Father John Jorden: Amid All of This Be at Peace! Really?

Sermon delivered on Easter 5A, Sunday, May 10, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The Father Bowser Syndrome continues to spread and infect the clergy and guest preachers at St. Augustine’s. We therefore have no written manuscript to share, but you can listen to the podcast of today’s sermon by clicking here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 7.55-60; Psalm 31.1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2.2-10; St. John 14.1-14.

May 7, 2020: Happy Birthday, Mom

Today would have been my mama’s 98th birthday, something she would have no doubt hated (besides COVID- 19, that is) if she were alive today (it was hard to grow old for one so young at heart). My mother was an exquisite role-model of motherhood. She loved me, spent time with me, loved me enough to instill what it meant to be a Maney, and disciplined me when I did not live up to that standard. I hated it at the time, but am grateful for it today. She allowed me to have a childhood that was second to none because she insisted that I be a kid and worked sacrificially to make that happen. In that regard, I have missed her presence these past 12 years. But I cannot be sad because I would rather her be where she is than to be here with me and struggling with illness and infirmity like she did in her last years (check out this reflection on grief and consolation over parents who have died).

Thank you mama, for being the mother you were. Thank you for all your sacrifice for me and for our family. Thank you for allowing me to grow up in a timely manner and not before it was my time to do so. Thank you for personifying sacrificial love for me. And thank you, dear God, for blessing me with the best parents a person could ever want or dream of having.

Happy birthday, mama. I love you. Enjoy your rest with the Lord who loves you and has claimed you from all eternity.

Rest eternal grant unto Margaret, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her. May she, with all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace and RISE IN GLORY. Amen.

And for those of you whose mother is still living, make sure you remember your mama on Mothers’ Day this Sunday. Better yet, treat her like every day is Mothers’ Day. I know my mama would surely approve.

Living Out and Dying In Our Resurrection Faith

Sermon delivered on Easter 4A, Sunday, May 3, 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: Acts 2.42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2.19-25; St. John 10.1-10.

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

Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter, the Sunday traditionally celebrated as Good Shepherd Sunday. In these dark days of virus, social isolation, death, and fear it seems especially appropriate to talk about why we need Christ as our Shepherd and this is what I want us to do this morning.

In our gospel lesson, our Lord tells us that he is our Good Shepherd, who both leads and guides his followers, and it is critical for us to remember in these dark times, especially you self-loathers, that it is the shepherd who seeks his flock, not the other way around. As our psalm lesson reminds us, Jesus, and only Jesus, is the Shepherd who can and will lead us to peace, the kind of peace our first human ancestors enjoyed with God before their rebellion in paradise. Ps 23 is a beloved psalm, especially the KJV, and it is traditionally used at funerals. But if nothing else, this cursed pandemic has shown us in no uncertain terms that all of mortal life is lived in the valley of the shadow of death, not just when we die. I suspect prior to the onset of the pandemic many of us would have said, “Medical science and technology are my shepherds, I shall not want” instead of saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” because we can cure (or slow down) all kinds of diseases, and this has made us very adept at putting off and denying death in our culture. With our facelifts and tummy tucks, we deny the aging process that is part and parcel of this mortal life. We send off our old folks to “retire” and die in nursing homes and hospitals. Doing so helps us manage our fear of death and keeps us from having to deal with the reality of living in the dark valley of death, a reality caused by human sin and God’s just judgment on it. Don’t misunderstand. There are times when hospitalization and nursing homes are critically necessary and I would not want to live in a society where pre-modern medicine is practiced. God be praised that his image-bearers have used their minds and imagination to help increase our quality of life. My point is that our faith in medical miracles and technology can prevent us from seeing that all mortal life is lived in the valley of the shadow of death, which in turn helps us keep Christ and his demands on us at arm’s length.

But our delusions have been thoroughly exposed by this virus that is both insidious and evil. If we are honest with ourselves, many, if not most, of us are stunned that we even have to deal with a pandemic like our ancestors and most other parts of the world did and do. We are stunned because we foolishly believed our medical and scientific communities could protect us from evils like this. We were wrong. We now find ourselves living in social isolation and fear, terrified that we will be stricken with the virus and die. We have clearly forgotten that we have a Good Shepherd who leads us and guides us, even during our transition from this mortal life to the eternal life of new creation. But rather than wring our hands in fear and despair over the current state of things, I want us to remember we are people of real power, God’s power. We are resurrection and new creation people by virtue of God’s grace and great love for us made known fully in Jesus Christ, and we are promised that as Christians we are united to our crucified and risen Lord in and through our baptism and faith that he is who he claims he is and has done for us what the NT claims he has done for us.

So what does it mean for us to have Christ, the Great Shepherd, walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death? It means first and foremost that we are not to be afraid of the precariousness or fickleness of life. While none of us is guaranteed immunity from being afflicted by the virus (or a thousand other diseases)—nor are we immune to the heartaches, disappointments, failures, or hurts that come with living in a sin-sick and evil-corrupted world—we nevertheless live in the presence and power of the One who loved us and gave himself for us so that we might live. When we follow Jesus Christ, we live out our belief that condemnation and death is not our final destiny and that means we have the power to overcome our natural tendency to be afraid because we know that on the cross, God has dealt with all that could cause him to condemn us and lead to our permanent death. And when God raised Jesus from the dead, he gave us a preview of the day when our greatest enemy, Death itself, would be destroyed. Medical advancements and technology, wonderful as they are, cannot keep us from dying. When a vaccine is developed to help us overcome the virus, we will be protected but we will still die. Only the power of God who creates things out of nothing and raises the dead can give us eternal life and that is exactly what the resurrection of our Lord Jesus proclaims God intends to do! St. Paul put our situation in stark terms when he wrote to the Ephesians that, “You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Eph 2.12-13). Living in a world without God and hope is an awful thing. It makes us afraid and it slowly kills us. All of us instinctively know that living without hope is not sustainable. Imagine, e.g., what would happen if we found out that a cure or prevention of this virus was never going to come; it would be catastrophic to us and our society. Sadly, however, many choose to find hope in things that do not and cannot give hope and life; it is a symptom of our deep-seated hostility toward God that causes us to rebel against him. Nothing in this life, not power, money, fame, political identity, technology, medicine, or science, to name just a few, can overcome the valley of the shadow of death and putting our ultimate hope in these things is idolatry at its finest, which will result in God’s condemnation and our death. Only our crucified and risen Shepherd can help us overcome our fear of death because only in him are our sins forgiven and we are reconciled to God. Only Christ is the resurrection and the life who promises that those who follow him will live forever, even though our mortal bodies must die (Jn 11.25-26). So let us resolve in this time of pandemic to put our whole hope and trust in the only One who can and will walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. When we do, we have nothing to fear because we know our greatest enemy, Death, has been defeated and will one day be destroyed forever when God’s new creation comes in full with Christ’s return. Living without fear of death is partly what it means to live as resurrection people. In Christ our ultimate death is abolished. Why should we be afraid?

Second and related to the first point, when we are convinced our Great Shepherd walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, we are able to die well. Hear me carefully here. Nobody should want to die. Death is our greatest enemy. But we are mortal and despite our denial about this fact, we will all die. Dying without fear, dying a peaceful death when our time comes, are marks of a vibrant and lively resurrection faith rooted in our Great Shepherd. One of the most wicked things about this virus is that it has forced many to die alone without human presence and touch. That in itself should be enough to convince us that it comes from the devil himself. But when our Great Shepherd walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, we can go without that human touch because he is there with us and we know we are not dying alone. Human senses may not perceive his presence any more than we know when our Lord speaks to babies in the womb at their conception, but that does not make his presence and peace any less real. Again, please do not misunderstand. I deeply lament the fact that some have to die alone. This is not how God intends it. But those who have a lively resurrection faith in Christ have his assurance that they are never alone, not even in death, and that he will welcome them into his loving presence, so that they no longer have to be afraid. How well we die is as important as how well we live, and without a real and lively relationship with Christ, it is impossible to die well, human denial and fantasies about death notwithstanding. Are you prepared to die well in the faith and peace and love of Christ who gave himself for you because he loves you, even in all your unloveliness, so that you can live forever? During this time of pandemic, we as God’s people in Christ have the holy opportunity to proclaim our faith in our Savior by preparing to die a good death whenever it comes.

But as we have seen, the whole of mortal life is lived in the valley of the shadow of death. So how do we cultivate our Lord’s risen presence in the living of our days? To that we turn to our NT lesson for some helpful insights because as all our readings make clear, being people of our Great Shepherd is a collective, not individual, thing. As St. Luke makes abundantly clear in Acts, our life in Christ is to be lived out together as a family. If we ever hope to develop the deep and abiding faith in Christ needed to allow us to live as people without fear who are prepared to live and die well in his risen presence, people who know his great love for them and who stake their very lives on this knowledge, we have to participate in the four marks of the Church: We have to appropriate the apostolic teaching contained in the NT, enjoy a common life together (fellowship), break bread together, and pray together. The history of the Church is littered with various examples of the wreckage of those who failed to participate in these four marks of the Church and if we at St. Augustine’s fail to participate in them fully, we can expect to be part of that wreckage. I appeal to you, my beloved, let us not do that to ourselves!

First, we are to learn the apostolic teaching in the NT because we believe that they were eyewitnesses of our Lord’s life and death who received Christ’s teachings and example directly, and are therefore in a position to pass on to us what we must do/think/say to be his followers. For example, last week we learned how the first Christians became resurrection peeps who believed in the power of Christ’s bodily resurrection that announced the new creation and the resurrection of the dead, filling them with joy and new hope. In our epistle lesson today, we learn from St. Peter that followers of Christ are not to retaliate against their enemies and those who afflict them with suffering. We are to do this because this is what Christ did for us. He did not condemn us for our sins but took them on himself so that we would not suffer God’s just condemnation. As we study the Scriptures together, we learn how to live out hard teachings like this and to identify markers of what real love looks like, the love of God that heals and sustains, not human love that often seeks its own distorted pleasures and goals. As fallen human beings, we are prone to misinterpreting the word of God, so we need the family corrective to help us get it right and keep it right. And as our NT lesson also attests, we can learn from apostolic teaching how we can know Christ’s presence in and among us in the power of the Spirit. St. Luke tells us the Church did the four things at which we are looking and God blessed and grew their numbers because they did, filling them with joy and power. 

Second, we are to enjoy sweet fellowship together because as we have already seen, we all need the human touch. We also need sweet fellowship to help us not be afraid. Think about it. When are we most vulnerable to fear and despair? When we are isolated and feel all alone. We need each other to weep with and celebrate with. When we enjoy the kind of intimate family relationships St. Luke reports in our NT lesson today, we can be real with each other. We will be there for each other and we can be charitable in our agreements and disagreements. We may not always see eye to eye on lesser things in life, but that will not prevent us from being part of the same flock our Great Shepherd leads, and together he helps us help each other in our weaknesses to grow in our relationship with him as well as with each other. As St. Paul reminds us, the Holy Spirit lives in us individually and collectively (1 Cor 6.19), and Christ is made known to us in and through the Spirit’s presence. Families are the glue of a coherent society and God’s family in Christ is no exception!

When we break bread together, especially at the eucharist, we remind each other that we have died and been raised with Christ to new life. We feast on our Lord’s body and blood, literally consuming him, and we are sustained and nurtured by him in the power of the Spirit. If you have ever wondered where Christ is in the midst of darkness, look no further than his Word contained in Scripture and in the sacrament of Holy Communion. There you will find a healed and redeemed people, people who are far from perfect but who have caught a glimpse of what risen life in Christ is like and are refreshed and made whole over time. We will have to wait for God’s new creation to come in full to enjoy perfect healing and health, but we still enjoy the imperfect healing and wholeness made known to us in Christ’s death and resurrection. This is why in the midst of a plague-ravaged world, Christ’s resurrection with its announcement of new creation can be such a healing and stabilizing factor to help us navigate during these desperate times. When we do not participate in the eucharist on a regular basis, we are in clear danger of failing to make Christ’s death and resurrection the center of everything we say and do and believe, and we will suffer badly as a result.

And of course we are to pray together because we are heaven and earth people. We pray for ourselves and for others who are in desperate need because we desire to bring God’s power to bear in our lives and the lives of others so that his kingdom will come on earth as in heaven. It is what loving people do. In prayer we can draw close to Christ himself, who sits at God’s right hand (rules) and intercedes for us out of his great love for us. We can pour out our hopes and fears in prayer, asking for Christ’s guidance, confident that he will guide us—often through his people—because he has promised to be our Great Shepherd. Prayer helps keep us rooted in the reality of God’s Kingdom and reminds us we do not worship an absent or uncaring God. 

This is what St. Luke is describing for us. It is the family of God at work (and play) together. It isn’t a version of primitive communism as some have argued. It is a winsome and wholesome description of the first followers of Christ living together as a true family and it is a far more compelling notion of church than those who see doing church as coming to worship once a week and then going their own way to do their own thing. And I am here to tell you, St. Augustine’s, that we fit this description of church pretty well. Not perfectly, of course, because we are a bunch of ragamuffins. But we have the marks of a vibrant family and so there is no reason for any of us to be afraid or not have a lively resurrection faith. And if you are still skeptical, I would invite you to read or reread Bethany’s testimony of how she came to believe in the resurrection of the body. It wasn’t just apostolic teaching. It was fellowship and breaking bread and prayer as well. She realized you aren’t the total losers she originally thought you were and God used you to help bring her to a healthy faith, thanks be to God! This is how Christ nurtures us and helps us not to be afraid. This is worth celebrating, my beloved, even in the midst of pandemic. I pray we will all do what is necessary to become people of power, resurrection people who know they have the Great Shepherd to walk with them wherever they go, even in the valley of the shadow of death. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Justyn Martyr Explains Why the Eucharist is not Offered to Unbelievers

No one may share the eucharist with us unless they believe that what we teach is true, unless they are washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of sins, and unless they live in accordance with the principles given us by Christ. 

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a human being of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilate for their nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving. The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: ‘‘Do this in memory of me. This is my body.” In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: ‘This is my blood.” The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or in the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us urging everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks as well as possible, and the people give their assent by saying: “Amen.” The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, the president takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

—Justyn Martyr [d. ca. 167 AD], First Apology 66-67

Deacon Jonathon Wylie: Reborn to a Living Hope

Sermon delivered on Easter 3A, Sunday, April 26, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

While Deacon Wylie has his PhD, apparently he never had to learn to write as he was getting it as there is no written manuscript for today’s sermon. To hear it, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.14a, 36-41; Psalm 116.1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1.3-23; St. Luke 24.13-35.

New Life in the New Creation Theology: A Testimony

From one of our bright young stars at St. Augustine’s. It’s a powerful testimony as to why there is no such thing as an isolate Christian for the love of Christ to be made fully known.

18 April 2020

When I was first introduced to the idea of the “New Heaven and New Earth,” I was resistant. Hostile, even. A perfected creation where I would live with a physical body, in a physical world very like this one? Yeah, right.

My skepticism was partly born from what I now recognize as despair. I believed that the substance of this world was so deeply broken, so deeply wretched, so enslaved to corrupting forces of sin and death, that there was no way it could be made good again. My relationships were so shot through with the misery inherent in all flesh that there was no way to fix them. Heaven was, I was sure, an ethereal place untethered from bodily existence, with no past to remember and no future to look forward to. I couldn’t possibly imagine otherwise.

I think back to that way of believing with more than a little pity for my past self. Not only did I think that God was waiting to destroy the world with fire, I also had no hope for a better future. The fact was, the “heaven” that I was taught to await was not a nice place. Eternality in a fleshless life was no less terrifying than endless darkness of death. The teachings I had received in that other, Not-to-be-Identified church told me to fear sin and avoid it (that was the extent of the spiritual life I was taught to lead); and if I avoided sin successfully enough, and believed in Jesus under very particular doctrinal constraints, then I had a fleshless, unimaginable heaven to look forward to. 

I called myself a Christian, and I desperately looked for Christ. But I lived inside of a theology that gave me no hope, no joy, and no guide for how to live in the world that Christ created. It had nothing to say about life, much less life-after-death. 

You would think that when I heard Fr Kevin talking about the New Creation, where we would live for eternity in a perfected physical world with our loved ones, I would have leapt at the idea. It should have been the clear answer shining in the darkness. But I was incredibly resistant to it. 

And that brings me to the second reason why I had trouble accepting this creation theology – because I didn’t want to be trapped in the body that I had been burdened with. It was bad enough, I thought, to be female in this life. But to be condemned to being female – and thus, in my mind, a lesser and derivative creature – for all of eternity? No way. That reeked of another male-centered theology that saw no reason why women shouldn’t want to be stuck as second-class citizens for all of time, a theology that saw no problem with telling women that their only value to God was their ability to bear children. 

The only thing I thought I could hope for, back then in that spiritually dead life I had, was to die and have the chance to be on equal footing with God’s other creatures – men – when we all got to be non-gendered, disembodied blobs together. 

How dare Fr Kevin tell me to believe in this New Creation with a “better” physical body that left me in the same position I was in before – the less loved creature? The one that God had only created to help Adam? It was well enough for him, I thought, and for all the other male theologians, to crow about a resurrection of the body, when they got to be men in the next life, and I got stuck being this. So I wasn’t having this misogynist bullshit about being created men and women, and how great marriage was (great for who? certainly not great for me), and the New Creation, and blah blah blah. 

But what Fr Kevin couldn’t convince me of with words he convinced me of with actions. Because it was around then that I started attending St Augustine’s regularly. This was the summer of 2015, I think. I had met Carl, and we talked a lot about spiritual things. As you can already tell from reading this, I was dealing with a lot of spiritual baggage (so much more than I’ve let on with these short paragraphs). And when Carl told me about his church, and what they believed, I was drawn in like a fly to honey. What, you mean ANY baptized Christian can come to communion? You’re saying the vestry has WOMEN on it?? I couldn’t believe it, and I desperately wanted to believe it. These conversations happened at the same time that the Holy Spirit in his infinite wisdom “gave the boot” from the Not-To-Be-Named Church I was previously attending; and so out I went, into the cold day of unanswered questions: Who is God? And who am I to God? 

I was troubled, deeply and painfully, for many years by a recurring thought that God had made me less by making me a female. I was told in my other church that I was not allowed to teach, not allowed to serve at the altar, not allowed preach, not allowed to read scripture or pray in front of the congregation. To do so was in violation of St Paul’s admonition that women were to be “silent in the church.” And yes, I was silent in the church, because I cry very quietly. “God loves you less,” the voice in my head told me. “God made you smart and opinionated and angry so that you could learn to tamp it down through true humility. God will love you better if you learn to be quiet; if you submit yourself to a husband; if you pop out a couple kids.”

But there was another voice, too. And that voice said, “You know the Holy Spirit kicked you out of the church that taught you that. Maybe He wants you to hear a new story, a new version of who He is and how he sees you. Follow that.”

So I followed Carl, and Fr Kevin, to St Augustine’s. I drank it in like person dying in the desert. Even when there were teachings that I wasn’t used to – Fr Kevin’s New Creation and the bodily resurrection; Fr Ric’s insistence that the “egoic mind” and its addiction to scarcity was the “flesh” that Paul talked about – I sucked it in and held it close. I was desperate for a new way of engaging with God, one that hurt less than what I’d had before. 

And if you saw me crying in the pew those first few months during communion (or even now sometimes, when gratitude overcomes me, that God brought me here, to this place, to these people), it was because I saw women standing next to men at the altar before the rest of the congregation came up front for the bread and wine. I saw smart, kind, capable women in the altar guild standing in white robes next to men. I saw women who were prayer warriors. And there they stood, equal numbers of men and women, standing together in that sacred space, as equals. 

In those early conversations with Fr Kevin, I couldn’t quite hold on to the words he gave me. The old stories about Creation and Resurrection couldn’t help me then. I couldn’t hear past the ringing in my ears that said “The Creation narrative tells you that you are only partially human, made from Adam’s rib.” But what moved me and changed me was seeing the actions: women standing next to men as equals. 

As I’ve come to know how business works at St Augustine’s, I’ve had a chance to see how men and women work together for the Kingdom of God. I’ve watched women speak up and be heard in Vestry meetings and at parish meetings. I’ve watched women lead, and teach, and talk, and be taken seriously as equals in a congregation family. I’ve come to know these women, love and admire them, as powerful forces for good in the church and in their families and communities. I’ve come to know the men in our congregation who also admire and listen to the women. And I’ve never heard anything derogatory about a woman’s participation in the life of the Church, or the life of the Spirit. Seeing that, living in that, I slowly healed. I became the marvel of calm assurance that you see before you today (please read that with the sarcasm I intend). 

I was given Special Dispensation to attend Thursday Night Men’s Group (thanks, Fr Kevin, for advocating for me), and I was treated like one of the guys. It was something I desperately wanted – just to be included with the men, as if I mattered, too – and it helped. A lot. Way more than you’d think for smoking a bunch of stinky cigars and shouting happily at each other across a noisy screened in porch. 

I’m one of those people who thinks too much. As such, I’m one of those people who thinks you can solve all your problems by thinking, by logical decision-making. So I was a bit curious when I realized that the “believing I was created as an inferior being” problem didn’t go away when I DECIDED that I no longer logically assented to the theology. Where had that voice gone, I wondered? But more importantly, why didn’t it disappear as soon as I decided I no longer agreed with that belief?

Well, there’s the short answer and the long answer. 

The short answer is this: the voice telling me God loved me less for being female was hounding me, and it began to sound less and less like “me” and more like some external force. One late night it became very pronounced, and so I exorcised it. No, not like the thing from The Exorcist. More like Alice in Wonderland, when she stamps her foot, and says “Go away!” to the Cheshire Cat. So I stamped my spiritual foot and said “Go away!” and recited some verses that state “Whatever you command in my name,” etc. etc. And it never came back to bother me again. 

The longer answer is more compelling (more compelling than casting out a demon, you may well ask?). And that is, that I needed to live in a community that practiced what it preached. I needed to be part of a group of Christians who not only said “Be fed,” but who fed me. At St Augustine’s, I participated in every aspect of the life of the church that the men did: I read scripture and prayed; I served on altar guild; I smoked cigars; I joined vestry and spoke up and was heard. And when I was more confident that I wasn’t just being relegated to “women’s work,” I helped run Godly Play and volunteered to help cook and serve meals with Faith Mission. After years of being involved in every way I can with the church and the other members, I can say “God loves me just as much as anyone else” – not through logical assent, but because I’ve lived inside of that love, equality, and acceptance. 

And this brings me to my final point: the importance of the messenger, not just the message. If we could learn everything we needed to learn from reading scriptures, then we wouldn’t need Christian community. But the fact is, God has specially ordained that the Good News of what God has done for us be spread through us. He has made us messengers. And we may not be the most eloquent, nor the most educated – Lord knows I’m neither – but he blesses our efforts to bring others into the fold. He blesses our conversations about spiritual things. He blesses our gatherings (virtual and physical). He blesses our services, our corporate prayer and worship. He blesses it when we invite a visitor to our church – however shy, awkward, and occasionally defensive or hostile she may be – into our homes, onto our porches, into the space at the altar. 

This is the community of God. This beautiful, weird, imperfect, loving family is the first-fruits of the promises of God. I couldn’t believe in the physical resurrection until I experienced a church family that valued me, despite my being a woman. I couldn’t believe in the New Creation until I experienced a church family that showed me that altruistic relationships were possible (if still to be perfected) in the next life. 

Back in the summer of 2015, I stood on a street corner – physically and metaphysically – and begged God for Christian friends and a Christian community. And the greatest evidence that I have that God loves me and gives good gifts is that he brought me to St Augustine’s. Thanks God. I love you weirdos. 

Bishop Julian Dobbs: Read It and Believe

Sermon delivered on Easter 2A, Sunday, April 19, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The bishop has been bitten by the Father Bowser, “I can’t produce a written text for my sermon” bug. So if you want to listen to his excellent sermon, you will have to click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.14a, 22-32, Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1.3-9; St. John 20.19-31.

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Saturday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Saturday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.51-59

51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Today we conclude our look at St. Paul’s masterful teaching about the resurrection of the dead. He begins by reminding us that resurrection is fundamentally about transformation: from death to life, from decay to vitality, from darkness to light, all made possible by the love and power of God the Father made known in the saving work of God the Son.

God’s new world will come in full in an instant and those who are still living when Christ returns to finish his saving work and finally judge all evil and evildoers, human and spiritual, will find their mortal bodies transformed along with the dead who are raised to new life. So whether living or dead, for those who belong to Christ, the end result is life eternal.

Again St. Paul tells us that Death is the last enemy to be conquered. We looked at his reasoning on Wednesday. Here he reminds us that immortal bodies along with God’s new world have always been God’s intention for his creation and creatures, especially his image-bearing creatures. God created everything good and intends to rescue and restore it, humans included. It’s the overarching story of Scripture. Our rebellion would have undone us permanently had it not been for the great love and mercy of God our Father who sent his only Son (or became human) to die for us so that God could finally undo death. For those who belong to Christ, the power of Sin cannot and will not prevail. Our future is secured. At the resurrection of the dead the last enemy is defeated and God’s saving work will be completed, thanks be to God!! (As a sidebar for you pet lovers, given the transformative nature of God’s new world, I see no reason why the non-human creatures that we loved will not also be present in the new heavens and earth. The logic of new creation points to it, even if Scripture for the most part remains silent about it. After all, animals belong to the created order and God has declared his intention to redeem and restore the entire created order, not just parts of it.)

But here’s the punchline. Notice carefully how St. Paul concludes his teaching on the resurrection. He doesn’t tell us to party like it’s the end time or focus entirely on the future, massively important as that is. No, St. Paul tells us to be strong and immovable, always working enthusiastically as God’s people because we know that nothing we ever do for the sake of Christ is ever useless or in vain (v.59). What a remarkable conclusion! St. Paul reminds us here that we are to leverage our future hope to help us live faithfully in a world surrounded by darkness and infested by human folly, sin, and the powers of Evil. Of course there are glimpses of God’s truth, beauty, love, and goodness all around. We can’t look at the beauty of nature or human relationships when they operate as God intended and not see that. But there is also much that corrupts and destroys the goodness of God’s world and our lives. St. Paul knows that it can overwhelm us and cause us to fall away from our faith in Christ. Don’t let that happen, he warns. You can’t always see or know the good you do in Christ’s name and for his sake. Don’t let it discourage you because your present and future are secure, and nothing in all creation, not even death, can separate you from the love of God made known in Jesus Christ our Lord (see Romans 8.31-39).

Of all the things St. Paul has talked about, this last verse might be most practical in helping us cope with the darkness of pandemic and our lives. Don’t give up hope. Don’t fall into despair. Keep on being faithful, even when it looks like nothing is happening. Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and Death is defeated. We can’t see that yet either, but we know it’s coming! So trust God based on an informed faith. Think about and ponder this hope that is yours. Talk to other Christians about how to encourage and support and love each other during these dark days. And then get to work because you know the world in which you live is important to God, who has moved to heal and redeem it through the power of suffering love. Get to work, even in the face of the darkness that confronts you, because you know that nothing you do in the name of the Lord is ever wasted or in vain, thanks be to God! Christos Anesti. Alithos Anesti!

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Friday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Friday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.35-50

35 But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” 36 What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 37 And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 38 Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. 39 Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.

40 There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. 41 The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.

42 It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.

45 The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. 46 What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. 47 Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. 48 Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man.49 Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.

50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.

Today we come to the heart of St. Paul’s teaching about the resurrection of the body. St. Paul begins by asking the skeptic’s question: How are the dead raised, i.e., how can God possibly do that? We just can’t imagine it! What about, e.g., those whose bodies have been obliterated or lost at sea so there are no tangible remains? What about those who have been cremated? What a foolish question, St. Paul declares. Just because you can’t imagine resurrection doesn’t mean God doesn’t have the power to accomplish it. After all, God is the God who creates things out of nothing (the cosmos) and raises the dead to life (Romans 4.17), Jesus being the most important example! What is too hard for God to accomplish? In other words, St. Paul tells us that resurrection is God’s problem, not ours, and we shouldn’t worry about how God will pull off the resurrection of the dead and transform the old creation into the new. God has promised to do it in raising Christ from the dead and God will accomplish what he promises, so chill out, baby. St. Paul then continues his argument for bodily resurrection by declaring that there are different types of bodies in the created order. He is laying the foundation to talk about the difference between our present mortal bodies (psychikon soma) versus our future spiritual bodies. Below I post a short video by Dr. Ben Witherington, where he explains clearly and concisely what St. Paul meant by a “spiritual body” (pneumatikon soma). Listen to him now.

What I want to reemphasize here is that when St. Paul speaks of resurrection he is clearly speaking about bodily resurrection and affirming the goodness of the created order. Our mortal bodies will die because we all belong to Adam and have been afflicted and enslaved by the power of Sin, which leads to our mortal death. If you have ever seen a dead human body before the undertaker has prepared it for viewing, you know exactly what St. Paul is talking about when he speaks of our mortal bodies being buried in weakness and brokenness. I had never seen a dead body outside a funeral home until I served as a chaplain intern in preparation for my ordination to the priesthood. I’ll never forget the night I was called to the hospital to attend to a person to whom I had ministered in life who had just died. It was night, which only added to my apprehension as I walked into the dimly-lit room to see the person’s dead body lying there. An awful look had come over it, like an alien and hostile force had taken ahold of it, and I hardly recognized the person. I observed an ugliness that had never been there in life. It was very disconcerting and I realized that this is not what God ever intended for his image-bearers. Had it not been for me knowing that this saint was safely with the Lord and that the person’s mortal body would be raised and healed and transformed into a thing of astonishing beauty, even more beautiful than the person’s mortal body had been, I would have become completely unnerved and overwhelmed by what confronted me. I experienced first-hand what St. Paul was talking about in the passage above about the weakness and brokenness of our mortal bodies. Death is not pretty. It is not our friend, but our enemy.

But thanks be to God we also belong to Christ by baptism and faith so that we can look forward to having resurrected bodies like our crucified and risen Lord has now. Those bodies will be adapted for immortality because God’s new creation will be eternal when it comes in full at Christ’s return. In telling us that mortal bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (the new creation when it comes in full), St. Paul is not denigrating bodily existence. He knew bodies matter to God! St. Paul is simply affirming that what is temporary (our mortal body) is not suited or equipped to inhabit that which is permanent and eternal (the new creation). Our mortal bodies die because we belong to Adam. Or resurrection bodies will never die because we belong to Christ.

As we are bombarded with news about COVID-19 and the rising death count, how can you use this passage from 1 Corinthians 15 to help you keep perspective and prevent you from falling into fear and despair? Perhaps the story I shared with you will also help guide your reflections. Think through what Paul is saying and then talk about it with fellow Christians. It is critical that we answer these questions. In doing so, we will find God gives us new power and resolve during this time of death and despair. Keep your focus where it should be—on Christ’s love, light, and power. Christos Anesti!

Tomorrow: Conclusion—1 Corinthians 15.51-59

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Thursday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Thursday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.29-34

29 If the dead will not be raised, what point is there in people being baptized for those who are dead? Why do it unless the dead will someday rise again?

30 And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? 31 For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you. 32 And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!”33 Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all.

So far in this chapter, St. Paul has laid out the historical basis of Christ’s resurrection and the certainly of the future hope of resurrection for those who belong to Christ. Here he gives two more examples in support of his argument. Whatever was behind the purpose of being baptized for the dead—this is the only reference to it in the NT and other ancient Christian literature—we mustn’t let it distract our focus on resurrection. St. Paul mentions it simply to reinforce his argument that Christ has been raised from the dead and that the Christian hope of resurrection is based on that reality. If Christ isn’t raised, why conduct baptism by proxy for the dead? Makes no sense.

Likewise, if Christ isn’t raised and our future resurrection isn’t assured, why would St. Paul risk his own life and suffer what he had endured for the sake of proclaiming a false gospel (as some of his opponents had claimed in denying the resurrection) that Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead to announce the forgiveness of sins and the partial in-breaking of God’s new world on the old? We could ask ourselves the same question. As we saw previously, if there is no resurrection, we have no hope for a real future beyond our mortal life and we’d better be about grabbing all the gusto and fun we can selfishly hoard (toilet paper anyone?) because our days are numbered.

St. Paul then scolds those in the church at Corinth (not unbelievers outside the church) who have caved to the cynical darkness of the world and taught wrongly and falsely that there is no resurrection of the dead. Those people, roars St. Paul, do not know God at all! To add to their foolishness and folly, they are trying to bring down others by denying the bodily resurrection of Christ. Yikes! If that is not enough to make us shudder as Christians, I don’t know what can.

Here’s an example that I hope illustrates what St. Paul is talking about. I read yesterday that a famous preacher in Virginia had died from COVID-19 after refusing to stay at home and preaching that “God is larger than this dreaded virus.” One of the commenters on the story sneered that karma was greater than the pastor’s God. I do not comment on the pastor’s decision. He has paid for it with his life; may he rest In peace and rise in glory. What I do comment on is the commenter’s sneering remark because it reflects pretty well the ethos of the world of Adam, the current Age in which we live, an age where the world is fundamentally hostile to God. When I read it I wondered how karma will work out for him on his deathbed as clearly he didn’t have a clue about the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has the power to create things out of nothing and raise the dead (Romans 4.17). Despite his tragic mistake, the Virginia pastor has a future awaiting him. The sneering commenter? Not so much unless he abandons his foolishness, and I pray to God that he will. This is what St. Paul is getting at in this section of 1 Corinthians 15. We have been given a great gift and treasure in the hope and promise of resurrection. Let us not feed our pearls to the pigs, but instead pray for those who do not have the treasure for themselves. The resurrection for St. Paul and countless other Christians over time and across cultures has made all the difference in the world for them and how they live(d) their lives.

How do you make your resurrection faith real as you cope with this pandemic? What makes you want to abandon it or deny the reality of your future? What do you do when that happens to resist the temptation? Think these questions through and talk to others about it. Encourage each other as needed. Doing so will help you refocus where your attention should be, on God’s new world, not the darkness of this world, and you will discover God’s blessings afresh. Christos Anesti!

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.35-50

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Wednesday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Wednesday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.20-28

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.

St. Paul has built a case for the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection in the previous verses. Now he draws his conclusion. There’s going to be a general resurrection of the dead and Christ’s resurrection signals that reality. In other words, there’s going to be a new physical reality beyond the scope of history. Why is that important? Because the world is tied to Adam and its end is death and destruction. Why? Because everyone sins, which alienates us from God and excludes our presence with his. The profane (fallen humanity) does not fare well when it meets the holy (God). We, like our first ancestor Adam, are fundamentally flawed and have become slaves to the power of Sin; and as St. Paul writes elsewhere, sin leads to death. Without help from an outside Power, the world of Adam of which we are a part is bound to lead to suffering, sorrow, alienation, decay, and ultimately death. We see it swirling around and within us all the time. COVID-19 is a classic example of what’s wrong with Adam’s world, the current world in which we live. This is where the world and our lives are headed without outside intervention.

Fortunately there is a power greater than the power of Sin: The love and power of God made known to us in Jesus Christ and him crucified. Those who belong to Christ, who by baptism and faith believe him to be the Son of God and the Resurrection and the Life (John 11.25-26), will share in his risen life, even though our mortal body must die (because we formerly belonged to Adam).

But here’s the kicker for St. Paul. While most first-century Jews believed in a general resurrection of the dead at the end of history, nobody expected or anticipated a one-off event in the middle of history—until Christ arose from the dead, that is. So here we see St. Paul adjusting his theology to match the new reality that Christ has been raised from the dead to inaugurate and give us a glimpse of God’s new world and new life, all made possible by his death on the cross. He tells us that when Christ returns to usher in God’s new creation in full with its abolition of all things evil including Sin and Death, those who belong to Christ will be raised to new life.

The course of history, says St. Paul, has been radically altered from death to life.

Heaven and earth will be joined together and the goodness of God’s original creation will be restored, only on steroids. We can’t imagine what this looks like because it comes from God’s realm, heaven (that’s why we are to put our focus there). Whatever it looks like, it will reflect the love, beauty, and power of God, just as God’s current world partially reflects these things. Sins will be forgiven forever, memories and bodies healed, all things destructive will be banned so as not to harm us or God’s creation ever again (see Revelation 21.1-8). We can only imagine—and hope with eager anticipation.

But why is Death the last enemy to be destroyed? Because until Christ returns to raise the dead, folks are still dead! To be sure, the souls of the dead who belong to Christ are resting with him in heaven right now, aware of his loving presence (cf. Philippians 1.23-24), but until they are reunited with their body, they are still dead. Here we find another robust endorsement of the created order and a very high view of human beings. Bodies matter to the Lord! He created them and has redeemed them in Christ’s death (Romans 8.1-4), and he intends to restore them one day to their full glory at the resurrection of the dead. But until all the components that make us human are reunited, we are still dead and death still remains.

How can the promise of new creation and new indestructible bodies help you understand the importance of your own humanity in this life? How can the promise of an evil-free and perfect world where you can finally enjoy life fully as God created and intended for it to be help you cope with the darkness of your life? Why is the prospect of new creation so much better and more exciting than existing in a disembodied state for all eternity? How can the hope of resurrection and new creation help you cope during this pandemic with all its attendant bad news? Apply St. Paul’s teaching today to these questions. Think about it and reflect on it with other Christians and expect God to bless you as you do. After all, the blessing itself is a sign of new life in the midst of a death-dealing world! Christos Anesti!

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.29-34

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Tuesday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear. If yesterday you missed why I’m do this, you can read about it here.

Reading for Tuesday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.12-19

12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

As we saw yesterday, resurrection is hard for us to imagine because it comes from God, not humans, and so it shouldn’t surprise us to see that even in St. Paul’s day there were folks who struggled to believe that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Here he tells us that our future resurrection is based on the fact that Christ is raised from the dead because our life here and hereafter are inextricably linked to his. No resurrection for Jesus, no resurrection for his followers.

Second, if the resurrection is a myth, then the things St. Paul and the other apostles had been preaching about the saving power of the cross were a lie. Without the resurrection, Jesus would have died the death of a common criminal and the cross would have remained a sign of shame and degradation rather than of God’s forgiveness, healing, and redemption of our sins and brokenness. If that were the case, then our sins have not been forgiven and we remain hostile and alienated from God. The trajectory of this world and our mortal life remains decay and death. We have no hope, no future. We are dead people walking.

Third, if we have no hope or future, we are living a lie and those who preached Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead are liars themselves. They lied about God, about life, and about death. No Good News there.

And finally, if there is no resurrection, anyone who follows Christ with his demand to us to deny ourselves and take up our cross is a fool and should be pitied. If we have no future other than this mortal life, we’d better be grabbing for all the gusto we can get (and other earthly things) before we die. With no real future, self-giving love is a farce and a delusion.

St. Paul’s point is that the resurrection was the course-changing event in history. It proclaims that we have a future and that even though we suffer mortal death and are afflicted by all kinds of evil, our future is life, not death. That’s why we have hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come. We have this sure and certain expectation because we believe that Christ is alive, and because he is, we are taught that those who follow him are promised a share in both his life and death.

How can/does this hope (the sure and certain expectation of resurrected life in God’s new world) help mitigate the death dealing news of COVID-19 or other death dealing events in your life? What signs of new creation and new life do you see breaking through around you? Think it over and think it through. Then talk to other Christians and see what you come up with. This is keeping your focus on Christ and things of heaven. God in his grace and love for you will surely bless your efforts.

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.20-28