Father Jonathon Wylie: He Is Alive and We Are Witnesses

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

Father Wylie gets all whiny and pouty when he has to submit a written manuscript of his sermon (he’s a PhD dontcha know). We don’t want that, so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3.1-7; St. Luke 24.36b-48.

Father Santosh Madanu: Evidence of Jesus Christ’s Resurrection and Resurrected Life

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

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 4.32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1.1-2.2; St John 20.19-31.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus you are the son of Living God. You are the messiah.  That is why you only can say these words. Revelation: 1: 17-18 “Fear Not; I am the First and the Last, And the Living one. I Died and behold I am Alive for ever And I have the Keys of Death (grave) and Hades. Amen.”  Bless the hearts of St. Augustine family to an encounter with you in order to have resurrection life.  In Jesus name I pray .Amen.

What is the difference between Complete and finished?

If you find the right partner /spouse you are complete.  And if you find the wrong one you are finished.  And if you are wrong and have the wrong partner, you are completely finished.

 Let us reflect the Evidences of Jesus Christ Resurrection:

1.  Eye Witnesses – Who saw Jesus after the resurrection?

 The first one to see Jesus after His resurrection was Mary Magdalene, and Mary and Salome  who were with Mary Magdalene,  ( Mark 16:9 ). Matt 28:9; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:15-18; John 20:14; 1 Cor 15:3-5 The three women, Matthew 28:9, “And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Saul-Paul of Tarsus reported the resurrected Jesus had appeared to Peter – Cephas, then the 12 disciples, then more than 500 brethren most of whom who were still alive and could be questioned, Jesus appeared to James (skeptic) and finally to Paul himself (a Pharisee and a man who persecuted Christians until he had a face-to-face encounter with the resurrected Jesus)

Who felt Jesus real presence after the resurrection? Who touched Resurrected Jesus?

All the faithful followers beginning with the Apostle,   saw resurrected Jesus and felt His  breath of Holy Spirit.

2.  The truthfulness of the word of God

Acts 2: 22-30  “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him …but God raised Him from the dead.

1cor 15: if Christ has not been raised my preaching is in vain and you faith is empty…. You still in sin

Rom 10: 9-10  that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

John 2:   Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days

3.  Why should  all the Apostle die alone except John in a far distant countries, became martyrs for the false belief and what is the gain?

Apostle Thomas had come to south India and proclaimed Christ and was stabbed  to death by the Hindu Brahmins.

4. The Empty Tomb – Pharisees and kings with all the authority could not prove with the dead body of Jesus either in the tomb or in Jerusalem or elsewhere. If they were to found the dead body of Jesus they can falsify the resurrection of Jesus.

5.  The Mission of Preaching of Risen Christ began in Jerusalem to the ends of the world from the day of Pentecost.  There were many good deeds and miracles done by the apostles in the name of risen Jesus and power of the Holy Spirit spread to everyone who believed in the Lord.

6.  The change of Worshiping day from Saturday to Sunday began in the church.  It is because Jesus rose on Sunday. 

7.  The history of mankind began with the birth of Jesus –the son of God. We start AD –Anno Domini. The time, days and years designated from the Birth of Christ Jesus.

8.  The conversion of Saul of Tarsus- the persecutor of the church began to preach the Jews and Gentiles the grace and redemption through the passion and the crucifixion and the power of the resurrection and witnessing the risen Christ. The one who wrote 1/3 of the New Testament.

9. With all the knowledge of science and discoveries, atheist do not even come close to disprove the resurrection even after 2000 years.

10.  The existence of the church that began with Jesus continues even today after thousands of years with all the persecutions and destructions of the churches all over the world.  Whereas all the powerful emperors, dictators, kings, presidents,Priministers and famous scientists and many more cannot be remembered after a century.

11. My own experience believing the Absolute God the Almighty and the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  I feel free from sin once I received   the resurrected life- Born Again – New Life in Jesus Christ.

 `Shalom! ` With God as we are reconciled. Shalom with our neighbors as we learn to love them.

Peace comes with occupation with Christ.

APPLICATION:

Christians can have peace in times of trouble. Fear cripples the Christian faith and life. Those who operate with fear orientation forget about how the sovereignty of God relates to their lives.

The disciples’ world changed at the shocking appearance of Jesus in bodily form. Their suppressing fear turned to joy (Jn 16:22). Jesus offered them “peace,” a harmony of their soul. He puts together all the discord of our lives as well (Jn 16:33). Circumstance does not have to control our lives. Occupation with Christ can allay the troubled heart (1 Pe 1:6-8).

  •  ‘Jesus breathed on them’.  The Holy Spirit empowered all who assembled with the fire of   love to preach and to observe the commands and teachings of Christ. The mission of the Risen Christ is to make the disciple of all the nation.
  • Do I have any sense of ‘being sent’? Good news is first foremost is for me.  I should change myself from bad to good-The change of heart. And sharing the joy in Christ to others. 
  • Can I Witness that believing in the name of Jesus Christ has brought freedom from slavery to sin, salvation to my soul and everlasting peace, joy and the life to me?
  • The Risen Jesus meets his closest friends for the first time after they had all abandoned him in his hour of need. It must have been a moment they were all dreading. Yet his first words, twice over, were, ‘Peace be with you’. No rebuke, no reproach, just ‘Peace!’ And then he showed them his wounds, the unmistakable signs.
  • ‘As the Father sent me, I also send you’. While they were feeling they had failed abysmally as his disciples, he entrusted them with the same mission he had received from the Father: now they knew it was not they who had chosen him, but he had chosen them. Their mission, a mission of bringing forgiveness of sins with true repentance of heart and preach that Jesus is the only the way to heaven.
  • Thomas is an ordinary person, knotted up in his own fears and doubts. Perhaps we all carry something of his DNA? Here we are shown the transforming impact which his personal encounter with Jesus has on him.  We Christians have to have a renewed personal encounter with Jesus. 

‘These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name’. The final sentence of this text underlines the purpose of the Gospel in general and of the Resurrection narrative in particular: that through faith in Jesus as the Messiah we may have life in His name.

  • Thomas places his hands in the wounds of Jesus, and the experience draws from him the first, ringing affirmation of Christ’s divinity: “My Lord and my God!” Fully human, and fully divine. Eternally human, eternally divine. His human nature is glorified, just as His divinity is humanized. Our human nature will be forever in Him; His divinity dwells within us, and will remain with us even to the consummation of the world.
  • I let Jesus whisper to me, ‘You will be blessed if you decide to believe!’ To believe in him is to give my heart to him,not just my head. It is not too demanding to do this, because he has already given his heart to me.
  •  ‘Sending’ is what God likes to do. Jesus is sent, the Holy Spirit is sent, and we are sent too. Jesus is sent to bring love, light and truth into the world. I too am sent. I am to bring love, light and truth into my little world. I am important to the plans of God. The world will be better if I carry out the  mission of Jesus Christ.
  • Brave, honest Thomas had gone off to grieve on his own, so he missed that meeting with the Lord. I can taste some of his isolation and resentment in his Unless…. I will not believe. I have suffered in this way when I isolated myself from the community of faith. It is when I am stunned by sorrow that I most need the company of friends and the support of faith.
  • Thomas was a modern man, finding faith hard, like many people today. He was let down by the others who ran away, the leader denied Jesus, his trust in the group of apostles had been abused. He didn’t want much more to do with them. He had got tired of it all. He wanted to believe but needed a sort of proof. But faith grows within a community. That’s why we administer the sacraments like baptism.  We find growth in our faith through the community – for example, in the Mass, sharing our faith in a group or a good spiritual- Bible study, sharing our doubts but never closing the door to Jesus, sharing our faith in thanks for what our faith gives us.
  • In community, the disciples found faith in the risen Christ. Thomas, for some reason, was not with them when the Lord came. Separated from the community, he found faith more difficult. Faith in the Lord, while personal, is not a private affair. In the faith of one, the faith of another may be strengthened. Formation in faith for the disciples had its communal experience – together they learned and found faith in the Lord.
  • Jesus always brings peace and reconciliation. Saint Augustine called peace ‘the tranquility of order’, meaning order in my relationships with God, with other people and within myself. Where is there lack of peace in my life? Who do I need to make peace with? Do I make space to experience God’s forgiveness and gift of peace? I ask for his peace so that I may bring others the peace of Christ.

Experience the living Jesus: Jesus was alive- with physical body. John the apostle says we have seen with our eyes, we have heard with our ears and we have touched and ate with him.

 That’s what we experience in this Lord’s Supper the Living Presence – His body to satisfy our hunger and His blood to quench our thirst.

The Easter brings Three gifts to us: 1. the gift of peace, 2. the gift of power-“Receive the Holy Spirit” [the power].  And 3. The gift of purpose “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”  – . The opposite of peace is conflict. The opposite of power is weakness. The opposite of purpose is aimlessness.

“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:1).

Jesus sending you and me to extend His peace, His power, His mission and His light and His truth and His life in the world.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus for blessing us with Great HOPE in you.

Come Lord Jesus to meet us, to talk with us, to change our lives. Because we are discouraged, disappointed and despair for the troubles and works the flesh and woks of this world and works of devil. With your help the world may discover that you are the messiah. In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

Our Easter Hope: We Need it Now More than Ever

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday B, April 4, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; St. John 20.1-18.

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

Today we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sadly there is a lot of muddled thinking about the Resurrection and I blame the Church primarily for that because it capitulated to the forces of secularization and so-called “enlightened” thinking, thinking that dismisses Christ’s resurrection as made-up fantasy. To put it bluntly, the Church for the most part, at least in the West, has lost her bold voice and failed to proclaim and live out her resurrection hope, and we suffer because of it. We can’t expect the people of God to proclaim and live their Easter Faith if Holy Mother Church doesn’t teach them what that faith is and what it is supposed to look like! So this morning I want us to look at exactly what the first Christians proclaimed when they proclaimed Christ’s Resurrection. Why? Because without the Spirit-filled power of an informed and robust Easter Faith, given the crazy state of our world today and the patients who are trying to run the asylum, we as Christians will inevitably succumb to the destructive Zeitgeist of this age and in doing so bring harm to ourselves and dishonor the Name of the One we profess to follow.

On Friday we looked at what was so “good” about Good Friday and saw that the cross of Christ is a tangible sign of God’s great love for us and his desire to offer us forgiveness, irrespective of who we are or what we have done or failed to do, thereby establishing the necessary conditions for our reconciliation with God, a message echoed in today’s reading from Acts. This is quite necessary if we ever hope to find real healing and peace. Without the healing and forgiveness of Christ found only in having faith in him, no matter how imperfect that faith, it is impossible to be a faithful disciple of Jesus where we can love and serve him in joyful obedience, even in the face of the suffering we must inevitably endure for his sake. Simply put, we cannot love and serve Christ and others if we are distracted by our guilt, failure, and fears. And so forgiveness is absolutely essential for anyone who wants to be a a follower of Christ and the cross is God’s everlasting promise to us that we have that forgiveness. How do I know this is true? How can you know this is true so that you can stake your very life on it? Is it because I’m a smart guy? Well yes I am (good looking too), but that’s not why I know it’s true. We all can have great confidence that this is true because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead! Without the Resurrection, we never would have heard the name of Jesus let alone worship him, and without the cross, the Resurrection would not be possible because we would still be dead in our sins, alienated and hostile to God the Father, and deprived of any real hope. Simply put, the new heavens and earth will not be open to those who are still sin-stained. More about that anon. As St. Paul took pains to remind us in our epistle lesson, Christ’s death and resurrection were historical events, the crucified and risen Christ being witnessed and experienced by hundreds of people, and with it the turning point of history had arrived, the very essence of NEWS, Good News. The old order was done for; God’s new order had arrived, and with it God’s healing love and forgiveness. So the first thing we need to say about Christ’s Resurrection is an historical event inextricably tied to his saving death on the cross. This is critical for a vibrant Easter Faith.

Second, and equally crucial for us to have a meaningful Easter Faith is to have a clear understanding of what resurrection means. When the NT writers and early Church proclaimed Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, they didn’t mean that Jesus had gone to heaven to be with God. It didn’t mean that Jesus was somehow available to them in a new spiritual way so that they could commune with him. That’s an ancient gnostic heresy that is still the darling of many today, including sadly many Christians. In both instances, our Lord would still have been dead and gone, his body presumably moldering somewhere, but certainly still a corpse. This focus on spirituality and life after death is emphatically not what the NT writers meant when they proclaimed Christ was raised from the dead. If Christ was merely available to his first followers in some mystical or spiritual sense, what difference would that really have made to them? Think about it. When our own beloved die, we might draw some comfort and solace if we think there really is life after death. But the fact is, they’re still dead. We can’t see them, touch them, talk with them, hear them, smell them, or interact with them in any meaningful way. Neither does our hope that our dead loved ones somehow survive after their mortal death generally have the power to change our lives much. We must adjust to life without them, and if we had any meaningful relationship with them in this mortal life, our lives going forward are always poorer because they are no longer available to us as they were in this mortal life. No, if Christ’s Resurrection was simply about a new kind of spirituality, the first disciples wouldn’t have been running all over the place that first Easter Sunday, full of wonder, excitement, and fear. I know I don’t have that kind of reaction when I visit the graves of my loved ones. They’re  dead and gone and my life is the poorer for it, forgetting for the moment my Easter Faith. So to repeat, resurrection is not about dying and going to heaven or life after death or spirituality.

So what is resurrection? When the first followers of Christ proclaimed that he was raised from the dead, they were talking about new bodily existence and this is where the brilliance of St. John as a theologian and storyteller shines brightly. As we read last night at the Easter Vigil, creation has always mattered to God. Scripture proclaims that before God created there was nothing but darkness and chaos, but that God created goodness and order to replace that. Genesis declares very clearly that God’s original creation was good and God’s creation of his human image-bearers to run his good creation made the whole enterprise very good. Here we see a good God speak into existence a good created order, complete with his image-bearers to run the whole thing. 

But then came human sin and rebellion, and that allowed the powers of Evil and Death to enter God’s good creation to corrupt and disorder it. The whole story of Scripture, then, is about how God is rescuing his good created order (us included) from our bondage to the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death. Fast forward now to St. John’s gospel, which as we saw at Christmas, purposely mirrors the creation narratives of Genesis 1-2, but with the focus specifically on the Son of God, Jesus Christ. As we saw Friday night, Good Friday represented the culmination of God’s redemptive work in Christ, the sixth day of God’s (re)creative process, mirroring the sixth day of the original creation narratives that represented the pinnacle of God’s creative activity as he created humans. On the cross, Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures as St. Paul declares in our epistle lesson, and his dying words were, “It is finished.” But what was finished? As we saw above and on Good Friday, what was finished is God’s redemptive work to reconcile us to him through the blood of the Lamb so that we could once again take our rightful place as God’s good and wise image-bearers to run God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth. This was always God’s creative intent. And then on the seventh day, Christ rested in his tomb, paralleling the seventh day of creation when God rested from his creative work. Now here we are, the first day of the new week, the eighth day. St. John clearly wants us to see that when God raised Jesus from the dead on that day, God ushered in the new world, the new heavens and earth. It’s so important that the evangelist repeats it later in this chapter as we will see next week. Christ died to make all things new and break the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death so that we would no longer be enslaved by them. Why? Because creation matters to God. We matter to God, and Scripture testifies consistently that it has always been God the Father’s intent to heal and restore his good but corrupted created order, us included. 

And so this is what the first followers meant when they talked about Christ’s Resurrection. New bodily life, a new created order. As we saw in our gospel lesson, Mary tried to grab hold of Jesus. You don’t do that with a ghost or disembodied spirit. Christ’s new body had both similarities to our mortal bodies as well as new characteristics. His followers could see him, hear him, touch him, converse with him, and eat and drink with him, just like they could in his mortal life. Yet his body was different. He could mask his identity as he did initially with Mary in the garden and with his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. He could appear and disappear behind locked doors. All of this would certainly have produced the kind of commotion and fear the gospel writers all report happening that first Easter Sunday because it was something totally unexpected. And let’s be clear about that too. The women didn’t come to Christ’s tomb expecting to see him risen from the dead. They knew, as we do, that dead people don’t come out of their graves. They came instead to mourn his death and anoint his body to slow down the inevitable decomposition that accompanies death. 

So why is this all critical to us and our Easter Faith? Well, if, as Revelation promises in its closing chapters, God’s new world is a-coming, the day when the dimensions of heaven and earth are joined together in a new created order, we will need new bodies to inhabit it. Why? Because the new creation will be a material order, but also something entirely new, a world devoid of all the evils and hurts and heartaches we must endure in this mortal life, and it will last forever because Death will be abolished forever. Therefore we need bodies that will last forever, the kind of bodies that are patterned after our risen Lord’s body, suitable to live in God’s new world. St. Paul spells this out in detail later in 1 Cor 15 but that will have to wait for another day. The critical point here is that when the first Christians spoke of Christ’s Resurrection they were proclaiming new bodily life, and that is so much more satisfactory than some disembodied spiritual existence. 

Why? Because without a body, human relationships as we know and value them would be impossible. Take St. Peter’s restoration for instance. When our Lord restored St. Peter after the latter’s disastrous denial of Christ, he had to be embodied for it to have a lasting impact on St. Peter. Our own spiritual struggles validate this. Unless we hear an tender voice speaking to us, unless we can look into another person’s eyes and hear the tone of his or her voice and feel the person’s gentle touch, we will never be quite sure if we are forgiven or restored. We ask forgiveness in prayer and we are assured that we receive it because Christ lives and intercedes for us. But we receive it by faith. Unless we hear his voice or receive a clear intimation from him, there is always the possibility of doubt. Are we really forgiven? I suspect St. Peter’s catastrophic denials were so severe that nothing less than an encounter with his risen embodied Lord would do it for him. God, of course, knows best what we need to receive his healing love and forgiveness, but the point remains that without bodies we do not have what it takes to be truly human. And if we are not truly human we are not God’s image-bearers and God’s original and eternal intent for us is destroyed. If we believe in an omnipotent God, a moment’s thought will confirm to us what a ridiculous proposition that is. What Christ’s resurrection announced to his first followers and to us is that the old world order of Sin, Evil, and Death is defeated, that a new day has dawned—God’s new day, the beginning of the new heavens and earth. That day is not yet consummated but the war has been won and we are the beneficiaries. The rest, as a cabbie once said to N.T. Wright, is basically rock and roll, isn’t it?

So how can our Easter Faith assist us in the living of our days in this increasingly mad and bizarre world? Time limits me to two basic ideas to get you jump-started in our own thinking and reflections. First, Christ’s Resurrection invites us to look at our present world and evaluate it using different criteria. Instead of looking at the past and present to assess our future prospects, what if we use our future hope of new creation to assess our present world? When we assess our future prospects using the past and present, how can there really be any hope? The human condition hasn’t changed. Science and technology, while making our lives so much better and easier in some ways, has not changed who we are. Human rapacity, sin, selfishness, pride, greed, and lust for power (to name just a few) continue unabated and unchanged by any of our scientific advancements, the Star Trek myth notwithstanding. In fact, if anything, technology has exposed human wickedness in unprecedented ways. We have instant access to an unending stream of bad news and human madness and evil. Death still reigns. People still suffer. Old age and infirmity still come. We are still alienated to each other and the God-ordained institutions of marriage and family are crumbling before our eyes. Our nation becomes increasingly divided and there are very few voices of reason out there these days. Based on this, what is our realistic hope for the future? This is the old world order at its finest and worst, and with it comes darkness, despair, sickness, and death. 

But what if we really believe Christ’s Resurrection announced the in-breaking of God’s new world, a world in which Evil, Sin, and Death are destroyed forever? A world in which there is no more sickness, sorrow, suffering, alienation, despair, or want of any kind? A world that is dominated by the love and goodness of God, a world about which St. Paul spoke in 1 Cor 13? To be sure, that world has not yet arrived, but it’s coming in full one day and we are called by Christ to so order our lives in ways that will announce to the powers of the old order that their day is through. We do this locally as the family of God. We love each other, care for each other, and suffer with and for each other. We bear each others quirks and pricklies. We grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who rejoice. We worship together our risen Lord and Savior and eagerly await his return to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection. We refuse to take revenge and are quick to forgive, especially those who hate Christ and us for being his followers. This will inevitably produce suffering for us, but we have a real hope and future. We know a new world is coming some day. It may be a million years from now. It may be tomorrow. But that doesn’t matter. We assess our present and imitate our crucified and risen Lord because we believe that his Resurrection announced a new world order, a world order run by God alone, a perfect world in which we have been invited to live forever because of the love of God poured out for us on the cross and vindicated that first Easter Sunday. As the great bishop of S. India, Lesslie Newbigin, once said, “I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.” Exactly.

And on a more personal and emotional note, Christ’s Resurrection promises us that Death will not have the final say. If you have ever watched a loved one suffer and die or are enduring a loved one’s infirmity or terminal disease, you know how heartbreaking that is. But your Easter hope can help mitigate the heartbreak. Why? Because we know that the ugliness and suffering we and our loved ones are enduring (or endured) will one day be redeemed. Broken, weak, ugly bodies on the verge of death will be restored to new beauty and vitality unknown in this mortal life. Suffering, sorrow, and separation will be no more. We will once again get to see, touch, hear, smell, and converse with our beloved as fully restored human beings, perfect and beautiful in unimaginable ways, our relationships with them healed and restored. Who would not want that? But that day has not yet arrived. Until it does we must be content that our dead loved ones are taking their rest in their Lord who claimed them from all eternity, safe in his loving care in heaven as they await their new bodies. In the meantime hope remains, the sure and certain expectation of things to come, because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, announcing God’s promised new reality, helping us to endure the unendurable until that great and glorious day. The hope of resurrections fulfills our deepest longing for restored human relationships shattered by death.

If you are having a hard time imagining this, don’t worry. God’s power and love and beauty, which of course the Resurrection is all about, is hard for us mortal finite humans to imagine. But just because we cannot fully imagine it doesn’t mean it’s not true. This Eastertide, be living signs of God’s new world. Find ways to celebrate and imitate your crucified and risen Lord. And when the news of the day gets to be too much for you so that you find yourself despairing over the state of things in this country and/or your life, remember that Jesus is Lord and the powers of the present order are not (and that’s got nothing to do with politics, my beloved). I’m not talking about platitudes; I am talking about availing yourself to God’s power, a power that not even the darkest powers can overcome. But you can’t do this on your own because you will be overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of the madness of this world. So let us also resolve to remember and declare together that Jesus Christ is Lord and the dark powers that run this world are not. Their day is done, even if they are not fully vanquished. We know Jesus is Lord because he is raised from the dead and lives with God to intercede for us as his people. He calls us to be living signposts—tangible markers in this life pointing to our final destination, not the destination itself—of his healing love and redemption of the entire human race. So let us together as God’s people here at St. Augustine’s resolve anew to embody God’s great love and forgiveness, goodness and righteousness, to a world gone mad. As we do, let us resolve to worship God and the Lamb together in the power of the Holy Spirit and to rejoice in this gift of resurrection life. Let us come to Christ’s table and feed on him and so be strengthened for this arduous task. Let us have generous hearts with which to share the abundance of Christ’s love and blessings. Let us enjoy sweet fellowship together and take care of each other, always welcoming strangers and inviting others to join in the Paschal Feast. And let our worship and fellowship drive a renewed sense of service to a world that so desperately needs to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Everything has changed because Christ has died and risen from the dead. Stake your very life on it and be bold in your living and proclamation of this new reality. And let us find ways to announce this Good News to the world, especially during these next fifty days. After all, we have hope for the present, no matter how bleak things become, because we know our future is secure, and not even the gates of hell can rob us of that promise. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

What’s So “Good” About Good Friday?

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

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; St. John 18-19.

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

Father Sang was called away to a pastoral emergency tonight and I ask you say a prayer for him. I’m telling you this because he was supposed to preach tonight, but that task now falls to me. Given that I didn’t find out till this afternoon, I am forced to pull out a previous sermon. It’s so previous that most of you here wouldn’t have heard it in the first place. In the original text, I announced the Lord put this sermon on my heart to preach so I trust that what was good then will still be good now. I ask your forbearance.

Remember, LORD, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace. You, LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure (Lamentations 5.1, 19-22).

 The man was dying of cancer and he knew it. As the time of his death approached he became more and more fearful, even though he was a professed and devout Christian. For you see, like the psalmist in Psalm 51 he knew his transgressions only too well and his sin was ever before him, and that terrified him. He personifies the passage from Lamentations that I just read.  That passage was written after the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC and burned down God’s Temple, the very place where the Jews believed heaven and earth intersected and God had come to dwell. As the writer makes clear, he and his people wonder if God had forgotten or forsaken them forever because of their sins. Like the man dying of cancer, they too knew their transgressions and their sin was ever before them. They had utterly failed to be the people God called them to be and now they were paying dearly for it. They were faced with the real and awful possibility that the Source and Author of all life had rejected and abandoned them forever, just as he had abandoned his Temple. This too is what the man dying of cancer feared. 

Or take St. Peter in tonight’s gospel lesson. In his bravado he had bragged to Jesus that he would never abandon or desert him, only to do exactly that to save his own skin. In St. Peter, we see all the ugliness of the human condition—pride, fear, cowardice, and loss of integrity. We all can relate to St. Peter because we are just like him. We remember the times we failed to speak up for goodness and justice because we were afraid. We remember the times when we have denied our Lord in word and action because we wanted to be accepted and didn’t want to face the prospect of being ridiculed. Who does? We can relate when the other gospel writers tell us that after this massive collapse of truth, courage, and integrity, especially in the face of his earlier bravado, St. Peter went out and wept bitterly. When you have denied and separated yourself from the one who loves you and who has always been there for you, how can you possibly expect to be forgiven for something like that? It simply does not compute and it makes you afraid. The man dying of cancer surely would have understood. 

And I suspect this is what many, if not most, of us fear. We know our transgressions and our sin is ever before us and that makes us terribly afraid. Each one of us carries secret sins so dark that we are terrified that someone might find out about them. We are convinced that those things are so wrong and so unforgivable that if found out, especially if God finds them out—which of course, God already has—that we will be justly condemned and rejected by God and others forever. Who could ever love someone like us who carry about our dark secrets? And so we usually do one of two things. We sometimes bury our secrets so thoroughly that we forget about them. We do this because the pain of carrying them with us on a daily basis is too great and terrible for us to bear. This strategy, of course, will not work because the knowledge of our repressed sins will continue to bubble up and manifest itself in the form of ongoing guilt or fear or alienation or a host of other psychological and/or physiological disorders, the way they did for the man dying of cancer. Satan uses all this to convince us that we are unlovable or beyond hope, and he will often appeal to our sense of justice. God or others could never love or accept someone as awful as you. 

Or we do what sinful humanity has done since that sad and terrible scene in Garden that we read in Genesis 3. We hide from God or we come out to attack God and rid ourselves of him like the soldiers did in that other garden from tonight’s gospel lesson. We do this because while we know we can keep our darkest secrets hidden from others, we cannot keep them hidden from God and so we seek to attack and destroy him, as utterly futile as that might be. This is what many who reject God in all kinds of ways do. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that jig is up and that God knows who we really are—and that scares us beyond our ability to describe or cope with. Perhaps you are one of these people I have just described, or some variation of it. Perhaps you are someone like the man dying of cancer who is terrified that you are beyond forgiveness or healing or reconciliation, even as you desperately seek it. If so, I encourage you to hear what God has to say to you in tonight’s Scripture lessons and with the Spirit’s help, really believe it because in it you will find the forgiveness, healing, hope, acceptance, reconciliation, and real peace that you desperately seek. 

This brings us to the title of tonight’s sermon. What’s so “good” about Good Friday. Seen from one perspective, there’s nothing good about this day because all we can see is massive injustice and human cruelty at its finest. We see an innocent man being flogged within an inch of his life. Roman scourging was not just some ordinary beating. It involved using a whip with multiple tails, each have rock, bone, or other sharp materials attached to the end of each tail so that when it hit the flesh, it was designed to flay it open. Often people died from the 39 lashes themselves. But Jesus didn’t. No, he survived not only that but also having a crown of sharp thorns shoved down on his head so that he could be crucified as King of the Jews.

Then there was the crucifixion itself, which none of the four gospels offer any details, but which we know quite a bit about. The victim was taken to the place of execution carrying the crossbeam of his cross on his shoulders and with a placard of the crimes committed around his neck. Crucifixion involved nailing spikes into the victims wrists and then hoisting the crossbeam onto a pole already embedded in the ground onto which the victim’s feet would be nailed. To add to the humiliation, crucified people were stripped naked and then left to die. It was a slow and agonizing death because the weight of the body made it increasing impossible for the victim  to breathe so he would have to push up with his feet to relief the pressure around his lungs and grab some air. This trauma would eventually rupture the sacs of fluid around the lungs and the victim would drown in his own fluid. The whole process could literally take days. It was not a pretty sight to behold but behold it the Jews of Jesus’ day did and it is not unreasonable for us to believe that Jesus would not have witnessed others being crucified so that he would have been familiar with its horror before his own crucifixion. But of course, looking at Good Friday in this manner is to look at it only from a human perspective and if that is all you can see, you likely will never understand why it’s called “good” because there is absolutely nothing good in what I have just described. Neither will you ever find the forgiveness and healing you seek.

But this is emphatically not what St. John and the other gospel writers are telling us about Jesus’ crucifixion. That’s why they do not detail his torture; they simply report it happened and that he had to suffer it. Instead, the gospel writers have something much, much better in mind. The massive injustice and extreme human cruelty—and the terrible, dark forces of evil behind it all—were simply means to a greater end. What the gospel writers want us to see in the death of Jesus is that this is how God is putting to rights all that has gone so terribly wrong with his good creation and its people—by becoming human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and bearing all the power of sin and evil himself so that evil is spent and ultimately defeated. The gospel writers, each in his own way, are telling us that Good Friday is the decisive turning point of human history, that God has taken on himself all the awful consequences of sin, evil, and death, and defeated them decisively, but not yet completely (cf. Colossians 2.15). In quite subtle and sophisticated ways, St. John and the other gospel writers are telling us in the crucifixion narratives that the cross has reestablished God’s sovereign rule on earth as in heaven and that in dying for us, Jesus has become Lord. 

But I do not want to focus on the kingdom aspect of the cross tonight. Instead, I want to focus on what must happen if we ever hope to follow Jesus in joyful and willing obedience, even in the face of our own suffering for his sake. For you see, if we ever hope to be a faithful follower of Jesus and do what he commands, we must first be convinced that we are forgiven those terrible and dark secrets we keep hidden and that God really will accept us for who we are (but who also loves us enough not to let us stay where we are). In other words, we have to be convinced that God really has made it possible for us to be reconciled to him so that we can have our relationship with him and others restored and enjoy real peace with God and others. When we know, really know, that God loves us despite who we are, that not even our darkest sins will keep us separated from God and his love for us, and that God will never abandon us, despite our massive rebellion against him, all the guilt, fear, and despair that we deal with and dehumanizes us will go away and we will find real healing and the wonder of forgiveness that is really undeserved. Without God’s forgiveness, without him bearing the consequences of our sin and the evil it produces, we can never hope to love or follow him in his kingdom work. We will be too busy dealing with our own guilt and despair.

We see God bearing of the consequences of our sin and the forgiveness that flows from that illustrated in several places in our gospel narrative tonight and here I will point out just two. First, we see the innocent Jesus bearing the consequences of Barabbas, a murderer and insurrectionist. Barabbas, representing sinful humanity that deserves nothing but God’s wrath and condemnation, goes free while God himself bears his (and our) punishment. This explains the horror that Jesus the man felt in the garden of Gethsemane, which St. John does not report but which St. Matthew and St. Mark do. We watch him sweating blood as he agonizes over having to bear the consequences of all the world’s evil and sin. It also explains the cry of dereliction in St. Matthew and St. Mark’s gospels. The terrible consequences of having to bear the weight of all our sin was so awful that for the first time Jesus knew what it was like to be separated from God, just like we do when our sin separates us from God. But if we stop there we miss the point. In bearing the consequences of our sin, God offers us forgiveness! We are not beyond hope! Jesus suffered God’s abandonment so that we would never have to worry about that again—ever! 

Second, in St. John’s gospel we also see God’s forgiveness offered in Jesus’ last words on the cross. “It is finished.” What is “it” that was finished? St. John, always conscious of the creation narratives in Genesis, is telling us that the conditions for the new creation have been established by the Creator God himself embodied in Jesus. On Friday, the sixth day of the week in which he created humans and declared things to be very good, God himself has defeated evil, sin, and death by bearing the collective weight of human sin himself, thus taking care of the necessary conditions for forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation to be offered, the very things needed for us to follow Jesus in his kingdom work. All this is why we call Good Friday “good.”

And so we return to our story of the man dying from cancer. Without Good Friday, he would indeed be without hope, as would all of us. But Good Friday has come and the course of human history has been changed. Because of that, I was able to ask him what he was going to do with St. Paul’s great statement in Romans 8.1, “[Because of the cross] there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Either you are in Christ through faith or you are not. Either you believe the truth or you do not. Fortunately the dying man was able to wrestle with this and found forgiveness, healing and peace before he died. He was able to know that the love of God manifested on the cross is far greater than even his darkest and manifold sins and he died in the peace of God, thanks be to God!

What about you? Are you struggling tonight with issues of failure and darkness? Are you allowing Satan to whisper in your ear that you are no good and beyond any hope for God to love someone like you? Do you suffer guilt or fear or despair or alienation because like the dying man or the people of Jerusalem you don’t believe that God could possibly love the likes of you? Do you desperately seek healing and reconciliation with the Source and Author of all life but are afraid that you will get wrath and judgment instead? If so, listen to the stories of Jesus’ crucifixion and really come to grips with it. Dare to believe the great love you see poured out for you. Dare to believe that like Barabbas, Jesus is taking your place on the cross. Dare to hear the gracious words of Isaiah and Hebrews in tonight’s lessons that by his wounds you are healed and that you do not have to live life alone and afraid because you have God’s very Spirit living in you and shaping you slowly into the human God created you to be. Dare to believe the truth of St. Paul’s statement that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and understand there are no exceptions to the great truth. None. Then let the healing forgiveness that you see flow from Christ’s side on the cross flow down on you so that by the power of the Spirit you might know what real healing and forgiveness are all about, just the way the dying man did and countless others have. Don’t succumb to the lies of the Evil One or your own broken fears. Look on the cross of Calvary and realize the one who is dying there is none other than God himself and he is doing so because he desperately wants you to feel his healing love and forgiveness so that he can equip you to help him bring in his kingdom and promised new creation. A God like that will never abandon you or remain aloof from your problems and hurts. And when, by God’s grace, you finally know what’s good about Good Friday, you really will have Good News, now and for all eternity. I pray that God grant each of us the grace to accept without reservation the wondrous love he offers to the whole world on Calvary.

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

Father Jonathon Wylie: A New Commandment

Sermon delivered on Maundy Thursday, April 1, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie gets in a snit when he has to submit a written manuscript of his sermon. We don’t want that so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

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

Why The Sunday of the Passion Matters

Sermon delivered on Passion/Palm Sunday B, March 28, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; St. Mark 14.1-15.47.

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

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

We read this year’s Passion narrative from St. Mark. Tradition has it that St. Mark faithfully recorded St. Peter’s memories while they were in Rome. St. Mark, ever the masterful story teller—story meaning a faithful narration of historical events, not some made up fiction—tells how our Lord entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey in fulfillment of OT prophecy (Zechariah 9.9-12), acclaimed by the crowds as the hoped-for Messiah, only to have the crowds turn on him later in the week. The story is pretty straightforward and because it is the word of God, it is full of power, and I am content to let it speak for itself—other than to say we would all profit enormously if we returned to his Passion narrative throughout this week to plumb the depths of its richness and power, and in the process discover (or rediscover) our crucified and risen Savior. Neither do I want to spend any time looking for reasons as to why the crowds turned on Christ, other than to quickly note that Christ failed to live up to his people’s expectations for their Messiah. While he did pronounce judgment on the Temple, something the Messiah was expected to do, Christ didn’t preach rebellion against the Romans nor did he enter Jerusalem as a great warrior, something for which many of his contemporaries hoped. And we all know what happens when our expectations get violated.

Instead, I want us to begin to explore the treasures contained in St. Mark’s Passion narrative and learn to appreciate his skill as a sophisticated story-teller because in Scripture, God’s truth is contained in God’s story. At its essence, St. Mark is telling us that this is what it looks like when God fulfills his promises to return to his people. Unlike many of Christ’s contemporaries, let us not fail to recognize God’s return to us. The first thing we note is the timing for Christ revealing his true identity as God’s Messiah or anointed one. He chose the Passover to come to Jerusalem and die. St. Mark surely wants us to see that our Lord’s death would bring about the ultimate Pascha or Passover. Just as God’s destroying angel had passed over the houses of his people in Egypt marked with the blood of the slaughtered lamb, so we are marked by the blood of the Lamb of God so that we will not suffer eternal death when Christ returns to judge his world with perfect justice. 

And there’s a reason we should rejoice in this because none will be exempt from God’s perfect justice. In telling us the story of Christ’s Passion, St. Mark compels us to see human beings, God’s image-bearers, you and me, at our very worst. Here is the Son of God, God himself, God condescending to become human as St. Paul vividly proclaims in our epistle lesson, to rescue us from permanent death and utter destruction. And our response? For starters, Christ was betrayed by one of his inner circle. If you have lived long enough, you know the sting of a friend’s betrayal where you thought you could trust the person only to find out you were utterly wrong. Having suffered that kind of betrayal personally, I can tell you that it is devastating, especially when the betrayer is someone you counted as a close and intimate friend. Here St. Mark is showing us the awful predicament of the human condition and why there is so much suffering, sickness, disorder, and darkness in our lives and this world. God has returned to his people as promised and we respond by betraying him unto death. It wasn’t just Judas who did that. How many times have we betrayed our Lord in our thinking, speaking, and actions? We are no more interested in having God run our lives than many of Christ’s contemporaries were. Human pride got us kicked out of paradise and in this sad story of betrayal, we are reminded how nothing has really changed over the years. We are still hostile to God and utterly separated from him. Whatever Judas’ motives were for betraying our Lord, he clearly did not trust in or believe Jesus to be who he claimed to be. This prevented him from seeking Christ’s forgiveness and led to his own self-destruction. The same fate awaits us if we choose to imitate Judas and trust ourselves rather than Christ for our healing and salvation.

Then there was the fiasco of the kangaroo court held by the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate. The Jewish leaders weren’t interested in following God’s Truth that confronted them in Christ. They were more interested in maintaining the status quo and their position of power and privilege so they arranged for the Romans to execute this troublemaker. Pilate, of course, was caustic and cynical. Our Lord found no justice with him because Pilate wasn’t interested in justice. As soon as the mob turned against him—a mob who preferred the release of a murderer over their Messiah and threatened to riot if they didn’t get their way (sound familiar?)—he washed his hands of the situation, literally as St. Matthew reports, and condemned Jesus to death by crucifixion. 

Of all the cruel and evil ways humans have devised to kill other humans, crucifixion would be at the top of anybody’s list. None of the Evangelists were interested in reporting the gory details of crucifixion because that was not essential in telling the story of God’s rescue of us. What is important here is that crucifixion was a godforsaken and utterly degrading form of execution where victims were scourged and then nailed or tied naked to a cross for all to see and mock, and mock they did as St. Mark reports. In the spectacle of Calvary we see all the savagery and rapacity of human beings unleashed against their God, the creatures turning viciously on their Creator become human in savage rebellion in an utterly futile attempt to free themselves from God’s good control over their lives. Here St. Mark is showing us how the prophecy contained in our OT and psalm lessons played itself out as he invites us to ponder the depths of human depravity in this godforsaken spectacle. And let us not fool ourselves by thinking we are incapable of such rebellion against God and his Christ. Such thinking nails our Lord right back on the Cross. Here again in a microcosm, we see the root problem of the human condition. We are thoroughly hostile and alienated from God and each other because we are enslaved by the power of Sin, and without outside intervention from an even stronger power, we are utterly without hope. 

But we are not people who are utterly without hope because we belong to Christ. In recounting Christ’s Passion, St. Mark is proclaiming that we are people with a hope and a future because of of Christ’s saving death to free us from our slavery to Sin and the power of Death. Look at your Savior dying on the cross for you, St. Mark tells in this story, sparing you from God’s terrible judgment on your sins. Without this sacred death, none of us have reason for hope because none of us on our own are able to stand in the Presence of our Holy God so that we can live forever. And if you think otherwise, you have not yet considered the weight of sin. When Christ shouted out his terrible cry of dereliction or abandonment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he was experiencing for the first time ever the awful separation from God that you and I experience all the time because of our sins. He bears the sins of the world, your sins and mine, so that we could have the hope of being reconciled to God our Father and find real healing and our peace. How do I know this? How can we be sure of this? Not because St. Mark tells us this in a story, not because some preacher preaches it, not even one as erudite and handsome as me, but because Jesus Christ is raised from the dead! The resurrection interprets Christ’s death for us and without it Christ would have been just another nameless victim of Roman cruelty. But that must wait till next Sunday. What is critical for us to reflect on right here is the nature of Christ’s death and our role in it. In Christ’s cry of dereliction on the cross, St. Mark is telling us that God is somehow dealing forever with our sins and that we will not experience the unspeakable fate of being abandoned by our Creator forever. In this story we see that we are not alone nor has God rejected us because Christ has suffered that rejection for us out of God the Father’s great love for us. Take real hope in this and stake your very life on that hope, dear people of God!

Why? Because if we believe this, everything changes for us. Because we belong to Christ we have hope for the future and strength to bear our present trials because we have this eternal hope. If God is for us, who or what can ever be against us? There is now no condemnation for us who put our hope and trust in Christ, believing that the Father and the Son accomplished what needed to be accomplished on our behalf to rescue us from our exile from God. In practical terms, this means we can bring our guilt and our shame to the foot of the cross and know we are forgiven and therefore it is possible for us to be healed of our sin sickness and self-loathing. We no longer have to fear God’s rejection of us or doubt that God loves us. We no longer have to listen to voices of condemnation, either from our enemies or from within ourselves. They are simply lies because Christ has suffered our condemnation and reconciled us to God. We don’t need to prove ourselves worthy because God has already declared us to be worthy despite our unworthiness. It means that despite the hurt we have caused, the evil we have been party to, and the damage we have done in our lives, we are forgiven and loved by God because of what Christ did for us. If this does not cause us to give our lives totally to Christ so that our thinking, doing, speaking, and values all flow from him and his teaching, it means either we have not come to grips with our new reality or we do not believe it. But we have no reason not  to believe it because as our baptism testifies, we now share in Christ’s death so that we can share in his resurrection. We are no longer our own; we now belong to Christ. Our old filthy rags, what the NT refers to as our Old Man, our sinful, fallen self, are replaced by the white garments of Christ, the New Man. Satan’s power over us has been broken and we are no longer his slaves or slaves to Sin and Evil, and therefore our destiny is no longer Death. We are no longer utterly undone and without hope. No matter the state of our self-loathing or how much others may despise us for our faith, no matter how imperfect our faith is or how imperfectly we live it, when we give our lives to Christ in thanksgiving for his life-giving death for us, we become God’s beloved, plain and simple, and not even the powers of Hell can separate us from Christ’s love. This is the result of Christ’s Passion, my beloved, and why we must focus on the events of this coming Holy Week, reflecting on Christ’s great love for us and our response to that great love.

Start by reading and meditating on the Passion narratives on your own this week and then come with our Lord to the Upper Room Thursday night where he will give his disciples a meal as the means to help them understand what his impending passion and death is all about. Watch with him in the garden as he struggles and shrinks from the gigantic task of allowing the powers of Evil to do their worst to him, and the prospect of having to bear the judgment of God for the sins of the entire world, your sins and mine. Our own personal sins can be a terrible burden to us. Try to imagine having to bear the sins of the entire world and looking into the face of the Devil while you do! With that in mind, come and venerate the cross on Good Friday as you ponder and contemplate the presence of God among us in the death of his Son for your sake and the sake of the world. Such contemplation demands silence, desolation, humility, and honest confession that your sins and mine are also responsible for the godforsaken death of our Lord. Was there ever any suffering like our Lord’s (and if you answer yes to this question, there’s a good chance you don’t really understand the magnitude of what happened on Good Friday!)? Grieve with his first followers as they laid his crucified and dead body in the tomb with no expectation of Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is the time to do just that, culminating with the Easter Vigil and the reading of the story of God’s salvation on Saturday evening. It simply won’t do to observe any of this from afar. It’s as unedifying as listening to any of the other priests’ sermons. Everything has changed because of Christ crucified and raised from the dead. That’s why we call it the Good News of Jesus Christ! We are no longer dead people walking, but rather Christ’s own forever, sealed with his precious blood and confirmed every time we come to the Table to feed on his body and blood. No, if you really love your Lord and have even an inkling as to what great love has effected your salvation and changed the course of history forever, how can you possibly stay away from our Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil services? You will rob Easter Sunday of its great power and joy if you fail to participate in these saving events. And on an even more somber note, if you are unwilling to give Christ your all as you are able, especially this week, you are likely living a lie and a delusion regarding your relationship with Christ and you probably need to take it up with him in prayer. So let none of us be too hasty to celebrate the Pascha next Sunday without first pondering and agonizing and reflecting on the great and astonishing love of God that flows from God’s very heart, a heart that was pierced by a Roman soldier’s spear, a heart through which a saving love was poured out for you and your salvation. To be sure, this isn’t a pretty or fun thing to do or contemplate. But if you commit yourself to walking with Jesus this Holy Week it will change you in ways you cannot imagine or envision, and for the good. It will change you because it is the Good News of our salvation, now and for all eternity. May we all observe a blessed Holy Week together as God’s people at St. Augustine’s. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Father Santosh Madanu: Why the Cross?

Sermon delivered on Lent 5B, Sunday, March 21, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 31.31-34; Psalm 51.1-13; Hebrews 5.5-10; St. John 12.20-33.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we adore you because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world. Bless the family of St. Augustine to proclaim along with St. Paul “ For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” in Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Girl kid: says to her Mom, I am not going to school anymore?
Mother: Why Not? Asked the mother
Kid: says because my Teacher said on Monday 4+ 4makes 8
Mother: says OK
Kid: continued saying And on Tuesday she said 6+2 makes 8 and on Wednesday she said 5+3 makes 8. So I am not going to school until she makes up her mind.

This is true in our life seriously as a Good Christian, we need to make up our mind clearly about why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the Cross? &
What does it mean to be the disciple of the Lord?
Dear friends Jesus says

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).

A: The first question — why did Jesus have to die on the cross? — is something Christians have?been grappling with since the time of the apostles. St. Paul writes: “We proclaim Christ?crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24) I think this is a good place to start in trying to understand the paradox of the cross: It is beyond human understanding, yet contains a divine purpose and profound supernatural love.

I’ve got a crucifixi in my living room. And I noticed most of Asian churches and families, and Latin American churches and in the people’s homes have crucifixes. They tend to be graphic, with blood and wounds clearly visible. This can be a bit shocking for those of us who are accustomed to more “cleaned-up” crucifixes, but those people it is a deep devotion towards the crucifixions. They understand intuitively what the cross means for them: salvation. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, he has saved us from a similarly horrible death.

It is hard for modern Christians to grasp the full horror of that method of execution. Because “no other mode of execution would have been commensurate with the extremity of humanity’s condition under Sin.”

To understand why Christ’s passion and death on the cross were necessary for our salvation, we have to understand the idea of sacrifice and atonement in the Old Testament. According to the old Mosaic covenant, priests would offer animal sacrifices to God for the sins of the people, substituting the death of the animal for the death punishment deserved by the people for their sins and disobedience. This “substitution” brought an individual or a community back into a right relationship with God (the first 10 chapters of Leviticus give abundant details about this).

The Letter to the Hebrews bridges the Old Testament and the New and shows how Christ took the place of the Mosaic priestly sacrifices once and for all. Just as in the Old Covenant the high priest would offer animal sacrifices on behalf of the people, so Christ became the new high priest who offered himself as the sacrificial offering for the sins of the people for all time. While the Old Covenant required ongoing sacrifices, Jesus’ was once and for all, never to be repeated: “he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12)

How could a loving and merciful God condemn his Son to such a fate?

The only answer is love. God took the initiative to offer his Son on the cross in order to do something we could never do: save ourselves. Jesus took the punishment we deserved and became the instrument of atonement for our guilt to the Father. We are forgiven because of his suffering and death. This is why, for Christians, the crucifix, in all its brutality, is the most powerful image of God’s love and concern for each of us.

That is why Jesus says unless the seed falls to the ground and dies it does not produce any fruits.

  • Christ’s death was the means by which the powers of evil, which held humankind under its dominion, were defeated; our job is to live knowing this is true.
  • Jesus suffered and died in order to secure salvation for all who would believe. The night of His arrest, as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, He committed His all to the task: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The cup of suffering was not taken from Christ; He drank it all for us. There was no other way for us to be saved.
  • The price of forgiveness was totally paid. The righteousness of God was completely vindicated.
  • What is the ultimate good in the Good News? God Himself. Salvation is good news. It saves from hell and bestows the relationship with God.
  • Why Jesus suffered and died on the cross?
  • In order to cancel the legal demands of the law against us. To provide the basis for our justification and to complete the obedience that becomes our righteousness.
  • To be justified in a courtroom is not the same as being forgiven. Being forgiven implies that I am guilty and my crime is not counted.
  • The death of Christ is the demonstration of God’s love (John 3:16), it is also the supreme expression of Christ’s own love for all who receive it as their treasure.
  • My sin, your sin, our sin, was the reason Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross. Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The penalty for sin is death.
  • Isaiah 53:3-5 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
  • Jesus came to pay a debt, we could not pay, and that He did not owe. This is LOVE. This is the GOOD NEWS. This is the GOSPEL.
  • How are we redeemed? Is it with Gold, Silver, wealth and money?
  • 1 Peter 1:18-20 For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you,
  • Jesus sweated drops of blood at the thought of what He was to endure. But He chose to willingly make that ultimate sacrifice, so that we can approach Him and the Father without obstacle, 24/7.

Jesus came as the Passover Lamb to take away the sins of the whole world. He revealed His love for us by His suffering and death on the cross. Forgiveness of sin has always required a blood sacrifice. Jesus gave His own blood for you and me. Praise God!

Revelation 12:11 declares we can overcome (sin, devil) by the blood of the Lamb.
The cross is the cross-section of God’s mercy and justice. When true forgiveness or mercy is bestowed, someone has to pay the price for it. The cross offers true mercy and forgiveness, but not at the expense of justice. God, through Jesus, was perfectly unselfish. He stepped up to pay the exorbitant fine required for our sin.

Jesus’ astonishing sacrifice of himself voluntarily undergone on the cross—all for mercy, all for forgiveness, all for love. It is the gift that exceeds every hope. Praise be to Christ!

What is the Discipleship of the Lord Jesus Christ?

In Christianity, disciple primarily refers to a dedicated follower of Jesus. This term is found in the New Testament only in the Gospels and Acts. In the ancient world, a disciple is a follower

“JESUS THEN SAID TO HIS DISCIPLES: ‘IF A MAN WISHES TO COME AFTER ME, HE MUST DENY HIS VERY SELF, TAKE UP HIS CROSS, AND BEGIN TO FOLLOW IN MY FOOTSTEPS.” MT. 16:24

We all must seek the Lord’s holy and perfect will as a disciple.

Jesus says “I came to earth not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as the rescue for sinners (Mark 10:45). Disciple is the servant of God and His people.

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21; see also John 17:18). This means that Jesus’s disciples are on a mission. They are to witness as true followers of the Lord.

Conditions and requirements to be disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ:

  • Christians must seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus the Lord through their living life of Holiness, Charity, Mercy, Justice and Peace.
  • Christianity isn’t simply about half-measures on our part, but total sacrifice of every part of our being. It’s “putting our skin in the game,”
  • Let’s remember that total sacrifice is the bottom line of following such a Master Jesus Christ. We can have sustained confidence in Jesus because He never asks anything of us that He has not already done Himself. He emptied Himself of divine glory and might to set an example of letting go of our past.
  • Luke records: “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, ‘Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him. ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head'” (Luke 9:57-58).

Story of Discipleship: (There were many missionaries came to India and still come now. You might not heard about their names like William Cary, Graham Staines, Bakht Singh, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa etc. present missionaries are Hindus and Muslims)

Let’s consider a story told about a missionary of India in the early 20th century, Sadhu Sundar Singh. It’s said that Singh and a companion were traveling through a Himalayan mountain pass when they came across a body lying in the snow. Singh wished to stop and help the man, but his companion refused, saying, “We shall lose our lives if we burden ourselves with him.”

Yet Singh, according to the story, wouldn’t think of leaving the man to die. As his companion bade him farewell, Singh lifted the poor traveler on his back. With great exertion, he bore the man onward, but gradually the heat from Singh’s body began to warm up the poor frozen fellow, and he revived. Soon both were walking together side by side. Later, catching up with Singh’s former companion, they found him—frozen by the cold.

Singh in this story was willing to lose his life on behalf of another and in the process found it, while his callous companion sought to preserve his life but lost it. This story illustrates the words of Christ in Matthew 10:39 “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Of course, ultimate finding of life comes in the future Kingdom of God.

And the story further tells us that 1) we must readily accept the invitation to think beyond the moment, and that 2) we must put skin in the game with no thought of gaining for ourselves in this life.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, it is you that I have been seeking along. Only you can fill the emptiness in my heart. All people and things on earth will fall away. Only in will I find rest, peace and salvation. In Jesus Precious name we pray Amen.

Father Jonathon Wylie: For God So Loved the World

Sermon delivered on Lent 4B, Laetare Sunday, March 14, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie gets all whiny and pouty about submitting a written manuscript of his sermon, especially after having to preach two weeks in a row! We are trying to avoid that at all costs so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Numbers 21.4-9; Psalm 107.1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2.1-10; St. John 3.14-21.

Father Jonathon Wylie: Zeal for Your House Shall Consume Me

Sermon delivered on Lent 3B, Sunday, March 7, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie gets all uppity about having to submit a written manuscript of his sermon. Nothing worse than an uppity priest so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 20.1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1.18-25; St. John 2.13-22.

The Power and Promises of God

Sermon delivered on Lent 2B, Sunday, February 28, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22.23-31; Romans 4.13-25; St. Mark 8.31-38.

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

In one way or another our readings this morning focus on the power and promises of God and the faith needed to appropriate them. Why are the power and promises God vital for us as Christians? First, because they make us properly focus on God instead of ourselves, and second, because we live in a world that appears to be spinning out of control at an increasingly alarming rate; and if we do not believe in God’s power or promises, sooner or later the world’s insanity and darkness will take us down with it. Simply put, when we focus on the power and promises of God, we will have hope that God really is in charge and things will turn out precisely as God has always intended, sometimes despite our best efforts to defeat those promises! But when we focus on our own limited and ephemeral power, the basis of our hope is far more tenuous. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We begin with our OT lesson. In it we see God once again promising Abraham that God would make him the father of many nations, giving him descendants too numerous to count. This despite the fact that Abraham was nearly 100 and his wife Sarah was 90, way too old to bear children. Keep in mind that Abraham had heard God promise him offspring for almost 25 years (Gen 12.1-4) and this latest reiteration of the promise would surely have forced him to decide if he really still believed in the promises of God. From a strictly human perspective there would be no reason to believe God. Abraham had heard this promise for a quarter century. Most of us get impatient after 25 seconds let alone 25 years! And the biology was all wrong. We all know 90 year old women don’t get impregnated by 100 year old men. Had Abraham relied on conventional human wisdom he would have scoffed at God’s promises—and as a result have no future, no hope. Old age was already on him; all he had to look forward to would be increasing infirmity and death. In fact, while the author does not tell us this explicitly, we know from the story that Abraham and Sarah did struggle with God’s promises of progeny because they took the matter into their own hands and Abraham ended up having a son through Sarah’s slave, Hagar. Were they simply being impatient with God (who could blame them after such a long time had passed?) or did they simply lose faith in the promise? We aren’t told. What we are told is that this part of the story did not have a particularly happy ending for the parties involved. This is typically what happens when humans refuse to trust in the promises and power of God. 

But we are talking God’s power and promises and God’s promises will not be denied. Despite their momentary relapse into doubt and despair—two of the many symptoms that always accompany unbelief and lack of trust in God’s power, promises, and character—God still made good on his promise. Sarah would deliver Isaac, the son of the promise. But that was later. Here we are told that Abraham believed God would be good to his word because he fell on his face in worship and trust. Furthermore, we are told in the verses immediately following our lesson that both he and Sarah laughed, not the cynical laugh of derision we see from people who don’t believe in the power and promises of God, but laughter from an old man and woman who had seen a future with no hope and promise transformed into a future with a hope and a promise by the faithfulness and power of God. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, Abraham trusted in God’s promises, i.e., he had faith in God, despite the apparent hopelessness of his situation because he trusted the power of God, the God who gives life to the dead and who calls into existence things that do not exist. For this God, nothing is too hard to accomplish. Nothing. When we have this kind of faith, a faith that trusts in the power and promises of God no matter how desperate or impossible the situation, we are assured that God will turn our tears into laughter just like he did Abraham’s and Sarah’s.

Contrast Abraham’s trust in the power and promises of God to St. Peter’s in our gospel lesson this morning. In the verses immediately preceding our lesson, by God’s grace St. Peter had declared boldly that Jesus was the promised Messiah, God’s anointed one who would deliver Israel from its oppressors and establish God’s kingdom on earth. St. Peter, like many of his contemporaries, believed that God’s Messiah or Christ would overthrow Israel’s enemies using conventional means: might and power. There was no room in their Messianic thinking for a crucified Messiah. The notion was incoherent and therefore simply not conceivable. Combine this with the sure fact that St. Peter loved Jesus deeply and wanted the best for him, both as a man and as God’s Christ, and it is not surprising that St. Peter responded as he did to our Lord’s dire prediction that he must suffer and die a Godforsaken and utterly degrading death by crucifixion. God forbid this happen to you, Jesus! Here we see in this powerful and poignant interchange between the Lord and his chief disciple a very different kind of faith emerging. Instead of looking at the power and promises of God that Scripture had foretold, St. Peter relied on traditional human wisdom and convention to rebuke his Lord. And in doing so, Christ turned his laughter into tears by calling him Satan! What just happened? 

It’s likely that Jesus didn’t believe St. Peter to actually be Satan, but rather that in his own misguided expectations and concern for his Lord, St. Peter had allowed the the Accuser (Satan) to tempt Christ from going to the cross, thus thwarting God’s promise to redeem humanity from our slavery to powers far greater than Rome or any worldly power: the powers of Sin and Death, powers that have enslaved humankind ever since our first ancestors rebelled in the garden. This is how Satan typically operates. He plays on our fears, thoughts, emotions, and proclivities to corrupt us and others in an attempt to thwart God’s will. In this case Satan knew, as did our Lord, that the cross was the only way to win our freedom because it was God’s appointed way, a way that ran contrary to and shamed conventional human wisdom (cf. 1 Cor 1.18-25). Avoid the cross and the enemy is not defeated. Go to the cross in cooperation with the will of the Father, and the enemy’s power is undone and Satan and his minions are defeated.

God had promised Abraham that he would bless and restore fallen humanity through Abraham and his descendants, but they had failed the faith test almost immediately after God delivered Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Soon thereafter they built a golden calf to worship in the absence of their leader Moses. Now God had come to his people in the person of Jesus to deliver them himself and as we saw last week, Jesus passed the first wave of temptations he faced in the wilderness. But Satan was not finished. Having failed the first time, Satan tried to tempt Christ again, this time using Jesus’ trusted friend to derail his great saving task of dying for the ungodly, for you and for me, so that we could be rescued from utter destruction. Unlike Abraham and the psalmist, who showed his faith in God’s ability to turn suffering into joy—our whole psalm lesson flows from the verses that preceded it, verses that spoke of the unjust suffering of God’s faithful servant to redeem God’s people, verses that our Lord cried out as he felt God’s abandonment for the first and only time in his life—St. Peter did not trust in the power and promise of God, and Satan used St. Peter’s protestations for his own wicked purposes. But as Christ then warned his disciples and us, that’s not how the power of God works to fulfill the promise of life. You want life? Jesus asks. Then lose it. Give your life to me. Deny your fallen self with its myopic and selfish desires. Take up your cross instead and follow me in my way of self-giving love because only in me can you find life and hope and a future. Dare to proclaim me as the only way to escape death and utter destruction. Do justice. Love to show mercy, and walk humbly with me, your God. You will suffer greatly when you follow me because the world and its powers hate me and won’t go down without a fight. You will be persecuted, humiliated, mocked, scorned. But here’s the thing. In your suffering you will find life, both here and hereafter. But first you must trust my promise and how I will bring it about, even if you don’t fully understand how my power works to fulfill the promise. Only when you trust me fully by giving me yourself and your life can I turn your tears into laughter and give you a future and a hope. It is the only way.

These stories confront us and challenge us to examine the depth of our faith and trust in the power and promises of God. We live in perilous times. We are cursed by a wicked disease that simply won’t go away. It isolates us and makes us afraid. We wonder where God is in it all. Many of us fear for our nation, for its present and future. More and more extremist and utterly godless ideas are being pushed as viable solutions to our problems. The cancel culture is out of control, attempting to consume everything and everyone that gets in its way. If we don’t toe the line, we can expect to be silenced and shamed. Do we really have a hope and future in this kind of environment? And what about the Church with its scandals and decreasing attendance, at least here in the West, and its increasing departure in some quarters from the faith once delivered to the saints? What is our future as Christians who live in an ever increasingly secularized and hostile culture? How can we live faithfully? Do we really have a future and a hope as God’s people? Paradoxically, how are we to live faithfully in exile in our own back yard? The short answer is that we must have the kind of lively faith that produces a trust in the power and promises of God so that we do know that we have a hope and a future. But how do we do this?

If we are to have a living faith and trust in the power and promises of God, we must first remind ourselves regularly what is God’s promise for us as Christians. Our hope and future is new creation, God’s new heavens and earth fused together under the just rule of Jesus Christ where death and sin and evil and sorrow and sickness and brokenness and new bodily life go on for all eternity. It is a rule made possible and launched by Christ’s death and resurrection and promised only to those who believe in the promise and live their lives accordingly in this life. The promise of new creation gives us a future filled with life and joy and meaning and purpose. Yes our mortal body will die barring Christ’s return to finish his work before that day. But as Christ promises us in St. John’s gospel, he is the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in him will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in him and believes in him will never ever die (11.25-26). If we really don’t know the promise of God to heal all things and make them new or we don’t believe he has the power to raise the dead, we can never hope to have our tears turned to laughter. Without God and his power, we are doomed to a life of utter hopelessness and despair, the brief periods of respite, pleasure, and success that we sometimes enjoy notwithstanding. Why? Because the powers of Sin and Evil are not defeated. We remain in our sin and death must reign. There will be no happy endings. Real justice, perfect justice, will never be achieved. Our hurts and wounds and sicknesses and alienation remain because our slavery to Sin remains unbroken. The promise of new creation, a promise based on the power of God alone, is the only balm that can ever truly heal because only then will all the wrongs be put to rights so that we are completely healed from all that bedevils and sickens us. 

If we are to know this power we must know the Author of the promise, Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead. We come to know him through regular worship, prayer, Bible reading and study, and fellowship. We come to know him by wrestling with the unlikely power of God made manifest in Christ’s crucifixion. We come to know him by feeding on his body and blood each week so that our body, mind, and spirit are strengthened and refreshed by his power. This is a great challenge to us because we are wired through the Fall to trust no one but ourselves and our own power and cleverness. But that produces death and sorrow. We see it in Abraham’s descendants—time does not permit me to talk about the litany of bad living that would make any modern-day reality show pale in comparison—and our lives every day. Each day that we choose to trust ourselves rather than the promises of God, we die a little more and edge closer to eternal oblivion. We realize, even if we refuse to admit it publicly or to ourselves, that like Abraham we are 100 years old, irrespective of our actual chronological age, and our future is bleak and impossible. But if we know the One who creates out of nothing and gives life to the dead, if we know his love for us because we have seen and believe his cross and empty tomb, if we see his power demonstrated in countless ways in our lives through the power and Presence of his Spirit, we are able to overcome and develop a lively trust so that we know we have a future and a hope, the future and hope of a new creation. This is the regular challenge for us as Christians, especially during Lent. We are called to put to death all that is in us that makes us shrink from God so that we deny his faithfulness and do not trust him or his power or promises. We are called to abandon our tepid faith and to live our lives gladly in ways that proclaim Christ is Lord and that without him, no one has life in them. No one. 

If you don’t know where to start in this task, try this. Examine your life to see whose will you seek in all that you do, things big or small, yours or God’s. If you find yourself compartmentalizing your life in ways that only partially honor and demonstrate trust in God, this is where you must begin the painful task of killing off your fallen self with God’s help. The stakes are enormous, my beloved, and the cost is great; it requires that you come and die. But so are the rewards; and so we count it all as gain because we believe, by the grace of God, in the power of God and his promise to rescue us from Sin and Death—if not always from the vicissitudes of life—so that we can live with and enjoy our blessed Lord’s presence for all eternity. Only the power and promise of God can give us this hope. This Lenten season, may we all find our faith in Christ strengthened so that we may live out and proclaim this faith boldly each day of our lives in the power of his love and Spirit. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Father Philip Sang: Life in the Wilderness

Sermon delivered on Lent 1B, Sunday, February 21, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang gets all whiny and pouty when he has to submit a written manuscript of his sermon. He learned that from Father Bowser before he retired. We don’t want that so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25.1-9; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.9-15.

Ash Wednesday Sermon: Grace, Guilt, Gratitude

Sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021 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: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10; John 8.1-11.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 day season we call Lent. It is a time for self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. Our Commination Service earlier today reminded us that something is terribly amiss in God’s world and our lives, that without the love, mercy, goodness, justice, and power of God, we remain hopelessly alienated from God and each other because we are all slaves to the power of Sin, that outside and malevolent power that is too strong for any of us to resist on our own power. And if we are not reconciled to God, we are undone forever in ways too terrible for us to imagine. Lent therefore is a time for us to focus not so much on ourselves but on the power of God manifested most clearly in the cross of our Lord Jesus. So tonight I want us to look at the dynamic of forgiveness and reconciliation that God the Father makes available to all through the work of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, the interaction of grace, guilt, and gratitude. Until we understand this dynamic and what we are up against, we can never hope to observe a holy Lent (and beyond).

If we ever hope to be reconciled to God our Father so that we can live with him forever, we must first acknowledge our utter helplessness to fix ourselves so that we are no longer alienated from God. This means that we must first have the wisdom and humility (signs of God’s grace) to acknowledge the fact that we are all slaves to the power of Sin, that malevolent power that was unleashed in God’s good world when our first human ancestors rebelled in paradise. Too often we speak of our sins and think of them as misdeeds or acts of wrongdoing, the root cause of our alienation to God. This diminishes the problem of Sin to an absurdly reductionist level. This thinking implies that we can get right with God by simply adjusting our behavior or changing our thinking on certain things or making better choices—the current darling of excuses for our feel good culture. This is a fatal mistake on our part, however, because it implies that we can fix ourselves and our problems, that if we repent of our bad choices or thinking or behavior, our sin problem with God goes away. But the whole of Scripture makes very clear that there is something vastly more sinister going on. There is something desperately wrong in the world and our lives and we know it in our bones if we have the courage to be honest with ourselves. We don’t have the ability to defeat the power of Sin in our lives and we delude ourselves if we think otherwise. Don’t believe me? How are you doing with your new year’s resolutions six weeks on? Or how about those sins you confess? I bet you never do them again after you confess them, do you? Or how about your resolution to do better in your life? How is that working out for you? Try as we may, if we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that our efforts matter very little when it comes to turning away from our sins. Why? Because we are up against a power that is far greater than us, a power that seeks our destruction and undoing as God’s image-bearers, a power that must ultimately lead to our permanent death. The sins that we focus on are not the root cause of our alienation from God. Rather, just as a fever is a symptom of a larger problem, not the problem itself, our sins reflect our slavery to the power of Sin, again defined as an outside and malevolent force that has enslaved us. We acknowledged this very starkly in our Commination Service this noon when we acknowledged that without the cross of Jesus Christ and his presence in our lives, we are condemned to utter and complete destruction forever. This should both humble us and scare the hell out of us—literally. Until we get our thinking straight on this, we will surely have and live out a half-hearted faith (at best) because we live under the delusion that we can fix ourselves so that we are pleasing to God and set ourselves up for a self-righteousness complex. When we think like this, we inevitably dismiss the cross of Jesus Christ and the life-saving gift God the Father offers us all in and through his Son. But when we understand that Sin is a power we cannot overcome on our power and there is nothing we can do or say that will change our status before God, we are ready to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead.

This calls for us to be sober in our thinking about the power of Sin and see it as God sees it—a force that corrupts and destroys God’s precious image-bearers and good creation. This is why God hates Sin and this is why we can expect to receive God’s wrath on our sins: they are symptoms of the problem that God hates. God is first and foremost a God of love and if that is true, God must also be a God of justice. Why? Because God cannot and will not ultimately allow anything or anyone in his creation to continue corrupting it and his image-bearing creatures. God loves us too much to allow us to be victims of injustice and all the evil that flows from the power of Sin. Since we are powerless to break Sin’s grip on us, and since God is the only person who can free us from our slavery to it, God must intervene to destroy Sin and set things right, the very essence of justice. Otherwise, we would be doomed to be forever in Sin’s grip, catastrophically and permanently separated from God’s eternal love for us and excluded from God’s great heavenly banquet he has prepared for us so that we can enjoy him forever. It means that we would forever be trapped in our worst selves and that violence, greed, selfishness, cruelty, rapacity, suffering, hurt, brokenness, and alienation would continue to rule unchecked in our lives and God’s world. If God really is love, God cannot let this state of affairs go on forever, and when we understand this we can begin to see God’s justice as a positive thing. If we are going to follow God, we have to be sure that God loves us enough and has the requisite power to put all things to rights. To be sure, punishment is involved in this making-right process, but the overall thrust of God’s justice is restorative and healing because the heart of God his merciful, kind, generous, and loving. God does not create us to destroy us (What parent looks at his/her newborn baby for the first time with the intent of destroying it? The notion is absurd. If we fallen humans don’t think like this, why would God? Makes no sense!!); God created us so that we can enjoy him and rule his world faithfully and wisely on his behalf. 

This knowledge will also help us think clearly about the dynamic of repentance and forgiveness. As we have seen, because we are helpless to free ourselves from our slavery to the power of Sin, our repentance is not enough to reconcile us to God because we will continue to sin even with repentance. Repent or not, unless our slavery to Sin is broken, we are doomed to continue living in the power of Sin. This is the guilt part of the dynamic or repentance and forgiveness. We see this clearly in our OT and gospel lessons tonight. The prophet calls God’s people together to collectively repent of their sin of idolatry, the worship of false gods that inevitably leads to all kinds of sins that will provoke God’s anger and wrath (idolatry is a primary sin because sooner or later we become what we worship). If God’s people turn away from (or repent of) worshiping false gods and turn to the one true God, then there was hope that God might relent on executing his wrath on his sinful people. Here we are reminded that we dare not presume God’s mercy on us, that God is free to show us wrath or mercy quite independently of what we resolve to do (or not do). In other words, God’s mercy is not contingent on repentance. The prophet believes God will be merciful because God has revealed his character to his people: God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. If God relents on punishing his people for their idolatry, it will be because of who God is, not because God’s people have repented. 

Likewise in our gospel lesson. Notice that our Lord forgives the adulterous woman before calling her to repentance (go and sin no more). In this case God the Son showed mercy before the woman changed her behavior, reflecting the heart and character of his Father. This is the grace part of the grace, guilt, and gratitude dynamic of forgiveness and reconciliation between God and humans. Grace—God’s undeserved blessing, goodness, bounty, mercy, and forgiveness on us—precedes our awareness of sin, not vice-versa. This is because God’s character is eternal, preceding our slavery to Sin. In fact, without God tugging at our heart and mind, we would be unaware that we are alienated from God and stand under God’s just condemnation of our sin. Why? Because sin is a theological concept. People whose lives are devoid of God have no awareness that their behavior is offensive to God and that they are slaves to Sin’s power. Don’t believe me? Just check out Twitter or listen to the extreme rhetoric of self-righteousness that accompanies the sense of warped justice that invariably accompanies human thinking and behavior without the intervention of God. Simply put, if the Holy Spirit is at work in us he will make us aware of our awful unmediated state before God and our own sinfulness, our awareness of his Presence not withstanding. But here’s the thing. The moment we become aware of our sin captivity, we are already standing in God’s grace, ready to receive God’s healing love, mercy, and forgiveness because of God’s eternal nature! We see this dynamic expressed powerfully in the old favorite hymn, Amazing Grace. John Newton, who wrote the hymn, was a slave trader whose eyes were opened to the wickedness of his sin by God’s grace. He was a wretch who was saved, a man lost but now found, by the grace of God that preceded his evil deeds, a grace that called him to repentance. God’s grace always precedes our repentance because God and God’s character always precede us. God makes us aware of our slavery to Sin and the chasm it creates so that we will turn to him and let him heal and rescue us from our slavery.

And how did/does God do this? In the cross of Jesus Christ as St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson. Here is the essence of the Good News of Jesus Christ. God became human to suffer his own just and right punishment on our sin and wickedness himself so that God could spare us from suffering his wrath and eternal condemnation that would lead to our destruction. In the process the power of Sin is broken in us, only partially in this life but fully in the next (a topic for a different day and sermon). Our knowledge of the power of Sin and our slavery to it makes us realize that we don’t deserve this kindness and mercy. None of us do. But it is ours for the taking if we only have the humility and wisdom to believe it to be true, despite the fact that we cannot fully explain how God accomplished this all in the cross of Christ. But because we believe that Scripture is the word of God, we believe the promise to be true. God’s undeserved mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness lead us to a sense of profound and deep relief and gratitude because we realize we are no longer under God’s just condemnation and there is not a thing we did to deserve it. This is the gratitude part of the dynamic of God reconciling us to himself in Christ. We see it powerfully illustrated in our gospel lesson and we should take our cue from it. Imagine you are the woman who was dragged before Christ. You know your sin because you know God’s law; God has made himself known to you through it. And so you expect the worst, a death sentence for your sin of adultery. You are braced to feel the stones strike your body, slowly and painfully killing you (not unlike our sin does to us over the course of time). And then comes a remarkable surprise. Jesus pronounces you not guilty, despite that fact the he and you both know you are guilty of an awful sin. You have experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness, not because of who you are, but because of who God is. How would you feel? Stunned? Relieved? Grateful? All of the above and more, no doubt! He tells you to go and sin no more (he calls you to repent of your adultery), but his forgiveness is not contingent on that. Certainly the vast majority of us would be grateful for this reprieve and our gratitude would likely serve as ongoing motivation for leaving the adulterous life. She, like us, would certainly have to recall her sin and the great gift of forgiveness because life, well, gets in our way and distracts us so that we forget. That’s why we recall our sins and God’s mercy shown to us in Christ, not to make us feel bad (although that is really unavoidable on occasion), but to make us remember the love, mercy, grace, and faithfulness of God applied to our wickedness. When the woman remembered Christ’s intervention on her behalf, was she grateful? Did her gratitude help motivate her to repentance? We aren’t told, but our own experience suggests that it can and does, and this is what God desires from us. In this story, Christ does not tell us to suspend moral judgment by challenging those who brought the woman to him. Instead, he was exposing their hypocrisy and evil intent to trap him. In doing so, he was able to show mercy to the woman caught in adultery, calling her to repentance and giving her the motivation we all need to live our lives in imitation of our Lord and Savior, the essence of repentance and faithful living. 

This is what it means to observe a holy Lent and beyond, my beloved. We are called to reflect on the fruit of the dynamic of repentance and forgiveness in our lives. We are called to understand that to be reconciled to God means trusting in the power, mercy, love, and character of God revealed supremely in Jesus Christ and not our own perceived (and often delusional) abilities to make ourselves right with God. It means we see clearly the truth about the human condition and our standing before God without the intervention of Christ. We needn’t fear the truth because the truth always sets us free to love and serve the Lord, thanking him for his love and kindness and justice, and asking his mercy and forgiveness when we miss the mark as we attempt to imitate him in the power of the Spirit as we live out our lives together. May we all observe a holy Lent and sing God’s praises with grateful hearts forever and ever. 

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