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. 

The Servant’s Servants

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2A, Sunday, January 19, 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 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-11; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; St. John 1.29-42.

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

So who is this mysterious servant about which Isaiah speaks in our OT lesson and what does that possibly have to do with us who try to live faithful Christian lives today? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

In today’s OT lesson we encounter the second of the four so-called “Servant Songs” fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We heard the first song last week in Isaiah 42.1-9. So who is the servant in today’s lesson? In v.3 the Lord identifies Israel as the servant only to identify him as an individual God has chosen from birth to rescue Israel from their collective sin-sickness two verses later! To help us make sense of all this, we need to quickly review the unfolding story of salvation contained in the old and new testaments. There we learn that God created his creation and creatures, declaring it all to be good. Scripture makes it crystal clear throughout that creation matters to God. Furthermore, God created humans in his image to run his creation wisely and lovingly on God’s behalf, but our first ancestors didn’t quite get the latter part of that memo. They wanted to rule God’s world on their own; they weren’t interested in ruling on God’s behalf and we’ve followed their lead ever since. All this got us booted from paradise and resulted in God’s curse on his creation. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 8.18-25, all creation groans under the weight of its slavery to the outside and hostile powers of Evil, Sin, and Death that human sin unleashed as it waits for God’s children—that would be those of us who give our lives to Christ—to be redeemed at Christ’s Second Coming. I don’t have to explain further. We all have groaned many times under the weight of our own sins and folly and from God’s good world gone terribly wrong.

But because God cares for his creation and us and wants to free us from all that oppresses us and weighs us down, especially from the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death, God chose to rescue his good world and us from the clutches of the dark powers. Fittingly God chose to do that through human agency, specifically through his people Israel whom God called and formed through Abraham and his descendants. But Israel was as broken as the people they were sent to help heal; and now we return to our OT lesson. God still chose Israel as the human agents to bring his healing love to broken and hurting people and nations, but Israel had to first be healed before they could fulfill their mission. And so God called his servant to heal Israel and through Israel the world. Of course, we Christians believe Jesus Christ was and is that servant and Israel is now reconstituted around those who follow Christ, both Jew and Gentile. The NT calls this reconstituted Israel the Church but the most important thing for us to remember is that Christ is the servant who will bring healing to Israel and ultimately to the world.

And how will he do that? St. John tells us in our gospel lesson this morning when he tells us that John the Baptizer recognized Christ and declared him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John knew this because God had told him how to recognize the Messiah (or the Christ) and John proclaimed Jesus to be the Christ to his followers. As it turned out, the Servant would be God himself, God become human to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and the inevitable death that our sins produce. For his contemporaries, John’s declaration that Jesus was the Lamb of God would have had clear Passover implications. Passover, of course, was the main Jewish festival that celebrated God’s rescue of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Jesus, as St. John and the rest of the NT writers proclaim, will bring about an even more powerful and dramatic release by rescuing his followers from our slavery to Sin and Death and reverse the curse under which the entire creation labors. 

But why does this matter? Why do we need to know about the Servant and his songs? Well, besides the obvious—after all, being rescued from an eternal death separated from God forever and the hell that that separation brings is no small gift to us—in Christ the Servant we find our ultimate healing and peace because we know that our sins are forgiven and we can enjoy a real relationship with God the Father won for us by the death of his Son. And with that forgiveness comes real healing and health so that we are made ready to be servants of Christ who engage in the ongoing work of healing and redemption in the power of Spirit. More about that anon. 

But we want to protest. That is ridiculous! We don’t feel healed! We still labor with our guilt and doubts and fears, and many of us sure don’t feel forgiven! Nor do we act the part on a consistent basis. Well, my argumentative friends, you are in good company because the promises we read today in our OT lesson were written for a people who would be living in exile, for them the ultimate punishment of God, and it would seem incredible and even arrogant on the part of the prophet to make such promises. How could they as God’s chosen people be God’s light to the nations to bring God’s healing love and relief to them when they were held captive themselves. Ridiculous!

But the promises and faithfulness of God are not to be denied and we would be wise to reconsider our protests because God’s rescue plan looks beyond what is seen and behind what may seem to be all too futile to that which is unseen and unexpected as Father Bowser preached so well last Sunday. Never underestimate the power of God to surprise and rescue and restore. After all, we worship Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead to rule forever and ever by the power of God. 

Here is where our epistle lesson can help us. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul begins by telling the Corinthians that they are God’s saints, NT code for being holy people. Being holy in the NT means that we are called by God to be his servants organized as the one holy, catholic (universal) and apostolic Church to bring his healing love to the world around us. Holiness does not mean we walk around with halos over our heads or that we spend 24/7 reading the Bible and praying (although those activities must be central in our lives if we ever hope to fulfill our mission as God’s servants in Christ). Holiness means we act like Christ to show the world a better way of living. Every time we forgive when forgiveness is unwarranted, every time we work to establish justice for those who have been denied it, every time we work to help the most helpless and needy in the world around us, every time we work for peace and not for rancor, and every time we proclaim in our deeds and speaking that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, we fulfill the Servant’s role as Christ’s servants. If you are doing these things, however imperfectly you do them, you are being a holy person despite being the losers you are. But here’s the thing. We cannot and will not do any of this on our own power. We do these things in the power of the Spirit. Without the Spirit’s help and presence we are incapable of these behaviors because sin is so deeply ingrained in us. Neither are we likely to engage in this work if we think we are still under God’s condemnation for our sins and therefore feel alienated from God (those who believe this know who you are) so that we suffer anxiety and live in fear, hard as we try to suppress and deflect it. Even those of us who have accepted God’s forgiveness won for us through the blood of the Lamb want to protest from time to time along with those who haven’t. We do that stuff you just talked about (OK, not real well but we try to make a good effort) but nothing seems to happen. We’re still a hot mess emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically (the latter especially if we’re enjoying Geezerdom in all its glory). Sure doesn’t feel like we’re holy or making any kind of difference. 

To these complaints St. Paul would tell us the same thing he told the church at Corinth. Get over yourselves. It ain’t about you. It’s about the power of God working in and through you, a power made available to you by the Lamb of God. Look, I told the Corinthians they were God’s holy people and I wasn’t lying. This is the same bunch I also had to admonish for condoning a man sleeping with his stepmother, squabbling over leadership and turf, believers filing lawsuits against fellow believers, spiritual pride, and abuse of the Lord’s table to name just a few. Talk about a hot mess of a church! It almost rivals you at St. Augie’s! Despite all this St. Paul was bold to declare that they (and we) had every spiritual gift they (and we) needed to be Christ’s servants and assured them (and us) that they (and we) were and are his servants. St. Paul understood better than most that the power of God at work is not always obvious and often shows itself in unexpected ways, but it is nonetheless stronger than our folly and fears and sins and shortcomings so that we need not fear or lament when we miss the mark. We are truly beloved by the Father because we have faith in the Lamb of God who takes away our sins so that we can find wholeness and healing and life, despite the travails of living this mortal life in a fallen world. That is why we are to await eagerly for Christ to return to finish his saving work. We don’t bring in the kingdom in full, only Christ can do that, but he calls us to wage war on his behalf by being his humble, faithful servants and embodying his great love for us in our lives. We cannot give what we do not have and that is why our healing that comes from a real sense of sins forgiven, undeserving as we are to receive it, is so critical to our discipleship.

The psalmist also has some useful insights to help us overcome our doubts and fears as we live out our faith in the power of the Spirit. He tells us to remember the mighty acts of God in our personal lives and in the lives of God’s people. Do you stop to remember the many times God has answered your desperate prayers and made his presence known to you in the living of your days? Do you read Scripture to recall the new Passover of God won in Christ’s death and resurrection? If you don’t, you help close yourself to Christ’s healing love for you made known in Scripture. 

Let me close by giving you a quick example to illustrate how God’s grace works in all this. I am ministering to a woman who is dying of cancer. She is in her forties and has a family who is shell-shocked and angry at this massive injustice that has been inflicted on their beloved mother, wife, and daughter. I have prayed ceaselessly for a mighty act of healing but it did not come and it is utterly heartbreaking to watch. I don’t know why God allows it or why God won’t answer our prayers. Here’s what I do know. Without Christ’s help in and through the power of the Spirit I could not bring myself to even visit her, let alone be her pastor. Whenever I feel overwhelmed and/or despondent, I remember God’s mighty power made known in Christ’s resurrection. I remember that if God can call into existence things that did not exist and give life to the dead, God will surely heal this woman when she enters his glory at her mortal death. And when Christ raises her on the Last Day and welcomes her into the new heavens and earth made possible by his death and resurrection, justice will be fully served. She will have new life, a new body impervious to illness and death, and she will be fully restored to God the Father who loves her and sent his Son to die for her so that she could ultimately live. She will also be restored forever with those whom she loves who died in the power and peace of Christ. Justice will be fully restored and the evil of cancer that resulted in an unjust and wicked death will be vanquished forever. None of this makes the work any easier and we will all grieve her death when it comes. But here’s my point. When I feel inadequate in ministering to her, when I feel helpless that I cannot heal her, when I feel anger at the injustice and evil inflicted on her, when I am weighed down by my own great sin, I remember the power of God and I am strengthened to do the work Christ calls me to do on his behalf. That same power is available to each and every one of you, my beloved. As we walk through our dark valleys and the messiness of our lives and faith, rejoice that we have a God who loves and honors us enough that he has acted decisively in and through his Son on our behalf to restore us to himself so that we can be his people and do the work he calls us to do. 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 Ric Bowser: What Do You Expect?

Sermon delivered on the Baptism of Christ A, Sunday, January 12, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Bowser has retained his swagger for 2020 and steadfastly refuses to give up a written sermon for you to read. I mean, what do you expect? Click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 42.1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10.34-43; Matthew 3.13-17.

Father Philip Sang: Arise and Shine for Your Light has Come

Sermon delivered on the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord (transferred), Sunday, January 5, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang starts the new year by not having any written text for his sermon. We are shocked, I tell ya. SHOCKED! So click here if you want to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-15; Ephesians 3.1-12; St. Matthew 2.1-12.

Meditations on the Incarnation by Select Church Fathers and Doctors

Meditations read by Father Kevin Maney on Christmas 1A, Sunday, December 29, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

The following sermon preached by St. John Chrysostom is the first extant Christmas sermon we have. It was preached in Antioch in 386, the same year Augustine became a Christian. Source: http://antiochian.org/node/21955

Behold a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He who is, is Born; and He who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation [being born of a virgin] I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.  

For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works. 

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend. 

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, who is before all ages, who cannot be touched or be perceived, who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that [humans] cannot see. For since [humans] believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature. 

For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker. 

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He who cannot be touched, who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of [humans]. He who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness. 

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me. 

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with [humans] without fear, and [humans] now hold speech with angels. 

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infants food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

—St. John Chrysostom (d. 407), priest at Antioch and later Archbishop of Constantinople

Now hear this word from St. Athanasius.

The Word of God did not abandon the human race, his creatures, who are hurtling to their own ruin. By the offering of his body, the Word of God destroyed death which had united itself to them; by his teaching, he corrected their negligences; and by his power, he restored the human race.

Why was it necessary for the Word of God to become incarnate and not some other? Scripture indicates the reason by these words: “It was fitting that when bringing many heirs to glory, God, for whom and through whom all things exist, should make their leader in the work of salvation perfect through suffering.” This signifies that the work of raising human beings from the ruin into which they had fallen pertained to none other than the Word of God, who had made them in the beginning.

By the sacrifice of his body, he put an end to the law which weighed upon them, and he renewed in us the principle of life by giving us the hope of the resurrection. For if it is through ourselves that death attained dominance over us, conversely, it is through the incarnation of the Word of God that death has been destroyed and that life has been resurrected, as indicated by the Apostle filled with Christ: “Death came through one person; hence the resurrection of the dead comes through another person also. Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will come to life again.”

It is no longer as condemned that we die. Rather, we die with the hope of rising again from the dead, awaiting the universal resurrection which God will manifest to us in his own time, since he is both the author of it and gives us the grace for it.

St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (d. 373), On the Incarnation 10.14

And finally, a word from our own St. Augustine of Hippo. 

Awake! For your sake God has become human. “Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” I tell you again: for your sake, God became human.

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

…Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but by sheer grace.

—St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (d. 430), Sermon 185

Christmas Eve Sermon— Christmas: God’s Light for the Darkness

Sermon delivered on Christmas Eve 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.7-10; The Song of God’s Chosen One (Isaiah 11); Hebrews 1.1-12; John 1.1-14.

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

Merry Christmas, St. Augustine’s! During this past Advent season we have encouraged you to look into the darkness of this world and our lives with faith in the goodness of God’s justice and power to act on our behalf. Continuing this theme in our gospel lesson tonight, St. John writes that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. But what does that mean for us as Christians living today? This is what I want us to look at this evening.

Have you ever waited to hear good news about something or someone? If you have, you get a sense of what’s going on in our OT lesson. There’s a sense of real hope that the news will be good, but we can imagine God’s people also waiting and wondering if their hopes will be dashed and the news will be bad. We don’t have to live in 7th century BC Israel to understand this dynamic. We all have our secret and not so secret hopes and fears, our anxieties and sorrows. We look at our own failures and all that swirls around us in our lives; and as we have seen during Advent, we ask the Advent questions: How long, O Lord, before you act on our behalf? Have you forgotten us, Lord, forever? Why are you not acting to bring justice to your world and people? This is the darkness about which St. John speaks in our gospel lesson. It is a darkness caused by the powers of Evil and their human agents. It is the darkness of a sin-stained life. It is the darkness of grieving the death of loved ones or of serious physical or emotional ailments. It is the darkness of alienation, both from God and each other. It is the darkness of fear, to name just a few. Where is God in all of it? Does God not care? Why does God allow the darkness to seemingly prevail? As God’s people in Christ, we eagerly await some message of Good News, hoping that God’s light and goodness prevail. Many of us hope for the best but expect the worst.

But then we, like God’s people Israel, hear the Good News and our spirits soar. God’s heralds announce our salvation (think angels over Bethlehem in St. Luke’s gospel). Our God reigns! The enemy has been defeated! The forces of darkness are destroyed! Notice carefully, my beloved, that in our OT lesson, as well as our own lives, the promised deliverance is not yet fulfilled; it is only announced to us. The people of Israel had not yet witnessed the destruction of their Babylonian conquerors and experienced the joy of returning to their beloved Promised Land. Likewise for us. Come Christmas morning tomorrow, we will awake believing that Christ has come but with the realization that the world still seems committed to its old sinful and hurtful ways. The powers of darkness do not take a break on Christmas Day. If anything they ramp up their game with all kinds of mayhem and violence in an effort to make us believe God’s announcement that our salvation has been achieved in Christ and that God our Father reigns is nothing but a lie. Let none of us dare fall for their lies because Satan, the head of the dark powers, is the father of lies and he does not want us to know and experience the joy of God’s Truth.

No, the promise of the birth of Christ at Christmas is that the good news announced to God’s people through the prophet Isaiah has come true, i.e., Christmas is the beginning of God’s answer to our Advent questions. Both St. John and the writer of the letter to the Hebrews make the bold and audacious statement that God himself has become human to deliver us from our sins and the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death so that our present and future are secure. But as all our lessons make clear, in coming to us as a human, or in the language of the NT, in sending his Son to us, God the Father has much bigger fish to fry than just saving us from our sins, massively important as that is. 

When St. John tells us the Word became flesh and lived among us as Jesus Christ, he takes us back to the very beginning of creation. In sending Christ to rescue us from the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death, God the Father intends to rescue not only us, but all of creation. We see this vision put forth in our canticle lesson. The original harmony and goodness of nature are restored and we as God’s image-bearers, you and me, are healed and equipped to once again rule God’s good world on God’s behalf. Think about this carefully, my beloved. When the Word became flesh, when the Light shined in the darkness, God revealed to us that creation matters, that we matter, our entire being: body, mind, and spirit, not just our spirits. God intends to heal the entire creation, freeing his image-bearers from the darkness that has enslaved us, and restoring us to his full image-bearers the way we were before the Fall. Think it through. How wonderful it will be to one day be able to walk unfettered and unashamed with God in God’s new world the way our first human ancestors enjoyed perfect communion with God in the garden (cf. Genesis 3.8-9), free from the anxieties that plague us because of our sin-sickness and the alienation that afflicts us. How wonderful and awesome will that be! The goodness of God will permeate through every atom of our cosmos and us, freeing us from our sins and our slavery to the dark powers that hate us and want to destroy us. Death will be no more because it too will have been destroyed when Christ returns to raise his people from the dead and transform those who are living at that time as he ushers in God’s new world, perfect and devoid of every kind of evil and sin and darkness. This is what the writer of Hebrews is getting at when he tells us that God’s Messiah, Jesus our Lord, the Light that shines in the darkness, will change the old creation into the new, just like we change from old clothes into new ones. Christ can do that because he is our Creator and Sustainer, i.e., he is Lord of the universe and has been given the authority from God the Father to rule, both in this dark age and in the age to come. 

And how do we know this is true? Because the word of God proclaims and announces it to be true, and as our OT reminds us (along with the NT), the word of God in Scripture has the power to transform us so that we can believe its proclamation is true. But there’s more, of course. As St. John reminds us, we are to look at the wondrous fact that God became human in the course of human history to verify the NT’s claim that God did indeed become human and dwell among us. It is critical for us to know why God became human and what he did so that the darkness cannot overcome his Light and we may have hope, i.e., we look to the past so that we can trust God’s present announcement of God’s return to us. To be sure, Christ will come as a warrior to judge all those who refuse to submit to his Lordship and way of life. Sadly there are many who will fall into this category. Let us make every effort in the power of the Spirit not to be counted among those poor souls. God’s judgment on all that is dark and evil is surely coming as the NT promises when Christ returns to finish his saving work. Evildoers will be dealt with accordingly and the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death will be banished forever. When the dead are raised perfect justice will be ushered in and our memories will surely be healed of all the hateful and hurtful and dark things we have had to bear, thanks be to God! A loving and good God cannot and will not tolerate evil forever and we get a foretaste of that in Christ’s first coming when we see our Lord heal the sick, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, and cast out demons. 

But what about us? We are all sinners. Won’t we too fall under God’s terrible judgment on all that is evil and wrong? Not so fast my anxious ones. Enter the story of Christmas where God takes on our flesh to deal with our sins. In Christ, God has refused to wage war on the enemy’s terms. God did not come with shock and awe, much as God’s people Israel (and many of us) wanted him to. Instead he came as a baby boy, fully human yet fully God, an impenetrable mystery. That is why so many of God’s people (and others since) missed God’s promised return to his people. And why did God choose to do this? First because he gave humans the exalted status and privilege of being his image-bearing creatures who would rule God’s world on God’s behalf, reflecting God’s goodness and justice and love out into God’s world for the world to enjoy and celebrate. If God created us for such a job, it makes sense that God would choose to rescue us from our slavery to Evil, Sin, and Death through the human agency of Jesus Christ. 

But secondly, God became human so that he could pronounce judgment on our sins without condemning us. As St. Paul reminds us succinctly in his letter to the Romans, God became human for us because 

The law of Moses was unable to save us [from our sins] because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 

Romans 8.3 (NLT)

In other words, God condemned our sins in the flesh so he would not have to condemn us. That is why there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ (Rm 8.1). We can enjoy God’s tender mercy, love, and goodness right now because our God reigns as the prophet proclaimed in our OT lesson and God the Father has declared us not guilty ahead of time! This great love and mercy and justice of God is even more remarkable when we consider that God did all this for us while we were still his enemies (Romans 5.8). And because we are united to Christ through faith and our baptism, while we will share in a mortal death like his, more importantly we will also in a resurrection like his, a future benefit we can enjoy right now. This is the light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome! Christmas announces the penultimate Good News of God’s rescue plan for his sinful world and its people. Without Good Friday and Easter, Christmas would be meaningless because it would mean God did not become human to live and die and be raised again to rescue us from our slavery to Evil, Sin, and Death.

And now we return to our OT lesson. This is the Good News Isaiah announced to his people centuries before Christ was born. Isaiah probably did not realize that his prophecy was far greater and more encompassing than even he could imagine, and we as God’s people in Christ must take hope in that announcement, even if we do not see our promised deliverance realized in full yet. Do not let your broken heart or cynicism or whatever ails you prevent you from letting your future hope in Christ start to heal you today so that you can live with hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come—and joy, even as the darkness of your life swirls around you. Without hope, people die. Literally. As bad as things are today, think about how much worse they would be if you did not have this present and future hope in Christ. Think about never seeing loved ones again, or having your old age and infirmity be the final arbiter of the value of your life, or dying in utter loneliness and despair. How could St. John and the other NT writers possibly claim that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it? It would be a lie and you would be a fool to believe it. But the gospel proclamation that God reigns and you are forgiven is true because Jesus Christ was born into this world and Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, and you would be a bigger fool not to believe it, effectively not allowing your future expectation to give you joy and power for the living of your mortal days.

And here is where I want to speak to those of you who are living in the darkness right now. I know there is at least one person here who has lost a loved one recently and Christmas will never be the same for you again so that you are grieving. If you are one who experiences the darkness of loss or fear or anxiety or desperation, I want to say to you first of all how sorry I am that you are experiencing the darkness of this world at Christmastime. My heart goes out to you and I grieve with and for you. But I also want to tell you to take hope! Take heart because Jesus Christ is born and raised from the dead! God is good to his word and has become human to rescue you and those you have loved and lost for awhile. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot and will not be able to overcome it unless you submit to its lies. Please don’t do that. For the love Christ has for you and yours, please don’t do that. You have the Spirit of Christ living in you to testify that you are not alone, that you have hope because God himself has acted to rescue you and those in Christ whom you have lost. You have people here in your parish family who will walk with you in your grief if you let them. You have God’s word and sacrament to heal and refresh you. Trust and believe in God’s power to do so! To be sure, you will grieve your losses as we all do and have your struggles. No one ever said the darkness is easy to overcome. But grieve as one who has real hope, a hope based on Christ born this night. It is especially during the darkest times that the light of Christ comes to shine the brightest in your life and there is no darkness that can overcome this great light, dear people of God. You have the Father’s very word on it. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Merry Christmas, my beloved. 

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

Father Ric Bowser: The Spirit of Christmas

Sermon delivered on Advent 4A, Sunday, December 22, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Bowser is still protesting against writing so there’s no text for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 7.10-16; Psalm 80.1-7, 18-20; Romans 1.1-7; Matthew 1.18-25.

Peering Into the Darkness: The Hope of Advent

Sermon delivered on Advent 3A, Gaudete Sunday, December 15, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 35.1-10; Luke 1.46-55 (Magnificat); James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11.

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

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent. Gaudete is Latin for rejoice and like its Lenten counterpart, Laetare Sunday, signals a brief respite from the more penitential and apocalyptic season of Advent where we focus on everybody’s favorite topic, the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. As we have observed previously, Advent is a season that begins in the dark. It begins during the darkest days of the year and Advent gives us the opportunity to peer into the darkness of the world in which we live, including the darkness of our own lives. Advent often comes as a shock to the system for those who are new to the season. Instead of the bright festive lights and general merriment of the Christmas season, Advent calls us to ponder the second coming of our Lord Jesus, with all its serious ramifications. But this isn’t necessarily bad for us because it forces us to come to grips with the presence of Evil in our lives and in God’s world, and it also helps us truly get ready of the joyous season of Christmas that will begin a week from this Tuesday evening. Without Advent and its focus on the end times, we Christians, like the rest of our society, would likely opt to gloss over the darkness in which we live as well as the darkness of our own lives, substituting instead all the mistletoe and glitter and eggnog and jingle bells celebrations we can muster. Don’t misunderstand, I have nothing against the bright lights and tinsel and Christmas carols and all the rest that we do during this time of the year. Our house is ablaze with the festive symbols of Christmas, both secular and sacred, and I love it. But to focus on all that glitters in hopes that the darkness of our world goes away is to live in La-La Land and it will ultimately prevent us from grounding our hope on Christ where it should be, and this is what I want us to look this morning.

What do we mean when we say that Advent begins in the darkness, or what do we mean when we say that we peer into the darkness? When Scripture speaks of the darkness it usually refers to God’s good world gone bad, corrupted by human sin and the power of Evil our sin unleashed, along with the fact that our sin brought God’s curse on his creation and us (Genesis 3.14-19). All of us here today know what the darkness looks like. We suffer from alienation and anxiety, along with a host of other physical, emotional, and mental disorders. We all have suffered the death of loved ones and we are all acquainted with the various forms of suffering that afflict us. We are heartbroken over cherished relationships gone bad or hopes and dreams crushed. If we have a sense of justice at all we are astonished at the injustice that swirls around us and the vicious and vindictive conversations we find on social media. We read about, or worse yet, experience young lives being snuffed out by drug or alcohol addition and are alarmed at the seeming rise in violence in our society. This is only a small sampling of the darkness with which we must deal and every one of us carries the burden of some form of darkness in our own lives. We know what it is like to fail, to betray, and to fail to live up to our own standards of Christian living, to name just a few. This is what we mean when we as Christians talk about darkness and living in it. Not all is bad and dark, of course, but there’s sadly more than enough to go around. This leads us to ask the classic Advent questions: How long, O Lord, before you act? Is the Lord with and for us or not? Why do you allow all this evil to continue, O Lord? As we peer into the darkness of our own lives and the world around us, we often wonder if God exists; and if he does, does God really care about us and his world?

This is why Advent’s focus on the End Times and Christ’s return is so important for us to reflect on because as we peer into the darkness of our lives and world, Advent reminds us that we have reason to have hope and even to rejoice. We start with our OT lesson. In it, the prophet Isaiah is given a vision of God’s new creation when God’s curse and the darkness of this world and our lives are swept away. The wilderness, a classic biblical symbol for the darkness of this world, is transformed into an oasis and all nature rejoices. Weak hands and feeble knees, i.e., human frailty, will be made strong once again. Deserts will become pools of water and nature will once again enjoy the harmony it apparently enjoyed before human sin brought about God’s curse. No evil or evildoers will be there and therefore no evil will exist. Neither will there be any more injustices to  blight our existence and cause hardship and suffering, presumably because human beings will be transformed to once again fulfill our function as God’s image-bearers who bring God’s goodness and justice to bear on God’s world so that all creation sings and praises its Creator. Sorrow and sighing will be replaced by singing and laughing and rejoicing and as the prophet reminds us here when he speaks of straight paths) and elsewhere, it will be God himself who wipes away our tears (Isaiah 25.6-9).

This is a compelling and wholesome vision of our future as God’s people. And what makes this bright future possible? God’s judgment on all that is evil, on all that is dark, both the spiritual powers and their human agents. Isaiah roars that God will come with vengeance to destroy his enemies and put all things to rights. This is the justice and judgment of God, and while there is obviously a punitive dimension to God’s judgment and justice, it ultimately is for our own good because in it, evil and evildoers are destroyed and God’s world along with our lives are no longer corrupted and afflicted by the darkness of Evil and Sin, our own sins included. Notice carefully here that Isaiah speaks of a warrior God who comes to destroy his enemies and all that corrupts and afflicts us. We are typically not comfortable with this language because it violates our idol of a God who is a kind, grandfatherly type who would never hurt anyone and who welcomes one and all. But this god is a lie and distinctly not the God of the bible, either in the OT or the NT. While it is true that God loves everyone, it is not true that God will fail to address the injustice and darkness that afflict his world and image-bearing creatures. How could we love and worship a God who stood by and did nothing to address the injustices, darkness, and evil(doers) of his world? What kind of loving God is that? 

Of course, the topic of God’s judgment can be a fearful one for us because none of us is innocent. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). But as Christians, we are not to be afraid of God’s judgment, not because we are superior or more deserving than unbelievers, but because we believe that the terrible judgment of God has already fallen on Christ so that God himself has suffered his wrath on our behalf to spare us from his terrible judgment when Christ returns to finish his saving work. If we truly love others we must proclaim this truth to the world, both as a warning and as the joyous proclamation of the day when our God will finally make all things right and new in his new world. Many of us shy away from this because we fear it makes us look “judgmental,” a relatively new term that was certainly foreign to Jesus and the NT writers. Would we refuse, e.g., to warn a person to flee a burning building for fear of being judgmental? Would we fail to warn our kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol or promiscuity or anorexia [name your favorite danger here] for fear of being judgmental with them? How loving is that? And if you are still bothered by this notion of God’s judgment and justice because it sounds too harsh, what kind of being do you believe God to be in the first place? Does God come to judge because he just doesn’t like us and wants to hurt us? To you parents out there, I ask this question. When you first laid eyes on your newborn child, did you wish ill on your new baby and want the worst for him/her? Of course not! What a ridiculous notion! It is ridiculous because you know you loved your child and wanted the best for him/her the moment you laid eyes on him/her! If we who are broken and fail to love so often can love our newborn babies like this, how much more does God our Father who loves us perfectly love us and want the best for us? Would a Father like this fail to warn us about the day when he intends to make all things right again so that we can be included in that new world and not excluded? God’s justice is simply a complementary dimension of God’s great love for us.

Neither should we be troubled by the language of a warrior God and God’s Messiah because the fact of the matter is that we are at war with Satan and the dark powers along with their human agents (Eph 6.12). These powers of Evil hate us and want to destroy us. They want to separate us from God, our Source of life and health and goodness, and they will stop at nothing make that happen. They are at war with us and the language of the OT prophets reflects that. We also see it in our gospel lesson this morning. The Baptist has been imprisoned by the dark powers and he is confused, despite the fact that he baptized Jesus. Are you really the Messiah, he asks Jesus? John asked this question because he expected a warrior Messiah to appear and defeat the powers and their human agents. Make no mistake. Christ knew he was at war. After all Herod had tried to kill him shortly after he was born and Satan himself waged war against him during Christ’s temptation in the wilderness. But Jesus didn’t wage war against the powers using conventional weapons. To use force and violence meant that the war was already lost. Instead, Jesus responded to John’s questions by pointing out signs of the coming kingdom of God on earth as in heaven: The deaf hear, the blind see, the dead are raised, demons are exorcised. This is what happens when God comes to rescue his people and establish his new world. This is what godly warfare looks like.

This is why Advent is such an important season for us as Christians. It reminds us that despite the darkness that swirls around and within us, we have a real future and a hope. God is waging war on our behalf to rescue us from the darkness and ultimately to destroy the forces that are responsible for the darkness. As St. James reminds us in our epistle lesson, God will answer our Advent questions. God has acted decisively on our behalf to rescue us from the powers of Evil and from ourselves by giving himself to us in a great and costly act. We are therefore to wait patiently and with real hope, the sure and certain expectation that God is good to his word and promises to us to make all things right. We are not to be afraid, nor are we to turn on each other when we do succumb to fear and the darkness because we are a rescued and redeemed people. Every time we forgive where forgiveness is undeserved, every time we love when aversion might be justified, every time we work to alleviate some aspect of the darkness in our lives and the world around us, we are engaged in the battle, not by our own power, but in the Lord’s power on our behalf. We may not see any progress being made. Things may (and often do) appear to remain unchanged, but looks can be deceiving. God uses our efforts and our faithfulness (as well as our brokenness) to accomplish his redemptive will and purposes for us and his creation. How do I know that? How do I know our future is bright and the promise of a new creation devoid of evil and suffering and death and sorrow and darkness of any kind is true? Because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, thanks be to God! And because he is raised from the dead, I believe the promises of his cross and his Lordship are also true. I also see the faithfulness and indefatigable spirit in so many of you who give of yourselves and your resources to work on the Lord’s behalf. This is why I know the promise of Advent with it proclamation of God’s good justice coming to right all the wrongs is true. 

This is also why I can rejoice today on Gaudete Sunday and you should too if you have a real and lively resurrection theology and hope. This knowledge that God will usher in his perfect justice to right all the wrongs also prepares us to hear the Good News of Christmas, of God’s light shining in the darkness, not to be overcome by it but to destroy it. This is why we need Advent, my beloved. It reminds us that we are beloved by the Father, rescued by the Son, and sustained by the Holy Spirit, and therefore we have a future and a hope because of our warrior God’s promise to defeat the forces that corrupt and hate us, and he has done so in a most unexpected way. Let us rejoice in our Advent hope as we prepare to celebrate our Savior’s first coming and wait for that great and glorious day when he returns to make everything new and right again. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Deacon Jonathon Wylie: Preparing for the Kingdom

Sermon delivered on Advent 2A, Sunday, December 8, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Being a PhD, Deacon Wylie doesn’t have time to provide his sermon text for us little people to read, so you’ll have to click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 11.1-10; Psalm 72.1-7, 18-19; Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3.1-12.

Father Philip Sang: Living in Light and Hope of the Kingdom of Heaven

Sermon delivered on Advent Sunday A, December 1, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

It’s Advent. Father Sang hates wearing purple and gets really cranky about it, Even so, he surprisingly offers up the written text of today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 2.1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.36-44.

Advent is a season of expectation and preparation, as the church prepares to celebrate the coming (adventus) of christ in his incarnation, and also looks ahead to his final advent as judge at the end of time. The readings and liturgies not only direct us towards Christ’s birth, they also challenge the modern reluctance to confront the theme of divine judgement.

The four last things – Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell – have been traditional themes for advent meditation. The characteristic note of advent is therefore expectation rather than penitence, although the character of the season is easily colored by an analogy with Lent. the anticipation of Christmas under commercial pressure has also made it harder to sustain the appropriate sense of alert watchfulness.

Many people have spent some time in the past few days decorating for the holidays, for me, one of the best things about the holiday season is enjoying decorations. I am excited to enjoy them. Specifically, I love Christmas lights. Whether on a tree, candles in a window, or in the lawn, it is beautiful to see those twinkling lights. When I was in Johnson City, TN, I was close to Bristol Motor speedway and they use to have it covered in different Christmas light scenes during this season and I use to drive there just to enjoy the lights and Christmas music playing. There’s something magical about lights. There is something quite peaceful and reassuring about those little lights nestled among the branches that brings a sense of calm to the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

The preparations remind us that the season of Advent has begun, the start of a new church year, and help draw us in to the awe and wonder of preparing for Christmas. During the next four weeks, we’ll hear a lot about light. Our worship will begin with the lighting of candles, a reminder of the light of the world that is to come. They help us build our anticipation, adding one flickering flame each week, as we eagerly wait to celebrate the birth of our Savior, lighting the way to the manger and leading us to Christmas Eve when we will sing Silent Night with our own candles flickering. But we aren’t there just yet. In fact, we have a ways to go first. Advent, is our journey to get there.

We begin Advent with the words of the prophet Isaiah, who invites us on the journey saying “come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

The writings in Isaiah are among the most dazzling and complex in all of our Scriptures, speaking to a complicated community. In the opening chapters, the people are on the brink of the Syro-Ephraimitic war, as the northern kingdom of Israel and the Aramaean kingdom of Damascus tried to force Judah into an unwise alliance in opposition to the Assyrian Empire. When these foes finally laid siege to Jerusalem, King Ahaz turned to the prophet Isaiah for advice and assurance.

Isaiah is known as the “poet of light,” offering powerful imagery of light and life even as he condemns the current priorities of God’s people. In these and other images, the prophet offers a vision of a new heaven and a new earth, prompting the people of God to look ahead to the future and imagine a world in which God, not them, is center-stage. The people in Jerusalem will experience one challenge after another, often brought upon themselves because of pride and arrogance that puts distance between them and God. And yet, this vexing city is an integral part of God’s plan and purpose for the world, so the prophet speaks repeated words of hope and promise in the midst of struggle.

In our reading today, one of his first images features people of all nations coming to the mountain of God and joining together. This means the people of Israel and others – a radically inclusive group that would have been virtually impossible to imagine. A critical part of this interaction is that they come as students, sitting together to learn from the Almighty and seeking wisdom and council for where to go next. The prophet’s vision is not accidental – he wants to remind the people of Israel that their help and guide comes not from their own devices, but from God, and more specifically, from the Torah. All the students, it seems, are on a level playing field and have something to learn. It is the Word of God which will be their guide and open them to new possibilities. Isaiah’s vision is of a community that comes together to discover that path.

This, I think, is a vision many of us can get behind. Like the people of Isaiah’s day, we too are people of God who long for such an image of peace and harmony. We read this text on the first Sunday of Advent as a reminder of hope and aching expectation for the world. Advent is a chance to imagine the world not as it is, but as it should be, and Isaiah paints a beautiful picture for us. The second image gets even better. The very things that separate and divide – weapons- are no more. This is significant. They are not just laid aside. They are transformed into useful tools for growth in a way that only God can do. One commentary notes:

It is not enough to end spears and swords as an act of romance or of goodwill. There must at the same time be production of instruments of life, such as plowshares and pruning hooks. Thus human energies and public resources are reassigned to vine dressing and agriculture. The economy is transformed; the earth is also transformed, from battleground to fertile garden.

Advent doesn’t just hope for an end to the challenges in the world. It proclaims a hope that God will bring about new life; the kind of life that comes in a newborn baby in a manger, and leads to all of creation being restored to right relationship with God. The birth of a Savior.

But Advent isn’t just about that sweet little baby in the manger who was promised long ago. There is another arrival at play for us as Christians – the second coming of Christ. In Advent, we recognize that we are living between Advents, or comings, and are called to embrace the expectation for the time when Christ will indeed return to earth and fulfill in their entirety those promises proclaimed by Isaiah. One of them being the kingdom of Heaven. Our Epistle reading from Romans highlights the hope of the promise of this second Advent.

Paul calls the early church to look to that day with the same kind of eagerness that the people of Israel had for the hope of a promised Messiah. There is an urgency born of this hope that reminds us Advent is more than just a simple time of waiting to open presents under the tree and sing; Advent is a time of action. Paul puts it in the imagery of waking up to the dawning of a new day. Perhaps it is that mysterious moment when the darkness of night begins to give way to shadows, and there is just enough light to know that morning is just around the corner. This is a time of anticipation, and Paul urges his audience to action. It is time to get up and get dressed!”

It is an urge to be ready, as if Christ is coming at any moment. The clothing we put on, according to Romans, is Christ, the light of the world. Bathed in this light, we will be ready to face the new day, even if it seems that darkness has not quite departed.

Isaiah calls us out of the darkness, “Rise and shine! Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” The words of the prophet are meant to fill us with hope – a hope that God’s word will be enacted. That what has been promised will indeed come true.

Advent declares that God’s light is coming into the world, just as it did so long ago in Bethlehem. Our job is to be awake, ready, looking and listening for it to be revealed to us.

In the end, what Isaiah offers is not only a vision of global transformation, but an invitation to live toward that day. . . The future belongs to God, but the first step toward that future belongs to those who have glimpsed God’s light and are willing to trust that enough light lies ahead.

Theologian Henri Nouwen writes that it can be quite a challenge to live in this way:

Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, “How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?” There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go.

May the hope of the prophets light our way as we go up to the mountain of the Lord together. May we learn God’s ways, and may we walk in his paths. Let us walk in the light of the Lord as we anticipate the kingdom of Heaven that has been prepared for us.

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

Father Santosh Madanu: Solemnity of Christ the King

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday C, November 24, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43.

Christ the king Sunday celebrates the full authority of Christ as King and Lord of the universe.

The Jewish word messiah and the Greek word “Christ.” Both mean “the anointed one,” refer to Jesus the expected King of Jews and the world.

Pope Pius IX instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925, to be celebrated throughout the universal church, in his encyclical Quas Primas. He connected the increasing denial of Christ as king to the rise of secularism throughout much of Europe. Some of the Christians began to doubt Christ’s authority and existence, as well as the Church’s power to continue Christ’s authority. Dictators in those times often attempted to assert authority over the church. And the feast of the Christ the king will make the faithful their due to honor and love to Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior.

The institution of Christ the King feast make the secular world to realize Christ Jesus would reign in our hearts, minds, wills and bodies. And respect the church’s right to freedom. Christ Kingship is one of humility and service.

The kingdom of Heaven is not democracy. God does not take opinion polls, nor can he be recalled or voted out of office, we are dealing with a loving and just king. Many forms of governments like Nazi Germany, Communism, Socialism, Democracy and the Russian Revolutions etc have proved imperfect with their leader’s selfish policies.

When once men recognize, both private and public life, that Christ is king, the Society will at last receive the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordained discipline, peace and harmony. It enables the citizens to obey the law of the land. It is good to have Nationalism and love for one’s own country but ultimate loyalty is due to Christ and His kingdom.

42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 42-45)

JOHN 18:33-35. ARE YOU THE KING OF THE JEWS?

33Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, called Jesus, and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered him, “Do you say this by yourself, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered you to me. What have you done?”

JOHN 18:36-37. MY KINGDOM IS NOT OF THIS WORLD

36Jesus answered, “My Kingdom (Greek: basileia) is not of this world (Greek: kosmou—from kosmos). If my Kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I wouldn’t be delivered (Greek: paradotho – from paradidomi) to the Jews. But now my Kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate therefore said to him, “Are you a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

The kingdom of Jesus is tied to his suffering and death. His coming at the end of time to judge the nations with Justice balanced with His radical love, mercy, peace and forgiveness.

1 Tim 6:15 “ This will be made manifest at the proper times by the blessed and only Sovereign, the king of kings and the Lord of Lords.”

The kingdom is humble: Jesus inaugurates a kingdom that grows through humble acts of service. Our St. Augustine Church serves the poor, educates the young, welcomes everyone, visits the prisoners and pray for the sick and loves others. Because our power and strength is power of the Cross and strength of Jesus’s love. So therefore let us surrender totally to the Lord King of the Universe.

We are blessed with freedom to worship in private and Public Square. There are millions of people in the Middle East countries have no freedom to worship, either they have to worship God set by their religious country or die.

Quran explains if you believe Jesus is God, you go to hell, where it also mentions that Jesus speaking to Alla saying”by no means have I had no right to tell them to worship me”

Quran denies neither Jesus was killed nor rose.

I claim Jesus is the Christ the king from the evidences of His Lordship.

The following reference will prove that Jesus is taking the very nature of God and very Name of God

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word waswith God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.…

John 1: 18No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.

John 8:57-58 Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham? Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Exodus 3:14 God reveals Himself His name is “I AM”

John 20:27-28 Jesus Claimed to be God

Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”28Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”…

1Peter 3:14-15 always be ready with the reason for the faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be shaken.” 15But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope you possess. But respond with gentleness and respect

Jesus as a just God and King, he paid the price of sin through His suffering and death for us. And freed us from the slavery of sin and hell and thus justified every one with His infinite mercy.

Kingdomtide: How the War was Won

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Advent C, November 17, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 65.17-25; Song of Deliverance (Isaiah 12); 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19.

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

During the Sundays between All-Saints and Advent, we celebrate Christ and his kingdom, a period of time we call kingdomtide. But why should we celebrate this when it appears that anyone (or anything) but Jesus rules this world? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

It is no secret that we live in a world corrupted by human sin and the forces of Evil. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks of a cosmic battle being waged both in heaven and on earth (3.10, 6.2), and our Lord himself enigmatically refers to Satan as the ruler of this world (John 12.31, 14.30, 16.11). This is contrary to God’s original creative purposes because we know that God created humans in his image to run his good creation on God’s behalf (Genesis 1-2). And our readings from this morning, each in its own way, speak of a world gone terribly wrong. 

In his breathtaking vision of new creation, unique to the prophet Isaiah and the OT, the prophet tells us of a world devoid of crying and full of joy and celebration, peace and harmony, and abundant life. Implicit in this spectacular vision is the acknowledgement that in God’s original creation there is crying and disorder and calamity, and we all get that. We weep over sickness and the death of our loved ones. We all know what it is like to be afflicted with any number of calamities that can beset us. The chaos going on in our nation makes many of us want to scream and pull our hair out (or maybe the hair of those who cause such great chaos—insert your favorite villain here).

In our canticle we echoed Isaiah’s proclamation that we will trust God and not be afraid. In fact, “don’t be afraid” is the most common phrase in all of Scripture, indicating that there is plenty in our world and lives that can make us afraid. And if we lived in a world devoid of sin and evil, why would we need God to be our salvation? This all suggests things are not as God intended.

Our Lord himself even acknowledges that all is not right with God’s world, despite the fact that Christ himself was God’s agent of creation. In our gospel lesson Jesus warns his disciples of the cataclysm about to be inflicted on Jerusalem for its impending rejection of the Son of God (this, BTW, does not give us license to be antisemitic; Christ is simply speaking of God’s awful judgment on his people’s rebellion against God and his Messiah). Moreover, Jesus warns his followers of future persecution for being his disciples and proclaiming him to be the Son of God. Rarely have Christ’s true followers enjoyed peace and goodwill because they are Christians. To the contrary, because the dark powers and their human minions have usurped God’s rightful rule of his creation, Christians more often than not experience persecution and suffering for their faith, not the accolades of a fallen world. This is one way we can measure our faithfulness to Christ. Are we suffering for his name’s sake? If not, there’s a good chance we are not engaging the forces of evil by acting in Christlike ways and/or proclaiming his gospel to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

The fact that Satan and his minions are in control of God’s world and actively rebel against God in God’s own space (heaven), can leave us even more baffled and discouraged. How can an all-powerful, all-knowing, totally good God allow this to happen we wonder? Why does God allow this? We know a small part of the answer. When our first ancestors sinned in paradise and got thrown out, it allowed the forces of Evil to usurp the role God reserved for humans. Nature abhors a vacuum and when we rebelled against God we allowed forces eager to control and corrupt God’s world to take our place. But there are other greater questions for which we have no answers. Why did God allow evil to exist in the first place? Why would God allow evil forces to step in and fill the void left by his image-bearers? Why does God allow the powers to operate and rebel against him when he has the power to destroy them forever? And how can the forces of Evil even exist in heaven, let alone rebel against the Almighty God? On a matter closer to home, in a few minutes we will hold our quarterly healing service. So why doesn’t God answer our prayers and bring about immediate healing and relief as we ask and desire? We aren’t told. Nowhere does Scripture give us answers to our questions and this can make us wonder what kind of King Jesus really is.

Instead, Scripture tells us that God is in control and has done something about Sin and Evil, despite appearances to the contrary and the evil with which we all must deal on a regular basis. For example, in our OT lesson, God tells Isaiah that God is about to create new heavens and a new earth, a breathtaking promise echoed powerfully in the Revelation to St. John (21-22). If there is no more crying or sounds of distress or chaos or war or lives cut tragically short, then the promise signals that God must have defeated all that corrupts his good world and creatures, especially his image-bearing ones. In our canticle from Isaiah 12, the prophet tells us to sing God’s praises because he has triumphed gloriously over the forces that have corrupted and harmed God’s people. When OT prophets spoke of salvation, they typically meant being rescued from the forces that made this mortal life an awful experience, things like famine and foreign invaders. Because God has rescued his people from the powers of Evil, they could now enjoy God’s presence among them once again. After all, the dark powers had no shot at harming God’s people as long as God remained with them. 

Even in our gospel, Christ speaks a reassuring word to us. You will be persecuted but hang on. Persevere and you will reap the reward of eternal salvation. For his immediate followers, Jesus also reminded them that even when they were arrested, he would be with them in the power of the Spirit to guide their speaking and testimony about him so that his Name would become known and honored throughout the world (think the promise and blessing of Abraham). There is an awesome mystery in all this. We aren’t told how it all works and often we can’t see that it does. Despite this, Scripture urges us to be content to mind our own business and trust that God is good to his word and promises to us. In short, we are called to be humble and trust God’s wisdom and power.

But how has God defeated the powers? And what about human sin and the death it causes? While none of our lessons address these questions directly, the NT certainly does. Its writers all proclaim that in Christ’s death and resurrection, the powers of Evil and Sin were defeated on the cross and the ultimate evil of Death was dealt with in Christ’s resurrection. The first witnesses to Christ all proclaimed that somehow and in some way God dealt with and defeated Evil and Sin in and through the death of his Son. St. Paul proclaims this boldly in his letter to the Colossians. Hear him now:

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

Elsewhere, St. Paul writes to the Ephesians:

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere (Ephesians 6.10-18, NLT).

We want to shake our heads in disbelief and say to St. Paul, “Are you out of your blooming mind? Has Father Bowser finally gotten to you? Look around you! Nothing’s changed! In fact, things seem to be getting worse by the day!” But here’s what we need to remember. St. Paul wrote these letters while languishing in a prison for Christ’s sake! He knew the power of evil first hand. He knew the world hadn’t suddenly become an idyllic place to live! Yet St. Paul knew that what he wrote was true because he had seen and experienced the risen Christ. When God raised Christ from the dead, everything changed for St. Paul and the rest of the NT writers, not to mention the early Church. To be sure, the victory has not been consummated nor has Death been defeated as St. Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 15.50-57, but that’s only because our Lord Jesus has not returned to finish his saving work and consummate his victory over all that oppose God. Again, St. Paul knew this promise to be true because Christ is raised from the dead and rules over all creation as well as in heaven until the mysterious plan of God calls for the end of all that ruins and corrupts. This obviously takes faith on our part because we are regularly subjected to Evil and Sin, often of our own making. But if you believe Christ is raised from the dead, then you too must believe that God has won the victory and accomplished for us that which you and I cannot accomplish for ourselves: the defeat of Evil and the end of our slavery to the power of Sin and the Death sin causes. Do you believe this? If you do, then you have at your disposal the weapons to engage in the mop-up battle in this mortal life, enigmatic as life can be at times, i.e., you have the full Armor of God: prayer, God’s righteousness, the power of the gospel, and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to make Christ available to you, among others. This is not a conventional war, my beloved, nor are we called to be the principal combatants. God has already fought the war on our behalf and won it. When the resurrection comes in full, justice and goodness will be fully restored. What we are called to do in the interim is to live faithfully and in ways that proclaim we believe Christ’s victory is ours (think baptism for starters). 

Like the monumental battle of D-Day signaled the inevitable defeat of the Nazis in Europe during WWII, so Christ’s cross signals the inevitable defeat of all the forces that hate us and want to destroy us. This victory is for the entire people of God, the Church; it is not simply an issue of “me and my salvation.” As St. Paul makes clear in Ephesians 3.6-11, those who follow Christ are promised a share in his rule and that means the Church, not just a motley crew of individuals, and that means together we are called to live in certain ways that are befitting of God’s new world. In other words, we are to live in ways that proclaim we really do believe the battle is won on our behalf. We are to persevere. We are to let love and charity guide our behavior toward each other. We are to care for one another and put up with each other’s respective idiosyncrasies, even to the EGRs among us—extra grace required folks (you know who you are). In our epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul has some harsh things to say about loafers. But we miss the point if we focus on this. What the apostle is telling us is this. You have to care for each other and when you don’t do your fair share, you proclaim by your actions that you matter more than your brothers and sisters in Christ do and that dog won’t hunt in God’s new world. So instead of using food, let me use the examples of time and money. It is a well known phenomenon that about 20 percent of parishioners do all the work. For the 80 percent who let them do that, what are you proclaiming to the ones who do the work? Do you mean to tell them that your time and energy are more important than theirs or that your other commitments are more pressing than theirs? Is this how rulers in God’s new world will rule? Christ didn’t think so because he told us that rulers who follow him will act like slaves and serve, instead of being served as the world’s rulers are (Mark 10.35-45). When you let others do the work or give of their money to fill in your parsimony, this is the message you proclaim to them and the world, and Christ’s name is dishonored, just like when those who do the work get all haughty and self-righteous with those who fail to pitch in and help and/or give of their resources. 

So part of living as beneficiaries of Christ’s victory is to show our awareness that we are part of his body and we are part of that body because of his great love for us, not that we deserve his grace and gifts. Another part of being members of Christ’s body is to live with hope and to persevere, to endure. St. Paul is telling us, among other things, that we are not to get tired of doing what is right. It is very easy to become tired when we see, all around, people who are living in a different way, including some of our own number stepping out of line. But the dance of new creation must go on (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.58). St. Paul can say this because he knew God had won the victory for him and us, undeserving as he was and we are to receive it. Let us therefore live like resurrection peeps and proclaim to each other and the world that unlikely as it seems, God has won the victory for us. How do we know this? Because Christ is raised from the dead, thanks be to God, and this is what we proclaim as we persevere in our humble and righteous words and deeds! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.   

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