Deacon Tucker Messamore: This is My Story

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Sermon delivered on Trinity 7C, Sunday, July 31, 2022 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: Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 107.1-9, 43; Colossians 3.1-11; St. Luke 12.13-21.

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

A few months ago, we changed our Children’s Church curriculum at St. Augustine’s to a program called God’s Big Story. What I like so much about this curriculum is that it doesn’t just teach kids Bible stories; it shows them that the Bible is one story. While the Bible is full of stories about various people and events, these individual stories fit into one big story—From Genesis to Revelation, the Scriptures tell the story of God’s love for the people He created. This is not just any story: it’s the greatest love story of all time. It’s about a God who loves His people even when they fail to love Him back. It’s the story about a God who won’t let anything separate Him from the people He loves. It tells the story of a God who loves His people so much that He suffers and dies for them. 

We’re going to talk about this “big story” of the Bible today as we examine our lesson from Hosea 11. This passage summarizes the major events of the Old Testament. It quickly recaps God’s history with the nation of Israel. But this is not just the story of God’s interactions with people who lived thousands of years ago. As we’ll see, this is your story. This is my story. 

We can think of Hosea 11 like the “Table of Contents” of the Bible. It reveals four different “themes” or “chapter titles” that summarize the big story of the Bible. The opening verses of this passage use a couple of analogies to illustrate the first theme: God loves His people (vv. 1-2, 4).

Verse 1 says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him.” Here, God is depicted as father beaming over his newborn child. From the very beginning of Israel’s existence as a nation, God loved them. God demonstrated His fatherly love in many ways throughout Israel’s history. He led them “out of Egypt” (v. 2) when they were in bondage. Like any loving parent, God heard the cries of His hurting people and came to their rescue (c.f. Exodus 2:24).In v. 3, God is like a Dad who stands behind his shaky-legged infant and grabs his son by the arms to help him stand upright and learn to walk.Not only did God lead Israel out of Egypt, He helped them “get on their feet” as a nation. He did not abandon them. He gave them His Law to teach them how to live and how to relate to Him and to one another.

In v. 4, the analogy changes: God is portrayed as a kind farmer who treats his cattle more like pets: “I led them with cords of kindness, with bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.” God graciously led his people through the wilderness to the land he had promised Abraham’s ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey, a place that could be their home. Along the way, he fed them with manna from heaven to sustain them on their journey.

But despite God’s love, God’s people rebel against Him (v. 2). This is our second theme. Verse 2 says, “The more they were called, the more they went away.” Israel is like a rebellious child who defies the instructions of his parents. God gave Israel the Law to guide how they ought to live. But these were not arbitrary rules. Like any good parent, God set boundaries for his children with their best interest in mind. But time and time again, Israel disregarded and disobeyed God’s Law. God tried to “call” them back to Him through the prophets who warned Israel of the consequences they would experience for their sin—things like famines, plagues, wars, & exile for the land—but they didn’t listen. To make matters even worse, they worshipped “idols,” forsaking the God who loved them and blessed them. As vv. 3-4 put it, “They did not know that I healed them… I led them… I bend down… [I] fed them.” 

This tragic story is not just Israel’s story. It’s our story too. From before you and I even existed, God loved us. He made us in His own image (Gen. 1:27), handcrafting us in the womb (Psalm 139:13). Every “good and perfect gift” we experience comes from Him (James 1:17). But in spite of His innumerable blessings, we rebel against God. God has clearly revealed what is right and wrong in His Word, yet as we will later confess, we sin against God “in thought, word, and deed.” We fail to love Him with all our heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In v. 7, God says, “My people are bent on turning away from me.” Like the people of Israel, we have a sin nature that inclines us toward evil rather than good, disobedience rather than obedience. Scripture makes it clear that we are so overcome by sin that we are captive to it.

This brings us to our third theme: God punishes sin (vv. 5-7). In v. 5, God makes it clear that Israel’s rebellion would have consequences. He says, “They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they refuse to turn to me.” (v. 5). Just as God had warned through the prophets, because of their persistent rebellion against God, they would once again become slaves in another nation, this time Assyria, one of the world powers at that time. Verse 6 describes how Israel’s cities would be destroyed by invaders, and that is exactly what came to pass. In 722 B.C., Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and led God’s people into exile.

Like the people of Israel, as those who have rebelled against God, we face God’s judgment. While we face many repercussions of our sin in this life—pain, suffering, broken relationships—Scripture tells us that the ultimate outcome of our sin is death (Romans 6:23), and not just physical death, but eternal death, separation from God for all eternity. Some may question how a compassionate God could pronounce an eternal punishment on people he loves. But we must also remember that God is good. To put it another way, we could say that God is just.

If on his first day in office a president pardoned every murderer in the federal prison system and immediately released them, we would be outraged. We would say, “Where is the justice in this? These people are evildoers! They deserve to be punished!” In the same way that a good president would never flippantly dismiss such evil, if God is good, He cannot excuse our sin. That would be unjust. For this reason, Paul says that in our sinful state we are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), those who are bound to face God’s judgment.

But thanks be to God that the story does not end there! In His great love for us, God writes one final chapter: God shows His people grace (vv. 8-11) There is a shift in tone in v. 8: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim?” In the midst of His judgment, God’s love shines through. Even though His people has rebelled against Him, He still loves them. He asks, “How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you Zeboiim?” (v. 8) When we read these names, we might think, “Huh? Admah? Zeboiim? I’ve never heard of them.” I think this is the reaction we’re supposed to have. These are two cities that were destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sinfulness (Deut. 29:23). God literally wiped their memory from history.

But God cannot imagine doing the  same thing to Israel: “My heart recoils within me” (v. 8). Therefore, God proclaims, “I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim” (v. 9). Although Israel will go into captivity, God will spare them from destruction. 

This is the same good news that God offers to us: although we deserve God’s wrath because of our sin, God offers us grace.  He does this through the work of His Son—not Israel, but the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus did what Israel failed to do. He was not a rebellious Son, but one who lived a life of perfect obedience to God the Father. In the cross of Christ, God’s justice and God’s mercy meet. Because Jesus had no guilt of His own, Jesus was able to stand in our place, taking on Himself the punishment we deserve for our sin (Is. 53:5) so that we could instead receive the grace that we do not deserve.

But the good news doesn’t end there! God promised Israel he would not leave them in their captivity but would return them home (vv. 10-11). Since humanity rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, in a sense, we’ve been in exile. Our sin has separated us from God and has distorted our relationship with God, with one another, and with creation. But one day, we will be released from our exile. Christ will return and will usher in the kingdom of God in its fullness, restoring creation to what it was meant to be. We will be in God’s presence for all eternity, free from sin, death, suffering, and pain forevermore! This is where our story concludes. Like any good love story, it ends with, “And they lived happily ever after.”

This is the arc of the Big Story of the Bible: God’s love, sin, judgment, renewal. As we reflect on these truths, we must ask, “Why does this all matter?” I’m sure that most of you have heard this story—the gospel, the good news of the Bible—before. This is nothing new or groundbreaking. So why even bother going through it this morning?

Today, I  brought something very important to me. This is a book of letters Amelia gave to me when I graduated seminary. The letters are words of encouragement written by family members, friends, pastors, professors, mentors, and people I have served in various churches. Whenever I feel discouraged or drained or I doubt my call to ministry, I turn to this book, and it keeps me grounded and helps me move forward. It points me to who God created me to be, and it reminds me of the saints who are praying for me and supporting me.

Brothers and sisters, this is why we need the gospel. This is not a story; it’s our story. It reminds us of the Father’s love and tells us who we are in Christ.  This story is the anchor that steadies us as we navigate the storms of this life. It’s the shield that protects us from the attacks of our enemy. 

For example, Satan often tries to burden with feelings of guilt. He reminds of our sins and shortcomings, our imperfections and mistakes. But guilt is not our story. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now nocondemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” In the words of a modern hymn, “When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sin!”  This is my story!

This story also gives us courage in the face of fear. Fear comes our way when we don’t know what’s next, when you or a loved one gets a grim diagnosis, when you don’t know how you’ll make ends meet. We may experience fear, but fear is not the end of our story! No matter what circumstances face us, we can have hope because we know the end of the story! Christ is risen, and He will return one day and make all things new! “Because Helives, I can face tomorrow! Because He lives, all fear is gone!” We may not know what the future holds, but we do know the One who holds the future! This, this is my story!

Amid life’s storms and the attacks of our enemy the devil, may we be people who boldly declare, “This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.” 

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

Father Philip Sang: Living the Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 6C, Sunday, July 24, 2022 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: Hosea 1.2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2.6-19; St. Luke 11.1-13.

Our Christian life is not to be confined to a closet. Our belief must be revealed in our practice. If we walk in Christ, then we must act as Christ would act because Christ is in us, in our hopes, our love, our joy and our lives. We are Christ’s reflection.

At first glance, the reading from Hosea doesn’t seem to make sense. Would God really ask a prophet to marry a prostitute? Well, the answer is yes he can, and yes he did. You see, this was part of God’s plan, and we all know that God’s ways are not our ways, and sometimes God’s ways don’t make sense to us because we can’t see the overall plan God has for someone or something.

God wanted to teach Israel a lesson, so he told Hosea to marry Gomer the prostitute. When God used the word whoredom, he was not necessarily referring to prostitution. The word translated as whoredom is a broad term that refers to various types of sexual misconduct. It only refers to prostitution in certain cases. In the case of Hosea, it refers to a married woman being unfaithful to her husband. This was a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Hosea’s marriage began well and ended badly, just like Israel’s relationship with God began well and had become bad by the time of Hosea.

Hosea probably asked God, “Why are you doing this to me? I am a good man, I try to be a godly man. All I want to do is have a family and raise children. Why should I be married to the wrong woman? Why should I be forced to raise strange children?” God’s likely answer was, “It is because you are my prophet that you are living through this situation. Who else could suffer like I suffer, grieve like I grieve, and understand what I understand? Israel abandoned me just like your wife abandoned you. You can grieve for Gomer like I grieve for Israel.”

God knew that Gomer would be unfaithful and he used that knowledge to teach Israel a lesson. He used the names of her children as statements of prophecy. The first child, Jezreel, was a reflection of 1 Kings 21 where Ahab’s wife Jezreel planned to murder Naboth so that Ahab could seize Naboth’s vineyard. The licking of Ahab’s blood by the dogs was a metaphor for God’s future judgment of people who follow other gods.

The name of Gomer’s second child is translated as “No Mercy”. Scholars suggest that Hosea was not the father. He did not have the natural affection that a father has for his children. This was a metaphor for the lack of love that God had for Israel at this point in time.

The name of Gomer’s third child is translated as “Not My People”, and again scholars suggest that Hosea was not the father. It represents the breaking of the natural bond that God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai; however, this breaking of the bond did not nullify the promises God made to Abraham. Like Abraham, Israel’s salvation was by grace through faith and not through works of the law. The salvation would be offered through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

God used Hosea’s family to call Israel back to him and his teachings. Paul said the same thing in Colossians. Both the Colossians and the Israelites had been led away from God. In the case of the Colossians, they were led away by false prophets. They were deceived. They forgot that in God and Jesus they were living new lives after being forgiven of their sins. They were united with Christ and shared his power over all earthly rules and authority. The only way they had to gain spiritual maturity was to hold fast to their faith in Christ and not to the man-made rules of the Pharisees.

The story of Hosea and Gomer is really a story about God and the covenant people. Hosea used his family struggles as a way to speak to Israel about its unfaithfulness to God. Israel paid a heavy price for its unfaithfulness. Reconciliation would not be easy, just like it was not easy for Hosea and Gomer to reconcile. Israel had to learn a hard lesson. We as Christians have to learn the same hard lesson when we forsake Christ for other worldly ambitions. Thank goodness God is stubborn and pursues us even when we turn from him in sin. This is Hosea’s ultimate message: God is faithful to his promises and can’t let us go. His faithfulness to us overcomes our faithlessness to him and to each other.

We as modern Christians are also called to faith in Christ as a way of gaining spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is gained through faith. Faith allows us to withstand life’s challenges. Faith will guide us to the end of our life’s journey. It will guide us into the time of Judgment Day when God will say “Welcome Home!” Without faith, we are destined to hell.

God can’t give us up as his children regardless of how unfaithful we have been. He loves us too much. At the same time, he can’t overlook our sins because of the damage sin does and will continue to do so as long as we hold on to our sins. Our closeness to God is broken because sin offends God. Sin hurts us because sin always has negative consequences and cuts us off from others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. God had to find a way to comfort us and heal us-and the way he found was through Christ’s death on the cross.

Jesus came into the world for a purpose, and that purpose was to die on the cross, the just for the unjust. When Jesus died for us, he took away our sins and nailed them to the cross. He provided the redemption referred to in Hosea. We must not take that grace for granted like Israel did. We must not drift so far from God that we can’t cherish his grace. That’s what happened to Israel at the time of Hosea. When we accept Christ, our condition is changed from condemnation and death to forgiveness and life. We are given a new nature-one that wants to please God. We are then adopted into God’s family, but that adoption requires us to submit to Christ’s authority. He paid for us with his blood, and since we are now his, he has the right to rule our lives. We have to let Jesus have complete control of every area of our lives-every decision, every action, every word, every motive, every attitude and every thought.

As Israel listened to the news about Hosea’s family, they learned about God’s undying love for his people. God’s faithfulness combined with our faith in him gives us hope that we can be changed, forgiven and saved. He wipes the slate clean and renews the relationship he has with us. We are restored as children of God.

In the Letter to the Colossians Paul encourages us to be rooted in Christ. Israel in Hosea’s time didn’t have those firm roots, so it’s no wonder that they drifted away from God. Once we have this firm foundation, Colossians teaches us to continually renovate ourselves so that we become more Christ-like, but we must not become rigid. We do not have to follow a rigid set of rules. All we have to do is come to Christ in humble faith and prayer. Jesus gives us a good example of a prayer to use in Luke 11:1-13.

There are two forms of prayer: quiet contemplation or thanksgiving and petition. Jesus used both forms of prayer to seek God’s presence, guidance and provision for both body and spirit. His prayer life reflected the life of friendship with God. God met Jesus’ needs when Jesus prayed, and he can meet our needs when we pray.

When Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread”, he was referring to the manna that the Israelites received every day when they wandered in the wilderness. It reminded them of their daily dependence on God for the basics of life. Bread serves the same function in a primitive, agricultural society where hunger is never far away. This might seem to be trivial in our modern, affluent society, but the term “daily bread” represents the modern essentials of our lives- for example, a car or medical care. God out Father listens to our requests but he does not blindly grant every one of them, just like good parents do not grant every one of a child’s requests. To do so would please us in the short term, but it would also hurt us in the long run, just like granting every one of a child’s requests would hurt the child in the long run. Instead, God provides what is needed, including limits and discipline

When I was preparing, I found this prayer, which I thought tied in quite nicely with the sermon. It’s a prayer we should all pray when we don’t get what we pray for:

I asked for strength that I might achieve;

I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy;

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I had asked for,

but everything that I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

My brothers and sisters when we turn to other people and things to meet our needs, we turn away from God just like Israel did. There are so many people today who believe that if they can simply do this or that, then their lives will be fulfilled. They are very disappointed when they reach their goals and discover that the view from the top isn’t as great as they thought it would be. They try to hide their disappointment with drugs, alcohol sex or material goods. They reached their goals without asking God if their goals were compatible with his plans for their lives. God wants us to seek, ask and knock and in return he promises to answer our prayers. We need to plant our roots deep in the faith of who Jesus is and what he did for us. That way, when the storms of life hit us, we will remain strong.

If we are to be like Christ, we must also forgive others like God forgives us. We as Christians are to be faithful reflections of the image and values of God. How can the world learn of God’s forgiveness if we do not forgive others?

The story of the man who loaned the three loaves of bread is a metaphor for God’s promise to save his people. People in that area and culture took hospitality seriously at that time. Failing to show hospitality would bring shame on the host family because the traveler would go to other homes for help and tell everyone about the person who refused to show hospitality. God refuses to allow his name to be brought to shame, so he saves his people. In other words, he keeps his promises and shows his own version of hospitality.

So how do we keep our faith strong in the face of our modern, secular, godless society? One way is through studying the Scriptures and through prayer.

Society is filled with people like Hosea and Gomer-people whose lives are messed up, who don’t have it together, who make poor choices and live with the consequences. I know, because I’m one of them. We might pretend that we are prefect, but behind our perfect appearances lie deep flaws that exist in spite of our appearances to cover up our sinfulness.

As I started my sermon today so do I  repeat again, Our Christian life is not to be confined to a closet. Our belief must be revealed in our practice. If we walk in Christ, then we must act as Christ would act because Christ is in us, in our hopes, our love, our joy and our lives. We are the reflection of Jesus, and people will say of us, “They are like their Master. They live like Jesus Christ”.

In the Name of God, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen.

Deacon Tucker Messamore: God Will Break You Down?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 5C, Sunday, July 17, 2022 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: Amos 8.1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1.15-28; St. Luke 10.38-42.

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

“Therefore, God shall utterly bring you down; he shall take you and pluck you out of your tent and root you out of the land of the living” (Psalm 52:5). What was it like for you to hear these words read aloud this morning? How did it feel to recite them together? If I am honest, for me, it’s a bit jarring. It’s uncomfortable. These are not the sorts of words you might expect to hear during a church service. This is not, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). This is not, “I know the plans I have for you,  plans to prosper you and not to harm you” (Jeremiah 29:11). You’re probably not going to find Psalm 52:5 printed on wall hangings at Hobby Lobby.

But this is why I am thankful for the lectionary. It forces us to reckon with passages of Scripture we may otherwise avoid, texts that reveal to us truth about who God is and what He is up to in the world.Indeed, this psalm teaches us an important aspect of the gospel message: that there will be a day when the wicked will be held accountable for their atrocities, God’s people will be vindicated, and evil will be fully and finally defeated.

To fully understand and appreciate this psalm (or any passage of Scripture), we need to understand it in the context in which it was written. The psalm’s heading gives us a clue: “A maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, ‘David has come to the house of Ahimelech.’” David wrote this psalm during events that are described in 1 Samuel 21-22. At the time, Saul was king of Israel, but because of his sin and disobedience, God had rejected Saul and called David to be king instead. Following David’s famous defeat of the giant Goliath and military successes against the Philistines, Saul’s approval rating began to tank and public support in Israel began to shift toward David.

Saul was angry, jealous, and fearful, so he decides to kill David. David has to go on the lam, and he ends up in a place called Nob, hiding with a man named Ahimelech who was a priest of the Lord. Ahimelech and his fellow priests give David a place to stay and offer him some provisions. But a man named Doeg, who is “The chief of Saul’s herdsmen” happens to witness all of this (1 Samuel 21:7). 

Doeg informs Saul that David was sheltering in the house of Ahimelech. Saul summons the priests of Nob and confronts them about aiding and abetting the fugitive, David. Ahimelech admits to it, and Saul is furious. He orders his guards, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled and did not disclose it to me,” but Saul’s royal guards defy his command, refusing to shed innocent blood (1 Samuel 22:17). And so, Saul asks Doeg to slay them instead, and he does so without hesitation. Not only does he murder Ahimelech and 84 other priests, he slaughters innocent townspeople of Nob, “both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey, and sheep” (1 Samuel 22:18-19).

When David learns what has happened, he’s stricken with grief, and he pens this psalm. He laments the wickedness of Doeg, a man who not only commits atrocities, but who delights in them, boasting in his evil deeds (v. 1). The opening verses of the psalm describe Doeg as a deceiver, one who schemes and plots to harm others, one who “loves evil more than good” (vv. 2-4). This is pure, unadulterated wickedness on display. It’s violent and grotesque. 

Unfortunately, we do not have to look far to find this sort of evil around us today. We see news coverage about Ukraine and countries in Africa and the Middle East that are ravaged by violence and war. In our own country, innocent children are abused and exploited; vulnerable people become victims of sex trafficking. It seems like every week, we get report of another mass shooting.

What are we as Christians to do in light of this inescapable reality of the evil that pervades our world? Psalm 52 shows us four ways we should respond.

First, we should remember the fate of the wicked (v. 5). The psalm has been describing the sinister plots of Doeg, but there’s an obvious shift in v. 5: “But God…” No matter what a wicked person like Doeg may scheme or plot, it is God who ultimately has the last word. This verse uses violent images to describe the fate of the wicked: a wall being torn down, a person being snatched out their home, a tree being uprooted. All of these metaphors point to God’s wrath and judgment poured out on unrepentant evildoers.

Even though we may not immediately think of it as such, this is a precious gospel truth. We live in a world that has been wrecked by the curse of sin. God’s good creation is marred by the evil and atrocities we have been describing. But the good news of the gospel that God sent His Son into the world to redeem and restore His creation to what it was meant to be. This work, which reached its high point in the death and resurrection of Jesus, will one day culminate in Christ’s return, when the wicked who have not turned to Christ in repentance and faith will be punished, God’s people will be rescued from their suffering, and sin, death, suffering, and evil will be no more. Brothers and sisters, this day is coming.

Not only should we remember that his day is coming, but we should pray for God’s justice to prevail. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the psalms as the prayer book of the Bible. As we read and pray the psalm, we learn the vocabulary of prayer, the kinds of things that we ought to pray for.  This is significant because the psalter may lead us to pray in ways we might not be inclined to if we were left to our own devices.

Tish Harrison Warren, an author and Anglican priest in Texas, recently wrote an article for Christian Today which I would commend to you. It has a rather provocative title: “Go Ahead. Pray for Putin’s Demise.” The article is about Psalms like this one that point to God’s judgment on the wicked, as well as those that explicitly call for it—For example, Psalm 10:15 says, “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.” She argues that these psalms were written and included in Holy Scripture for times such as the ones we’re living in: “These psalms express our outrage about injustice unleashed on others, and they call on God to do something about it.” 

These psalms help us to take seriously the reality of evil and to recognize that evil cannot ultimately be overcome by human efforts, but through God’s divine work to bring about justice and peace. Warren concludes by saying, “I still pray, daily and earnestly, for Putin’s repentance. I pray that Russian soldiers would lay down their arms and defy their leaders. But this is a moment when I’m trusting [not only] in God’s mercy but also in his righteous, loving, and protective rage.” May we join her and the psalmists in praying for God’s justice.

Third, we should respond to the coming judgment by examining ourselves. After the psalmist vividly depicts the fate of the wicked in v. 5, he tells us how the righteous respond to the judgment of the wicked: “The righteous shall see and fear.” This may seem like a strange initial reaction. After all, as Christians, we know that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and that in Him, we need not fear God’s judgment, for in Him we have forgiveness from our sins, and nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:39). While this is certainly true, at the same time, we must acknowledge that evil is not just something that is out there, it’s in here, in our own hearts.

This is something God’s people Israel seemed blind to in the time of the prophet Amos. The book of Amos begins with the prophet announcing judgment on many Israel’s enemies: Syria, Philistia, and Phoenicia; the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Moabites. We can imagine Amos working his original audience into a frenzy as they salivated at the thought of their enemies getting their just desserts. 

But then comes a curve ball: Amos begins to announce God’s judgment on Israel too! In today’s OT reading, speaking through the prophet, God says, “The end has come upon my people Israel” (Amos 8:2). The majority of the book of Amos is devoted to God denouncing the unrepentant sin of his own people: their sexual immorality, their idolatry, their oppression of widows, orphans, and the poor. While Israel was quick to recognize and condemn the sins of their neighbors, they were slow to see the sin in their own lives.

This is a reminder for us to be watchful lest we become blind to the evil that can take root within us. May we pray for the God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden” to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts” by His Spirit.

Finally, in the face of evil around us, we should trust in the Lord. In contrast to the wicked person who trusts “in the abundance of his riches,” in v. 8b, David proclaims, “But I trust in the steadfast love of God, forever and ever.” He demonstrates that trust in the Lord in v. 9 when he says, “I will thank you forever, because you have done it.” What has God “done”? This statement refers back to v. 5, which, as we’ve seen, announces God’s ultimate judgment of the wicked. But that doesn’t seem to make sense. The psalmist says, “You have done it,” but the final judgment hasn’t happened yet. So what’s going on here?

David is so completely confident that God will do what He says He will do—bring the wicked to account—that he can speak of it in the past tense, as if it has already happened. God’s promises are sure, and David can trust in them completely. Brothers and sisters, this is what it looks like to live by faith. As see evil in the world around us, as we suffer from it personally in our own lives, history is moving towards a definite point, that God is making all things new, and that one-day evil will be fully and finally defeated.

We know this because Christ has already sealed this victory through his death and resurrection. As our communion liturgy reminds us, “Christ has risen from the tomb and scattered the darkness of death with light that will not fade . . . And though the night will overtake this day, [God] summon[s] us to live in endless light, the never-ceasing sabbath of the Lord.” May we rest in the good news of God’s sure and certain promise to bring an end to evil, wickedness, suffering, and pain, and may we pray for God’s justice to prevail—for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

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

Father Philip Sang: Righteous Anger

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4C, Sunday, July 10, 2022 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: Amos 7.7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1-14; St. Luke 10.25-37.

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

When I first looked at this morning’s scripture texts, I was fairly sure that I would preach on the Gospel story about the Good Samaritan. It’s such a classic story of our faith, and it offers us a lot to reflect on. And so my thoughts were centered on the question of what it means to be a good neighbor.

This theme was in my mind every day this week… every time I received a call from Kenya I heard what the country is going through and how people are struggling to put a meal on the table for their families. I did my best to offer what I could. I listened, I prayed, I comforted and encouraged. I directed towards help and I handed out a fair amount of financial assistance to help.

I felt, as I often do, a mixture of frustration and guilt that I could not do more, as well as a good feeling too, because I often felt that what I was able to offer did seem to help, to support, and to strengthen some families and individuals who really were in trouble and in need.

But on Thursday I turned back to the scriptures for today, and I noticed the prophet Amos and his angry words against King Jeroboam II and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos didn’t hold back his righteous anger against Israel and their king, and instead ask them politely to consider following the laws and commandments of God.

It was somewhere around the year 760 BCE, in the middle of the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel, and it was probably the most prosperous time that Israel had yet known – Prosperity built on trade in olive oil, wine, and possibly horses, with Egypt and especially with Assyria providing the markets.

But the prophets, of whom Amos was probably the most harsh, condemned the materialism and selfishness of the Israelite elite of their day. In the book of Kings, King Jeroboam is said to have “done evil in the eyes of the Lord,” meaning both the oppression of the poor and his continuing support of the cult centers of Dan and Bethel, in opposition to the temple in Jerusalem.

What is striking about Amos’ words is both the passion of his concern for the oppressed, and the power of his language. He declares that God is measuring things up, like a plumbline that checks the straightness of a foundation wall. And when God finds that the wall is not perfect – that Israel and its king are led by greed and selfishness and corruption, God is going to destroy them. God is going to send the wall crashing down. It’s going to be the end of an Israel that has failed to live up to their high calling as God’s chosen and beloved people.

Now, biblical history tells us that Jeroboam II’s reign comes to an end in 745 BCE, and by 722, the Northern Kingdom of Israel does come crashing down when it is conquered by the Kingdom of Assyria. And the prophets interpret that military victory for Assyria to be God’s doing because of Israel’s unfaithfulness and injustice towards the poor and oppressed.

People of faith today are much less likely to interpret the outcome of wars and conflicts between nations and peoples as related to God’s judgment and condemnation of one side or the other.

But what the prophets made clear, and what must be just as true today, is that God is not at all pleased with the continuing greed and materialism and selfishness and oppression of the poor that plagues our world today just as much as it gripped the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The psalmist in our reading today says that God was taking his seat in the divine council, that God was making his judgment over the “gods” (with small g) that seem to rule the world. God asks, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” And then God instructs, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; Maintain the rights of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; Deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

The psalmist is sure that the “gods” of the world, in Kenya they have coiled the word “deep state” to refer to them, have no real power. “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” Yes, God is sending them crashing down. God’s kingdom of love and peace and justice is coming. It is being established in our midst.

As I think about the Kingdom of God, I think about Jesus who came to proclaim its coming, who came to show us what it would look like, who came to usher it in and to empower people from all tribes and nations to participate in making it a reality.

There are only a few instances in the Gospels when we read about Jesus sharing the righteous anger of Amos against those who would oppress the poor and misrepresent the priorities of God. I’m thinking of the day that Jesus stormed into the temple, overturned the tables, and drove out the money changers.

Perhaps there are some appropriate times for people of faith to get angry… when women and children are abused and have nowhere to find help and safety, when medical care and food are not made available to all, when despite having welfare and disability programs, there are still so many people who have nowhere to turn to for help.

But Christ, whom we have been called to follow, was not just another prophet or a political activist. He proclaimed with his words, and enacted with his life, the truth that God’s Kingdom of love, justice, and peace was coming. Indeed, it had arrived.

The people of his time could see that kingdom coming as people were healed, lives were transformed, hungry bellies were filled, enemies were reconciled. With parables like “the Good Samaritan,” Jesus taught the common people and the elite alike to look for God’s Kingdom coming through the most unlikely people and situations. And he showed them that they were being called and enabled to participate in bringing that kingdom to its fullness.

I am sure that even after reflecting on these things this week, I am going to have moments when I get angry over things that are not really that important. But I hope, at those times, that I will think of Amos and his righteous anger. And I also know that even after reflecting on these things, I am still going to have moments when I get angry over things that are important – over child labor and human trafficking, over terrorism and war, over racism and discrimination, and over the systemic oppression of the poor and powerless. But I hope, at those times, that I will think of Jesus. I hope I will remember that he got angry too. But that he was not overcome by anger. He was not led by anger, but he was led by love.

Jesus said, “Love God, and love your neighbor.” He told the story of the Good Samaritan, and then he said, “Go and do likewise.” May God’s Spirit fill us, encourage us, and empower us, to be God’s faithful people and to live as Jesus taught us.

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

Deacon Tucker Messamore: The Scandal of Grace

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3C, Sunday, July 3, 2022 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: 2 Kings 5.1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6.1-16; St. Luke 10.1-11, 16-20.

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

This morning, we’re going to focus on our Old Testament lesson from 2 Kings 5:1-14 about Naaman, a man who is afflicted with leprosy. 

This story is not exactly one of the “greatest hits” of the Old Testament. It’s not David and Goliath or Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I had Noah’s Ark wallpaper in my childhood bedroom, but I’m going to guess there aren’t many parents who opt for a Naaman the Leper themed nursery. As someone who grew up in the church, I didn’t hear many Sunday School lessons, sermons, or Bible studies about Naaman. In fact, I’m not sure that I even know this passage was in the Bible until I was an adult. But I think this text really ought to get more play than it does. You see, in Naaman’s story, we get glimpses of the gospel: We see both the reality of our sin-sickness and the remedy for this malady—God’s gracious promise to heal us through the cleansing work of Christ.

First, we’ll see that Naaman’s account shows the reality of our sin-sickness (v. 1) 

In the opening verse of this passage, there is a clear contrast between Naaman’s status and Naaman’s sickness. In v. 1, we’re told Naaman is “a great man.” He has a very impressive resume. He’s in a position of authority and is probably well known. Naaman was “commander of the army of… Aram,” another name for Syria. Now, this was not some rag-tag band of volunteer soldiers; Naaman led one of the most powerful military forces on the planet. At that time, along with Assyria, Syria was a major world power intent on building an empire, and Naaman was quite successful in this enterprise. We’re told that “by him, the Lord had given victory to Aram.” Because he of his military prowess, Naaman was well-regarded; he was held “in high favor” by his boss, the King of Syria.

But for all his prestige, power, and accomplishments, Naaman had a problem: he was sick. After this list of all Naaman’s credentials and achievements, the other shoe drops at the end of v. 1: “But he was a leper.” In the Bible, “leprosy” was an umbrella term for several skin diseases, some that were temporary and minor—like a rash or an infection—and some that were chronic (even life-long), painful, and debilitating. Based on the lengths that Naaman goes through to seek healing, it’s likely we’re not talking about a touch of eczema or a mild case of psoriasis. Whatever the exact nature of his condition was, it’s clear that it seriously impacted his day-to-day life.

Being afflicted by such a disease would have been a source of great suffering. Not only could leprosy be painful and irritating, but it also isolated the one who had it from anyone who didn’t have it. According to Mosaic Law, a leper was considered “unclean as long as he has the disease… He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:46). Because some leprous skin diseases were contagious, in Israel, lepers had to live apart from their loved ones until their condition cleared up (if it ever did). Lepers were required to remain distant from others and shout, ‘Unclean, unclean!” when approaching another person (Leviticus 13:45). To make matters worse, lepers—and those who came in contact with them—were considered ritually unclean; they were not allowed to enter the temple for worship (2 Chronicles 26:21). For these reasons, lepers were considered outcasts. They were avoided and despised.

While Naaman was not an Israelite and was not subject to the rules and regulations of Jewish Law, it’s likely that his condition dealt some sort of a blow to his relationships and his status in Syrian society. The bottom line is that leprosy in biblical times led to all sorts of suffering—physical, social, and spiritual. It caused painful skin lesions and separated those infected by it from their family and from the public worship of God.

For this reason, leprosy provides a fitting image for the sin-sickness that afflicts all of humanity. Scripture tells us that sin is like a genetic illness—we inherited it from our ancestors Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12). We all have within us a sin nature that inclines us toward evil rather than good. Left untreated, sin grows and spreads within us like a cancer, corrupting our actions, our thoughts, and our motives. Like leprosy, our sin impacts our relationships with others. It can cause heartache, suffering, and harm to those who are in our orbit. Our sin also separates us from a perfectly holy God. As Romans 3:23 tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Ultimately, our sin-sickness is terminal. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin”—its prognosis, it’s outcome—“is death.,” and not just physical death, but eternal death—separation from God forever.

This is a grim diagnosis. But thanks be to God that in Jesus, the Great Physician, there is a remedy for our sin-sickness, as Naaman’s story illustrates for us (vv. 2-14). 

Naaman learns of the possibility of healing through an Israelite, a little girl who “worked in the service of Naaman’s wife” (v. 2). She tells her mistress about Elisha, a prophet in Israel who, by the power of the one true God, could cure Naaman of His leprosy (v. 3). But even though the little girl has given very clear advice about where to go to seek healing, notice that Naaman takes matters into his own hands, turning to the tools and methods he probably always employed to get what he wanted—his connections, his wealth, and his power. 

Instead of seeking a lowly prophet, Naaman goes straight to the person he thought was really in charge—the King of Israel; he brings a letter from the King of Syria demanding Naaman’s healing (vv. 4-6). But this plan backfires: the king of Israel recognizes that he is powerless to heal Naaman, and he fears that this is some sort of sneaky plot by Syria to reignite tensions with Israel and start a war (v. 7). Naaman’s riches also do no good. He makes a ridiculous display of his wealth, bringing about 750 lbs. of silver and 145 lbs. of gold (v. 5a), not realizing that neither God nor His prophet can be bribed or bought. Naaman’s attempts to wield his might likewise fail. When he finally goes looking for Elisha, he brings his horses and chariots (v. 9), sending the threatening message that he is important powerful. But Elisha is unmoved by this spectacle. Instead of speaking with Naaman face to face, he sends a message through a servant (v. 10).

Try as he might, Naaman could do nothing to earn or secure his healing. I love the way The Jesus Storybook Bible explains this: “[Naaman thought,] ‘I  should do something important so God will heal me’ . . . Of course, you and I both know, that’s not how God does things. All Naaman need was nothing. It was the one thing Naaman didn’t have.” Elisha tells him to simply “go and wash in the Jordan seven times . . . and you shall be clean” (v. 10). Of course, a mere bath was not enough to cure Naaman’s leprosy; if it was, he would have already tried it! Naaman was called to simply have faith—to believe that God’s promise of healing announced through the prophet was true. After some hesitation (vv. 11-13), this is exactly what takes place: “He went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God . . . and he was clean” (v. 14).

And this is precisely how we can be cured of our sin-sickness: by trusting in God’s promise to heal us through the cleansing work of Christ. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, He told them, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8). These words anticipated His sacrificial death on the cross; as St. John says, “The blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). 

Like Naaman, to receive this cure, all we must do is simply believe God’s promise that Christ has done everything needed to cleanse us of our sin and restore us into right relationship with Him and one another. This truth is beautifully visible in baptism. Cleansing is something that we passively receive; it’s not something we do, but something God does for us: As Titus 3:5 says, God saves “us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

This is the scandal of grace: cleansing from sin is not earned or deserved. This is probably not a revelation to you. If you’re an orthodox Christian, you readily affirm with St. Paul, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is foundational Christian doctrine. But when push comes to shove, do we really believe this? Naaman’s mindset easily creeps in as we consider our standing before God.

I’ve been reflecting on something a friend recently said during our home group: we have a natural human tendency to try to turn the gospel into law. On one level, I know that Christ has done everything necessary to heal my sin-sickness and reconcile me to God, and yet there are times in my life when I’ve thought, “If I am just more consistent with Scripture reading, if I just commit to pray more, then I’ll really be right with God.” Of course, these are important ways that we abide in Christ, means by which we can receive the grace Christ has already secured for us. But they are not ways we earn God’s favor. If we’re not careful, we make these precious gifts a burdensome duty.

Today, as we come to the Lord’s Table and partake of Christ’s body and blood, let us remember Christ’s words from Calvary: “It is finished” (John 19:30). This is the good news of the gospel. May we find comfort and rest in the completed work of Christ, knowing that our standing before God is secure in Him.

As I conclude, let’s very briefly return to an important but easily overlooked character in this story: the little girl who was a servant of Naaman’ wife. In v. 2, we learn that this girl was an Israelite and that “the Syrians on one of their raids had carried [her] off from the land of Israel.” At a very young age, she had been torn from her family, abducted to a foreign land, and made a slave, the property of another person. But in spite of the way she was treated by her oppressors, the girl had compassion on Naaman. She tells him the good news that a prophet in Israel could cure him. If it weren’t for her message, Naaman would not have been healed. He would not have come to know the one true God. 

As we come to the Lord’s Table, we are reminded that although our sin once separated us from God and alienated us from one another, we who were once far off—outcasts!—have been brought near to God and to one another by the cleansing blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13). Our liturgy ends with a call for us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” As we depart, wherever God takes us, may we, like the servant girl, bring the message of the gospel with us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may we proclaim to others in both word and deed the love of God and the promise of healing from sin in Christ.

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

What to Do When it Appears God Has Abandoned You

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2C, Sunday, June 26, 2022 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 texts below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Kings 2.1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77; Galatians 5.1, 13-25; St. Luke 9.51-62.

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

This morning I want to focus on our psalm lesson. What can we learn from it? How can it help us in our faith journey? Before we answer these questions, I want to read the first part of the psalm again from a different translation as I think it brings added clarity to the psalmist’s complaint:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me!/ When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted./ I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help./ You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!/ I think of the good old days, long since ended,/ when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and ponder the difference now./ Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me?/ Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed?/ Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?/ And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me” (Psalm 77.1-10, NLT).

So have you ever cried out to Lord in despair? If you are old enough you surely have. Some of us cry out to the Lord in despair over the state of our nation and the strident voices and lawlessness that are becoming increasingly prevalent. Some of us cry out to the Lord in despair over the “joys” of aging or over a catastrophic illness or over the desperate situation in which we might find ourselves or our loved ones. Whatever the reason for our cries, like the psalmist we who have a relationship with God search for him in hopes that God will comfort us or heal us or relieve our despair. After all, God is all-powerful, right? He raises the dead and creates things out of nothing. Nothing is too hard for him! And indeed, oftentimes God answers our prayers and we then proceed to go about our business acting like we don’t need God at all. But sometimes like the psalmist experiences, God seems to be strangely or even terrifyingly absent. We search for healing or peace or comfort or a sense of God’s presence and find none. If God’s perceived absence lasts too long our doubts and fears can grow like the psalmist’s did. We can’t sleep. We are overwhelmed with longing, desperately wanting God to answer his prayers. And then we ask the awful questions. Has God abandoned us forever? Has God rejected us forever? And more personally, has God stopped loving me because I am so rotten? In the past God has answered my prayers for help and has comforted me. But now? Where is God? Why doesn’t he hear my desperate prayers? Why will God not show me any compassion? All these questions can lead the psalmist and us to this terrible conclusion (not to mention a crisis of faith): God has turned his hand against me, i.e., God finally sees me as I really am, a sinner undeserving of his love and grace, and refuses to help me. Anyone here ever gotten to this point in your relationship with God? I did 22 years ago and I almost took my life as a result. This is very serious stuff about which we are talking and if you are in that boat right now, I encourage you to reach out to your priest, your family, and/or your friends, especially if they are Christians, because God can and does use human agency to heal and comfort us.

St. Paul understood how this all works. In our epistle lesson he reminds us in no uncertain terms that our sin-sickness causes alienation between God and his image-bearers and that alienation can produce the kind of emotional and spiritually dark state the psalmist experienced and we experience, whatever the issue was and is. So what to do? The psalmist along with the rest of Scripture tell us. We are to remember. We are to remember God’s promises to his image-bearing creatures in general and his people Israel in particular, promises to act on our behalf, to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and our own fallen nature with its corrupted desires. St. Paul catalogues a sample of the fruit of our sinful nature in our epistle lesson: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and all the other fruit of our alienation from God and each other that our slavery to Sin produces. But the psalmist remembers God’s power to act on our behalf, to free us from all kinds of slavery, and that’s why he remembers. He remembers especially God’s mighty act of deliverance for his people Israel when he brought them out of their slavery in Egypt and through the dark and terrible waters of the Red Sea to eventual freedom. God did this. God acted in Israel’s history because God loves his people and is gracious to them, even though they are unworthy of his great gifts. Likewise with us as God’s people in Christ, the reconstituted Israel.

Why else would the psalmist in his desperation seek to remember God’s mighty acts in the past? Why must we do likewise? Because they are proof positive that God does not abandon his people; rather, God acts on our behalf, undeserving as we are, because God loves us and is gracious toward us. Israel did not deserve its liberation. The people demonstrated that when they started grumbling about wanting to return to their slavery almost immediately after God liberated them! You can read that sad and compelling story in Exodus and Numbers. Nevertheless, God acted to free them, even though God knew beforehand what they were going to do. 

For Christians, of course, we are to remember God’s mighty acts of love and power demonstrated enigmatically on Calvary but definitively when God raised Christ from the dead. In Christ’s Death and Resurrection, God did a much greater thing than he did for Israel at the Exodus, jaw-dropping as the latter was. In Christ’s Death and Resurrection God freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power, the stuff St. Paul spoke about above, and defeated the darkest, most evil power of all—Death. But God the Father did not stop there. As Christ told his disciples at the Last Supper, after he had Ascended, he would not leave them (or us) as orphans and without hope or God’s power in this mortal life. No, we have the unseen Risen and Ascended Christ interceding for us at God’s right hand, NT language that proclaims Jesus is Lord over all, as well as the Holy Spirit who makes Christ available to us and intercedes on our behalf, even when we can only groan in desperation, not knowing what to pray for or how to ask for something. All of these gifts from God are real and they demonstrate God’s love for us and his willingness to act on our behalf. 

As a result we are no longer slaves to our fallen, sinful selves. To be sure our fallen nature rears its ugly head from time to time. After all, the very act of doubting God’s love for us is a product of our alienation between God and each other! But as St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, God does not leave us to our own devices. No, we are set free from our slavery to Sin and ruled by the Holy Spirit who empowers us and helps us to live and be as God created us to live and be, surely the mightiest of all God’s acts! The proof is in the pudding of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Whenever these fruit manifest themselves in our lives, we have proof that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in us, i.e., God is present and active in our lives, even when we consciously experience his absence. So like the psalmist, we as God’s people in Christ need to remember how God has acted on our behalf and how God continues to manifest his power in our lives, unlikely as that power appears to the unbelieving world. This is why the psalmist and the rest of Scripture tell us to remember. Why God seems to be strangely absent in our lives at times nobody knows. Why God doesn’t answer our prayers as we ask or seems to ignore our desperate situations nobody knows. What Scripture does tell us is that in all the ambiguities and mysteries and unanswered questions, God’s absence isn’t necessarily a sign God has abandoned us or is punishing us, although the latter is sometimes true, especially when we go off the rails for extended periods of time. But God never rejects a humble and contrite heart. Ever. God never rejects our sincere penance. Ever. God never ultimately rejects us unless we ultimately reject God. Christ’s Death on the cross is proof of that, thanks be to God! 

So what do we do when we are in desperate times, wondering if God has abandoned us? Well, many of us try to tough it out on our own. Instead of remembering that God is faithful to his people, we seek human solutions to alleviate our desperation. How’s that working out for you? I know it never has worked for me. No, as we have seen, we are called to remember, both collectively and individually, and then to rely on each other to remind ourselves that God never leaves us alone. In other words, we are to love each other and be there for each other when we sense God’s absence, just the way all healthy families help each other in good times and bad. Never underestimate the power of godly folk to help lighten your load as they walk with you through the dark valleys of life. The very act of remembering and relying on each other help us focus on God instead of ourselves. It reminds us to be patient and to trust God to act on our behalf in God’s good time and ways. That’s not easy for us god-wannabes but it is the only real option we have if we are not to totally lose heart and hope. When we remember, we are reminded that God is not some inconsistent ogre who delights in torturing us or who behaves erratically toward us as we do toward God and each other. God loved us enough to become human and die for us to free us from his just condemnation and an eternity apart from him, even while we were still sinners and his enemies. If God loves us that much, why would God abandon us now in our darkest hours? St. Paul comes to this exact conclusion in his letter to the Romans: 

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since [God] did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? [Therefore] I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.31-32, 38-39, NLT).

In this mortal life there are always going to be desperate times. When those desperate times occur in our lives Scripture tells us to double down in our efforts to focus on God and put our trust in him, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how dark the valley. God may not rescue us as we expect or hope, but we all have the assurance that God has indeed rescued us from the gravest danger of all: Death and eternal separation from him. God has broken the power of Sin and Death and promises us an eternity with him in his new world, a world without Evil or Sin or Death, a world that is full of perfect life and health forever. Don’t let your fears and weaknesses rob you of the spectacular hope contained in this promise, my beloved. Remember instead God’s willingness and ability to act on our behalf and for our benefit. 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: God’s Presence in Stillness and Silence

Happy Fathers’ Day! Sermon delivered on Trinity 1C, Sunday, June 19, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 19.1-15a; Psalms 42-43; Galatians 3.23-29; St. Luke 8.26-39.

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

Why is it that sometimes Jesus asks obvious questions? like to blind Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?”—Mark 10. And sometimes he just acts?

“What have you to do with me, Jesus?” This question was asked after Jesus started to work. That’s kind of curious, don’t you think? The demons knew who Jesus was and what he could do. Indeed, Jesus had already spoken and told them to come out. But they played dumb, they recognize Jesus, but they don’t really want to obey him. They want to argue with him or negotiate with him.

Living with brokenness, living with hatred, living in fear doesn’t make any sense. Not to Jesus. He decided not to ask any questions at first; he was just trying to get rid of the problem, until when the negotiation started.

Jesus knows what we need, but is always willing to let us self-determine, even if our choices make things worse. Jesus was going to send the demons out of the mad man; but they chose or determined to ride the pigs. I know, I don’t want to go too far with this metaphor.

Demons can be a slippery subject for any of us. But it is somewhat ironic that the legion or rather the demons asks for a ride on the pigs instead of being sent to the abyss. Except that as soon as they get on the pigs, they end up in the abyss. The very thing they wanted to avoid becomes their fate—their self-determined fate. And Jesus lets them because they asked. Just like Jesus left because the villagers asked. After that miracle of driving demons out of the man, the villagers asked Jesus to leave their village. It was fear that caused them to send Jesus away. Luke says coming and finding the one they knew to be crazy now clothed and in his right mind scared them. It was a change that unsettled them. That’s kind of scary. So, they got together and stirred up their fears and all went to Jesus and asked him to leave. So, they could be safe, and feel great again. “What do you have to do with me, Jesus?” That’s our question too. “What changes will you effect in our lives? What growth will you seek? What effort will you require?”

“What have you to do with me” becomes a man who begged to be with him. The fear that was pushing away becomes a love that desires to move closer. He wanted to be with him, now clothed and in his right mind, all he could think to do was to stay with Jesus.

Reading from the Gospel, the man didn’t stay with Jesus in the way he probably imagined when he made his request. Instead, like us, he stayed with Jesus by telling his story to everyone he met. He chose, having been rescued from a life of despair, to live a life of hope and of joy, sharing the love of Jesus with all he encountered. He was now in his right mind, Luke says, clothed and in his right mind. And that mind was focused on the mind of Christ as Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 2:5). But what was that mind? It was a right mind, a mind of longing and of serving and of hoping and of following. It is a mind of discipleship. We are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But that making process is one of transformation as well. We are being transformed, even as we seek to transform the world. We say here at St. Augustines “we are changed by God to make a difference for God”. To be a follower of Christ, is to be other-centered, outward-focused; it is to see other people, even before seeing self.

To get there, we have to be quiet. We have to set ourselves aside and listen to a profound silence. From our OT reading Elijah had come to the end of himself—the end of his strength, the end of his wisdom. And it is only in the strength of God’s presence that he could hope to continue his life’s journey. He was ready to give up. You’ve been there, maybe not to the degree of wanting to die. Or maybe you have. Maybe someone you love or know has been there. It’s a place of despair, of surrender. It is not a place for condemnation, or shame, but of silence.

We see God leads prophet Elijah to the mountain and let him experience a rock-shattering wind, then a mountain-shaking earthquake, and then fire. At this moment Elijah felt, abandoned and alone, persecuted, hunted and hounded by his enemies of course Jezebel and her team and Elijah was at the end of his strength.

But the text says God was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. In the loudness of this terrifying world, God is not in the destructive forces that beset us when we’re at our worst. So, where was God? The text says God was in the silence.

Come to think of it, what is happening on that mountain is hard to imagine. It sounds like God sends Elijah to the mountain; yet at the same time, it sounds like God doesn’t want him there. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Maybe God is asking for the prophet to do an identity check, or to present his to-do list. But maybe we should read it as “Why are you still here?” Elijah’s rebuttal is that he’s doing his best. And sometimes it feels as if he is the only one doing any work here, the only one putting his life at risk, the only one who represents the true God of Israel. Does his complaint include God? “I alone am left,” says Elijah, which might be another way of saying, “Where have you been?”

So, what is it with the silence versus the madness of the destructive forces of nature? Could it be that God is announcing God’s presence in ways that often get overlooked? We want the big show; we want lightning and thunder to announce God’s presence. We want it to be so obvious that it would be hard to doubt. And there have been those moments, to be sure. But here in this moment, God announces that God works in quieter ways, obscure ways, ways that seem natural, like in the everyday decisions that we make all the time. God is at work in and through what happens around us, even when it doesn’t seem like it. God is present, even when it feels like absence. God is acting, even when it feels like stillness.

The man in the cemetery in the country of the Gerasenes was a force of nature who became a stillness. He moved from the earthquake of his madness to the silence of his right mind, a mind set on following Christ. Elijah was running for his life, so afraid of being killed that he wanted to die; then he encountered the silence and found the God he was longing for. He moved from despair to hope, fear to mission, and got back to work for the God he served. It is my prayer that in the madness, turmoil and craziness of this world that we may be still, and feel the presence of God in the silence and be hopeful and allow God to change us to make a difference for Him. If he did it for the man in the country of Gerasenes and for Elijah he can do it for us.

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

Deacon Tucker Messamore: The Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 12, 2022 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: Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5.1-5; St. John 16.12-15.

“The Catholic Faith is this: We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.”

These words come the Athanasian Creed which summarizes a proper Christian understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe—and Scripture affirms—that there is one God who exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not three gods, not one God who goes by three different names, but as the Thirty-Nine Articles puts it, “There is but one living and true God… And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

This is some mind-bending stuff, right? It’s difficult to explain and understand. How can God be both one and three? The math doesn’t seem to add up. It’s beyond our comprehension. It defies human logic.

Although many have sought to find an analogy to the Trinity in nature or human life—the phases of water, the parts of an egg, Neapolitan ice cream—all of them ultimately break down and fail to capture the mystery and complexity of the Triune God.

This begs the question: is the Trinity really that important? Is this just some obscure component of Christian doctrine that philosophers and theologians debate? Does it have any kind of bearing on our day to day lives? Does the Trinity actually matter

This morning, I hope we will see that the answer to that last question is a resounding yes. Just because the Trinity is beyond our comprehension does not mean it’s not worth our contemplation. There is a reason the Church Fathers fought to clearly articulate the doctrine of the Trinity and to defend it against those who denied it. The Trinity does matter. It is central to our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us, and it has practical significance for the Christian life. 

As we take a closer look at our lectionary texts, we’re going to focus on one specific implication of this doctrine: it’s through the lens of the Trinity that we get a clear picture of the love of God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

First, the Trinity helps us see God’s love in who God is.

Our two readings from the Old Testament point us back to Creation. Psalm 8 identifies God as Creator. The heavens, the moon, the stars, and all creation is God’s craftsmanship, the “work of [His] fingers” (v. 4a). Of course, we know this to be true from the very first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

But notice that our reading from Proverbs 8 suggests that when God the Father created all things, He was not alone: “When [Yahweh] established the heavens, I was there . . . when he made first them skies above . . . when he assigned the sea its limit . . . I was beside Him, like a master worker (Proverbs 8:27-30). Not only does the speaker claim to be present at Creation, but also to have taken an active role in it. In fact, we’re told that this One existed with God “before the beginning of the earth” (Proverbs 8:23). The speaker here is God’s Wisdom portrayed as a person. But this is more than just imagery. It’s more than just a creative way of talking about God’s wisdom. Many theologians identify God’s Wisdom in Proverbs 8 with God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.

This is similar to what St. John says in the prologue of His gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1, 3).

St. John identifies Jesus with God’s spoken the Word, the power by which He brought all things into being— “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3).

Gen. 1:2 likewise shows the Holy Spirit’s involvement in creation: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” 

Creation, then, was the work of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is why in Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” While we don’t have a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament, we see the fingerprints of the Triune God from the very beginning, even before the beginning.

What I want us to see here is that God has always been three-in-one. As the Athanasian Creed puts it, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “coeternal.” This helps us to understand a rather enigmatic statement about God in the New Testament: that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). That sounds nice, but what does it really mean? Notice that St. John is not talking about God’s characteristics; He doesn’t say that God is loving or that God shows us love, but that God is love. He is telling us something about who God is in His essence. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals what this means: throughout all eternity, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit have existed in what theologian Timothy George calls “ a holy community of love” (George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?, 83). 

This has important implications for how we think about Creation and about God’s love for us. Have you ever thought about why God created human beings? Was it because He was lonely and needed a companion? Was it because He needed someone to worship him? No! God did not create us because He lacked something or needed something from us but to invite us to share in the love that He has always enjoyed within Himself. As George puts it, “God has chosen to love us on the basis of his own free will and not out of coercion or necessity. With full intentionality he has decided not to remain a divine cocoon within Himself.” (p. 84). Brothers and sisters, what greater love could there be than this?

The Trinity enables us to see God’s love in who God is. But it also helps us see God’s love in what God has done.

While our Old Testament lessons pointed us to creation as a work of the Trinity, our New Testament texts show us the Trinity at work in salvation. As we’ve seen, God created humankind that we might participate in the love He has always shared within Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. But when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, sin, death, and suffering entered into the world. Humanity’s relationship with God was marred. Conscious of their sin and of God’s holiness, Adam and Eve “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8b). The curse of sin wrecked God’s good creation and prevented mankind from enjoying full and perfect fellowship with God.

But God was not content to abandon the people He created to sin, death, and exile from His presence.  Out of love for us, the Father, Son, and Spirit act in perfect unity, but each with a distinct role, to rescue us from the effects of sin. As John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Even in that most famous verse from the Bible, we bump up against the doctrine of the Trinity. Because of His love for us, God the Father purposes salvation and sends the Son.

Because God the Son loves us, He takes on human flesh and stands in our place on the cross, taking upon Himself the wrath of God, the punishment that we deserve for our sin. Through the work of God the Son, our New Testament lesson tells us that we can be reconciled to God the Father: We are “justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Just as the Father sends the Son, so the Father and the Son send us the Holy Spirit who according to our readings “guides [us] ins all truth” (John 16:13) and “[pours] God’s love . . . into our hearts” (Romans 5:5). The Spirit also fill us with the “hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:1, 5). Through the Spirit, we experience God’s indwelling presence, but this is just a “down payment” (c.f. Eph. 1:14), a guarantee that we will one day have complete fellowship with God in the new heavens and the new earth, free from sin, suffering, and death.

Because of the redemptive work of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we have the hope that one day we will share perfectly in the love of the Triune God, just as God intended from the beginning.

As we close this morning, I want to share one final practical implication of the doctrine of the Trinity, an observation I came across in a Trinity Sunday reflection from Fr. Greg Gobel. As we have seen today, the Father, Son, and Spirit are one God—they are perfectly united—yet they are each distinct persons with their own roles. In the Trinity, we see the perfect cohesion and unity and personality.

We live in a world that seems more disunified today than ever. We are divided along racial, political, and socio-economic lines. But the good news of the gospel is that God is not only reconciling us to Himself, but to each other, that we might be one just as He is One. One day, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will dwell together in perfect unity with God and with one another. As Fr. Greg puts it, “We will live forever as one with God [and each other], through Christ, and yet will continue to fully be our unique selves.”

We get a glimpse of this coming unity in part now through the Church, the body of Christ, made up of many members united together in Him. As we come to the Lord’s Table today, together we will affirm, “Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.” May we remember that the day is coming when we will dwell with God and with one another in perfect unity and perfect love.

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

Father Philip Sang: Pentecost Power From On High

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 12, 2022 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: Acts 2.1-11; Psalm 104.26-37; Romans 8.14-17; John 14.8-17, 25-27.

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

Why did Jesus tell the apostles to wait until the Holy Spirit fell upon them before carrying out the Great Commission?

The last sixty days before Pentecost must have been incredibly strange to the 12 apostles.
In that period one of them Judas Iscariot was replaced by another apostle, Matthias. It all started on what we call Palm Sunday.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey ahead of the most nationalistic feasts of Judaism, all eyes were on Him. They expected Jesus to rise up and throw the hated Romans out. But as he comes into Jerusalem, he turns towards the Temple rather than towards the Roman garrison in the town. And He then proceeds to cleanse the Temple (cf Mt 21 :12-17). And then we have the Last Supper and the Institution of the Holy Communion service on what we recall as Maundy Thursday.

And then the Disciples (and by Disciples I am including the women like Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus), had seen how suddenly public opinion had changed and Jesus had been crucified, as we recall on Good Friday each year.

And so far as the rulers in Jerusalem were concerned that SHOULD have been the end of this annoying little sect. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead three days after his Crucifixion. And we celebrate this each year as Easter Day. And although we don’t know the exact year, most historians put it either as in 30 AD or in 33 AD. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one event that the early Church gave for its phenomenal success. We don’t know exactly how many people saw the risen Christ. However we are told the resurrected Jesus was seen by many.

And then within 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection he bodily ascended into heaven an event we remember on each year as Ascension Day, traditionally on a Thursday – 10 days before Pentecost. Which we moved to last week Sunday, that Father Wylie preached.

Now in that 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection to his Ascension, Jesus gave his Church what is known as the “Great Commission” just before he left this earth. He told them “ Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you till the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19 and 20).

However, it must have been bizarre to the disciples that Jesus gave them very clear instructions when they were to start fulfilling the Great Commission. In Acts 1, Jesus said “But you shall receive Power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1 v.8). So my first question is Why were they to WAIT rather than start evangelizing right away? One reason, I think was that the disciples’ minds were probably still scrambled by the events that had happened. It still would have been hard for them to think straight.

But the second more important reason was that they needed to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to enable the disciples to fulfil the Great Commission. Bringing people to Christ is a spiritual battle. It is not simply an intellectual discussion – as you might have if you were discussing politics. The spiritual battle for people’s hearts can only be won on the spiritual battlefield – and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to succeed.

And note how much time, the disciples spent in prayer in Acts 1 and 2. The Acts 2 outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred in a prayer meeting. It must have been very daunting for the disciples, when they first heard it. But what they also were learning was when Jesus asks us to do something – he provides us with the means to do it.

And so the second question I’d like to pose was WHY did God PICK Pentecost for the outpouring of His Spirit and the launch of the Christian mission to the world? Why did Jesus make such a fuss about the timing? There are a number of reasons but I believe the prime reason is that the actual meaning of the Feast explains to us much of what is going on.

Let me go a little into the background. The Jews had three major festivals in their calendar year, which all male Jews were expected to attend. Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks) was the second major festival of the Jewish year – and always took place 50 days after Passover.

Pentecost is a harvest festival – at the beginning of the wheat harvest – when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented to God. When the Power of God came down on the disciples at Pentecost, I believe God was saying that this is the beginning of the spiritual harvest – a harvest which is still going on today almost 2000 years later. The spiritual harvest is the building of Christ’s church here on earth, of which we are all called to be a part regardless of where we live.

From our reading this morning from the Book of Acts, we can see three principles for success in this spiritual harvest.
1. The disciples consulted with and obeyed Jesus
2. The disciples couldn’t do it in their own strength. They needed the Power from on high
3. The disciple’s message was founded in God’s word

The first principle for success in the spiritual harvest is listening to and obeying Jesus
After giving his disciples the Great Commission, Jesus told them to wait. He didn’t explain to them why – though we can now see why with hindsight. They were only going to be successful when they received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But there is a lesson for us too. The disciples had to learn simply to trust Jesus’ word. If we are going to be servants of Christ, we have to learn to trust in WHAT he tells us to do. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until power from on high comes upon them.

So what did they do? Did they spend their time watching TV? No, they spent their time in prayer – in preparation. In Acts 1:14 we read: “They all joined together, constantly in prayer.” They got ready for action. Prayer is the power-house of the Christian life. If we are despondent with the lack of response in our villages to our churches, we must start with prayer. Prayer is the preparation for everything that we wish to do in Christ. It puts us in touch with HQ – with our Commander in Chief.

The second principle for success in this spiritual harvest is the realization that we can only do it in the Power of the Holy Spirit. God asks us to be willing – but we don’t have to preach the Gospel in our own strength. The Church isn’t our worry – it’s God’s worry. It has been said: “Why pray when you can worry!!” If we are going to do God’s work, we need to do it in HIS strength and not our own. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. The Acts 2 experience changed the disciples. It gave them power and boldness.

The third principle for success in the spiritual harvest is that the disciples founded their message in the Scriptures. The only Scriptures that St. Peter has was the Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written. Yet Peter was well versed in his Scriptures. On the Day of Pentecost, he stands up to explain what is going on. Peter defended the event through Scripture – explaining that this event had been foretold 800 years earlier by one of the minor prophets – Joel. His quotation from the book of Joel shows that he knew his Bible well. He was able to find his experience and the experience of the other believers in Scripture, because he spent time with the Word of God.

Many of our modern day Sects get away with their false teaching because many don’t know the Word of God. God has revealed himself in the Scriptures and any genuine Christian experience will be biblically based. What is happening here Peter says conforms to Scripture. Joel prophesied it.

As I conclude, I find it of great comfort to know that growth in our church is not my worry. It’s God’s worry. However, we are called to work for and with God in the spiritual harvest and so we have responsibilities for the success of the operation.

Our first responsibility is that we need to hear what God is saying to us and obey him. The disciples were told to wait in Acts 1 – and that is what they did. This enabled God to release his power for them. And it is interesting to note that on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted. How did the disciples know the will of God – they spent a lot of time in prayer.

Our second responsibility is to ask for power to preach the Gospel. We need to ask for strength and boldness to proclaim Christ – at the right time.

Our third responsibility is to know our Scripture well. If we are going to preach the Gospel successfully, we need to be rooted or founded in Scripture.

May the Lord help us to be faithful followers of Christ 

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

Father Jonathon Wylie: Hope and the Ascension of Christ

Sermon delivered on Ascension Sunday (transferred), May 29, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

Bishop Emmanuel Chemengich: Effective Sharing of the Gospel

Sermon delivered on Easter 6C, Sunday, May 22, 2022 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: Acts16.9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21.10, 22-22.5; St. John 14.23-29.


I greet you all in Jesus’ name!

It is a joy to come back to St. Augustine Anglican Church. I congratulate you on acquiring new facility to worship God. And praying for your transition to new Rector, and also for a blessed retirement of Fr. Kevin. 

Thanks for supporting the Diocese of Kitale with scholarship for theological students. God bless you for it!

I will use the story of the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16, the first European to accept Christ, and highlight lessons we learn from it on effective ways to share the gospel of Christ. 

I present this message in 2 parts:

  1. Why Sharing the Gospel is Important?
  2. Three Effective Ways of Sharing the Gospel Sharing

Let me introduce this sermon by sharing the story of Lydia, the first convert to Christian faith in Europe to help give us the context and prepare us for this sermon.

Paul and Silas, and now Luke and Timothy have crossed the Sea from Troas to Neapolis, which marks change of direction from Asia to Europe. The Holy Spirit had forbidden them to preach in Asia (16:6-8). So, they went to Philippi because it was the leading city in the colony of Macedonia. On Sabbath day, they sought a place to pray by the riverside because there was no synagogue in this Gentile city. Here they could baptize those who had accepted Christ and believers went there to pray.

Lydia was a Gentile woman of means, and she was god-fearing having left paganism, but had not heard the Gospel of Christ nor baptized. But after hearing the Gospel, Lydia believed, she was baptized, and started serving God by hosting apostles and the first Christian home in Europe. 

I – Why Sharing the Gospel is Important for Christians? 

  1. It is the only way for God to save the world!

It is the only way and means to save the world from the consequences of sin or evil. The Bible tells us that sin and Devil comes to steal, destroy, and kill (Jn.10:10), and that all who are in sin will be destroyed (Jer.6:21 & Rom.6:23). 

After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost in Acts 2, the disciples of Jesus went to different directions as eyewitnesses in preaching the gospel of Christ as mandated by Him Matt.28:16-20.

Today, this remains the urgent mission for the Christians and the church. To be a Christian and follower of Jesus we affirm the fact that each one of us is called to share what we have received and experienced from Jesus (Luke 24:39, Luke 24:42-43, Acts 1:4, Mt 28:9, John 21:9) and become the basis for the preaching. Disciples could not keep it to themselves!

  • It demonstrates God’s love to the World!

Sharing the gospel displays God’s nature of love and mercy. John 3:16 shows how God in His love send Jesus to die on the cross to save us from perishing from sin. 

Several Parables of Jesus reveal God as a ‘Searching Father’, looking for the lost, actively seeking them, and rejoicingwhen they are found.  

An important part of Character of God is His mercy to the undeserving – not only those who we stumble upon, but an active mission and outreach programme of seeking out the hurting and oppressed, the blind and the imprisoned (Luke 4:18-19). That is the message of the cross, the message of active love! 

The disciples must become like the Master, who was driven by love and passion for the lost: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). We share the gospel because it reveals God’s nature of love to restore the lost humanity from perishing. 

  • It is the reason You and I are Christians today!

It is because of sharing the gospel that you and I are Christians today and live with the hope of life now and into eternity. By Paul sharing the gospel, Lydia got converted which opened the doors for Christianity of Europe. And when Europe shared the gospel, North America and Africa got salvation. And faithful believers, generation after generation, have handed over the gospel until you here at St. Augustine Church are worshipping Jesus today. 

We would not be Christians if it were not for God to reach out to me and you by sending Jesus to die on the Cross, instead, we would be lost and perished in sin!

All these 3 reasons are critical for a young, newly planted congregation like St. Augustine, and ACNA at large. Your church will grow like the Early Church by intentional sharing of the gospel so others can come join you. Sharing the gospel is not an option, but a mandatory obligation and strategy that the Holy Spirit uses to grow Christ’s church! 

II – 3 Effective Ways of Sharing the Gospel

Let us look at 3 ways for effective sharing of the Gospel we learn from the conversion of Lydia:

  1. Involve God at Every Stage of Sharing the Gospel!

Like all God’s mission work, God is the alpha and the omega, He begins it and completes the work of gospel sharing. God begins by sending Paul and also preparing Lydia’s heart. He was the One who directed Paul and his team to Philippi from Asia to Europe. And it is God who opens the heart of Lydia to accept salvation.

 We see how God convicts and prepares the listener in John 1:12-13, Rom.9:16 and Phil.2:13.

To succeed in gospel sharing, we must be prayerful to invite God to start and end well the sharing of the gospel. No human being can take credit or glory for evangelism work. Ours is only a little part of being available to be the mouthpiece of God, but God makes it work out successfully.

  • Proclaim the Gospel by Personal Evangelism!

The second effective way to share the good news is to proclaim the gospel truth personally, one-on-one. Lydia would never have heard the gospel if Paul and his team did not accept the call to proclaim the gospel truth to her. 

Apostle Paul makes this truth clear in Rom.10:14-17, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news’”. See also, 1 Cor.9:22

Since creation to our day, God’s plan remains using the human means to achieve divine ends. Every believer is an apostle, ‘the sent ones.’ For others to be saved, you and I must tell them the gospel, or at least get them to somewhere where they can hear it. But because most don’t want to come here, so you must tell them out there.

Let us not be mistaken, my brothers and sisters, it is not just the priest who should share the gospel, but believers. That is why once Lydia was baptized, she went and shared it with her family, and they were all baptized (16:15a). She was probably a widow and head of her family.

Lydia was effective in personal evangelism to her family and are we to our families and to our friends. There is no better effective evangelism than personal evangelism. 

Paul puts it well in 2 Cor.5:11, “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God and I hope it is known also to your conscience”.

A good mark of true conversion is when one has a strong desire to immediately share with others their new faith. 

We are all commanded to share the gospel with our families, friends and personal contacts and make sure they know and obey the gospel! 

Don’t let the day or week go without sharing the gospel in your household and family members. 

  • Invite New Believers to Personal Transformation!

The third effective way of sharing the gospel is to invite the new believer into personal transformation of living like Jesus and serving like Jesus. Sharing the gospel is not complete until the believer conforms to the lifestyle of Jesus and becomes a disciple. 

After receiving the gospel, Lydia shows her true conversion by expressing her desire to serve. The text shows how she pleaded to host and support Paul and his team. She began serving in the Kingdom immediately.

Paul puts it well in 2 Cor 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new come.

Salvation demands transformation of our lives. For some it is dramatic, for others it is less so, but desires will be transformed. If you have no desire for Christ or His kingdom, you may be deceived. 

The early believers in the Book of Acts were so obedient to Jesus and His teachings that other people knew for certain they were His followers. There was something distinct about the way they spoke, acted, and lived that showed others they were followers of Christ. It’s something to think about when considering our own lives.

Do I love like he does?  Jesus’ own words tell us “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”(Romans 5:5). We have His power to love and serve others in His name. Jesus’ love was pure and sacrificial. Likewise, our love should cost us something. It may be in the form of material goods, but it also may be the sacrifice of extra patience, our time, etc. Each of us should ask self – (i) Is my life lived humbly and in humility as Jesus did? (ii) Do I forgive like Jesus? (iii) Do others see Jesus through me?

The key mark of the Christian when they bear fruit of the Christian faith. The extent to which we bear fruit of the Spirit is the extent to which we are a Christian or not.  So, our identity as a Christian is depended on whether we bear the fruit of Christian faith or not. We shall be judged by the fruit we produce, not by the spiritual gifts we had, or church activities we performed (1 Cor.13:1-3)! 

A WhatsApp message circulating recently states it well this way, “Many Christians grow up in the church, but never grow in Christ. They know hymns, but they don’t know Him”. 

My brothers and sisters the effective way to share the gospel is by calling people to be transformed and to live and serve like Jesus!


I end this message with the way Jesus sought the lost and a story to cement it!

During his earthly ministry, Jesus searched for two different kinds of people: 

(1) those who had never known him and were alienated from a life of faith.  These included, the taxi collectors & sinners. 

Question: How many non-believers, unchurched and alienated people are out there that need us to evangelize to?  

Is St. Augustine reaching people who live in neighborhood around this church building? Are you reaching out to them so they are not lost? Are you reaching those living in immoral lifestyle of corruption, alcoholism, prostitution, drugs, etc.? In other words, ‘Who is seeking the lost’?

(2) those religious leaders, like Pharisees, who did not want to associate with sinners so they don’t compromise their faith. For us, this could me some of us church goers who are believe we are too holy and set apart to reach out to others.

Remember that Lydia was religious or god-fearing, what Acts 16:14 calls, “worshiper of God”, but was not a Christian!  

Question: Are there categories of people we are not sharing the gospel with because they don’t fit our category?

Are you sharing the gospel with the religious category? Those who are regular attend worship but have not known Christ? 

To religious leaders, Jesus said elsewhere in Matt. 21:31, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you”. They were not happy with Jesus for attacking their integrity and their faith.

As today’s church, we must follow the example of Jesus and His apostle in having passion to find the lost and share the gospel.  So, the most important thing we Christians and the Church should do is to reach out to those who need to hear the good news about Jesus. Everything else is secondary. We are told in 2 Peter 3:9 that, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

And in reaching out to the sinners, personal and persistent contact is a key factor. This is illustrated by a story told by one preacher: 

There was once a young man who courted a young lady in a very unusual way. Every day for one full year he sent her a special delivery letter. And so every day for 365 days she received a letter that he sent to her. Finally, one year later, she married. But she didn’t marry the young man who mailed all those letters. She married the postman who delivered them. After all, personal persistent contact makes all the difference!


Father Jonathon Wylie: The Gospel is for All

Sermon delivered on Easter 5C, Sunday, May 15, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie is a slug and gets all whiny when we ask for a written manuscript. Nobody’s got time for a whiny priest, especially during Eastertide, so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21.1-6; St. John 13.31-35.