What to Do When it Appears God Has Abandoned You

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2C, Sunday, June 26, 2022 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 texts below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Kings 2.1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77; Galatians 5.1, 13-25; St. Luke 9.51-62.

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

This morning I want to focus on our psalm lesson. What can we learn from it? How can it help us in our faith journey? Before we answer these questions, I want to read the first part of the psalm again from a different translation as I think it brings added clarity to the psalmist’s complaint:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me!/ When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted./ I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help./ You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!/ I think of the good old days, long since ended,/ when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and ponder the difference now./ Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me?/ Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed?/ Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?/ And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me” (Psalm 77.1-10, NLT).

So have you ever cried out to Lord in despair? If you are old enough you surely have. Some of us cry out to the Lord in despair over the state of our nation and the strident voices and lawlessness that are becoming increasingly prevalent. Some of us cry out to the Lord in despair over the “joys” of aging or over a catastrophic illness or over the desperate situation in which we might find ourselves or our loved ones. Whatever the reason for our cries, like the psalmist we who have a relationship with God search for him in hopes that God will comfort us or heal us or relieve our despair. After all, God is all-powerful, right? He raises the dead and creates things out of nothing. Nothing is too hard for him! And indeed, oftentimes God answers our prayers and we then proceed to go about our business acting like we don’t need God at all. But sometimes like the psalmist experiences, God seems to be strangely or even terrifyingly absent. We search for healing or peace or comfort or a sense of God’s presence and find none. If God’s perceived absence lasts too long our doubts and fears can grow like the psalmist’s did. We can’t sleep. We are overwhelmed with longing, desperately wanting God to answer his prayers. And then we ask the awful questions. Has God abandoned us forever? Has God rejected us forever? And more personally, has God stopped loving me because I am so rotten? In the past God has answered my prayers for help and has comforted me. But now? Where is God? Why doesn’t he hear my desperate prayers? Why will God not show me any compassion? All these questions can lead the psalmist and us to this terrible conclusion (not to mention a crisis of faith): God has turned his hand against me, i.e., God finally sees me as I really am, a sinner undeserving of his love and grace, and refuses to help me. Anyone here ever gotten to this point in your relationship with God? I did 22 years ago and I almost took my life as a result. This is very serious stuff about which we are talking and if you are in that boat right now, I encourage you to reach out to your priest, your family, and/or your friends, especially if they are Christians, because God can and does use human agency to heal and comfort us.

St. Paul understood how this all works. In our epistle lesson he reminds us in no uncertain terms that our sin-sickness causes alienation between God and his image-bearers and that alienation can produce the kind of emotional and spiritually dark state the psalmist experienced and we experience, whatever the issue was and is. So what to do? The psalmist along with the rest of Scripture tell us. We are to remember. We are to remember God’s promises to his image-bearing creatures in general and his people Israel in particular, promises to act on our behalf, to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and our own fallen nature with its corrupted desires. St. Paul catalogues a sample of the fruit of our sinful nature in our epistle lesson: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and all the other fruit of our alienation from God and each other that our slavery to Sin produces. But the psalmist remembers God’s power to act on our behalf, to free us from all kinds of slavery, and that’s why he remembers. He remembers especially God’s mighty act of deliverance for his people Israel when he brought them out of their slavery in Egypt and through the dark and terrible waters of the Red Sea to eventual freedom. God did this. God acted in Israel’s history because God loves his people and is gracious to them, even though they are unworthy of his great gifts. Likewise with us as God’s people in Christ, the reconstituted Israel.

Why else would the psalmist in his desperation seek to remember God’s mighty acts in the past? Why must we do likewise? Because they are proof positive that God does not abandon his people; rather, God acts on our behalf, undeserving as we are, because God loves us and is gracious toward us. Israel did not deserve its liberation. The people demonstrated that when they started grumbling about wanting to return to their slavery almost immediately after God liberated them! You can read that sad and compelling story in Exodus and Numbers. Nevertheless, God acted to free them, even though God knew beforehand what they were going to do. 

For Christians, of course, we are to remember God’s mighty acts of love and power demonstrated enigmatically on Calvary but definitively when God raised Christ from the dead. In Christ’s Death and Resurrection, God did a much greater thing than he did for Israel at the Exodus, jaw-dropping as the latter was. In Christ’s Death and Resurrection God freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power, the stuff St. Paul spoke about above, and defeated the darkest, most evil power of all—Death. But God the Father did not stop there. As Christ told his disciples at the Last Supper, after he had Ascended, he would not leave them (or us) as orphans and without hope or God’s power in this mortal life. No, we have the unseen Risen and Ascended Christ interceding for us at God’s right hand, NT language that proclaims Jesus is Lord over all, as well as the Holy Spirit who makes Christ available to us and intercedes on our behalf, even when we can only groan in desperation, not knowing what to pray for or how to ask for something. All of these gifts from God are real and they demonstrate God’s love for us and his willingness to act on our behalf. 

As a result we are no longer slaves to our fallen, sinful selves. To be sure our fallen nature rears its ugly head from time to time. After all, the very act of doubting God’s love for us is a product of our alienation between God and each other! But as St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, God does not leave us to our own devices. No, we are set free from our slavery to Sin and ruled by the Holy Spirit who empowers us and helps us to live and be as God created us to live and be, surely the mightiest of all God’s acts! The proof is in the pudding of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Whenever these fruit manifest themselves in our lives, we have proof that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in us, i.e., God is present and active in our lives, even when we consciously experience his absence. So like the psalmist, we as God’s people in Christ need to remember how God has acted on our behalf and how God continues to manifest his power in our lives, unlikely as that power appears to the unbelieving world. This is why the psalmist and the rest of Scripture tell us to remember. Why God seems to be strangely absent in our lives at times nobody knows. Why God doesn’t answer our prayers as we ask or seems to ignore our desperate situations nobody knows. What Scripture does tell us is that in all the ambiguities and mysteries and unanswered questions, God’s absence isn’t necessarily a sign God has abandoned us or is punishing us, although the latter is sometimes true, especially when we go off the rails for extended periods of time. But God never rejects a humble and contrite heart. Ever. God never rejects our sincere penance. Ever. God never ultimately rejects us unless we ultimately reject God. Christ’s Death on the cross is proof of that, thanks be to God! 

So what do we do when we are in desperate times, wondering if God has abandoned us? Well, many of us try to tough it out on our own. Instead of remembering that God is faithful to his people, we seek human solutions to alleviate our desperation. How’s that working out for you? I know it never has worked for me. No, as we have seen, we are called to remember, both collectively and individually, and then to rely on each other to remind ourselves that God never leaves us alone. In other words, we are to love each other and be there for each other when we sense God’s absence, just the way all healthy families help each other in good times and bad. Never underestimate the power of godly folk to help lighten your load as they walk with you through the dark valleys of life. The very act of remembering and relying on each other help us focus on God instead of ourselves. It reminds us to be patient and to trust God to act on our behalf in God’s good time and ways. That’s not easy for us god-wannabes but it is the only real option we have if we are not to totally lose heart and hope. When we remember, we are reminded that God is not some inconsistent ogre who delights in torturing us or who behaves erratically toward us as we do toward God and each other. God loved us enough to become human and die for us to free us from his just condemnation and an eternity apart from him, even while we were still sinners and his enemies. If God loves us that much, why would God abandon us now in our darkest hours? St. Paul comes to this exact conclusion in his letter to the Romans: 

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since [God] did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? [Therefore] I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.31-32, 38-39, NLT).

In this mortal life there are always going to be desperate times. When those desperate times occur in our lives Scripture tells us to double down in our efforts to focus on God and put our trust in him, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how dark the valley. God may not rescue us as we expect or hope, but we all have the assurance that God has indeed rescued us from the gravest danger of all: Death and eternal separation from him. God has broken the power of Sin and Death and promises us an eternity with him in his new world, a world without Evil or Sin or Death, a world that is full of perfect life and health forever. Don’t let your fears and weaknesses rob you of the spectacular hope contained in this promise, my beloved. Remember instead God’s willingness and ability to act on our behalf and for our benefit. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Father Philip Sang: God’s Presence in Stillness and Silence

Happy Fathers’ Day! Sermon delivered on Trinity 1C, Sunday, June 19, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no audio podcast of today’s sermon.

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

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

Why is it that sometimes Jesus asks obvious questions? like to blind Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?”—Mark 10. And sometimes he just acts?

“What have you to do with me, Jesus?” This question was asked after Jesus started to work. That’s kind of curious, don’t you think? The demons knew who Jesus was and what he could do. Indeed, Jesus had already spoken and told them to come out. But they played dumb, they recognize Jesus, but they don’t really want to obey him. They want to argue with him or negotiate with him.

Living with brokenness, living with hatred, living in fear doesn’t make any sense. Not to Jesus. He decided not to ask any questions at first; he was just trying to get rid of the problem, until when the negotiation started.

Jesus knows what we need, but is always willing to let us self-determine, even if our choices make things worse. Jesus was going to send the demons out of the mad man; but they chose or determined to ride the pigs. I know, I don’t want to go too far with this metaphor.

Demons can be a slippery subject for any of us. But it is somewhat ironic that the legion or rather the demons asks for a ride on the pigs instead of being sent to the abyss. Except that as soon as they get on the pigs, they end up in the abyss. The very thing they wanted to avoid becomes their fate—their self-determined fate. And Jesus lets them because they asked. Just like Jesus left because the villagers asked. After that miracle of driving demons out of the man, the villagers asked Jesus to leave their village. It was fear that caused them to send Jesus away. Luke says coming and finding the one they knew to be crazy now clothed and in his right mind scared them. It was a change that unsettled them. That’s kind of scary. So, they got together and stirred up their fears and all went to Jesus and asked him to leave. So, they could be safe, and feel great again. “What do you have to do with me, Jesus?” That’s our question too. “What changes will you effect in our lives? What growth will you seek? What effort will you require?”

“What have you to do with me” becomes a man who begged to be with him. The fear that was pushing away becomes a love that desires to move closer. He wanted to be with him, now clothed and in his right mind, all he could think to do was to stay with Jesus.

Reading from the Gospel, the man didn’t stay with Jesus in the way he probably imagined when he made his request. Instead, like us, he stayed with Jesus by telling his story to everyone he met. He chose, having been rescued from a life of despair, to live a life of hope and of joy, sharing the love of Jesus with all he encountered. He was now in his right mind, Luke says, clothed and in his right mind. And that mind was focused on the mind of Christ as Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 2:5). But what was that mind? It was a right mind, a mind of longing and of serving and of hoping and of following. It is a mind of discipleship. We are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But that making process is one of transformation as well. We are being transformed, even as we seek to transform the world. We say here at St. Augustines “we are changed by God to make a difference for God”. To be a follower of Christ, is to be other-centered, outward-focused; it is to see other people, even before seeing self.

To get there, we have to be quiet. We have to set ourselves aside and listen to a profound silence. From our OT reading Elijah had come to the end of himself—the end of his strength, the end of his wisdom. And it is only in the strength of God’s presence that he could hope to continue his life’s journey. He was ready to give up. You’ve been there, maybe not to the degree of wanting to die. Or maybe you have. Maybe someone you love or know has been there. It’s a place of despair, of surrender. It is not a place for condemnation, or shame, but of silence.

We see God leads prophet Elijah to the mountain and let him experience a rock-shattering wind, then a mountain-shaking earthquake, and then fire. At this moment Elijah felt, abandoned and alone, persecuted, hunted and hounded by his enemies of course Jezebel and her team and Elijah was at the end of his strength.

But the text says God was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. In the loudness of this terrifying world, God is not in the destructive forces that beset us when we’re at our worst. So, where was God? The text says God was in the silence.

Come to think of it, what is happening on that mountain is hard to imagine. It sounds like God sends Elijah to the mountain; yet at the same time, it sounds like God doesn’t want him there. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Maybe God is asking for the prophet to do an identity check, or to present his to-do list. But maybe we should read it as “Why are you still here?” Elijah’s rebuttal is that he’s doing his best. And sometimes it feels as if he is the only one doing any work here, the only one putting his life at risk, the only one who represents the true God of Israel. Does his complaint include God? “I alone am left,” says Elijah, which might be another way of saying, “Where have you been?”

So, what is it with the silence versus the madness of the destructive forces of nature? Could it be that God is announcing God’s presence in ways that often get overlooked? We want the big show; we want lightning and thunder to announce God’s presence. We want it to be so obvious that it would be hard to doubt. And there have been those moments, to be sure. But here in this moment, God announces that God works in quieter ways, obscure ways, ways that seem natural, like in the everyday decisions that we make all the time. God is at work in and through what happens around us, even when it doesn’t seem like it. God is present, even when it feels like absence. God is acting, even when it feels like stillness.

The man in the cemetery in the country of the Gerasenes was a force of nature who became a stillness. He moved from the earthquake of his madness to the silence of his right mind, a mind set on following Christ. Elijah was running for his life, so afraid of being killed that he wanted to die; then he encountered the silence and found the God he was longing for. He moved from despair to hope, fear to mission, and got back to work for the God he served. It is my prayer that in the madness, turmoil and craziness of this world that we may be still, and feel the presence of God in the silence and be hopeful and allow God to change us to make a difference for Him. If he did it for the man in the country of Gerasenes and for Elijah he can do it for us.

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

Deacon Tucker Messamore: The Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 12, 2022 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: Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5.1-5; St. John 16.12-15.

“The Catholic Faith is this: We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.”

These words come the Athanasian Creed which summarizes a proper Christian understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe—and Scripture affirms—that there is one God who exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not three gods, not one God who goes by three different names, but as the Thirty-Nine Articles puts it, “There is but one living and true God… And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

This is some mind-bending stuff, right? It’s difficult to explain and understand. How can God be both one and three? The math doesn’t seem to add up. It’s beyond our comprehension. It defies human logic.

Although many have sought to find an analogy to the Trinity in nature or human life—the phases of water, the parts of an egg, Neapolitan ice cream—all of them ultimately break down and fail to capture the mystery and complexity of the Triune God.

This begs the question: is the Trinity really that important? Is this just some obscure component of Christian doctrine that philosophers and theologians debate? Does it have any kind of bearing on our day to day lives? Does the Trinity actually matter

This morning, I hope we will see that the answer to that last question is a resounding yes. Just because the Trinity is beyond our comprehension does not mean it’s not worth our contemplation. There is a reason the Church Fathers fought to clearly articulate the doctrine of the Trinity and to defend it against those who denied it. The Trinity does matter. It is central to our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us, and it has practical significance for the Christian life. 

As we take a closer look at our lectionary texts, we’re going to focus on one specific implication of this doctrine: it’s through the lens of the Trinity that we get a clear picture of the love of God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

First, the Trinity helps us see God’s love in who God is.

Our two readings from the Old Testament point us back to Creation. Psalm 8 identifies God as Creator. The heavens, the moon, the stars, and all creation is God’s craftsmanship, the “work of [His] fingers” (v. 4a). Of course, we know this to be true from the very first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

But notice that our reading from Proverbs 8 suggests that when God the Father created all things, He was not alone: “When [Yahweh] established the heavens, I was there . . . when he made first them skies above . . . when he assigned the sea its limit . . . I was beside Him, like a master worker (Proverbs 8:27-30). Not only does the speaker claim to be present at Creation, but also to have taken an active role in it. In fact, we’re told that this One existed with God “before the beginning of the earth” (Proverbs 8:23). The speaker here is God’s Wisdom portrayed as a person. But this is more than just imagery. It’s more than just a creative way of talking about God’s wisdom. Many theologians identify God’s Wisdom in Proverbs 8 with God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.

This is similar to what St. John says in the prologue of His gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1, 3).

St. John identifies Jesus with God’s spoken the Word, the power by which He brought all things into being— “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3).

Gen. 1:2 likewise shows the Holy Spirit’s involvement in creation: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” 

Creation, then, was the work of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is why in Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” While we don’t have a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament, we see the fingerprints of the Triune God from the very beginning, even before the beginning.

What I want us to see here is that God has always been three-in-one. As the Athanasian Creed puts it, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “coeternal.” This helps us to understand a rather enigmatic statement about God in the New Testament: that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). That sounds nice, but what does it really mean? Notice that St. John is not talking about God’s characteristics; He doesn’t say that God is loving or that God shows us love, but that God is love. He is telling us something about who God is in His essence. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals what this means: throughout all eternity, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit have existed in what theologian Timothy George calls “ a holy community of love” (George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?, 83). 

This has important implications for how we think about Creation and about God’s love for us. Have you ever thought about why God created human beings? Was it because He was lonely and needed a companion? Was it because He needed someone to worship him? No! God did not create us because He lacked something or needed something from us but to invite us to share in the love that He has always enjoyed within Himself. As George puts it, “God has chosen to love us on the basis of his own free will and not out of coercion or necessity. With full intentionality he has decided not to remain a divine cocoon within Himself.” (p. 84). Brothers and sisters, what greater love could there be than this?

The Trinity enables us to see God’s love in who God is. But it also helps us see God’s love in what God has done.

While our Old Testament lessons pointed us to creation as a work of the Trinity, our New Testament texts show us the Trinity at work in salvation. As we’ve seen, God created humankind that we might participate in the love He has always shared within Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. But when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, sin, death, and suffering entered into the world. Humanity’s relationship with God was marred. Conscious of their sin and of God’s holiness, Adam and Eve “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8b). The curse of sin wrecked God’s good creation and prevented mankind from enjoying full and perfect fellowship with God.

But God was not content to abandon the people He created to sin, death, and exile from His presence.  Out of love for us, the Father, Son, and Spirit act in perfect unity, but each with a distinct role, to rescue us from the effects of sin. As John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Even in that most famous verse from the Bible, we bump up against the doctrine of the Trinity. Because of His love for us, God the Father purposes salvation and sends the Son.

Because God the Son loves us, He takes on human flesh and stands in our place on the cross, taking upon Himself the wrath of God, the punishment that we deserve for our sin. Through the work of God the Son, our New Testament lesson tells us that we can be reconciled to God the Father: We are “justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Just as the Father sends the Son, so the Father and the Son send us the Holy Spirit who according to our readings “guides [us] ins all truth” (John 16:13) and “[pours] God’s love . . . into our hearts” (Romans 5:5). The Spirit also fill us with the “hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:1, 5). Through the Spirit, we experience God’s indwelling presence, but this is just a “down payment” (c.f. Eph. 1:14), a guarantee that we will one day have complete fellowship with God in the new heavens and the new earth, free from sin, suffering, and death.

Because of the redemptive work of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we have the hope that one day we will share perfectly in the love of the Triune God, just as God intended from the beginning.

As we close this morning, I want to share one final practical implication of the doctrine of the Trinity, an observation I came across in a Trinity Sunday reflection from Fr. Greg Gobel. As we have seen today, the Father, Son, and Spirit are one God—they are perfectly united—yet they are each distinct persons with their own roles. In the Trinity, we see the perfect cohesion and unity and personality.

We live in a world that seems more disunified today than ever. We are divided along racial, political, and socio-economic lines. But the good news of the gospel is that God is not only reconciling us to Himself, but to each other, that we might be one just as He is One. One day, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will dwell together in perfect unity with God and with one another. As Fr. Greg puts it, “We will live forever as one with God [and each other], through Christ, and yet will continue to fully be our unique selves.”

We get a glimpse of this coming unity in part now through the Church, the body of Christ, made up of many members united together in Him. As we come to the Lord’s Table today, together we will affirm, “Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.” May we remember that the day is coming when we will dwell with God and with one another in perfect unity and perfect love.

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

June 6, 2022: FDR’s D-Day Prayer

“My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far. 

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer: 

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. 

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. 

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph. 

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war. 

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home. 

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum

Read (and pray) it all.

June 6, 2022: General Eisenhower’s D-Day Speech

From here:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

— Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

(For a fascinating story about what General Eisenhower was saying to his troops in the picture above, click here).

Father Philip Sang: Pentecost Power From On High

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 12, 2022 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: Acts 2.1-11; Psalm 104.26-37; Romans 8.14-17; John 14.8-17, 25-27.

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

Why did Jesus tell the apostles to wait until the Holy Spirit fell upon them before carrying out the Great Commission?

The last sixty days before Pentecost must have been incredibly strange to the 12 apostles.
In that period one of them Judas Iscariot was replaced by another apostle, Matthias. It all started on what we call Palm Sunday.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey ahead of the most nationalistic feasts of Judaism, all eyes were on Him. They expected Jesus to rise up and throw the hated Romans out. But as he comes into Jerusalem, he turns towards the Temple rather than towards the Roman garrison in the town. And He then proceeds to cleanse the Temple (cf Mt 21 :12-17). And then we have the Last Supper and the Institution of the Holy Communion service on what we recall as Maundy Thursday.

And then the Disciples (and by Disciples I am including the women like Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus), had seen how suddenly public opinion had changed and Jesus had been crucified, as we recall on Good Friday each year.

And so far as the rulers in Jerusalem were concerned that SHOULD have been the end of this annoying little sect. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead three days after his Crucifixion. And we celebrate this each year as Easter Day. And although we don’t know the exact year, most historians put it either as in 30 AD or in 33 AD. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one event that the early Church gave for its phenomenal success. We don’t know exactly how many people saw the risen Christ. However we are told the resurrected Jesus was seen by many.

And then within 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection he bodily ascended into heaven an event we remember on each year as Ascension Day, traditionally on a Thursday – 10 days before Pentecost. Which we moved to last week Sunday, that Father Wylie preached.

Now in that 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection to his Ascension, Jesus gave his Church what is known as the “Great Commission” just before he left this earth. He told them “ Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you till the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19 and 20).

However, it must have been bizarre to the disciples that Jesus gave them very clear instructions when they were to start fulfilling the Great Commission. In Acts 1, Jesus said “But you shall receive Power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1 v.8). So my first question is Why were they to WAIT rather than start evangelizing right away? One reason, I think was that the disciples’ minds were probably still scrambled by the events that had happened. It still would have been hard for them to think straight.

But the second more important reason was that they needed to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to enable the disciples to fulfil the Great Commission. Bringing people to Christ is a spiritual battle. It is not simply an intellectual discussion – as you might have if you were discussing politics. The spiritual battle for people’s hearts can only be won on the spiritual battlefield – and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to succeed.

And note how much time, the disciples spent in prayer in Acts 1 and 2. The Acts 2 outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred in a prayer meeting. It must have been very daunting for the disciples, when they first heard it. But what they also were learning was when Jesus asks us to do something – he provides us with the means to do it.

And so the second question I’d like to pose was WHY did God PICK Pentecost for the outpouring of His Spirit and the launch of the Christian mission to the world? Why did Jesus make such a fuss about the timing? There are a number of reasons but I believe the prime reason is that the actual meaning of the Feast explains to us much of what is going on.

Let me go a little into the background. The Jews had three major festivals in their calendar year, which all male Jews were expected to attend. Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks) was the second major festival of the Jewish year – and always took place 50 days after Passover.

Pentecost is a harvest festival – at the beginning of the wheat harvest – when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented to God. When the Power of God came down on the disciples at Pentecost, I believe God was saying that this is the beginning of the spiritual harvest – a harvest which is still going on today almost 2000 years later. The spiritual harvest is the building of Christ’s church here on earth, of which we are all called to be a part regardless of where we live.

From our reading this morning from the Book of Acts, we can see three principles for success in this spiritual harvest.
1. The disciples consulted with and obeyed Jesus
2. The disciples couldn’t do it in their own strength. They needed the Power from on high
3. The disciple’s message was founded in God’s word

The first principle for success in the spiritual harvest is listening to and obeying Jesus
After giving his disciples the Great Commission, Jesus told them to wait. He didn’t explain to them why – though we can now see why with hindsight. They were only going to be successful when they received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But there is a lesson for us too. The disciples had to learn simply to trust Jesus’ word. If we are going to be servants of Christ, we have to learn to trust in WHAT he tells us to do. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until power from on high comes upon them.

So what did they do? Did they spend their time watching TV? No, they spent their time in prayer – in preparation. In Acts 1:14 we read: “They all joined together, constantly in prayer.” They got ready for action. Prayer is the power-house of the Christian life. If we are despondent with the lack of response in our villages to our churches, we must start with prayer. Prayer is the preparation for everything that we wish to do in Christ. It puts us in touch with HQ – with our Commander in Chief.

The second principle for success in this spiritual harvest is the realization that we can only do it in the Power of the Holy Spirit. God asks us to be willing – but we don’t have to preach the Gospel in our own strength. The Church isn’t our worry – it’s God’s worry. It has been said: “Why pray when you can worry!!” If we are going to do God’s work, we need to do it in HIS strength and not our own. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. The Acts 2 experience changed the disciples. It gave them power and boldness.

The third principle for success in the spiritual harvest is that the disciples founded their message in the Scriptures. The only Scriptures that St. Peter has was the Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written. Yet Peter was well versed in his Scriptures. On the Day of Pentecost, he stands up to explain what is going on. Peter defended the event through Scripture – explaining that this event had been foretold 800 years earlier by one of the minor prophets – Joel. His quotation from the book of Joel shows that he knew his Bible well. He was able to find his experience and the experience of the other believers in Scripture, because he spent time with the Word of God.

Many of our modern day Sects get away with their false teaching because many don’t know the Word of God. God has revealed himself in the Scriptures and any genuine Christian experience will be biblically based. What is happening here Peter says conforms to Scripture. Joel prophesied it.

As I conclude, I find it of great comfort to know that growth in our church is not my worry. It’s God’s worry. However, we are called to work for and with God in the spiritual harvest and so we have responsibilities for the success of the operation.

Our first responsibility is that we need to hear what God is saying to us and obey him. The disciples were told to wait in Acts 1 – and that is what they did. This enabled God to release his power for them. And it is interesting to note that on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted. How did the disciples know the will of God – they spent a lot of time in prayer.

Our second responsibility is to ask for power to preach the Gospel. We need to ask for strength and boldness to proclaim Christ – at the right time.

Our third responsibility is to know our Scripture well. If we are going to preach the Gospel successfully, we need to be rooted or founded in Scripture.

May the Lord help us to be faithful followers of Christ 

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

Pentecost 2022: An Ancient Account of how Pentecost was Celebrated

From here.

But on the fiftieth day, that is, the Lord’s Day, when the people have a very great deal to go through, everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow onwards; vigil is kept in the Anastasis, and the bishop reads the passage from the Gospel that is always read on the Lord’s Day, namely, the account of the Lord’s Resurrection, and afterwards everything customary is done in the Anastasis [the cross], just as throughout the whole year. But when morning is come, all the people proceed to the great church, that is, to the martyrium [the church], and all things usual are done there; the priests preach and then the bishop, and all things that are prescribed are done, the oblation being made, as is customary on the Lord’s Day, only the same dismissal in the martyrium is hastened, in order that it may be made before the third hour [9am].

And when the dismissal has been made at the martyrium, all the people, to a man, escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, [so that] they are in Sion when the third hour is fully come. And on their arrival there the passage from the Acts of the Apostles is read where the Spirit came down so that all tongues [were heard and all men] understood the things that were being spoken, and the dismissal takes place afterwards in due course For the priests read there from the Acts of the Apostles concerning the selfsame thing, because that is the place in Sion—there is another church there now—where once, after the Lord’s Passion, the multitude was gathered together with the Apostles, and where this was done, as we have said above. Afterwards the dismissal takes place in due course, and the oblation is made there. Then, that the people may be dismissed, the archdeacon raises his voice, and says: “Let us all be ready to day in Eleona, in the Imbomon [place of the Ascension], directly after the sixth hour [noon].”

So all the people return, each to his house, to rest themselves, and immediately after breakfast they ascend the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, each as he can, so that there is no Christian left in the city who does not go. When, therefore, they have gone up the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, they first enter the Imbomon, that is, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and the bishops and the priests take their seat there, and likewise all the people. Lessons are read there with hymns interspersed, antiphons too are said suitable to the day and the place, also the prayers which are interspersed have likewise similar references. The passage from the Gospel is also read where it speaks of the Lord’s Ascension, also that from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven after His Resurrection. And when this is over, the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed, and they come down thence, it being already the ninth hour [3pm], and go with hymns to that church which is in Eleona, wherein is the cave where the Lord was wont to sit and teach His Apostles. And as it is already past the tenth hour [4pm] when they arrive, lucernare takes place there; prayer is made, and the catechumens and likewise the faithful are blessed.

And then all the people to a man descend thence with the bishop, saying hymns and antiphons suitable to that day, and so come very slowly to the martyrium. It is already night when they reach the gate of the city, and about two hundred church candles are provided for the use of the people. And as it is agood distance from the gate to the great church, that is, the martyrium, they arrive about the second hour of the night, for they go the whole way very slowly lest the people should be weary from being afoot. And when the great gates are opened, which face towards the market-place, all the people enter the martyrium with hymns and with the bishop. And when they have entered the church, hymns are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; after which they go again with hymns to the Anastasis, where on their arrival hymns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; this is likewise done at the Cross. Lastly, all the Christian people to a man escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, and when they are come there, suitable lessons are read, psalrns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal takes place. And after the dismissal all approach the bishop’s hand, and then every one returns to his house about midnight. Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day, but the whole celebration (of the Feast) lasts so long that it is midnight when every one returns home after the dismissal has taken place at Sion.

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria85-90

Father Jonathon Wylie: Hope and the Ascension of Christ

Sermon delivered on Ascension Sunday (transferred), May 29, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie gets all whiny when we ask for a written manuscript. Nobody’s got time for a whiny priest, especially on Ascension Sunday, so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Acts 1.1-11; Psalm 93; Ephesians 1.15-23; St. Luke 24.44-53.

A Prayer for Memorial Day 2022

Adapted from here:

Eternal God,
Creator of years, of centuries,
Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history —
How shall we speak to you
from our smallness and inconsequence?
Except that you have called us to worship you in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties;
You have lifted us up with your loving-kindnesses.
Therefore we are bold to come before you without groveling
(though we sometimes feel that low)
and without fear
(though we are often anxious).
We sing with spirit and pray with courage
because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness
of things going meaninglessly well.

God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully (as it seems)
in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion and thanksgiving those who have died
serving this country in times of war.

We all must come to bereavement and separation,
when all the answers we are offered
fail the question death asks of each of us.
But we believe that you will provide for us
as others have been provided with the fulfillment of
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”
because we believe that you have raised Jesus our Lord from the dead
and conquered death itself,
and that you have given us the privilege
of sharing in his risen life as his followers,
both now and for all eternity.
We offer our prayers and thanksgiving
in Jesus our risen Lord’s name. Amen.