust in Christ and the power of him crucified and resurrected. As St. Paul would write elsewhere, none of us are totally free of the vestiges of Sin’s power over us until we die (Romans 6.7), but as Christians, we have nothing to fear because we kneel in humility and repentance at the foot of the Cross, our only hope to escape God’s just and terrible judgment.

This great gift of unmerited grace must change us in the power of the Spirit. We don’t see the Cross as a “get out of jail free” card that allows us to keep living in a state of perpetual rebellion against our Creator and Father. No, when by God’s grace and power we begin to grasp the terrible cost and deep love the Father and the Son have shown us in Christ’s death and resurrection, it hits us like a ton of bricks how costly our sins and slavery to Sin’s power is to God the Father, and with what love he has acted to free us so that we no longer need to fear his just condemnation of our sins, irrespective of locus of control. 

And because we are given the Holy Spirit to help break and mitigate Sin’s power over us so that we truly can be free people in Christ (Galatians 5.1), we are given the power to live godly lives, not perfectly of course; for whatever reason we are not completely free of Sin’s power this side of the grave. To complicate things further, God’s power at work in our lives through the gospel is typically not spectacular or sexy. Sometimes we don’t even recognize it! The Father works in our lives through his Spirit in quite unremarkable ways, and this can sometimes trip us up because when we hear the term “power” we are conditioned to think shock and awe. But that’s not how the Spirit typically works. Listen to this example and pay careful attention to the dynamics in the story because in it we see the power of the gospel, i.e., the power of God, at work.

We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.

“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’

“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at self-control nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.

“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’

“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’

“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’

“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.

“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.

“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”

The Way of a Pilgrim

If you ever needed an example to illustrate St. Paul’s statement that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8.28), here you have it. Notice first how Christ works. He used human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his gospel. Notice how the monk abandoned his agenda (begging alms for the church), at least temporarily, to address a person’s needs that he perceived (good Samaritan, anyone?). We have to be ready to see others in pain if we ever hope to help them address it. Notice too the monk’s gentle persistence and the faith he had in the transformative power of the gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.

Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered in his quarters to read it. Was it really coincidence that the soldier found the gospels before he got to his drinking money? This is how God typically works to control the circumstances of our lives in a wise and loving way, but we have to pay attention to realize it!

Finally, mark how understanding occurred—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas, which sadly many try to do, especially today) through our persistent reading of his word. God doesn’t beat us over the head to make us learn (usually). Instead God uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. 

This is the power of God at work. This is the surprising power of the gospel. If we do not pay attention to these dynamics, we will likely miss seeing God’s providential work in our daily lives and become greatly impoverished in our ignorance. But when we start to look for God at work in our daily lives we will see his presence in the various circumstances and “chance” happening in our lives, which God will then use to develop a deep trust in his goodness and love for us, each and every day. That trust, in turn, can help see us through the darkest times of our lives. Without understanding and seeing how the power of God works, we are likely to fall victim to the old lie that God has abandoned us and doesn’t care about us, that God is not active in our world; we’re in it by ourselves, baby, and that is a terrifying prospect. Understanding how the power of God works is the best antidote to counter this cancerous thinking. For you see, the locus of control, despite our illusions and delusions and darkened thinking, has always been with God, and nothing in all creation, not Sin, not death, not our own folly nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

A Reminder Prayer for God’s People

Our Father, we have listened to your word, and loved it; we have found comfort and inspiration in song and psalter; we have enjoyed the companionship of those who, with kindred minds and hearts, have praised and worshiped you. Now help us understand that, as we leave this sacred House of God, we shall become your Church in the street.

—Anonymous

Fr. Carlo Carretto: The Church as Prophetic Voice

Always a much-needed reminder to God’s people in the Church catholic. How desperately we need our Lord’s power to be such.

An assembly where people do not love each other, where they accuse each other, where there is rancor or hatred, cannot call itself prophetic. A person who keeps silent about the truth, who hides the light, is not a prophet.

A people which kills, which deteriorates the quality of life, which suffocates the poor, which is not free, is not a prophetic people.

That is why it is not enough for just any assembly to call itself Church, just as it is not enough to be a bishop or a pope in order to possess prophecy.

A group of young people which meets for sports or outings with the “do everything” blessing of the up-to-date parish, another group which meets to camouflage some political position cannot be called Church, even if the sports are refereed by a famous devout layman and the social ideas are worked out by a priest.

To call itself Church, an assembly must mirror the first assembly that met in the Upper Room with Christ: an assembly of faith and grace, an assembly of love and Eucharist, an assembly of prayer and prophecy.

But it is not easy to prophesy; it is terribly costly. It has to be drawn from the silence of God, and there is need to swim against the stream, need to pray at length, need to be without fear.

—From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

Fr. John Jorden: We are Called

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3C, Sunday, July 7, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Our guest preacher today, Father Jorden, got writer’s cramp from Father Bowser so there is no written text for today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast of his fine sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Kings 5.1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6.1-16; Luke 10.1-11, 16-20.

Another Prayer for Independence Day 2019

Lord God Almighty,
you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory,
to serve you in freedom and in peace:
Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice
and the strength of forbearance,
that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and ever. Amen.

A Prayer for Independence Day 2019

Lord God Almighty,
in whose Name the founders of this country
won liberty for themselves and for us,
and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn:
Grant that we and all the people of this land
may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.

July 2019: The Power of the Gospel

We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.

“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’

“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at selfcontrol nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.

“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’

“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’

“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’

“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.

“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.

“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”

—The Way of a Pilgrim

What a wonderful story of the multifaceted ways in which Christ works in our lives! The issue here is alcoholism, but don’t restrict the lesson to that. Christ can heal any affliction if we let him. Notice first how Christ uses human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his Gospel. Notice how the monk abandoned his agenda (begging alms for the church), at least temporarily, to address a person’s needs that he perceived. We have to be ready to see others in pain if we ever hope to help them address it. Notice too the monk’s gentle persistence and the faith he has in the transformative power of the Gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.

Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the Gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered in his quarters to read it. Was it really coincidence that the soldier found the gospels before he got to his drinking money? This is how God typically works to control the circumstances of our lives in a wise and loving way, but we have to pay attention to realize it!

Finally, mark how understanding occurs—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas, which sadly many try to do, especially today) through our persistent reading of his word. God doesn’t beat us over the head to make us learn (usually). Instead he uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. Under normal circumstances it would have been best  if the soldier had read the gospels with others and learned how to interpret them from the tradition we have, but that didn’t happen in this case. No problem, though. God can use even less than ideal circumstances to break through to us, as the young solder discovered. That may not be sexy enough for some of us but it is much more effective over the long haul

If you are struggling with your faith, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this story and its lessons. Maybe you should even pick up the gospels and start to read them yourself. Here is indeed balm for your soul!

Fr. Santosh Madanu: God is Passing By You

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1C, Sunday, June 23, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 19.1-15a; Psalms 42-43; Galatians 3.23-29; Luke 8.26-39.

In this story we see the power of God, and how by a word He can cast out demons. We see the ultimate powerlessness of the demons. We see how fearful they are of our savior, and we see how incredibly evil they are toward man and even unto beasts. We also see something that should make us fear, so that we do not become like these people – we see the brutishness, the swinishness of unbelievers. It is amazing how these people reacted to a great miracle in their midst. And there is another lesson here, a terrible lesson, a necessary lesson in free will. God created us so that we would know Him, but He has not forced us to follow His commandments. Some choose to follow His commandments, and some choose to ask Him to leave. He will indeed leave those who ask Him to leave …

Now, why did he possess devils? This is a question that is very difficult to answer. Different people might have devils for different reasons. St. Mary Magdalene had seven devils.[i] This was not because of unrighteousness. In her case, the devil, who thinks he is so intelligent, was fooled, and he thought that she was to be the bearer of Christ, so he inhabited her, against her will with demons, in order to make her fall into fornication (she never did, by the way). And she suffered grievously from these demons. Our Lord cast these demons out of her, and she followed him till the end of her days.

Of course, the man’s voice was being used by the demons.  Demons enter into the body and mind of God’s children. And use God’s children for the destruction and death. We can overcome the evil temptations with the prayer and God’s mighty touch.  God makes us whole as we obey Him.

Demons know that they will be cast into the abyss. They know that they will be tormented, and they ARE NOT GOING TO CHANGE. That is where their fear comes in. In the midst of their impudence, they are terrified, because they see the God-man standing before them.

Some people are also like the demons. They KNOW Who He is, and they know something of the commandments of God, BUT THEY DON’T WANT TO CHANGE. Because of this, they are afraid. This is not the fear of God that brings forth wisdom [ii], but the fear of a man who does wrong and does not want to change.

“Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear:”[iii]

Tragic! Absolutely tragic! They had the God-man among them, and He had showed them what was wrong with their life, in a quite gentle way, and they wanted nothing of Him. They did not want Him around. 

Evil hates the light. Evil does not want to be around the light, partly because it does not understand it. St. John talks about this: “In him”, that is, in Christ, “was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”[iv] There are those who just don’t understand, and I tell you, most people who do not understand do not WANT to understand, because if you understand, you must go to the next step, and you must ACT IN ACCORDANCE WITH YOUR UNDERSTANDING! People don’t want to do that. Even people who call themselves Christians don’t want to do that. And all of us, to some extent, in some way, try to cover up knowledge, so we don’t have to act in accordance with that knowledge.

This is part of the reason why confession is so important. It is so easy to hide within ourselves our sins, but it is much more difficult when we are required to tell them to someone else, especially if that person questions, and asks, and even challenges. At least, if we have enough shame so that we will not tell lies then, God will show us what is truly wrong with us.

It also says about those who do and do not want to follow Christ,

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”[v]  

There is no hiding from the knowledge of God. You can delay it for some period of time, but eventually, all things will be made known [vi], all things will be made manifest. All sins will be made known, and those sins that have been unconfessed, those sins that have been hidden and hoarded will cause great pain, and will gnaw at us in the next life if we do not repent.

He offered them salvation, and they denied Him. So He said, “All right, I will leave’. And God will leave, and the Holy Spirit will leave from us, when we do not prepare a place for Him, and repent of our sins, so as to keep that place clean, and garnished. If you don’t want Him, He will leave.

The Work of Salvation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had as its final goal to free man from the bondage and the tyranny of the evil one, Satan. With man’s fall into sin, day after day, year after year, he was drifting far away from God, falling more and more into the traps of the enemy. Mankind became enslaved to the devil. The peak of this tyranny is achieved, when man is possessed by evil spirits.

When the evil spirit possesses man’s soul, then it rules over both his soul and body, in other words man’s whole existence. Man acts whatever Satan tells him to do, without having understanding of what he says or does. Man’s soul and conscience are paralyzed by the evil forces and are unable to react against them. Man lives the greatest misery of his existence.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for the love towards man, came to free him. He came to meet with every man. He came to discuss with us and to guide us back to God the Father.

So this man, who was cured of demons, had to embark upon the life of virtue now. Now that he had removed from him this impediment that made it so difficult for his to believe and to act virtuously, he OWED Christ obedience, and he gave it freely, as we can see in the Gospel. He desired very greatly to follow Him, but our Lord, for reasons known only to Him,  refused him, and asked  him to be an apostle in that area by proclaiming what great  things God had done for him.

Every man, who lives far away from Christ, lives in the dessert of sin, of slavery, under Satan’s tyranny. Far away from Christ, as much as we may be proud of ourselves, there can be no true freedom. Man is tied with chains and the bondage of sinful passions. Man, who lives in sin, deprives himself from the Life-giving Grace of the Holy Spirit. Life, which is far away from Christ, is barren of virtuous and the man’s spirit is fruitless. A certain person was sharing his life experience.  As a young adult got good job as an engineer and had very good amount money.  He was enjoying his life with his girlfriend without any commitment and when she told him that she was pregnant and he decided to abort the baby. But his conscious was hunting him that he committed sin. But latter in his life when he decided to fear God, he married his girlfriend and tried to live good life accepting Jesus as the Lord and savior. He says “without Jesus and His teaching for any one’s life sure to fall in sin.  Therefore without any delay accept Jesus to be your Lord and God.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in today’s Holy Gospel assured us saying, that every tree which does not bear fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire, because it is useless and not profitable. He also assured us that, if we want to bear fruit, we must be united with Him, for only then one bears many fruit, if he remains with Him. For without Christ we cannot achieve anything.

At this point we must speak about the great deception of many Christians, who created a false image of themselves and they live within a false belief, believing, that they could be “good Christians” without living the life of Christ, without Church attendance, without Holy Confession and Repentance, without Holy Communion, without the blessing of their marriage. They create a false image of themselves, which satisfies only their egocentric and egoistic personality. And though they boast about themselves, they are deprived essentially from every virtue.

Man, who does not follow Christ, His Holy Church, and does not participate in the Holy Sacraments of God, lives in the hell of guilt, anxiousness and is always troubled,. Therefore, we see men, who are enslaved to sin, to want to find some kind of deliverance from the tyranny of their conscience. They find refuge at night clubs or the casino believing that they will forget or will not hear the voice of their conscience, which cries out to them, that: “This is not the way and purpose of our life”!

The man who has not met with Christ, in order to ask for his healing from the spiritual illnesses, is like today’s demon possessed man, who, before being healed by the Savior Christ, was completely in the hands of the demons. How many fellow men, how many of us, how many of our relatives or friends, how many of our children are still under the tyranny of evil spirits and are enslaved in sinful passions of the flesh, bound by hatred, pride, unmerciful, greed and so many other passions? How many young people are overcome by the spirit of disobedience and contradiction to their parents, not respecting their own families and social surroundings?

The man who avoids meeting with Christ is like the cemetery which is decorated with beautiful tombs, but is empty and deprived from life. On the contrary, the man who meets with Christ is freed from the catastrophic influence of sin. The bonds of passions are crushed. The tyranny of the demons is abolished and man is healed by God’s Love within His Holy Church and through the Divine Grace of the Holy Spirit, which is freely offered through the participation of the Holy Sacraments. The man in Christ finds himself. He comes to reasoning and becomes a new man, a new creation. The sinful man is transfigured into a holy man, fulfilling God’s Plan for man, to become in His “likeness”.

When man of the 21st century meets with Christ, speaks and relates with Him, then he departs from the desert of sin, he becomes free from the bondage of hatred and discovers his spiritual peace and calmness. The Lord has taught us saying: “Learn from me, that I am meek and humble in heart and you will find peace in your souls”.

I would like to reflect the scripture that we heard today from the book of 1st kings where prophet Elijah proved that God- Yahweh is true Living Almighty God by calling Fire from heaven on his alter and killed all the false prophets at mount Carmel and priests.  This is the calling we all need to desire for.  I personally praying earnestly God to bless me with the grace to prove to the world that Jesus is only true Lord and God. Prophet Elijah had to run for life because of wicked queen Jezebel who wishes to kill him. You know how God protected prophet and took care of his food!  He was given food by an angel then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights.  See the amazing words of prophet he says “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the Lord, the God of hosts.  We need to have this kind of character being zealous for the Lord God whole heartedly. The heart’s desire can testify to the world that God the Yahweh is the creator of the universe.  Another important reflection from today’s scripture is that an angel telling the prophet to out and stand on the mountain of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. God is passing by like gentle whispering breeze.

Dear friends, do you realize what happened in the gospel today? When Jesus was passing by their town casting out the demons, though they saw miracle yet they asked Jesus to leave their town. Jesus is passing by through many good people, sometime in the form of poor and the sick.  Let us recognize Jesus in them and extend our love.

St. Paul to Galatians we heard “we are justified by faith.” So friends, never to lose our faith even in the times of temptations and trails.  I personally experienced the Lord’s touch of healing, protection, his strength and grace to me. You will experience incredible things happen once you have Faith in Jesus Christ.

May the Lord Jesus increase our Faith. Amen.

A Prayer for Fathers’ Day 2019

Heavenly Father,
you entrusted your Son Jesus,
the child of Mary,
to the care of Joseph, an earthly father.
Bless all fathers
as they care for their families.
Give them strength and wisdom,
tenderness and patience;
support them in the work they have to do,
protecting those who look to them,
as we look to you for love and salvation,
through Jesus Christ our rock and defender.
Amen.

Fathers’ Day 2019: Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad

My dad has been dead now for 15 years. In some ways it seems like an eternity, that he was never here, but thankfully I know that’s not true. I still miss my dad as much as I did the day he died but I am really happy for him because I know where he is. I know he is healed from all that bedeviled him in the last years of his life. I know he is reunited with mom and the rest of his family. I know they are enjoying their rest in the Lord and are safely in his care. How could I be anything but glad for him?

My dad continues to influence me in a thousand different ways. He’s instilled in me a sense of responsibility for my family. He instilled in me a love for life and made me understand the importance of being a responsible and good community member. He also taught me a thing or two about honoring my family name, although I have not always done a very good job with that.

I have his fierce streak of independence in me in ways that I am only now beginning to understand. Dad owned his own business and because it never grew very big, he struggled financially. But I know he wouldn’t have traded it in for anything in the world. He loved being his own boss and contributing to the growth of his community in that capacity. In fact, he was voted as outstanding young businessman by the JCs shortly after he returned home from the Army. Maybe that is one of the reasons I enjoy being the rector at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church.

I am proud of my dad for serving his country during WWII. He loved his country, but never blindly. He kept a balanced perspective on life and loved to be with his friends, especially mom’s and his dear friends, the Terrys.

I am proud of my dad for the courage and grace he displayed throughout his life, especially in the last years when his body slowly robbed him of his mobility. I know that had to be hard for him, very hard. But he never complained, never lost his good spirit or sense of optimism. Dad always believed things would work out for the best and he lived that belief right up to the day he died.

Dad also taught me to persevere, to never tuck my tail and run. That has helped me in many ways over my life because perseverance can indicate a belief in our ability to get the job done, even if we need a little help from our friends on occasion.

Our home was always stable and I could always count on a sense of regularity and familiarity. I knew when to expect him home. I knew when he would be at work. I didn’t have to worry about him running around or being reckless with our family’s resources. This familiarity did not breed a sense of contempt. Instead, it fostered a sense of security and stability.

Like my grandpa Maney did with him when he was a boy, my dad took me to a ball game every year, starting when I was 5 years old, and that string continued unbroken until the last year of his life when he could no longer get to the ballpark. We would usually go to Cincinnati, but during the baseball strike in the early 1980’s we went to watch the Toledo Mudhens game so that our streak would not be broken. He would let me invite a buddy to come with me and I am sure we drove him nuts on more than one occasion. But he never complained, never got angry with me or my invited friend.

Dad also played catch with me on a regular basis when I was a kid. Hit me in the mouth with pitched balls on more than a few occasions (well, maybe I just missed the pitched balls, which then hit me in the mouth—but I like my story better).

Another fond memory I have of dad is when he took me to Canada to go fishing a couple of times. Neither one of us were great outdoorsmen but we survived somehow and got along just fine.

I worked for my dad at his shoe store and he was a tough boss. He always told me that working for your dad was the worst thing you could do because dads expected more out of their kids than out of their regular employees—and he practiced what he preached. But in hindsight that was a good thing for me because it taught me to do my best.

I could go on and on but I’ll stop here and just enjoy some more fond memories of my papa.

I hope that some day, God willing, I can be the man my father was. I’m almost 66 now and I’m not there yet, not even close. But even if I don’t reach the goal, I am thankful that God blessed me with my dad for almost 51 years. Thank you, God, for blessing me with my father, John Fox Maney. Thank you dad, for being the Father you were to me. Happy Fathers’ Day, Bear. I love you.

The Trinity: Comprehending the Incomprehensible

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 16, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Play the video before you read or listen to the sermon.

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5.1-5; John 16.12-15.

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

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the day when we focus on the triune nature of God, i.e., God in three persons. But as our video pointed out, this is no easy task for mere mortals, especially for someone with a peabrain like mine, and I will leave it to the Great Thinkers, the Church Fathers and Doctors, to explain the nature of the Trinity. For Small Thinkers like me, I have found it helpful to understand our triune God by looking at how God has chosen to reveal himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we look at each, we must always remember that while we are talking about three different persons, we are also talking about One indivisible God. Clear as mud? Wonderful. We’re off to a good start.

Before we look at how God has chosen to reveal himself to us, let us keep in mind that while there is no formal doctrine of the Trinity articulated in the NT, a formal doctrine would eventually have to be formulated by the Church based on the writings of St. Paul and others. Take, for instance, these introductory verses found in his first letter to the Thessalonians:

This letter is from Paul, Silas, and Timothy. We are writing to the church in Thessalonica, to you who belong to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May God give you grace and peace. We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true (1 Thessalonians 1.1-5a, NLT).

Notice carefully how St. Paul describes the nature and work of God in three persons. He speaks of the Father’s great love for us made known in and through the work of the Son, mediated by the work and power of the Holy Spirit. So let us not fall for the baloney that the doctrine of the Trinity was some unnecessary and overly-complicated human invention. It’s not. It comes directly from God, who chooses to reveal himself to us as such.

Especially appropriate for Father’s Day we begin with God the Father, the ultimate Progenitor, Creator of all that is and Source of all life. As Genesis 1-2 tell us, God created the heavens and earth, himself existing from all eternity (try wrapping your mind around that little nugget!). Genesis tells us that God created this vast cosmos out of nothing, giving us a glimpse of God’s awesome power. As St. Paul would tell the Romans, we worship a God who creates new things out of nothing and who raises the dead (Romans 4.17). So we can have confidence in God to accomplish his purposes. Because God is good, God created all things good and then enigmatically created humans in his image to bring God’s goodness and wisdom to bear to run God’s creation on God’s behalf (Gen 1.26-28; Ps 8). As Genesis 1-2 also tell us, before our first ancestors rebelled against God, they lived in perfect communion with God the Father, obeying his creative intentions (bearing his image faithfully) and enjoying the perfect health, peace, and happiness that accompanies perfect communion with the Father. This poignant picture of the Father communing with his human image-bearers reminds us that God created us to share in his glory and to enjoy perfect happiness, health, and freedom, the kind that comes only in obeying God’s good and creative intentions for us. If you are interested at all in obeying the general will of God the Father, pay attention to the creation narratives.

But if we are going to have any kind of relationship with God the Father, we have to know more about him than his creative work. We have to have some idea of the Father’s nature as well. Is God really lovable? Is he worthy of our first loyalty and ultimate obedience? Before the Fall, our first human ancestors instinctively and consciously knew the answers to these questions because they enjoyed perfect communion with their Father, and God chose to reveal himself to them in ways they could comprehend. After the Fall, this knowledge was lost (Gen 3.8-10) and as a result, the power of Evil and Sin ushered in madness, Death, alienation, and chaos into God’s good world, corrupting it and causing God to curse it and us. Why the curse? Was it because God just doesn’t know how to have a good time? Is it because the Father is a divine child abuser as some have arrogantly charged (a charge so ludicrous that it illustrates unhappily how our sin-caused alienation from God has caused us to no longer know God our Father)? Certainly not! God cursed his good creation and creatures because God can tolerate no evil or injustice in his world, and that is ultimately for our good. As we shall see, if we hope to spend an eternity in the Father’s direct presence, who wants to be bedeviled by the Evil, folly, chaos, madness, and alienation we experience in our fallen state?

But if we only look at God’s justice, we miss huge parts of God’s nature. For despite our attempts to usurp God’s power and our ongoing hostility and rebellion against God, the heart of the Father beats love for his wayward children. Hear what Scripture has to say about the love of God: Saint John tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16), and that anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love (1 John 4.8). The psalmist characterizes the Father as “merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation” (Ps. 145.7-8). Jesus tells us likewise when he tells us to imitate the Father by loving our enemies as well as our friends (Matthew 5.43-48). Elsewhere, the psalmist declares how precious the Father’s love for us is because God saves both humans and animals, providing us with much-needed shelter from the storms of life (Ps 36.6b-7). 

Scripture also declares God’s patient, steadfast love for us, despite our ongoing rebellion. As you listen to these gracious words, imagine your heavenly Father speaking them to you and take heart.

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will gather you and your children from east and west. I will say to the north and south, ‘Bring my sons and daughters back to Israel from the distant corners of the earth. Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them’” (Isaiah 43.1-7, NLT)

My people are bent on turning away from me. To the Most High they call, but he does not raise them up at all. How can I give you up? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like [my enemies]? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy [Israel]; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath (Hosea 11.7-9).

Do you hear the tenderness and compassion in these verses? Israel had indeed been intent on running away from their God, but the Father’s generous heart would not give up on his wayward children. This is the love and compassion and mercy and tenderness we give up when we thumb our noses at God and refuse his gracious overtures. This is what causes us to live in darkness and chaos, feeling alone and afraid. This is the cost of human sin and rebellion against God the Father.

But as these OT passages attest, God is not put off so easily because God the Father is good and faithful, even in the face of our unfaithfulness as St. Paul wrote to Timothy (2 Tim 2.13). And so at just the right time, God the Father took on our human flesh (or in NT parlance, the Father sent the Son) to free us from our slavery to Sin and Death and to establish the basis for restoring God’s good creation gone bad. St. Paul summarizes it best in his letter to the Galatians. Pay careful attention to the trinitarian nature of this passage and the role of each:

But when the right time came, God sent his Son [God became human], born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir (Galatians 4.4-7, NLT).

Why did the Father do this? Because he desires life and goodness and health, not death and destruction and chaos. And so the Father’s love for us was and is made known supremely in Jesus, the Son of God. The coeternal Son who existed with God from all eternity (Jn 1.1-5) took on our flesh to destroy Sin’s power over us and to bear the Father’s just wrath on our sins to spare us and make us fit to stand in God’s direct presence forever (Rom 5.6-11, 8.1-4; Rev 7.9-17). All who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to be a sacrifice for our sins, and who was raised by God from the dead, are washed clean by his blood shed for us on the cross. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson this morning, this was an act of pure grace on the Father’s part. None of us deserve this mercy because before Christ’s Incarnation, we were still God’s enemies. But those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and only those who believe Jesus is the Son of God, are no longer God’s enemies. Instead, we are God’s children (Jn 1.12) and therefore we have a future hope and inheritance: God’s new world, the new heavens and earth. In Christ, we see the very heart and face of the Father healing the sick, casting out the demonic, and defeating Evil and the powers behind it. And because of the resurrection, those of us who are united to Christ by faith are promised a share in God’s new world. As St. Paul reminds us in Rom 6.3-5, those who have a relationship with Christ, i.e., who are in Christ, share in both Christ’s death and resurrection (and if we love God and others as he loves us we definitely are “in Christ”). I don’t have time to develop this today. Suffice it to say that St. Paul proclaims to us that eternal life, bodily life in God’s new world where we live directly in God’s presence, unlike we do right now, is our destiny (1 Cor 15), i.e., we are resurrection peeps. Christ’s resurrection also validates the unlikely claim by the NT writers that on the cross God defeated the dark powers (Col. 2.13-15) who have invaded his world and corrupted it, wreaking havoc and pain and misery and suffering on anyone and everyone. If you do not see the Father’s love for you made known in the Son’s work and love, you are truly to be most pitied.

God the Father makes all this known in and through the power of his Holy Spirit, who reveals God’s truth to us, makes Christ known and present to us, and equips us to live like the truly human image-bearers God created and wants us to be. In other words, he makes us living stones in God’s new Temple built on Christ (1 Peter 2.1-6). Without the Spirit, we cannot possibly know God or Christ. We cannot possibly know the Truth. We cannot possibly love or forgive or be gracious or merciful or kind or compassionate. As our Creed proclaims, he is the Lord, the giver of life. Even when you hear lousy sermons on the Trinity like this one, the Holy Spirit will overcome and make God in three persons known to you. He makes your prayers efficacious and gives you power to serve and be humble, to be genuine people of God. There’s much more, but I’m out of time.

So why should knowing God in three persons matter to us? Just this. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have overcome our sin and rebellion, restoring us as truly human image-bearers of our Father. If you want to live life with meaning, purpose, and power, the only way you can do that is to know and worship our triune God because this is the real God, not some false or incomplete imitation of the Real Deal. This one God wants to heal us and equip us to be real children who bring to bear God’s love and goodness to his broken and hurting creation. How can we do that if we don’t know the Father’s love made known supremely through the Son and imparted to us in and through the Spirit? If you seek wholeness and healing and blessing in the midst of a chaotic world, if you seek to love as you have been loved, if you seek real comfort for your grief, if you are aware of the Father’s great love for you despite your sins and rebellion, you are already in his loving grasp. We cannot imitate him who we do not know and we come to know our triune God through prayer, Scripture, the Eucharist, tradition, and fellowship, all in and through the power of the Spirit. Most of all, we know we worship the real God if we are resurrection peeps who claim for our own the promise of Christ’s resurrection because only in his resurrection will we know completely the love, mercy, kindness, and justice of God to heal us and make us entirely whole again. Of course we’ll schlep along in this mortal life and get it wrong at times. Many of us will get it wrong more than we’ll get it right. But despite this, we don’t lose hope. Because we know God our Father, we dare believe in his great promises to heal, redeem, and restore us, promises validated in the Son of God’s death and resurrection. We know it because we are God’s people who have the Holy Spirit living in us. Let us therefore live as people with power and hope and love, with charity and great grace, daring to allow the Father to make himself known in and through us by faithfully imitating Jesus the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Trinity, not only today but every day, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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