Father Santosh Madanu: Righteousness that Comes from Faith

Our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans continues. Sermon delivered on Trinity 9A, Sunday, August 9, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 37.1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105.1-6, 16-22; Romans 10.5-15; Matthew 14.22-33.

Kenyan runner Abel Mutai was only a few meters from the finish line, but got confused with the signs and stopped, thinking he had finished the race. A Spanish man, Ivan Fernandez, was right behind him and, realizing what was going on, started shouting to the Kenyan to keep running. Mutai did not know Spanish and did not understand.  Realizing what was going on, Fernandez pushed Mutai to victory. A reporter asked Ivan, “Why did you do this?” Ivan replied, “My dream is that one day we can have some sort of community life where we push ourselves and help each other win.” The reporter insisted “But why did you let the Kenyan win?” Ivan replied, “I didn’t let him win, he was going to win. The race was his.”   The reporter insisted and asked again, “But you could have won!” Ivan looked at him and replied: “But what would be the merit of my victory? What would be the honor of this medal? What would my Mother think of it?” The values are transmitted from generation to generation. What values do we teach our children.

The values must be transmitted from one generation to the next.  People must speak of my good story of life.  Our value system should be part of history.

God the Father loved us and transmitted the eternal values thorough His son Jesus.  The heavenly values are love, joy, Justice, righteousness, faith, kindness, trust and peace.  This is what we are seeing in the letter of St.Paul to Romans.

ROMANS 10.   

As we look at Romans 10 verses 5-15, we must remember how they relate to the rest of the chapter. Note the abundance of connecting words with which Paul links one thought to another: 

Throughout chapters 9-11, Paul talks about the salvation of Israel and the broadening of the plan of salvation to include Gentiles. Israel’s unbelief is a problem (9:30-33), but Paul expresses his “heart’s desire and my prayer…that they may be saved” (10:1). “For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness” (10:3), and have failed to understand that “Christ is the fulfillment of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (10:4).

ROMANS 10:5.  THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW

5For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law, “The one who does them will live by them.”

“For Moses writes about the righteousness of the law“ where Paul spoke of his “heart’s desire and prayed  to God for (his fellow Israelites) that they might be saved,” and their “ignorance of the righteousness of God,” preferring to establish their own righteousness.

In this verse, Paul sets up a contrast between “the righteousness of the law” and “the righteousness which is of faith” (v. 6).

“The one who does them will live by them“ (v. 5b). Paul paraphrases Leviticus 18:5, where Moses said, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my ordinances; which if a man does, he shall live in them: I am Yahweh.” Israel staked its salvation on keeping God’s ordinances, and Israel’s devotion to God’s law, while far from perfect, distinguished Israel from other nations but if they failed to keep the commandments, there is punishment with death when  as in the new testament we have Jesus Christ who took our failurs and sins on the cross. Jesus Christ made us righteous with forgiveness and love.

There were, however, two problems related to Israel’s keeping God’s law:

• The first was their frequent failure to do so. The law demanded a high standard of obedience, which Israel largely failed to achieve.

• That, in itself, would not have been fatal had Israel been able to appreciate the role of faith in salvation—but they did not. Paul said that Israel “didn’t arrive at the law of righteousness…Because they didn’t seek it by faith, but as it were by works of the law. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (9:31-32). The law, which had been intended as a help and guide, became a stumbling stone when Israel came to rely on it rather than faith—when they sought to establish their own righteousness and failed to submit to God’s righteousness (10:3).

ROMANS 10:6-8.  THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS OF FAITH

6But the righteousness which is of faith says this, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down);7or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.)” 8But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;” that is, the word of faith, which we preach:

“But the righteousness which is of faith“ (v. 6a) contrasts with “righteousness of the law” (v. 5a). Paul spoke earlier of “righteousness which is of faith” (9:30) and “God’s righteousness” (10:3).

“Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down); or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.) ‘But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart’“ (vv. 6b-8). Paul alludes to Deuteronomy 30:11-14, where Moses exhorted the Israelites to obey Yahweh’s commandments—commandments that were neither too difficult nor too remote to observe. Those commandments were nearby, in their mouths and in their hearts. Yahweh had made those commandments accessible so that the Israelites could, without difficulty, know and obey them.

Moses emphasized that, when God commanded observance of the law, he was not requiring the impossible. The law was not distant from Israel (in heaven or beyond the sea), but was, instead, present with them (“in your mouth, and in your heart”).

“Don’t say in your heart“ (v. 6) alludes to Deuteronomy 9:4, where Moses warned Israel, “Don’t say in your heart, after Yahweh your God has thrust them out from before you, saying, ‘For my righteousness Yahweh has brought me in to possess this land;’ because Yahweh drives them out before you because of the wickedness of these nations.”

Moses was warning against a presumptuous attitude on Israel’s part—assuming that they had achieved personal excellence. This allusion reinforces Paul’s emphasis on“righteousness which is of faith“ (v. 6) rather than “righteousness of the law“ (v. 5)—and reinforces that true righteousness is a gift of God rather than something earned.

Just prior to these verses in Deuteronomy, however, Moses spoke of curses that would result from sins (Deuteronomy 27:11-26) and blessings that would result from obedience to God’s law (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). He warned Israel of the consequences of disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). He clearly expected Israel to disobey and to suffer the consequences. But Deuteronomy 30 says that Israel will return to God—and the Promised Land .

Paul omits the last few words of the Deuteronomy quotation—”that you may do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14). He wants to emphasize righteousness achieved by faith rather than righteousness achieved by observing the law, and “that you may do it” falls too heavily on the side of righteousness achieved by observing the law.

Paul reinterprets these verses from Deuteronomy to speak of Christ rather than commandments, asking: “‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down)” (v. 6) and “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.)” (v. 7). In doing so, Paul reveals a hidden layer of meaning to these verses from Deuteronomy that could be understood only after the resurrection.

The parallel between the Deuteronomy 30 wording and Christ’s experience (his ascension into heaven and descent into the abyss—see Ephesians 4:9-10) certainly encourages such a reinterpretation. The more significant parallel is between the commandments and Christ as God’s means of life-giving grace. Christ’s coming did not abolish the commandments, but instead brought them to their highest fulfillment (Matthew 5:17)—making God’s grace accessible in ways that it had not been previously.

“‘The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart;’ that is, the word of faith, which we preach“ (v. 8). Just as the commandments were not “too far away,” but were “in your mouth, and in your heart” (Deuteronomy 34:11, 14), so also, Paul assures these Roman Christians, the word of faith is near—”in your mouth, and in your heart” (v. 8). Paul notes, “we proclaim” this “word of faith” (v. 8).

ROMANS 10:9-13.  CONFESS, BELIEVE—BE SAVED

9that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (kurion—from kurios), and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11For the Scripture says, “Whoever (Greek: pas—all, everyone) believes in him will not be disappointed.” 12For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him. 13For, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

“that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (kurion—from kurios), and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved“ (v. 9). In verse 8, Paul said, “The word is near you, in your mouth, and in your heart.” Now he tells us what that means in practical terms. The word on our lips (v. 8) means confessing that Jesus is Lord (v. 9). The word in our heart (v. 8) means belief in the resurrection (v. 9). One oddity: The order seems backwards. One must believe before one can confess. Paul’s adopts the confess/believe order because Deuteronomy 30:14 puts “mouth” before “heart”: “But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14).

The word kurios is used thousands of times to refer to God in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Old Testament). While the word kurios does not always refer to God, Paul clearly intends its use in this verse to place Jesus on the same level as God.

Today, confessing Jesus as Lord with one’s lips is often limited to a worship setting in a church sanctuary. We invite people to confess their belief that Jesus is Lord as a part of the baptismal rite or the recitation of the creed, but that is pretty much the end of it. We hesitate to announce that Jesus is Lord in other settings lest we offend someone. We are conscious—overly so—that we live in a multicultural world where people have differing beliefs, and are sensitive—overly so—about stepping on someone else’s religious toes.

When we read this verse about “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord,” we should remember the setting in which Roman Christians did so. Rome considered Caesar to be Lord, and required its citizens and subjects to say, “Caesar is Lord.” To proclaim Jesus as Lord was to invite charges of disloyalty or treason, for which the penalty was death. It is likely that some of the Christians to whom Paul wrote this epistle knew Christians who had died for confessing that Jesus is Lord—and yet they continued their public proclamation—and so the church prospered, even as it was nurtured by the blood of the saints.

“believe in your heart” (v. 9b). Both Old and New Testaments use the word, heart, to refer to the core of the person.  When Paul talks about believing in your heart, it is clear that he means something greater than mere intellectual assent. Heart belief is a wellspring at the core of our being, and determines not only what we think but also how we act and the direction that our life will take.

“that God raised him from the dead” (v. 9c). Faith in Christ and belief in the resurrection are essentially synonymous.

“you will be saved” (v. 9d). We are saved by the grace of God, =but our faith and confession of that faith are essential components of that salvation.

“For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation“ (v. 10). Paul reverses the order of verse 9, putting belief before confession—a more conventional order.

In verse 10, Paul uses two words, justified and saved, that, while having different meanings, are nevertheless related. Justification is the process by which a person is counted as righteous and brought into a right relationship with God. Salvation comes about as a result of justification, and involves deliverance from sin and punishment.

“Whoever (Greek: pas—all, everyone) believes in him will not be disappointed“ (v. 11). A literal translation from the Greek would be: “All who believe in him will not be put to shame.” In this case, the literal translation seems preferable, because “All” highlights the inclusive character of God’s saving action. The idea is that everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved—both Jew and Gentile.

This allusion to Isaiah 28:16 (cf. Joel 2:26) was more fully developed in Romans 9:33, where Paul quoted it this way: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense; and no one who believes in him will be disappointed.”

“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him“ (v. 12). Earlier, Paul said: “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (3:21-23). In chapter 3, the “no distinction” was our sin. In chapter 10, the “no distinction” is God’s grace.

“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved“ (v. 13). Paul alludes to Joel 2:32, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” The original context was “the great and terrible day of Yahweh” (Joel 2:31), and those saved were to be from “Mount Zion and in Jerusalem” (Joel 2:32). In Romans, however, “Everyone” takes on a broader character, because “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all (Jew and Gentile) who call on him” (v. 12).

To call on the name of the Lord implies a call for help—a call for salvation, whether temporal salvation (being saved from immediate perils) or eschatological salvation (being saved for eternity).

In its original context, “the Lord” would have meant YHWH, but Paul reinterprets “Lord” to mean Jesus—a fact made apparent by his “Jesus is Lord” language in v. 9.

ROMANS 10:14-15.  HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in him whom they have not heard? How will they hear without a preacher? 15And how will they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News of peace,
who bring glad tidings of good things!”

The four questions in these verses explain why it is necessary to preach the gospel. Paul has just said, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That is a wonderful promise, but many people have not called on the name of the Lord. In some cases, they have refused to do so because they are in rebellion against the Lord. In other cases, they have neglected to do so because they were consumed by other concerns. But in many cases, they have not called on the name of the Lord because they know nothing about the Lord. They need someone to tell them.

The four questions in these verses are progressive and deal with what is needed if people are to call upon the name of the Lord (v. 13):

• The first requirement is that they believe (v. 14a).
• But they cannot believe in the Lord unless they hear about him (v. 14b).
• And they cannot hear about the Lord unless someone proclaims him (v. 14c).
• And no proclamation can be made unless the proclaimer is sent (v. 15a).

“And how will they preach unless they are sent?“ (v. 15a). Sent by whom? By God! The church is also involved in the sending. It ordains people to various kinds of ministry and provides them with resources—but it simply acts as the agent of God, who called the people to ministry in the first place. It is God who calls and sends, and it is God who empowers.

Today, we sometimes hear stories of people who happen to pick up a bible—perhaps a Gideon bible in a hotel room—and by reading it are brought to belief and salvation. Paul does not talk about the possibility of reading the word, but instead focuses on hearing the word. The reason is simple. While some people in that time were literate, most were not—and those who were literate had limited access to reading material. Almost without exception, if they were to know Christ, it would be because someone told them. Even though we now live in a world where literacy and reading materials are common, most people still come to Christ because someone told them.

“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Good News of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (v. 15b). Paul alludes to Isaiah 52:7, which says: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

In its original context, Isaiah was talking about the messengers who brought news of release from Babylonian captivity—and the joy of those who received that news from the messenger. Everything about those messengers would seem wonderful to the people who received the good news from them.

Even the messengers’ feet—a part of the body not usually considered beautiful—would seem beautiful because of the good news that they brought. Those feet were, after all, the feet that carried the messenger across miles of roads so that they could deliver the good news.

Of the Justification of  man

Gerald Bray commentary on justification of man as follows:

The fundamental question of Christian theology is justification by faith.  No one is righteous in the sight of God with their works but purely by the faith in Jesus Christ.

Luke 23:4343 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

Christians have hope in Jesus Christ to have justification based on His mercy and grace.  The doctrine of predestination and purgatory may mislead the believers and have false hope in God.  What are we suppose to say about the fate of those whom we know have never heard the Gospel? The Apostle Paul told the Athenians that God has over looked the time of ignorance ( Acts 17:30).

Romans 1:18 and 2:16 speaks about Pegans have turned away from God and although they will not be judged by  a law they have never heard of.  

As good Christian our duty is to preach the Gospel.  so that those who hear it will have a chance to believe and repent.  Our job is to sow the seeds of the Gospel whenever we can and not to choose or reject the ground it falls on in advance ( Mathew 13:3-8). 

Martin Brucer and Archbishop Cranner explained in most balanced manner, the election and predestination are the part of eternal plan of God for our redemption.

God in His eternal wisdom would rescue and restore His creatures- human beings in and through the cross of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit works in due season to bring about conversion.

Romans 8: 38-39  The elect obtain everlasting happiness by the mercy of God.

The benefit of our election are great:

  The Holy Spirit mortifies the works of flesh( Romans 8: 13), 

The Holy Spirit turns our minds to higher things ( 8:5)

The Holy Spirit establishes and confirms our faith in eternal salvation. ( Romans 8:16)

It is still axiomatic for some Protestant writers that the principle of justification by faith was ‘discovered’ or ‘ rediscovered’ by the Reformers. This often implies that the important principles expounded by Paul about the truth of salvation were overlooked or misunderstood by most of the early and medieval Church until Luther, meaning that not until the sixteenth century was Paul’s teaching about the imputation of the righteousness of God to the sinner by faith properly interpreted and integrated into Christian history.

 Justification:

The Anglican believes that justification means to be accounted as righteous by God. The basis for it is the work of the Lord Jesus, especially his death. It is not based on how good we are, or on what we do. The way we receive justification is by faith in the work of Christ.

Proclaiming  the Gospel of Christ

How one can take the Gospel of Christ to many especially to the unknown?

As St. Paul says one can take the Gospel of Christ when the missionaries are sent.  It is the every Christian responsibility to share the salvation in Christ Jesus.  This is where the Church is so important.  That is what Jesus did.  he chose 12 apostles and sent them to whole world to proclaim Good News.

What is church? Why Church?

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”… Mathew 16:17-19

Jesus is the head of the church.   And all the believers are  part of the church.

We have visible church and invisible church.

?All the Baptized are considered as visible church.

? In Invisible church true believer who truly believe in Christ as the head.

Paul being a good Jew, know THORAH  and practiced all the commandments sincerely speaking his fellow Jews and Romans that only righteousness of faith in Christ will save us.

Gospel Reflection:

[25] And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them (which means about 4 am, which means they had been battling this storm for about 6 hours… you know what that means, Jesus did not come immediately—he let them fight the storm for most of the night before he came!) 2 , walking on the sea. [26] But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. [27] But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 

Jesus doesn’t come immediately. And then when he does come, he comes strolling by at a distance so close they can see him and hear him

But does he come right up to them and hop in the boat and say, “It’s OK, I’m here to save you!”? No. Mark 6:48, a parallel account of this, adds: “He meant to pass by them.” How odd! They’re struggling for their lives… “I’ll see you on the other side.” 

  • To get his help, they have to call out. 2 John MacArthur, Matthew 8–15,  • QUICK LESSON: Never overlook human initiative in gaining the help of God as you struggle. HE’S THERE TO HELP BUT YOU GOT TO ASK… • And I love this… they don’t even cry out in faith, they cry out in fear. Which is bad faith. But JESUS answers them. Do you know what that shows you? God is a compassionate father who responds to his children when they call upon him. “…Call upon me in the day of trouble, he says, I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.”

[28] And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” [29] He said, “Come.” Notice, Jesus did not fix the disciples’ problem by making the storms go away. He just gave Peter another command. “Come.” 

You’re in difficulty? Maybe you should Stop asking God for to fix the situation, and start asking him what his command is. NOTHING WRONG with asking him to fix the solution, BUT FIRST ask him what his command is! 

Stop demanding and start listening! So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. [30] But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” [31] Jesus immediately reached out his hand (he’s always close, in difficulty) and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Why is this story in there? You should always ask that. 3 Psalm 50:15 This story is not in there to inspire us to actually walk on water. (In Acts, when Paul is in a shipwreck, it never occurs to Paul to get out of the boat and start strolling to shore.) This story is to show us how to continue what we start in faith.  Because that’s going to be one of the biggest problems for Christians. 

So here’s the lesson: (A) Initial faith is not enough. We need staying faith. When Jesus said to Peter at the end, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” he is not talking about the intensity of Peter’s faith, but its duration. Peter’s faith, when it started, was very strong (he was the only one who got out of the boat). It just didn’t last long. Initial faith is not enough, we need sustaining faith… (B) We find staying faith at the same place we found initial faith. Where did Peter’s initial faith come from? 2 places: 1. A vision of Jesus. Vs. [27] But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” when Jesus says, “Take heart, it is I,” in Greek that is ego eimi. “I am.” Which was the name of God. “Don’t be afraid; I am.” Peter saw that the Great “I am” was standing on top of everything that terrified him. 2. Jesus’ command. Peter figured that it was more important to obey Jesus’ command than to focus on the circumstances. The Great I AM is on top of those waves, what he is said is larger than the waves rising up against me. He focused not on what he had walk through, but whom he was walking to. Write this down: Peter is not so much walking on water as he is walking on the promises of God; he’s not so much standing on the waves as he is standing on the character of Jesus. It was when he dafraid, and beginning to sink he cried out… Focus on the WORD and you’ll walk on water. Focus on the waves and you’ll wallow in weakness.

 You see, let me give you… A little secret to this passage The point of this passage is not to demonstrate the greatness or weakness of Peter’s faith. The point is to demonstrate the greatness of God’s grace. 

Jesus is always close. When you call out to him, even if it’s in fear for from a lack of faith, he helps. Ps 94:18, “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your steadfast love, O Lord, supported me.” Our God is a God who will always be there to catch us, pick us back up, and lift us on top of the waves. 

In this story Peter may have failed at what he set out to do, but Jesus succeeded in proving exactly what he wanted to prove.”5 That he is always trustworthy. HOW MUCH MORE should we see this on this side of the cross? There we see Jesus not only came to us in the storm, he took into himself the storm of God’s wrath; he not only walked on top of the waves, but soared over sin and death in the resurrection; not only did he lift us up on top of the waves, he filled with the power of resurrection life; and I know that if he reached all the way down to hell to rescue me from my sin, I know he’ll help me when I stumble. If he reached out to save me when I was his enemy, certainly he’s reach out to help me now that I’m his son. You see, I’LL SAY IT AGAIN: ultimately, GOD’S PURPOSE in the Christian life is to teach you to trust him.  In Peter’s first letter to the church, 1 Peter, he writes to Christians going through their own storms and he says this: 1 Peter 1:6, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials [STORMS], so that the tested genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Proverbs 10:2

Ill-gotten treasures ,have no lasting value,
    but righteousness delivers from death.

Dr. Bethany Christiansen: Who are God’s People?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 8A, Sunday, August 2, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 17.1-7, 16; Romans 9.1-5; Matthew 14.13-21.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing in your sight, Oh Lord. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Good morning, St Augustine’s! And welcome to the month of August, which means you never know who’ll be preaching on a given Sunday. 

You may be wondering how I was blessed with the peculiar joy of preaching for you all today. Well, it turns out that Fr. Kevin had his heart set on someone preaching on the Romans passage from today’s lectionary, and lo and behold, no one wanted to preach on these meager verses. I think I was his fifth or sixth choice. And why did I say? Well, being the overeducated nincompoop that I am, I misread the schedule and thought I was preaching on last Sunday’s verses from Romans. Last Sunday, you’ll remember, we had an excellent sermon from Fr Phillip on how nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. That’s an easy one! I thought. Nothing can separate us from God’s love: even could write a sermon on that. 

Then I found out what I was actually preaching on: five verses from the beginning of Romans 9 that read: 

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. 

And I thought… Hmm. That’s tricky. 

But as I contemplated these verses, I realized that there was something I wanted to talk about buried here, and that something can be summarized in the title of my sermon today: “Who are God’s People?”

Maybe you’ve heard this phrase that the young folks use: “She’s my people.” People here refers to your close circle, including the family members you actually like, your close friends, and maybe people that you feel responsible for but wouldn’t call your friends. And if someone is not to your liking, you say, “He’s not my people,” as in, “I would just as soon ignore him forever.” 

So who are God’s people? Who does God say he cares about? 

Paul says that his heart breaks for “his people,” his own race, the people of Israel. He is so pained by their separation from the risen Lord that he would even be willing to forego his own relationship with Christ if it meant that they would be redeemed.

Are there people in your life who are lost? people for whom you pray with “great sorrow and unceasing anguish”? A loved one, a family member, a dear friend who always comes into your heart when you pray? Perhaps a brother who left the faith; a friend who’s mired in broken relationships; a neighbor who struggles with addiction, feelings of unworthiness, lack of purpose, lack of meaning…? Paul feels that pain, struggles with the same sense of desperation that his people come into relationship with Christ.

In the next verses, we hear Paul’s sense of frustration with his Jewish brethren. He says: Hey guys! YOURS is the adoption as heirs; YOURS is the divine glory. YOU have covenants, YOU received the law, the temple worship and the promises. YOUR lineage produced the prophets, and ultimately, the Messiah.

He’s saying: “You were given EVERYTHING – how are you missing the most important piece, the arrival of the Christ??” You know that thing we’ve been waiting for?? It’s here! Jesus is the Christ, and it’s better than we ever imagined it! We’re reunited with God: the problems of sin, separateness, and sickness have been solved! This is it! and it’s great! What’s wrong with you guys??

The Jewish people were the protagonists of the whole divine story, from Creation through to Paul’s own day: they had the books of the prophets and the words of God himself; they had the laws that pointed toward a God of justice, orderly living, and personal righteousness. And what were they doing with it? They were deliberately holding onto the law – which can only condemn – and refusing to let their understanding of the law be transformed into the person of Christ, who offered salvation rather than judgement. In short, they had their heads buried in the sand. And while Paul was in agony over their lostness, he was also expressing his disgust: you were given everything and still you won’t see. 

Maybe Paul had certain people in mind when he wrote this passage. There must have been men and women whom he loved, whom he prayed for, whom he longed to bring before the throne of glory. 

I can’t help but think of St Augustine in this context. And when I think of Augustine, I have to think of Monica, his mother. She was a Christian woman from North Africa, and she had married a pagan man, Augustine’s father. We don’t know much about his father, because Augustine didn’t write much about him. But Monica looms large in his autobiography, titled Confessions. 

If you haven’t read the Confessions, you really ought to: this book shows Augustine at his most relatable, his most human; and you’ll be impressed with how profoundly familiar Augustine, the fourth-century Christian, will feel. Until he was in his 30’s, Augustine belonged to a cult called the Manichaeans. Fearing for his soul, his mother prayed for him constantly and pestered the Christian priests to refute the false doctrines her son was learning. The priest responded: “Go away. As you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish” (1991: 51). She took these words as prophetic. And indeed, they turned out to be so: her son became one of the greatest fathers of the church. 

Even if Paul had been thinking about a loved one when he wrote the passage we’re looking at, his words apply, not to a person or a handful of people, but a whole race. “My people” he calls them: “The people of my own race, the people of Israel.” 

Is there a group of people who weigh heavy on your heart when you pray or meditate? A group who seem lost, hurting, or struck with a particular misfortune? 

Maybe you think of the service workers who have lost their jobs since the pandemic started; or the children who can’t go to school; or the families of people killed by police. You might think about Christians who are persecuted for their faith around the world; or Syrian refugees; or the people of Hong Kong. Or maybe your heart focuses on family issues: the pregnant teenagers who are scared and alone, or children growing up without fathers, or the unborn infants who have been labeled “unwanted.” 

In short, who does our heart go out to? Where is our heart? 

What about those groups of people who, we sorrow to see, are racing in the opposite direction of truth, love, and God himself? In this category, I see my generation – the millennials – and the generations after me. And while I think some of the criticism leveled against millennials is unfair, I do think that they are lost and running hard in the wrong direction. This generation was handed a world where all the old rules and old promises seemed not to apply anymore. We were handed shards and were told that it was still a pot. Friends, that pot is not holding water. Millennials see the unfairness of the world: its racism, sexism, rising economic disparity, underemployment, stagnating wages, increasing division between cultural values and Christian values… and their response has been: Smash the patriarchy. This generation says, “If it’s old, destroy it. All the old ways – reliance on God, belief in institutions, hope for a better world – all must go out the window.” I see the nihilism and hopelessness of a generation without God, and it breaks my heart. 

We should pray for those people who are on our hearts, no doubt about it. I pray for my generation. But it’s so easy to draw the line there, to say: THESE are the people deserving of my prayers, my compassion, my love. But who are the people towards whom our hearts are not naturally inclined? That is, who do we despise?

That answer is different for every person. We have to search our hearts in order to discover the groups that we villainize, despise, or simply lack any pity for.

Is it along economic lines? When you’re poor, it’s easy to despise the rich. When rich, it’s easy to despise the poor. 

Is it along social lines? When you’re white, it’s easy to villainize those who are brown or black. When brown or black, it’s easy to villainize those who are white.

Is it along political lines? When you identify as Democrat, it’s easy to demonize a Republican. When you’re Republican, it’s easy to demonize a Democrat. 

Is it along religious lines? Do you find yourself disregarding the lives of Muslims, atheists, Jews or Buddhists? 

What about when you watch the news? Do you take sides, and hate everyone on the other side? The graffiti in my neighborhood reads “ACAB,” which stands for “All Cops Are Bad.” In some corners of the media, I see all protesters labeled “anarchists.” Neither group seems to think the other side has any value as human beings, or any right to fair treatment under the law.

Our hearts find natural affinity with some groups, and a natural antipathy for others. And the highly polarized media makes sure that our natural tendencies are hardened, wherever possible, into tribalism and enmity. Brothers and sisters in Christ, is that who God has called us to be? 

I challenge you to meditate this week on whom you have hardened your heart against, and pray for them. Love them. Reach out to them in the Spirit. Even if that group is your enemy, Christ teaches us that we are blessed when people insult us, persecute us and falsely say all kinds of evil against us because of him (Matt. 5:11). Even if the group you despise is actually your enemy – though, so often, those we despise are not our enemies – Christ died to redeem them. Christ died for the perpetrator of injustice. He died for the villain as much as the victim. 

You may protest that you don’t have any enemies. There’s no one you despise. 

If true, that’s great. Sometimes, even if we don’t despise anyone, we stop focusing on people.

That is to say, it’s easy to focus on things over people: a book you loaned out and never got back; a plant that the neighbor promised to water and then let die; the car your kid wrecked. In these cases, the image of Jonah often comes into my mind. No, not Jonah in the whale. Jonah sitting under a plant growing in the desert. Jonah hadn’t wanted to be a missionary to Nineveh. And when people of Nineveh actually repented, he was annoyed. He was kind of hoping to see the fire and brimstone. So after everyone repented, he went to sit in the desert. The sun was hot and burned him; but God caused a plant to grow to provide shade for him. Then God caused the plant to shrivel up and die. Jonah was really upset; He loved that plant. God said to him, “You cared more about that plant than you did about the people of Nineveh.”

How often do we care more about the plant than the people? I find myself doing this a lot. I care more about having a quiet beer on the porch than I do about my friend in crisis who needs a listening ear. Sometimes, we don’t have enemies. We’re just insensate to the image-bearers of God who suffer around us. 

So we ask ourselves: Who are my people? Who are the people on my heart? And who are the people I despise or ignore? 

As fallen creatures, we find it easy to divide the world into “my people” on one side, and “not my people” on the other. But who are God’s people? Does God say to some: “You’re my people, and I look out for you” and to others “You are not my people, and I don’t care for you?”

That’s the central question in the next part of Romans chapter 9. If you have your Bible, you can follow along with me as I read the next verses: 

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

Here, Paul is dealing with one aspect of the central paradox that the early followers of Christ had to confront: Are followers of Jesus simply a cult of Judaism, or are they something new? And if they are something new, then do God’s promises made to the Jewish people apply to the non-Jewish followers of  Christ? 

Indeed they do: Paul affirms that “it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of promise.” No longer do people need to be ethnically Jewish in order to be included in God’s promise of redemption, reconciliation, and healing. No longer is God’s protection and mercy extended only to a closed community of Israelites living under the law; rather, Gentiles have been welcomed in as children of promise. No longer are God’s people figured in terms of physical descendants, geopolitical nations, or dietary law. The doors are open for all. Christ says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). That means everyone who stands and knocks, everyone who seeks the Lord will find him. 

Unlike the God of Judaism, our God’s favor is not limited to specific people in specific cities. Unlike the Gods of Hinduism, our God doesn’t need us to please and placate Him in order avoid his wrath or curry his favor. Our God works all things together for our good, even though we’ve done nothing to earn it. Our God washed his disciples’ feet the night before they betrayed him to his death. 

So I ask again: does God say to some: “You’re my people,” and to others “You are not my people”? No, God doesn’t do that. God opened the doors, saying Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The last I checked, we are all tired and carrying heavy loads. We are all in need of a God of infinite love and infinite power who knows our inmost hearts and says to us, “You are loved. You are exactly as I made you to be, and you are mine.” 

With a God like that, how can we have hearts that harden against anyone? 

Think about those groups of lost souls I conjured in your minds at the beginning of this message: the people that your heart goes out to, those that you pray for, those that you long to bring into the joy of salvation and wholeness. Notice how you feel about that person, or that group of people. That’s how Paul felt about the lost Israelites who didn’t know Christ. That’s how God feels about the lost Israelites still, yes; but that’s also how God feels about the people you love who have strayed from his light. When your heart aches for a friend who moves from one abusive relationship to the next as he looks for love, or for a child who has left the faith, God’s heart aches for them in exactly the same way yours does. When you lament that a group of people has wandered away from God and endures the pain and brokenness that a life without him entails, God laments with you. 

What about the people you despise – those you see on the news who seem intent on destroying something you care about, or those you see as perpetrators of crimes and injustice – How does God feel about them? How about those that you never think about because you, like me, are focused Jonah’s plant instead of God’s image-bearing creatures? How does God feel about them? It turns out that God feels about them the same way he feels about the people we find it easy to love and pray for. 

God loves the lost. He loves the violent, the broken, the destroyers of statues, the despots, the people carrying guns on both sides of a conflict. Can we try to look at these people, not with our own human minds that insist on an “us vs. them” narrative, but with God’s mind? God sees them as his own dear children, lost and wandering in a hostile desert. Like sheep, they fall into crevices, headbutt each other, and refuse to come home. These are people for whom Christ died, whom he calls into his presence for healing in grace. Those we find hard to love are God’s people, too. So let us pray for them, and minister to them. We know that the grace and love we were freely offered has healed us, and shall heal them too. 

in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, amen.

Father Philip Sang: Nothing Can Separate

Sermon delivered on Trinity 7A, Sunday, July 26, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang is too busy reading the many books in his bookcase to be bothered with providing a written manuscript of his sermon. To listen to the audio podcast of it, click here. If you would like to see the recording of the entire service, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105.1-11, 45b; Romans 8.26-39; St. Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52.

Father Philip Sang: The Spirit of Adoption

Sermon delivered on Trinity 6A, Sunday, July 19, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang continues his boycott of submitting written manuscripts for his sermons. To listen to the audio podcast of his sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 28.10-19a; Psalm 139.1-11, 22-23; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43.

The Essence of the Gospel: No Condemnation—The Power of God

Sermon delivered on Trinity 5A, Sunday, July 12, 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 25.19-34; Psalm 119.105-112; Romans 8.1-11; St. Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23.

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

Well, my beloved, here we are on Zoom—again. If you are like me, while I am always happy to see you in any venue, I am also feeling a bit hollow and disappointed this morning. Today was the day we were to reopen the chapel and reassemble as a parish family, as the beloved people of God. But COVID had other ideas and so here we are, consigned to our virtual meeting for the near future. But I have some Good News for you this morning because as we continue our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, today’s passage is a condensed and brilliant summary of the essence of the Good News of Jesus Christ and this is what I want us to look at this morning. If there is anything that can lift us out of our doldrums, our epistle lesson this morning will do it.

As we saw last week, St. Paul left us in a difficult place in his letter. Recall that he wrote:

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7.21-25, NLT)

For those of us who have pondered carefully the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment on it, we know where this is leading—to our condemnation. We want to say to St. Paul, “Thanks a lot. Another piece of bad news in the seemingly never ending hit parade of bad news lately. We are so hosed!” After all, we learn to fear condemnation from a very early age, even if we haven’t pondered the seriousness of sin and God’s judgment on it. Whether seeking the approval of our parents and getting none or suffering through the humiliation of being picked last in a neighborhood pickup game or getting turned down for a job or desired relationships—I was turned down 16 times in a row before I got my first date—the message is clear: You’re not good enough. You don’t measure up. You’re not innocent. Guilty!! Guilty!! Guilty!! And so we spend much of our adult lives trying to compensate for this reality as we desperately seek to avoid the condemnation we dread. Throw in God’s condemnation, the mother of all condemnations, especially if we were/are unfortunate to have overly critical and rigid parents, and we are confronted by an ongoing and terrifying reality that we try to tamp down or ignore altogether so that we can just cope. Not good enough. Can’t make the grade. Thoroughly inadequate. Total Loser™. Wretched people we are indeed!

But right when we hit rock bottom with St. Paul, he shocks us with his conclusion to the argument he has laid out in chapters 5-7, a conclusion we didn’t see coming with the help of arbitrary chapter divisions of his letter. Who will rescue us wretches? How can we ever hope to measure up when we’ve been told by the world throughout our lives that we don’t? “Therefore,” St. Paul says as we brace to hear his expected conclusion that we must face the reality that we are consigned to being Losers in everyone’s eyes including our own and God’s, “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (v.1). Wait. What??? Welcome to the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Before we look at why St. Paul would draw this astonishing conclusion, it bears repeating that his conclusion would only be meaningful to those of us who take the reality of sin and God’s judgment on it seriously. For those who don’t have an awareness of sin or who reject its reality completely, this wonderful Good News would likely evoke a shrug of the shoulders, their own personal avoidance of condemnation notwithstanding. But for those of us who understand that God will indeed judge our sin and all that is evil in his world that defiles and corrupts it, St. Paul’s conclusion of no condemnation for those who belong to Christ is music to our weary ears and aching hearts.

But what is the basis for St. Paul’s conclusion? How can we who are enslaved by the power of Sin escape God’s just condemnation? The answer, simply put, is that the power of God has freed us from our slavery to Sin where our finite and human efforts inevitably failed. In the following verses, St. Paul lays out a condensed version of the entire gospel of Jesus Christ. We escape God’s just and right condemnation because God the Father sent God the Son, i.e., God became human, to condemn our sin in the flesh instead of condemning us (v.3-4). We need to be very careful with our language here so that we can confront the tired old false teachings that claim God is a cosmic child abuser who punished Jesus on the cross. This is emphatically not what St. Paul is saying. First, we must remember that Jesus was and is God incarnate so anything Christ did on our behalf he did willingly and in cooperation with the Father, not because the Father coerced the Son. Second, St. Paul tells us that God’s terrible condemnation (judgment) fell on our sins, not on Christ. God the Father never condemned God the Son. It was our sins and the evil they produce that was condemned on the cross. And this should make sense to us. If God is a loving God, God must condemn all that is corrupting and death-dealing to his creatures. What loving parent would stand by idly and condone evil being perpetrated against his/her children? The whole story of Scripture is about how God is rescuing his world and us from the ravages of Evil and Sin, and here is a concise statement about how God ultimately chose to do that: by becoming human and dying on our behalf so that he could condemn the real culprit, sin, while sparing us. In other words, despite our fear of not being able to make the grade or measuring up in God’s eyes—who could blame us for thinking that in light of what St. Paul has written in chapter 7 and our own self-condemnation?—God doesn’t see us as we often see ourselves. As St. Paul reminded us back in chapter 5, God loves us so much that at just the right time he became human to die for us, even while we were still God’s enemies (Rom 5.6-8)! This is the power of God at work, my beloved, the only power that can free us from our slavery to the power of Sin. When Christ died for us on the cross, it not only spared us from God’s condemnation, it also freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power (v.2). Sin has been condemned. We who have a real relationship with Christ and believe in the efficacy of his death are not. On Mt. Calvary, God has proclaimed to us in no uncertain terms that we do measure up in his eyes, that we are not the Losers we have been told or think we are (well, the jury is still out on some of you, but I digress), and that we are no longer guilty because it was sin and not us that was pronounced guilty in Christ’s body. This isn’t the work of a cosmic child abuser. This is the work of the living God who loves his children and wants to free us to be the truly human beings he created us to be. No amount of human effort or trying harder is going to free us from our slavery to Sin. Only the power of God can do that. This is why we call it the gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ.

But the gospel is more than just escaping God’s condemnation. We must remember that we are God’s image-bearers whom God created to run the world on God’s behalf, reflecting God’s goodness and glory out into the world and channeling creation’s praises back to its Creator. So God freed us to live accordingly, not to give us an eternal “get-out-of-jail-free” card so that we could continue indulging in our sinful and rebellious ways. This is the contrast St. Paul is talking about in the rest of the passage (v.5-11). When he warns that living according to the flesh produces death, St. Paul is not talking about our physical bodies being bad nor is he talking about a dualistic nature inside of us, an internal good-cop, bad-cop so to speak. That is a Neo-Platonic and gnostic notion. We must remember St. Paul was a Jew and all good Jews believed in the goodness of creation, bodies included, because God is our Creator and the Genesis narratives proclaim in no uncertain terms that all creation prior to the Fall was good and remained good, albeit corrupted, even after our first ancestors’ rebellion in the garden. Rather, what St. Paul is talking about here is who will be our master. Will we serve our fallen nature (the flesh) and the power of Sin or God (the Spirit)? When we set our minds on the flesh, when we trust in ourselves instead of God and act accordingly, we can expect God’s just condemnation. St. Paul speaks elsewhere of what living life according to the flesh looks like. He speaks of lives characterized by sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and others. St. Paul isn’t talking about one-off or occasional sins here nor is he attempting to offer a complete catalogue of behaviors and thinking that cater to our selfish and rebellious nature. Rather we should understand these things as manifestations of enslaved lives to the power of Sin. The apostle declares ominously that those who engage in lifestyles characterized by these kinds of behaviors will not be part of God’s world, either in this mortal life or the world to come, the new creation (Gal 5.19-21). 

But serving our fallen nature (the flesh) is not always about committing egregious sins, and here is where it gets really interesting because we can pander to our rebellious desires in very subtle ways. When, for example, we proclaim Jesus is our Lord and Savior but steadfastly refuse to believe that God really has spared us from his condemnation by becoming human to die for us, we are setting our minds on the flesh by not trusting the promises of God contained in his gospel. We will likely follow a gospel of self-help, making sure, for example, that we read the Bible enough or pray enough or go to church enough or give enough to earn his love and forgiveness while simultaneously pursuing our own selfish interests and being very ugly people, hoping along the way that our good efforts are enough to persuade God to save us despite our ugliness. But as St. Paul has already explained in chapter 7, that ain’t gonna happen. We are incapable of pleasing God if left to our own devices. Don’t misunderstand. Praying, worshiping, giving, service to others, reading the Bible, and other pious activities are all good and necessary things for Christians to engage in, but we are never to engage in these activities with the false belief that doing them will compel God to love us and save us. As we have just seen, God has already demonstrated his love for us and taken care of all that is necessary for us to enjoy life with him in this world and the next.

We also see life lived according to the flesh illustrated in our OT lesson this morning in both Esau and Jacob. The former let his own temporary hunger control his behavior so that he disastrously forfeited his birthright, something from which he apparently never recovered, by giving it to his younger brother Jacob, who being the great deceiver he was, always tried to manipulate people and situations to gain God’s blessing. The beauty of both the old and new testaments is that despite this, God still redeemed Jacob because Jacob was to be the bearer of God’s covenant promises to Abraham, despite himself. God does likewise with us. Or consider the parable of the prodigal son. We see living according to the flesh in both the sons in the parable. While the prodigal’s sins are obvious, his older brother had a sense of self-righteousness that is death-dealing because his focus was on his behavior/power, not God’s. Contrast this mindset with the prodigal who humbly accepted his father’s forgiveness and found new life. So it is possible for us to live according to the flesh while pretending to be pious and spiritual. If you are one who thinks you have to follow the rules to earn God’s forgiveness, or that your right standing before God depends on you doing the right things instead of Christ’s sacrifice for you, you are unwittingly or otherwise living according to the flesh and living a lie, and you should have every reason to fear God’s just condemnation because of your refusal to trust God’s power to rescue you, relying instead on your own folly to get the job done.

Contrast this to living by the Spirit, who frees us to be truly human beings and God’s image-bearers (I see Father Bowser twitching with delight over the mention of the Holy Spirit). Notice carefully what St. Paul is telling us here. He is not telling us that those who have the Holy Spirit living in us will never sin. That won’t happen till after our mortal death (Rom 6.7). No, what St. Paul is telling us is that because we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, we are given his Spirit who will live in us and transform us over a lifetime to become more and more like Christ. It is the power to live as fully human beings, imperfect and utterly messy as that may look at times, precisely because we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection at our baptism (cf. Rom 6.3-5). The presence of the Spirit allows Christ to dwell within us and unites us to him. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul put it like this: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ [who] lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2.20). That’s why those who don’t have the Spirit don’t have Christ. First and foremost, the Spirit reveals to us God’s great love for us so that despite all our feelings and fears to the contrary, we really do believe that we no longer have to fear God’s condemnation because our sins have already been dealt with once and for all on the cross. We live in an Über touchy-feely age and frankly we need to get over that and embrace the objective reality that we have been transferred from the dominion of death into the dominion of God’s Son, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of our sins (cf. Col 1.13-20). That same Son lives in us and helps heal and transform us into God’s restored image-bearers who think, speak, and act accordingly if we only let him. When we do, irrespective of how imperfect that might look in our lives, we really will experience peace because we trust God’s promises and great love for us. We no longer feel compelled to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps to escape God’s condemnation. We believe it to be true, despite everything in and around us trying to tell us otherwise. It would take a whole separate sermon to flesh out what these two contrasting lifestyles would look like in our lives, but mercifully I won’t pull a Deacon Wylie on you and keep you till suppertime (well, maybe he didn’t preach that long a couple of weeks ago, but I like my story better so I’m sticking with it).

So let me close with this. If you really believe what St. Paul is telling us here, my beloved, it will change you and free you to live your life courageously and boldly, without fear of God’s judgment, because you trust in the unfailing love and power of God, not your own power or delusions. The NT calls that having real peace. And God knows we need courageous and bold Christians to proclaim a better way of life—a life lived according to the reality of no condemnation because of the love of God made known in Jesus Christ—to the forces of godlessness and lawlessness that swirl around and within us. It will make you want to please God because you realize it’s no more than your humble response to a done deal God has accomplished unilaterally on your behalf. You’ve been freed from your slavery to Sin’s power and your sins have been dealt with forever. Here is the Good News in a nutshell. St. Paul speaks of the saving work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—three in one and one in three, all working together to rescue and heal you so that you are equipped to live as the truly human being you were created to be—reminding us that those who belong to Christ share in Christ’s power and destiny, which is new bodily life at the Resurrection of the dead (Romans 8.11). We did nothing nor can we ever do anything to deserve God’s great gift of life. We only have to accept the gift offered us and believe we are worthy in the God’s sight. God is loving and faithful to his word and God has the power to do the impossible. Embrace the gift along with the hope and promise, my beloved. Let it change you so that you live your life with new power, freedom, boldness, and joy in your Lord Jesus Christ. After all, he lives in you and is your hope of glory (Col 1.27). To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Father Santosh Madanu’s Sermon for Trinity 4A

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4A, Sunday, July 5, 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 24:34–38, 42–49, 58–67; Psalm 45.10-17; Romans 7.15-25; Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30.

Let us Pray: Dear Lord, be with me when I am in doubt and drive away my fear. Refresh my mind and affirm my faith that you are with me and I am in your promises. Amen. 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

How are you all!

Even today, Number of cases of Covid 19 is  going on increasing along with the deaths all over the world. This Virus caused lot of mental issues like fear, scared, depressed, don’t know what to do & how to deal with it, domestic violence, looting the stores, some people went back to addictions. In this situation we gathered here as a St. Augustines’s family to shout along with Joshua 

24:15 “ As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. ( Could you repeat after me please!)

We gathered together to celebrate the life in Christ Jesus. God in His graciousness blessed us to be safe from this deadly Virus.  Isn’t it? Yes.

The word of God speaking to us directly during this situation 

Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. “

Fear not, Abram. (Genesis 15:1) 

     When  you find yourself in a place where you feel as though your only companion is fear, change Abram’s name to your name, and receive this promise of God – Fear Not- as part of your spiritual inheritance. Whether you are aware of this or not, you are always held in the hands of God’s promises. Are you afraid? Remember the One who is your shield. Your name is always being called as you are invited into deeper faith. Faith is the guardian angel overshadowing you at all times. Much is invisible at first glance. Look deeply.

     How difficult it must have been for our father, Abraham, to believe the promise of God. Likewise, it is not easy for us to believe there is a rich future awaiting us. It is not easy to see a Divine plan for our lives and for  St. Augustine’s Church. So let us hold hands with our ancient father in faith and with faith itself.  And  today’s first reading is about God Yahweh promise to Abraham is being fulfilled through Isaac the son of Abraham. And Isaac got married to Rebekah and had two sons Esau and Jacob. So let us be strong in faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

Now let us reflect on letter to Romans chapter 7

St. Paul is dealing with the Law, Sin and the Flesh.


This passage in Romans 7:15-20 gives us the first-hand account of the battle between the new nature and the sinful flesh within the apostle Paul. He writes these verses as a mature believer in Christ. Paul’s own life demonstrates that this struggle with our sinful flesh never goes away while we are on the earth. Paul is in a fight for holiness, just as you and I are. We must take action to buffet our body and make it our slave. We must resist temptation and fight the good fight. We must resist temptation and flee immorality. The Christian life is a fight for holiness. This battle within us is real, intense, ongoing, internal, spiritual, and found within all true believers. Romans 7:15-20 These verses are like looking into a mirror and seeing the struggle with sin that resides within each one of us.

If you do feel the intensity of this internal strife, it is because you are converted to Christ Jesus.

John Calvin wrote in chapter one, section one of his Institutes of the Christian Religion that with the knowledge of God comes the knowledge of self. Everything in your Christian life begins with knowing who God is and, in turn, knowing who you are. Until you know who God is, you will never know who you are. And until you know who you are, you will never advance in spirituality. Paul is being completely honest with us. This is a private thought that is now made known publically in order to help us to learn about our struggle with sin. If when you sin, you are thinking, “What is wrong with me?,” the reality is that this is what is wrong with all of us. The reality is that even as a believer, we still struggle with sin.

 Sin is a Legal Offense (7:16)

Sin is a legal offense against God and His word. Paul writes, “But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (verse 16). Paul is obviously talking about the sin that he does not want to do. We know he is a true believer because no believer wants to sin. But Paul confesses that he does the very thing that he does not wish to do. This man, who authored fourteen books in the New Testament, yet even as a mature believer in Christ, Paul is still entrenched in this war against the sinful flesh within him.  This is the same struggle we all face in day to day lives.

let us answer some questions in this regard:

can the law save us? No.  only the grace of God can save us.

Paul shows that even though the law is glorious and good, it can’t save us – and we need a Savior. Paul never found any peace, until he looked outside of himself and beyond the law to his Savior, Jesus Christ.

How the law help the humanity? The law help us to  respect every human. And every human life is matter, not just black or white but everyone, born in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and North America, and to bring harmony in the society,  and for the welfare of every human being.

 We must know that the Law Reveals Our Sin.

This is the great paradox of the Christian life. Are we free? Yes! We’re free from sin’s dominion and free to worship God, but we’re also trapped in this flesh which will never be free from sin until death. That’s why Paul cries out “who will free me from this body of death?” at the end of the chapter.

As much as we hate it, we’re in a battle, not just with Satan and demonic forces, but with our flesh which desires to heed to sin. How does a believer know that there is still sin within him? The answer, according to verse 16, is that the Law reveals it to us. One of the necessary ministries of the Law of God is to expose sin in our lives, even as a believer. Paul writes, “But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (verse 16). What is it that the Law testifies to Paul, to which he is in agreement? It is that the Law reveals to us our sin.

Anyone who has tried to do good is aware of this struggle. We never know how hard it is to stop sinning until we try. “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.” (C.S. Lewis)

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man says Paul: Paul knows that his real inward man has a delight in the law of God. He understands that the impulse towards sin comes from another law in my members. Paul knows that the “real self” is the one who does delight in the law of God.

Jesus was born under the law, but in his death and resurrection, he reformed  the law, and he did so on behalf of all humanity. The risen Christ does not have to keep the Sabbath or any other laws of Moses.  Yet he did it to fulfill Father’s Will and to be our Master and Model.

We cannot adopt a defeatist attitude, because greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. Because of the all-sufficient grace of God, we will grow in personal holiness. We will experience ever-increasing victories over sin in our lives. There is still sin within us as believers, but we are, nevertheless, making progress and moving forward into greater conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

 What role does the Law play in an unbeliever’s life?  It defines sin.  The Law condemns an unbeliever.  It can be the ‘tutor’ that shows an unbeliever that he/she needs a Savior 

24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.. (Gal 3:24). 

Can obeying the Law save anyone?  Why or why not?  The Law cannot save anyone.  No one can keep it perfectly….except Jesus! 

Paul described the process of how our flesh can be aroused by the Law in vv8-10.  

But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 

I would like to give my own  example  as  I   apply  this text to my life.   Few times in my work place, I did my personal works and I used company material .  The rule is every employee has to dedicate their time fully towards the job and never to use the material of the company.   So If I keep the rule I am free from mistake and fault but If I do not keep, the same rule points out my mistakes.

We can apply this for the sins and failures.  The commandments  help us to obey God and respect other human beings.  And the same Commandments points out our sins when we do not follow.

 Let us read the text:            

17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

In Rom 7:17-20  Is Paul giving believers an excuse to sin? No

Is he removing any hope of walking in godliness? NO

Paul speaks of two persons in himself.  We can understand this way,  Saul of Tarsus and Paul the Apostle.  The old Saul has the nature of sin  with the Law and new Paul has the nature of spirit of Jesus to do good with love of Jesus Christ.

Paul is making a clear difference with the desires or works of flesh Vs  the desires of the Spirit in the believers.

Gal 5:16-24.  

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

What is the conflict in these verses?  What do you learn about the Law in these verses?  What do you learn about believers and their flesh? 

There is always conflict between Spirit Vs Flesh; 

The Law points out the restrictions, boundaries, requirements and sin 

The Believers have to live by the new spirit and new heart rather than worldly and fleshly desires.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Dear friends in Jesus

The Law related to Marriage is to guide  the married people to be faithful, to have mutual love and respect and to have the family instituted by God.  God in His graciousness instituted the family. Wife, husband and children living together in love.

 Therefore let us  love the family life and be bound by the law that guides and directs the family.

There is a law and order in the universe that brings harmony.  Therefore the law is  so important for human society  for common good.  

Throughout the history of the church, people have debated who Paul was describing in vv14-25.  Here are some common interpretations:

            1.  Paul is describing himself before he was saved.  (unbelievers)

            2.  Paul is describing his personal experience as a believer. (believers)

            3.  Paul is describing himself before salvation, when he was under conviction.

            4.  Paul is describing the struggle of anyone who is trying to live ‘under the law’…believer or unbeliever. 

I personally believe when we are motivated by Love we do not need the law. And we may overcome all evil and sin with the grace of Jesus Christ.

The freedom in Christ is new creation  yet we need to deal with all the issues of the world.  Because we have the symptoms of this flesh virus ( Eg: Bad habits drinking , smoking, lustful Thoughts, anger, violence etc) .  We struggle very hard to fight against all these sins.   

We have the good news: Rev 3:20-21

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

WILLIAM  HOLMAN  HUNT painted the picture of Jesus knocking the door ( England)

I would like to conclude my reflection with the Image of Jesus Knocking your door- The door of  your heart, only you can open it from inside.   would you open it for Jesus to enter into your life!   

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

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.

Father Philip Sang: Joy and the Power Drawn from Goodbye

Sermon delivered on the Feast of the Ascension (transferred), Year A, Sunday, May 24, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang has apparently lost the ability to write so there is no manuscript of today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast click here.

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