The Resurrection: Death Destroyed by the Power of God

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday C, April 21, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; Easter Anthems; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; Luke 24.1-12.

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

Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest day in all history. Why do we believe this? Because Christ’s resurrection signals that death, our last and greatest enemy, will be destroyed. Yet many of us are skeptical about this central and foundational proclamation of our Christian faith. Why is that? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Earlier in the liturgy we exchanged the Easter Acclamation: Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. We will be acclaiming this historic truth throughout the fifty days of Easter and we can trace it back to the very beginning of the Church. But do you believe it? It seems that many folks today, church goers sadly included, have gotten the idea that they can’t believe in the Resurrection and be a sophisticated, smart person they style themselves to be. After all, dead people don’t come back to life. We all know that. Moreover, organized religion is getting an increasingly bad name. We read stories of clergy abuse and folly and so become skeptical of the story they are supposed to tell. We are told that the Christian faith is repressive, exclusive, and controlling. The cumulative effect of all this bad publicity and hostile thinking tends to make even the best of us a bit timid about proclaiming the central truth of our faith: that Jesus Christ, crucified, died and buried, has risen from the dead. We are reluctant to proclaim that only in Jesus Christ is there life and freedom from our slavery to Sin and Death because we will surely be accused of being fundies, intolerant of other faiths, reactionary, judgmental, and all sorts of other crimes against enlightened thinking and PC.

And it seems we are not alone in our unbelief. In our gospel lesson this morning we read that the women came to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning to anoint his dead body and we need to be very clear about what St. Luke is telling us. The women didn’t come to the tomb expecting to find a risen Lord. They came to the tomb, like we go visit the graves of our dead loved ones, expecting to find a corpse. Otherwise, why bring spices to delay the decay of death? There was no expectation of a resurrection. They weren’t prepared to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today. There were only painful memories of his naked, bloody, mutilated, and pierced body being laid in the tomb that previous Friday. Even in the first century, everybody knew dead people don’t come back to life.

Now here they are at the tomb and become alarmed at finding it empty. Being “perplexed” is a poor translation of the Greek word apore?. Imagine if you went to visit the grave of your loved one and discovered his/her body was no longer there and you had no idea what happened to it. You would be more than “perplexed.” You would be alarmed, consternated, anxious. Their anxiety quickly turned into terror when they were confronted by two angels who asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead. Whatever could that mean? The angels then reminded the women that Jesus himself had told them—six times in Luke’s gospel to be exact—that he would be crucified and raised from the dead. The women remembered his words and only then apparently believed, even if they didn’t fully understand what had happened to Jesus, because they went back and reported it all to the disciples. The disciples in turn were skeptical because St. Luke reports that they considered the women’s report of an empty tomb to be utter nonsense. The English translation for “idle tale” understates the case as well. The Greek St. Luke uses means the story of someone who is either deliriously out of his mind in pain or who has lost all contact with reality. Like the women before their angelic encounter, Jesus’ closest friends did not expect that he would be found alive.

And here is where we dare not be timid in our proclamation of the Resurrection. We are often told that the Resurrection is unimaginable and impossible for humans to believe, and from a human perspective that is quite true. We can’t imagine the Resurrection because it is not within our power or realm. We can’t undo death and so we don’t look for the living among the dead. But the Resurrection is not about human power. It is about God’s power and God’s realm, the same God who created this vast universe out of nothing and who raises the dead (Romans 4.17). Many can’t imagine Jesus being raised from the dead because we are not God, much as we want to be. The women did not come to believe that Jesus was alive by their own power and accord. They didn’t believe until God revealed it to them through an angelic intervention and by being reminded of Jesus’ words found in Scripture. Likewise, the disciples didn’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead until God chose to reveal it to them as St. Luke makes clear in his poignant story of the two disciples’ encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus and Jesus’ encounter with the disciples later that day (Luke 24.13-48). St. Peter tells us the same thing in our NT lesson, attesting his belief in the Resurrection because God’s intervention made it known to him.

Here’s the point. The first disciples didn’t come to believe on their own or by their own thinking. They didn’t have that in their intellectual or experiential matrix. No human does. They came to believe because God chose to reveal his risen Son to them and by reminding them that Christ’s death and resurrection were predicted in the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. If you are wavering in your resurrection faith because you have never encountered the risen Christ in the manner the first disciples did (no one living has), pay attention to these stories (stories as history, not fiction). Apart from a personal encounter with the risen Christ, the same means of knowing him are available to you, just as they were to the first disciples (I can’t say first witnesses because nobody witnessed the Resurrection). So if your faith is tepid, instead of blaming God for that or trying to look sophisticated to a world that can only offer death, perhaps look at your own house first to see if you are really availing yourself to God’s power contained in God’s Word, the sacrament of Holy Communion and made available to you in the presence of the Holy Spirit. When you do, you will discover (or rediscover) why today is the greatest day in all history. By the grace of God you will have discovered the real power of God.

This is what happened to St. Paul. There was no more vehement scoffer than St. Paul was before his encounter with the risen Christ. Despite the pressures he faced (like we do) and the persecution and great suffering he endured for his Lord’s sake, St. Paul never wavered or was intimidated in his bold proclamation that God the Father had raised Jesus Christ from the dead. We see it in our epistle lesson where the apostle found disbelief and muddled thinking about the Resurrection in the church at Corinth. Why are you saying stupid stuff like Christ has not been raised from the dead? If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is futile and you are still a slave to the power of Sin and your destiny is death. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection showed him to be God’s Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If God did not raise Christ from the dead, then Jesus was just another lunatic and all that stuff about atonement and forgiveness is nonsense. We would still be God’s enemies and remain under God’s terrible judgment. And if that’s true, our faith is based on a lie and we are to be pitied most of all because we will still suffer as Christians always have for our faith. 

But, proclaims St. Paul, Christ has been raised from the dead just as God always planned, to heal and restore his sin-sick world and human creatures. The resurrection has already begun when God raised Christ from the dead. This is what St. Paul meant when he referred to Jesus’ resurrection as the first fruits. Christ had to be raised first before those who belong to him because only in Christ do we find life. This had been God’s plan and intention all along. Christ had to die for us because we are all enslaved by the power of Sin and our sin leads to death. As we read last night at the Vigil, our first ancestors got us kicked out of paradise because of their rebellion and their sin-sickness has infected everyone ever since. There’s something desperately wrong with the world and our lives and all but the most delusional know it in our bones. Want examples? Consider the heartbreaking stories of those on our prayer list. Or just ask anyone who is growing old if life’s a picnic, or a desperately lonely young person with no hope of finding companionship, or the family whose child is a drug addict and who lives in constant danger of relapsing and dying, or the person who struggles with a disease that very well may kill her but not before ravaging her body and afflicting her with pain. There may be pockets of happiness and of course the arrogance of youth that lives in a state of perpetual denial of the reality of things, but this is what happens when we live in a world cursed by Sin and enslaved by the powers of Evil. This is what Paul meant when he spoke of death coming through one man (Adam). If Christ has not been raised from the dead, this is the world we are condemned to live in forever. But in raising Christ first, and because Jesus is fully human, God signaled his intention to destroy the powers that corrupt and dehumanize us and lead to death. Because God has annihilated death when he raised Jesus and because Jesus has destroyed the power of Sin over us and freed us from God’s just condemnation of our sins on the cross, those of us who have a real relationship with the risen Lord and really believe God raised him from the dead are made alive because we will share the same destiny as our risen Savior. For those who don’t have a relationship with Christ, only God’s fierce judgment and death awaits. 

But we wait our turn to be raised. For those who have died believing that Jesus really is the Son of God whom God raised from the dead, they too will share in his resurrection when he returns to finish the work he started. Why this has to be a two step process, we aren’t told. We have to accept it as God’s wisdom at work as we muse on his power. In his eloquent and emotional sermon on Good Friday, Father Bowser spoke of spiritual warfare being waged and won on the cross. Here we see St. Paul speak in similar way. He makes the most astonishing claim that the fruits of Christ’s resurrection will become so far-reaching that it will actually bring about the end of history as we know it and allow Christ to consummate the Father’s kingdom by destroying all the dark powers of Evil and ultimately the final evil of death. Elsewhere, St. Paul sums it up like this: 

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross (Colossians 2.13-15, NLT).

And make no mistake, despite our denial of death and our frantic efforts to avoid it at all costs, it is our ultimate enemy. Our neighbor’s 49 year old son died suddenly of blood clots in his lungs last week, one day shy of his 50th birthday. He had just fallen in love with a woman. The two were planning on getting married and having a future together along with his fiancé’s two daughters. Now he is dead and the family is devastated, heartbroken beyond repair. Or consider the memorial of the Columbine massacre yesterday. The families who lost loved ones that terrible day have been changed forever. There is nothing in this world that is going to make any of this right, no memorials, no celebration of life, no flowers or sympathy offered. Nothing. The only thing that can make this right is the resurrection of the body.

Here again we must be crystal clear in our thinking and bold in our proclamation about the Resurrection. We are talking about dead bodies being raised to a new and transformed life patterned after our Lord’s. His raised body had characteristics of his mortal body. His wounds were visible and he could eat and drink. He talked with his disciples and cooked them breakfast. He could be touched, seen, and heard. But his body also had new characteristics. He could appear suddenly behind locked doors and disappear just as suddenly. He wasn’t always recognizable. But he had a body nevertheless. When St. Paul proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ, he and the other NT writers weren’t talking about life after death or some disembodied state. Neither were they talking about Jesus dying and going to heaven or arguing that he had an immortal soul or that he existed in some spiritualized state about which the disciples eventually became aware. They weren’t interested in any of that baloney because this did not reflect the reality of God’s power in Christ. His mortal body had been raised and transformed, i.e., they were talking about new bodily life. That’s why there was an empty tomb. That’s why the women were chastised for seeking the living among the dead

And if we understand the whole narrative of Scripture that tells us how God is going about rescuing his sin-ravaged world and its people, the resurrection of the body ought to make perfect sense to us. God didn’t create us as spirits. God created us with a body to house our soul and our bodies are what make us human. So why wouldn’t God recreate our bodies in the manner he created us in the first place? Bodies matter to God and they should matter to us. They allow us to develop deep relationships with each other. We can talk to each other, hold each other, procreate and enjoy sexual intimacy in the context of married life. Think about the patterns of your best beloved and how you would miss those patterns terribly if that person were dead because those bodily patterns helped make the person present to you. That is why death cannot finally be destroyed until Christ returns and raises those of us who belong to him back to new bodily life. While those we love who have died in Christ are with him in heaven, they are still dead. Their bodies lie mouldering in the grave and we cannot talk to them or see them or touch them or feel their warmth. 

Not so when Christ returns to raise the dead to new life. Only then will we be reunited with our loved ones and really have them back, never to worry about losing them again. Death will be destroyed. Can you imagine anything more wonderful than this? On the contrary, we can scarcely begin to imagine it, for it does not come from human imagination but from God. All our sins wiped away, all evil done to death forever, the devil and his minions destroyed, our loved ones restored to us, all the injustices and wrongs of human history made right in a new heavens and earth. These things are neither humanly possible or religiously possible. But nothing is impossible for God. The Resurrection proclaims that everything is new! Changed! Our sinfulness exchanged for his righteousness, our mortality for his immortality, our sorrow for his joy, our bondage for his freedom, and our deteriorating human body for an altogether transformed one that will be impervious to death, disease, aging, and deformity, a body that will be our very own and no one else’s, a body with which to love others and be loved in return with all the love of Christ himself. This is the hope and power of Easter, my beloved. Is it your hope and power? If it is, nothing in this world can rob you of the joy (not happiness) that must accompany your resurrection faith because you know that while mortal death awaits, it has been swallowed up in life, all by the love and mercy and power of God. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified, died, and raised from the dead. 

I promise you this. On my watch here, you will not hear a tepid, half-baked, human-oriented or over-spiritualized (gnostic) gospel preached, despite the fact that we have Fathers Sang, Bowser, and Madanu on staff, nor will St. Augustine’s be ashamed of the gospel, despite the fact that we are a quirky bunch of ragamuffins. We worship and proclaim a God who creates new things out of nothing and who raises the dead. This God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has sent his Son to restore us fully to himself and makes himself known to us in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the God we proclaim and love, and this is what makes today the greatest day in history. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! (Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!) Alleluia!

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

Fr. Ric Bowser: Good Friday: The Decisive Battle of Spiritual Warfare

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, April 19 , 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Bowser believes the word is mightier than the pen, or something like that. The result is that there is no written manuscript of tonight’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast of tonight’s excellent sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52-13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18-19.

Fr. Philip Sang: A New Mandate

Sermon delivered on Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang’s writing skills have deteriorated and he has no written manuscript. He has been hanging around Father Bowser too much. To listen to the audio podcast of tonight’s sermon click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35.

Recognizing Our Visitation

Sermon delivered on Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) C, April 14, 2019 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: Luke 19.28-40; Psalm 118.1-2, 19-29; Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31. 9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Luke 22.14-23.56.

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

Today is the Sunday of the Passion, better known as Palm Sunday. For those of you who love to come to church to worship (and who doesn’t?), this is your day because you get two services for the price of one, and all under two hours. For newcomers to the Christian faith—and even for mature Christians like many of you are—today’s liturgy comes as a shock because we start out on a celebratory note with the liturgy of the Palms where we commemorate our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as Israel’s Messiah with all its anticipation and hope, but we end with his passion and death. Hope and the utter death of hope, all within a breathtakingly short span of less than a week. Can you relate? What are we to make of this? This is what I want us to look at this morning. 

Now if you are wondering whether I am going to preach the equivalent of two sermons  since there are effectively two liturgies, you can relax. While there is much to plumb in our lessons, time does not permit me to give them the full attention they deserve. If I did, you would likely run out of patience and I would likely run out of stamina, despite the fact that I love hearing myself talk. My brilliant preaching would also overshadow Father Sang’s and Father Bowser’s mediocre and lackluster sermons on Holy Thursday and Good Friday respectively and steal their thunder, and I certainly don’t need them being all pouty and whiny with me this week, so we will only focus on a few key points in our lessons on which to reflect as we enter Holy Week. On a more serious note, I am aware of my sacred obligation to preach God’s word faithfully this morning because as Isaiah reminds us in our OT lesson, faithful preaching of God’s word sustains the weary, you and me.

To understand the dramatic turn of events from the hope and promise of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the desolation of his passion, we need to read what St. Luke tells us immediately after reporting Christ’s coming to Jerusalem. Hear the evangelist now:

But as [Jesus] came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes…because you did not recognize it when God visited you” (Luke 19.41-42, 44).

Did you catch the last sentence? You did not recognize it when God visited you. Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem clearly signaled his intention to announce that he was (and is) Israel’s Messiah and ours. Acting out the prophecy contained in Zechariah 9.9 that spoke of the Messiah coming to Jerusalem on a donkey, the animal of choice for Israel’s kings, and choosing Passover, the time of God’s liberation of his people, to come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Jesus signaled that he believed himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. That in itself is not problematic and many people might have recognized the symbolism of Christ’s actions. So why did our Lord lament that his people did not recognize his coming? Because almost nobody expected the Messiah to be God himself. Rather, they expected the promised Messiah to be a human king and a conquering warrior who would drive out the hated goyim from their land, cleanse the Temple, and establish God’s rule. Jesus certainly did cleanse the Temple and pronounce God’s judgment on it, but he emphatically did not enter Jerusalem as a warrior to establish God’s kingdom. Instead, he was faithful to Zechariah’s prophecy, “Look, your king is coming to you…triumphant and victorious…yet he is humble, riding on a donkey…” (Zechariah 9.9b-emphasis added). Conquering heroes are rarely humble and war is rarely the way to peace. Our Lord indeed came to conquer and establish peace, but the enemy was not who his people expected and the way he would conquer his enemies was certainly not expected or even wanted. Even today, many of us who call ourselves Christian fail to recognize how God does business.

Like our Lord’s contemporaries, we want God to conquer by shock and awe, or to use biblical language, we want God to conquer with a mighty arm and outstretched hand to obliterate his enemies, who usually just happen to be our own enemies. After all, if God really is omnipotent, why mess around with evil in the world? If God really is all powerful, why not just wipe out the enemy and rule justly with an iron fist? Let’s face it, we like our mighty warriors and conquering heroes and not many of us count a crucified Messiah as one of those persons. In fact, we think quite the opposite. That is why St. Paul and the other NT writers speak about the cross as being a scandal and off-putting to people. In other words, we don’t recognize when God visits us because we are looking for the wrong things. Is it not ironic that Jesus pronounced creation’s recognition of him as Christ in the stones crying out but that God’s image-bearers couldn’t or wouldn’t recognize our only hope for peace and the good life? The disciples didn’t recognize God’s coming to them in weakness and humility as they argued who was the greatest on the very night Christ gave them and us the Holy Eucharist to explain his impending suffering and death. St. Peter didn’t recognize God’s coming to him when he boasted arrogantly that he would never deny his Lord, only to do so three times and weeping bitterly afterwards at his own failure. Judas failed to recognize God’s coming to him when he betrayed our Lord for a pittance of money. Neither did the Jewish religious leaders or Pilate or Herod recognize God’s presence in their midst when they mocked, humiliated, spat on, beat, and scourged our Lord. Neither did the crowds recognize God’s coming to them when they called for Pilate to condemn Jesus while insisting that he release a known murderer and terrorist. 

Nor do we recognize God’s coming to us when we buy into the alternative stories that our culture insists make for peace, or when we lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, pursue our own selfish interests, overlook (or ignore) injustices of all kinds, speak evilly of our neighbors and friends, not to mention our enemies, gossip and backbite, betray the confidence and trust of our brothers and sisters to pursue our own agendas, refuse to forgive those who wrong us, or ever admit we are wrong, all the while calling ourselves Christian and claiming to pick up our cross. We especially fail to recognize God’s coming among us when we arrogantly try to make ourselves equal with God by refusing to submit to his ways and will, instead pursuing vigorously our own will and fallen desires, and by minimizing the gravity of sin, excusing all kinds of bizarre and immoral behaviors in the name of tolerance and love and trying in vain to justify our own ungodly and immoral behaviors because deep down we believe that in the final analysis it really doesn’t matter to God and/or that God will forgive us because, well, we’re good people—unlike those who are truly evil—and God has to forgive us. Doing so denigrates what God has done for us in Christ and effectively calls God a liar. The creature pronounces judgment on the Creator. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we set ourselves up as self-righteous judges over others or that we shouldn’t be gracious to those who pursue false lifestyles, or that we should not forgive those who truly wrong us, whether or not they repent of their sin against us. We must do so because that is what God has done for us in Christ. What I am suggesting is that if we are to recognize God’s presence among us, we must see God for who God has revealed himself to be in the Old and New Testaments. 

And who is that God? He is an all-powerful God to be sure. Just ask the Egyptians who followed God’s people into the Red Sea at the Exodus (Exodus 14) or just look at the starry host and be amazed at the incomprehensible size, beauty, and power of the universe that God created out of nothing. Just ask the first disciples who encountered the risen Christ that first Easter Sunday. Nothing is too hard or impossible for God (Jeremiah 32.17; Romans 4.17). But as all our lessons this morning proclaim, God often shows his power in weakness and humility and here we must keep in mind the overarching story of Scripture. That story is about how a good God is going about restoring his good creation and creatures from the ravages of Sin and Evil. We’re all familiar with this story because we are confronted with the consequences of Sin and Evil, both ours and others, every day; and in dealing with the darkness of Sin and Evil we often fail to recognize God’s presence among us because we look for strength, not weakness. We see loved ones suffer and die. We deal with all kinds of hurt and heartache. We see the world in which we live becoming increasingly chaotic and we wonder why God has failed to act or where God is in it all. 

What we fail to account for, however, is God’s word that reveals at least a partial answer to our “why” questions. Before we look at this, however, let us acknowledge that some of our most profound “why” questions do not have answers this side of the grave. Perhaps they never will. We aren’t told, for example, why a good and loving God allows the power of Evil to operate in his world and that can be extremely disconcerting to those of us afflicted by Evil. What Scripture reveals to us, especially in the NT, is what God is doing about Evil. The short answer, as both Isaiah and St. Paul proclaim in our lessons, is that God has chosen to defeat the dark powers of Evil and Sin and to conquer death in and through human weakness and utter humility.The gospels tell us this in story and the epistle writers of the NT interpret that story for us, as, e.g., St. Paul does when he tells us that God became human so God could condemn our sin in the flesh and free us from its tyranny (Romans 8.1-4). We struggle to believe this story and the NT’s interpretation of it because life is not always so cut and dried. We are promised that on the cross Sin and Evil have been conquered, but we see both running rampant in the world and often in our own lives. Like the cynical criminal on the cross, we are tempted to chide Christ and berate him for not saving us when he already has. St. Luke tells us as much when he tells us the curtain in the Temple that separated the holy of holies—God’s space from the rest of the Temple space that none but the high priest could enter and then only once a year because of the corrupting presence of human sin—was torn in two. In telling us this, St. Luke is telling us that Christ’s death opened the way for us to live in God’s holy presence forever. You want peace with God? Christ’s death is the only way you’ll ever have it. But we don’t believe this. We focus on all that’s wrong with the world and us and conclude God hasn’t addressed the problem of Evil or is indifferent to our suffering. We fail to see Jesus, God become human, weeping over the sins of his people, as he rides into Jerusalem and sees that his people (us included) have failed to recognize that he has come there to die for their sins (and ours), just as the Scriptures said he would, so that we all will be free from Sin’s enslaving tyranny and God’s terrible condemnation of our sins that results in our death (Romans 8.1). We fail to recognize God’s healing presence among us in the person and power of the Holy Spirit, a presence that is only made possible by the sacrificial and atoning death of Jesus Christ. We want to discount all this, in part, because we delude ourselves into thinking that we can make ourselves right by following the rules so that we don’t need Christ’s blood shed for us. We couldn’t be more wrong because we are utterly sin-infested and without the ability to heal ourselves. Without Christ’s blood shed for us, we all remain under the terrible judgment of God with no hope of reprieve. When we fail to see God’s presence among us: naked, utterly scourged and humiliated, dying on a cross, bearing God’s just wrath on our sins so that we could live, we have rejected God’s gift to us—and God’s way of saving us.

But for those of us who by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, recognize the power of the cross to save and heal and forgive and make life possible, no matter how imperfect our recognition, no matter how wicked and voluminous our sins, we have a real hope and promise, just like the dying thief who did recognize God’s presence in his midst, and therefore we have a real future, no matter how dark our present or imperfect our lives. We also find real peace because our alienation from God is ended forever. We have this hope, this peace, and this future not because of who we are but because who God is. This is the power of Holy Week’s story. It is the power and wisdom of God.

Whether you are someone who clearly recognizes the presence of God among us or struggles to believe the promise or even wants to believe, even though you currently don’t, that God has visited us in Christ to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and make us his own, then Holy Week is for you because when you immerse yourself in the story and become part of it, you will find the Lord’s blessing in it and the path to true freedom and real transformation, however imperfectly that might look to you and others. Come therefore with our Lord to the Upper Room Thursday night where he will give his disciples a meal as the means to help them understand what his impending passion and death is all about. Watch with him in the garden as he struggles and shrinks from the gigantic task of allowing the powers of Evil to do their worst to him, and the prospect of having to bear the judgment of God for the sins of the entire world, your sins and mine. Our own personal sins can be a terrible burden to us. Try to imagine having to bear the sins of the entire world! With that in mind, come and venerate the cross on Good Friday as you ponder and contemplate the presence of God among us in the death of his Son for your sake and the sake of the world. Such contemplation demands silence, desolation, humility, and honest confession that your sins and mine are also responsible for the godforsaken death of our Lord. Was there ever any suffering like our Lord’s (and if you answer yes to this question, there’s a good chance you don’t really understand the magnitude of what happened on Good Friday!)? Grieve with his first followers as they laid his crucified and dead body in the tomb with no expectation of Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is the time to do just that, culminating with the Easter Vigil and the reading of the story of God’s salvation on Saturday evening. It simply won’t do to observe any of this from afar. It’s as unedifying as listening to one of Fr. Madanu’s sermons. No, if you really love your Lord and have even an inkling as to what great love has effected your salvation and changed the course of history forever, how can you possibly stay away from our Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil services? You will rob Easter Sunday of its great power and joy if you fail to participate in these saving events. So let none of us be too hasty to celebrate the great Paschal Feast next Sunday without first pondering and agonizing and reflecting on the great and astonishing love of God that flows from God’s very heart as it was pierced by a Roman soldier’s spear, a saving love poured out for you and your salvation. To be sure, this isn’t a pretty or fun thing to do or contemplate. But if you commit yourself to walking with Jesus this Holy Week it will change you in ways you cannot imagine or envision, and for the good. It will change you because it is the Good News of our salvation, now and for all eternity. May we all observe a blessed Holy Week together as God’s people at St. Augustine’s. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Dr. Jonathon Wylie: Christ is Greater: Lenten Repentance Toward Rightly Ordered Affections

Sermon delivered on Lent 5C, Sunday, April 7, 2019 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: Isaiah 43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b-14; John 12.1-8.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Ps 73:25-26

Dear friends of Jesus Christ,

The lines I just quoted are from Ps 73. They express the psalmist’s complete satisfaction in God to the point that “there is nothing on earth that [he] desires besides God.” The question I want to put before you is whether that is also your prayer. Do you delight in the Lord? Does he satisfy you? Or are there things that, if we’re being totally honest, stand ahead of him? What do you really, actually prize? Are your affections rightly ordered?

As you know, this is the 5th week of the season of Lent. I want to suggest that the arrangement of your affections is the fundamental issue of Lent. How is that? Lent is a season of self-evaluation and pruning leading to repentance and holiness. That’s why we “give stuff up.” We give things up for Lent not simply because we think a little self-deprivation is good, though it is, but because in giving things up we strip away whatever stands in the way of Christ and our affection for him. In Lent we put into practice what the author of Hebrews exhorted us to do when he said “Let us strip off every impediment and every controlling sin, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus” (Heb 12:1). “Giving stuff up” is a means to an end, which is to focus ourselves on a better, truer, lovelier, holier affection, which is Christ. So, again I ask, What, or Whom, do you cherish? And does your your daily life corroborate your answer – how you use your time, your resources, your talents, your imagination, how you treat your family, your neighbor, the poor, the resources of Creation? What would it look like if we, individually and collectively, truly cherished Jesus above all else?

Today’s epistle and the gospel readings give us a glimpse of that might be like. For Mary and for Paul, Christ is everything. He is all surpassing in worth. The thing – the One – than which no greater can be imagined. So let’s consider at how Mary and Paul express their affections for Christ, and perhaps even more importantly, what undergirds their love for him. Whydo Mary and Paul deem Jesus so worthy of their devotion?

Phil 3:4-14

 In our epistle lesson from Philippians 3, we hear the clearest and most heartfelt proclamation of Paul’s devotion to Christ of all his letters. He begins “If another person thinks they have reason to be confident for worldly reasons, I have more” (Phil 3:4). He then runs out his résumé backing that sentence up:

  • He’s a child of the covenant of Abraham, circumcised at 8 days old.
  • He is a man of pedigree: A man of the chosen people of God, of the tribe of Benjamin; a Hebrew among Hebrews.
  • He’s a religious man: A Pharisee, a man who followed the law scrupulously and blamelessly.
  • He’s a zealous man: A persecutor of the church.

A résumé doesn’t get better than that in the context of 1stcentury AD Judaism. In a system in which one’s worth is determined by personal merit, by personal pedigree and achievement, that is top of the line.

But look at what he says next: “Whatever was a (worldly) “gain” to me, I have considered these things a loss because of Christ. (8) Indeed, I consider all things to be a loss because of the surpassing thing, which is the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:7-8a). In a world of profits and losses, Paul doesn’t just think of his pedigree and merits as neutral; in comparison with Christ, he considers them to be damages, disadvantages, losses. They move things in the wrong direction. So these things that, in the worldly systems of 1stcentury Judaism would have made Paul regarded as an elite and accomplished Jew, he rejects because they are precisely the thing that keeps him from the thing – or rather, the person – who is altogether surpassing in value.

As Paul continues, he emphasizes his point, saying “I have endured the loss of all things. In fact, I consider them rubbish so that I may gain Christ and be found in him”(v. 8b-9a). Paul considers all his achievements and accolades as rubbish! Trash, spoiled leftovers, manure; smelly, filthy, and vile. In a worldly economy, Paul’s resume is first-rate. In an economy where Christ is supreme, where Christ is all in all, whatever does not incline us toward him is for the dumpster or commode.

That purpose clause at the end of v. 8 is very important. Paul counts his pedigree and merits as rubbish so that he might gain Christ and be found in him. The key to getting Christ is disregarding all tokens of personal worthiness. The issue isn’t that the things Paul surrenders are bad or wicked in their own right. There is nothing implicitly wrong with being an Israelite or a Pharisee or a keeper of the law. These things become problematic when they hinder one from Christ, as they did for Paul. Paul rightly saw that no human resume, indeed no thing in the world, was better than Christ. To get Christ, Paul deemed all else worthless.

This is very costly devotion, isn’t it? Would you renounce your education if it hindered you from Christ? Would you renounce your citizenship? Your proudest achievements? What undergirds a discipleship that is so costly? It is nothing but Jesus’ prior love for Paul, which Paul intimately knows.

John 12:1-8

As I reflected on today’s gospel passage over the last week or so, I came to see it as a really beautiful passage. As we heard, Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with a very costly perfume and then proceeds to wipe his feet with her hair.

This is not your run-of-the-mill gift. It’s a gift fit for a king. John tells us that this perfume was “pure nard.” The nard plant is not native to the Middle East; it comes from India. So this ointment would have been imported from very far away, which means it was very rare and very expensive. According to Judas, Mary’s ointment could have been sold for 300 denarii. Just to give you a sense for what kind of number that is: A denarius was the going wage for a day of manual labor in 1stcentury Palestine, so 300 denarii would be equal to roughly a year’s income for an average laborer, factoring in days off for the sabbaths, holidays, and so forth. Imagine putting your entire annual salary into the offering plate, and that’s something along the lines of Mary’s gift to Jesus.

Actually, though, hers is still more than that, because it isn’t as if she simply handed Jesus a bag of coins and said “this is my offering.” It isn’t just that Mary’s gift is high in value, it’s the way she gave it. This is a gift from the heart. You can envisioned her there: down on the floor, wiping his dirty feet with her hair. She displays an attitude of humility before Jesus that flows from a heart full of love and devotion. This is a bold act of service and humility. It should be noted, by the way, that foot-washing was not a dignifying activity in the ancient world, any more than it is now. Feet are gross, especially feet that travel dirt roads in sandals. I dare say that even Jesus’ feet were gross. Foot-washing was a servant’s job. Of course, this makes it all the more significant that in the next chapter (John 13) Jesus will be the one doing the foot-washing.

Why does Mary treat Jesus in this manner? This is a profound act of love; Mary makes very much of Jesus in this passage. Why? The answer, I think, is that Mary knows who Jesus truly is. Not only that, Mary has experienced Jesus’ own love for her, which has drawn her into reciprocal, imitative love. Let me explain what I mean, focusing for a moment on John 12:1.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”

 John 12:1 is the kind of verse that is very easy to mistake as more or less insignificant background material. Actually, verse 1 is critical to understanding Mary’s act of anointing Jesus, for two reasons.

First, John’s brief chronological note telling us that Jesus arrived in Bethany 6 days before the Passover is of profound importance. Why? Because John is reminding us where Jesus is headed and who Jesus really is. Where is Jesus headed? To the cross. Why? Because he is the end-all-be-all, once-and-for-all Passover Lamb. Whenever you see a reference to Passover in the NT, especially in John’s gospel, your mind should instantly go to Good Friday. That’s because Jesus is the Passover sacrifice, crucified on the eve of Passover to take away the sins of the world (John 19:14-19; cf. John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor 5:7). Mary, of course, knows this. She’s heard Jesus’ teaching. She knows what he’s about to do. Tomorrow, Jesus will enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to shouts of praise. Five days later, he, the Lamb of God, will be slaughtered on the alter of the cross, making a just and perfect atonement for Mary’s sin, for my sin, for your sin. John knows this. We know this. So does Mary. And she cherishes him for it, so she loves him and serves him as the lamb of God who is about to die by anointing him with sweet-smelling perfume in preparation for his burial.

That’s one reason why Mary makes so much of Jesus – indeed, an important reason. There is a second, also referenced in 12:1. Let’s look there again:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”

 Did you catch the second half of that verse? “…Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.” It is impossible to grasp Mary’s affection for Jesus in John 12 without reference to John 11, which  tells the story of how Lazarus fell ill and died, how is sisters Mary and Martha mourned his death, how Lazarus was in the tomb for 4 days, and how on the fourth day Jesus arrived from the other side of the Jordan and called Lazarus out from the tomb. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), and no one knows that better than Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. So, a second reason why Mary pours out such affection for Jesus here in John 12 is the fact that she knows that Jesus is the Lord of life, the author of life, the restorer of life, the one who raises people from the dead. She has seen it first hand in her brother, whom Jesus brought forth from the tomb.

Parenthetically, I think here of that beautiful verse we read every year on Easter Sunday from Isa 25:8, which says that God will swallow up death forever and he will wipe away the tear from every face. Mary gets that because she saw Jesus overcome death, and she experienced the comfort that only the Lord of the Resurrection can give. Happy are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted by Jesus. That’s Mary. That’s all of us who put our hope in the Resurrection.

Now, let me pause right here to bring us into the story. If you are in Christ through faith and baptism, you are in this scene too. What do I mean? If you are baptized, then there is a way in which you are Lazarus. You have died a spiritual death to be resurrected to new spiritual life. If you are in Christ, then you have been crucified with him so that you might rise with him. If you are in Christ, then you have denied yourself, taken up your cross, and followed Christ all the way to Golgotha – walking the humble way of the cross with the promise of resurrection. In this sense, all Christians are Lazarus – having been raised from the dead by Christ; and all Christians are Mary and Martha – rejoicing in the resurrection of our beloved brothers and sisters. Jesus Christ is in the business of raising the dead. He is the resurrection and the life, not just for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, but for all the saints past, present, and future. And that includes each of us.

The question is, What kind of response is appropriate for the one who takes away sin, who is stronger than Death, who brings people back to life? You’re looking at in John 12, with Mary kneeling over Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair. If Mary’s gesture in John 12 does not resonate with you at all, let me suggest that you don’t know who Jesus is, or at any rate, you have not grasped who he is for you, what he has done for you, the love he has first shownto you.

Application and Conclusion

You know as well as I do that we live in an age of pandemic cultural discontentment and dissatisfaction. People always want more – more money, more education, more clothes, more toys, more power, more glory/honor/prestige. Just 5 minutes of commercials will show you that this is basically true. The irony is that we also live in an age of too much. We already have too much stuff, too much to do, too many places to be, too many meetings, too much work, too many practices, too many extra-curriculars, too many obligations that keep us from the things that really, truly matter.

The antidote to that is to make much of Christ. Make him king. Make him first. And everything else falls into place. Because when Christ is king of your life then you know who you are, and you know what is important. You will take your place in the Kingdom of Christ and dedicate yourself to loving him and serving him, especially by loving the things he loves.

So, who is Christ to you? Is he your source? Your joy? Your prize? The focus of your love and devotion?

Or is he something less than that? Is he for you a ticket to a social club or status? Is he merely a means to an end? Is he just interesting, a good moral teach but functionally not much more? I should tell you, Jesus hates lukewarm devotion; it’s an insult to him. If you know him, the worst thing you can do is be iffy on him (Rev 3:15-17). Either he is Lord and King or he is not. And if he is, then consider him so.

So again I ask you, do you delight in Christ? Is he the object of your affections? Does your life – in thought, word, and deed – show that he is worthy? To help you answer that question, let me say again that if Christ is your chief affections, then your subsequent affections will be toward the things that Christ loves.

Jesus loves the Father. How is your prayer life?

Jesus loves Scripture. Are you feasting on the word of God?

Jesus loves holiness. Are you repenting of your sin, striving to become more like him?

Jesus loves his poor neighbor. Do you?

Jesus loves his lonely neighbor. Do you?

Jesus loves his confused neighbor. Do you?

Jesus loves children, these children. Do you?

Having been one himself, Jesus loves the foreigner, immigrants and refugees. Do you?

Jesus loves the mission of God to redeem the word with the good news of salvation by faith. Are you playing your part in that mission? The Spirit has equipped you for it.

Jesus loves the fatherless, the abandoned and neglected, those who are vulnerable in the world. Do you?

Jesus loves the Church, his living body on earth. Do you love the Church, in spite of its imperfections?

I will close with this: As you come to the table in a few minutes, don’t just go through the motions. Be mindful of what you’re doing. We call it communionfor a reason, which is that we believe that we fellowship with the risen Christ in the bread and wine. So as you eat this meal, eat it with gratitude and with mindfulness of the one with whom you dine. Cherish it. Think upon the one whose flesh you eat and whose blood you drink.

Now to him who sits upon the throne, and to Christ the lamb, be praise and worship, dominion and splendor, now and forever more. Amen.

Fr. Santosh Madanu: The Prodigal Son

Sermon delivered on Lent 4C, Sunday, March 31, 2019 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: Joshua 5.9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5.16-21; Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, you help us through the parable of prodigal son, the spiritual lesson, that we are meant to receive your life, your love and mercy as a gift from you.  Enlighten our minds to set our hearts on your infinite mercy and forgiveness. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The interesting thing about today’s Gospel parable is that it is such a down to earth, that one way other we are all connected to this story.

The so called prodigal son wants to leave home, wants to have his own way and wants to have independence from the family.  This is something some of us have experienced as a youth.  It is very natural occurrence.  The desire to leave home and have our own space is absolutely normal and at the same time necessary.  Sooner or later we will have to take flight from the comfort of our parents and guardians.  But whereas, the prodigal son goes wrong, when he found independence to reject fathers’ love, the family values, cultural system and tradition.

There is great search for happiness and fulfillment in life then and now.  Today’s society emphasizes on sensual and material enjoyment.  The problem was that the prodigal son thought he could find happiness by satisfying his desires whether moral or immoral.   

What can we learn from Jesus Christ’s parables of the prodigal son?  In the world of broken relationships, it taches us a lesson of dep love and hope.   A key lesson of the parable of prodigal son is always hope for reconciliation. In the parable Father represents our heavenly God the Father.

Let us reflect the story.   A man had two sons.  One day the younger one came to him with a demand:   he wanted an early disbursement of his inheritance. And taking his portion of wealth he traveled to far distance country. Which means the son no longer wanted to live under his father’s roof. He no longer wants to walk with his father (Amos 3:3)

Could it be that the son had emotionally left the home long before he physically walked out of the door?

In time the son burned through his money and found himself penniless.  Immoral living with his friends and high living, beyond his means, reduced him to do manual labor.  Today it is easy to spend money on super comforts and super luxurious things. His friends were with him as long as he had money.  He had no satisfaction of his life.  He began to evaluate his situation.

What would you do in such a situation? Would pride prevent you from returning home or restoring the relationship?  Would stubbornness push you toward self?

Perhaps you actually find yourself at present in a position (situation) similar to that of that of the prodigal son.  You have been estranged from a parent or a friend and feel you cannot return to him or her.  You can’t bring yourself to pick up the phone or reach out and begin to mend a broken relationship.  It is sad feature of life today.  We are connected by so much social media yet can’t always connect at the deepest level of love and meaning.  You can have hundreds and thousands of friends on Facebook but all alone in your life at the most critical moments.  It is vital to have good friends to receive counsel, encouragement and support.  It is necessary to have fellowship to keep relationship open for love and care.

Returning to Christ story, it now reaches the most critical point.  The young man comes to his senses when he realizes the servants in his father’s home have plenty of food and do not go hungry.  He says “I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father I have sinned against heaven and before you….imagine the moment of humility, he is at the end of his rope.  All his natural confidence is gone, he realizes he can’t go forward on his own.  He decided he must return home.  The journey is now at its most crucial moment.

It is never too late.

How many of us waiting for our brother or sister, mother or father, friend or relative to return to you- back to have relationship that have been severed long ago?  We have not lost hope. We wait for a letter, an email, a call or to footsteps on the path to your house. You and I personally need to take initiate to call them.  Let us not wait for many months and years.  Because the lost time can’t be regained.

There was news sometime in the past carried the story about 87 year old man who was reunited with his daughter after 40 years.  He had divorced her mother when the daughter was four, and he last saw her when she was 12.  For more than 40 years he didn’t see his child.  She grew up, married, and had children and grandchildren.  One day she called him on the phone and said, “This is Dona, your daughter.”  The man discovered he had a family he knew nothing about.  He quickly agreed to meet and began making up for the lost time, knowing time could not be regained but determined not to allow any more to be lost.

This is how it will be one day, for those who wait with prayer, fasting and alms giving.  The prodigals will return.  They will be moment to say, I want a relationship once again with you.  In today’s parable it is not we wait for our Father God rather He waits on us to welcome us back home.  In all the religions of the world, human being is seeking for God where as in Jewish –Christian, God is seeking for us.

A message about deep love

Jesus Christ gave this parable to encourage families. God’s great plan of salvation is based on relationships on the family structure and fellowships. This is the law of love- the love of the parent for the child. The deep love of the father for his children.  This parable is about each one of us. God the Father stands waiting for the time when each of His children will at last realize the need for a lasting and satisfying relationship with Him.  And God’s deep desire to bring the reconciliation within His creation.

Holding out Hope

The parable of lost son is a parable for today.  It offers hope for all who long for reconciliation.   Reconciliation with son, parent or friend.

 Even the hope is deferred and heart is sick, there is the promise of hope will blossom into a tree of life (Proverbs13:12)

The Father’s years of hope and longing are summed in the declaration,” This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” Luke 15:24.

We may think this is a good place to end.  But Jesus wants us to know the reaction of the elder son.

And how do we react in this situation for our brother or sister who left the home for their pleasure and selfishness?

The older brother in the story honored his father and helped in the business. But in fact he was not having true loving relationship with his father and he was not happy with his brother.  He too was selfish.  He too was very disobedient. His heart was with hatred and selfishness. He demonstrated the dislike, intolerance and hostility which is opposing the compassionate loving nature of his own father.

He is not only angry with his brother but angry with his father too.  He feels favoritism and he feels indifference in treatment as a manifested injustice by his father.

He refused to join the party.  On hearing of his son’s anger, the father pleaded him to join in welcoming home his brother.  But he couldn’t because, as he put it: “These many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; yet you never gave me young goat that I might make merry with my friends.  But as soon as this son of yours came, who have devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him”.  Luke 15: 29-30

Once again the father showed wisdom:  “Son, you are always with me, and all I have is yours.  It was right that we should celebrate and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found”.

We need to have unbroken bond with our loving Father God.  The loyalty, dependability and trust should prove that we don’t need party or grand celebration to demonstrate God’s love for us.  Because we are already sharing His infinite love and experiencing His unending care for us.

*There is always hope for the reconciliation.  Never to give up.

What do the actions of prodigal son teach us?

They teach us the depths to which our own misuse of freedom will bring us bad consequences.  If we are bent on leaving God, things will go badly for us.  We will be humiliated in the uncaring world.  The farther we get from the Father’s loving care, the worse off we will be, and our best course is to return to God and His forgiveness.

What do the actions of the father teaches us?

The first lesson is that the father will not treat a son as a hired servant.   The younger son is still a son!

As a result, his returning is something to be celebrated! 

Father tells his second son “Son you are always with me.”  This means a reassurance to the elder son that he has not lost his place in the family.  His place is secured. And father tells the elder son” and all that is mine is yours. This is because the division of property has already been taken place.  The younger son took his third, so the two-thirds that remain will go entirely to the older son.

The spiritual lessons from this parable we can draw are:

* When we turn our backs on our heavenly Father, mortal sin is a real possibility.  Therefore as we enjoy free will we need to seek God’s will for us.

* This shows us God’s reaction towards us when we return from being lost in sin and bad decisions.

* God loves every one equally.   God loves sinner and saints in the same way.  Let us come to the bosom of tender compassionate God the Father. Amen.  

Presumption: It’s Not for Lent

Sermon delivered on Lent 3C, Sunday, March 24, 2019 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: Isaiah 55.1-9; Psalm 63.1-8; 1 Corinthians 10.1-13; Luke 13.1-9.

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

Two weeks ago we looked at what it takes to observe a holy Lent. I suggested that observing a holy Lent is not about us or our ability to follow the rules set forth by God. Instead, I suggested that keeping a holy Lent starts with our presence at the foot of the cross of Christ with thankful hearts. It starts by acknowledging the power of God to change us and opening ourselves up to the presence of his life-changing Spirit. Observing a holy Lent is about God’s power working in our lives, not our ability to follow the rules. Many of us need to hear this message on a regular basis because many of us are all about the delusion of self-help. We also need to hear that God loves us and is merciful and gracious to us because many of us have a hard time loving ourselves, so it is natural for us to believe that God doesn’t or can’t love us either. Today, our readings point us in a different direction, one that is not nearly as popular or comforting as the topic of my last sermon. In various ways, our readings warn against the sin of presumption in all its destructive forms and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

We begin by acknowledging our aversion to talking about the power of Sin in our lives. We live in a day and age in which it is simply not acceptable to talk about the seriousness of sin. Doing so lands us in the cultural doghouse and we find ourselves labeled as haters, bigots, and the like. Even those brave enough to dare suggest there is Truth as well as rights and wrongs tend to deflect the topic of human sin by talking about the sins of others. Doing so allows us to avoid having to address our own sins, not to mention our standing before God. Our sin avoidance, especially when it comes to our own sins, is nothing new. We see it alive and well in our gospel lesson when our Lord was asked about those killed by Pilate and who had fallen victim to man-made disaster. What about those people, Jesus? Were they worse sinners than us? We ask these kinds of questions all the time. What about those killed in the recent Ethiopian airliner crash? Were they worse sinners than us? Or what about the victims of the various floods, cyclones, and tornadoes? Were they worse sinners than us? Did they really do stuff that was bad enough to warrant death? Or how about victims of AIDS? Isn’t that God’s punishment on them for their sins? Behind such questions, of course, is the old belief that God punishes us for our sins while “good people”—and we always include ourselves in that category—escape such punishment because, well, we’re good people. Do you see the presumption behind these questions? Some sins are more deserving of punishment than others, especially when we are talking about the sins of others and not our own. We don’t seem to realize that from the perspective of God’s perfect holiness, all sins are abhorrent because all sins corrupt and dehumanize, and because God loves us like he does, this is not acceptable to God. What parent, for example, would always allow his children to tell little white lies, especially if in allowing this pattern, he might teach them to become chronic liars? No, God wants the best for his image-bearers and therefore abhors anything we do that corrupts and chips away at God’s image in us. The problem is that we humans don’t take sin as seriously as God does, especially when it comes to examining our own sins. Our Lord’s message in response to our sin-aversion is pretty stark. You’d better knock that kind of thinking off while you still can and focus on repenting of your own sins. Otherwise you are going to fall under God’s good and just judgment just like they did, whether or not you think your sins are serious enough to be judged.

St. Paul says something equally worrisome in our epistle lesson. Here he is addressing Christian presumption that goes something like this. Hey God, I’m a baptized Christian and I come to Christ’s holy table each week for communion. Therefore I can do whatever I darn well please because you have to forgive my sins since I’m a baptized Christian and take communion and stuff. Never mind that I gossip and speak evilly about my neighbor and those in my parish family (especially those I really dislike). Never mind that I criticize, lie, cheat, or steal. Never mind that I sit in haughty self-righteous judgment over my fellow Christians and refuse to admit I am ever wrong. Never mind that I sneak in an affair or two or am addicted to porn. And me turning a blind eye to human need and suffering, all the while rationalizing my stinginess? That’s OK too because, hey! I’m a baptized Christian and you have to forgive me, God. It says so right there in the rules somewhere. Welcome to Christian presumption at its finest where we presume God must forgive us because we are Christians. While St. Paul firmly believed that baptism and holy communion are necessary for our membership into Christ’s family (the Church) and for our salvation, he never saw them as some kind of magic that guarantees God’s forgiveness and mercy while allowing us to live our lives in ways that corrupt, dehumanize, and lead us to eternal destruction. Again, this is not love on God’s part. How can a loving God desire our destruction? This is our attempt at turning our relationship with God into one of codependency where God enables our fallen desires and pride to run rampant. The season of Lent, therefore, is an appropriate time for us to reflect not only on our own sins (that will keep us occupied for a good long while) but also on the love and mercy of God.

So is there an appropriate form of presumption for us Christians to have? Yes there is and it is implicit in all our readings. It is quite appropriate for us to presume that without God’s intervention and help we will fall under his terrible and just judgment on our sins, irrespective of our level of denial about the seriousness of those sins. This kind of presumption takes sin seriously and acknowledges our utter helplessness to fix ourselves or our standing before God. Many of us balk at this because it makes us feel bad. I’ve heard it a gazillion times. But is it thoroughly bad news when we acknowledge our terrible predicament before a just and holy God? If so, why do we confess each week that we follow too much the devices and desires of our own hearts? Why do we acknowledge that there is no health in us? Is it just to make us feel as rotten as possible and lower our self-esteem? Does God get some kind of delight in calling us out for our sins and making us feel rotten? 

Of course not (and if you think that, now is a good time for you to examine your unholy assumptions about who God is and what God wants). When we presume that our sins leave us without recourse and under God’s good and just judgment, and that we are utterly unworthy of God’s forgiveness, it begins to cultivate the necessary humility in us to accept God’s unwarranted love and forgiveness, and that helps make us ready to spend time at the foot of the cross with a thankful heart. When we realize that we can do nothing to make us right in God’s eyes except for the love of Christ made known supremely on the cross, we are developing a Spirit-led antidote for the kind of unhealthy and unholy presumption we’ve just talked about. God wants to forgive us because God loves us, despite our unloveliness. But God also wants us to be the fully human creatures he created us to be and that means we have to turn from our unhealthy self-love and pride and turn to God so that we can be healed. It’s the kind of mindset we find in our psalm lesson this morning with its hunger and thirst for God and the psalmist’s realization that nothing is more desirable than God’s love and care for him. When we realize there is nothing we can do to earn God’s mercy and love, but that God offers both to us because of who God is, it opens us up to God’s healing power made known to us in Christ, and him crucified, through the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s why we confess our sins—to be forgiven and healed, and because we are confident that God will.

When we realize that it pleased God to rescue us from our slavery to Sin by way of the cross (1 Corinthians 1.18-25) and to heal us in the power of the Spirit, and that God did so while we were utterly helpless and still his enemies (Romans 5.6-8), we look at God’s gifts of love and mercy through the lens of a grateful and penitent heart instead of through the lens of sinful presumption. This in turn increases our desire to love God for his awesome love for us made known supremely in the cross of Christ, and we are perfectly content to spend time at the foot of our Lord’s cross because we realize it is here, and only here, that we find healing, forgiveness, and salvation. As we continue our Lenten journey, my beloved, may we desire the grace to be bold enough and humble enough to see our sins as God sees them, and to give thanks to God for freeing us from the power behind our sins to make us his own. Then we can come to Christ’s table, rejoicing in our baptism, with a humble and contrite heart, the kind that pleases the Father, and be reminded that we are invited to the Father’s great banquet because we truly are Christ’s own, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Jesus and the Temptations

Sermon delivered on Lent 1C, Sunday, March 10, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Due to technical difficulties, there is no audio podcast for today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm 91.1-2, 9-16; Romans 10.8b-13; Luke 4.1-13.

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

Today is the first Sunday of Lent and our assigned gospel lesson always deals with the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. If you saw the title of this sermon and wondered if I were going to have us sing some good old Motown music in the name of Jesus (apologies to those of you too young to remember or even know about the Temptations), you will be sadly disappointed. I’m not. Rather I want us to reflect seriously this morning on what it takes to observe a truly holy Lent (and beyond).

The way to observe a truly holy Lent is to start with Jesus and this leads us to our gospel lesson this morning. We note that just before today’s lesson on our Lord’s temptations, St. Luke has given us another one of those strange genealogies that are interspersed throughout the OT (Luke 3.23-38). In this particular genealogy, by its arrangement he tells us that Jesus is the Son of God who is descended from Adam, our first human ancestor. In arranging his material this way, the evangelist surely wants us to see that where our first ancestors failed when tempted by Satan, thereby allowing Evil and Sin to enter and corrupt God’s good creation and creatures, our Lord succeeded in resisting Satan’s wiles; the tide is turning. Evil has met its match. 

Put another way, St. Luke does not want us to separate the cross of Jesus Christ, which signaled the defeat of Evil, from his initial temptations because it is in the wilderness that our Lord begins to successfully engage the power of Evil to defeat and ultimately destroy it when God’s new creation comes in full. The challenge for us is to recognize what Jesus does as success instead of failure. While that is easy to do when we read about Christ’s exorcisms and healings of possessed and sick people, possession and sickness being two manifestations of the power of Evil, it is less intuitive for us to look at Christ’s passion and death and see the Victory won over Evil by the Son of God. Our Lord’s victory over Satan in the wilderness matters because we too are subjected to the devil and his minions’ power, i.e., Evil, every day of our lives the same way he was. Take a look around you. Look at the increasing vitriol and polarization in politics and on social media. Every day we are bombarded with all kinds of bad news from murder to abuse to addiction to you name it, and it wears us out. Much of this happens because we give in to the temptations our Lord resisted. If we are ever to have any real hope of rescue from Evil, we need to know from where our help comes (more about that in a bit).

Before we look at what else St. Luke has to tell us in our lesson, we need to say a word about the devil. In our day and age with all its “sophistication” and other forms of human-invented baloney, it can be pretty dangerous for us as Christians to acknowledge we believe in the existence of Satan and his minions (the dark powers and principalities). We’re liable to be mocked as fundies for starters and it will go downhill from there. While we should not look for Satan under every rock, if you are one of those poor souls who steadfastly refuses to believe in the devil, you are to be pitied, because Evil is real and it’s personal, and your refusal to believe in the reality of Evil personified as the devil assures that you will ultimately succumb to his power and he will eventually destroy you because of your delusions. If you are one of those folks, I would humbly suggest that the starting point for you to observe a holy Lent is to repent of your foolishness and acknowledge the terrifying reality of Evil in this world and our lives. 

Having dispensed with the background info needed for us to look at our Lord’s wilderness temptations, it is time to look at each temptation to see what St. Luke is inviting us to learn. We begin by noting that faithfulness to God does not always involve taking the easiest road; in fact, it usually is quite the opposite. The devil and his minions will come after us with a vengeance as they do not want us to live godly lives. The only way for us not to be overcome by Evil, and our only hope to be healed and made whole by the love of God, is for us to have the Holy Spirit living in us, just like Jesus had in the wilderness, to give us the power to trust in God’s power, not our own, and to heal us one inch at a time. 

We see this issue emerge in the first temptation because it questions God’s care and provision for us. Satan’s declaration to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…,” which assumes he is, subtly appeals to Jesus to use his power to end his famished state. We all get this because most of the time when we are in dire straights we frantically try to meet our own needs. We plot, devise schemes, threaten, bully, etc., to make sure we get what we think we need. The assumption behind our behavior, of course, is that God is either incapable or unwilling to provide for us, which makes our good words about God look like a farce. What good Father will let his children go in need? So here Satan tempts Jesus by appealing to him to act to provide for himself rather than relying on God. Jesus responds by telling Satan that humans don’t live by bread alone. Here our Lord demonstrates his understanding that our well-being depends on much more than us being well-fed. If we do not stop trying to be God, no matter how well- fed we are, we will still be desperately broken, lonely, alienated, and under God’s terrible judgment. 

In the second temptation, we see Satan inviting Jesus to engage in false worship by appealing to the natural human tendency to grab power to achieve our selfish needs and ends. Here we see how Satan’s half-lies work. Satan tells our Lord that the kingdoms of the world have been given to him to give to anyone he pleases. We look around at the wreckage of human leadership from Hitler to Pol Pot to Stalin and other mass murderers and we are tempted to believe Satan is telling the truth. But it’s a half-lie because only God is sovereign over the nations and only God does with nations what God is gonna do with them, not the devil. The latter has power only to the extent God allows, mysterious and enigmatic as that is for us to contemplate. The point here, though, is for Jesus to worship the means of the world like we do: power, coercion, force, brutality, threats, tyranny, injustice, corruption (and the Evil behind them), to name just a few, to achieve his calling as Lord of the world. But Christ would have none of it. He would become Lord and Savior of the world by obeying God and going to the cross to defeat the power of Evil and our slavery to Sin. If you don’t get this point, you’ll never get Jesus at all.

The third temptation is similar to the first one. Here the devil seems to be saying to Jesus, before you begin your work as God’s Son and Messiah, you’d better make sure God will take care of you by clearing the way to protect you. Right. The way of the Son is the way of the cross. In his death we find life and freedom, forgiveness and health. We see this temptation echoed at Calvary when the mocking bystanders challenged Christ to come down from the cross to save himself. As St. Luke subtly reminds us, although beaten in this first round, the devil would continue to show up to tempt Jesus all the way to the cross. In defeating the devil by not succumbing to these temptations, our Lord shows us that while he is fully God, he is also fully human. Each one of us has been tempted likewise and each of us has failed. This realization reminds us that contrary to popular belief, Jesus didn’t just waltz through life with no afflictions because he was and is the Son of God. Instead, this reminds us that our Lord probably experienced afflictions with temptations to a degree none of us could ever really imagine.

And now we are ready to get to the point of how to keep a holy Lent. If you are expecting me to say that if you want to observe a holy Lent, do like Jesus did, you are going to be disappointed even more with this sermon than you already are because I am not going to tell you that. I have learned over the years that it really is quite unsporting of preachers to tell their peeps to do something that is impossible for them to do. The gospels don’t tell us the story of our Lord’s wilderness temptations so that we can copy him and find his success. While it is always good to copy our Lord, we will not be able to do what he did. If we were able to overcome temptations as he did, Christ would not have had to die for us as Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson. Jesus is our Savior precisely because he accomplished what we could never do, even on our best, holiest days, and if you don’t really believe that, you’ll never have a holy Lent, no matter what stuff you give up and other disciplines you establish. So we shouldn’t read this story with the delusional thinking that we can successfully imitate our Lord and resist every temptation that afflicts us the way he did. We can’t. We are too corrupt, too sick, too power hungry, too selfish, too hostile and alienated from God and each other for that to happen. In other words, we are too infected by the power of Sin to fix ourselves. So trying to observe a holy Lent by doing like Jesus did to overcome temptation is an exercise in futility. Don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting we should shrug our shoulders, give up, and wallow in our slavery to Sin. Doing so would be celebrating our eternal damnation and that’s never a smart thing for us to do. Nor am I suggesting we shouldn’t try to imitate Jesus. We absolutely should, always relying on the power of the Spirit. Just don’t expect to achieve the results Christ did! Neither should you hear me telling you that because of all our hopeless brokenness you are beyond hope and such a wretch that you are beyond salvation and cannot become Christlike in your behavior. While we all are wretches, none of us is without hope because it has pleased God to rescue us by sending his Son to die on our behalf so that when God sees us, he sees a five star beloved child in a five star evaluation system, despite our sins and wickedness. He sees us this way because we are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, who died for us to break our slavery to Sin, albeit incompletely in this mortal life. So let’s stop kidding ourselves about our ability to overcome the power of Sin. None of us can on our own and that’s the point.

The place to start in observing a holy Lent is on our knees at the foot of the cross, lamenting that we helped nail Christ to it but also, and equally important, to rejoice and give thanks to God for his great and undeserved love for us made known in Christ Jesus. When by God’s grace we realize that we are so hopelessly broken and beyond rescue except by the love and mercy of God the Father made known in the death and resurrection of God the Son and affirmed in our hearts and minds by God the Holy Spirit, we must have a heart bursting with joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving that God has rescued us forever from his right and terrible judgment on our sins and made us worthy to live with him forever starting right now. Our thanksgiving for this precious and profound gift will have at least a two-fold effect on us. First, it will lead to genuine sorrow on our part for responding to such great love so selfishly and corruptly. True thanksgiving will help motivate us to want to become more like Christ, not because we are told to or think we are supposed to, but because we want to become like our Savior who is the epitome of life. After all, if we are grateful to surgeons who by their skill have alleviated our illness, why would we not be grateful to God for rescuing us from his terrible judgment on our evil and eternal death? This, in turn, tends to help create in us generous hearts in the manner of our OT lesson, although generosity certainly isn’t restricted to just giving money. It involves giving ourselves in ways that reject the systems of the world that are controlled by the dark powers, i.e., by our rejecting power and domination as a means to achieve our ends, and by having a completely different set of ends in the first place. 

If you really want to observe a holy Lent (and beyond), start at the foot of the cross with a thankful heart for God the Father who loves you enough and has the power to overcome your unlovability. God rescued you in and through Christ, not because of your good deeds or because you deserve being rescued or any of that other baloney, but rather because it pleased God to do so as St. Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 1.18-25. Observing a holy Lent means realizing first and foremost that God is God and we are not, and to rejoice in the gift he freely offers to us. Put another way, it means learning to trust the goodness and mercy of God, not our own clever devices. May we all observe a holy Lent this year (and beyond), my beloved, because when we do, no matter how badly we observe it, we know we truly have Good News and are participating in it, now and for all eternity. We have this Good News, not because of who we are, but because who God is. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Fr. Santosh Madanu: The Transfiguration of the Lord

Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday C, March 3, 2019 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: Exodus 34.29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2; Luke 9.28b-43.

Prayer: Dear Jesus you are the image of invisible God in whom the divinity confirmed.   Thy kingdom once concealed on the earth now revealed through you. Bless me to behold your beauty with my unworthy eyes and experience with my heart and mind of your supernatural glory. Amen.

A week before the Transfiguration, Jesus had promised to His disciples: “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”   The transfiguration is now part of the fulfilment of this promise which would really be fulfilled at Jesus’ resurrection.   The disciples were experiencing the foretaste of the glory and power of God’s kingdom.   God gave them this experience to strengthen their faith and to assure them that the Man of Nazareth was really His beloved Son, the promised Messiah.

 Jesus’ suffering, passion and death are necessary to redeem mankind from the slavery of sin and evil; and with His resurrection bring glory to God and eternal life with him. This is the purpose of transfiguration that we experience supernatural glory in heaven for ever though we have to face sad situations, fears of future and when our dreams are shattered at present life.

Like Peter we wanted to perpetuate the glory of Jesus without any kind of sufferings and struggles. I am not prepared to deal with problems and challenges of daily life.  So I would say like Peter “It is good for us to be here.”

A). It is good for us to be with Jesus: This one hour that we spend together in service is a blessed hour in communion with Jesus.  We partake in His Holy meal, we sing Holy, Holy and Holy.  It is a moment of peace and of fellowship with God.  It is good to be with Jesus.  It is indeed necessary to be with the Lord Jesus.

B). It is good for us to be with Moses too.  We need to hear the Commandments, who call us to repentance and show us how to walk according to God’s will. We cannot just take sweet drink; but we have to accept some bitter medicine as well.  If people would listen to the 10 Commandments more, the world would not be as bad as it is.  For us it is good to be with Moses; it gives us security; because Moses is not alone, but he comes with Jesus, who reaches His hand to help us as we are unable to obey 100% the Commandments. Don’t you think so!  It is good to be with Moses.

C). It is good to be with Elijah, the prophet.   Elijah called the king and the people of his time back to the true faith.  Elijah and the other prophets pointed to the Messiah; and we know that those prophecies were accomplished in Jesus.  God is faithful in what He promises.  We can be sure about what He promises to us as well.  And the biggest promise were accomplished in Jesus: Promise of Forgiveness and Eternal Life.

Moses and Elijah actually stand for the Old Testament itself.  Moses for the law and Elijah for the prophets.  And the Christ is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. (Mt 5:17).   They also stand for the living and dead, for Moses died and his burial place is known, while Elijah was taken alive into heaven in order to appear again to announce the time of God’s salvation in Christ the Messiah.  Notice also how Moses and Elijah give the vision for what Christ is about to do in His final journey to Jerusalem.   The vision is of a new Exodus.  Just as Moses led the Israel out of slavery in Egypt by the blood of the lamb at Passover and parted waters (Baptism) of Red sea, so now Jesus would lead His people out (an exodus) from slavery and sin by the blood of the Lamb of God -Jesus

D). It is good for us to be with Peter, James and John.  They were eyewitnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  When we read what they wrote in the Bible, it is like to be with them and to enjoy their telling the stories and sharing with us their faith and life experiences.  Peter wrote (2 Peter1:16-18): “For we did not follow the very cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were the eye witnesses of His majesty.  He received the honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.”  This gives us confidence that the Bible is really the word of God!

God of History- Jesus indeed lived with His people, walked with His people, talked with His people and shared their pain and joy. We have historical reasons to believe in Jesus. And let us know this, being good Christian is being in intimate in relationship with Jesus, experience day by day His love and to live objectively good life.

If we were chosen to take the place of Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor, this would be nothing less than our first glimpse of Jesus and our heaven (Just imagine the story of Transfiguration).  We would use the apostles’ words: “Lord, it is good for us to be here: we would tell Jesus, we are not leaving this place, we got this- we are not going anywhere.  We are staying here forever.

Transfiguration is the glorious vision that sheds the light on the meaning of our life. It shows us again and again that God can make a way out of no way. We see in the transfiguration of the Lord, the heaven opened and the Glory of God is being revealed.  The transfiguration is the event that we should experience now, today.  God’s greatest demonstration of love for us is shown through Jesus Christ.  We should never miss this reward of heaven and boundless love of God in Christ.

We live in age of so much talking and so much noise that it is becoming harder and harder to hear the voice of God which often comes, as it did for the prophet Elijah on mount Carmel, in the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit, in the whispers of daily events.

Therefore it is good for us to be with Jesus, Moses, Elijah and the apostles, to be strengthened in our faith and encouraged in our life.  After the transfiguration Moses and Elijah went back to the glory of God, where all our beloved ones and forefathers are.  But the glorious end has not come to us.  After being with Jesus, we have to go down the mountain, like Jesus and the disciples after the transfiguration.  Jesus has to face suffering and death, as we will remember it during the Lent Season, which begins this week on Ash Wednesday.  We have to face Lent season in our lives as well.  We know life is not easy.  Every one of us has temptations and sufferings to carry.  But after being with Jesus, we know and believe that we can lift up our eyes from the darkness and dirt of this world to the glory of the Resurrected Jesus!  Like the apostles we are comforted in hope remembering the experience of the Transfiguration.

Jesus confirming peter’s confession through this feast of Transfiguration that he is the true messiah and true son of God.  This is the spiritual revelation that we all need to experience.

Prayer: Thank you Father God for your grace to know you and to love you.  Let me see your glory as I partake in the holy communion of your Son Jesus. Amen.

Our Resurrection Faith, Part 3: Transformation

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Lent C, Sunday, February 24, 2019 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.

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

Today concludes our three part sermon series on St. Paul’s theology of the resurrection contained in 1 Corinthians 15. The overarching theme of this chapter, of course, is St. Paul’s theology of how God is rescuing his good creation gone bad, corrupted by the  powers of Sin and Evil. We noted that creation is important to God and God never intended to give over his good creation permanently to the dark powers. We must keep this in mind, especially as we look at our epistle lesson for today. In part one, then, we saw that St. Paul linked Christ’s resurrection with his death, stating boldly that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said he would. Only then would we ever have the hope and chance of having our slavery to the power of Sin broken forever and all of creation redeemed. We further saw that Christ’s resurrection validated the apostles’ teaching about the saving power of the cross. Jesus didn’t die a criminal’s death. His death saved us from God’s terrible judgment on our sins. In short, the cross needs the resurrection and the resurrection needs the cross. We also saw that St. Paul demonstrated the resurrection was a real historical event, not some human invented fiction.

Last week we looked at St. Paul’s logic for there being a resurrection. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ wasn’t really raised and we have no resurrection hope. We are therefore to be pitied more than anyone because of the life of self-denial and cross-bearing we are called to live. Piggybacking on the first 11 verses, St. Paul warns us starkly that if there is no resurrection, Christ really didn’t die for our sins just as the Scriptures said, and that we are all still dead in our sins and without hope. Clearly St. Paul understood that the only way to the Father, i.e., the only way to life forever, was to know Christ and have a real relationship with him by faith because only Jesus is the resurrection and the life (John 11.25-26). For the NT writers, resurrection isn’t a concept, it’s a person and his name is Jesus.

In today’s lesson, St. Paul gets to the heart of his theology about the resurrection. Here he talks about the nature of our resurrection bodies and this is what I want us to look at this morning. Understanding the nature of our resurrection bodies is much more than just an interesting intellectual exercise. As we will see, for St. Paul and us, the resurrection—and by extension Christ’s death—must be the framework that guides all our thinking, doing, and speaking.

St. Paul begins by anticipating objections to the resurrection. Remember that when the first Christians used the term resurrection, they meant bodily resurrection, not some Platonic notion of the eternal existence of the soul. When St. Paul spoke about resurrection he wasn’t talking about life after death or going to heaven. He was talking about dead bodies being raised to life. This was a distinctly Jewish (and biblical) belief that ran contrary to virtually all pagan beliefs about what happens after death. So he asks the anticipated question from skeptics: How will the dead be raised? What a foolish question, he responds! Just because you cannot imagine dead bodies being raised and transformed doesn’t mean God is incapable of doing so. In Romans, St. Paul reminds us that we worship the God who calls into existence things that do not exist and who raises the dead (Romans 4.17), i.e., we worship the God who does the impossible, a God far greater than our puny imaginations and minds can grasp. Nothing is too hard for God. So St. Paul tries to help us imagine the unimaginable. He tells us that like seed planted that is transformed into a crop like wheat or grain, so our mortal bodies when buried will one day be raised and transformed into a new body. This new body will have some similarities to our mortal bodies but it will also be different. It will be transformed but it will still be a body. That’s why resurrection is not the same as resuscitation. A resuscitated body is still mortal and it will die again. Think Lazarus. Think the widow of Nain’s son. A resurrection body is immortal and it will be impervious to death. Think Jesus because that is who St. Paul is thinking about here. Christians will have bodies patterned after our Lord’s resurrected body. The risen Christ could eat and drink and speak. He could be touched. But he could also appear suddenly behind closed doors and apparently change his appearance so that many who saw him did not initially recognize him (cf. Luke 24). There was continuity but there was also something new.

Likewise for the bodies of those who have faith in Christ. Our mortal bodies perish and die. Every one of us knows this all too well. But our resurrection bodies? They will never die! St. Paul continues. Our mortal bodies are buried in brokenness and weakness. If you have ever seen a dead body before a mortician prepares it for viewing, you will understand this too. There is something stark and ugly and terribly wrong with a dead body because death is so wrong. Not so with our resurrection bodies. They will be raised strong and glorious, just like our Lord’s.

At this point, many, if not most English translations let us down. St. Paul goes on to tell us that our mortal bodies are buried as physical bodies and raised as spiritual bodies. This translation of the Greek has led (or more accurately, misled) many to conclude St. Paul was not talking about a physical body when talking about the nature of our resurrection bodies. This simply isn’t true and we must be crystal clear in our thinking about this. The Greek St. Paul uses for physical body and spiritual body are soma psychikon and soma pneumatikon respectively. Adjectives ending in -ikon like these two word do not refer to the quality or nature of the body (i.e., what is it?). Instead, they refer to the source of power that energizes or animates the body. In other words, when St. Paul speaks of our physical bodies (soma psychikon) he is referring to our mortal, sin-corrupted bodies that are powered by our fallen nature and therefore must die because we all fall under God’s judgment. They are patterned after the first Adam, whose sin corrupted all of creation and introduced Evil and Death into God’s good world. St. Paul articulates this idea further in Romans 5.12-21. By contrast, and to illustrate the notion of transformation as it applies to our resurrection bodies, when St. Paul talks about a spiritual body (soma pneumatikon), he isn’t talking about a body made out of spirit, i.e., a non-material existence, but about a body powered and given life by the Holy Spirit. It has to be this way, the apostle tells us, because our resurrection bodies have to be transformed so that they can live forever in God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth. That’s why flesh and blood can’t inherit the Kingdom of God, i.e., God’s new creation. It’s not that our flesh and blood (mortal, corrupted) bodies are bad. It’s that they are perishable and cannot live in a world where death has been swallowed up in life and mortality has been swallowed up by immortality. So let us be clear in our thinking on this. When St. Paul speaks of a spiritual body, he is not talking about disembodied existence or arguing that the spirit is good and the physical world is bad. As we have seen, the whole story of Scripture is about how God intends to rescue his good world and us from our slavery to Sin and death and corruption. Here we have the answer: Resurrection and new creation are the Father’s solution to the problem. We must remember that God created humans in his image and gave us bodies. We cannot be human without bodies and we have no life as God created us to have without bodies. So it makes perfect sense that when God’s new world comes in full at Christ’s return, we will have new transformed bodies! They will be beautiful and strong and powered by the very Spirit of God who hovered over the waters at creation and who gives life to all things. 

To be sure, there is an intermediate state where our souls go to be with Christ in heaven (God’s space) as we await his return (cf. Philippians 1.21-24, 3.20-21). But even in that blessed state we are still dead because our bodies lie moldering in the grave awaiting their transformation. However, when Christ returns, our bodies will be raised from the dead and our souls reunited with them, and we will be equipped to live forever in God’s new world, thanks be to God! Amen? For anyone who struggles with bodily diseases or deformities, or for anyone who has watched their loved ones grow old and infirm, or who are robbed of their very personality by mental diseases and dementia, there can be no greater balm for the soul than the blessed and unique Christian hope and teaching of the resurrection of the dead. 

So how should our resurrection hope shape our lives? First and most importantly, it reminds us that what we do with our bodies matters. Christ died to redeem the whole person, not just our spirit. That’s why God took flesh and bore his just judgment for our sins in the Son’s body. Our redemption does not take place in opposition to our created nature, but in fulfillment of it. What we do with our bodies therefore matters to God because our bodies our his, not ours. He has redeemed them by the blood of the Lamb. This has implications for us in a whole array of matters from sex to exercise to eating and drinking and everything in between. As Christians we are called to reject anything that brings corruption, decay, and death to our bodies beyond the natural processes involved with mortal life. And if Christ died so that God’s children (Christians) could be freed from our slavery to Sin and the created order could be freed from its curse and corruption (Romans 8.18-25), then we’d better pay attention to our stewardship of God’s world and its people. That’s why we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for sick. We must always advocate for life and not death for things in God’s world and our lives. Think and pray carefully on these things, my beloved; it’s part of our being “in Christ.” The resurrection reminds us that what we do in this world matters. If our bodies weren’t important to God, if they were to be discarded forever when we die, then what we do now with them is really unimportant. But that is not the story of creation or the Good News of Jesus Christ who came to redeem creation and us. As we saw in part one of this series, no other religion offers such a breathtaking solution to the problems of Evil, Sin, and Death. Our bodies matter to God. They’d better matter to us as well. I therefore say it again. Pray and think on these things, my beloved, because they are of utmost importance to us as Christians. It must shape our lives as God’s family here at St. Augustine’s because the resurrection of the body suggests that salvation is not an individual affair. It is a family affair as St. Paul has labored to explain to us in his first letter to the Corinthians. Our future is life together, forever in a new, transformed physical world where there is no more dying, no more weeping, no more sighing, no more anxiety, no more ugliness of any kind, and no more corruption. God’s promises are true and certain. We see this certainty reflected in all our lessons this morning, from God turning Joseph’s slavery into a redemptive event to being able to trust in the Lord and loving our enemies in all circumstances because we believe God is going to judge and destroy all the darkness in our world even as he redeems his good creation gone bad along with those of us who trust in him and suffer for his sake in this mortal life. The resurrection of the body promises a time when we will be truly free to be the fully human beings God created us to be to run his renewed world in perfect freedom, health, and wholeness. That is why St. Paul concludes this chapter by saying something rather curious. He doesn’t tell us to go celebrate and have a big party because of our resurrection hope, although that is appropriate for us to do. No, he tells us to always work tirelessly for the Lord because our work is never in vain or useless. Despite the setbacks, despite the disappointments, despite sometimes thinking that our work is all for nothing, St. Paul reminds us otherwise. Anytime we do true kingdom work, God uses that to help bring in the new creation. God does this because he intends to redeem us and his creation gone bad, even as it and we are greatly beloved by the Father and the Son, and therefore God will bless and use any faithful work we do on his behalf for his new creation purposes.  And that, my beloved, is truly Good News, the best news of all, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Our Resurrection Faith, Part 1: The Basis of a Useful Faith

Sermon delivered on the fourth Sunday before Lent C, February 10, 2019 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: Isaiah 6.1-13; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; Luke 5.1-11.

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

Every three years in between the Epiphany and Lenten seasons, provided Easter falls late enough like it does this year, the lectionary allows us to read St. Paul’s theology on the resurrection found in 1 Corinthians 15. Given the shoddy teaching about the resurrection, and in some cases the outright dismissal of it, this is an appropriate time for us to talk about our resurrection hope, even though it isn’t Eastertide. So today we begin a three-part sermon series on St. Paul’s teaching about the resurrection. It is my hope and prayer that we will all be refreshed and encouraged by it so that we can continue (or start) to live as people with real hope, obedient to our Lord’s call to do the work he calls us to do as we navigate living in a sin-darkened world.

St. Paul starts out by reminding the church at Corinth and us of the Good News or gospel that he proclaimed, and we need to be clear in our thinking about what constitutes Good News as well. Good News refers to an event that has happened in the world that results in the world and our lives being changed forever. The gospel can energize our thinking about God and how we are to live our lives, but first and foremost it is an announcement about a world- and/or life-changing event. And what was that world-changing event for St. Paul? Actually there were two things as he tells us in verses 3-4: The death and resurrection of Jesus. In these two critically important events for St. Paul and the rest of the Apostles (those who had seen the risen Lord) we find our salvation. Specifically it is our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus that allows us to live life with hope and confidence and St. Paul warns us that if we don’t really believe in Christ’s death and resurrection, our faith is useless and we are therefore lost forever.

So what are we as Christians to believe about Christ’s death and resurrection? St. Paul tells us this as well. He has handed down for us, a term that in the Greek means to carefully transmit for instructive purposes, the Good News that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. The apostle doesn’t tell us if he has specific OT passages in mind or the entire trajectory of the OT. Here it is important for us to remember the stories of Creation and the Fall contained in Genesis 1-3, how God created all creation good and humans to reflect God’s image so we could run God’s good world wisely on God’s behalf. Before the Fall, a term that describes our rebellion against God that resulted in our hostility toward and alienation from God, humans enjoyed perfect communion with God in paradise on earth. God walked with Adam and Eve and they knew him in ways we simply do not, and this perfect communion with God resulted in their perfect mental, physical, and spiritual health. But then came the Fall, our rebellion against God, which got us booted from paradise and resulted in our alienation from God and each other and the introduction of Evil, Sin, and Death as corrupting powers in God’s world and our lives. We have not known perfect health since then. But God being who God is, could not and would not tolerate this state of affairs. God loves his image-bearers too much and wants us to enjoy him, his creation, and each other as he intended for us. So the rest of Scripture contains the story of how God is working to restore his good creation gone bad and us to our pre-Fall state. We would expect no less from a good and loving God who can countenance no evil or corrupting force that dehumanizes us and makes us mortally sick. St. Paul may have had this story of Scripture in mind when he tells us that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 

Now I could spend the rest of the sermon on this topic of Sin’s power alone. The other readings certainly allow it. But that must wait for another day because today we are focusing on the resurrection. Suffice it to say here that St. Paul wants us to understand that on the cross, Christ bore the full force of God’s perfect judgment on our sins so that we would be spared having to suffer it ourselves, and in the process freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power. Nowhere does St. Paul or the rest of the NT writers explain exactly how Christ’s death freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power, only that it did, and so we must accept this by faith if our faith is to be useful to us as St. Paul stated at the beginning of our lesson. As our OT and gospel lessons make clear, whenever human beings become aware of their sinful nature, an awareness that can only come from an awareness of a perfect and holy God, we realize how desperate is our predicament and how unfit we are to live in God’s good and holy presence. Our reaction, then, is to try to escape God’s perfect holiness as Isaiah and St. Peter did. And if God does not intervene on our behalf, we are forever undone and God cannot restore his good creation and creatures gone bad so that we can once again enjoy perfect communion with God and live in his direct presence forever. Christ’s death on the cross, says St. Paul, is God’s solution to this problem. God absorbed his own good and just judgment to spare us and to free us from Sin’s power. In the first part of Romans 6, St. Paul makes clear that in this mortal life we will never be entirely free from Sin’s power and that can make living faithfully, shall we say, um, “interesting” at times. However imperfect our freedom from Sin might be in this mortal life, we are still free and able to act accordingly. This knowledge and belief in the power of Christ’s death to free us from our sins is the basis for us having a useful faith, not a useless one. If you really do not believe that God has paid the price for you in Christ so that you can be his forever, however imperfectly your freedom looks in this mortal life, your faith is useless and you will be picked off eventually by the dark powers. So this should be an object of our constant praying, for God to give us hearts and minds of faith that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. As you come for intercessory prayer and anointing, this might be a good place for you to start should your faith in the power and efficacy of Christ’s death for you be faltering or need developing.

The second part of the Good News St. Paul proclaimed is the resurrection. To proclaim that, however, St. Paul had to first testify that Jesus was indeed dead and buried. He would not have believed the baloney of the swoon theory that states Jesus wasn’t really dead; he was just unconscious and revived in the tomb. No, St. Paul knew the Romans were efficient killers. He knew that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried. But, St. Paul continues, on the third day Jesus was raised from the dead, again just as the Scriptures said. Like his reference to Christ’s death, St. Paul does not tell us whether he had specific Scriptures in mind or the whole trajectory of the OT in view. Before we go any further, it is essential for us to understand clearly what St. Paul and the other Apostles meant when they used the term, resurrection. 

Resurrection for the apostles and the early Church meant that dead people would be given new bodies, i.e., resurrection dealt with physicality of a new kind in the manner of our risen Lord’s body. Resurrection did not mean life after death or the intermediate state between our mortal death and our resurrection. Former Anglican bishop and NT super scholar N.T. Wright helpfully uses the term life after life after death to describe the resurrection. Neither was resurrection a general term to describe what happens to people after they die, and it certainly did not refer to dying and going to heaven. For St. Paul and the early Church, resurrection meant a new embodied existence not unlike the one the dead person had before. What kind of body did St. Paul have in mind? That’s an important question and one we will examine in two weeks. For right now, however, it is critical for us to understand that St. Paul had in mind a new bodily existence and by definition a new world that would be compatible with those new bodies, the new creation, God’s new heavens and earth. This belief was distinctly contradictory to the rest of first-century pagan thinking about life after death. Almost no other culture believed in resurrection except for first-century Israel, and even there we find groups of people like the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the resurrection. That’s why they were sad, you see, and who can blame them?

This, then, was the Good News that St. Paul proclaimed, the twin and interrelated events that left the world changed forever. Prior to Christ’s death for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, human beings remained under the terrible but just judgment of God’s wrath on our sins. Because we are enslaved by Sin’s power and unable to free ourselves from it, we are catastrophically separated from God’s eternal love and trapped in our own worst self, whether or not we realize our predicament. That’s why our feelings about our guilt and sin can be notoriously fickle. As we have seen, however, once we become aware of God’s perfect holiness, the realization of our sinful nature in relation to God’s holiness makes us miserably aware of the chasm between the way we are and the way God intends us to be with no way out. That was our pre-crucifixion state. But because Christ has borne God’s judgment on our sins to spare us from it, and has broken Sin’s power over us, however imperfectly that might look in this mortal life, we now have new life and new hope. This is the turning point of human history. The game has changed forever. And when God raised Christ from the dead, he pointed us to our future existence—new bodily life in God’s new world where we will enjoy a restored relationship or communion with God that will be even better than our first human ancestors enjoyed with God in the garden. So the cross and resurrection need each other. The resurrection allowed the first apostles to see that Jesus was no failed Messiah who got whacked by the Romans. His death meant something and on a massive game-changing scale. Without the cross, there would be no resurrection because there would be no one to inhabit God’s new world, and God’s work to restore his good creation and creatures gone bad would be a failure. In other words, the cross made the resurrection necessary and the resurrection confirmed that the NT’s teaching about Jesus dying for our sins was true, just as the OT Scriptures had said. Christ’s death and resurrection were the penultimate act in God’s plan to restore his creation, the final act, of course, being our Lord’s return to consummate his perfect work. No other religion offers a breathtaking hope and vision like this. This is why we call it Good News, my beloved. Once we were lost. Now we are found. Once we were dead people walking. Now we are people with a real hope and a future. We deserve none of this, but it is ours for the taking. It is a gift of sheer grace on God’s part that flows from God’s loving heart for us, thanks be to God! Amen?

With so much at stake, no wonder St. Paul took pains to establish that Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a myth or fairy tale or some human fabrication. I don’t have time to explore all those things today. Suffice it to say that in talking about the eyewitnesses still living in his day, not to mention his own untimely encounter with the risen Christ, St. Paul establishes the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection. And our Christian faith has to be rooted in history because God’s old and new creations by definition are rooted in history. Real lives are changed, new creations come into existence everyday in the context of our individual and collective lives. Our future is living in a physical world with physical bodies. That’s history being played out.

So the question becomes for us, is this our faith? Is this the Good News we have in mind when we say we believe in the Good News, or is it something else? Only the Good News of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has the power to save us because only in Christ do we find forgiveness of sins and freedom from Sin’s power. This is why baptism is so important for us because we believe that in our baptism we put on a new identity, Christ’s identity—all other identity politics are a farce and a sham—and in that identity with its attendant lifestyle, we find real hope, real life, and the beginning of a restored relationship with God the Father in whom we live and move and have our being, all made possible by the death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. My beloved, if this hope is not sufficient to sustain you in the darkest valleys of your life with the help of the Spirit, nothing can help you in this life. Nothing. 

Our resurrection hope and belief will also affect our thinking on all kinds of moral issues in our world, from sexuality to abortion to our stewardship of the environment and God’s world. The resurrection signals that our bodies are important to God. He paid a terrible price to redeem them and his Spirit lives in our bodies. Therefore, contra to the lies being propagated that our bodies are ours and we can do with them what we want, St. Paul’s resurrection theology proclaims something radically different. For those of us who call ourselves Christian, our bodies are the Lord’s and we must care for them and live according to the Father’s creative purposes and intentions for us. That’s why we are concerned for the total welfare of others, not just their spiritual or emotional existence. That’s why, e.g., we feed the hungry, tend the sick, and clothe the naked. Jesus died for our sins to reclaim our bodies for God and help put God’s world back to rights, and we must not undo this by our selfish and myopic actions. We must also bury our dead in accordance with our belief in the resurrection of the body. How we choose to dispose of our mortal bodies is our last great opportunity to proclaim the gospel to a hurting and unbelieving world, even in our mortal death. 

Think on these things regularly and frequently, my beloved. Talk about them among yourselves and support each other in proclaiming the Truth. Make the Good News yours by faith and let it heal and refresh you. We don’t have to whistle through the graveyard because we know our eventual stay there barring the Lord’s return before then is only temporary. And if you struggle to believe in the resurrection of the body, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it reminds you that you worship a God who calls into existence things that don’t exist and gives life to the dead so that you should expect to be confronted by the unbelievable. Embrace it, as long as it is Scripturally based and time-tested. Like St. Paul, let your resurrection faith change you so that you proclaim the Good News to others. If you really truly love others, i.e., you want the best for them, then proclaim the only message that gives real life and hope. Never be ashamed of the Good News and never let Christ’s enemies inside or outside the Church shame you into silence over your faith. Allowing that to happen might indicate you have a useless faith and no one benefits from that, especially you. But if you proclaim your faith boldly to the world and act accordingly, respecting both your body and others’ along with God’s good creation in ways consistent with the Father’s will, you will find that the power of the Spirit will take your faith and make it a useful and lively one, however imperfectly you live it out. And that, my beloved, is truly Good News, now and for all eternity. Live out that Good News and let God use you to help change his world in the manner he intends. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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