Chaplain Tucker Messamore: God’s Answer to Suffering

Sermon delivered on Trinity 19B, Sunday, October 10, 2021 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: Job 23.1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22.1-15; Hebrews 4.12-16; St. Mark 10.17-31.

Let the words of my mouth & the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“Where are you, God? Where are you?” This seems to be the question weighing on Job’s heart as he sits atop the ash heap, trying to make sense of the incredible suffering that has befallen him. 

Job was a “blameless and upright” man, one “who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). He had a thriving business, a large and tight-knit family, and was considered “the greatest of all the people of the east” (Job 1:3). In short, Job was living the dream! But that dream quickly became a nightmare when in the space of a few hours, Job lost it all. His flocks and herds were stolen by bandits and destroyed in natural disasters. His servants were killed by raiders. All his children died when a house collapsed on them. His body writhed in pain as he was plagued with sores from head to toe. Job’s life had been totally upended by His sufferings. He’d gone from riches to rags, from healthy to hurting, from a position of prominence to a place of pity. 

It’s no wonder that Job is wrestling with these hard thoughts about God that we find on his lips in our Old Testament reading. “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” (Job 23:3a). Job is trying to make sense of his sufferings. He’s frantically searching for evidence of God’s presence, but God seems to be strangely absent. “If I go forward, He is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive Him; on the left He hides, and I cannot behold Him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see Him.” (Job 23:8-9). Job longs to speak with God so that he can plead his case (Job 23:4), so that he can understand what God has been up to (Job 23:5), but so far, it seems that Job’s cries to God have only been met with silence.

Of course, Job is not the only person who has ever wrestled with God in the midst of difficult circumstances. As human beings who inhabit a broken and fallen world, we are unfortunately no strangers to pain, heartache, sickness, and loss. We are faced with the same sorts of struggles when we experience suffering of many different kinds: when we receive that difficult diagnosis, when we are forced to live with chronic pain or a debilitating injury, when a loved one dies, when we suffer abuse or mistreatment, when we experience division in our families. In times like these, like Job, we may cry out to God asking, “God, where are you? Do you see what I am going through? Do you care about my pain? Why won’t you do something? Why won’t you answer me?” God does provide an answer to Job’s questions—and to ours. While Job experiences divine silence in chapter 23, eventually, God does respond to Job with a lengthy speech beginning in Job 38.

But God’s ultimate answer to Job—and to all those who suffer—comes not from “the whirlwind” of Job 38, but from a manger in Bethlehem. The fact that God Himself takes on human flesh illustrates that God not only sees us in our suffering, but He understands it, and He cares for us. God does not remain distant or far-removed from human suffering, but instead, He makes Himself vulnerable and chooses to enter into it. This is the beauty of the Incarnation: “God, who cannot get sick, who cannot grow hungry, who cannot bleed, who cannot die—this God comes near” to us in Christ (Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, 89).

The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus experienced every aspect of our humanity (Hebrews 4:15). He dealt with the mundane weakness of the human body: hunger, thirst, tiredness, aches & pains. Jesus knows what it’s like to experience difficult emotions. He experienced sadness and grief at the death of His friend Lazarus. He felt loneliness as He was betrayed and abandoned by His closest friends. He was plagued with fear and anxiety so intense that He sweat drops of blood as He anticipated the brutality of the cross and the terrible weight of bearing the sin of the whole world. Through His crucifixion, Jesus experienced intense physical pain and even succumbed to death. Adopting the words of the psalmist, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). 

When we turn to God in times of great suffering, we can be assured that God is not distant from our troubles. Though He may seem absent, He sees, He knows, and He understands. Jesus is our great high priest who sympathizes with us, and He invites us to bring our burdens to Him (Matt. 11:28-30) “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

But Jesus didn’t just come to sympathize with us. He came to save us. He didn’t just step into our world so He could relate to human suffering; He came to rescue us from suffering and sin. Scripture makes it clear that pain, suffering, and death were not originally part of God’s good creation. Instead, they entered the world as a result of human sin. But God did not abandon the world and the people He created to futility and corruption. The Father sent His Son into the world in the power of the Spirit to reverse the curse of sin, to restore creation to what it was meant to be. We see this take place in small ways as Jesus goes about His public ministry. He opens the eyes of the blind, heals the sick, and rebukes and casts out demons. Jesus came to make the world right again. 

But this work of redemption would ultimately be accomplished by His death and resurrection. When Jesus went to the cross, He took our sin upon Himself, He suffered, and He willingly died the death that we deserve. But He didn’t stay in the grave—He rose again in victory, triumphing over sin, death, and Satan. Those who belong to Him can be assured that though we may experience pain and difficulty now, suffering and death do not and cannot have the final word. In Christ, we have the hope that though we die, yet we live (John 11:25). One day, Christ will return and “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

This morning, we are pointed to this hope in Christ as we come to the Table. We are invited to reenact the drama of redemption and to participate in it.

The Eucharist is an act of remembrance. As we partake of the bread and the cup, we are reminded that God Himself took on flesh and blood and became like us, experiencing every aspect of our humanity. We remember that He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He suffered and died in our place to put an end to suffering and death.

Communion is also an act of defiant hope by which we proclaim that even though we often encounter pain, suffering, and evil, God is making all things new. Through our celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we boldly declare, in the words of a beloved hymn, that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

Finally, the Eucharist is an act of anticipation. Jesus said He would “not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18). The Eucharist is a reminder to us that this day is coming! Christ will come again, and at that time, the kingdom of God will come in its fullness. Sin, death, and the devil will be no more, and when it does, we will celebrate—with a feast! The prophet Isaiah foretells of this day when “The Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:6-8)

This is our hope. This is our future. In a few moments, as we prepare for Communion, Fr. Kevin is going to exhort us to “lift up your hearts!” Together, by faith, we ascend to the heavenly places where Christ is. Today, may we approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Father Philip Sang: Having Integrity in All Things

Sermon delivered on Trinity 18B, Sunday, October 3, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Job 1.1, 2.1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1.1-4, 2.5-12; St. Mark 10.2-16.

God’s Justice and Appropriate Christian Responses to Evil

Sermon delivered on Trinity 17B, Sunday, September 26, 2021 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: Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5.13-20; St. Mark 9.38-50.

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

What are we to make of the rather sordid but compelling story of Haman’s execution in our OT lesson? How about St. James’ example of God answering Elijah’s prayer only after Elijah had slaughtered the prophets of Baal? And how about Christ’s hyperbolic exhortation for us to rid ourselves of any source of sin? Our lessons this morning all remind us in their various ways that God hates evil of any kind and acts in judgment against it, both in this mortal life and at the Day of Judgment. What then should be our response as Christians to this rather unsettling reality? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Let us start by acknowledging the terrifying truth that God is no doting old grandpa, willing to look the other way with a wink and a snicker at our sins. To the contrary, it is not too strong a statement to say that God hates evil and sin in all its variety. Why? Not because God is some angry bully waiting to come down hard on wrongdoers. If that were the case, why would God have made us in his image? Why are we still even here? It’s not because of our own virtue and righteousness! No, God hates evil and sin of any kind because sin corrupts us and dehumanizes us, i.e., it slowly erases God’s image in us so that we can no longer be his stewards called to run God’s world as God created us to do. And this should make sense to us because we all know how evil can evoke anger. Who in their right mind doesn’t hate that drug dealers destroy lives and bring ruin on others, all for the sake of money? Who among us doesn’t abhor child molesters and pedophiles for the same reasons? God created us to be fully human beings who bear his image and who have been given the awesome responsibility to rule God’s world on God’s behalf, reflecting God’s goodness out into creation and reflecting creation’s praises back to its Creator. Sin and the evil it creates corrupts and perverts our holy task as God’s image-bearers and God cannot countenance that forever, patient as God has demonstrated he is. God did not speak creation and us into existence to foster madness and loneliness and sickness and alienation, and because God loves us and wants us to live with him forever, God cannot look the other way on our sin forever. In our OT lesson, e.g., Haman plotted to destroy God’s people the Jews, in part to satisfy his megalomania. (I would encourage you to read the entire book of Esther as it is as compelling a story as you will ever read and God’s name is not mentioned in it once). But there God is, operating behind the scenes, judging Haman’s evil to bring justice to God’s people, wicked as they were, because of God’s love and faithfulness to them. 

In our epistle lesson, St. James’ reference to Elijah points us to God’s relenting in his judgment on the land and its people only after the prophets of Baal had been slaughtered. As with the story of Esther, healing could not occur until God had decisively dealt with the sins of evildoers. Why? When we are beset continually by evil, we can never be fully healed, again reminding us why God will not let sin and evil reign forever—it sickens and kills us and God will not tolerate that massive disorder to his good creation and creatures forever. God loves us too much. In our gospel lesson, Christ essentially tells us the same thing. Be prepared to cut out anything in your life—even if the things you must cut out are inherently good and useful—if they cause you to continue to sin because God will one day judge you and you will find yourself in the flames of hell forever. Christ’s warning is a stark reminder that without outside help from a power stronger than the powers of Evil and Sin, none of us have any hope of ever enjoying life in God’s new world when it comes with our Lord’s return. None of us like to think about this and the thought of eternal separation from the healing and life-giving power of God is so terrifying that many of us spend our time living in denial and deflecting the truth, convincing ourselves that God would never do that because God is too loving and merciful. Yes God is loving and merciful. That we are here worshiping God this morning is living proof of that truth. God is not the problem here. We are the problem because we are all slaves to the power of Sin, and unless something is done about that, we are all doomed to eternal destruction. We see it in the story of Adam and Eve, who were expelled from paradise after the Fall. God cannot tolerate forever that which corrupts his beloved (that would be you and me in all our unloveliness). We see it in the story of God’s Tabernacle in the wilderness. God gave Moses strict rules about how sinful humans could approach God’s holy Presence and those who did not follow those rules found themselves destroyed. Whenever the profane tries to meet the holy on its own terms, it never turns out well for the profane! Our problem today is that most of us have persuaded ourselves that this simply can’t be true. We’ve become too used to living with and rationalizing sin, both ours and the sins of others. This is emphatically not the biblical witness on the subject, however, and by God’s grace we would be wise to take these warnings seriously.

But all is not lost, my beloved. Far from it. While it is true that none of us can extricate ourselves from the death grip of Sin’s power and all of us are evildoers, some worse than others, it is also true that the Father’s great love for us is greater than our slavery to Sin. As St. Paul proclaims in his letter to the Romans, God demonstrated his love for us by sending his Son to die for us (i.e. God became human in the man Jesus), even while we were God’s enemies, estranged from and hostile toward God, to bear his own right and just judgment on our sins, thereby clearing the way for us to have a future and a hope. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ was and is the turning point in human history where God the Father acted decisively for us to save us from eternal damnation and open the way for us to live in God’s holy Presence forever. But we don’t have to wait till the new heavens and earth arrive. We can enjoy sweet, albeit imperfect, communion with God right now, enjoying his presence when we worship him together and feed on Christ’s body and blood each week. To be sure, evil still runs rampant in God’s world and we all suffer from it. Everyone of us here today brings our sorrows and fears and brokenness to worship. But just like God’s power working invisibly to bring justice to the wicked Haman, God’s power in and through the Holy Spirit, through his word proclaimed and preached, through sweet fellowship with each other, and in and through the Holy Eucharist, God is at work in us now, both individually and collectively, to bring healing and hope as he makes his invisible Presence known to us, thanks be to God. 

So what should be our response to God’s goodness, mercy, love, and truth? How are we to live faithfully in the midst of increasing chaos and disorder? We start by believing the promise that in Christ we are saved from our sins and God’s wrath and judgment on them. Just as God provided for our rebellious and frightened ancestors after he expelled them from paradise, just as God remained faithful to his stubborn and rebellious people despite sending them into exile, and just as God remains faithful to us by blessing us with his Holy Spirit, so we are reminded that God’s promise to free us from our slavery to sin and evil will be ultimately fulfilled, even if only partially now. We have Christ’s Death and Resurrection to remind us always that God’s will and purposes to heal and rescue us will be done fully when Christ returns to finish his saving work on our behalf. Come Lord Jesus. This must create in us thankful and grateful hearts. When we begin to recognize the enormity our sin and rebellion against God and what God has done to rescue and heal us from those sins, we cannot help but have grateful hearts, hearts (or will) to love and serve Christ and others for all that he has done for us. And when we really believe the promises and are persuaded that despite our sins and foolishness, God still loves us and wants us to be with him forever, forgiving us through Christ’s blood shed for us, we will experience new healing, healing that flows from a thankful heart. 

Our healed hearts will also compel us to pray for others, especially our enemies—we may hate drug dealers and pedophiles, but we’d better be praying for their repentance and salvation—even as we long for real justice, not the phony kinds of justice that various groups try to foist on us today, but the kind of justice that flows from God’s holy heart. We pray ultimately with the realization that we too are evildoers who deserve God’s justice and so we pray for God to heal our enemies and the hearts of evildoers so that they will not suffer such a terrible fate, the fate we too would suffer without the healing love of Christ. Far from being ineffective, prayer is one of the most powerful weapons we Christians can bring to bear on evil and God’s good but sin-corrupted world. But we pray with eyes wide open, realizing that we are at war with the forces of evil who hate us and want to destroy us, and so we bring our fears and sorrows and needs to God, trusting that God is working invisibly as God always does to bring his world and its disordered creatures to rights. There’s more to all this, but there is certainly not less. Let us as God’s holy people bring our prayers to bear on this world and its people, repenting of our own sins and trusting our holy and loving Father to bring about his promise to heal and restore us according to his good will and purposes for us. And let us make sure we do this together as God’s people in Christ because the promise is for us together. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Chaplain Tucker Messamore: Upside-Down Kingdom Wisdom

Sermon delivered on Trinity 16B, Sunday, September 19, 2021 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: Proverbs 31.10-31; Psalm 1; James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a; St. Mark 9.30-37.

Let the words of my mouth & the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock & our redeemer. In the name of God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

The lectionary picks up right where it left off last week with the theme of wisdom. In our texts for today, there’s a contrast between two types of wisdom—worldly wisdom and wisdom from above; the way of man and the way of Christ; false wisdom and true wisdom.

In our gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37), the disciples exemplify worldly wisdom. For the second time, Jesus tells His disciples that He will He handed over to men, that He will suffer and die, and that He will rise again (v. 31). They don’t really understand what He means (v. 21), but apparently, they grasped enough to realize that Jesus was about to be gone. We cannot say for sure, but perhaps this is what led to their argument about who was the greatest (v. 34): if Jesus was going to die, who would take His place? Surely that vacuum of leadership would be filled by the greatest of Jesus’ followers. This is worldly wisdom on display. Conventional wisdom tells us it’s a dog-eat-dog world. You gotta look out for #1. You have to seize every opportunity and make a name for yourself. The message of our culture is to chart your own course, be whoever you want to be, do whatever seems right or feels good to you, follow your heart. This is how one finds true happiness and inner peace.

But there’s just one problem with this sort of “wisdom”—it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. It doesn’t produce the kind of results it promises. Scripture warns that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Following our own sinful desires and selfish ambitions will never truly satisfy our deepest longings. Instead, it will inevitably lead to heartache and pain, and not just for us, but for others who happen to be in our orbit. St. James tells us, “Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind” (James 3:16). In our self-centered pursuits, we use and abuse others to get what we want (James 4:2). Our psalm warns us where this well-worn path will ultimately take us: “The wicked will not stand in the judgment . . . the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1:5-6). Likewise, Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” The bottom line is this: so-called worldly wisdom is not really wisdom at all. It’s folly. As St. James says, “It’s earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (3:15). If we chose to follow the way worldly wisdom, we do so to the peril of our own souls and to the determent of those around us.

But there is another way: there’s true wisdom, wisdom that comes from above. Jesus takes the wisdom of the world and turns it on its head. He tells his disciples, “Whoever wants to be first [in His kingdom] must be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35). Jesus draws their attention to a child. Children occupied the lowest place on the social ladder; they had no status and no authority. And yet, in a parallel passage, Jesus says one must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). True wisdom is rooted in humility. As St. James tells us, “Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality and hypocrisy.” Jesus perfectly embodies this true wisdom. While the disciples argued about who was greatest, Jesus had His eye toward Calvary where He would take on our sin and lay down His life so we could have eternal life. Instead of following His own desires or charting His own course, Jesus humbly submits to the will of the Father. Jesus shows us that true wisdom does not begin with selfish ambition but with humility. True joy and contentment are not found in self-actualization or in following the cravings of our flesh, but in submission to God’s ways. If we want to know what it looks like to live according to wisdom from above, let us look no further than Christ, the Wisdom of God in human flesh. (1 Cor. 1:24).

But if we want to learn to live in wisdom, we need more than just an example. It’s not enough for me to say, “Be like Jesus!” We can’t do that on our own. Our epistle reading tells us that “envy and selfish ambition” come from “our hearts” (James 3:14), that our conflicts and disputes come from “cravings that are at war within [us]” (James 4:1). We need more than an example. We need to be transformed from the inside out. And thanks be to God, that’s exactly what Jesus came to do, to make us into new creations by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How does this happen? Sanctification takes place when we avail ourselves of the means of grace that God has given us, when we do the kinds of things we do when we gather for worship. We must humbly confess that “following the devices and desires of our own hearts” leads us down the wrong path and ask God to guide us in His ways instead. As our Psalm instructs us, we learn the “way of the righteous” from God’s Word as we meditate on it. God’s Word reveals God’s ways. But not only does God’s Word give us commands and principles to guide the way that we live, it also tells the gospel message—the story of how God is redeeming us—and the whole world—through the death and resurrection of His Son. As we read the gospel message—and as we see it reenacted as we celebrate the Eucharist—God’s Spirit is at work, shaping and molding us into the kind of people that God calls us to be. Confession, Holy Communion, regular reading and study of Scripture—these are just a few of the ways that we can “draw near to God” as our epistle reading admonishes us (4:7), but when we do, we can be assured that he will “draw near to [us]” and cultivate in us the gift of wisdom from above.

As we close, let us do as St. James instructs (James 1:5) and ask God to grant us His wisdom with a prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas:

O God, Creator of all that is,
From the treasures of Your wisdom,
You have arrayed the universe with marvelous order,
And now govern with skill and might.
You are the true fount of light and wisdom.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
Into the darkened places of our minds;
Disperse from our souls the twofold darkness into which we were born: Sin and ignorance.

And since you have given us the privilege to share in the loving, healing, reconciling mission of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, in this age and wherever we are,
May your Spirit make us wise;
May your Spirit guide us;
May your Spirit renew us;
May your Spirit strengthen us.

So that we will be
Strong in faith,
Discerning in proclamation,
Courageous in witness,
Persistent in good deeds.

May You guide the beginning of our work,
Direct its progress,
And bring it to completion.
You who bring all that is good to its proper end,
Now prosper the work of our hands.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

Amen.

Wise or Foolish: The Choice We Each Must Make

Sermon delivered on Trinity 15B, Sunday, September 12, 2021 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: Proverbs 1.20-33; Psalm 19; James 3.1-12; St. Mark 8.27-38.

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

We turn our attention today to the biblical teaching on wisdom and foolishness, looking at both in the context of how our other lessons apply them. When Scripture speaks of wisdom and foolishness, what is it speaking about? In the Bible’s economy, how do we know a wise guy (or gal) from a fool? How do we become wise? These are some of the things I want us to look at today.

We are introduced to Lady Wisdom in our OT lesson. At first glance she appears to be quite harsh and demanding, threatening to mock those who do not seek to know her and wind up in a pickle. But when we look closer at her words, we see she is warning us to do what we can to escape the consequences of our foolish thinking, speaking, and behaving. Unlike current “wisdom,” Scripture is very clear in teaching us there are consequences to our words and actions. Better to be wise than to get jammed up over our foolishness. We would be wise to heed her advice.

And what is the essence of wisdom? Pr 1.7 tells us: Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge (wisdom). In other words, wisdom is based on us developing a real relationship with God so that we know him and as a result of that knowledge can develop a healthy, reverent appreciation and awe of God (and sometimes knee-knocking fear when necessary) to help us navigate through life with all its changes, chances, and complexities in ways that allow us to become fully human and thus live up to our status as God’s image-bearing creatures. Simpletons in biblical language are those who have not yet learned this truth regarding our need to conform our lives to God’s teaching, will, and created order but are open to it; whereas fools and mockers have been exposed to the truth and reject it, and worse yet, even mock it. As we shall see, wise folk have a hope and a future. Fools and mockers do not.

Before we look further at wisdom and foolishness, let us first acknowledge that the human race is prone to foolishness because of our fallen nature and enslavement to the power of Sin. We only become wise by the grace and power of God, not chiefly our own efforts, important as those efforts are. So what does wisdom and foolishness look like on the ground, in the context of our mortal lives? All our lessons provide us with some key insights and wisdom (no pun intended) into this question, although the manifestation of wisdom is certainly not limited to what our lessons show us. As we shall see, Scripture often teaches us truth inside the story of the history of God’s people contained in it. We would be wise to learn this simple truth as it helps provide us with needed context to better see how God operates in his created order and its creatures. 

We turn first to our Psalm lesson with its declaration that all creation declares the beauty and handiwork of its Creator (cf. Rm 1.18-20). We see the breathtaking beauty of God’s created world and order—the beauty of nature, of a starry sky at night, of families and all healthy relationships, especially the God-ordained relationship of husband and wife consecrated at marriage. All these proclaim God’s goodness, wisdom, and beauty without ever speaking a word. Wise folk experience them and we just know in our bones that it’s all good, reflecting the bold declaration of Genesis 1-2 (that God created all things good). Fools do not and mockers actually scorn this truth. Then of course there is the beauty of God’s law, how God’s created order is intended to run and how we are to conduct ourselves as God’s image-bearers. Wise people follow God’s law and created order, submitting themselves to it. When they do, they find God’s blessing (not necessarily a reward) in the form of God’s peace and contentment. God’s wisdom teaches the wise to be humble and act accordingly toward God and people because we know we are only mortals and our days are but as grass: fleeting, temporary, prone to the vicissitudes of life. Fools reject this truth, generally favoring their own disordered and brave new world, a world that produces chaos and madness and disorder, a world that swirls around us with increasing intensity. The psalmist puts it like this: “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good” (Ps 14.1, 53.1). Despite the testimony of God’s created order and of Scripture and God’s people, fools and mockers reject it all and even mock it. Perhaps the best biblical example of this is the chief priests and scribes at Calvary, mocking our Savior as he was dying for them (Mk 15.28-32). They were too foolish to accept God the Father’s appointed way to save them from eternal destruction because they didn’t have the needed humility or wisdom to see that they were incapable of saving themselves. And their formal training made them too proud to allow themselves to consider the possibility that when God’s Messiah did come, he might come in a way they never expected or anticipated. And we don’t get a free pass on this one either. How many times do we read and study God’s word and truth only to reject it by not believing it? How many times do we in effect say, “There is no God” because we think we know better than God in how his created order and our lives should be run? Every time our pride leads us to refuse to repent of the sins, or refuse to forgive someone who has wronged us, or refuse to advocate for the poor, the oppressed, the elderly, and the unborn, or worse yet when we fail to challenge the lie that Jesus is just one of several ways to God, to name just a few, we are those fools about whom the psalmist speaks. Doing the opposite shows we are learning wisdom because we seek to follow God’s will made known supremely and uniquely in and through Christ.

This leads us to our gospel lesson where we see wisdom and foolishness clearly on display, the latter in abundance. The story is a classic. St. Peter goes from the penthouse to the doghouse in the blink of an eye! He shows wisdom by acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah or anointed one, presumably from his interactions with our Lord up to that point. No beating around the bush for St. Peter! He comes right out and answers Christ’s question clearly and boldly. You are the Christ! But then St. Mark tells us Christ used St. Peter’s confession to teach his blind and foolish disciples that their thinking about God’s Messiah was all wrong. Christ was indeed God’s anointed one, but he had come to rescue not only Israel but God’s entire sin-sick world from our slavery to the power of Sin, not by being a mighty conquerer and lording it over others, but by dying for us to take on himself the Father’s holy and just wrath on our sins so that we would be spared of that wrath and made fit to live in the Father’s holy presence forever, starting right here and now in this mortal life. Ain’t nobody got time for that nonsense, Lord! St. Peter exclaimed. You see, Christ had totally violated his expectations of who God is and how God works. End-time judgment there will be and there will be no mistaking it when it comes. But not before our Father came to us in weakness and love to save us from ourselves and the power of Sin. The Kingdom comes on earth as in heaven via the cross and Christ’s blood shed for us, not via shock and awe as the world understands power. Only the wise, those who know the heart of the Father and are able to recognize and see it in the life and teachings of God the Son, God become human, can possibly hope to learn God’s radical new (yet very much old) wisdom made known in Christ. And to learn this wisdom requires the God-given humility to listen, ponder, and talk it over, both with God and each other. It is the humility and wisdom needed to submit ourselves to the power and authority of God’s word contained in Scripture, rather than putting ourselves above it so as to interpret it in ways that make us feel good and comfortable. If we don’t know God and are unwilling to get to know Christ and his ways, denying ourselves and carrying our cross so that we can follow him, we can never hope to become (or be) wise. Like the big shots of Jesus’ day (and ever since), we consider ourselves too smart, too sophisticated to believe in all this dying for our sins stuff. And the Resurrection? No way, baby. We all know dead people don’t rise from the grave. Yet here is Christ our Lord, inviting us to see him for who he is as he lives out the very heart and love and goodness and justice of his Father. Know God and we will know Christ. Know Christ and we will know God. Peter at this point in the story didn’t know either very well and he attempted to fit both into his own scheme of things. The result? His Master’s doghouse. Satan had tempted him in the wilderness to abandon his path to the cross and in St. Peter’s (likely) well-intentioned rebuke, Jesus saw the same dynamic at work. Christ could go to the cross because he knew without a doubt the Father’s will for him and had the humility to do that will, massively hard as it was (cf. Phil 2.5-11). The wise know Christ for who he is—the embodiment of the Living God—and believe his promise that we are freed from our sins by his blood and by the sending of the Holy Spirit, and that one day we too will have eternal life in a new embodied existence, all because of the Father’s great love, mercy, and grace. Fools reject this and live their lives accordingly. It’s no small thing to have to deny ourselves, our base and disordered desires in us, and be willing to learn how to live in the manner of Christ. It takes a lifetime and none of us do it perfectly. In fact, most of us do it rather imperfectly most of the time. But Christ is the only way for us to ever enjoy eternal life in the manner the NT promises it. Are you wise in this matter or a fool?

Last, we turn to our epistle lesson because here we see an important way we as Christians learn to live out our faith in Jesus Christ: taming our speech. We just saw how St. Peter’s tongue got him in trouble. We also spoke of the foolish speech we heard at Calvary as the leaders of Israel mocked God as they crucified him. We add our own folly to this. How many times has a thoughtless word caused harm and sometimes irreparable damage? (This is why gossip is so severely condemned in all Scripture.) It causes damage and harm, division and rancor. It is also a terrible witness to our faith. When we speak and act in the manner of the world (think Twitter, Facebook, all the discordant voices that swirl around us), how are we witnessing to Christ? How are we demonstrating a different and better way, a way the world desperately seeks but can never find in the secular domain? I see some of our own people regularly post things on FB that make me cringe. If I were one who hungered and thirsted for truth and beauty and real life and saw some of the stuff we post, I would high tail it as fast as I could. And we will have to give an account for our loose tongue as Christ himself warns us—rather worryingly, to me at least—about this: “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt 5.22). Here we see wisdom and folly in action again, this time in the realm of speech. A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger, says Proverb 15.1. Wise folks understand and practice this wisdom. But at other times, a stern word may be needed. Wisdom tells us when, where, and how to apply it (or not). Fools reject this wisdom and act according to their own selfish and myopic desires.

I could give thousands of examples to illustrate the above, but you get the point and I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on this and talking about it together. In short, if we are putting anything or anyone above following Christ to the best of our ability in the power of the Spirit, or if we do not believe him to be who he says he is, the crucified and risen Son of God, we are fools and headed for utter and eternal destruction. There is no cause, no person, no identity, no political party, nothing in all creation other than Christ, that deserves to have our ultimate love, loyalty, and devotion because only Christ offers us eternal life. Learn this wisdom, my beloved. As Christ’s body we are called to live out God’s wisdom (and all that that entails) together, not just individually, and that means we must delve into the word deeply and together. To know God requires that we have a robust prayer life as well. And of course when we come to the Table to receive our Lord’s body and blood, we learn wisdom because we actually consume Christ as we rehearse and become part of God’s wisdom proclaimed in our Lord’s Death and Resurrection. May we all become wise guys and gals as we grow up to the full stature of Christ. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Father Philip Sang: All Equally Favored by God

Sermon delivered on Trinity 14B, Sunday, September 5, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang does not do written manuscripts anymore because he is too big a shot. Nobody’s got time for that so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2.1-17; St. Mark 7.24-37.

Father Jonathon Wylie: Receive the Word, Do the Word

Sermon delivered on Trinity 13B, Sunday, August 29, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie is a new daddy and gets all whiny when we ask for a written manuscript. Nobody’s got time for a whiny priest who’s also a new daddy so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Song of Solomon 2.8-13; Psalm 45.1-2, 7-10; James 1.17-27; St. Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

An Exhortation to be Living Stones

Sermon delivered on Parish Dedication Sunday B, August 22, 2021 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: Revelation 21.9-14; Psalm 122; 1 Peter 2.1-10; St. John 10.22-29.

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

Today we celebrate again the founding of our parish ten years ago on May 1. We had our big celebration back in May and it remains a glorious memory for many of us. We celebrate our founding again today because it is our custom to transfer this festival to the Sunday in August closest to the feast day of our patron saint, Augustine of Hippo, which falls on August 28, marking the anniversary of his death in AD 430. Having dispensed with why we are having two celebrations of our parish this year, we turn now to our readings for today. In our epistle lesson, St. Peter refers to Christ’s people as living stones. But what does that mean? This is what I want us to look at today.

We start with our NT lesson from Revelation because in it we find our future and our hope. Both are indispensable for us if we ever want to fully grasp and embrace the meaning of being living stones. Why? Because first and foremost we are a people of promise and hope and for a host of reasons the Church, at least in the West, has lost sight of that hope and therefore we have generally lost our boldness and power as God’s people. Of course I am speaking of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of God’s new creation. Let me be clear. Nowhere else in the religious or the secular worlds do we have anything like the hope and promise of the resurrection. Christ either is who he says he is—the embodiment of God who was crucified for our sins and raised from the dead to announce that God the Father had defeated death on our behalf—or he is not. If Christ really is God, we had better pay attention to him and accept the gift of healing, salvation, and life he offers us. If Christ isn’t God the Son, then we ought to treat him like the lunatic he is and go about our merry way trying to find some meaning and happiness on our own (good luck with that, BTW). But as the NT boldly proclaims, Christ was and is no lunatic. He is God Incarnate, the Word become flesh. Only in him do we have any hope of being finally and fully reconciled to God. Only in Christ do we have the promise of new bodily life after death, a life lived in the direct presence of God—heaven and earth joined together as Revelation proclaims—a life devoid of sickness, sorrow, disease, despair, loneliness, alienation, and madness to name just a few, an unimaginably beautiful and perfect life. 

Without Christ in our lives we are dead people walking and have no hope or future, only the expectation of death and eternal judgment. And as all our lessons make chillingly clear, only God’s people in Christ dare to hope for this future. While final judgment is up to God, the NT gives little hope for a future for those who die without believing in Christ crucified and raised from the dead. We do not have this hope and future because of who we are. We are not unlike unbelievers; many Christians sadly act no better than some unbelievers. Some act worse. No, we have this promise of a hope and future, again defined as new bodily life where we live in God’s new world devoid of any form of evil, only by the grace of God, only by his calling as our lessons proclaim. In describing the New Jerusalem, St. John reminds us that it is not primarily a place as much as it is a new reality between God and his people. Why the Church has rejected her heritage is baffling to me. Perhaps the hope and promise are too spectacular and mind-boggling for our puny minds to comprehend. I don’t know and such speculation is frankly a waste of our time. What I do know is this, my beloved. If we are ever to recover our bold voice in proclaiming and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ, if we are ever to truly be unafraid of all in this world that can harm us and the accelerating chaos swirling around us, we must once again fully embrace the promised hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come—that we are resurrection people by the love, grace, and mercy of God the Father through Jesus Christ. We must believe that promise with everything we are and set our eyes firmly on Jesus, asking him to be present in our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the ordinary means of grace that the Church has recognized and established: regular Bible reading and study individually and together, regular participation in worship and the holy Eucharist, sweet fellowship, and regular and humble service to Christ and his people and to the broader world. In short we must be living embodiments of Christ to his broken and hurting world, i.e., living stones. And we must do this primarily together because only together do we constitute living stones that comprise the New Jerusalem in St. John’s vision. When we are convinced that not even our mortal death can hurt us or separate us from God’s love, we will no longer be afraid to believe, speak, and act accordingly with all boldness. Neither will we be reticent to proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead to a world that grows increasingly hostile to that message and those who proclaim it. When we really truly believe Christ is the God who loves us enough to die for us to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and reconcile us to himself, and when we really truly believe that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead in bodily form and promises that where he is so will we be with him, despite our unloveliness and brokenness, we will no longer be embarrassed or ashamed of being called his disciples or living faithfully according to his good will and purposes for us and for all human beings. If anything we will be embarrassed and ashamed that we were so stupid and reticent in living out and proclaiming our faith, costly as that can be. We will look with pity and sadness on those who ridicule and mock us because we know they have no future or hope. They, like us without Christ, are dead people walking and our hearts break over this reality. 

 But Father, you retort, we don’t feel much like living stones. We are losers and ragamuffins—not as big a loser and ragamuffin as you of course—but still losers and ragamuffins nevertheless with all our fears, hurts, failures, and broken dreams. We get angry and want to act and believe like the world encourages us to act and believe. How can you call us living stones? Well, yes you are losers and ragamuffins (I plead the fifth). None of that matters, though. Feelings in matters of the faith are notoriously fickle and we should should rarely factor them in when considering the reality of our standing before God. Moreover, to argue this way is to miss the point completely. The point, as St. John tells us in his vision of the new heavens and earth, is that we become living stones by God’s power, not our own. On our own we will fail. And even with God’s power we will sometimes fail and miss the mark. We are that badly broken and alienated from God. But God’s love and power and mercy are greater than our brokenness and weaknesses. Nothing is too hard for God, my beloved! After all, he created this universe out of nothing and has the power to raise the dead. Do you think he will renege on his promise to give us life through his Son? No he will not!!  God the Father has raised Christ from the dead to proclaim the inauguration of his new world, a world we get a glimpse of in our NT lesson today. God loves us and is grieved by our slavery to Sin and the rebellion and alienation it has produced. And God loves his good creation and will not let it be permanently destroyed. The same power that spoke worlds into existence and raised Christ from the dead is available to us right now if we stop being afraid and fully embrace our resurrection hope. It is the power to be living stones full of God’s boldness, grace, mercy, love, goodness, righteousness, and justice with the power to embody those qualities and more to each other and to God’s world for the love and sake of his Son who has rescued us from Sin and Death. 

There is no better time than on our parish dedication festival to fully embrace our resurrection hope and let it change us into living stones, the people of God, pleasing in our Lord’s sight. We can trust the promise precisely because we know Jesus Christ is raised from the dead as the early Church and NT proclaimed and as countless people over time and across cultures have experienced ever since. I therefore encourage and exhort you, my beloved, to embrace your inheritance and let the Holy Spirit affirm it in you. When you do, no matter had bad things are or get, no matter how much evil and chaos and anarchy seem to rule the day, you will remember that not even the gates of Hell can prevail against us as members of Christ’s body, the Church, because Christ has defeated the strong man—Satan! No matter how much our enemies threaten us or even persecute us, we will draw on our faith in Christ and rely on his power to help us persevere and ultimately prevail. In his power we will fight our fears and not be afraid, remembering the promises of God made known to us in the Word made flesh, in his holy Word, and in the Eucharist. For the love of God, again I encourage and exhort you to seek Christ with your whole being and strive to imitate him in all your thinking, speaking, and doing. When we do this we will surely find the power to be living stones who embody the presence and goodness and love and power of the One who loved us and gave himself for us so that we could live forever. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever

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

Father Santosh Madanu: Jesus the Bread of Life

Sermon delivered on Trinity 11B, Sunday, August 15, 2021 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: 1 Kings 2.10-12, 3.3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5.15-20; St. John 6.51-58.

Good morning St. Augustine family.

I would like to begin with a real story:
A lady went to the priest and said, I won’t be attending the church any more. The priest asked. May I know Why? She said I see people are on their cell phones during Church Services. Some are gossiping, some just aren’t living right, they are all just hypocrites. The priest was silent for a minute and said Ok…. But can I ask you a favor to do something for me before you make a final decision. What is that? Then the priest said take a glass of water and walk around the church two times and don’t let any water fall out of the glass, yes she said “I can do that” she went around the church twice and said I did it. Then the priest asked three questions: 1. Did you see anybody on their phones? She said NO. 2. Did you see any one gossiping? No. 3. Was anybody living wrong? She said: “I didn’t see anything because I focused myself on this glass, so the water wouldn’t fall.” So the priest said to her, when you come to the church you should be just focused on God so that YOU don’t fall. That is why Jesus said “Follow Me”.
He did not say follow Christians, or follow somebody else. Therefore your relationship with God should not be determined by how others relate with God. Let it be determined how focused you are with God. (My relationship with God Jesus should not be determined by the relationship of others with God. But you and I can learn from the church many good things to grow in faith and love).

How hungry is your soul for God? The psalmist says “my soul thirsts for the Lord”. Bread is such a powerful symbol for what God is giving us in Christ, the bread of life. Without food we die. Without Christ we cannot have abundant life. A life that lasts for eternity. I would like you to hear once again what people did and said to Jesus: John 6:21-25:

22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ (6:21-25)

Looking for Jesus for the Wrong Reasons (6:26)
If Jesus had performed another miracle of feeding 3000 men on that day, then Jesus would simply have been fixing the problem temporarily. And people would have been hungry again. So what did Jesus do? He became the life giving bread. He said “I am the bread of life’ and promises that ‘he who comes to me will never be hungry and he who believes in me will never thirsty’. Jesus is the solution to all our hunger and God the father gave His only Son Jesus who has the power and capacity to satisfy our innate craving and hunger. Jesus was born in “Bethlehem” that means “House of bread” and it is no surprise that today, he identifies himself as the bread of life.

When Jesus called himself the bread of life, his listeners no doubt thought of Moses. Through Moses God sent down manna, bread from heaven that fed the chosen people for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land. Jesus explained, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die” (John 6:49-51).

The Bread of Life Discourse and the Lord’s Supper
The bread of life Jesus speaks of is his body and blood that eventually the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist by the Lord with his Last Supper with His disciples.
In the gospel of Mathew 26: 26-28 ‘the Words of Institution’: “26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” (Matthew 26:26-28)

When we partake of the Eucharist, Jesus feeds us with his body and blood. We enter into communion with him and with one another. Unlike other food, which becomes part of us, Jesus in the sacrament of Holy Communion, the sacred bread and wine makes us more like him. Therefore we, too, are to be bread for the world to many who are searching for the bread of life in the Lord Jesus. The living bread sustains us and prepares us for that day when we will come to the heavenly banquet. It is a pledge of future glory. It is the means by which Christ fulfills his promise, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). When we eat the Bread of Life Jesus lives in us and we live in the Lord. God provides us with food, through Jesus, for our journey through this life.

In Exodus 3 Moses meets God in the burning bush and asks God’s name… It is there that he declares “I AM Who I AM”. This is the name Jesus takes for Himself. What does that mean? Jesus is God – the Divine Redeemer of the world.

There’s so much more to life than daily bread/ food, fame, wealth and power. That is why our hearts are not satisfied with all the success and glory of this world. That is why St. Augustine prayed “O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in You.”
We can try to fill our lives with work, hoping that achievement and success will make that inner restlessness, that inner gnawing, that inner hunger go away. But the harder we work, the hungrier we get. No amount of recreational therapy – be it gold medal sports or exotic cruises -will plug the gap. Doesn’t matter how many friends or relationships you’ve got, trying to find in someone else what we are lacking in ourselves, the spiritual hole in the soul will still be there.
Jesus Christ alone satisfy hunger of our hearts.
Jesus brings heaven to earth. Jesus unites God and humanity in Himself. Jesus fills our lives with holy vitality and power. Jesus is Bread with a capital B which gives life with a capital L.
The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. That is why Jesus says “I am the bread of life”.

We have the life to live to the best of our ability. There are many possibilities and potentialities that God has blessed us with. Therefore when we get hurt; when our life become tough; when we lose the loved ones; when we are diagnosed with cancer, covid 19 and many chronic deceases we need to become strong in faith and hope. It is easy to believe God when everything goes well. But when we face the storms in our life, we question God. Why Me? Life is for living. Life takes sacrifices, challenges, setbacks and miseries. But in the midst of all these one should celebrate the life because many could not make it today. You are still alive. You are breathing. As long as your heart is pumping blood you got to do what you got to do.
In all the circumstances trust in the Lord Jesus as the bread of life.

Lessons for all the Disciples and followers

  1. True disciples must look beyond the physical blessings to hunger for spiritual life, eternal life (6:26-27).
  2. Eternal life is gained by faith, not by certain works of righteousness (6:28-29).
  3. Jesus is the Bread of Life who nourishes people spiritually and gives them eternal life (6:35).

I would like to end with humor:
A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small.
The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible.
The little girl said, ‘when I get to heaven I will ask Jonah’.
The teacher asked, ‘What if Jonah went to hell?’
The little girl replied, ‘Then you ask him’.

Prayer
Jesus, please teach me how to feed on you more than I do. I do believe in you; increase my faith, my willingness to obey, and the effectiveness of my ministry on your behalf. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.

Christ: The Key to Living the Good Life

Sermon delivered on Trinity 10B, Sunday, August 8, 2021 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: 2 Samuel 18.5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4.25-5.2; St. John 6.35-51.

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

What are we to make of St. Paul’s exhortation in our epistle lesson to be a different kind of people, a people who live the good life—good life defined as conforming our lives and ourselves, our thinking, speaking, and doing, to the created order and will of God our Father—especially in light of our OT and gospel lessons that showcase the ugliness of the human condition? Is St. Paul simply being delusional and exhorting us to be likewise? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Scripture is crystal clear in its assessment of the human condition. Our first ancestors’ sin got the human race expelled from paradise and created a terrible chasm between God and humans and between humans ourselves. We see the fruit of our rebellion all the time: death, illnesses of all sorts, broken relationships, anger, alienation, and mutual hostility and distrust. We search vainly for all kinds of remedies for our loneliness and alienation by pursuing various idols (sex, power, and security being the most common), remedies that are sure to fail because they are grounded in unreality. I don’t have time to rehearse all the weirdness but if you are old enough, you can quickly list the crazy thinking and behaviors in our culture today. We are so alienated and hostile to God that we are willing to do almost anything to avoid being reconciled to him, despite the deep yearning in our hearts to the contrary. We see the human condition on full display in our OT lesson in the death of David’s son, Absalom. The whole sordid story is itself a grim reminder of the consequences of David’s terrible sins of adultery and murder that we looked at a couple weeks ago. Forgiveness there had been, but God had allowed the consequences of David’s sins to remain, consequences that were deeply painful and divisive for David’s house: Here is his beloved son Absalom in open rebellion against his father. Here is Absalom’s father seeking to save his rebellious son from the consequences of treachery and treason. And here is a bloodthirsty commander and relative of David’s, a relative with a history of treachery and violence, all purportedly in the name of the king he serves, who satisfies his bloodlust by disobeying the David’s direct orders and effectively murdering his son. 

Then there are the crowds resisting Christ’s teaching on a baffling scale. Did you notice the repetition in our gospel lesson? To drive his point home, Christ repeated multiple times that he is the bread of life who will raise to life those whom the Father gives him on the last day, yet the crowd hears but doesn’t understand or believe. Think about it. Christ is God become human speaking to his image-bearing creatures, the very people God the Father had called out to bring God’s healing love and reconciliation to bear on his sin-sick and evil-infested world. If there ever was anyone who could be classified as a master teacher who knew how to reach his pupils, surely Christ would be that person. But inexplicably the people do not have ears to hear, eyes to see, or minds to comprehend. Instead, after hearing the breathtaking promise of Christ to heal and reconcile them to God, and to raise them up on the last day to enjoy life fully as God created them to live it and desired for them (and us) to have, they complained about him rather than accepting the most precious gift they could ever receive! Remarkable. And if we are honest with ourselves, things haven’t changed much from Christ’s day to ours. Many of us still don’t want to accept Christ’s gift of eternal life by giving ourselves to him in faith and obedience. We, like them, are a profoundly broken and hopeless people because we are all slaves to the power of Sin, that alien and hostile power that has enslaved us and compels us to continue our ongoing rebellion and hostility toward God. There is no such thing as self-help and self-improvement. People do not come to know Christ through their own effort as Christ himself repeatedly reminds us in our gospel lesson. If this is true—and our own experience affirms the awful reality of the human condition—how can we ever hope to be the people St. Paul exhorts us to be in his epistle? How can we put away all the bitterness and rancor that plagues the human race? How can we control our anger and truly love God and neighbors when our hearts (wills) are naturally at war against them? How can we proclaim the love of Christ if no one will listen? How can we work consistently to build each other up and love each other here in our parish family with a love that encourages each other to conform to the Father’s created order rather than to cave to our own disordered desires? Answer? On our own it is impossible and if we try to be the people St. Paul calls us to be and do the things he calls us to do on our own power, we will be danger of falling into despair and/or becoming neurotic because self-help and self-improvement are a lie and a delusion. We only come to Christ by the grace and power of God. Period. Those who are enslaved to the power of Sin (that would be all of us) cannot simply be told to stop sinning. It won’t happen. We must be freed from our slavery to Sin. Those who cannot hear or see the Truth of the gospel cannot be helped by assigning blame to them or offering advice, no matter how good the advice is. They have to be healed, and only Christ has the power to heal us from our sin-sickness and free us from the steely grip of Sin’s enslavement. Putting on Christ, feeding on him through holy communion, regular Scripture reading and study, prayer, Christian fellowship, and service are ordinary ways we put on Christ, i.e., ways we submit to Christ and allow him to heal and transform us, all fueled by our faith in the efficacy of his healing and saving power, a faith that is itself a gift from our Father’s generous and loving heart.

We can never hope to be the people St. Paul (and through him Christ himself) exhorts us to be unless we strive in the power of Christ available to us in and through the Holy Spirit to imitate Christ, who loves us and has claimed us from all eternity. Putting on Christ (or imitating him) is not effortless, but neither is it futile because it is rooted in Christ’s power, not our own efforts. Setbacks there will be. We are all too profoundly broken and alienated for that not to happen and Christ doesn’t manipulate us like puppets. But if we willingly seek to imitate Christ and to feed on him in the ways I’ve just outlined, we will find that our new selves, the new creation about which the NT speaks, will slowly but surely allow us to be the kind of people God calls us to be and St. Paul exhorts us to be in our epistle lesson. Why? Because we rely on Christ’s power that he willingly and gladly gives us. We do not worship a God who is a tyrant and a bully, bent on punishing or even destroying us. We worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who became human and who promises to love us despite our sins and to free and heal us from our slavery to Sin’s power and our own incurable sin-sickness. And when we worship this God, the one and only true God, and are humble enough to submit ourselves to his will, believing all the time that he is busy working in and through us in the power of the Holy Spirit even when we don’t perceive that power at work, we will see growth and healing and freedom. None of it will be perfect in this life. We live in a cursed world that can never be the entirely good created order God intended it to be. But we are not people of this world. We are people of God’s new creation because we belong to Christ and Christ has promised to raise us from the dead to complete our healing process and bestow upon us perfect goodness and freedom. We will be free to love and imitate our crucified and risen Lord perfectly and in doing so we will discover fully what it means to live life abundantly, to be fully human beings. 

This does not protect us from life’s hurts or the evil that we all must endure on occasion. What Christ does promise us is the power to overcome. We don’t come to faith in Christ without the Father first drawing us to him. Are you willing to relinquish control and trust God to do so with you and others? It’s a hard but necessary first step. That we are here is evidence that the Father has claimed us, no matter how poorly we live our faith, and it reminds us that we do not worship an absentee or uncaring God. There is much mystery and enigma in all this, my beloved. But part of a real and saving faith is the attendant humility to not need all our questions answered about God/faith, to be content with what God has revealed to us in Scripture and in his very own Son, Christ, the Word made flesh. He came to us in weakness and humility to destroy Sin’s power over us and call us to be his people, people who have eternal life starting here and now, despite the vicissitudes and ambiguities and sorrows of this mortal life. He came to free and heal us when we were still God’s enemies and he overcame the sting of Death by being raised to new life. The reality of Christ’s promise extends to us even in our profound weakness and sin-sickness. My beloved, believe this promise with all your being and might because it’s true; Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Wrestle with it in the power of the Spirit together as God’s people, and you will find that you are becoming the people God calls us to be. When by God’s grace you really know that the promises of God are coming true, you will also find life in abundance, even in the midst of a broken and hurting world and your own hurts and sorrows. It is a foretaste of that glorious life promised to us forever through the grace, merit, love, and power of Jesus Christ our crucified and risen Lord. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Father Philip Sang: Seeking Food that Endures and Living It

Sermon delivered on Trinity 9B, Sunday, August 1, 2021 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: 2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a; Psalm 51.1-13; Ephesians 4.1-16; St. John 6.24-35.

May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you o Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

A deep spiritual hunger is implanted in every human heart. Different people will seek to fill this need in different ways, but the hunger is not unique. People yearn for a deeper connection, an eternal spiritual connection, and when that is lacking will seek any means to be fulfilled. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Yet, he who offered fullness of joy was often met by people with simpler, lesser needs. In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus met a Samaritan woman who longed for living water so she wouldn’t have to keep returning to the well each day. Jesus started with that basic need and used it to forge a relationship with her that ended with the woman reconnected to God and to others in her community.

In our gospel reading for today, Jesus has met the immediate needs of a host of people. Those remaining after he fed 5,000 with a little fish and bread seek out Jesus. Jesus tells them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

The previous day, Jesus fed their physical hunger with bread and fish, and the crowd sought him out once more. Jesus points them to their spiritual hunger, which is what he really wanted to fill. After all, the people were created to love God and love others as they loved themselves, and in chasing after other needs, they risked getting further from the real nourishment they needed. Jesus compares this to the original bread from heaven, manna, with which God miraculously fed the children of Israel for 40 years in an uninhabitable wasteland. This was the daily bread that would come anew each morning, with enough to last the day and a double portion for the Sabbath. Now Jesus compares the daily bread of manna, which God gave in the desert, to the Bread of Life, which God offers in Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus offers nourishment, which goes to the heart of our most basic human need to fill a spiritual hunger. Having been created to be in relationship with God, without that connection, we can feel empty.

It is an easy move to connect Jesus referring to himself as the Bread of Life to the Eucharist. For in the mystery of the Eucharistic feast we eat the bread and drink the wine, and in so doing we partake of the body and blood of Jesus. But we don’t want to jump to that correct response so quickly that we miss the bigger picture.

This discourse comes when Jesus has two more years of ministry ahead of him. There is much more time left in Jesus’ ministry before he gets to that last meal with his disciples. John’s gospel makes clear what the other three gospels only hint at: the Eucharist is not about Jesus’ death alone. Jesus’ self-giving act in communion is not only concerned with the Last Supper, the cross and the empty tomb alone. Jesus’ whole life, rather than just one or two events, will institute the sacrament of communion. Put differently, faith is not in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone, but in Jesus’ whole life – from Bethlehem to Golgotha, and beyond to an empty tomb in a garden, Jesus’ appearances to his disciples, and his ascension to heaven. Everything Jesus did – who Jesus was and how he acted – are part of God’s revelation to us. We cannot separate one part of his life from the rest. Nor should we have a Christian part of our lives separate from the rest of our lives. We are to take Jesus’ whole story and make it part of our whole story. This is much more than hearing the word, it is word and deed. In baptism, we do not simply hear of Jesus’ baptism, but water is poured over us as a sign that we are united with Christ through baptism. We don’t just hear the story, we are actually baptised. In the Eucharist, we don’t merely listen to the words, “Take eat,” but we actually get up, come forward to take and eat. It’s not just the bread that we take, bless, break and give. God took Jesus’ whole life, blessed, broke it and gave it to us. We are to let that story of God’s love for us take us, bless us, break us and give us back to the world. Jesus wanted those who followed him after having their fill of fish and bread to discover real spiritual nourishment so that they would never hunger again. And yes, one is fed through the Eucharist, but this too is only part of the picture. Our Sunday worship is to be just a part of how we are fed spiritually. Compare spiritual nourishment to food. Eating out once a week in a restaurant is not unusual. In fact, it is rare to find someone who eats out only once a week. But what if that was the only meal the person ate.

Someone who goes back to their familiar seat in a restaurant week after week to enjoy their one meal of the week could never be nourished enough to make it through the remaining six days. In the same way, common worship in church on Sunday is meant to be an important part of one’s spiritual food and drink, but it will never satisfy your hunger if this is your whole plan for feeding your spirit.

Fortunately, the Anglican Church has a centuries-old norm of daily prayer that is well suited to filling this void. The Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer as found in the Book of Common Prayer are a wonderfully enriching daily devotion. When praying in this way, together with the daily scripture readings, one is better prepared to meet whatever comes. It is not that troubles never occur to people who pray and read their Bible; it’s just that those who dwell daily in prayer and scripture are more connected to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Then whatever comes, they can call on that connection.

So much of our lives is spent working for the food that perishes. We must work to earn food, water and shelter and all the extras that make life enjoyable. But we know there is more to life than the daily grind. For a fulfilled life, one should commit a portion of each day to prayer and reading the Bible, for that is the food that endures for eternal life and the gift of Jesus who came so that you might have an abundant life.

Paul in today’s epistle lesson reminds us that God has chosen us to be Christ’s representatives on earth, in light of this truth, Paul challenges us to live lives worthy of the calling we have received -the awesome privilege of being called Christ’s very own. This life includes being humble, gentle, patient, understanding, and peaceful. People are watching your life. Can they see Christ in you? How well are you doing as his representative?

It is my prayer that as we seek the food that endures that each of us will live a life worthy of the calling we have received.

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

The Surprising Power of God

Sermon delivered on Trinity 8B, Sunday, July 25, 2021 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: 2 Samuel 11.1-25; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3.14-21; St. John 6.1-21.

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

In our epistle lesson, St. Paul prays for the power of God in the lives of his people, of you and me. He ends by making the bold declaration that God’s power working in us is “abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.” What does the apostle have in mind when he tells us this? How are we to read this in light of David’s folly in our OT lesson? This is what I want us to look at.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time you will certainly know it is not an easy thing to be a Christ follower and lover. As the psalmist reminds us starkly in our lesson, there is no one who does good, not a single person. It seems that we all have inherited Adam’s sin-sickness, a sickness that distorts and corrupts God’s image in us and makes us think, say, and do all kinds of things that dehumanize us. This, of course, is not God’s original intention for us as his image-bearers and our sin-sickness disqualifies us to rule God’s world on God’s behalf. Yet hard as we try—and try we do being the proud rebellious creatures we are—none of us have the ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps so that we can be the humans God created us to be. What to do?

Enter the power of God. When St. Paul prays for God’s power to be with us, he has in mind first and and foremost God’s ability to overcome our sin-sickness on our behalf. And even a superficial reading/knowledge of Scripture reminds us that God does indeed have the power to deliver us from our incurable sin-sickness. He is the God who created this vast universe by speaking it into existence out of nothing. He is the God who has the power to raise the dead as he did with Jesus that first Easter morning. He has the power the free his people from their bondage to slavery as he demonstrated when he brought his people Israel out of Egypt at Passover. And as our gospel lesson testifies, God become human has the power to feed the masses and rule over the storms of creation and life. Many of us have not experienced God’s power in such a spectacular manner, but some of us have, experiencing mighty acts of healing and other acts of God’s transformative power. 

And this power is surely behind St. Paul’s prayer for Christ’s body, the Church, in our epistle lesson. Earlier he made the astonishing claim that God’s purpose for his Church, for you and me, is to demonstrate God’s wisdom and purposes for healing and redemption to the dark powers and their human agents. Imagine that! We as Christ’s people are called to show the world and the powers who have usurped God’s rightful rule—an enigmatic mystery in its own right; why did God allow that?—how to be human and live according to God’s good will and created order! Clearly we cannot do that on our own because we are hopelessly sin-sick. Most of us can’t even manage to follow through on our new year’s resolutions for more than a month let alone live faithfully and obediently as God’s image-bearers! So how do we become God’s healed and redeemed people? Answer: by the grace and power of God. But how does that work? It works to the extent that we can bind ourselves to Christ so that we understand the nature of God’s power in us. When God empowers us to be his people, he does not empower us to lord it over others or to be mighty conquerors. Doing so would only help us impose our selfish desires on others—we do that quite nicely on our own, thank you very much—and satisfy our fallen human nature. No, the kind of power about which St. Paul speaks is the power to forgive, the power to be patient, the power to love, the power to be compassionate, the power to be humble, and the power to do good, to name just a few. It is the power to take up our cross and follow Christ, especially in the face of the world’s scorn and hatred of Christ and us, to suffer for his name’s sake so that he can use us to help bring in his kingdom on earth as in heaven. It is the type of power that doesn’t always bring immediate results; in fact, it is power that often looks like failure in the eyes of the world. And because it does not often meet our expectations of what real power looks like—the ability to impose our will and views on others, to stop at nothing in an effort to obtain security and wealth and status—we often mistake God’s power for weakness and timidity, and we treat it scornfully.

This is nothing new. Ask the surviving disciples on that Good Friday night if Christ was truly God’s Messiah and/or if they had seen God’s mighty power at work, and they would have looked at us like we had three heads. It took the power of the Resurrection for them to see that in the cross—a worldly sign of humanity’s ability to degrade, to torture, to humiliate—God’s power to forgive all our sins was at work and accomplishing God’s purposes. Nobody in Christ’s day expected a crucified God and many in our own day join with them despite the fact that we have 20-20 hindsight now. 

Yet it is only in Christ’s death and resurrection that we find forgiveness of our sins and the table set to have real reconciliation with God our Father, something the world has not seen since before the Fall and until God arrived on the scene in the person of Jesus to deal with our sins and hostility toward him. At just the right time, St. Paul tells us in Romans, Christ died for us, even though we were still God’s enemies. Before Christ and bereft of his Holy Spirit, none of us would even consider dying for our mortal enemies, and even with the Holy Spirit living in us and making Christ known and available to us, many of us still struggle with the notion of loving our enemies, let alone dying to save them because we are so profoundly broken. But this is exactly what we are called to do, and as St. Paul promises in our epistle lesson we do indeed have Christ’s power and presence in us in and through the presence of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the people God created us to be so that we will one day be fit to rule God’s new world, the new heavens and earth. 

So if this is true, why do we have stories like David and Bathsheba in our OT lesson? After all, here we have King David, the man after God’s own heart, who was clearly endowed with God’s Holy Spirit even before the Spirit was made available to all God’s people at and after Pentecost, involved in one of the most sordid stories in all the Bible. In this story, we see God’s man commit adultery and then murder to cover it up to save his own skin (adultery was a capital offense in Israel, even for a king). And it was a murder committed with great cynicism and malice aforethought to boot. Not only did David violate the commandments to not commit murder, he also violated three others: he coveted his neighbor’s wife, stole her from her husband, and lied about it. Five out of ten is an impressive batting average, even for the worst sinners among us, let alone God’s anointed king. How could this have happened? In David’s case, there were some unfortunate circumstances involved, but we all have endured those before, often without sin. No, the bottom line is that David let his sin-sickness control him and the results were catastrophic, just as all sin is. In great understatement the writer ends this sordid story by observing succinctly that the thing David did displeased God. You don’t need reality TV. Just pick up your Bible and read it if you want to see humans at their worst. But unlike reality TV, you will actually profit from reading and pondering these stories.

All this can be terribly unnerving. Are God’s promises false? Was St. Paul delusional in praying his prayer found in our epistle lesson? Some would say yes. After all, we all know stories of religious leaders missing the mark and falling into catastrophic and grievous sin. You all have to put up with me on a regular basis, surely proof positive that God’s promises have failed! But for those of us who pay attention to these things, for every failure we can count many more successes in our lives and the lives of those we love. Think of serious illnesses that were healed. Think of hopelessly damaged relationships restored. Think on the fact that all of us here are reconciled to God while none of us deserve a lick of it! No, the power of God is real, even if at times it can certainly be unpredictable and enigmatic. But we must keep our eyes focused on Christ our prize, for only in and through his power do we have any hope of overcoming our sin-sickness and enjoying eternal life with him now and forever. In this world there will always be heartache and failure; after all, we live in a cursed world ravaged by human sin that naturally separates us and keeps us alienated to God our Father, the Source and Author of all life and health. Thus we suffer and fail. But there is also victory and healing and redemption in this world and I would boldly suggest that our little parish is a microcosm of God’s victory on our behalf in and through Christ, warts and all. Despite the fact that we are losers and ragamuffins, we are a family who love each other and support each other, despite the times when we irritate each other. We are usually patient and kind and (hopefully) forgiving of each other. We care for each other and enjoy sweet fellowship despite our differences. These are all signs of God’s power at work in us because none of this is possible without Christ in our midst and as our Center. And if you think otherwise, you are the one who is delusional, not St. Paul.

I close with a story from The Way of a Pilgrim that illustrates how Christ typically works in his people. 

We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.

“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’

“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at self-control nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.

“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’

“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it.’

“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’

“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.

“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.

“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”

Notice first how Christ used human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his Gospel. Notice how the monk abandoned his agenda (begging alms for the church), at least temporarily, to address a person’s needs that he perceived. We have to be ready to see others in pain if we ever hope to help them address it. Notice too the monk’s gentle persistence and the faith he had in the transformative power of the Gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.

Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the Gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered too long in his quarters to read it. Was it really coincidence that the soldier found the gospels before he got to his drinking money? This is how God typically works to control the circumstances of our lives in a wise and loving way, but we have to pay attention to realize it!

Finally, mark how understanding occurs—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas, which sadly many try to do, especially today) through our persistent reading of his word. God doesn’t beat us over the head to make us learn (usually). Instead he uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. God can use even less than ideal circumstances to break through to us, as the young solder discovered. That may not be sexy enough for some of us but it is much more effective over the long haul because God respects us and our relational integrity. So if you are struggling with your faith, do the things that will cultivate Christ’s power. I beseech you, my beloved. Give yourself completely to Christ if you have not done so already. Please. Don’t hold back. Don’t be afraid. He loves you and he will not ultimately fail you because he is the only one who remains faithful to the Father! Cultivate his presence and power. He is our only hope to rescue and heal us from our sin-sickness! Read Scripture regularly. Partake in the Holy Eucharist as St. John exhorts us to do in our gospel lesson (listen if you have ears). Enjoy sweet fellowship with God’s faithful people, remembering our Lord’s promise to his fearful disciples in the midst of a life-threatening storm. Don’t be afraid, it is me, and only I have the power to save you. I know your lives are no less stormy. Trust in my power, and if you begin to doubt that power, meditate on my death and resurrection because in these events are your only hope and future. Doing so will remind you of the surprising and sometimes unpredictable power of God. Now to him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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