Resurrection: The Foundation of Our Faith

Sermon delivered on Lent 5A, Sunday, March 29, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Ezekiel 37.1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8.6-11; St. John 11.1-45.

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

Today we hold the final Scrutiny of our confirmands, where we pray for them and show them our love and support as they continue to grow in their relationship with Christ. As was the case previously, this sermon is aimed primarily at them, although the rest of us really need to hear what our lessons have to say. Specifically I want us to look at what it means to be resurrection peeps.

You recall that two weeks ago we saw that you are to die for in God’s loving eyes. As St. Paul taught us, we know that God became human (or in the language of the NT, God sent his Son) to die for us while we were still God’s enemies and unreconciled to him! God didn’t wait for us to change our ways or end our hostile feelings toward him before he sent his Son to die for us. Then last week we saw why we are to die for (besides the fact that God loves us so much). Christ’s death frees us from our slavery to the power of Sin (although we will all sin occasionally) so that we can once again be God’s image-bearers as God created and intended us to be. As his image-bearers, we shine the light of Christ’s goodness, truth, mercy, and love on a sin-sick world and its people, modeling for them how God wants us to think, speak, and behave as fully human beings, and inviting others to give their lives to Christ as we have. We also saw that because the world is so sin-sick and corrupted, we should expect to get a lot of opposition to living out our faith and proclaiming the truth of the gospel. Consequently, we should be prepared to suffer for Christ because he suffered for us and died to rescue us from permanent death and God’s awful but right judgment on our sin and everything evil in his world that corrupts and poisons his beloved creation and us. 

Today, despite the fact that we are still in the season of Lent, our readings point us to the culmination of Lent: Easter, with its joyous celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. If we don’t get the resurrection right, our faith will eventually fold like a bad poker hand, so it is critical for us to look at what it means to be resurrection peeps. We start with our OT lesson and the prophet Ezekiel’s spectacular vision of resurrection for God’s people Israel (you do remember that prophets were God’s spokesmen and women who proclaimed God’s truth to God’s people and often paid a heavy price for doing so because God’s people back then didn’t like hearing God’s truth any more than many of us do today!). While Ezekiel’s vision had more to do with God’s promise to return and restore his people from their exile in Babylon rather than the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns to finish the work he started in his mortal life, we can learn about the nature of resurrection from Ezekiel’s vision because it reminds us that resurrection is all about getting new bodies. Resurrection isn’t another term that refers to life after death (as in dying and going to heaven to live with Jesus) as a spirit without a body. Neither does resurrection mean being alive in some kind of spiritual sense where we remember our dead loved ones. No, resurrection refers to a new bodily existence where our mortal bodies are raised and transformed into immortal bodies and reunited with our souls who have been in the loving and protective care of Jesus during the time between our mortal death and the time he returns to raise our mortal bodies from their graves. As one theologian puts it, resurrection is life after life after death. Given the importance the Bible places on creation and creatures, this should make perfect sense to us. God created creation good and God created humans in his image to run his world on his behalf. Because God values creation so much we are promised God intends to put it to rights again. So when Christ returns to usher in God’s new world, it makes sense that we would have new bodies adapted to that new physical reality. More about God’s new world in a minute. What is critical for us to understand is that when we speak of resurrection, we are speaking of new bodily existence. Bodies matter to God because they belong to God. After all, he sent Jesus to rescue us from all that can destroy our mortal bodies (sin and other kinds of evil). Bodies therefore had better matter to us as well. As St. Paul reminds us, our body is a temple in which God’s Holy Spirit lives (1 Cor 6.19-21). Think about that. What a privilege! That’s why we are to take care of our bodies and not abuse them. One day God is going to raise them from the dead and transform them into immortal bodies! That’s why, e.g., we are being faithful to Christ during this pandemic when we follow medical advice to prevent the disease from spreading. 

St. Paul also focuses on the bodily nature of resurrection in our epistle lesson. He tells us that when we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who by his death has taken away our death by breaking Sin’s power over us and promising to raise us from the dead just as God his Father raised him from the dead, we are given the Holy Spirit to help direct and guide us in the living of our days in ways that please God. So even though our mortal bodies die, we are promised new life in the form of new bodies when Christ returns to raise us from the dead. This is the work of the Spirit and it is God’s free gift to us. None of us can earn it nor do any of us deserve it. St. Paul says something remarkably similar in his first letter to the Corinthians. Hear him now:

Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ

(1 Corinthians 15.42-44a, 50-57, NLT).

Notice first St. Paul’s emphasis on new bodily existence. Resurrection is about a new physical existence in bodily form. But what does he mean by a spiritual body? Isn’t that the opposite of a mortal body? Well no it isn’t. In the Greek, when St. Paul talks about a spiritual body, he uses the words pneumatikon soma and he uses the words psychikon soma to refer to mortal bodies like we have now. Any time a Greek adjective ends with the suffix -ikon, it doesn’t describe the nature or type of body but rather that which animates or powers the body. So just like our heart and lungs provide animation for our flesh and blood bodies (and when those organs stop functioning our mortal body dies), so St. Paul is telling us the Holy Spirit will power and animate our resurrection bodies so that they become immortal—you can’t kill the Holy Spirit so he never stops animating our new bodies— and equipped to live in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth. Again, notice carefully that St. Paul is not talking about living apart from our bodies. That’s why death isn’t fully conquered until God’s new creation comes in full and our bodies are raised from the dead. While it is true that our loved ones who have died in Christ are alive and their souls are with him now, they are still dead because they haven’t received their new bodies yet. When they do get their new bodies patterned after the body of Christ raised from the dead, death will finally be destroyed, thanks be to God!

Now it is true that we don’t know exactly what God’s new world will look like because it has not yet come in full. But we get glimpses of it in this mortal life when we gather at Christ’s table to celebrate Holy Communion each week and when we live our lives in ways that please God the Father. What we can say with confidence about God’s new world is this. It will be more spectacular than we can imagine (and if we can’t imagine it at all, that’s a problem with our imagination, not the reality of the promise as many claim who don’t believe in the resurrection of the body). But it will be a world where no evil exists because it will be a world where heaven and earth are joined together and evil cannot exist in God’s direct presence (Rev 21.1-8). That’s why believing we are forever washed clean by Christ’s blood shed for us on the cross is an essential Christian belief. Without it, none of us could hope to live in God’s direct presence because we all have sinned and committed evil in our lives. Neither will there be any sickness or death that we have to worry about. Death is abolished at the resurrection. Remember? Nor will there be any sorrow or fear or alienation. We’ll not have to worry if we are loved and accepted because we will know we are, and we will be part of a huge family who will love us and enjoy us as we will love and enjoy them. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ and we will get to see them, hold them, talk with them, hear them, touch them just like we did when they were alive in their mortal bodies. We will feel the peace and presence of God all the time and we will be given meaningful work to do as his human image-bearers. We won’t ever worry if God loves us because we will enjoy sweet fellowship with him the way Adam and Eve did before they rebelled against God. Whatever all that looks like, it will be so utterly beautiful that we will want to pinch ourselves and ask if it’s real because it feels too good to be true. Trust me. It’ll be real. Christ himself promises this as we see in our gospel lesson today.

I don’t have the time to explore all this lesson teaches us so I’ll point out three things. First, we read a part of this lesson at Christian funerals and it’s easy to see why. We notice first our Lord’s attitude toward death. Even though he knows that he will raise his friend Lazarus from death, Jesus is so indignant about the evil of death that he snorts in anger at his friend’s tomb (the translation we use says Jesus was greatly disturbed, but that doesn’t really get at what’s going on in the Greek; Jesus snorted in anger and it should therefore be easy for you to imagine him snorting in anger when awful things happen to you). So if you have ever wondered if Jesus wants us to die, there’s your answer: NO!! Jesus loves us and wants us to live with him forever!

Second, we notice that resurrection isn’t a concept. It’s a person and his name is Jesus. If you want to enjoy resurrection life in God’s new world, you’ll only get to do so by uniting yourself with Jesus! Last, we notice that in this story we get an imperfect glimpse of our future. Jesus calls Lazarus from the grave and new life is poured into his friend. This isn’t resurrection in its true sense because we know Lazarus eventually died again and waits along with the rest of us to be raised or transformed with new bodies. But it serves as a preview of what Jesus is going to do in full on the last day when he returns to bring in God’s new world. Bodies matter to God. It’s embedded in the story. Jesus didn’t raise Lazarus’ spirit. He raised Lazarus’ body. So take care of your body because it belongs to the Lord. You’ve been baptized and you are giving your lives to Christ so you have God’s assurance that while you are united with Jesus in a death like his, you will also be united in a resurrection like his when he raises you from the dead one day (Romans 6.3-5). 

This is our resurrection hope, my beloved confirmands. This is your hope and future (hope being defined as the sure and certain expectation of things to come, not wishful thinking). Your destiny and future is life, not death. That’s why Christians need not fear opposition or dangers in this life. That doesn’t mean we are to live recklessly. It means that we shouldn’t fear dying because we know that our mortal death is only temporary and that death one day will be destroyed forever by the love and power of God made known to us in Jesus Christ. That makes it easier to be Christ’s light in this world!

But we also know that resurrection is our future hope. It’s not here yet and sometimes in this mortal life (like now) we can become afraid and very anxious. Like the psalmist in our lesson, we cry out in desperation to God and wonder if God’s promises are true, if God really isn’t angry with us. It’s OK to wonder that, my beloved, because we all do from time to time. When we do, we also need to take our cue from the psalmist and remember the promises and mercy of God demonstrated supremely in Christ’s death and resurrection. I personally know the things I have told you about the resurrection of the body are true first and foremost because I know Jesus Christ is raised from the dead!  It’s an historical fact and it validates God’s promises in a very powerful way! And so, when I am afraid, I remind myself (with the help of the Spirit) to put all my trust in Christ by remembering he is raised from the dead and is alive at God’s right hand so that he hears my cries and knows my fears. I give thanks that because I belong to Jesus through my baptism and faith, imperfect as the latter is, I can trust his promises about the future and I am calmed and sustained by my resurrection hope and future. May you also learn to embrace that hope in the living of your days. 

But I want to go even further than that. Our resurrection hope and future is so fantastic that you, like the rest of us, will need to spend a lifetime asking God to show you how he wants you to live out your resurrection faith in your life starting today. Whatever that looks like, it will surely involve pointing others to your crucified and risen Savior who loves you dearly and on whom your life is founded and your eternal future in God’s new creation is made secure. Remember, you are resurrection peeps no matter what comes in this mortal life of yours. You can stake your life on it because you know Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and he calls you to be his forever. Can there be any better hope than that? To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

From Darkness to Light

Sermon delivered on Lent 4A, Sunday, March 22, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 16.1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5.8-14; St. John 9.1-42.

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

Today we hold the second of three scrutinies of our confirmands, where we pray for them and show them our love and support as they continue to grow in their relationship with Christ. As was the case last week, this sermon is aimed primarily at them, although the rest of us need to hear what our lessons have to say. Specifically I want us to look at what it means to be the light of Christ.

You recall that last week we saw that you are to die for in God’s loving eyes. As St. Paul taught us, we know that God became human (or in the language of the NT, God sent his Son) to die for us while we were still God’s enemies and unreconciled to him (we live in the dark)! God didn’t wait for us to change our ways or end our hostile feelings toward him before he sent his Son to die for us. No, God knew what needed to be done on our behalf so that we are no longer slaves to the power of Sin. This reminds us that while God will ultimately not tolerate any kind of evil that erases his image in us, God does not want to see us have to face his anger and judgment on human sin and evil. God created us to be his forever and to reflect his image out into the world to heal and refresh it, and for God to receive the praises of creation through us. This is what we will be doing in God’s new creation after Christ returns to raise us from the dead and finally put an end to every kind of evil so that nothing can harm us ever again. This is what St. Paul is getting at in our epistle lesson when he recites what was probably an ancient Christian hymn: Wake up sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. In God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, we will get to live directly in God’s presence with all its benefits. More about that next week. For now, it is enough for us to ponder God’s spectacular love for us made known in Christ’s death on our behalf.

So what is to be our response to God’s great gift of life and mercy and forgiveness and love and grace (undeserved forgiveness and love, among others)? St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson. We are to be Christ’s light in this dark world, to embody God’s love for his creation and creatures. But what does that mean? It means first and foremost that we desire to live our lives in the way God wants us to live them. Being a Christian is first and foremost a lifestyle where we pattern our lives after Jesus. Our Lord summarized this for us when he reminded us that living our lives the way God wants us to live so that God’s image shines brightly in our thinking, speaking, and behaving means that we are to love God above all others, even our family and friends, and to love others as we love ourselves. We are not to live this way out of some sense of obligation or because we think we have to, but because we remember we are to die for in Christ’s eyes and have been freed from our slavery to Sin and Death to care and work for the best for everyone we encounter in our lives, just like Jesus did and does for us. In other words, we seek to become like Jesus in our thinking, speaking, and actions because we have a grateful heart for all that Jesus has done and does for us. As God reminds us through his spokesman Samuel (that’s what prophets are, spokespersons for God), God sees our hearts, the very center of our will and being, and so he knows our motives for speaking, thinking, and behaving as we do. He knows whether we love him or are just trying to follow the rules. Rules are important, but they are no substitute for love, the kind of love that wants and works for the best for ourselves and those we love, “best” defined of course by God, not us. 

So what does that look like in real life? Here are a couple of examples. If you follow social media at all you know there are a lot of self-righteous, judgmental people who criticize others and attack those with whom they disagree. They don’t care about the welfare or well being of anyone but themselves or their positions and they are willing to attack others over almost anything. If you have ever had anyone make fun of you or criticize who you are, you know how hurtful that is. We may not agree with a person’s thinking or behavior, but we have no basis for attacking the person. So we are called to reach out to others and love them no matter what. That’s hard to do for all of us because when we disagree with others, we want to ignore them or do them harm. But that’s not how God treated us as we saw last week. We were all God’s enemies, but he loved us enough to bring us back into his loving arms again, even before we knew that’s where we needed to be. So if you have a social media account, you are to behave in ways that reflect God’s love. 

Or consider how afraid people are with this coronavirus plague. When we are afraid, we do desperate, selfish things to protect ourselves. People hoard products we all need, for example, and refuse to help others who might be in need. This is what the Bible calls living in darkness; we don’t have a real relationship with God. If we don’t believe that Christ died for us to save us from our sins and to free us from the power of death (even though our mortal bodies will die one day), we will live in fear and darkness because we remain unreconciled to God. But when we believe that we no longer have to be afraid of anyone or anything, not even our mortal death, because Christ died for us, it frees us to shine the light of Christ’s love on the world by making sure those around us are taken care of during this crisis. We’re not to act recklessly, but we are not to act out of fear either because we have nothing to fear anymore! So we call people up and check on them. We run errands for those who cannot get out of their house. We bring them food and water. We share our resources with those who need them but don’t have them (toilet paper, anyone)? This is what shining the light of Christ’s love on the darkness of the world looks like. When we do so, we expose the darkness of others as St. Paul tells us to do in our epistle lesson because we show that acting like Christ is the better way to live.

This can be hard work because while we are freed from Sin’s power over us, we will still act occasionally in ways that are contrary to the ways God wants us to act. When that happens, we ask God to forgive us and remember that Christ lives in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. As our psalm reminds us, we can count on Christ to be with us in all kinds of darkness, even the ultimate darkness of death, because he promises to be with us and God never lies. We believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that his rod and staff are the two pieces of wood that made up his cross, the ultimate sign of God’s great love for us, despite all our messiness and messy lives. 

It is a great privilege to let Christ’s light shine in this dark world through us because we know that light brings Christ’s healing and life, forgiveness and peace. We also know that there are sadly many who want nothing to do with Jesus and they will hate those of us who try to live faithfully and imitate him. This has been the case from the beginning as we see in our gospel lesson. Jesus healed the blind man and in healing him, the blind man came to believe in him, first that Jesus was a prophet and later God’s Son. But there were many who hated the blind man because he decided to give his life to Christ and unbelievers ridiculed him and tried to get him to walk away from his life-giving relationship with Christ. The blind man’s opponents had a powerful weapon. They threatened to expel him from the place of worship he attended. Doing so would have been like all your family/friends turning against you and making fun of you and refusing to associate with you. This was such a powerful weapon that even the blind man’s parents passed the buck and refused to witness to Christ’s goodness and healing love because they did not want to be put out of their place of worship! Following Jesus is really hard because the world and its people are such a mess and many hate Jesus. 

But the blind man didn’t cave in and he discovered that after all the ridicule, all the suffering, all the name calling, Jesus stood by him and promised to do so in this world and the next. Nothing’s changed from Jesus’ day to our own and we all have to decide what is most important in our lives. Will we choose Jesus and life or will we reject Jesus and choose darkness and death? Will we count on Jesus to give us the courage and wisdom and power to love others and embody his love for them, even when they hate us, or will we cave to the pressure to fit in with others? This is a battle that is especially relevant to you at this point in your young lives. No one likes to feel shunned and we all want to be accepted, especially when we are young. And so the temptation is there for you to reject Jesus and his lifestyle for a lifestyle that can only bring sorrow, darkness, and ultimately death, just to fit in with others. But we are not to fear rejection because as Jesus tells us elsewhere, he has overcome the world and will be with us no matter what comes. Let us all resolve, therefore, to live like Jesus and to shine his healing love and light on the world around us. It’s never easy to follow Jesus but it is the best decision we can ever make because only in Jesus will we find our true heart’s desire to love and be loved. May you, my beloved confirmands, always find and shine the light of Christ around you as you live out your lives. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

God to You: You Are to Die For

Sermon delivered on Lent 3A, Sunday, March 15, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5.1-11; St. John 4.5-42.

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

Today we hold the first of three scrutinies of our confirmands, where we pray for them and show them our love and support as they continue to grow in their relationship with Christ. As such, this sermon is aimed primarily at them, although hopefully we all can benefit from what the Scriptures have to say to us this morning. Specifically I want us to look at what real Christian faith looks like on the ground and how our faith always points to how real our relationship is with Jesus.

Is the Lord among us or not? This was the complaint of the ancient Israelites as they wandered through the desert on their way to the land God promised them. And if you have paid attention to the news of late, it seems many of us are still asking the same question. As infections from the coronavirus continue to spread, we are tempted to doubt whether God loves us or is among us. If God is all powerful and loving, why doesn’t God just protect us by getting rid of this virus?

But as our OT and psalm lessons make clear, we are not to put God to the test like that because in questions like this we are really questioning God’s faithfulness and goodness toward us as well as God’s great love for us. To be sure, our world is full of many things that tempt us to question God’s love for us and his ability to make all things right, the current coronavirus pandemic being the latest example. But that is not what was going on with the Israelites when they asked this question. 

Imagine you had been one of God’s people Moses led out of Egypt. That surely would have been a frightening and anxious time. Would the Egyptians, who were stronger than your people, try to prevent you from leaving by killing you or cutting off your escape route? Would you be better or worse off leaving? But God answered these questions in spectacular ways. You suddenly find yourself crossing the Red Sea, with walls of water piled high on either side of you. How is that possible? Why does the seabed feel like dry ground? And what’s with that pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, always leading the way? Then there was the bread from heaven, the manna, that mysteriously appeared each day so that you and your family wouldn’t starve to death. What’s up with that? Here’s the point. Had you been among God’s people back in the day, you would have seen multiple examples of God’s power, of God protecting you from harm so that his promise to bring you to a new land could be fulfilled. You witnessed all these things first hand! God knows you need to eat and drink and be protected from the desert heat and other dangers, and in some very spectacular ways God demonstrated his love and care for you as he brought you and your people out of Egypt.

Now here you are on your way, wandering in the desert and complaining that God has abandoned you and won’t get you to the promised land. Sure you are anxious and frightened. The wilderness is not for wimps! But God had proven his love for you and his ability to care for and protect you. So why the grumbling now? That was the problem from God’s perspective. He had cared for and protected his people because God called them to be his own. Now when the going got tough (again), the people questioned God’s love, faithfulness, and ability to protect and care for them despite what they had experienced. Apply this to your own life. Think of family or friends you know intimately and who know you just as well. You have demonstrated to them that you love and care for them in what you do for them, in behaving in ways that represent your family name in the best possible ways. Then all of a sudden out of the blue, they question your motives toward them and call your character into question. How would that make you feel? At that point, even though you remain friends and/or part of the family, you have effectively become enemies, at least for the moment.

This is what happened to the human race and God. Before they rebelled against God in paradise, Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. They knew God was their Creator and Father and that they were his creatures and children. Genesis 3 describes this by telling us God walked constantly in the garden with Adam and Eve, indicating they enjoyed perfect friendship with God, something that is hard for us to imagine because none of us have ever experienced perfect friendship with God or anyone else. But it was different for Adam and Eve because they did what God asked them to and reaped the benefits. They weren’t worried or anxious about anything because they experienced God’s presence and love and goodness first hand. They knew God better than we know those we love the most. Adam and Eve were functioning in the way God intended for them. They reflected God’s goodness and love out into the world to sustain and nourish and refresh it. But that all changed when they rebelled against God and tried to be God instead of his creatures. The Bible calls that sin and every one of us has been infected by it ever since. We’re afraid of the coronavirus right now, but it won’t infect everybody and the worst it can do is kill the body, terrible as that is. But our infection from Sin makes us enemies of God who is the Source of all life and health and goodness, and if something isn’t done about it, we will all be cut off from God (die) forever because God in his great love for us cannot ultimately allow evil to continue.

We don’t like talking about this because we like to fool ourselves into thinking we can fix ourselves and our problems. We can’t. We might eventually find a cure for the coronavirus but we will never find a human cure for our rebellion against God. Sure, we can work to improve ourselves and with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, we can make good progress in getting rid of things that make us sick. But in this mortal life we will never be totally free from doing the things that makes us enemies of God and that is why some people really dislike the Christian faith because it doesn’t teach self-help and human solutions to the problems that make us most afraid and anxious. And so we keep testing God and asking if he really cares about us or has the power to help us solve problems we care most about because we really want to do things our way. Every one of us has felt this way and when that happens, it demonstrates that deep down we really don’t trust God. And if we don’t trust God, why would we want to act like God wants us to act, especially if we think we know better? Yet the ancient Israelites wanted to return to their slavery in Egypt. We Christians often want to return to our slavery to Sin. This demonstrates they and we don’t know any better!

But here’s the thing. The God who led his people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea is the same God we worship. So what mighty acts of power has God done for us to prove he loves us and has the ability to save us from all that makes us afraid? The death and resurrection of Christ. St. Paul makes an astonishing claim in our epistle lesson from Romans today. He tells us at just the right time, while we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us to break the power of Sin over us, the very thing that makes us God’s enemies in the first place. St. Paul didn’t say that we had to turn away from our sins or feel bad about them or ourselves before Christ died for us. In fact, as we’ve seen, there’s nothing we can do to rid ourselves from Sin’s infection. No, God acted independently on our behalf, even before we realized we needed help, so that we no longer have to fear being his enemies or be afraid of dying! In other words, God reconciled us to himself on the cross of Jesus. End of story. We did nothing to deserve or earn this life-giving favor. God did it out of his great love for us and his desire that we be reconciled to him so that we could enjoy life to its fullest. The story of the Bible is not about us seeking God, but God seeking us because of God’s great love for us!

Think about the person you dislike most in your life (hopefully he is not preaching to you at the moment). Would you be willing to give your life for that person? St. Paul doesn’t think you would and neither do I. Sure, there might be an exception or two to this rule, but for the most part, what do we do to people who are our enemies? We shun them and have bad thoughts toward them. We don’t wish them well. We hope bad stuff happens to them. Now imagine that person one day acted unexpectedly to save your life and in the process, actually gave his or her life for yours. Would that not change how you feel toward that person forever? Wouldn’t you feel a sense of love and gratitude for that person and desire to act in ways that would honor the person’s memory? 

This is what St. Paul is telling us to do in our epistle lesson. When by the grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we realize the gift God has given us, the gift of eternal life and release from our slavery to Sin so that we are free to love God and others just like Jesus did for us, we will experience God’s peace, a peace you’ll always want to possess once you’ve experienced it. We no longer have to worry if God loves us. He’s already demonstrated that in Christ’s death for us, despite the fact that we were enemies of God at the time. He gives us his Spirit to continue his healing work in us and to make himself known to us. He invites us to grow in our relationship with him and demonstrate our faith and trust in him to care for us, come what may in this life, by imitating Jesus in our lives. This is what faith on the ground looks like. This is your challenge and ours, my beloved confirmands. Embrace the love of Christ and walk with him everyday. If you need reminded of God’s love for you in Christ, talk with your family and your parish family. We’ll remind and encourage you. And when you stumble along the way, as you surely will, don’t worry. Jesus is always willing to help you to overcome that which sickens you because he created you to be his own forever. Remember that Jesus typically works through other humans, especially those in your family, so trust Christ enough to share your struggles with us so he can use us to help you work through them. We will weep with you and embrace you in your failures and sorrows as well as your happiness and successes. If you allow us this privilege of sharing Christ’s love with you, you will come to know Jesus even more deeply in the process. May the Father always give you the grace to continue to grow in your knowledge of Christ this Lent and throughout your lives. Doing so will help you accept his love for you and strengthen your ability to believe his promise to you that you are his forever. Then you will surely know the truth that God in Christ is your refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Be of good cheer, my beloved. Christ has overcome the world for you. We who believe in him are his enemies no longer. After all, you are to die for in God’s eyes. 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: Sin and Death, Grace and Life

Sermon delivered on Lent 1A, Sunday, March 1, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 2.15-17, 3.1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5.12-19; St. Matthew 4.1-11.

12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—

17For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Romans 5.12-19

My Dearest Brothers and Sister in Christ,

There are many times in this life that we like to be in control as much as possible. But when we look around us, we realize we can’t control much else. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control the future, and that list goes on. As much as we plan and like to think we are in control, the Lord reminds us in the book of James: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (JAMES 4:14). This is the theme that runs this time of lent “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. Thus, Scripture describes our lifetime. In the big picture of things during our lifetime, no matter whether our life is long or short, it is like a mist in comparison to eternity, and in comparison to the rest of the world.

Today, our text reminds us as Paul points out that mankind is not in control. We are not in control since Adam and Eve first sinned, because by mankind’s disobedience, this brought into the world sin and death. Thankfully, mankind is not in control concerning salvation, for God’s plan of salvation through His Son Christ Jesus and His perfect obedience provides grace and life.

I want us to look at this two things today:

  1. Mankind’s disobedience brings sin and death.
  2. Christ’s perfect obedience brings grace and life.

Mankind’s disobedience brings sin and death

As you heard the reading of our text this morning, you probably have already picked up on the discouraging parts. It is almost 50/50 of the discouraging parts compared to the encouraging parts. The discouraging part is the fact that our world is no longer perfect. The discouragement is the fact that sin is in this world and is very much alive and well. Paul reminds us that “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners.” One man disobeyed; and because of that, the world became sinful. It uses the word many that sometimes some take that word and say, “Well, not everybody is a sinner. Some are good.” Only many were made sinners. But Paul explains so that there is no mistake. Before this Paul says: 18Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men. Now, he says not just for many, but also for all. That word “many” meaning all men suffer the result of the disobedience of the one man. He wants to make that point very clear.

So our epistle lesson began with that word: 12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned–. No one escapes. No one is born into this world sinless, but with sin. Then he says: 17For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man. The results of sin are very obvious–death came into the world. When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, the Lord’s plan for them was that they would live there forever, because it was already perfect. It already was heaven on earth, but they disobeyed. Perfection came to a crashing halt. That is the one man who disobeyed. That one man who committed sin is our very first parent. Since that time you and I have inherited sinfulness. Sinfulness has been passed down from Adam and Eve to every generation and will be until the end of time.We cannot dismiss sin as just a sickness or bad behavior. We cannot explain it away by saying the rest of the world is doing, so what is so bad about it? Sin is alive and well. We see it in our society. We see it in the way our nation reacts. Those who stand up for the truth on national TV are considered extremists and right-wing Christian radicals when they speak against same-sex marriage. Yet, homosexuality is another sin. It is another sin that the world tries to sweep under the rug, a sin that the world tries to dismiss and sanitize and cover up. Scripture reminds us we are sinners: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (ECCLESIASTES 7:20).

Because of Adam and Eve, we are out of control. We are born with sin. Sin infects us all. Sin affects us all. Sin has defected the world and all of us living in this world. The Psalm writer, actually David, in Psalm 51 says: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (PSALM 51:5). David writes, “There is when I began sinning. Even before I drew an earthly breath outside the womb, I was a sinner.” David says, “I was a sinner from the moment of conception.” In this way the Lord shows us when life begins. As soon as life begins on this earth, at the very moment of conception, there is sin attached to it; and there is no escape.

Sin is a word that many in our world around us do not like to hear. How do we know that sin is here? We know because our text says sin is here, disobedience is here, and death is here. Again, no one in this world ever escapes death, which is a result of sin. Adam and Eve were going to die now, because the world was no longer perfect. Who wants to live in this world especially when it is so imperfect, especially when we are so imperfect, especially when we have feelings of hatred and anger and rage because of sin? Sometimes those feelings and emotions are just like the text points out, “We are out of control.” The Prophet Ezekiel says: “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son–both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die” (EZEKIEL 18:4). We face death, which means we have sinned. Everyone faces death, and therefore, everyone sins. Mankind is not in control, just as we are not in control of the time of our departure, so we were not in control with the time we were born–born with the infection of sin.

Now, we want to remember, as believers we are in control. We are in control of resisting the sins that are around us. We can avoid sin. We can overcome sin. We can defeat sin by the power of God; but the sin that we are born with is there. We cannot deny it. In that sense mankind is out of control because the disobedience of our first parents and our disobedience still brings sin into this world and eventually death.

Still, we can celebrate during Lent. We celebrate today the fact that Christ’s perfect obedience provides us with grace and life. We do not suffer eternal death but are given eternal life. That is the second part of each one of these verses from 17, 18 and 19.

Christ’s perfect obedience provides grace and life

Yes, Paul says there is sin and death, disobedience and trespass, but what else? 19For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. Adam, the one man, brought sin into the world; and now there is another man who was sent into this world and brought righteousness. Instead of being cast out from the Garden of Eden forever, He has provided for mankind heaven that is far better than any kind of perfection found here on earth.

Then Paul lets us know who this one man is, even though our text did not mention Adam by name, but here he says: God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. It is Christ–the one Man–who brings into this world righteousness. It is Christ–the one Man—who brings into this world the forgiveness of sins and life and salvation. In that comparison just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. So again, he defines for us where it says, many will be made righteous. When Jesus died on the cross, He died for the sins of the world. Don’t be misled by those who say, “Well, just some are saved or a few are saved. Many, but not all, have their sins forgiven.” Listen to this: 18Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. The Lord’s sacrifice, the Lord’s gift of His life and blood on the cross was good enough to cover up the sins of everyone. It is true that not everyone who receives the benefit of eternity, because they harden their hearts.

Today you and I celebrate this, which is the Passion of the Christ, the Passion of our Christ. Yes, sin is in this world. It is always going to survive as long as people are born. There will be sin in this world, because man inherits sin and it is part of our nature. But sin is forgiven in this world through the gift of Christ, God’s own Son who paid for our sins. When Adam and Eve sinned, the Lord demanded justice, justice to pay for that sin and justice to pay for the sins of the world. God was so demanding that He demanded justice that only He could provide. The justice that God would provide came through His only Son, a sacrifice for sins. Paul writes to the people in Corinth: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 CORINTHIANS 5:21).Today you and I celebrate this, which is the Passion of the Christ, the Passion of our Christ. Yes, sin is in this world. It is always going to survive as long as people are born. There will be sin in this world, because man inherits sin and it is part of our nature. But sin is forgiven in this world through the gift of Christ, God’s own Son who paid for our sins. When Adam and Eve sinned, the Lord demanded justice, justice to pay for that sin and justice to pay for the sins of the world. God was so demanding that He demanded justice that only He could provide. The justice that God would provide came through His only Son, a sacrifice for sins. Paul writes to the people in Corinth: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 CORINTHIANS 5:21).Today you and I celebrate this, which is the Passion of the Christ, the Passion of our Christ. Yes, sin is in this world. It is always going to survive as long as people are born. There will be sin in this world, because man inherits sin and it is part of our nature. But sin is forgiven in this world through the gift of Christ, God’s own Son who paid for our sins. When Adam and Eve sinned, the Lord demanded justice, justice to pay for that sin and justice to pay for the sins of the world. God was so demanding that He demanded justice that only He could provide. The justice that God would provide came through His only Son, a sacrifice for sins. Paul writes to the people in Corinth: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 CORINTHIANS 5:21).

We, who are children of the devil by birth and by nature, are now called righteousness. As sinners we are declared righteous not because of what we have done, but because of the sacrifice of Christ. What made Jesus’ sacrifice so challenging is the fact that the God’s perfect Son came here in human flesh and blood to live in the world, to suffer and die, and even to be tempted by Satan. In our Gospel Lesson for today (LUKE 4:1-13) tells us how Satan tempted Jesus over and over again. Satan “quoted” Scripture, but in reality as you reread that, he misquoted Scripture. Jesus quoted Scripture correctly. We know that Satan tempted Him because this would be Satan’s last chance to totally destroy God’s plan of salvation. Yet, as we look at it, we see Jesus, God’s Son as he offers the perfect sacrifice. We also see Jesus, the Son of Man, overcomes every temptation for us. Isaiah says: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (ISAIAH 53:6). This again describes our inherited sinfulness and Christ’s sinlessness that is passed on to us.

We are not in control by saying to the Lord, “Here is my plan of salvation. I am going to buy my way into heaven.” We are not in control by saying to the Lord, “Here is my plan of salvation. I am going to work hard enough and do the best I can to earn my way into heaven.” None of us can buy or earn our way into heaven. We do not deserve to be there, but God’s plan of salvation according to Him is, “I will do all the work. I will send my Son to die in your place.” Therefore Paul says in Titus: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (TITUS 3:4,5).

Sunday after Sunday we are privileged to hear about the mercy of God. Day after day when we read our Bibles at home, we are privileged to see the mercy of God. We have seen our Savior’s passion. We have lived our Savior’s passion through God’s living and powerful Word. That reminds us that sure, we are not in control. When we look at our life, we are probably less in control than what we realize. Is it a reason to despair and throw up our hands and say, “What is the use?” No, it is the reason to rejoice and remember that even though we are not in control, God is in control. No one else, but God Himself! He is control even though our disobedience and our birth brings into this world more sin and eventually death. Our gracious God is in control to show us that His Son and His perfect obedience is our perfect payment and brings to us grace and life, not just on Sunday, but everyday of our life.

In the first letter of John: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 JOHN 3:8). Now, the power of the devil has been destroyed; the power of sin has been destroyed; and the power of death has been overcome with Christ’s death and resurrection. We are not in control of that, but thankfully and praise God that He has decided for us that He wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Our loving Lord has decided for us, rather than stay here among sin and death forever, we will live with Him in grace and eternal life forever.

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

Ash Wednesday Sermon: Reconciled to God: Restoring the Image

Sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday, February 26, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10; St. Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21.

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

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 day season we call Lent. It is a time for self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. The season of Lent reminds us that something is terribly amiss in God’s world and our lives, that without the love, mercy, goodness, justice, and power of God, we remain hopelessly alienated from God and each other. Lent therefore is a time for us to focus not so much on ourselves but on the power of God manifested most clearly in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. So tonight I want us to look at what must be done to be reconciled to God and each other because too often we Christians get it wrong at precisely this point. So bear with me and stay with me. This is a long and complex sermon, but the Lord has given it to me to preach and it is critical that we get this right.

In our OT and psalm lessons, we are reminded starkly that we are alienated from God and therefore under God’s just and right judgment. It is here that many of us tune out. We simply don’t want to hear this and if we are honest with ourselves, we must confess we don’t know what we must do to make things right between God and us. To help us think about our dynamic with God and each other, I have found it increasingly helpful to reflect on these issues in light of the overall big picture contained in Scripture. A week ago Sunday you recall that we looked at the creation narratives because they give us insight into God’s original creative intentions for the world and us. We saw that God created everything good, that creation matters to God, especially in light of God’s promise to heal and redeem it, and most importantly we saw that God created humans in his image to be his good and wise stewards who reflected God’s goodness, righteousness, justice, and love out into his world to allow it to flourish and prosper. As God’s image-bearers, we were created to always reflect God’s character and glory. That’s what image-bearers do. Before our rebellion against God, we saw how beautifully things worked. Creation flourished (the garden was paradise that was doubtless beautiful and radiant and healthy) and humans enjoyed continuous intimate and life-giving communion with their Creator. Whether death was part of that picture has been much debated. If death existed prior to the Fall, it was certainly not seen as punitive or juridical. What we can say for certain is that there were no physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual maladies like disease, fear, alienation, rancor and the like. The first humans knew their place as God’s image-bearers and acted wisely to reflect God’s love and goodness out into his world and enjoyed all the benefits of perfect communion with God. 

But that all changed with the Fall, when humans rebelled against God and attempted to usurp God’s role as Creator and God. This resulted in the destruction of the life-giving and healthy communion between God and his creatures and resulted in God’s cursing creation. Human rebellion also allowed the outside and hostile forces of Evil to enter into God’s good world to corrupt it and us. Our alienation from God caused us to be hostile to God and introduced all the awful diseases of body, mind, and spirit that afflict so many of us today. In short, God’s image in us became marred, but thankfully not totally destroyed. This resulted in our inability to reflect God’s love and goodness out into the world to sustain it and allow creation to celebrate and flourish like it did before the Fall. This is the overall problem defined in the story of Scripture. God created all things good and created humans in his image to run his good world. As long as God’s image remained complete and whole in humans, paradise resulted. But once humans rebelled and God’s image became distorted in us, all hell broke loose on earth and throughout the cosmos because the powers of Sin and Evil were allowed to gain control to enslave us and corrupt God’s good world and our lives. The story of Scripture is therefore the story of how God intends to right these wrongs, no small or easy task, and Lent invites us to remember this story and what our role in God’s rescue plan might be so that once again, we might become the full image-bearing creatures God created us to be to rule his creation wisely and lovingly. In other words, this is the overall big-picture context for Lent and beyond. 

This context hopefully will help us think about our Scripture lessons tonight. In our OT lesson, we hear God calling his people to repent of their sins that have caused them to become alienated from God as his image-bearers. We recall that God had called Israel to be the agents through whom God would heal his sin-sick and corrupted world. But here we see Israel had failed miserably and were in terrible danger of falling under God’s awful judgment on all things evil when God returned to put his creation back together again. Instead of reflecting God’s goodness and justice and righteousness and mercy and love out into God’s world so that God could bring healing to the nations, Israel became ingrown and selfish because they had turned to false gods to worship and as a result developed a false image of those gods. This happened because we always reflect and eventually turn into that which we worship. Sound familiar? The result was chaos and destruction. The nations were not being healed because Israel was not reflecting God’s image properly into their world and lives, and judgment awaited God’s people as a result. And here we must be crystal clear in our thinking about God’s judgment. If we see God as an angry ogre who is bent on punishing us for our sins, we will naturally see God’s judgment as vindictive and restrictive. Eat your veggies! Don’t screw up! Behave yourselves! Make better decisions or I will punish you. That’s why you need to repent! But this thinking gets it so wrong on so many levels and reflects how thoroughly is our enslavement to the power of Sin—Sin defined as that semi-autonomous and alien power that is stronger than we are—because this thinking distorts who God really is and makes repentance all about us. Nothing could be further from the truth because if we think of our sins as misbehaviors or bad choices on our part, we totally misunderstand the nature of sin and God’s judgment on it.  

Sin, biblically defined, is missing the mark. And what is the mark? Being God’s image-bearers who reflect God’s love and goodness out into the world. But we have been enslaved by that outside power of Sin so that we are compelled to act in ways that emphatically do not bear the image of God. We have unhappy marriages so we cheat on our spouse. Our sex lives are not fulfilling so we turn to pornography. We disagree with others about politics or religion (or whatever) and we resort to name calling and ad hominem attacks or back-biting and evil speaking about them. Others do us wrong and we seek revenge. We worry if we’ll have enough resources to live so we cheat, steal, and deceive. Worse yet, we hoard our resources and don’t share them with those in need. You get the point. We turn inward and miss the mark. How do these behaviors and attitudes reflect the goodness, love, mercy, and justice of God to heal his broken and hurting world? How do they reflect God’s character and glory? We cease to become God’s image-bearers and become Sin and Evil’s image-bearers instead. Every time we act selfishly or cruelly or deceitfully, every time we speak or think in hostile ways about God and others, God’s image in us is marred a bit more and the result is chaos, anger, rancor, hostility, anxiety, and alienation to name a few. How can a loving and just God allow this kind of stuff to go on indefinitely? What kind of loving parent would stand by idly and watch his or her children being corrupted by outside forces? How can God not judge murder, rape, rapacity, cruelty, and the like? A good, just, and loving God must judge this kind of evil and those who perpetrate it. We all get this. But our enslavement to the power of Sin also corrupts our concept of God so that we mistake the nature of God’s judgment, projecting onto God our own anger and distorted motives for behaving in the ways we do. But if we learn to see God’s judgment as liberating us from our enslavement to Sin’s power and restoring us to be his image-bearing creatures again, we learn to see, if not lament, the necessity of God’s judgment on Evil and sin. 

One more note about sin before we move on to look at repentance. Sin is a theological concept. For those who do not know or believe in God, there is no such thing as sin. That’s because there is no standard by which to judge behavior. If one doesn’t know God, one cannot possibly discern what it means to be God’s image-bearer. Such people will scoff at the notion of sin and the need for repentance because they are happy to march to the tune of their own moral drummer, and that drummer will usually be anything or anyone but God. They will also scoff at the cross, seeing it as unnecessary and barbaric (cf. 1 Cor 1.18-25). This explains why St. Paul put forth all the apparent contradictions about himself in our epistle lesson. Those who didn’t know God skewered him (as they will us). But he was well known, loved, and protected because of his faith in the power of God made known in suffering love. I remind us of this because it points us to the Good News of our redemption. For us to be aware of sin is to be aware of God and God’s will for us as his image-bearers, and to be aware of this means that we have already come under God’s loving care for us. The question is, what will we do with that knowledge?

We hear God through his prophet Joel call for God’s people to repent, to turn back to God and God’s ways so that God’s image can be restored in them (and us) so that we can once again be the humans God created us to be. But because we are so thoroughly enslaved to the power of Sin, God’s call to us to repent gets corrupted and we make repentance about us. It’s not. To believe repentance will end our alienation from God and God’s judgment on our sins is to believe that we actually have the power to free ourselves from our enslavement to the power of Sin. That is a lie and a delusion and we as Christians must be very careful to understand what God’s call to repentance is really all about. Think about it. If we really had complete control over our thinking, speaking, behaving, and decision-making then of course repentance would remove God’s judgment of those sins. We just right the wrong. But that’s not how it works, does it? How many times have you resolved to repent of a behavior, only to keep on doing the same thing over and over despite your sincere desire to change your ways? It happens to me all the time and it happens to every one of you (how many of you, e.g., are still keeping your new year’s resolutions?). It is analogous to a drug addict who resolves to get off the juice without any outside help only to find himself relapsing time and again. He cannot fix himself. To be sure, we have the freedom to choose and make decisions and that makes us responsible for our thinking/doing/speaking, whether for good or ill. But because we are so thoroughly enslaved by Sin’s power, our decision making is often corrupted. We often want the wrong without even realizing it. This is what is going on in our gospel lesson where Jesus condemned the motives for doing good and holy acts like giving to the poor, praying, and fasting. There’s nothing wrong with these things. In fact, they all are designed to help us focus on God rather than ourselves so that we can be better image-bearers. But our slavery to Sin’s power corrupts our motives for doing these acts (we want others to see how good we are when we are actually Sin’s slaves) and this results in further sin and alienation from God, the very opposite result for which these acts were intended. Our sins are simply symptoms of our slavery to Sin’s power, not the root cause. Until our slavery to Sin’s power is dealt with and we are freed from its grip, the problem of our alienation to God will not and cannot be fixed because God’s image cannot be fully restored in us.

So the issue is not about making better decisions or strengthening our resolve. These things are all self-help delusions and non-starters. That’s why repentance will not turn away God’s severe judgment on the evil we all commit, whether or not we recognize the evil. Again, what needs to be done is to break our enslavement to the power of Sin so that we are freed once again to make the good and wise and healthy decisions God originally gave us the ability to make that allow us to function as God’s image-bearers. The Good News of course is that God has done exactly this for us in the cross of Jesus Christ. Without the cross, we can repent till the cows come home and nothing good will come of it, at least not over the long haul.  

God knows all this, of course, and God loves us and wants to restore his image in us so that we can once again function as healthy and wise human beings who freely choose to act in the manner of God. To do that, our slavery to Sin has to end. In our epistle lesson tonight, St. Paul makes the enigmatic statement that God made Christ to be sin even though Christ was sinless. What on earth did St. Paul mean? A sea of ink has been spilt over this, but one thing we can say with certainty is that on the cross, God broke Sin’s power over us so that we are no longer enslaved by it (cf. Col 2.13-15) and freed with the help of the Spirit to act and choose wisely after the manner of Christ (to repent). In other words, in the cross of Christ, God set the conditions needed for him to restore his image in us once again so that we can be fully reconciled to God. We don’t know how all this works, but we do know this. On the cross, God condemned our sin in the flesh and absorbed his own terrible but right judgment so that he could spare us (Romans 8.3-5). Jesus, the Son of God, did this willingly and in complete cooperation with the Father to free us from our bondage to Sin’s power. To be sure, Evil still exists in us and the world and will continue to exist until Christ returns to judge and put an end to all of it at the resurrection of the dead, but we believe that our slavery to Sin’s power has been broken by an even greater power: the goodness, love, and mercy of God the Father through the sacrifice of God the Son. There is no self-help here. There is nothing but God’s help. Self-help is doomed to fail always. God’s help never does. This is Good News at its finest. God did for us what we cannot do for ourselves and all that he requires from us is to believe that he has taken care of the problem of Sin and our alienation from God. We call this putting our faith in Jesus Christ and him crucified.

This changes how we view repentance. As we have seen, God has acted on our behalf to free us from Sin’s power to enslave us before we ever became aware of the notion of sin. We no longer have to fear God’s judgment on our sins because God has already condemned our sin in the flesh and our fallen nature, and taken his condemnation on himself to spare us. We repent, then, in sorrow but also with great joy and thanksgiving. We realize we are no longer slaves to Sin but to God, all made possible in Christ’s death and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit living in us. Our repentance is therefore not about avoiding God’s judgment as much as it is about allowing God to restore his image in us so that we can begin to bring God’s goodness and health and life back into God’s world. Being mortal and fallen creatures, despite God’s great act of mercy and grace on our behalf on the cross, we will sin from time to time, but we turn to God for forgiveness and resolve to repent out of joyous gratitude for God’s great grace toward us, however imperfectly that might look in our lives, because we believe we are freed to act as God’s image-bearers again, people who will love instead of hate, who will have mercy rather than condemn, who will work hard to reflect the goodness of Christ, the only true image-bearer of God. Put another way, we know repentance won’t and can’t save us for reasons we have already seen. That’s not a problem because we are already spared God’s condemnation on our sins before we ever repented or were even aware of the danger in which our sins put us! Instead, having been freed from our slavery to the power of Sin, repentance is about doing what we need to do to allow God to continue his saving work in and through the cross of Christ to heal us and restore his image in us until that day when it is fully restored in the new creation so that we can do the work and be the people God created us to do and be. A good self-check question regarding how well we are repenting would be as follows: How accurately am I reflecting God’s image out into his world, i.e., how closely does my thinking/speaking/acting reflect Jesus Christ? We look to Jesus as our standard of measurement.

That is why even as we repent and feel great sorrow over our sins we have committed against God and others as David did in our psalm lesson, we can also rejoice that we have a God who loved us and gave himself for us so that his image in us might once again be restored. As we’ve seen, that won’t happen fully until Christ returns to raise the dead and usher in God’s new creation. But as St. Paul tells us in the verses preceding our epistle lesson tonight, we are already new creations, i.e., God is restoring his image in us, because of the cross of Christ and the work of the Spirit. This is a God worthy of our love and adoration. This is what the season of Lent asks us to reflect on. When we see that our repentance and prayer and fasting are all responses to God’s love and mercy and have nothing to do with turning away his severe decree on our wickedness because the Father has already rescued us through the Son, we are ready to enter Lent with the proper mindset and spirit. During this season of Lent let us resolve to repent of our false and corrupt gospel of self-help and self-righteousness, acknowledging our helplessness to free ourselves from our slavery to Sin and thanking God for doing that on our behalf out of his great love for us. Let us resolve to rely on the power of God to restore his image in us and let us act accordingly in the power of the Spirit. Doing so will truly give honor, power and glory to the One who loved us and gave himself to us from all eternity to do what it takes to restore his life-giving image in us. May the name of the Holy Trinity be praised and blessed forever and ever.

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

Father Philip Sang: Transfiguration Time

Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday A, February 23, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang has turned over a new leaf in preparation for Lent. He has actually produced a manuscript for his sermon, which you can read below. To listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 24.12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1.16-21; St. Matthew 17.1-9.

May the words of my mouth and meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you oh Lord our rock and our redeemer, in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen

A teacher in a Sunday school class was reading the story of the Transfiguration. As she read, she noticed one little boy seemed confused.

When she was finished she asked him, “Johnny, why don’t you tell us where Jesus was in this story. He replied, “Oh, he was on a mountain.”

“Yes, that’s right; said the teacher, “Do you remember why he was up there?” Johnny answered with a confused look, “I guess that’s where his arithmetic class was held .”

” The teacher looked at him and wondered what he meant. “What do you mean, arithmetic class?” “Well” Johnny replied, “The Bible said, ’Jesus went up on the mountain and there he BEGAN TO FIGURE ” ’ The teacher smiled and said,”The scripture said, He went into the mountain and there He BECAME TRANSFIGURED NOT BEGAN TO FIGURE. “

It is Transfiguration Time.

Jesus walked with his disciples as he taught them. He explained over and over what was to happen to him and what they would need to do. They witnessed his miracles: the healings, the feedings, his words of grace and love to the sinners and to the broken.

It sounds pretty straight forward, right? I think we imagine we would be smarter or pay better attention or just listen more carefully than the disciples if Jesus were speaking with us.

If we were those disciples, we’d surely understand about him asking us to leave our families and our lives to follow him…as Father Santosh preached a couple of weeks ago, that doesn’t seem too hard to understand.

So, let’s make believe, just for a moment or two, that we are one of those disciples in today’s gospel story. I’d like you to try, if you can, to actually picture yourself with Jesus that day. Walking up the side of the high mountain, listening to him as you always did. Picture this in your mind. Close your eyes if you need to. You and Jesus, walking up the mountain, listening to him talk about God’s Kingdom and how you will be part of it.

How do you feel? Are you confident? Excited? Are you scared? Are you thinking of going back down the hill? You are busy talking, listening, tired from the climb and then in Matthews words, “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”

How would you have experienced this? We can read the words that explain Jesus’ change in appearance but how in the world would you, if you were standing there, understand this? Jesus’ clothing shining dazzling white and Elijah and Moses there with him?

Thinking about this I’ve had more empathy for Peter recently. After trying to place myself directly into this gospel story, I totally understand why he was trying to do something. If you don’t understand something, just start being functional, right? He is scared and he says awkwardly to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Mark’s account adds, “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified”.

This, I imagine, was the reality of being a follower of Jesus. Moments of amazement and joy at the miracles and thoughts of a new kingdom where the last would be the first, the meek would inherit the earth and those who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness would claim the kingdom of God; followed closely by intense times of confusion and terror of the unknown. Peter has experienced these two feelings at the same time before and here he is again. Wanting to be helpful, trying to care for the temporal needs of Jesus and much to his amazement Elijah and Moses but knowing somehow that something has changed. Something is different, something important has just happened here and although he doesn’t seem to recognize it, something has also begun to happen to Peter.

There is just no way one could, no way you could, no way I could, be the same after experiencing Transfiguration Time.

Transfiguration is classically defined as: a : a change in form or appearance : METAMORPHOSIS

b : an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change

What I have wondered, what I have pondered and what I have imagined is: Who was actually changed in this experience? Was Jesus different after this encounter with the Holy? Matthew says. ”Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

It appears that after this announcement, after Elijah and Moses left the scene, it is simply Jesus with them again. Did Jesus change or was he always God’s son, God’s beloved?

I would like to suggest that it was in fact the disciples with him that day that began to be transfigured or began their metamorphosis that day.

The time for being confused and terrified had to soon come to an end. As those who would have to carry on the ministry of Jesus to bring this new Kingdom of God to fruition as the Church, it was time to know to whom they were committing their lives, to whom they all belonged and that they now were also the beloved children of God.

There is just no way one could, no way you could, no way I could, be the same after experiencing this, transfiguration time.

Transfiguration Sunday is right before Ash Wednesday and the church’s season of Lent because it marks a final turning point in this metamorphosis of the disciples. In the next weeks they will walk with Jesus on his journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. They will understand the peril they will face, that their own ends will not be any better than Jesus’. They will share in his passion, struggle to understand why they agreed to follow him in the first place, deny knowing him, and then try to be able to comprehend his resurrection and their part in this Good News that would be shared to the four ends of the earth.

Transfiguration Time

a : a change in form or appearance : METAMORPHOSIS

b : an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change It was them who were transfigured that day. A metamorphosis, a spiritual change. There was no going back, no being the same after experiencing this, transfiguration time.

Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:16-18

“…we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the

Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son,

whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from

heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”

I wonder though, getting back to us, to you and to me, if you were with Jesus that day, saw him with his clothes shining brighter than anyone could bleach them, standing with Elijah and Moses. What would you have done?

In what way would you begin to be transfigured, to begin a metamorphosis, to start to be spiritually changed? In what way have you already traveled with Jesus and changed so much that there is no turning back, no being the same after experiencing this?

Do you have an idea of how you might travel with Jesus during this season of Lent and to share in his Passion, to understand the highs and the lows of being a follower of Jesus today?

This is the heart of the matter: Each of our lives is different. Not all are called to serve God in the same way BUT all who have seen the bright light of the North Star or the shining garments of God’s beloved, all who experience transfiguration time, are in fact called to follow that light and in fact to BECOME that light for others. I’d like to leave you with that thought today.

Over these next weeks of Lent moving toward Holy Week and Easter, how will you personally reflect this Epiphany light in your world?

Start today, start where you can and remember… there will be no turning back, no being the same after experiencing this transfiguration time.

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

Creation Matters

Sermon delivered on the 2nd Sunday before Lent A, February 16, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-2.3; Psalm 136; Romans 8.18-25; St. Matthew 6.25-34.

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

We normally follow the Revised Common Lectionary for our weekly Scripture lessons but today I am using the Church of England’s lectionary because the lessons focus on creation. Why do I want us to focus on creation? Because most Christian denominations, at least those in the West, have done a pathetic job in teaching their people about why creation matters. So this morning, I will add to the carnage. No wait! That’s not right. I meant to say that I want us to start working on developing (or refining) our creational theology because creation and its redemption is one of, if not the, central themes of the Bible.

Our OT lesson, which is emphatically not a science lesson so please don’t try to make it what it isn’t, tells us the beautiful story of how God created this entire universe out of nothing. In each of the six creational periods, whatever they were, however long or short they took, we see God creating out of nothing and imposing order on the chaos of uncreation. After each creational period, the author tells us that God declared that particular activity to be good. With the imposition of God’s created order over the chaos of uncreation, we see God creating so that the living things he created had the ability to procreate and in each instance, God tells the living creatures, whether they be land- or sea-bearers, to be fruitful and multiply. Notice carefully the complementary binary nature of all creation: light and darkness, night and day, land and sea, heaven and earth, male and female, irrespective of species. And then finally God creates humans in God’s image, male and female (there’s that binary nature again) to—you guessed it: be fruitful and multiply so we could subdue, i.e., bring further order to the earth, and rule the earth on God’s behalf. That’s why God’s creativity reaches its climax when God created humans in his image. Humans are to play a central and essential role in God’s creation: We were created to rule in the manner of God. We can also read Genesis 1 as the story of God building his cosmic temple (the universe) and then placing his image-bearers in his temple to rule things wisely, i.e., when we serve in creation we serve in God’s temple. As we will see, St. Paul and our Lord Jesus himself tell us essentially the same thing in our epistle and gospel lessons respectively. To sum up our OT lesson, we can say that God created creation (including its creatures) good, i.e., creation matters to God, and God intends creation to be beautiful, life-giving, and sustaining, as well as orderly. But this can only happen to the extent humans, God’s image-bearing creatures, imitate God’s goodness, justice, and love to impose God’s good order on his creation.

So how should our creational theology (the study of God’s creation and intention for it) be shaped by all this? I don’t have the time to plumb the depths of this question (but you should) nor do I suggest there is a rigidly uniform theology that all Christians must follow. Having said that, there are some definite patterns and themes to which we must pay attention if we are going to live faithfully as God’s image-bearers. The first and most obvious component of Christian creational theology is that we must all be environmentalists and advocate for the wise care of God’s creation and its resources. After all, God has promised to redeem his creation. Why should we not care for it wisely on his behalf? This doesn’t mean we are tree huggers because we don’t believe God is in the trees. But we do believe God made the trees for God’s good creative purposes and our enjoyment, and therefore we must be wise in how we use (or don’t use them). Likewise with coal and gas and other forms of energy. Likewise with what and how much of something we consume because the commodities we consume have their origin in God’s creation and what we put or don’t put in our bodies is important because our bodies belong to God, not us (1 Cor 6.13). We are not to rape the land like we did in strip mining but nor are we not to use resources if doing so would impede our human flourishing. There are no easy answers to this issue of (non)usage and here again we must be wise and seek balance in our decisions, considering what the rest of Scripture, especially the gospel, has to say about being good stewards. This is why Christians have always advocated for education and the sciences as well as the arts and humanities. Most of the earliest modern scientists were Christians. They and their disciplines have helped us explain how and why things work, how to better our standard of living and the way we manage health and well-being; they’ve helped us explore the nature of beauty and truth in music, the arts, and literature, all for the purpose of human flourishing. Creation matters to God. It had better matter to us and these disciplines can help us be faithful stewards of God’s world. Of course, theology is important as well because good theology, studied and practiced together, helps us better understand God’s revelation to us and what God considers to be faithful image-bearing stewardship.

Our creational theology must also guide our thinking about love and sex. While our culture tells us today that sex is primarily about pleasure and our goal should be to seek as much pleasure as we can, this is not the reason God gave his living creatures sexual desires and instincts. God gave us sex to procreate so that we could rule his good creation wisely and in an orderly fashion. To do that, God gave us marriage and the family in which to enjoy sex and procreate. This theme is developed further in the second creation narrative found in Gen 2, especially Gen 2.18-25. Here we find the beautiful story and theology of how God created woman from the rib of man and the kind of equal and intimate yoking that stemmed from God’s creative activity, completing God’s image in humans. Again, notice the binary pairing involved here: man and woman coming together as husband and wife to enjoy sexual intimacy and union for the purposes of creating the family unit, the primary unit by which God intends humans to organize, so that we can rule God’s creation wisely and on his behalf. Whenever humans follow God’s created order for sexual activity and family, we find flourishing and thriving. When that order is not followed, we witness the chaos and disorder that arise from ungodly unions and human-constructed attempts to form families not in accordance with God’s creative will. The effects of divorce and family disruption, for example, not to mention fatherless homes, are well-documented despite the attempts of some to deny the chaos that inevitably results when humans attempt to follow their own disordered will instead of God’s. This is a conversation the church needs not only to be having but leading. If we are to be God’s image-bearers, we must not be ashamed to proclaim a faithful creational theology and its ramifications for all aspects of our life so that as many as possible can flourish, along with God’s world over which we rule. 

Our creational theology also informs us in matters of money and power and how we treat others. If we think we are responsible for providing for ourselves instead of God providing for us, we will tend to be greedy and self-serving. Money will have primary importance because that’s the medium we need to get stuff for ourselves and we’ll do what it takes to get it. Who cares who we run over or cheat or lie to or steal from? Who cares if we destroy the lives of others in pursuit of our needs? We’ve got our right’s, don’t we? But our rights look starkly different in a world where we own nothing and God owns it all. This alienated, self-centered thinking categorically rejects the generous heart and provision of God in the creation narratives to ensure that his creation and creatures will thrive. This doesn’t mean we sit around and wait for manna to fall from the sky (although my wife serves me manna regularly at our dinner table, but that’s another story). That’s not how it works. God gave us work to do as his image-bearers and from that work God provides for us, and generously. When we believe this, we must always be open to the needs of others and have a generous heart just as God the Father has a generous heart and track record for us. This gets at what Christ was talking about in our gospel lesson. Seek God and God’s creative purposes/order and you will thrive. Seek your own selfish desires and you will not. You will be anxious and sick.

This brings us to the darker side of creation because we all know that the world I have been talking about doesn’t exist today. To be sure there is great beauty and all kinds of evidence of God’s goodness and power in our world (if you’ve ever seen a breathtaking sunset or the vista of a mountain range or the beauty of blue ocean/lake water or a well-kept garden or the power of roaring waves or color photos of the cosmos, you know what I mean), but it is hardly good in the manner Genesis 1-2 describe. Why is that? Because of the Fall, a term used to describe what happened when humans rebelled against God in paradise by seeking to be gods instead of being content to be God’s creatures (Genesis 3.1-19). When that happened, our sin allowed the powers of Evil to enter into God’s world to corrupt and distort it, and it also brought God’s curse on the whole of creation. Because of the Fall, the original goodness of God’s creation was lost. Not totally but enough to make our lives miserable at times. Human sin along with God’s curse on his good creation is why, e.g., we have genetic defects and ugliness of all sorts and wicked diseases to name just a few. Our sin interrupted our perfect relationship with our Creator and introduced anxiety and alienation and loneliness and madness and chaos of all sorts into God’s world and our lives. To be sure, much of our suffering comes from the madness of our own folly and myopic selfishness. But much of what we suffer comes from external forces over which we have no control. We all have our stories. I just buried a young mother last week who died from cancer and was taken against her will from her family. She didn’t do anything to deserve that. Closer to home, we are holding our first healing service today and some of you will come for prayer and healing only to go away empty-handed. I wish it weren’t so, but that’s the reality. God sometimes refuses to answer our prayers for healing and deliverance, at least in the way for which we ask. There’s an injustice in the world that isn’t fully explainable by human sin and folly and it frightens us. This is what St. Paul is getting at in our epistle lesson when he talks about all creation groaning in travail while it awaits liberation from its bondage to decay—a reference to God’s curse on it—when God liberates his children. We too groan in travail from the emotional, mental, physical, social, spiritual, and personal bondage in which we find ourselves. It makes us want to cry out in desperation to God, asking why God allows this to happen and/or why God has abandoned us (cf. Psalm 130 for example). 

Here too our creational theology can help us because it allows us to see a bigger picture than our own individual salvation. We know from Genesis 1 what God’s gold standard for creation looks like, even if we have never experienced that standard personally. This longing for God’s gold standard—beauty, truth, love, health, life, vitality, happiness, flourishing to name just a few—makes us long for God to rescue us from his curse and the alienation, folly, darkness, sickness, sorrow, and death that our sin and God’s cursed world has brought about. It is precisely here that we must turn to the death and resurrection of Christ as St. Paul does in our epistle lesson because in Christ we are set free from our bondage to Sin and in our Lord’s resurrection we get a glimpse of a future even more spectacular than God’s creation before the Fall. When God raised Christ from the dead, God declared in this mighty act of power that he intends to rescue his good creation gone bad and us, restoring everything to its original goodness (and beyond), including our task as God’s image-bearers. That’s why God in Christ had to deal with our sin so that he could heal us and equip us to rule his new creation when Christ returns to raise our mortal bodies from the dead and bring in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth. God’s power and promise is what allows St. Paul to declare our current sufferings are not worth comparing to God’s promised new creation. At first blush that is a very irritating and off-putting statement. But St. Paul doesn’t mean that our sufferings are unimportant or trivial. He means rather that God will release us from them and give us a world forever devoid of suffering and sorrow, sickness and alienation, crying and death. This is our Christian hope, not yet realized. If we have a healthy and biblically-based creational theology, we get a glimpse of the astonishing possibilities that God has in store for his children, for those of us who are united to Christ in his death and resurrection in and through our baptism. And here is where we must be unabashedly bold in our proclamation and living out Christ’s death and resurrection. The world desperately needs to hear there’s a remedy for what ails it and we have that remedy: Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead to initiate God’s promised new world, with the promise to return to complete the saving work he started.

So how do we respond to all this? I offer the following summary conclusions for your faithful consideration. I don’t know why God allows all the suffering and bad things that happen in this world. I don’t know why the woman I buried had to deal with the evil of cancer that she did. I don’t know why she had to suffer so mightily and why her family was saddled with that terrible burden of caring for their dying loved one. None of it had to go that way, yet it did. I don’t know why some of you don’t get the healing and relief you so desperately seek while others of you do. It breaks my heart to watch—I’m talking here about those of you who seek healing and relief and don’t get it—and frustrates me when my prayers for you ostensibly remain unanswered. 

But I do know this. You and I have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb shed for us on the cross and made fit to stand in God’s holy presence forever. We will be clothed one day with a new body patterned after the body of our Lord Jesus and set free to love and use our talents in spectacular new and old ways that honor God and others forever. I know that on the cross our sin has been dealt with once and for all. I know that Death will be abolished in God’s new world because Sin will be abolished and Death is the result of Sin. Both will be absent in the new heavens and earth. I know all of this because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Do you believe this? Do you?? If you don’t, I can promise you the darkness of this world and your life will overwhelm you sooner or later. But if you believe the promise, like St. Paul you will have the power to endure and even thrive in the midst of your travails. I believe this because I believe the promises of God and I believe the promises of God because I know Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. That’s all that is really important in this life, my beloved—Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. The God who created this vast universe surely has the power to rescue you. Will you not trust him by giving your life to him and living in ways that are consistent with God’s good created order?

The promise is mind-boggling. But the God we worship is mind-boggling. We worship the God who has the power to raise the dead and call into existence things that don’t exist (Romans 4.17). Jesus’ promise that he is the resurrection and the life is ours, not because we are deserving, but because of who God is, the God who created us to have life with him forever, and who is embodied in Jesus Christ raised from the dead. That’s part and parcel of having a solid creational theology; and if we do, we can rejoice today, even as we groan in travail. Because of our faith in Christ who loves us and who has claimed us from all eternity, we can embrace our hope of God’s promised new creation, the ultimate Gold Standard for which we long, and let it sustain us so that we can find joy even in the midst of our sorrows, a joy based on the love of God who promises to heal and redeem us fully when the new creation and the resurrection of our mortal bodies are finally revealed. That’s called real hope, my beloved. Embrace it. Let it heal and sustain you. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Father Santosh Madanu: Go Be The Light of Jesus Christ

Sermon delivered on the third Sunday before Lent A, Sunday, February 9, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 58.1-12; Psalm 112.1-10; 1 Corinthians 2.1-16; St. Matthew 5.13-20.

Jesus tells us who we are.  Jesus says you are the salt of the earth and the Light of the world. When Jesus was talking with the crowed that have followed Him from Galilee, Jerusalem, and Judea and beyond the Jordan.  They have come to see Jesus, to listen and learn, to be healed.  They have come in search of meaning, direction, and the purpose.  You and I stand among that crowed for the same purpose. Jesus is asking us to season and transform the human activity in such a way that reveals God in this world. Last week gospel showed us to be God’s receivers, this week Gospel shows us that we too be God-giver, God-sharers.  The salt and light ultimately look like the life of Jesus Christ in us.

To live as salt of the earth and light of the world is to know our deepest, truest, and most authentic self.  It is a life that we long for and the life of God desires us to have.  It is both who we are and how we are to be. To lose saltiness and the light is to lose Jesus Christ.   It is to deny God. So never to lose our identity in Christ Jesus.   The point Jesus making is that, as a child of God, and follower of Jesus Christ, you are critical to life on earth.  The history gives us glimpses of what the world would be like without God’s people.  At the time of Noah’s flood there were only eight followers of God on the planet.  The LORD SAW HOWGREAT man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.  The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain”. (Genesis 6:5, 6).  In our times we see, the communist countries don’t acknowledge God and many Middle East countries the Christians are slaughtered because of their faith in Jesus.  The world needs all of us.  Because many are genuine in search to know the truth and to find source of life in God. It does not make any sense if we hide ourselves from being witness of the Light of Jesus. Let your light shine where ever you are.  Let your spouse see that you belong to Christ.  Let your children see that you are His.  Let your friends on Facebook see that you are His.  And Let your coworkers see that you are His.  Let everyone see your true identity in Christ JESUS.  THIS IS WHAT GOD HAS MADE YOU and ME.

If we are the salt and the light then we ought to be tasted and seen by the world.  The world is in darkness, unfaithfulness, godless.  So we need to show who God is.  Regardless of where we are in life of our faith. You and I become light of Christ for the life of the world. Friends we together in community, St. Augustine family, and in our own individual lives bear out the light of Christ. Our lives should be model of God’s presence.  No one can kill our faith, no one can put off our true light of Christ.  This is the grace Jesus blessed us with.

Jesus makes clear what is the mission, the vocation, the task and responsibility of those who live according to the Beatitudes.

The blessings promised by Jesus are to spread throughout the whole world, and to the whole of humanity, through his disciples. This is entirely in accordance with the way God has acted throughout salvation history. Think of how God’s blessing came originally through the one man Noah, with his family; then through the one man Abraham; then through the children of Israel, and even just the tribe of Judah. Who were they among all the many nations of the earth? Yet, according to the dispositions of Divine Providence, God reaches out to the many through the few. So with Jesus. He gathers to himself just twelve disciples; then he speaks to a crowd of insignificant nobodies on a hillside in a remote Roman Province; and through them he speaks to us. Who are we? Nothing and nobody. No, worse than that, we are sinners. Yet also: by our baptism we are the children of God; we are Temples of the Holy Spirit; we have been made one with Jesus in his mystical Body. So today Jesus entrusts to us a tremendous power for good. We, who are the heirs of the Kingdom of heaven: we are to share actively in the mission of Jesus to bring salvation to the whole world.

You are the salt of the earth. Even today we can understand something of this metaphor. We know that a little bit of salt gives savor to a large amount of otherwise tasteless food. Salt preserves meat from corruption. Used appropriately, salt purifies and cleanses. But also: according to the Old Testament law, a little salt was to be added to sacrifices, whether of animals or of cereal (Lv 2:13; Ezk 43:24). So salt can be taken as a symbol of sanctification.

In addition: in the thought world of the New Testament, salt symbolizes wisdom. We then, who are so few, so apparently powerless, such frail and flawed instruments: we are to preserve our world from corruption; we are to save it from folly; we are to sanctify it; we are to make it a fit sacrifice to God.

And then immediately Jesus issues a dire warning. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? Having had such blessings bestowed on us; such high ideals held out to us; such a noble task entrusted to us: what if we then turn aside, and become merely worldly again? What if we retain the name, but not the reality of Christian? What if we allow ourselves to lose our love for Jesus, and become separated from him through our own fault? What if our personal conduct becomes a living contradiction of the Gospel, and we land up acting actually as a counter witness? Of course while life lasts there is always the chance for repentance and conversion, thank God: but still the stakes are very high. If we persist in our infidelity, we must expect to be treated finally as we have richly deserved.

You are the light of the world. Of course this light is not our own, but the light of Jesus in us. I am the light of the world, Jesus says in St. John’s Gospel (Jn 8:12). So St. Paul cried out to the Galatians that it was no longer he who was living, but Christ who lived in him (Gal 2:20). So we ask that our own lives may become a radiance of the life of Jesus. We pray that Jesus may take possession of us so completely, and dwell in us so fully, that through us the divine light may shine out in our world.

It is difficult to imagine a world without light.   In Jesus’ usage, the light is not simply to allow others to see whatever they wish but it is for others to witness the acts of justice that Jesus’ followers perform

  Salt and light are indispensable household commodities. Salt and light in spiritual sense that Jesus is speaking has indispensable value.

Jesus is asking you, Mike, you Martin, You George, You Beth go, right now to spread the Good News of Salvation.  To bring back the world that I created, to strengthen the faith of all Christians. To be light of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ disciples will prevent moral decay in the world.

This means that there is a sanctifying influence that Christians have.

1.      1 Cor. 7:14, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”

 How to be a Christian is something the world learn primarily from other human beings

You are salt and you are light.

 “The kingdom of God is lived here and now – that is what it says in that letter from Christ which we are and shall more and more be.”

Can you live with such a commitment that people come to understand the realm of God through you?

You are salt.

You are light.

So, why did Jesus refer to them as salt?  Well, here’s what He seems to mean:

  1. Disciples of Christ have a seasoning influence.
  2. Disciples of Christ help to preserve. The world is corrupt and continues to corrupt.

Their message is the remedy for further corruption.  Some people in the world won’t like the message, but others will accept it and be preserved.

  1. Disciples of Christ are a testament to God’s promises. – Our lives are to testify to God’s unfailing love, to His promises from the past, and to His promises for the future.
  2. John 1:4-5, 9 – In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
  3. John 3:19 – “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved the darkness instead of the light because their deeds were evil.”
  4. John 8:12 – When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

            “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven

Whenever we try to lessening God’s law or bend His rules it is serious business.  When we are lessening God’s law and bending of His rules leads our children, our friends, our co-workers to do the same it is serious business. Jesus is telling us the sins are really serious business.  Jesus came all the way from heaven to earth to tell us keep the Law and the prophets.

Jesus is interested in the heart. So let us not worried about what the world think of us but what God thinks of us.

Prayer: Holy God, set our hearts and minds on things above. Our hearts and our minds are so contaminated with lustful, greedy, angry, lazy, competitive, and prideful thoughts and ambitions. Forgive us for the impurity of our hearts through Jesus. May we become salt and light of the world that you desired to bring many to your Infinite Light and Truth.  Bless us to be citizens of your kingdom. May we remain faithful to you until you come in glory. In Jesus Name we pray.  Amen.

Funeral Sermon: The Resurrection of the Dead: The Promise of Evil Defeated

Lectionary texts: Revelation 21.1-7; Psalm 23; 1 Corinthians 15.1-26, 35-38, 42-44a, 53-58; John 11.17-27.

If you wish to listen to the audio podcast of the sermon, click here.

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

Good afternoon. I am Father Kevin Maney, rector of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church located in Westerville where my wife, Dondra, and I live. I am preaching today because Stephanie asked me to. I ministered to her for almost two years as she fought against the disease of cancer that ultimately claimed her life. I do not come to eulogize Stephanie today because even the most eloquent eulogies will not bring the dead back to life. Instead I come to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead because only Christ can and will restore the dead to new life despite all of our unanswered questions, our doubts and fears and anger. 

Death under any circumstance is hard, isn’t it? But it is incredibly hard when we are dealing with cancer, a disease that can only charitably be called pure evil. In this case it has struck down a mother in the prime of her life, robbed her of her human dignity as God’s image-bearer, and took her against her will from her husband and young son and daughters, her mother, and the rest of her family and friends. I watched her disease progress as I ministered to her and my heart is broken over it. Our fervent prayers for her healing went unanswered, at least in the way we intended, and this only added to our sorrow. Like the psalmist, we cried out, “Why, O Lord? Why do you stand so far away?” (Psalm 10.1). There is no good way we can spin this, nor should we try. Her death from cancer is just wrong. There is no justice to be found in it, no goodness. No family should lose a mother, wife, and daughter at such a young age. Cancer is truly a wicked disease and Stephanie’s death makes us angry and indignant, and rightly so.

Death ends permanently the relationships we cherish most about being human in this mortal life. We can no longer see our beloved, hear them, touch them, smell them or interact with them. Our Lord Jesus also knew this about the evil of Death because he snorted in anger at his friend Lazarus’ tomb just before raising him to life (John 11.38). Death is our ultimate enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor 15.26). It entered God’s good world as the result of human sin and has inflicted its evil on us ever since. Like Martha in today’s gospel lesson we want to throw our hands up in the air in desperation and ask why God allows this to happen.

But if you paid attention to our gospel lesson, you heard Jesus talk about a breathtaking hope—hope defined as the sure and certain expectation of things to come, not wishful thinking—as he gave Martha and us an ultimately more satisfactory answer to her “why” question about Evil and Death. Jesus did not answer her question directly. Instead, echoing Psalm 23, he acknowledged that while Evil and Death still exist in God’s good but fallen world, he had come to destroy their power over us, which he did, at least preliminarily, in his death and resurrection.

That is why Christian funerals are so important. They serve to remind us that for those who are in Christ, Evil and Death do not have the final say because of God’s great love for us expressed in the death and resurrection of Christ. As Jesus tells us in our gospel lesson, resurrection isn’t a concept, it’s a person, and those like Stephanie who are united with Christ in baptism are promised a share in his resurrection when he returns to raise the dead and usher in God’s new world. Jesus’ new bodily existence attests to the fact that we as humans—body, mind, and spirit, the total package—matter to God, and that new bodily existence, not death, is our final destiny for all eternity. This is what resurrection is about. This is what we celebrate today.

St. Paul talks about the nature of our promised resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 and it is worth our time to see what he has to say. St. Paul tells us that unlike our mortal body that is subject to disease, decay, and death, the resurrection body with which we will be clothed will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. It will be a spiritual body, that is, it will be a body animated and powered by God’s Spirit instead of being animated and powered by flesh and blood. This means that our new body will no longer be subject to all the wicked illnesses and decay to which our mortal body is subjected. Whatever our new body looks like—and surely it will be more beautiful and wonderful than our minds can comprehend or imagine—it will be impervious to death and suited to live in God’s promised new world, the new heavens and earth. 

When Christ returns to raise the dead and usher in the new creation, the dimensions of heaven and earth will no longer be separate spheres for God and humans respectively, and which currently only intersect. Instead, as Revelation 21.1-7 promises, the new Jerusalem, NT code for God’s space or heaven, will come down to earth and the two will be fused together in a mighty act of new creation so that all forms of darkness and evil will be banished and we will get to live in God’s direct presence forever. There will be no more sorrow or sickness or suffering or pain or death or evil of any kind. We will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ and get to live forever with our new body and limitless new opportunities to be the humans God created and always intended for us to be. To be sure, this promise of new heavens and earth has not yet been fully realized and so we must wait in hope and faith for our Lord Jesus to return to usher it in. But even if we must wait, the promise of new creation is the only solution that will ultimately satisfy our hunger for justice and life because only in God’s new creation will all the injustices and hurts be made right and evil vanquished. In this case, Stephanie’s life and cancer-ravaged body will be fully restored (what better justice for the injustice of cancer and Death?) and severed relationships caused by death will made whole and complete again, a life of perfect health and happiness that will last forever, thanks be to God!

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we should not grieve. That would be cruel nonsense. You don’t love a person for an entire lifetime and then not grieve her loss when she dies. But as St. Paul reminded the Thessalonians, we are to grieve as people who have real hope and not as those who have none at all. It is this resurrection hope, the promise of new bodily life in God’s new heavens and earth, that we claim today. Our resurrection hope is the only real basis we have for celebrating Stephanie’s life, because without union with Jesus, none of us have life in this world or the next.

I want to close by telling you a story that powerfully sums up our Christian hope. 

In 1989 Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma, wife of Emperor Charles of Austria died. She was the last Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, and Queen of Bohemia—one of the last members of the storied House of Habsburg. Her funeral was held in Vienna, from which he had been exiled most of her eventful life. After the service in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, her body was taken to the Imperial Crypt, where some 145 Habsburg royals are buried. As the coffin was taken to the Crypt, an ancient ceremony took place. A herald knocked at the closed door, and a voice responded, “Who seeks entrance?” The herald answered, “Zita, Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary.” From within came the response, “I do not know this person.” The herald tried again, saying, “This is Zita, Princess of Bourbon-Parma, Empress of Bohemia.” The same reply was heard: “I do not know this person.” The third time, the herald and pallbearers said, “Our sister Zita, a sinful mortal.” The doors swung open.  

And so we return to Jesus’ question to Martha and us in our gospel lesson. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this? If you do, then act like the resurrection people you are! I don’t know why God allows all the suffering and bad things that happen in this world. I don’t know why Stephanie had to deal with the evil of cancer that she did. I don’t know why she had to suffer so mightily. I don’t know why her family had to be subjected to the heavy burden of caring for their failing wife, mother, and daughter. None of it had to go that way, yet it did. 

But I do know this. Stephanie has been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb shed for her on the cross and made fit to stand in God’s holy presence forever. She will be clothed one day with a new body patterned after the body of her Lord Jesus and set free to love and use her talents in spectacular new and old ways that honor God and others forever. I know that on the cross, her sin, along with ours, has been dealt with once and for all. I know that Death will be abolished in God’s new world because Sin will be abolished and Death is the result of Sin. Both will be absent in the new heavens and earth. I know all of this because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. 

The promise is mind-boggling. But the God we worship is mind-boggling. After all, we worship the God who has the power to raise the dead and call into existence things that don’t exist (Romans 4.17). Jesus’ promise that he is the resurrection and the life is ours, not because we are deserving, but because of who God is, the God who created us to have life with him forever, and who is embodied in Jesus Christ raised from the dead. That is why we can rejoice today, even in the midst of our grief and sorrow. And if your pain and sorrow are too great so that you cannot hear the promise of resurrection today, hold onto the promise with all your might until the day comes when you can hear and embrace it. Because of her faith in Christ who loves her and who has claimed her from all eternity, the doors of heaven have swung wide open for Stephanie and she is enjoying her rest with her Lord Jesus until the new creation and the resurrection of our mortal bodies come in full. And that, of course, is Good News, not only for Stephanie, but also for the rest of us, now and for all eternity. 

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

Father Santosh Madanu: The Blessing of Candles

Sermon delivered on Candlemas, Sunday, February 2, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Malachi 3.1-5; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2.14-18; Luke 2.22-40.

This week we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. In ancient Israel the Temple was the most important place in the world. It was the dwelling place of the Lord; it was where divinity and humanity embraced. But the nation of Israel had gone away from right worship of God. The Christ child is the divine and human in one and thus brings humanity back on line with God.

The words of the prophet Malachi are fulfilled in the poor parents presenting their firstborn son along with their humble sacrifice of two turtledoves. (Now I am sending my messenger— he will prepare the way before me; and the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; The messenger of the covenant whom you desire—see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:1) The mother of God – the Theotokos, in no need of ritual purification – and her husband did not set themselves above the Law.

Simeon identifies the child as the awaited messiah, a light for revelation, the glory of Israel 

The devotion to the presentation of the Lord in the Temple or the blessing of Candles, Candle light procession practiced during Constantinople in the sixth Century.  This feast invites us to recognize Jesus as the light that has come into the darkness to destroy sin and death.

 In the New Testament, the festive celebration of the presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, as described by the evangelist Luke, had it’s beginning in Jerusalem in the 4th Century. The Christians followed the same prescription as attested to by St. Epiphanius in his letter to the monk John of Jerusalem in the 4the Ce. In the beginning the feast did not have specific name,  it was called the 40th day after the Nativity, later it was called the encounter of Our Lord, which refer to the encounter of St. Simeon with Jesus in the Temple.  In the west, the feast is called The Purification, which prescribed by the Law (Luke2:12).  Later it was called Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. Now it is called The Candlemas, or Blessing of the Candles.

When Simeon took the child Jesus into his arms, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit and chanted the hymn, “Now you can let your servant go in peace, O Master… (Luke 2, 29-32).  St. Simeon referred Jesus as the “Light to the Gentiles,” it prompted the first Christians to carry a lighted candle or lamp in the procession that day, symbolizing the mystical presence of the “True Light”.  The solemn procession itself symbolizes the journey of Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem in fulfilment of the Law.

The blessing of candles and procession is of great importance.  Because of the words of Simeon and the testimony of Anna the prophetess. This is a kind of epiphany celebration. We gladly participate in the procession commemorating the Lord’s entry into the temple in Jerusalem and His encounter with God, whose house He had come to for the first time, and then with Simeon and Anna.  Jesus Christ is the light to enlighten the Gentiles.  Who are the Gentiles?  We are all the Gentiles.  We came to know Jesus the Light of the world through Him.  This is the humble service Blessed Mother Mary did to honor God in obedience to the Law.

It is good to know the custom of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation was introduced to fulfill the needs of the people.  During the 5th Ce as recorded in the Chronicles of St. Theophanes, Emperor Justinian I, issued the order that on the feast of the presentation, a Candle – light procession be held throughout the city to implore Divine Protection against the pestilence and numerous earthquakes that plagued the city. And in answer to this holy gesture, God caused the pestilence and earthquakes to subside.  This gave rise to having processions on other occasions when the common welfare of the people was in danger.  In homes, the blessed candles are lighted in time of serious sickness or the threat of a storm to implore Divine Protection, as the family gathered in prayer.

St. John Chrysostom says the candle blessed on the feast of the presentation is also used when the Last Rite of the Church are administered to a member of the family.  It should also be placed into the hand of the dying as the priest recites the prayer for the Departure of the Soul, sending him to God as “the Champion of Faith”.

The liturgy provides for the blessing of women both before and after birth.

It is a highly desirable thing for mothers and married couples to ask for these blessings so that pregnancy can be brought to term without difficulty (blessing before birth), and to give thanks to God for the gift of a child (blessing after birth).

In the Old Testament Lev 24:14, God Himself ordered the Israelites to burn lamps as a sign of His presence among the People.

The psalmist speaks: your word, O Lord, is a lamp to my feet and light to my path

St. John the evangelist presents Our Lord Jesus Christ to us in his Gospel as the “The Light of Life”. (John 8:12) a life of grace.

St. Mathew refers to Light as a symbol of Christ Teaching:  “the people that lived in darkness (of ignorance) have seen a great light.  Mathew 4:16

John 8:12 Our Lord Himself says “I am the Light of the World”

The teachings of Jesus Christ should enlighten us and guide us on our way to Salvation.

Dear friends this light of Christ can help us to walk through the darkness to the unknown world- Heaven.

Gospel tell us the story of Simeon and Anna went to the Temple every day, because both of them believed that one day, they would see the Messiah there.   So this is something that they have done for long time. And of course, as we just heard, they are both rewarded for their Faith and their perseverance. By the fact they get to see Jesus on the day that he was presented to God in the Temple, because they had been waiting for Messiah in prayer and fasting day and night.  God fulfills His promises to Simeon and Anna.

How can we know our salvation?

How can we know the promises of God being fulfilled?

How does God reward His faithful?

The Lord may bless us like Simeon and Anna to see the salvation, when we consecrate our life to His Sacred Heart.   We need to acknowledge God in everything we do and live. This is why we have to find some time for God every day in our lives.  If Simeon and Anna decided not to go to the Temple that day, they would have missed out!

Are we missing Jesus and His Light? Are we missing out the joy, peace and spiritual life?  Because we miss church, we miss prayer life and fellowship. Let God fulfill His promises to us every day!

Dear brothers and sisters forty days have passed since we celebrated the joyful feast of the Nativity of the Lord. 

God in His Boundless love and Infinite mercy wanted to abide with us always.  That is why he created in His own image and likeness.  And He spent His presence with Adam and Eve every day.  

Though they disobeyed His Commandment and lost His presence.  Once again God in Jesus Christ came to walk, talk and have His abiding presence.  That is what todays feast presentation of the Lord in the Temple. God in Jesus Christ come to meet His children.

Jesus is coming to meet His believing people through His word and through the Holy Mass.  We need to be prepared to meet Him and have an encounter with Christ. Surely we shall find Him and ask His blessings like St. Simeon. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you have established the church, made all of us your members, bless us that we may never ceases to proclaim the mystery that God has become man.  And God who created all things has emptied himself to become like one of a his creatures to be Light to Nations. IN Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

Christ’s Light for Our Darkness: The Challenge of Living in the Already-Not Yet

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

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 9.1-4; Psalm 27.1, 4-12; 1 Corinthians 1.10-18; St. Matthew 4.12-23.

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

We all know what it is like to live in the darkness. But do we know what it is like to live in Christ’s light in the midst of the world’s darkness? This is what I want us to look at this morning. 

Every one of us is afflicted by some form of darkness, whether imposed from the outside or from within. So what forms of darkness do you struggle with? For some it is the darkness of alcoholism or drug addiction. For others it is the darkness of pornography or gambling addiction. For still others it is the darkness of loneliness or alienation or the loss of important relationships and people once held so near and dear. Others live in the darkness of fear: we fear losing what we have, be it family and loved ones, or a culture and country we once loved but see crumbling around us. We fear bankruptcy, sickness, and death. The list is almost endless. For the people of the ancient northern kingdom of Israel it was the darkness of impending foreign invasion with its resulting destruction and displacement from the promised land, a sure sign that God had abandoned them. Many of us who live today have a similar fear of being rejected by God. We look at the good we’ve done but we also see the evil we’ve committed. Every one of us knows we have the capacity to betray ourselves—our highest values and all the good that we hold near and dear—along with others in pursuit of the various idols our disordered hearts seek, even as we know we are capable of showing true sacrificial and noble love for the sake of others. To use the language of Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares, if we have the courage and humility to be honest with ourselves, each of us would be forced to admit that we are both wheat and tare in the field of God’s world. 

At its root, the darkness that afflicts us, whether internally or externally, finds its origins in our alienation from God that resulted when our first ancestors rebelled against God in paradise. It makes us afraid and diminishes us as human beings, God’s image-bearing creatures who were designed to reflect God’s goodness and justice and love out into his creation to nurture and sustain it. It makes us sick and causes us to die. It makes us cry out to the Lord in desperation and pain, pleading with God to do something about it, and it makes us wonder if we really matter at all to God. End our alienation from God and the various forms of evil Scripture calls “darkness” must go away. But how to do that since none of us has the power to fully extricate ourselves from the darkness? Reality notwithstanding, we keep on trying and the problem is exacerbated when we try to self-medicate and/or find healing through our pursuit of various idols, just as God’s people Israel did all those centuries ago. We try to drown our sorrows to forget them. Or we pursue the idols of power, identity politics, security, wealth, and prestige to name just a few, thinking if we just make enough money or have the right connections and/or influence we can fix our various problems. We can’t. It’s not in our spiritual DNA as fallen human beings. We still remain alienated from God and each other.

There is only one hope for ending the darkness that afflicts us and it is announced by the prophet Isaiah and realized fully in Jesus Christ, God’s healing light to the world. Despite our ongoing rebellion against God, despite our relentless pursuit of self-help and its accompanying idols, God in his great mercy, love, and wisdom has acted on our behalf to end the root cause of our alienation from him so that we can one day be fully healed and freed from the power of darkness. And how did God do this? God sent his own Son to die for our sins, for the ongoing darkness that our rebellion helps create and sustain. In the cross of Christ we see the wisdom and power of God to save for those who believe in this kind of unheard of power. On the cross, God took the collective darkness of the world, your darkness and mine along with everyone else’s over time and culture, and condemned it in Christ’s body nailed to the tree. Doing so allowed God to condemn the darkness without condemning us. St. Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Colossians:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world.

Colossians 2.13-15, 20a, NLT

Did you catch the breathtaking promise in St. Paul’s bold proclamation? God himself has acted unilaterally on our behalf to end our alienation from him. On the cross God has broken the dark powers’ grip over us. We are no longer enslaved to the darkness because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us. Death is no longer our destiny. In Christ we are set free to be truly human beings.

God used an instrument of shame and human degradation to heal our relationship with him and restore us to himself. God broke the power of darkness in this manner because to fight darkness with darkness is to already be defeated by the darkness and God could not let that happen. Shock and awe along with a final fearsome judgment will come, but not before God gives us time and a real chance to be rescued from his final just condemnation of the darkness that has plagued and corrupted God’s beloved creation and creatures. God did not wait for our approval or for us to ask him to help us in this way. In fact, as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, God acted on our behalf to break the darkness while we were still his enemies, hostile and alienated from God (Romans 5.1-11). There is no greater love than this and it shows the depth of God’s love and mercy for us, along with God’s desire for real justice to be executed on all the darkness perpetrated against God and his people. This is why St. Paul was so adamant that God’s people in Christ make the cross our central focus and purpose of living. Without it we are dead men and women walking, alienated from God and utterly without hope. With and through the cross, we are forgiven and reconciled to God the Father with the expectation (hope) of being fully forgiven right now and the complete restoration that accompanies eternal life in the future. This is the power and wisdom of God made known in the cross.

But here’s the thing. While we have been rescued from eternal death and destruction, and while God has broken the enslaving power of darkness on the cross, the powers have not been totally vanquished. They are still quite active. Neither are we fully healed, even though we have been fully reconciled to God the Father through the cross of Christ. Remnants of sin still remain in us. The promise of new heavens and a new earth are yet to be fully realized. We call this living in “the already-not yet.” Christ has won the victory for us and we are no longer God’s enemies and children of hell (the already). But the victory is not yet fully consummated and won’t be fully realized until our Lord’s return (the not yet). This can create some interesting ambiguities in us and our lives, and apparently those ambiguities have been with us from the get-go as our epistle lesson attests. 

In the church at Corinth various destructive factions had formed around its leaders that threatened to tear apart the church. Christians there were reverting back to their various idols, in this context striving for the idol of human power to impose their will on their fellow Christians. This idol is often driven by human pride and St. Paul would have none of it. Don’t you know that you are emptying the cross of its power by seeking other idols, he roared? Christ died for your sins and has stripped away your slavery to the darkness. You are rescued and restored to God. It’s a free gift to you won by God himself and given to you in your baptism when the free gift was fully bestowed upon you. When you look at the cross you must see that humility and love must rule your lives, not self-gain or the delusion of self-help. The cross demands that you seek to put to death your darkness (the only darkness you have control over) in the power of the Spirit, not to win the light of your salvation, because it has already been won for you and you are freed from your slavery to sin. You must instead make the cross the focus and center of your life because it is the only way God can break the power of darkness over you and use you to be his light bearers. One day you will be fully healed and you will not be able to sin any longer because your bodies will be powered by the Spirit, not by your fallen nature. That’s in the future though. Right now, you have to fight the fight against the darkness and sometimes you will lose. But the war’s already been won for you when Christ died for you. Don’t throw away the victory God won for you. Don’t reject God’s great love and mercy for you.

St. Paul would tell us the same thing today and so did Christ in our gospel lesson when he announced that God’s kingdom was at hand, i.e., God’s promised light had finally appeared, but surprisingly in the form of Jesus. The proper response is to repent. Since our thinking about repentance is quite muddled, let us be clear about what repentance is and isn’t. Jesus wasn’t telling us to feel terminally rotten about ourselves. Why would he want us to do that, especially since the kingdom of God with its healing and exorcisms had come near? Repentance doesn’t mean a call to self-condemnation, my beloved, because self-condemnation is categorically different from feeling remorse over our sins and transgressions. Repentance is about changing our way of living and our orientation of life. Instead of focusing inward and making it about us, Christ calls us to focus again on the love and goodness of God made known in him. In other words, repentance is about doing, not feeling. Christ calls us to focus on his life-saving death and resurrection, along with the many signs of power he did in his earthly ministry. Doing so reminds us to have the good sense and humility to acknowledge our utter helplessness to free ourselves from our slavery to the darkness and acknowledge that God through Christ alone has the power to free, to heal, to restore, and to save. Repentance also allows us to live with the ambiguities of the already-not yet, believing the promises of God made known in the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

And to further help us live in the already-not yet, we take another cue from our Lord when he called his first disciples. In doing so, Jesus reminds us that discipleship is always to be lived out together as his newly-formed family so that we can love and support each other. In doing so, we are helped to remain confident that the power of darkness is broken over us even as it remains abundantly active in the world. And so we continue to act faithfully, even in the face of multiple ambiguities, knowing that we are rescued and healed and loved and restored by a love that simply is beyond our full comprehension. We believe this because we believe in the power and wisdom of God. 

So what does that look like? When we keep the cross as our central focus, we are reminded that each of us has good and evil in us and that Christ died for the ungodly, for all of us. When we take this to heart with the Spirit’s help, it must change how we interact with others. No longer can we hate anyone since Christ died for those we despise and who despise us, and so we must treat them with circumspection and charity. What if Christians in this nation took that mindset into the political arena this year? Instead of posting hateful, shameful things about those with whom we disagree, we greet them with charity and a willingness to openly debate issues rather than lobbing ad hominem attacks on them. Think what would happen if instead of blaming and shaming our enemies, we seek to find real justice and solutions for them, remembering that Christ died for them as he did for us. If the Church would behave this way in the secular world, we are promised that the light of Christ will shine through us to bring God’s healing to bear. What an Epiphany proclamation that would be! As we near the end of this season of Epiphany and prepare for Lent, let us as Christ’s holy people resolve to focus on the power and wisdom of God made known in the cross of Christ by taking up our own cross, denying ourselves, and following him. Only then can we beacons of Christ’s light and not bearers of darkness. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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