A Prayer for Independence Day 2020

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

Dr. Jonathon Wylie: Choose This Day Whom You will Serve

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3A, Sunday, June 28, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Despite the fact that Deacon Wylie has a PhD, you won’t find a written manuscript for today’s sermon because, well, his PhD is from the University of Wisconsin. Need we say more? To listen to today’s sermon click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 22.1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6.12-23; Matthew 10.40-42.

Don’t Be Afraid. Here’s Why

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2A, Sunday, June 21, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 21.8-21; Psalm 86.1-10, 16-17; Romans 6.1-11; Matthew 10.24-39.

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

Today we continue our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, focusing on our epistle lesson today. You recall that last week we looked at St. Paul’s astonishing teaching about God’s great love for us made known in Christ. There he told us that while we were still God’s enemies, hostile toward God and hopelessly alienated from him because of our slavery to the power of Sin, God moved decisively on our behalf to end our hostility toward him by becoming human (or in the words of St. Paul, by sending his Son) to die for us, thereby freeing us from our slavery to Sin’s power and its ultimate and inevitable outcome—death. We are now reconciled to God and called, in part, to be ministers of reconciliation, reflecting God’s great justice, love, mercy, and grace to the world that desperately needs to hear it even while it is vehemently opposed to God and his gospel. Today we look at what St. Paul has to say about the process by which sin is defeated in the life of believers. Before we do that, however, we must look at the passage leading up to our epistle lesson today which the lectionary (bless its pointy little head) has left out like it did last week because it provides the immediate context for St. Paul’s teaching in chapter 6. Hear now the rest of Romans 5:

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5.12-21).

In this passage, quickly, St. Paul speaks of two Adams. The first Adam, our first human ancestor, rebelled against God and that resulted in humans getting thrown out of paradise and losing their intimate and life-giving relationship with God so that instead of being God’s children and faithful image-bearers who ran God’s world on God’s behalf, we now were hostile and alienated from God. As St. Paul reminded us sin leads to death and eternal separation from God, something God found intolerable as he demonstrated when he sent his Son, the second Adam, to die for us to rescue us from that fate. The law magnified our slavery to the power of Sin (or sin’s rule) more and more but in Christ, God’s grace, or undeserved mercy, reigned even more because only God is greater than the power of Sin and so only God can free us from our slavery to its power. That raised the logical question. Should Christians sin more and more so that grace can abound more and more? The 18th century German poet, Heinrich Heine famously (or infamously depending on your perspective) put it another way when on his deathbed he was asked by a priest if he thought God would forgive his sins. Heine replied, “Of course God will forgive me; that’s his job.” Right.

Now in our epistle lesson, St. Paul anticipates this rejoinder to his teaching about sin and grace and gives us his answer (this clearly wasn’t St. Paul’s first rodeo). He asks rhetorically if we should “keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?” Of course not, he roars in reply! We’ve died to sin. How can we keep on living in it?? Now if you are like me, you read this passage and are tempted to scratch your head in puzzlement. You want to say to him, “St. Paul, are you crazy? I still sin. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. You even address this phenomenon in chapter 7 of Romans. How can you say I’ve died to sin?” To which St. Paul would reply, “It’s not about you stupid, it’s about the power of God at work in you” (well, he probably wouldn’t have called you stupid, but this gave me an opportunity to do so, which always makes me feel better about myself so I’m good with it).

St. Paul knew very well that being united with Christ does not make one a sinless person. Like Father John Wesley, he would have said sin remains but it no longer reigns in our lives. But that is not what St. Paul is talking about. He is echoing what he wrote to the Colossians when he said that “[The Father] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom [from the power of Sin] and forgave our sins” (Colossians 1.13-14). This is the power of God at work in us to rescue us from sin and death and bring us into the kingdom of his promised new creation that one day will come in full at Christ’s return. God did this for us out of his great love for us. We did nothing to deserve this gift nor can we earn it. In our own right we are utterly broken, unworthy and incapable of living as God’s true image-bearers. This is what the power of Sin has done to us. But God loves us too much to let us go the way of death and extinction and so God has acted decisively in Christ to break Sin’s power over us on the cross and transfer us into his new world via Christ’s resurrection. This is what grace looks like. We can’t earn it nor do we deserve a lick of it, but it is ours for the taking because of the power and love of God. What God wants, God gets and nothing, not even the power of Sin or the dark powers, can overcome God’s power made known and available to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen? It’s a done deal, even if it may not feel like that to us. And let’s be real. We are all about feelings these days, corrupted and unreliable as those feelings might be. But Christ’s death and resurrection were not feelings. They were and are the objective reality. They made known supremely the power of God to intervene in our lives on our behalf to rescue us from ourselves, our foolishness, our folly, and our slavery to the power of Sin and Death. That is why St. Paul tells us to reckon ourselves dead to sin. By this he meant for us to do the math, so to speak. When we do the math, we discover the sum of what is already there. For example, when we count the cash in the register, we learn what was there already. We don’t create a new reality; rather we affirm the existing reality. Christ has died for us and been raised from the dead to proclaim God’s victory over Sin and Death, and when we are united with Christ in a living relationship with him, St. Paul promises here that we too share in Christ’s reality, whether it feels like we do or not. Again, notice nothing is required of us except an informed (or reckoned) faith. We look at the reality and calculate it to be true so that we learn to trust the promise that has not yet been fulfilled is also true. 

How does this happen? St. Paul doesn’t tell us how, only that it does happen beginning with our baptism. When we are baptized we share in Christ’s death and are buried with him so that Sin’s power over us is broken (not to be confused with living a sin-free life, something that is not mortally possible because as St. Paul reminds us in verses 6-7, we are not totally free from sin until death). We have died to sin and can no longer live in it because we have been transferred into a new reality, God’s new world that was inaugurated when God raised Christ from the dead. So in our baptism we begin our new life with Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17), flawed as that might look at times. What St. Paul is talking about here is a matter of will. In chapter 8, he will talk about the power and presence of the Spirit in our lives to help us live after the manner of our Lord. Here St. Paul simply tells us that we have been given a great gift in the death and resurrection of Christ and through our relational union with him. If we have been given such a great and life-saving gift, why would we not together want to live our lives in the manner Christ calls us to live them? Today is Fathers’ Day and most of us who were/are blessed with good fathers seek to live in ways that honor our fathers or their memories. If we do that for folks who cannot give us life or raise us from the dead, how much more should we want to live our lives in ways that bring honor to God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ? This is what dying to sin looks like. It often looks messy on the ground and in our lives, but because it is the power of God at work in us and for us, it is a done deal nevertheless. If this isn’t Good News, I don’t know what is, my beloved.

So we have died with Christ and are raised with him. We’ve been delivered from the dark dominion of slavery to the dominion of freedom and life and light, the Father’s kingdom. Now what? Well, for starters it means we are no longer afraid. We have peace with God, real peace, a peace that was terribly costly to God, and we also have life that cannot be taken from us. Sure our mortal bodies will die, but that’s nothing more than a transition. We have no reason to fear death, even the worst of sinners who have genuinely given their life to Christ, because we believe him to be the Resurrection and the Life (John 11.25). It means we reject living our lives in the darkness of sin. It means we reject false realities and are willing to speak out boldly against them. It means we are willing to love even the most unloveable people (and believe me, we are seeing more and more of them every day), starting with ourselves. It means we are willing to speak out against injustices of all kinds. It means we have compassion for people, realizing they are without a Good Shepherd who will love and heal them just like he is loving and healing us. It means we recognize all human beings as being made in God’s image and therefore worthy of our highest respect and honor, even when they do nothing to earn it. 

Our Lord had something to say about this in our gospel lesson. There he tells us essentially the same thing St. Paul has told us in our epistle lesson. Preach the gospel boldly because it is the only way for real healing, goodness, justice, and forgiveness to happen. Be ready to challenge false gospels and narratives that are death-dealing and destructive. Know you will be called all kinds of vile names in an attempt to silence you, and some of you will be killed along the way. But don’t worry. Your effort to proclaim the Truth of the Good News will be made revealed to all by God the Father come judgment day, even if your voice isn’t heard now. But don’t keep silent out of fear of reprisal. Even if they kill you, I have won back your life by going to the cross for you. It’s a done deal. So don’t be afraid. Proclaim the Good News of my death and resurrection, of God transferring folks (not systems—listen if you have ears) from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life only through me. Just don’t keep silent in word or deed. If you do, I will disown you come judgment day because your silence proclaims you really didn’t believe in my promise to rescue you from Sin and Death. Your faithful living and bold proclamation will be terribly costly to you, but count it a blessing because if you are truly acting faithfully and proclaiming my Truth, the only Truth, you have my promise that nothing in all creation will harm you or separate you from me or my love (cf. Romans 8.31-39).

My beloved, as I watch dark forces trying to dismantle and wipe out this country’s history and ethos, I can no longer remain silent and I encourage you not to remain silent if you are as troubled as I am about the state of our nation. Besides regular and fervent prayer for our nation, I’m not sure exactly what that is going to look like for me, but I cannot stand by silently and watch a false narrative and divisive ideology that is decisively anti-Christian be foisted on this nation. I am not talking about being a super patriot or about political solutions because fearful and arrogant politicians are a massive part of the problem. I am talking about the people of God, you and me, finding and embracing our identity in Christ to speak the truth in love to forces who are preaching lies and attempting to intimidate and silence us through their false and divisive narrative. When you start pulling down statues, erasing chunks of history, and not allowing historical figures to be human, you are doing what tyrants have done throughout history. If you don’t believe me, check out how the Reign of Terror came about in France. History doesn’t repeat itself perfectly but you will find some very disturbing analogues there, starting with the radical Jacobins’ refusal to believe in the Christian faith or any religion other than their own secular one. They renamed streets and institutions and even developed a new calendar in an effort to repudiate their history. They attempted to create a whole new and false reality and took no prisoners in the process, only to have their own hate-filled narrative ultimately collapse on them. When folks try to create an “us-versus-them” mentality, when they attempt to pigeonhole the narrative of history into oppressors oppressing the oppressed, they are no longer dealing with the reality of history and ironically are wiping out chances for history to teach about the good and bad of this country. The very foundation of democracy depends on the ability of humans to act wisely and humanly, rather than myopically and selfishly, and if the forces in our country today prevail, we will see the end of democracy. While this country is far from perfect, it has offered the best hope for human flourishing in history, in part, because we have been so influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition that must flourish if democracy ultimately is to flourish. 

As God’s people in Christ, we must work hard in the coming months to find and embrace our identity in Christ first and foremost so that he can equip us to be his voice and embody his goodness, justice, mercy, and love to one and all in these tumultuous times. Whatever we do, it means we do it gently and without rancor and vitriol. It means we are gentle as doves and wise as serpents. We learn to do that through regular worship, Bible study, prayer, partaking in the eucharist and through sweet fellowship with each other to love and support each other, even in our disagreements, because we realize we are all in the same boat and reject the false and arbitrary classifications and identities that divide rather than unite us. We have been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of light and life in and through our crucified and risen Savior, in whom, and only in whom, we have redemption from our slavery to Sin and forgiveness for our ongoing sin and rebellion against God. We have died to sin and live now in union with Christ. Let us therefore embrace the only identity that truly heals, saves, and give life: Jesus Christ our Lord, and let that identity be the basis for our fearless and gentle witness as we proclaim boldly God’s love and Truth to a world hostile to the gospel but in desperate need of it. It is the only loving thing to do and as Christ himself reminds us, it will be a litmus test of our own faith when we stand before our Judge on the last day. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Reconciled to Reconcile

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1A, Sunday, June 14, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 18.1-15, 21.1-7; Psalm 116.1-2, 12-19; Romans 5.1-8; Matthew 9.35-10.23.

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

The appointed readings from the lectionary this year (we are in the first year of a repeating three year cycle of readings) focus on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, a massively important document in the NT. Accordingly, I have asked our staff to preach on the assigned readings from Romans and I kick off our summer preaching series today with this sermon. I do so at an extraordinarily dark time for our nation. We are beset by a pandemic that has left us isolated and fearful, decimating our economy and further aggravating our fears and feelings of uncertainty. George Floyd’s recent death at the hands of a police officer has triggered massive protests and riots. Racism is the new cardinal sin and the BLM movement appears to be the new required dogma. Failure to get on board with its political agenda will cause you to be named and shamed publicly as being a racist. I do not want to be flippant about this or make this sermon about politics. The issues are so much bigger than that. Racial injustice is a serious problem that has plagued our nation from its inception and as Christians, we should be speaking out against it and doing what we can to end it. But lawlessness is an equally serious problem and calls to defund law enforcement agencies across the country and woke zones like the one that has been created in Seattle threaten to accelerate the lawlessness we have seen in the riots and undo not only our country but the democracy on which it is based. I cannot speak for you, but for me, the prospect of seeing our nation succumb to mob rule is as terrifying as the prospect of contracting COVID. In this kind of climate, what does St. Paul’s letter to the Romans have to offer us as Christians? Much, and the Church must be bold in our proclamation and willingness to speak to these issues because we have the only solution to the problems that confront us—Jesus Christ. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

The lectionary curiously and frustratingly cuts off our lesson from Romans at verse 8 instead of the more natural ending at verse 11. But if we are going to understand what St. Paul is getting at we need to hear what he said immediately before and after today’s pericope from Romans. So bear with me a moment while we prepare to look at today’s passage. In the first three chapters of Romans, St. Paul has laid out a devastating and grim picture of the human condition. There he spoke of our ongoing rebellion against God where we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge and obey God so that we are no longer his image-bearers who rule God’s world wisely on God’s behalf, resulting in God giving us up in judgment to our own disordered desires. This doesn’t afflict one race of people; it afflicts the entire human race. All have sinned, says St. Paul, and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Therefore we all can expect nothing but God’s terrible judgment and condemnation, not because God is an angry, intolerant God but because God in his moral perfection can countenance no evil or sin because both lead to our dehumanization and ultimately to death, and God loves us too much to let that happen. We are too thoroughly broken and infected by sin to fix ourselves and without outside help, we are slaves to the power of Sin and destined for eternal separation from God, the Source of all life and things good. BTW, only the converted, you and me, will entertain St. Paul’s teaching on this matter and realize we are sinners. The unconverted won’t have anything to do with the idea, itself a symptom of the human race’s sin-sickness.

But thankfully we have outside help from a Source more powerful than the power of Sin: God himself. St. Paul makes the astonishing claim that despite our rebellion against God, despite our outright hostility toward him and/or our resolute unbelief in God, God the Father has acted decisively on our behalf to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and bring about our reconciliation with him and each other. God did this by sending his Son to die for us to reconcile us to him and free us from our death-dealing slavery to Sin. Listen to St. Paul as he leads up to our epistle lesson from this morning.

Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God (Romans 4.20-25).

Here St. Paul lays out the basis for the peace we enjoy in Jesus Christ. As we’ve seen, we are incapable of fixing ourselves and our relationship with God. No amount of trying harder is going to work and God knows that. So God sent his Son to die for us so that we could have a right relationship with God. In Christ’s death and resurrection, God offers us forgiveness and healing and this is a free gift to us if we take God at his word. Despite our ongoing hostility toward God, despite our slavery to the power of Sin and the chaos and alienation from God that results, God has offered us healing and reconciliation if only we will believe he has forgiven us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Where once we stood as condemned enemies of God, we are now reconciled to God and can expect healing and forgiveness because of what God has done for us in Christ. We can enjoy our changed status in the present as soon as we dare believe this Good News, and this is known as justification (or being made right with God) by faith. God promises this is true and by faith we believe the promise.

The result? “[S]ince we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory” (Romans 5.1-2). St. Paul drives home this point starting at verse 6:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God (Romans 5.6-11).

Did you catch the breathtaking promise of the love and mercy of God in this passage? Notice carefully there are no preconditions for this saving gift from God. In fact, just the opposite. God did all this for us when we were utterly helpless to save ourselves or change our relationship with God. God’s act is not contingent on our repentance and remorse. That comes naturally after we realize what God has done for us and what fools we have been to reject and deny God. Here we see God practicing what he preached: To love our enemies and do good to them. When we believe the promise of God to heal and forgive us so that we can share in God’s promised new world as his image-bearers, it must change us and the way we live. We realize how great is the Father’s love for us and what a terrible price God paid to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and restore us to himself, and it must change us so that we act for God, not ourselves. Trust in Jesus Christ is the only way we escape God’s just condemnation of our sins. Jesus Christ is the only way we are reconciled to God so that God can begin to heal our sin-sickness in this world. When we truly believe we are reconciled to God, undeserving as we are, we find real peace, the kind of peace our first ancestors enjoyed with God in the garden. And we learn over the course of our lives to live for God, not ourselves or the corrupt and evil powers of this world and its human-made systems. Our future glory awaits us but we have the promise right now and when we truly believe God is big enough to fulfill his promises, we find real peace, God’s peace, the only true peace there is. This is why St. Paul tells us to boast in our hope. It is boasting based on the love, mercy, and goodness of God, not ourselves, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having this kind of pride in God. In fact, God encourages it!

So what does this have to say to us as Christians and the current Zeitgeist of our age? First, since we are reconciled to God, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. First and foremost this means that we are to introduce folks to Christ in our speaking and doing and encourage them to find their identity in him and not some other death-dealing identity. Doing so will allow us to see humans, ourselves included, for what we are, and to proclaim God’s great love for us as well as his willingness to initiate forgiveness and reconciliation so that we are willing and able to forgive and repent of our evildoing that causes discord and rancor with the help of the Spirit. Hear what St. Paul writes about the effects of having peace with God in his second letter to the Corinthians:

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him [the ministry of reconciliation]. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.17-19).

In other words, because we enjoy real peace through a new and reconciled relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ, we are commanded to live, proclaim, and offer that same healing love of God through Christ to others so that they too might be reconciled to God and find his great and precious peace. When that happens, the walls of racial divide come tumbling down.

To engage in a ministry of reconciliation, we must first be clear about the human condition and our slavery to the power of Sin without God’s help. It’s what makes reconciliation necessary in the first place and a realistic knowledge of our slavery to Sin’s power keeps us humble and helps remind us we are all in the same boat. For example, we see the chaos that sin produces (because at its essence all sin is chaos in its opposition to God) in the actions of the police officer who callously murdered George Floyd. We also see the power of Sin at work in the rioters and the chaos it engenders. When we realize the truth of the human race’s enslavement to the power of Sin we no longer develop an “us versus them” mentality because we realize everyone of us is capable of good and evil, and left unchecked we are more likely to do evil than good. Why is this important to our ministry of reconciliation? Because we know that only by the grace of God are we spared from God’s wrath and how desperately the human race needs the healing and restorative power of God’s love for each of us. We acknowledge that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, ourselves included, and we are thankful that God loves us and has rescued us from his wrath and condemnation so that we enjoy peace with God. If we truly love others, wanting the best for them, even our enemies, how can we not engage in a ministry of reconciliation? This is the chief difference I see between the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s and BLM movement. The former was grounded in the Christian faith. Martin Luther King had a vision where one day no one would be judged by the color of their skin because all humans are created in the image of God. Dr. King resisted violence and rioting as means of getting justice because he knew that sin is chaos and ultimately will destroy us. Contrast this with some of the violent and oppressive ideology of the BLM movement that makes it all about fostering racial discord and insisting that history be seen only through the lens of racial oppression and injustice. By definition this kind of thinking can never lead to reconciliation. It leads only to division and rancor and as Christians we must oppose it even as we advocate for justice for all.  

In the context of the current debate about race and law enforcement, as ministers of reconciliation, this means we are ready to listen to all sides, not just one, and to acknowledge all sides have a role in contributing to the current tensions because we realize the real problem is human sin, not race. This means we listen to the pain expressed by many in the black community and acknowledge it is real, even if we do not fully understand the basis for that pain or makes us uncomfortable. It means we speak out against racial injustice when we see or experience it because the love of God demands that we do justice and love mercy as we walk humbly with him, submitting to his just and sovereign rule. This means we resist the strident voices who attempt to demonize all law enforcement officers and discredit their legitimate role and function in helping preserve the rule of law in our country. It means we try to put ourselves in their shoes, just as we try to put ourselves in the shoes of black communities so that we can better advocate for all people, not just some. It means we are willing to have an honest conversation about all causes for racial disparity, poverty, crime, and violence, not just racism, important as the latter is. It means we are not interested in winning debates about which side is right and which side is wrong. Reconciliation rarely, if ever, results from winning debates, but rather from having empathy and compassion and understanding for others, realizing we all desperately need to be healed and reconciled, first to God and then to each other. And as we engage in this ministry of reconciliation, we must take to heart Christ’s admonition to us to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. This means, in part, that we must not be naive in our listening but also not cynical. It means we must be both thin-skinned enough to be empathetic and thick-skinned enough to withstand criticism, and it means we must be angry at injustice but gentle in overcoming it, just as our Lord Jesus did for us by dying for us to reconcile us to God.

Being ministers of reconciliation means that we talk to people about the love of Christ and how he has healed and changed us in the living of our days. It means we offer forgiveness and mercy to our enemies, not anger or vitriol or the desire for revenge, even when they act hatefully toward us and accuse us falsely, which they most certainly will. Instead, we are to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, and proclaim the love of Christ offered to one and all. These are signs of the in-breaking Kingdom of God in our midst. We may not raise anyone physically from the dead (although nothing is impossible for God working in and through us), but by the power of God’s love and Word made known in Christ and available to all in the power of the Spirit, we can bring new life to those who are dead from despair, apathy, grief, hedonism, or absence of meaning. And certainly we must confront and cast out the demons of violence, hatred, injustice, and division that currently terrify and corrupt us. We are to do all this because our Lord himself tells us to do so in our gospel lesson. And let us be clear-headed about this. Being ministers of reconciliation will bring about the world’s wrath and vitriol as our Lord himself warns us in our gospel lesson. Proclaiming the love of God made known in Jesus Christ will sadly be rejected by many, but even here St. Paul has good news for us. He tells us to rejoice in our sufferings because our sufferings produce solid Christian character through perseverance. We persevere because we have peace with God and a future hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come. When we suffer the world’s wrath for Christ’s sake, we are equipped by the Holy Spirit to endure it and reminded that our future is life and total healing, not death and condemnation.  This, in turn, helps us offer that same healing love to others, even in the face of opposition and threats. There is much more to say about these things but I am out of time. I pray I have stimulated your own prayerful thinking about being ministers of reconciliation and that we will walk this journey together as God’s people, supporting one another in love. Remember, our little parish is a microcosm of the society that results from the ministry of reconciliation. We are equal brothers and sisters in Christ from many tribes, languages, and nations, all healed and restored to God and each other by the mercy and grace of God, God be praised!

But none of this will happen if we do not believe in the power of God to work in our lives and the lives of others. It is only in and through God’s power that we can ever hope to be ministers of reconciliation. Now is the time for the Church, for you and me, to find our voice and to be bold in our proclamation about the love of God made known in Jesus Christ. Now is the time to engage in the ministry of reconciliation with others in the context of our daily lives. We have the peace and power of God to make a difference in our world and if the Evil One tempts us to not believe in the efficacy of the gospel or our ability to live and proclaim it, I would point you to our OT lesson. Sarah and Abraham laughed because they struggled believing in the power of God to bring about his promises. But a child was born to them out of time and by the grace and power of God. It took a long time but God fulfilled his promise to Abraham to bless him with descendants as numerous as the stars. 

God loves us and has given himself for us in a great and costly act. In doing so, God calls us once again to be his image-bearers whom God will use to reflect his goodness, mercy, and justice to a sin-sick world, image-bearers who live in the power of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead, to reconcile us to God the Father so that we can be his image-bearers once again, patterning our lives after Jesus our Lord. We worship a God who creates things out of nothing and who raises the dead. Nothing is too hard for him, not even our own fears and foibles in these desperate times. Let us thank God that he loves us enough and honors our role as his image-bearers to call us to this ministry of reconciliation in Jesus Christ our Lord. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Deacon Jonathon Wylie: Life and Love in the Triune God

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday A, June 7, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The pandemic of no manuscripts started by Father Bowser continues to spread throughout the staff. There is no written manuscript of today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-2.4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13.11-13; Matthew 28.16-20.

June 6, 2020: 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.

Father Ric Bowser: The Holy Spirit is More than Metaphor

Sermon delivered on Pentecost Sunday Year A, May 31, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

This is Father Bowser preaching so of course there is no written text. Click here to listen to the podcast of the sermon.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.1-21; Psalm 104.24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12.3b-13; John 20.19-23.

Pentecost 2020: 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

A Prayer for Memorial Day 2020

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.