Thanksgiving 2021: A Thanksgiving Litany

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so freely bestowed upon us.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women, revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;
To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving 2021

Mom basting the turkey at Thanksgiving

I wish you a happy Thanksgiving today. Please take a few moments and stop to give praise and thanks to God for his bountiful blessings to us as individuals and as a nation.

Among others, I am thankful for God’s gift of himself to us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and for his promise to rescue his good but corrupted creation.

I am thankful for my family and friends, past and present, and for a childhood that was second to none. I am thankful for my family of origin and for the many wonderful memories I have of Thanksgiving growing up in Van Wert. What a blessing it was to have two wonderful parents and my extended family all living in the same town.

What are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving 2021: President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Thank you, Mr. President.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

Read the whole thing and give thanks for the country in which we live, warts and all.

Christ the King

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday B, November 21 , 2021 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: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1.4-8; St. John 18.33-37.

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

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a feast relatively new to the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism of his day. How appropriate for our day as well, even if it is misplaced on our calendar. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and as its name implies, today is a day when we culminate the season of Kingdomtide where we proclaim Christ as King, Messiah, and Lord of all God’s creation. I’m going to cut right to the chase. Do you believe any of this? If not, here’s why you can.

We start by acknowledging that God’s world is occupied by an alien, malevolent power—Satan and his minions, both human and spiritual. Why God has allowed this, no one can say nor should we spend much time on the question because the answer is not ours to know, at least in this mortal life. What is important for our discussion is that the ubiquitous presence of Evil in this world has caused many, Christians included, to not believe Christ is really king. What kind of king allows Evil to be so awfully present? And frankly, that is just what the dark powers want us to believe! When we see evil run apparently unchecked (the key word being apparently) and have doubts about Christ’s ability to rule over his creation, despite the NT declarations that he does reign as king (e.g., Col 1.15-19, Christ’s ascension or any of his exorcisms), the dark powers celebrate because doubt seeds despair and unbelief and can lead to the abandonment of the faith once delivered to the saints, to you and me, made saints by virtue of the blood of the Lamb shed for us. 

However, the mere existence of Evil cannot fully explain why many of us fail to believe Christ is really king. Part of it involves human pride. We think we know better than God. We forget that we are finite, fragile, and mortal, prone to erroneous thinking and sinful behavior. We forget that God is omnipotent, eternal, and omniscient, that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. To one extent or another we are all products of “enlightened thinking,” an oxymoron if there ever was one, where we limit reality to what our senses can perceive and what we can measure. This creates in us a skepticism about some of the things we read in the Bible, like today’s OT passage, e.g., or Christ’s healings and exorcisms. The Enlightenment, for all the good it has produced, has also produced the Holocaust, Communism, two disastrous world wars, and the woke lunacy that is attempting to impose itself on us today to name just a few. The Enlightenment reveals human pride at work, determined to use one of God’s gifts, reason, to replace superstition and religion, the two sources most enlightened thinkers believed (and still believe) were/are the cause of all the evils of the world. Of course this is utter nonsense and we can see the results of thinking that excludes God from the equation all around us. Contrary to popular belief, when humans actually take God seriously and act according to God’s holy ways and laws, the results are always positive. 

Whatever the reason for our doubts and fears about God’s sovereignty—and let’s be clear, Kingdomtide season is all about God’s sovereignty—as all our lessons this morning testify, lessons that represent the whole of Scripture, Christ really is king and we can live confidently in that knowledge and reality. We must therefore learn what to look for concerning the signs of God’s rule in his world. In our OT lesson, Daniel shares the vision given to to him in response to the previous visions he received. In it we see the Ancient of Days, the Ancient One, God himself, preparing to judge the evil in his world as well as the powers behind it, both human and spiritual. The vivid imagery suggests purity and power, with God’s fiery judgment on all evil and those who perpetrate it. We humans need to be exposed to scenes like this, hidden from our senses, because they remind us God is in control of things, chaotic as our times and lives may be, mysterious as it all is to us. 

And then we see the Son of Man, who interpreted through the lens of the NT is Christ himself, coming on the clouds—biblical language attributing God’s presence and power to him—ready to be God’s agent of justice and judgment. This scene should make sense to us because until the time evil and evildoers are judged, there can be no real peace, no perfect world. Like the blood of righteous Abel, the blood of the martyrs and those murdered and killed unjustly will continue to cry out to God until God finally acts decisively to give them full justice. As Christians, we believe that day will come when Christ returns to finish his saving work and raise his saints to everlasting life. We may not like the fact that we have to wait for this day. Being children of instant gratification we may grow impatient and angry over Christ’s promised delayed gratification, but the fact remains that this promise and hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come—are necessary if we are to thrive in this mortal life where we live in the already of God’s victory over Sin, Death, and Evil and the not yet of its consummation. As St. John the Elder reminds us in our epistle lesson, the blood of the Lamb has conquered Evil in a surprising and totally unexpected way. God’s victory is accomplished by the power of God himself, the only power strong enough to defeat Evil and Sin and Death.

In our gospel lesson, St. John the Evangelist also proclaims that Christ is God become human, that by going to the cross he will fulfill the prophecy and promise of Daniel that God will bring about God’s perfect justice to rid the world of all evil and evildoers. St. John proclaims this in part by telling us the story of Christ’s confrontation with Pilate, i.e., in telling us the story of God’s kingdom and justice confronting worldly power and justice. In this confrontation, St. John in effect proclaims that here is the Son of Man, coming on the clouds, i.e., coming in God’s power, to confront and deal with the evil and corruption of the world’s systems and beliefs. In this deeply ironic story, we see Pilate, who represents corrupt human notions of power and justice, mistakenly thinking that he is in charge and judging Christ as a political enemy when in fact it is Christ who is judging him—by going to the cross. For St. John, the cross is where Christ is crowned King and his kingdom’s rule begins. Again, in a deeply ironic moment, Christ’s crown consists not of gold but of thorns and most who are confronted by the story fail to understand this reality.

Notice carefully that Christ does not tell Pilate his kingdom is not of this world, but rather not from it, meaning the source of his power and authority emanate from God’s power and not human’s. Our Savior’s prayer that appeals for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven makes little sense if Christ’s kingdom is some kind of spiritual kingdom rather than God’s power finally reasserting itself to heal a broken and corrupt world and its people. Pilate, ever caustic and cynical doesn’t get this. Neither do many of us in our cynicism. But our Lord tells him (and us) that he had come to testify to the truth, the truth being that God will not allow alien and hostile forces represented by Satan and his minions, Pilate among them, to go on causing havoc and pain and destruction and injustice and death forever. God in his loving goodness can never ultimately allow Evil to win the day as our OT lesson testifies. Pilate, of course, has no conception of truth because he retorted with the famous question, “What is truth?” Here we see St. John testifying that truth is not of our making. Pilate in his cynicism, a cynicism that is increasingly popular today, cannot fathom this. Truth in his economy is something each of us holds. It is ours for the making so to speak. Not so, says Christ. Only God is the owner of truth and that truth never changes or varies. We can’t bend it or invent it according to our needs and whims. But only by Christ dying for us would the world have the chance to learn this truth and start to live by it. This in part is what it means to submit to Christ’s rule. Because we do not like the truth does not give us the license to change it. We are to obey God’s truth in how we live our lives and that means we are to pattern our lives after Christ. What is truth? God’s great love for sinners like you and me, a love so great that God was willing to become human and shed his blood to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and to conquer Evil by the self-giving power of love. And in so conquering Sin, Death, and Evil, God has pronounced judgment on it all and those who commit and perpetrate it. Evildoers may seem to win the day, but their victory is pyrrhic and short-lived. Their day of destruction and judgment is coming and what a terrible day that will be. That is the truth. If you believe it, you will treat it like the eternal treasure it is and live accordingly.

So what does that look like? What does that mean for you and me? First, when we realize that Christ is our crucified king who has defeated and judged Evil by taking it on himself, we have reason to believe the NT’s promise that on the day of his return, his cruciform victory will be consummated and we will finally be freed from all that has the power to harm and destroy us, including and especially the power of Death. And when we learn to recognize what Christ’s reign looks like, we learn to have confidence in its truth and reality. That means we have real hope for the present and future. No matter how bad things get for us, we persevere in the power of the Spirit as we await the final redemption of our body and soul. Hope is a great blessing, my beloved. Don’t ever abandon it, especially when its source is God himself.

Second, our lessons invite us to learn and live by the truth, not the fiction of our own making, but God’s truth. As we have seen, despite appearances to the contrary, the truth is that God calls us to live according to his laws and created order and when we refuse to do so, we can expect God’s judgment. I will have much more to say about this topic in two weeks, but for right now I would simply point out that God’s judgment always leads to God’s justice and is motivated by God’s love for us. God created us in his image to represent his presence in the world. When we do that, things go swimmingly well for us and we find wholeness and contentment, despite the corrupting influence of living in an evil-infested world. As followers of Christ this means that we choose not to be partakers in evil and to confront evil with love and good after the manner of our Lord Jesus, even when it appears that our efforts are defeated or go for nothing. Let me give you a quick example of what this looks like in real life. Recently the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, confronted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her support for abortion. Unlike the powers of the world who use vitriol and anger and all the rest, the Archbishop instead called for prayer and fasting on behalf of Speaker Pelosi, asking God to convert her “maternal heart” away from supporting abortion. ++Cordileone also asked Catholic Christians to sign up for a “Rose and Rosary for Nancy,” where a rose would be sent to the Speaker for every Christian who signed up. As of Nov 15, 15,728 roses had been purchased, one of which were mine, and 1000 have been delivered, God be praised! This is how Christ the King’s reign works. In marked contrast to the nasty political business and name-calling (business as usual), we see God’s people praying for the repentance of one who denies the truth and supports murder. There was no name calling, just prayer and fasting and roses. Whether the Speaker repents is not the issue here. Rather, it is God’s people in Christ, working in loving obedience to him and appealing to his power to change hearts, minds, and lives. It is born out of a deep faith in the reality and efficacy of that power to conquer Sin and Evil and it confronts an unholy reality in a way that the person might actually be able to hear it without condemning her because we know that judgment is ultimately left to God and God alone. The world does not expect this and cannot recognize God’s power at work (one critic called the Archbishop “nutty,” for example). Therefore the world has misplaced or no hope, a terrible judgment in its own right. Not so with us. We have seen our crucified and risen Lord and we know his healing love and presence. On his behalf we dare to love each other enough despite our differences to support each other in our trials, tribulations, and suffering because we know that our trials are only temporary and the hope of glory, the new heavens and earth where we live in God’s direct presence forever, await us. And in doing so, we make known his love and presence among us. There is nothing better in all creation. This is why we can believe in Christ the King and his reign despite all the ambiguities, unanswered questions, and chaos that swirl around us. My beloved, I appeal to you to give (or continue to give) your lives and ultimate allegiance to Christ the King because in him, and only in him, will you find the strength and power for the living of your days and the blessed hope of eternal life awaiting you after you have finished running your race. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Hope for Living in a World Gone Mad

Sermon delivered on the 2nd Sunday before Advent B, November 14, 2021 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: Daniel 12.1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10.11-25; St. Mark 13.1-8.

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

Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Kingdomtide, the period of time in November between All-Saints’ Sunday and Advent Sunday. The focus of Kingdomtide is, well, on the coming Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven with King Jesus ruling God’s creation unmistakably and unambiguously. Kingdomtide is a pre-Advent season of sorts. Advent, you recall, is the season of four Sundays leading up to Christmas, with its focus on the return of our Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory to raise the dead and renew all things in heaven and earth. Why is this important? Because Christians, at least many in the West, have lost their hope in Christ, and without hope we inevitably shrivel up and die. Hope is an especially important sign of God’s graciousness for us to embrace these days as we watch our society become increasingly unraveled and our lessons this morning point us to the exact nature of our hope in Christ. This is what I want us to look at. 

Any reasonable, informed person who takes even a superficial look at the events swirling around us today would conclude that Western civilization is under attack in various ways. Many of us find empty shelves in stores at which we regularly shop, a product of supply-chain and related issues. This is a strange new innovation that flies in the face of abundance most Americans are used to and there seems to be no quick resolution to the problem. COVID is still an awful reality with which we must deal, made worse by its politicization by all sides. We seem to hate each other more, with various forms of shaming and condemnation being the order of the day. Inflation is running rampant and we can’t seem to find enough workers. Family and traditional sexual values and mores are under relentless attack and the problem of indoctrination in public and private schools is a very real thing. Many of our cities continue to burn and are becoming increasingly lawless. These are but a few examples of the bad news and chaos that bombard us relentlessly, all made more intense by social media, themselves a window into the ugliness of the human condition. Then, of course, there are the personal and private burdens each of us bear: sickness, loss, alienation, mind-boggling rapid change in our lives and routines, isolation, and loneliness to name just a few. All of this (and more) can lead us to despair and hopelessness. We look around for some respite, but find precious little that brings hope and comfort. For us geezers out there (you know who you are), this is not the country in which we grew up, for better or worse, and it makes us afraid.

And what is our response? Despite the fact that we call ourselves “Christian,” many of us scramble to find any solution other than Christ to help calm us. We put our hope and trust in a political party. We put our hope and trust in our bank accounts and wealth. We put our hope and trust in a certain ideology. We try to amass power to exert some control over the chaos in and around our lives. Many of us become increasingly isolated, living almost a hermit’s existence. Regardless of our strategies and attempts to mitigate the chaos and uncertainty swirling around us and in our personal lives, they all have this in common: Every one will inevitably fail because they are based on human solutions, not God’s power. Try as we might to be the master of our own destiny, itself a product of delusional thinking, all our efforts to control our lives and the chaos in them are bound to fail. 

And so I ask you this this morning, my beloved. Is Christ your bedrock foundation on which you stand? Do you see him and the promise of salvation in and through him as your only real hope to navigate through these tumultuous times? If Christ is your bedrock foundation, you already know that what I am about to say is true. If he is not, then why isn’t he? After all, you profess him as Lord! Part of the answer is that the Church over the last 100 years or so has lost her bold voice in living and proclaiming Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead. I don’t have time to explore why that happened other than to say that parts of Christ’s Church have stopped believing her own story! Perhaps it is too fantastic for our “sophisticated” thinking. Whatever the reason, when we take the truth and reality of Christ’s resurrection out of the picture and stop teaching and proclaiming it, no one should be surprised that many Christians in the West refuse to stake their very lives on its reality. Simply put, the Church has lost her cred. Why should we expect outsiders to believe our story when many of us don’t even believe it, let alone stake our lives and future on it?

Another part of the answer also rests with us as fallen human beings. Since being expelled from paradise and losing our perfect communion with God, a communion that resulted in perfect health and happiness, humans have sought our own solutions to the problems we have largely created ourselves. We do this because from almost the very beginning, we have desired to take God’s place and pretend that God doesn’t exist. None of this will produce real hope for the future because it is all a sham and a delusion and deep down we know it, even if we refuse to admit it.

But for those of us who take our story seriously, we can find real hope for the present and future because our hope and trust is centered on God’s power, a God who loves us and desires for us to be and act as the image-bearers he created us to be. We see it in all of our lessons this morning. In both our OT and gospel lessons, we are reminded that history is going somewhere, that despite the chaos and madness that swirl around and in us, God the Father is still firmly in control. Daniel and St. Mark describe this chaos as the time of anguish and the birth pangs respectively: wars, rumors of conspiracy, chaos, suffering, persecution, death and destruction to name just a few. For reasons unknown and unknowable to us, God in his infinite wisdom and providence allows the forces of evil and their human minions to wage war on God’s people and world. Rather than wasting our time trying to figure out why God would allow this, we would be better off focusing on God’s promises to us. And what are those promises? God promises to be with his people, you and me, not necessarily to protect us—although he certainly does—but to assure us a real future, a future with new bodily life equipped to live in a world devoid of evil and sin and sorrow and brokenness and chaos and all the rest. Daniel is the OT’s clearest statement of the hope of resurrection and when he speaks of a dual resurrection with some being raised to everlasting life and others being raised to everlasting shame, he makes it clear that how we live our mortal lives has direct implications for our future. (And as a sidebar, it is noteworthy that the first followers of Christ did not use Daniel’s language of resurrected people shining like stars to describe the risen Christ, indicating that his resurrection was real and unexpected because they struggled to accurately describe it and him.) This is part of God’s promise to Daniel that despite the fact that Daniel and his fellow Jews had suffered God’s punishment for their idolatry and unbelief, God remained faithful to his people and promised to ultimately heal and restore them. The NT promises essentially the same, except the promise is offered to all people, not just Israel, in and through Christ and we see the promise played out vividly in the Revelation to St. John. If we are ashamed of Christ in this world and deny him in our professions and living, we can expect the same from Christ when we stand before his judgment seat. But we should not seek to follow Christ primarily out of fear of judgment because that will ultimately fail. We are way too sin-sick to be motivated by fear to do what’s right. Rather, we should take our cue from Daniel, whom twice God called precious in God’s sight before revealing this promise of resurrection to him. Daniel sought to obey the Lord because he loved the Lord and wanted to please him. Of course there was holy fear and reverence in Daniel’s life, but that was not his primary motivator. Love was.

As Christians we too have ample reason to love God the Father because of the work of God the Son, and here we turn to the letter to the Hebrews. If we are going to enjoy an eternity with God, living in God’s holy Presence, a Presence that cannot tolerate or allow any vestige of evil or sin, how are we ever to have a hope and a chance of achieving the promise of eternal life? After all, we are hopelessly corrupted by the power of Sin and that by definition excludes us from living in God’s direct Presence as Revelation 21-22 promise. The solution? The power and love of God worked out in the death of Jesus Christ. Christ is our great High Priest who bore God’s punishment and wrath on all our collective sins himself, allowing God to work out God’s perfect justice and condemn our sins without condemning us. The result? We are made fit to stand in God’s holy Presence forever by virtue of Christ’s blood shed for us. This is why Christ could sit down at his Father’s right hand. His sacrifice was made once and for all. There’s no need to repeat it, unlike the old priestly order that offered sacrifices for sin but could never take away sin the way Christ did and does. Incomplete work requires one to continue standing. Completed work allows the worker to be seated as Christ’s work on our behalf did. This is why Christ is the only way to the Father. No one else has the power to offer a perfect sacrifice for our sins, making it possible for us to live in God’s direct presence. If this great love for us does not produce a desire to respond faithfully and obediently to God’s commands, nothing else can and we really are hopelessly lost because we are without a saving faith.

So why does this all matter to us? First, we who put our faith in Christ are no longer under God’s just condemnation. That means we have a hope and a future. There is no good reason for us to ever fear the chaos that swirls around us and in our lives or our future. Whatever the reason God allows this chaos is trumped by the fact that God has acted decisively on our behalf to rescue us from the madness. And because it is God’s promise it cannot and will not fail, giving us the basis for real and legitimate hope. This promise will be made complete at Christ’s Second Coming and we focus on it during the seasons of Kingdomtide/Advent to remind us and help us in the living of our days. God is in charge and always has been. The world and its agents try relentlessly to get us to believe otherwise. That is why we need to know our Story contained in Scripture and that demands that we attend to and read holy Scripture on a regular, if not daily, basis. If you want real hope, my beloved, you need to put in your sweat equity so that you know the nature and basis of that hope. 

Second, in addition to being the only real antidote to hopelessness and despair, having a real hope in Christ’s future gives us a reason to live faithfully in the present, even in the face of failure and resistance. Why? Because like Daniel, St. Paul also reminds us our present work is directly related to our future hope. And since our future hope is made secure in Christ, we need to keep to the task of being faithful and obedient to God, working hard to do our part to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven, always remembering that it is God who ultimately makes that happen. Hear St. Paul now: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless [or in vain]” (1 Cor 15.58). So the next time you forgive someone and it seems to make no difference, or the next time you help someone or comfort someone or lend to someone and you see no results, or the next time you proclaim the gospel to an unbeliever and are laughed at or ridiculed, or the next time you profess Christian values in the areas of sex, economics, or politics and are scorned and mocked and hated, take heart and hope because you know Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and he promises you that you share his destiny despite your unworthiness and failures, God be thanked and praised.

There are other applications to all this, of course, but here is my challenge and exhortation to you, my beloved. Believe your story. Live it together and celebrate it together. Continue to give your life each day to Christ and live in hope. Don’t fall into despair and don’t be afraid—Scripture’s most frequent exhortation to us. This will require you to be mindful about it because there is much in this life that makes us afraid and shouts to us that God and God’s promises are a lie. Don’t believe the liars. Jesus Christ is crucified and raised from the dead for you. You are part of his Body and you belong to him forever. Don’t give your pearls to the swine. Don’t settle for second best (or worse). Jesus Christ is King and Lord of all. His rule is not always obvious to us but it is real nevertheless and his promises are true. Accept the gift and stake your very life on this truth. 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 Prayer for Veterans’ Day 2021

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom;
for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.
On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals
or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion
and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace.

All this we ask through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Bishop Julian Dobbs: Running the Race

Sermon delivered on 3 before Advent B, Sunday, November 7, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Bishop Dobbs gets all grumpy when we ask for a written manuscript. Nobody’s got time for a grumpy bishop so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Ruth 3.1-5, 4.13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9.24-28; St. Mark 12.38-44.

N.T. Wright Muses on All-Souls’ Day and the Tradition Behind It

Excerpted from his splendid little book, For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed.

Purgatory, in either its classic or its modern form, provides the rationale for All Souls’ Day. This Day, now kept on 2 November, was a tenth-century Benedictine innovation. It clearly assumes a sharp distinction between the ‘saints’, who have already made it to heaven, and the ‘souls’, who haven’t, and who are therefore still, at least in theory, less than completely happy and need our help to move on from there. 

The arguments regularly advanced in support of some kind of a purgatory, however modernized, do not come from the Bible. They come from the common perception that all of us up to the time of death are still sinful, and from the proper assumption that something needs to be done about this if we are (to put it crudely) to be at ease in the presence of the holy and sovereign God. The medieval doctrine of purgatory, as we saw, imagined that the ‘something’ that needed to be done could be divided into two aspects: punishment on the one hand, and purging or cleansing on the other. It is vital that we understand the biblical response to both of these.

I cannot stress sufficiently that if we raise the question of punishment for sin, this is something that has already been dealt with on the cross of Jesus [emphasis mine]. Of course, there have been crude and unbiblical versions of the doctrine of atonement, and many have rightly reacted against the idea of a vengeful God determined to punish someone and being satisfied by taking it out on his own son. But do not mistake the caricature for the biblical doctrine. Paul says, in his most central and careful statement, not that God punished Jesus, but that God ‘condemned sin in the flesh’ of Jesus (Romans 8:3). Here the instincts of the Reformers, if not always their exact expressions, were spot on. The idea that Christians need to suffer punishment for their sins in a post-mortem purgatory, or anywhere else, reveals a straightforward failure to grasp the very heart of what was achieved on the cross.

[W]hat the standard argument fails to take into account is the significance of bodily death. We have been fooled, not for the first time, by a view of death, and life beyond, in which the really important thing is the ‘soul’—something which, to many people’s surprise, hardly features at all in the New Testament. We have allowed our view of the saving of souls to loom so large that we have failed to realize that the Bible is much more concerned about bodies—concerned to the point where it’s actually quite difficult to give a clear biblical account of the disembodied state in between bodily death and bodily resurrection. That’s not what the biblical writers are trying to get us to think about—even though it is of course what many Christians have thought about to the point of obsession, including many who have thought of themselves as ‘biblical’ in their theology. But what should not be in doubt is that, for the New Testament, bodily death itself actually puts sin to an end. There may well be all kinds of sins still lingering on within us, infecting us and dragging us down. But part of the biblical understanding of death, bodily death, is that it finishes all that off at a single go.

The central passages here are Romans 6:6–7 and Colossians 2:11–13, with the picture they generate being backed up by key passages from John’s Gospel. Both of the Pauline texts are speaking of baptism. Christians are assured that their sins have already been dealt with through the death of Christ; they are now no longer under threat because of them. The crucial verse is Romans 6:7: ‘the one who has died is free from sin’ (literally, ‘is justified from sin’). The necessary cleansing from sin, it seems, takes place in two stages. First, there is baptism and faith. ‘You are already made clean’, says Jesus, ‘by the word which I have spoken to you’ (John 15:3). The word of the gospel, awakening faith in the heart, is itself the basic cleansing that we require. ‘The one who has washed’, said Jesus at the supper, ‘doesn’t need to wash again, except for his feet; he is clean all over’ (John 13:10). The ‘feet’ here seem to be representing the part of us which still, so to speak, stands on the muddy ground of this world. This is where ‘the sin which so easily gets in the way’ (Hebrews 12:1) finds, we may suppose, its opportunity.

But the glorious news is that, although during the present life we struggle with sin, and may or may not make small and slight progress towards genuine holiness, our remaining propensity to sin is finished, cut off, done with all at once, in physical death. ‘The body is dead because of sin,’ declares Paul, ‘but the spirit is life because of righteousness’ (Romans 8:10). John and Paul combine together to state the massive, central and vital doctrine which is at the heart of the Christian good news: those who believe in Jesus, though they die, yet shall they live; and those who live and believe in him will never die (John 11:25–6). Or, to put it the way Paul does: if we have died with Christ, we shall live with him, knowing that Christ being raised from the dead will not die again; and you, in him, must regard and reckon yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:8–11). ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ (Romans 5:2).

I therefore arrive at this view: that all the Christian departed are in substantially the same state, that of restful happiness. This is not the final destiny for which they are bound, namely the bodily resurrection; it is a temporary resting place. Since they and we are both in Christ, we do indeed share with them in the Communion of Saints.

I respectfully suggest that is because we have collectively forgotten just what a wonderful thing the gospel is: that ‘our own departed’ are themselves ‘heroes of the faith’ just as much as Peter, Paul, Mary, James, John and the rest. What makes ‘the great ones’ great is precisely that they, too, knew human grief and frailty. The double day [All-Saints and All-Souls] splits off so-called ordinary Christians from these so-called ‘great ones’ in a way that the latter would have been the first to repudiate.

The salvation being ‘kept in heaven’ is God’s plan for the new heaven and new earth, and the new bodies of the redeemed; and this plan is safe and fresh in God’s storehouse, that is, ‘heaven’.

[T]he commemoration of All Souls, especially the way it is now done, denies to ordinary Christians—and we’re all ordinary Christians—the solid, magnificent hope of the gospel: that all baptized believers, all those in Christ in the present, all those indwelt by the Spirit, are already ‘saints’. Where did all that All Souls’ gloom come from? Are we not in danger of grieving like people without hope, instead of grieving, as Paul instructs us to do in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, like people who do have hope? There is all the difference in the world between hopeful grief and hopeless grief, and All Souls’ Day can easily encourage the latter rather than, with All Saints’ Day, the former. Many churches now put a black frontal on the altar for All Souls’ Day; where did that idea come from? Why should the service end in solemn silence? Why should we sing the Dies Irae (‘Day of wrath, that dreadful day’) for our friends and loved ones, if it is true that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? Where is the gospel there?

The Christian hope, as articulated in the New Testament, is that if you die today you won’t be in a gloomy gathering in some dismal and perhaps painful waiting-room. You won’t simply be one more step further along a steep, hard road with no end in sight. You will be with Christ in paradise; and when you see him, you won’t shout, like poor Gerontius, ‘Take me away’. You will, like Paul, be ‘with Christ, which is far better’. How can there be any sense of foreboding, for those who already know the love of God in Christ, in coming face to face with the one ‘who loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20)?

Wright, N. T. (2003). For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed (pp. 13–54). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

A Prayer for All-Souls’ Day 2021

Everlasting God, our maker and redeemer,
grant us, with all the faithful departed,
the sure bene?ts of your Son’s saving passion
and glorious resurrection,
that, in the last day,
when you gather up all things in Christ,
we may with them enjoy the fullness of your promises;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

All-Saints’ Day 2021: Being The Church Militant: A Call For Christian Boldness

Today we celebrate All-Saints and the Communion of Saints, the elect body of Christ, living and dead, forged through the blood of the Lamb shed for us and through his mighty resurrection. Those who have died in the peace of Christ and are currently enjoying their rest in the direct presence of their Lord are also known as the Church Triumphant, that part of the Communion of Saints currently hidden from our view with Christ in heaven. It is the penultimate goal of any Christian to attain membership in this Church.

For those of us still living in this mortal life are part of the Church Militant, the other half of the Communion of Saints. Unlike the Church Triumphant, we have not yet achieved our reward of being with Christ in heaven, awaiting the resurrection of our mortal bodies at the return of our Lord Jesus. So why is Christ’s Church on earth known as the Church Militant?

The term implies at least two qualities. First the Church Militant cannot possibly live up to its name without boldness. By boldness I mean that Christians living in this mortal life must be convinced that our Story, the Story of God’s rescue of his creation and creatures as contained in the Old and New Testaments, is the only true and real game in town. We must be convinced that God so loves us that he gave his only begotten Son to die for us to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and reconcile us to God, a story vindicated and affirmed when God raised Jesus Christ from the dead on that first Easter so many years ago. It is a story that while true, has not been consummated and so we must live by faith in this mortal life.

When we believe our story contained in holy Scriptures (not the story of human making or revision, but the God-breathed story contained in the Bible), we are convinced that Jesus really is Lord despite all that swirls around us, that God really is in control of his creation despite the torrent of bad news that bombards us, and the jeering of our skeptics. This story makes us bold to live for Christ because we know that death, decay, sickness, sorrow, alienation, and evil do not have the last laugh, God does. We know this because Christ is raised from the dead. While this faith does not protect us from all that afflicts us in this mortal life, it gives us real hope—hope defined as the sure and certain expectation of things to come, i.e., God’s promised new creation along with the resurrection of the dead, not wishful thinking—to face our trials and tribulations with confidence and without fear. Without a resurrection hope, Christians are no better off than non-believers who have no real hope in God’s redemptive plan in and through Christ and there is no way the Church can be bold.

Show me a church without Christian boldness and I will show you a Church that cannot possibly be Militant.

We see it all the time with Christian leaders on the defensive, apologizing for all kinds of things, terrified they might offend someone and bowing to cultural pressure from those who hate them, while remaining silent in their bold proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ’s saving death and resurrection for all who put their ultimate hope and trust (faith) in Christ and live accordingly. It is a sad spectacle indeed. Christ either is the Son of God, God become human, or he is not. His gospel is either true or it isn’t. If it isn’t we need to eat, drink, and be merry because tomorrow we will be dead and we ain’t coming back to life. But if it’s true, we need to starting thinking, speaking, and acting like it’s true. In other words, we need to start imitating our Lord Jesus and be prepared to suffer and give our life to and for him.

Related to this idea, the Church Militant implies that Christians are called to wage war in Christ’s name, not as the world wages war but as Christ waged it. To be sure, the devil and his minions, both human and spiritual, have been defeated in and through Christ’s death. But they are far from vanquished and chaos—the very definition of sin—reigns in our world. We are told, e.g., we are racists, homophobes, [insert your favorite anti-Christian invective here], etc., etc. Every time the Church Militant acts with boldness faithfully it can expect to get punched in the face! But we don’t retaliate in kind. The Church Militant are resurrection people with a real hope! Christ is alive and reigns! The world is still in God the Father’s good and loving control and nothing, not even the gates of hell, can pry it from him.

When the Church militant believes this, we can wage war on behalf of Christ and do it faithfully: Through prayer, fasting, loving our enemies, and speaking the truth in love, for starters. We needn’t panic. Christ is Lord and the dark powers are not. So what does that look like on the ground? I offer three examples. There are millions more.

First is this piece entitled Blessing Biden. Whatever one thinks of the president and his policies, a bold Christian response is to pray for him and for a repentant heart when we see him going off the rails as defined by God’s Truth contained in Scripture. Name-calling and cursing, two favorite weapons of the world, should never be part of the Christian’s arsenal, tempting as it may be or frustrated as we may get. It is in this context that we can speak the truth in love to those who push alternative anti-Christian agendas. We don’t curse or name call because as Christians we believe even our enemies are created in God’s image and Christ died to save them as well as us, whether or not they have the good sense to claim the gift.

Or consider Archbishop Cordileone’s call to “…Catholics to join in a massive and visible campaign of prayer and fasting for Speaker Pelosi: commit to praying one rosary a week and fasting on Fridays for her conversion of heart [on the matter of abortion].” No invective, no vitriol. Just prayers and rosaries and roses (and plenty of the latter!). The world does not know how to behave this way; and in behaving as such, it colludes with the dark powers to further spread chaos. Speaker Pelosi may remained firmly committed supporting the murder of unborn babies, but we believe that in our actions of prayer and fasting, God’s healing and redemptive power is still at work, bringing about God’s will, even when it is beyond our seeing and understanding. That is Christian boldness in action, a boldness that requires an informed faith, and it infuriates our enemies even as it encourages the Church Militant.

Finally, David Roberston speaks out about the Church’s timidity in the climate-change discussion, arguing instead that Christians have a distinctive solution, one the nay-sayers and doomsday wailers do not and cannot offer, a solution based on the Story of God’s rescue plan for creation. In Robertson we find a bold voice that is polite but that speaks the truth in love in the process. And he is spot-on in terms of his criticism of timid church leaders. Show me a Christian leader or follower who believes his/her story, and I will show you a bold Christian, one worthy of doing battle as part of the Church Militant.

Of course, any Christian with a sense of boldness will be careful to start being bold by looking at himself/herself in the mirror and realizing that he/she is in the same desperate need of Christ as anyone else. Boldness starts with a sense of Christian humility. We don’t have all the answers and we certainly are not superior to those we criticize or for whom we pray/ask forgiveness. We realize that repentance and love and mercy and charity all start at home. But we have the weapons we need to combat our fallen nature. We are part of the mystical body of Christ, the Communion of Saints. We have the wisdom of tradition and the truth contained in God’s holy word. We are empowered and led by the Holy Spirit and we are part of a holy, albeit imperfect, family who loves us enough to correct us when they see us go off the rails.

This All-Saints’ Day, I encourage you to seek Christ who loves you and wants you to be his forever, starting right now. Be part of the Church Militant and be a bold Christian for your Savior, asking him to lead, guide, and correct you at every turn so that you can bring his Name the honor and glory it deserves. After all, one day every knee will bow to that Name and every tongue confess him to be Lord and Savior, whether willingly or unwillingly. Let us therefore resolve to be a willing part of the only real game in town.

All-Saints’ Day 2021: St. Augustine Muses on the Saints of God

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With humans this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”— Matthew 19.25-26

The saints are those who are moved by God’s grace to do whatever good they do. Some are married and have intercourse with their spouse sometimes for the sake of having a child and sometimes just for the pleasure of it. They get angry and desire revenge when they are injured, but are ready to forgive when asked. They are very attached to their property but will freely give at least a modest amount to the poor. They will not steal from you but are quick to take you to court if you try to steal from them. They are realistic enough to know that God should get the main credit for the good that they do. They are humble enough to admit that they are the sources of their own evil acts. In this life God loves them for their good acts and gives forgiveness for their evil, and in the next life they will join the ranks of those who will reign with Christ forever.

—Augustine of Hippo, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 3.5.14

One of the reasons I love Augustine is that he was never afraid to be real. As you read his description of the saints, you cannot help but wonder how these folks can be enjoying their rest with their Lord. Look at their flaws Augustine is pointing out!

Here’s the answer. They have died with Christ and so are raised with him (Romans 6.8) They were buried with Christ in the waters of baptism so that they might rise with him in his resurrection (Romans 6.3-5). And when they were alive in this mortal life, this treasure of life eternal was hidden with Christ (Colossians 3.3-4), i.e., this hope and promise of resurrection and eternal life is based on their relationship with the risen Christ, who remains hidden from us in this mortal life from his abode in heaven, God’s space.

For you see, it is not about the saints or our worthiness. None of us is worthy to stand before God in God’s perfect holiness! Rather, it is about what God has done for us in Christ so that through his death we might enjoy real peace and reconciliation with God (Romans 5.1, 11). In Jesus, God condemned sin in the flesh so that we might be equipped to live with God forever, both here on earth in the power of the Spirit and in God’s promised new creation (Romans 8.3-4, 18-25, Revelation 21.1-7). This is what Jesus reminds us of in the passage above from St.Matthew and that’s why we have hope for the Christian dead and ourselves on All Saints’ Day. Jesus is Lord, even over death!

Is this your hope or are you clinging to something less which is bound to fail? On this All Saints’ Day may God grant you the grace, wisdom, and courage to embrace the hope offered to you in Christ, and may that hope make all the difference in the world for you, enabling you to be a bold saint for Christ.

A Prayer for All-Saints’ Day 2021 (2)

Blessed are you, Sovereign God,
ruler and judge of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
In the darkness of this age that is passing away
may the light of your presence which the saints enjoy
surround our steps as we journey on.
May we reflect your glory this day
and so be made ready to see your face
in the heavenly city where night shall be no more.
Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Blessed be God for ever. Amen.