Christ’s Resurrection: Making All Things New

Sermon delivered on Easter 3C, Sunday, May 1, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 9.1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5.11-15; St. John 21.1-19.

Today is my last regular Sunday to preach to you, my beloved (ignoring the fact that many of you consider that my preaching is enough to make any Sunday irregular). Fourteen years ago today I was ordained to the priesthood. Eleven years ago to the day, we started a home Bible study/eucharist that would eventually become St. Augustine’s. I don’t quite know where the last fourteen years have gone, or more precisely, how they have passed so quickly. But here I am on the verge of retirement, feeling very much like a washed-up old man and hot mess, and so I am resolved to pack fourteen years worth of sermons into one today. I’m guessing that will only take a few hours given my superb skill of summarization. I’m sure you are thrilled at the prospect. I see Father Bowser twitching already in giddy anticipation.

What are we to make of St. John’s strange story of Christ’s appearing to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee? What is St. John trying to tell us? How is this story relevant to us today, both as individuals and the Church? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Hearing St. John recount Christ’s third resurrection appearance to his disciples, we get the distinct impression that something new has been accomplished, that things have really changed, and for the better. Jesus is the same, yet he is somehow different. Despite appearing to his disciples twice before (Jn 20.19-29), they still don’t recognize him at first. They knew it was him but yet there was something different about him, so no one dared ask him who he was. As one theologian has wryly observed about the nature of these appearances, after the resurrection you don’t find anyone casually slapping Jesus on the back and saying with a grin, “We’re so glad you’re back, Jesus!” No, Christ was alive and had carried his wounds into God’s new world, remaining the same. But he was different and because he was alive and transformed, everything else was new. But were things really new? St. John doesn’t tell us the disciples were busy proclaiming that Christ had risen from the dead and working enthusiastically to build his Church. No, they had apparently returned to their original vocation of fishing, and the story gives us the impression they had done so because they were either depressed and/or bored. Nothing new there. Where was the excitement from the Octave of Easter we read about last week? In our NT lesson, St. Paul was still breathing threats and violence against the fledgling church. Nothing new there. The world still scoffed at the disciples’ proclamation that Christ was risen from the dead. Nothing new there. So what was really new?

Before we answer that question, it is critical to our resurrection faith that we again pay careful attention to the bodily nature of Christ’s appearance in this story (cf. Luke 24.33-42). He stands on the shore and has cooked breakfast for his weary and discouraged disciples. He eats with them and talks with them. They can see him, hear him, touch him. Despite his transformed appearance they know it is Jesus because they recognize him primarily in his bodily form, not to mention his gentle kindness, thoughtfulness, and love. And here is the answer to our “what’s new” question. St. John, masterful and brilliant storyteller he is, is telling us in story form what the early Church proclaimed and what Jesus himself had told his disciples at the Last Supper—that in his Death our sins are forgiven, our wounds are healed, and we are made whole again. We are reconciled to God our Father and freed from our slavery to the power of Sin and with it, from Death’s tyranny. Yes, death will come to us all barring Christ’s return in the interim because all have sinned, but we will live and conquer Death because Christ lives and has conquered Death through his own Death and Resurrection, thanks be to God! Easter anyone?

How do you get all that from this story, you ask, and with a bit of snark? I’m glad you ask, despite the fact that I just told you. But it wouldn’t be right if you stopped arguing with me during my sermons after all these years. That would mean you have stopped being the quirky people that make up this nuthouse of a parish, the people I love so much. So to repeat, while St. John does not tell us these things in exposition, he tells us in personal stories. In other words, we see Christ’s victory over Sin and Death in the transformative power it has on those who belong to him. Take his encounter with St. Peter, for example. There is much to love about St. Peter because he is us. He had shot his mouth off on the night before Christ died, boasting of his undying loyalty to his Lord, only to deny him three times in a spectacular act of cowardice of which we are all capable, especially in the context Peter’s denials occurred. And afterwards he had rightly wept bitterly over his profound failure. Imagine now for a minute that Christ was not risen from the dead, that there was no possibility for reinstatement, for forgiveness, for personal reaffirmation after catastrophic failure. How would St. Peter have felt? Utterly devastated and remorseful, no doubt, with no chance of his failure being put to rights. We all know this because we’ve all lapsed in our resurrection faith on occasion. There’s no worse feeling in the world than knowing a massive wrong/injustice cannot be made right because of our sins and/or failures. But this is exactly the situation we would find ourselves in if Christ really is dead. We may love God and others, but we’ve all let God and others down. We’ve betrayed and denied God and others and failed to live as the holy people God created us and calls us to be, and if Christ is not alive we are still dead in our sins with no hope of resolution or forgiveness. 

But Christ is not dead. He is alive and now confronting St. Peter about his past sin. “Simon, son of John, do you agapao me more than these?” Agapao is the verb form of agape, the Greek word that means the highest form of love, the kind of love that is self-giving and seeks the absolute best for the beloved, the kind of love with which Christ loved his disciples and loves us. “Yes, Lord, you know I phileo you,” St. Peter replied. Phileo is another Greek word for love, but it can refer to a lesser kind of love, a brotherly, affectionate love that is not always self-giving. Back came the response: Feed my lambs (take care of my followers, the Church, Simon). A second time Christ asked his wounded and hurting disciple: Do you agapao me?, receiving the same answer. Yes Lord, you know I phileo you. Back came the response: Tend my sheep. A third time, matching the number of times St. Peter had denied his Lord on Holy Thursday, Christ asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you phileo me?” St. Peter was hurt by this third question, or perhaps the subtle change in it. We aren’t told why. “Lord, you know all things. You know I phileo you.” Back came the response: Feed my sheep. Now while there is much scholarly debate over the significance of Christ using St. Peter’s word, phileo, to ask a third time if St. Peter loved him, count me among those who believe St. John was too good a storyteller to have this be simply about semantics. Here we see our crucified and risen Lord meet St. Peter where St. Peter was emotionally with Christ at that moment. Surely St. Peter had learned from his unfounded bravado that he wasn’t the stud he fancied himself to be, nor did he love his Lord as he thought. He had failed catastrophically the man he loved more than anyone else, the man who had turned his whole life upside down. In telling us this tender and compelling story, St. John is surely telling us that this is how Christ and his resurrection are making all things new. Without forgiveness of sins on the cross, without a newfound freedom to resist Sin’s power, there could have been no real forgiveness. St. Peter, like us, would have remained dead in his sins and alienated from God the Father, doomed to utter destruction. But here was Christ, meeting his wayward and sorrowful disciple where he was, forgiving him and inviting him to take up the victory Christ had accomplished for him in his Death and Resurrection, and Christ does the same for us. St. Peter would accept Christ’s invitation by giving his life for the Son of God and so can we.

In telling us this story, St. John is surely telling us that the power of Jesus is typically not made known in stunning ways, in ways the world recognizes as spectacular, although there are notable and numerous exceptions to this rule. Christ making all things new is not about razzle-dazzle or eye-popping special effects that we love to see at the movies. Instead, it is about the quiet way of Christ with his people, with St. Peter, with you and me, agapaoing us in all our unloveliness, forgiving all our failures and betrayals and denials, recognizing our limitations, but also seeing our potential and putting us to work for him, despite who we can be, out of his sheer grace and love for us. There is nothing we have said or not said, thought or not thought, done or not done that is beyond the healing love and forgiveness of our crucified and risen Savior, nothing that will not eventually be put to rights, even if we must wait for it to be put to rights in God’s new heavens and earth. If you cannot find real hope, real comfort, real healing in this reality and promise, my beloved, surely you are to be pitied most of all. St. Paul found it on the road to Damascus, St. Peter found it in our gospel story today as have countless other Christians across time and cultures. Let us join this happy and forgiven throng so that like the psalmist in today’s lesson, we too can make the bold proclamation of conquering death through Christ our own!

And how does this apply to Christ’s body, the Church, to us together? It is quite appropriate that today’s gospel lesson was the appointed text because it is the promise and power of Christ making all things new, even with all its ambiguity and perplexities, that allows me to leave the people I love so much. Make no mistake. Human leadership, good leadership, is massively important for any family. But human leaders come and go and I am no different from anyone else in that regard. We are a healthy, thriving parish with a bright future, and while I have played some small part in that, the fact remains that we are this way because we make Christ our true Head and Leader. We believe in his promise to meet us where we are in all our changes and chances of life, in all our fears and hopes and dreams and failures, and he promises to lead us through even the valley of the shadow of death. This is what allows me to retire with confident hope for you our beloved family, because I know Christ lives and is present here among us, making all things new, transforming the old.  

My dearly beloved, don’t ever lose sight of this reality and promise. Christ seeks you out, no matter who or where you are, and promises to bring you home one day to a world where there will be no more sorrow or sighing or sickness or alienation or madness or folly or separation or death. We can stake our individual and collective lives on this promise if we continue to respond faithfully to the means of grace that make Christ available to us in real and living ways: Bible reading and study, prayer, confession, sweet fellowship of all kinds (don’t forget to party and enjoy the blessings Christ showers on you), and regular partaking of holy communion. All these things open us to Christ’s risen reality and Presence in and through the Holy Spirit. We have all died and been raised to new life in Christ in our baptism, and we are yoked to him forever, thank God. In Christ is our hope, our present, and our future. In him we find comfort in our sorrows, God’s tenderness, forgiveness, new life in our failures, and a deep abiding joy in all things because we belong to Christ. Imitate this great love as he commands us. Beloved, make this old man happy and proud by responding to Christ’s love with boldness and courage and hope. Remain faithful to him who delivers you from Sin and Death, and never abandon the faith once delivered to the saints, the true apostolic faith. Don’t be worried about your future as God’s family here at St. Augustine’s without the Maneys because you have Christ and he will never abandon or desert you. He is busy making all things new, yourselves included, both now and in God’s new world to come, a world that Christ’s resurrection announced and inaugurated. God bless you, my beloved. I thank God for blessing me with the massive privilege of being your rector for all these years. Toots and I are thankful to have been part of this holy and very quirky family and I am thankful to be yoked to you in Christ forever. We love you more than you’ll ever know. 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. 

Chaplain Tucker Messamore: Resurrection Boldness

Sermon delivered on Easter 2C, Sunday, April 24, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 5.27-32; Psalm 150; Romans 6.3-11; St. John 20.19-31.

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

Who is Peter? Who is this man we just heard about in our reading from the book of Acts? Surely this is not Simon Peter, the disciple of Jesus. The man brought before the Council who boldly proclaims the good news about Jesus seems quite different from the man we heard about on Passion Sunday, the man who fearfully denied Jesus three times. This Peter seems like a completely different person. But of course, he’s not. The man who once stood outside the home of the high priest and lied about even knowing Jesus now stood before the same high priest and testified about Jesus as the Savior. How can we account for this change? Why is Peter so different?

Before we answer that question, let’s set the stage with a bit of background about what’s going on here. This is actually the second time Peter has been brought before the Council, also known as the Sanhedrin, this ruling body of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. In Acts 4, Peter and John had caused quite a stir around the temple complex by healing a crippled man in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:1-10) and by “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). They are arrested and brought before the Council—rulers, elders, scribes, and the high priest—to be questioned and tried (Acts 4:3, 5-6). Council threatens Peter and John, admonishing them “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Their warning could not have been clearer, but as soon as they left, they “continued to speak the word of God with boldness” and to give ‘their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:31, 33).

And so, Peter, John, and all the apostles are again arrested, thrown into prison, and brought “before the Council” (Acts 5:27). This second meeting would have much higher stakes. We should note that this is the same Council and the same High Priest that tried Jesus after He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:54, 66-71). These are the same religious leaders sat into motion the plot to kill Jesus, the same assembly that took Jesus to Pilate that he might be condemned and crucified (Luke 23:1). Peter ran the risk of suffering the same fate as his Lord. He had already been given a warning by the Council “not to teach in [Jesus’] name” (v. 28) and presumably they would not be so lenient a second time. But even in the face of possible execution, Peter is unwavering. Not only does he refuse to stop proclaiming the good news about Jesus, but he makes it clear that the Council is responsible for putting to death the Messiah, the Savior God had sent for His people Israel.

Is this really Simon Peter? It was just a few weeks prior that Peter had stood by a fire in courtyard of this same high priest so overcome with fear that he refused to acknowledge he had ever even met Jesus. And now, here he was, standing before the same body that handed Jesus over to be crucified, and knowing that he might be next, is adamant that he will go on proclaiming the gospel, no matter the consequences. What has changed? How can we explain this 180-degree turn in Peter’s demeanor? Where did this courage, this boldness, come from?

The answer is the Resurrection, the momentous event that changed the course of human history and transformed Peter’s outlook on the world.

At the beginning of our gospel reading, we see a much more familiar Peter. On that first Easter night, Peter was hunkered down somewhere, huddled together with the other disciples behind a locked because they were “[afraid] of the Jews” (v. 19a). But all of a sudden, in the midst of their fears, the Resurrected Jesus appears among them (v. 19b) and shows them the wounds in His hands and side (v. 20). They witnessed with their own eyes that the same Jesus who had been crucified, died, and was buried had risen from the grave and lived again!

Did you notice the words Jesus repeated to his disciples throughout the gospel reading?  Three times Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” This phrase, shalom aleichem, was (and is) a common Hebrew greeting. But this is much more than a hello. This is a resurrection promise. 

In the Upper Room, shortly before He was arrested, Jesus had warned His disciples that like Him, they would be persecuted (John 15:20); they would be thrown out of synagogues and threatened with death by those whom think they are serving God (John 16:1-2). It is in this context that Jesus assures them, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In John’s writings, “the world” is the unbelieving world, the powers, both human and demonic, who oppose God, Christ, and His people. It was through His death and resurrection that Jesus had overcome the world. Sinful people inspired by Satanic powers had conspired to kill Jesus, but He rose again in victory, foiling their plans and triumphing over even death itself. Jesus’ resurrection had brought peace to those who belong Christ—assurance that God’s plans and purposes cannot be stopped and hope for eternal life.

This is how Peter was able to stand before the Council with such boldness. Peter recognized an important truth that Gamaliel, a member of the Council, later voiced: “If [this plan] is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them” (Acts 5:39). God’s work cannot be stopped! And if they put Peter to death, so what? Through His resurrection, Christ swallowed up death in victory and had taken away its sting (1 Cor. 15:54-55). He knew He would be raised just as Christ had been raised.

Brothers and sisters, the resurrection of Jesus brings us peace and gives us boldness to face the many trials that we face as we live in a fallen world. Jesus’ words in the Upper Room ring just as true for us as they did for His first disciples— “In the world you will have trouble.” None of us need to be reminded of this; it’s our lived experience every day. I see it in my work as a hospital chaplain as I witness people living with debilitating illnesses, suffering from chronic pain, and dying from horrible diseases. I see it in my family as we face the mundane difficulties and challenges that daily life brings. I see it in my own heart as I wrestle with sin and try to live faithfully. I see it, and I know you see it too.

But may we not forget that the second half of Jesus’ statement is just as true as the first. Yes, in this world, we will have trouble. But Jesus encourages us, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” And so, Christian, when you or those that you love are plagued by disease, when you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, remember that sickness and death don’t have the final word; Christ does. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, [they] will live” (John 11:25). When darkness overshadows you and evil seems to surround you, remember that God is making all things new, that His purposes and plans cannot be stopped, that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

The Resurrection brings us peace and gives us boldness. But we should notice that there was something else at work that had changed and emboldened Peter: He had received the gift of the Holy Spirit (v. 22).

Peter tells the Council, “We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts. 5:32). In our gospel reading, Jesus breathes on His disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This symbolic act anticipates the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the apostles at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). 

Just as Jesus connected peace to the resurrection in the Upper Room Discourse, He also connects peace to the work of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus speaks these words immediately after He promises to send the Holy Spirit to guide them when He returns to His Father. “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). On another occasion, Jesus told His disciples that when they “delivered over to the courts” and “dragged before governors and kings for [His] sake,” they did not have to be anxious about what speak, for “what you are to say will be given to you at that hour” and “the Spirit of the Father” will speak through them (Matthew 10:17-19). This is exactly what we take place when Peter is before the Council. The Holy Spirit fills Peter with peace and gives Him boldness to face the very men who had handed over Jesus to be crucified.

In the same way, the Holy spirit empowers and emboldens us today. As we navigate the challenges and trials that life brings, God does not abandon us to do it alone. He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit who grants us wisdom, “guides us in all truth” (John 16:13), and reminds us of God’s Word (John 14:26). We are also not left to our own devices in our struggle against sin. God’s Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8), empowers us to put to sin to death (Philippians 2:13), and changes our hearts so that we can walk according to God’s ways (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Through the resurrection of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives us peace and grants us boldness to face the trials life brings.

This morning, we are privileged to stand alongside Evan and Marlene as they receive the sacrament of baptism. In the waters of baptism, we see a portrayal of both the hope of the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In our epistle reading (Romans 6:3-11), we learn that through baptism, we are identified with Christ; we die with Him and are raised with Him. Baptism signifies that those who are united with Christ have died to sin, have been raised to “walk in newness of life,” and that death no longer has dominion over us. Likewise, Scripture connects baptism with the indwelling of God’s Spirit. In His sermon at Pentecost, Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Indeed, as our priests pray over the water, they will ask God to “send the Holy Spirit” on those who are being baptized and to “bring them to new birth in the household of faith.” So now, as we come to the baptismal font, may we see in its waters God’s promised peace—signed, sealed, and delivered by the work of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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

Easter: Seeking the Living Among the Living Instead of the Dead

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday C, April 17, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; St. Luke 24.1-12.

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

In our gospel lesson this morning, St. Luke tells us the women followers of Jesus, the same ones who witnessed his burial on Good Friday, went to his tomb to finish anointing his dead body. There they are confronted by two angels who ask them why they seek the living among the dead, why are they looking for Christ in his tomb? The question reverberates throughout history and applies equally to us as Christians today. Are we seeking the living among the dead or the living? This is what I want us to look at this Easter morning.

At first blush it is understandable why the women were looking for Jesus in his tomb. They knew, like we know, that dead people don’t come back to life. We, like they, still go to cemeteries to mourn our dead and think about them. In recounting this story St. Luke is reminding us that none of Christ’s first disciples expected him to be raised from the dead. The men were in hiding, afraid of being arrested by the Jewish authorities and sharing the fate of their crucified Lord. The women were braver but they weren’t coming to Christ’s tomb expecting to find it empty. They all knew, like we know, that death has the final say. That’s why so many of us, sadly including some Christians, seek the living among the dead. We desperately seek human solutions for the problem of Death in an effort to find some meaning and purpose in life or to discover what it means to be human because we all know dead people don’t come back to life. But in the end our efforts are utterly futile. 

What does this seeking look like? Some seek life by accumulating wealth. We work our brains out to make as much money as possible so we will have enough when we retire. Some seek the living among the dead by trying to acquire power and influence, either socially, economically, and/or politically, thinking that will satisfy us. Some seek the living among the dead through drugs or booze or porn or gambling, anything to take our minds off the real problem of the human condition with our sin-sickness and alienation from God. Some of us pin our hopes on medical and technological advancements, hoping they will save us. Then of course there are identity politics of all kinds, where we are encouraged to find ourselves by identifying with our race or gender (fluidity) or sexual preferences or political party or ideology. Doing so will help us find our true inner selves we are told. All of this, of course, is in direct contradiction to the biblical testimony and truth that our sin-sickness has made our hearts, the center of our will and being, desperately sick and beyond our ability to repair (Jer 17.9). Simply put, we are slaves to the power of Sin and where there is slavery to Sin, Death must follow. None of us can escape this reality and it shows. We are more alienated and isolated from each other than ever before. With all of our fantastic technology and medical advancements, we are more anxious than ever. We are afraid and angry, not to mention dazed and confused. We are this way because we seek the living among the dead, human solutions to our problems with no real hope or future. So this morning as we celebrate the living among the living, the Risen Christ, I ask you: Are you seeking the living among the dead or the living? Are you looking to human solutions and/or trusting yourself to be the solution to the root problem of human sin and the alienation from God and each other it causes? If you are, you are most to be pitied.

St. Paul was not among this crowd, at least after the Risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus. He stopped looking for the living among the dead, stopped trusting in his own Jewish pedigree and rich theological knowledge. No, he looked for the living among the living. He kept his eyes on the Ultimate Prize of Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, the one and only way to the Father. Why is this important? Because only God has the power to defeat the power of Death and as St. Paul also reminds us, it was through Christ’s saving Death on the cross that God chose to rescue us from the power of Sin and Death. Christ died for us so that we might have our relationship with God restored and therefore live, imperfect as that restored relationship is in this mortal life. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, Death came through a human and therefore God chose to fix the problem through a human, but in the most unlikely way, by becoming human and dying for us to reconcile us to himself. Even today Christ’s cross remains scandalous to many, Christians included. None of us likes to think we are totally reliant on God’s love, mercy, and grace to heal and restore us to God, but we are and that’s exactly how God chose to free us.

St. Luke tells us essentially the same thing in our gospel lesson. The angels rebuked the women, not because they were afraid, but because they didn’t believe Christ when he was alive and told them about the necessity of his saving Death and Resurrection. This was all firmly rooted in Scripture and the events of the past days were no accident; they were foretold. God wasn’t taken by surprise. No, this was God-ordained, the Father working with the Son to rescue us stubborn and rebellious people from our slavery to Sin and the universal power of Death that results from our sin. The Father and the Son didn’t wait till we got our act together. They acted preemptively to rescue us out of their great love for us. This is why Christ’s Death and Resurrection are the turning point in history. Until that time, we were all helplessly and hopelessly lost. Death and Hell were our final destinations and this was intolerable to God our Creator and Savior because God did not create us to destroy us. What good parent does that?? And so Christ came to die for us as the Scripture foretold, and in raising Christ from the dead, God vindicated his Death on the cross and destroyed the power of Death in the process, God be thanked and praised! The women should have known this (as should have the men). But they didn’t for whatever reason. And so they sought the living among the dead. They never anticipated that first Easter Sunday. 

Many of us still don’t and like them we remain afraid. But we needn’t be if we keep our eyes on the prize of Resurrection and new creation. And let’s be clear about the nature of our Ultimate Prize. Resurrection is about the continuity of bodily existence, albeit in radically new way. We’ll look at this more in two weeks. For right now, when the angels spoke of Christ being raised from the dead (as did Christ’s first followers) they had in mind bodily, physical existence, not some ephemeral disembodied state, the stuff of gnosticism and other new age religions. As St. Peter proclaimed in our NT lesson, the disciples ate, drank, and spoke with the Risen Lord. You don’t do that with a disembodied spirit. And as St. Paul proclaimed in our epistle lesson, Death is not finally destroyed until Christ returns to finish his saving work and the dead are raised. Our loved ones who have died in the faith of Christ are safely in Christ’s care and protection in heaven (Phil 1.21-23), but they are still dead and remain so until the time Christ gives them their new bodies patterned after his own. Resurrection is emphatically not about dying and going to heaven. It is about new bodily existence where we have bodies that are fitted to live in God’s new heavens and earth, a world that will surely be inexpressibly beautiful because God our Father is inexpressibly beautiful, a world where sickness and sighing and alienation and fear and anger and sorrow and madness and incompleteness are no more. More importantly, whatever that world looks like it will be a world where Death is abolished forever and we will never be separated from our loved ones who have died in the peace and love of Christ, no matter how hard their mortal death might have been. Best of all, we will never be separated from God our Father again the way we are now. As our first human ancestors enjoyed intimate fellowship with God in a way none of us can ever experience because of the Fall as we saw last night, so God promises to live directly with us in all his glory and we will be allowed to live in his direct Presence, all because of Christ’s saving Death on the Cross. It is the prize above all prizes, a prize that makes the prizes we strive for pale in comparison; it is worthy of our best striving, labor, and efforts to follow Christ and his Way. Nothing else will do because nothing else ends in life. This promised new world is made possible only by the love and power of God. None can attain it on their own, only by the mercy and grace of God manifested through Christ. When we keep our eyes on this prize, we are truly looking for the living among the living because we are looking at the only Power who can give us eternal life, Jesus Christ, our Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Lord. Resurrection is not a concept, my beloved, it is a person, and his Name is Jesus Christ, the only Son God. Without him we have no hope for real life, either in this world or the next, and all our other efforts to find life and meaning and purpose are utterly futile. When we seek the living among the living, i.e., when we seek to give our lives and ourselves totally to Christ and live as he calls us to live, it is imperative that we keep our eyes on this prize of Resurrection and new creation. I cannot speak for you, but whenever I have taken my eyes off this prize, my search for the living invariably results in me looking for the living among the dead instead of the living. Listen if you have ears to hear.

But how are we to experience the Risen Christ today? Nobody witnessed the Resurrection. Like many Christian interpreters, I am convinced this is because the Resurrection is beyond our ability to see or understand. As we have just seen, it comes from the realm and power of God. And God in his perfect wisdom has ordained that not everyone in Christ’s day would be able to see the risen Lord as St. Peter attests in our NT lesson. Only a select few were allowed to see Christ after his death and even those experiences stopped after awhile as St. Paul attests in 1 Cor 15. So how are we to believe that Christ is raised from the dead? The angels and the rest of the NT tell us. So does the collective and shared experience of the Church. The Resurrection was foretold in Scripture; it is the result of the power and promise of God and that is how we can experience the Risen Christ today. Whenever we read and study and meditate on what Scripture has to say about Christ and believe it, he becomes available to us in the power of the Spirit. He is here with us this morning, God be thanked and praised! Do you sense his Presence? I do! Christ is also available to us when we come to his Table each Sunday and eat his body and drink his blood. We literally take Christ into our own bodies for him to do his healing will and work. This of course requires faith on our part, but that is how God has ordained it and we should not shrink from the Faith or feel compelled to apologize to scoffers for it. When the women told the disciples that Christ was raised from the dead, the disciples considered it an “idle tale,” pure nonsense. They weren’t ready to seek the living among the living because they did not believe and trust in the power of God. The same thing often happens to us when we proclaim Christ crucified and raised from the dead to those who do not know him. Many will consider our proclamation an idle tale, pure nonsense—until they meet Christ in the Scripture and sacraments and see how he works in and among his people. They will know him by our love, our hope, our fearlessness, and our bold faith in Christ, i.e., our faithful seeking of the living among the living, not the dead. 

Let us therefore resolve, especially during this Eastertide, to seek out the living among the living by keeping our eyes fixed on our Ultimate Prize of Resurrection and new creation. Let the world see how we love each other and take care of each other (not to mention what a grand party we are having in the process). Let others see the joy that radiates from our reading the Scriptures and receiving our Lord at Table, in our celebrations and yes, in our mourning and lamenting. We are a people with a real hope and a future, the only hope and future, the kind the world does not know and cannot have until it surrenders to Christ. We all must choose, my beloved. Do you know fully that Scripture is the word of God with its proclamation of Christ crucified and raised from the dead and trust it so that you stake your very life on it? Do you experience Christ in the Eucharist and in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in each of us and collectively? How we answer these questions goes a long way in helping us decide where we seek the living and our zeal for proclaiming Christ to the world. May we always seek the living in the Risen and living Lord. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Father Philip Sang: Love is Greater Than Death

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, April 15, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

Chaplain Tucker Messamore: Victory through Humility

Sermon delivered on Maundy Thursday C, April 14, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

The gospel reading we just heard tells a familiar story. If you have been a part of the Church for a while, you know the events that took place on this night long ago, this Thursday night of Holy Week that we have come to know as Maundy Thursday. You know how Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, how He celebrated the first Eucharist with them, how He prayed earnestly in the Garden of Gethsemane and sweat drops of blood, how He was betrayed into the hands of His enemies who would torture Him, mock Him, and kill Him. 

This is an account with which many of us are well acquainted, one that we heard read in its entirety on Palm/Passion Sunday. But tonight, as we focus on John’s record of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, let’s try to move past the familiarity and look at these events through the eyes of Jesus’ disciples so that we can see the shock and the scandal of what took place in the Upper Room that night.

Later this evening, if you come forward for one of our priests to wash your feet, it will probably feel foreign to you, something you do not experience often. But in Jesus’ day, foot washing was quite common. Because people wore sandals as they walked around dirt roads and filthy city streets, foot washing was a necessary part of personal hygiene. When you went indoors, you washed your feet. People would often have a basin of water at their front door for guests to wash their feet, and “in the home of prominent Jews, a slave was posted at the entrance of the house ready to loosen the sandal straps of those who entered and to wash their feet” (EBD, 390). Foot washing was considered such a menial, demeaning task that it “could not be required of a [Jewish] slave” (HIBD, 592).

This is where the scandal comes into play in our text. In v. 4, Jesus “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” This is the garb of a slave. Jesus takes on the form of servant, and He washes His disciples’ feet (v. 5). We can understand Peter’s objection. We can hear the incredulity in his voice when he asks, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” (v. 6). Jesus was taking the social roles and cultural expectations of his day and turning them completely upside down. He was Rabbi, and these were His disciples, yet He was washing their feet. Remember, John the Baptist had said, “The one who is coming after me, I am not worthy to untie the thong of His sandal” (John 1:27), and yet here was Jesus, lowering Himself to loosen the sandals of other sand to wash their feet.

How could this be? Why would Jesus do this?  We’re not left to guess because Jesus tells us. He humbled Himself to set an example, to illustrate the kind of self-sacrificial love to which He calls His people. In vv. 14-15, Jesus says, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” Similarly in vv. 34-35, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is where we get the name “Maundy Thursday”: from the Latin word mandantum, which means “commandment,” for the new commandment Jesus gave to us on that night.

But there is more going on here than serving as a model.  Notice that his passage begins with a long preface in vv. 1-3: Jesus knew His hour had come, He knew He was about to depart the world, He knew He about to go to the Father. And so, He got up from the table, took of his robe, tied a towel around His waist, and wash His disciples’ feet. This was a highly symbolic act, an image that would one day help His disciples understand and interpret what was about to happen. In v. 7, Jesus says, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” It would only be later—after Jesus’ death and resurrection—that the disciples would understand the full significance of the foot washing.

We could say Maundy Thursday occurred to help us understand Good Friday. The events of the Upper Room help us comprehend His work on the cross. Like the foot washing episode, Jesus’ crucifixion was a completely unexpected, paradigm-shattering event. At the beginning of Holy Week, Messianic expectations about Jesus had reached a fever pitch. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He was heralded as a conquering King, the Promised One who would rescue Israel from its enemies.  No one would have expected that by that Friday, Jesus would be hanging on a cross, condemned to die between to common criminals. 

And yet this was exactly why Jesus came. Philippians 2:6-8 tells us that because of Jesus’ great love for us, He left the glory of heaven to clothe Himself in human flesh and to take on “the form of a slave . . . He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8). And it was precisely through His death that Jesus achieved victory for His people over their enemies—not the Romans, but the greatest enemies humanity has ever faced: sin, death, and the devil. Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet helps us to understand how this victory was possible.

The foot washing account points to how Jesus died to set us free from sin. When Peter refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet, Jesus replies, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (v. 8). Jesus’ words point to the sin-sickness of humanity. The curse of sin infects every aspect of the human condition—our actions, our thoughts, and our motives. It distorts the way that we relate to God, to each other, and to creation. Try as we might to live rightly, in our own power, we cannot escape sins clutches. We are in bondage to it.

 But Christ came to set us free. Our Old Testament lesson (Exodus 12:1-14) points us to the first Passover. God instructed His people to slaughter a lamb a smear its blood on their doorposts so that their households would be spared from God’s righteous judgment, the plague He sent on all of Egypt, the death of the firstborn son. The lamb acted as a substitute, it died instead of the children of Israel.

It is no coincidence that Jesus’ death took place during the Jewish celebration of Passover; Jesus, God in human flesh, was the spotless “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus died in the place of sinners, paying the penalty we deserve for our sins so that we might be cleansed of our sin by His blood (1 John 1:7) and set free from our bondage to it. As Paul says in Romans 6:6-7, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.”

But sin is not the only enemy Jesus vanquishes on the cross. Through His death and His resurrection, Jesus put death to death. In our epistle lesson, Paul reminds of what took place after the foot washing. As Jesus & His disciples celebrated the Passover, He gave new significance to the elements of the meal, instituting the Lord’s Supper. Jesus said the bread was His body and the wine was “the new covenant in [His] blood” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Like the foot washing, the Last Supper pointed to Jesus’ impending death on the cross, that his body would be broke and His blood would be shed.

How shocking it would have been for the promised Warrior-King to undergo what appeared to be such a humiliating defeat? How backward and ridiculous it seems that God Himself, the Creator of all and Giver of Life, should die. But what seems foolish to humankind is the wisdom and power of God. Christ succumbed to death that he might overcome death. As the author of Hebrews put it, “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, [Jesus] Himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

This brings us to the final enemy that Jesus came to defeat: the devil. At the beginning of the foot washing account, John pulls back the curtain to reveal that there are sinister, cosmic forces at work in the world behind the scenes. It is the devil who has “put it into the heart of Judas” to betray Jesus.  Scripture affirms that Satan and His forces have been at work from the beginning to wreak havoc on God’s good world. It was Satan who tempted Adam and Eve to sin, and from then on he has sought only “to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10); he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

But Jesus came to rescue humanity from demonic oppression, as John affirms in his first epistle: “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b). While Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion were the result of a Satanic plot, they were ultimately the means Christ used to render Satan powerless. Through Christ’s death, we are cleansed of our sin, which away Satan’s chief weapons against us: His accusations of guilt. In this way, Colossians 2:15 tells us that through the cross, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”

So tonight, as we recount the events of Maundy Thursday, may they point us to the cross of Christ. As our priests wash our feet, may you remember that Christ humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. As we come to the table, may we remember Christ’s body was broken for us and His blood was shed for us that we might be cleansed of our sins. As we see the altar stripped and meditate on our Lord being betrayed into the hands of sinners, may we remember that He willingly endured the devil’s schemes “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8b). Tonight, may we behold the love of Christ, the humility of Christ, and the victory of Christ.

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

Recognizing God’s Visitation

Sermon delivered on Palm Sunday C, April 10 , 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; St. Luke 22.14-23.56.

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. 

The story of Christ’s Passion is straightforward enough and because it is the word of God, I trust its power to speak to you in ways God intends without further exposition from me. Neither do I want to spend much time looking at why the crowds turned on Christ that week. Instead I want us to look at what St. Luke wants us to focus on as we reflect on his Passion narrative. Clearly, St. Luke, with the rest of the evangelists, sees Christ’s Passion and Death as the turning point in history. As we saw last year on Passion Sunday, like the other evangelists, St. Luke is also a sophisticated writer and we see it clearly in his Passion narrative. Where is that, you ask? I’m glad you did so I can proceed with my sermon! Inexplicably the RCL geniuses again omit a key passage from his Palm narrative that we read during the Liturgy of the Palms. St. Luke tells us that after all the acclamation from the crowds, as Christ neared Jerusalem he broke down and wept over her fate. She had failed to recognize that God had visited his people to heal and restore them, not from the hated Romans but from their slavery to the power of Sin and Death. Instead of coming to God’s people as a conquering hero as the crowds expected, the Son of God came to them riding humbly on a donkey and advocating a radical new obedience to God through self-giving love. This explains in part why the crowds turned so viciously on Christ. Whenever deeply-held expectations are violated, we humans tend to react violently and Christ clearly violated their expectations. Here was the Son of God, God-become-human, coming to his stubborn and rebellious people in humility and weakness, at least as the world defines weakness, ready to die for his stubborn and rebellious people so that they could be reconciled to God their Father and made whole again. St. Paul tells us essentially the same thing in his letter to the Romans when he writes that at just the right time, Christ came to die for us sinners to rescue us from God’s just condemnation for our sins, not because God is an angry tyrant, eager to punish us at every turn, but to deal with the problem of Sin and the alienation and death it causes. If God cannot tolerate any form of evil, how can we sinners ever hope to live with him forever? And so God came to us to die for us while we were still his enemies so that we could be reconciled to him forever (Rm 5.6-10). Until Sin’s power was broken, until our sins have been dealt with adequately, we had no hope for living in this mortal life, let alone enjoying eternal life in God’s new world. Here we see St. Luke tell us the same thing in story rather than exposition. Here is God, coming to his people to set them free, and they failed to recognize his coming. We can almost hear him ask, Reader, what in your life prevents you from recognizing God’s visitation to you and yours? This is more than an interesting question. It is a life-or-death question we all must answer and why we know St. Luke saw Christ’s saving Death as the turning point in history. Before his visitation, we were dead people walking and without hope because of our slavery to Sin’s power. But now we are set free from its power over us if only we have the eyes to see God’s coming to us in Christ, i.e., if only we have the eyes of faith to see God in our crucified and risen Savior and Lord. 

St. Luke reinforces this notion of Christ’s Death as the turning point in history in his story of Christ’s arrest. In dark Gethsemane, Christ rebukes his disciples as they prepare to fight to prevent his arrest. He also rebukes his captors for coming for him as they would a common criminal. Why did he do this? Because this was the dark powers’ hour, along with their human minions. Christ had to submit to their evil and perversity in order to break their death-dealing grip on us. Here St. Luke is reminding us that there is more going on than meets our human senses; there is more at stake than the forgiveness of our sins and reconciling us to God our Father, massively important as that is. St. Luke is reminding us that Christ is engaged in a cosmic battle to defeat the invisible forces of Evil that were unleashed when our first human ancestors sinned in the garden. Why God allows evil forces to exert control over us is beyond our knowing and we should leave those questions alone. Instead, in telling the Passion narrative, St. Luke is inviting us to peer into the darkness as best we can with God’s help and see our rescue being accomplished by none other than God himself. Until the powers of Evil are defeated, we have no hope of ever being freed from our slavery to their control. The cross, St. Luke is telling us, is how God set us free from from Evil, Sin, and Death, how God is dealing with all the evil in our lives and his world, how God has changed the course of history. This knowledge is also vitally important to us because when we do not have this knowledge or believe it to be real and true, the dark powers conspire with our hard hearts to prevent us from seeing God’s visitation in the person of Christ; and without recognizing that visitation and giving our lives to Christ, we are without hope and as good as dead. Our freedom from the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death is the result of Christ’s Passion, my beloved, along with being reconciled with God our Father, the only Source of life, and this is 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.

Many of don’t want to do this, however. The cross is still scandalous to us, an affront to our pride and desire to be our own boss. We don’t want to believe we are helpless to fix our sin-sickness. Others of us don’t want to have to do the hard work of finding our primary identity in Christ necessary to follow him, a process that involves putting to death our evil desires and old ways of thinking, and by following the way of the cross with its call to deny self and follow him in self-giving love so that we can rise with Christ and live with him forever in God’s new world. This, BTW, is how we should talk to those who struggle with their identities and seek to find themselves in death-dealing ways. None of these false ideologies will do because only in Christ do we find health, healing, and life. But we can’t help others find their identity in Christ if we haven’t learned it first for ourselves. Holy Week is a perfect time to start or continue in this process and if your schedule permits it, I exhort you to make Christ’s Death your own this week by attending the full slate of services we offer.

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 and the renewal of our baptismal vows where we are reminded that we are yoked to Christ in his dying and rising and will therefore share in his suffering and glory. It simply won’t do to observe any of this from afar. It’s as unedifying as listening to one of Father Sang’s or Father Wylie’s 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 Christ this Holy Week it will change you in ways you cannot imagine or envision, and for the good. It will help you recognize God’s visitation to you in Christ and it will change you because it is the Good News of our salvation. May we all observe a blessed Holy Week together as the family of God’s people in Christ here 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 Philip Sang: God Doing a New Thing

Sermon delivered on Lent 5C, Sunday, April 3, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH. Passiontide begins today.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 43.16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3.4b-14; St. John 12.1-8.

What does it mean for God to “do a new thing”? 

In the days of Isaiah 43, the people were very discouraged and feeling quite unsure about God’s power as they saw the strength of the threatening super- power (nation) that was overwhelming them. Through Isaiah, God spoke a tremendous promise to the people, first reminding them of another time when a brand-new deed of God had been needed.
“Remember that I am the God who drowned Pharaoh’s army after making it possible for my people to walk with dry feet across the parted sea out of slavery. I did something new and marvelous then; I can do something new and marvelous now.”

The prophet Isaiah urges the people to forget the former things and behold the new ways that God is changing and renewing their lives for a greater good. But in order for them to see the new things that God is doing, they must open their eyes and see God. 

As human beings there are so many memories and experiences thwarting our movement into a fresh encounter with God. The windows of our hearts and souls are clouded with memories of the pain, hurt, and betrayal we have experienced over the years. But God wants to change all of that. God says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing. Will you not perceive it? Will you not know it? It springs up right before your very eyes. It is right before you. Can you not see it?” What new thing is God then doing in our lives?

As Christians, we point also to another deliverance, God’s deliverance of humanity from no hope to every hope through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. God brought forth a new deed by doing something no “proper” god would have done: God became vulnerable to us by exposing to us his great love for us. It was a new thing, unheard of, inconceivable. And it had as its purpose one intent: to show us how to enter personally into new, joyful, freed-up life and relationship with God.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we saw a woman, in John’s version Mary the sister of Lazarus, who anointed Jesus’ feet. She would not have been a prostitute, unlike the woman in the story from the gospel of Luke (Luke 7:36-50), for she was Lazarus’ sister, also the sister of Martha. Martha served Jesus dinner. Let’s put the occasion into context. Jesus had just raised their brother, Lazarus, from the dead. This was an action which caused the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews, to decide that Jesus must die. “From that day on, they took counsel to put Jesus to death.” (John 11:53) Later, in the same chapter as today’s lesson, Jesus will announce that the hour of his death has come (12:20-36).

Facing death, Jesus, and apparently his close disciple Judas, who would soon betray him, ate at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Even as they ate, something new was happening, for Mary took a huge step outside of the social convention of her day.

While Martha did her usual part in the kitchen, Mary, never the practical one, anointed Jesus’ feet by letting down her hair and pouring some very high-priced ointment all over them.

According to tradition, nobody anointed feet in those days. “If one had expensive, perfumed oil, other parts of the body were anointed, but not the feet. Feet were not customarily anointed until after death, when a body was being prepared for burial.” This means that Mary was treating Jesus, who had just given life to dead Lazarus, as though he were already dead. And it is suggested that in her action, Mary could not have known that her act of extravagance prepared Jesus for the greatest act of extravagance of all – the Cross.

Judas was appalled at what happened between Mary and Jesus. He was offended by her extravagance, stating that the money she had spent on the oil should have been used in a more appropriate way, to feed the poor. The entire story for today, however, would tell us that God was doing something beyond what WE or any other religious group might define as “appropriate.” doing something New, God was being extravagant as Jesus headed toward Jerusalem to give up his own life so that others could and can live.

The religious folks of Jesus’ day couldn’t see the NEW things God was doing through Jesus, but a woman who seemed not only impractical but without propriety WAS able to see and embrace God’s new ways. Judas, a man who had walked closely with Jesus during his ministry, couldn’t accept what God was doing when it didn’t fit within his definition of what God should do. In John’s Gospel, those who should have seen never do, and the unexpected ones catch on just fine. The final irony in this story: Just as Judas sanctimoniously criticized Mary’s extravagance, he himself ended up being the catalyst for the largest extravagance ever, the pouring out of Jesus’ life. “Do not remember former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing…” (Is. 43:18-19)

Does anybody here this morning really think that God is doing something new today? Are we expecting it? Are we looking for it? Do we even want it?

In our Epistle lesson today, Paul outlines a lengthy list of his own accomplishments. He does this often in his letters to the early church, in part as a common way of giving credibility to what he was going to say in line with the rhetorical patterns of the day, and also because he often was up against others who claimed to be the religious authorities on this newly emerging Christianity (see the “Super apostles” in 2 Corinthians). At the beginning of our passage, Paul again lists his resume, and it’s a good one. He talks about his background and heritage, his education, his passion and religious convictions, and his righteous lifestyle. This is the total package.

Paul writes about dismissal of his resume. Eugene Peterson’s The Message interprets verses 7 and 8 like this:

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash – along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ.

God is doing a new thing.

Paul is so compelled, so transformed by the good news of the gospel that he cannot help but leave all that he knew, all that he had worked for and gained, all that he was, behind. It’s important here to note that what he was leaving wasn’t bad. As Fred Craddock reminds us: Paul does not toss away junk to gain Christ; he tosses away that which was of tremendous value to him. Therein lies the extraordinary impact of his testimony and the high commendation of faith in Jesus Christ . . . What Paul is saying is that Christ surpasses everything of worth to me. And let’s the worth go.

God doing a new thing.

Often times in talking about letting go of things in faith, especially during this season of Lent, we talk about giving up the things that are weighing us down– our sins and shortcomings. But here, we are also reminded that sometimes developing our faith involves giving up those things that can be seen as good, but still get in the way of our best relationship with God. 

For Paul, that is what happens when he lets all the other things fall away and instead is simply focuses on knowing Jesus Christ. This knowledge of his Savior is what allows him to remember what truly matters, and more importantly, who matters.  He can only get there by letting go, and pushing forward into the future.

What is it that is getting on your way in having the best relationship with God that you are called to let go?

I hear the words of the prophet Isaiah echoing in the background:
            “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. God is about to do something brand-new. Don’t you see it?

Let us pray:
Lord, you know how un-new we are inside, how worn out and worn down, how much we need to be changed by this Lenten season and Holy Week as they show us your heart and then Easter promises Christ’s hope and promise. Touch us now, make our hearts new, and show us how to truly share in Jesus’ Passion and Life. In the name of God, the Father the son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Dare We Party During Lent?

Sermon delivered on Lent 4C, Laetare Sunday, March 27, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Joshua 5.9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5.16-21; St. Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32.

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

Today is Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent (thus our fashionable pink/rose colored vestments). Laetare is the Latin word meaning to rejoice and our readings today all point us to reasons why as Christians we should. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

So why do we dare party during Lent? Well, because there is good reason to do so as all our readings attest. It is also consistent with the season of Lent. Does that surprise you? It likely will if you see Lent as a grim time where we are supposed to follow a bunch of rules we don’t really like or understand, but are told to follow them anyhow, things like much fasting and prayer, doing acts of mercy and being extra generous with our resources for the sake of others. But to think like this misses the entire point of Lent. We don’t observe Lent for its own sake. We observe Lent because it is precisely the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, repentance, and doing acts of mercy and charity that prepare us to live as the Easter people God calls us to be as followers of Christ, holy people! And as we shall see, the fifty days of Eastertide call for a continual party like no other party.

We start with our OT lesson. The geniuses who choose the texts for the RCL inexplicably leave off God’s command to Joshua to have all the males of Israel circumcised, the children of those whom the Lord had brought out of Egypt and who had died during Israel’s forty years of wilderness wandering. This is important because in so commanding Joshua to have the Israelite males circumcised, the Lord effectively commanded Joshua to renew Israel’s covenant with him so that they could enjoy the fruits of the covenant, the Promised Land. And in commanding Israel to renew its covenant with the Lord, God was also effectively commanding Israel to remember all the Lord had done for them and what the Lord was about to do for them. The old had passed away—freedom from their slavery in Egypt and God’s care for them in the wilderness so that his promise to them would be fulfilled—and the new was about to begin—life in the Promised Land, even before Israel had entered it! Israel’s shame, whatever the Lord meant by that, was now gone. They had escaped Egypt, a world power, and had survived forty years in the wilderness despite their rebellion against God. They had renewed their ancient covenants with God and were now in the position to claim God’s promise in full. No wonder the manna stopped. That was of the old order. From now on the Israelites would live off the fat of the land!

And we can relate to ancient Israel’s story because it is our own. While we have not had to endure a literal wilderness for forty years we know what it is like to live in the wilderness of our mortal life with its joys and sorrows, alienation and fear, and loneliness even within community. Like ancient Israel we have been both faithful and faithless in our lives and we know what it feels like to sense God’s absence even as God remains near to us. We too have seen our loved ones die. We too have experienced frustration of all kinds as well as broken relationships in our quest to find fidelity and relationships that are real and enduring. Yet even in the midst of our wilderness, we know God is merciful and faithful, quick and even eager to forgive us, especially when we confess our sins and faithlessness and rebellion to him as our psalm this morning attests. God is always faithful and just and right. God cares for us as his image-bearing creatures and wants to bless us with a future and a hope. When we remember God’s faithfulness and his love for us, even in the midst of our faithlessness and wilderness wanderings, and when we consider our resurrection hope (more about that anon), is this not a compelling reason for us to party, even during this season of Lent?

But our hope as Christians is even more remarkable and breathtaking than God’s promise of land to the Israelites and we see this hope powerfully expressed in our gospel lesson this morning. The pharisees and scribes were grumbling that Christ was hanging around sinners and the low-lifes of his day. How can anyone who claims to be righteous do a thing like that?? Why do you party so much?? Our Lord responded with three parables, only one of which we read today. Again the RCL geniuses chose to omit key passages because the first two parables were about things lost: a sheep and a coin, and more importantly, heaven’s response to those things being found. What was that response? A party of course! Then Christ tells the most powerful of the three parables: the story of the lost son. Before we look at this we need to disabuse ourselves of the lie that some in our day have attempted to foist on us. Christ is emphatically not saying that sinners and low-lifes are simply to be accepted as they are. The lost sheep and coin are found after all. The prodigal comes to his senses and returns home. In other words, sinners must repent. But that is not the point of the parables. The point is that God in Christ loves a party that celebrates the restoration of life to the dead and a relationship with the lost. And because God celebrates this, so do all who dwell in his heavenly domain. As Christians we should take our cue from God our Father and the heavenly host.

The parable of the prodigal son is powerful enough and memorable enough that it needs little exposition. I would only add the following points to help us appreciate the depth of God’s love and mercy for us sinners expressed in the parable. When the prodigal son asked his father for his inheritance while the father was still alive, it was tantamount to the son telling his father that he wished his father were dead. If you are looking to see how cruel words can blow up a relationship, try telling that to someone near and dear to you and see what happens. The wounds had to have cut deep. Despite this the father honored his wayward son’s request and the boy promptly went out and wasted it on ruinous living. Finding himself in literally a life-threatening situation, the boy came to his senses and realized what an utter fool he had become. He had despised his father and his birthright as son. He had fed his pearls to the pigs and so decided to return home. Even here the boy’s motives for repentance were not exactly pure. He was trying not to starve to death in utter loneliness. But the son’s motives for repentance really didn’t matter to his father, who apparently never gave up hope that his wayward son would return home one day because he saw the boy returning and ran out to meet him. In first-century Israel’s culture, for a father to run in public to meet his son would bring utter humiliation on the father. They just didn’t do such a thing. But so deep was the father’s love for his son that none of that mattered. He ran to his boy and took him back unconditionally. All that mattered now was that the son was back home. The father’s dead son had been restored to life through repentance and a love that refused to let the rebellion and wickedness of the son stand in the way of the son being restored to his father. My beloved, in a nutshell is that not our story, yours and mine? And when we understand that the father’s actions would have brought on humiliation to him, this scene must also surely evoke for us an image of Christ’s utter humiliation of being crucified naked on the cross so that we might be reconciled to God. Great is the Father’s love for us! Yet how many of us like the older brother refuse to see and/or accept the Father’s great love for us made known in Christ? I don’t have time to deal with the older brother this morning but we dare not ignore the self-righteousness (and perhaps self-loathing) that prevented the older brother from celebrating the love and mercy and goodness of their father that restored a good-as-dead family member. Let us resolve not to do likewise in living out our faith in Christ!

But how do we make this parable our own? We aren’t part of ancient Israel looking for God to return to end our exile that this parable addresses in part. Or are we? Is there anyone here today, if you are old enough, who does not long for God to rescue us and those we love from our exile to Sin and Death? St. Paul in our epistle lesson has answers for us. We can make Christ’s parable about the prodigal son our own precisely because of what Christ has done for us in his Death and Resurrection. We have the hope of being rescued from Sin and Death because of Christ’s death on the cross, a Death that atoned for our sins, freed us from our slavery to the power of Sin, and restored us to a right relationship with God starting right now and lasting for all eternity. As we have seen before there is a great mystery in all this because all of us still sin in this mortal life, despite the NT’s claim that Sin’s power has been broken in us. Neither are we told how this all works, presumably because such knowledge is well above our pay grade and our salvation isn’t contingent on us having that knowledge. The NT simply insists that it is true and calls us to have faith to believe it despite its mystery and ambiguity and our unanswered questions. Like the ancient Israelites on the verge of entering the promised land, St. Paul calls us to look back to Christ’s Death so that we are able to look forward to the promise of Resurrection and new creation that Christ’s Resurrection signals. 

Note carefully that St. Paul is telling us exactly what Christ tells us in today’s parable. We are to come to our senses, i.e., we are to have faith that on the cross God has really dealt with our sins and the power of Sin decisively forever so that we have a future and a hope. That is why repentance is always in order. We look around at the emptiness of our lives and our vacuous thinking and rebellious living, all in the name of unbridled freedom and independence, just like the prodigal son. And God being God and our Creator knows we are helpless to right our own ship when it comes to our sin and the alienation it creates. Like the prodigal’s father, our Father longs for us to be restored to him, a restoration that is only possible through Christ’s Death on the cross. And so God desires our repentance, our turning away from ourselves and our own disordered agendas, so that we return to him to receive and accept his unconditional forgiveness. Our motives do not need to be pure (are they ever in this mortal life?). We need only to believe the promise is true and accept God’s forgiveness won through the Death of his Son for our sake. 

And because we are baptized Christians, we know by faith that we are joined with Christ in his Death and Resurrection. Like the ancient Israelites in our OT lesson, we stand on this side of the river that separates God’s fallen creation from his new creation by virtue of Christ’s Death. But we look forward to a future of new embodied life living in God’s promised new world without a trace of evil or sin or loneliness or sorrow or death or sickness or sighing, all because God is faithful to us and his creation. St. Paul had already experienced a foretaste of this reality. That is why he could no longer look at Christ from a human point of view with the possibility of mistaking Christ to be something lesser and other than he actually is—the crucified and risen Son of God who has rescued us from our exile to Sin and Death, freed us from our slavery to the power of Sin, and reconciled us once and for all to God our Father, the one and only Source of all life. God longs to enjoy the sweet intimacy he enjoyed with us in the garden before the Fall and promises to bring that reality about one day; that’s why he became human. Like ancient Israel before they crossed the River Jorden, we too wait with eager anticipation for our entrance into God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, to live there in God’s direct presence forever. This is why we can rejoice and party during Lent. We are on the right side of history (a favorite phrase of those today who definitely are not but who sadly think they are because they are enjoying momentary success; anyone without Christ is on the wrong side of history). We are counted among the redeemed, not because of who we are but because of Christ’s Death and Resurrection. We have a real and eternal hope and future, the only hope and future there is, my beloved. Is that not the best reason of all to throw a party??

As we head toward Pascha, the Great Easter Feast, let us therefore resolve to live as our Savior Christ commands us and to have the humility of our Lord, a humility that is the only antidote to self-righteousness, a humility based on the knowledge that without Christ and his saving Death, we are a people without a future and with no hope. Let us also use the remainder of Lent to do the things that will help us increase our faith, hope, and love in Christ’s power. Let us resolve to allow Christ rule to grow in our lives each day through prayer, fasting, self-examination, acts of mercy and charity, and repentance so that we may be ambassadors for Christ, engaging in the ministry of reconciliation with both humans and God, taking our cue from our crucified and risen Lord, so that those who do not know or believe in Christ may share in his brilliant hope and future. 

But let us also resolve to throw a fifty-day party starting on Easter Sunday. Now is the time to start planning for such a party. We should celebrate the power of the Gospel and plan activities that might cause the folks around us to ask why we are partying like we do, much like the naysayers asked Christ why he partied the way he did. There will be those who scoff at us and mock us. May God have mercy on them and forgive them their hard-heartedness. But there will be those who want to join the party with us, a party that celebrates both our lives here now and forever in God’s new world. Let us therefore resolve and plan how to honor Christ’s name during Eastertide and beyond and to celebrate with the host of heaven all that he has done for us to reconcile us to God the Father, to bring us from death to life for his love and mercy’s sake. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Lent: A Time To Become Unafraid

Sermon delivered on Lent 2C, Sunday, March 13, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3.17-4.1; St. Luke 13.31-35.

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

In today’s lessons we are reminded in various ways that there are lots of things in life that make us afraid. In fact, the most repeated command in all Scripture is to not be afraid. So how can the season of Lent help us in our fight not to be afraid? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We all can relate to Abraham in our OT lesson this morning. He had just finished risking a dangerous fight with the local kings in his region to rescue his nephew Lot, powerful kings who had a reputation for wreaking vengeance on their enemies, and Abraham had become one by defeating and humiliating them. Then he had done the most inexplicable thing. He refused to take any spoils of war, choosing instead to give a tenth of the spoils to the local priest, Melchizedek, and to restore Lot and his family. You can read about that in Gen 14. This is hardly the way of the world and surely Abraham had to wonder how that would all turn out. And now here is God, coming to Abraham, apparently in a very powerful night vision, making him even more afraid. 

And like Abraham, there are lots of things in our world that continue to make us afraid. There are wars in Africa that are slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocents, wars that rarely get reported in our country. There is war in Europe that does get a lot of press, not all of it accurate, a war that has the potential to explode into another world war, only this time the belligerents have the capacity to annihilate each other with nuclear weapons. There is the very real threat of a cyberattack on our country’s most critical infrastructures, attacks that could cripple our nation if successful. We are enduring rampant inflation driven by exploding fuel costs. Then of course there are the usual tiresome voices denouncing all for which America stands and striving to fundamentally change our values. As we become an increasingly godless nation these voices become more strident and the rancor and strife they create becomes more intense. Abraham would surely have understood.

Then of course there are the personal fears and demons we all carry around. We worry about our health, about our kids or parents, about our bank accounts and career choices. We worry about finding a mate if we are single or about our marriages if we are married. Many of us worry (needlessly) about our standing before God. And of course in the back of our minds we worry about and fear death. Oh, most of us do a fine job repressing and deflecting and denying this reality. We delude ourselves by thinking that we’re not bad people so that God really isn’t all that concerned about our sins and foolishness and folly. That’s reserved for the really bad folks. You know, anyone but us. They are the ones who need to be concerned. But death is universal. It comes to every one of us, even the best of us, because all have sinned and death is its chief wage. Here too, Abraham would surely have understood. There is a lot in our world and lives that make us afraid.

Yet here is God, telling Abraham not to be afraid because God is his shield. Trust me, God tells Abraham and us, nothing will happen to you because I am your shield. I’ll prove it by giving you the offspring and land I promised. Notice what is happening here. First, God promised to give Abraham offspring before Abraham believed God. God’s promise wasn’t contingent on Abraham’s faith. God promised this to his fearful servant out of sheer grace and love for Abraham. Only after the promise was made did Abraham believe God, making Abraham right with God and showing us how to do likewise. And this is critically important because it is in our alienation from God that all our sicknesses and fears are rooted. Think about it. Before our first ancestors sinned against God in paradise, they enjoyed perfect communion with God. God walked with his beloved image-bearers daily in the garden and as a result, Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect health and happiness. Who among us would not enjoy perfect health and happiness living in the direct presence of our Creator and God? Only after human rebellion and sin ruptured our relationship with God and caused us to be alienated from God—Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden, God didn’t hide from them—did we become anxious and afraid and lonely and isolated. Our rebellion has cost us dearly. 

But God did not give up on us. He did not destroy humans and his good creation. No, God called Abraham to be God’s vehicle to restore his good creation and creatures gone bad to their right minds and right order. And it wasn’t until God became human as Abraham’s descendant, Jesus, that God’s plan was fully realized. So here in our OT lesson, we see the power of God at work to rescue humanity and creation from Sin’s ruin. All Abraham had to do was to trust God’s promise. That was what that strange ceremony was all about. Abraham had nothing to fear because God’s word is true and God’s power is completely efficacious—it always produces the desired results. 

Sounds good, right? Trust God. Have faith in God’s promises. But here’s the problem. That is easier said than done! Abraham needed continual reassurance and so do we, precisely because we live in a sin-sick and God-cursed world, and we lack the power and perspective of God! So how do we learn to strengthen our trust in God? The short answer is that we learn to see the power of God at work in our lives and his world so that we have a basis for trust. Nowhere does Scripture ask us to have a blind faith. Faith by definition cannot be proved. But faith needs a basis for the related trust that is part and parcel of it. So how do we learn to see the power of God at work in our lives?

First, we have to know what that power looks like and what it promises. In other words, we have to keep our eyes on the prize. God reminded Abraham that his promise to be Abraham’s shield was trustworthy. Otherwise, how could Abraham eventually have countless descendants? Abraham of course was skeptical because he laughed at the promise when God approached him about it the second time later in this story (Gen 17). But God is God, the God who spoke this vast cosmos into existence and who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Nothing is too hard for God. Nothing. Giving Abraham offspring when his loins and Sarah’s were as good as dead was one way for God to show this to his trusting but skeptical servant. 

For us, the prize is new creation, God’s new heavens and earth, where we will get to live forever in God’s direct presence with all of the benefits Adam and Eve enjoyed in the garden and more. Death will be abolished as will evil and suffering and sorrow and all the things that make us afraid and anxious. Sheer beauty. Sheer life. We will be restored to the fully human beings God created us to be and given the sacred and holy privilege of running God’s world to the glory of God the Father. This prize is worth more than all our lesser prizes and idols combined. It is worthy of our supreme loyalty and striving, or to use St. Paul’s language, it is worthy of our citizenship in heaven whose values we are called to model here on earth, and it is made possible only by the saving Death of Jesus Christ. Forget this prize and we lose our way. That’s why Scripture repeatedly urges us to remember the power of God. For ancient Israel, that meant remembering the Exodus. For us, it means remembering Christ’s Death and Resurrection and the new creation to which the Resurrection points. When we remember the power of God at work in Scripture, it makes it easier for us to recognize the power of God at work in our daily lives, even if that work is nowhere near as spectacular. If we believe God really did speak this universe into existence and raise Christ from the dead, why would it be hard for God to be intimately and actively involved in our lives? Christ died to reconcile us to God and break Sin’s power over us so that we could be citizens of God’s new world as St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson. Why then would God abandon us to schlep around in our daily lives without his help? God knows we need him. If he became human to die for us while we were still his enemies, why would he abandon us now that we are reconciled to him?

To be sure, this act of faith is not always straightforward. We believe that Christ died to break Sin’s power over us yet we continue to sin. Why is that? We all know people who have loved the Lord but who died untimely or awful deaths. How was God a shield to them? We see wars and injustice swirl around us. If God is in control, why does God allow this? It appears that increasingly the patients are running the asylum in this county, i.e., more and more people try to convince us that wrong is right and right is wrong, and it makes us afraid. But that does not negate the promise, no matter how dark things look! We are called to live with the apparent disconnect, unanswered questions, and ambiguities. If we could have told Christ’s disciples that first Good Friday that things were gonna turn out all right, they would have looked at us in disbelief. They knew better. Dead people didn’t rise up from the grave. That’s why we must also persevere as we remember. The outworking of God’s redemptive plan requires a marathoner’s thinking and perspective, not a sprinter’s.

That is why it is critical for our faith to remember God’s power when things look bad, and we are called to remember together. As the psalmist reminds us, we need to keep coming into God’s presence as his people and worship him, especially in the midst of our fears, so that God can heal our fears, and where we can find people who know how to live out their faith well and who are willing to mentor us as St. Paul reminds us. God knows we need the human touch and worshiping together and enjoying fellowship together in the Risen Lord’s Presence are critical ways God uses to support and strengthen and inspire us when we are afraid. Let us therefore resolve to use these gifts, these means of grace, to strengthen our faith in trust. After all, as Christ reminds us in our gospel lesson, we worship a God who loves us and wants to mother us in the best possible sense. This reality is also an integral part of the prize on which we must keep our eyes. Great mothers protect, defend, instruct, and love their children, giving them freedom to grow and learn despite their foibles and rebellion. How much more does God our Father love and support and protect us? For you see, whatever happens to us in this world, for good or for ill, is only temporary, only partial. That is why we must keep focused on the truly good and eternal things, the things of God.

And this is where our Lenten disciplines come into play because they are designed to help us do just that. Lent is a season that helps us recall what life is really all about. It helps us focus on God’s beauty and love and power and forgiveness, reminding us the true joy involved in being reconciled to God so that we can truly be God’s image-bearing creatures. It points us to our deepest longings and desires as humans and God’s image-bearers, to be loved and to love, to pursue mercy and goodness and beauty and truth. Lent exposes the shallowness and falsehood of our disordered longings and desires to be selfish and ruthless and cruel, with all the accompanying fear and anxiety. It reminds us our lust for power, sex, money, security, status, and hedonistic pleasure is all a sham and will eventually lead to our eternal destruction as St. Paul warns us in our epistle lesson. None of these things can give life or provide real security because Death is universal and makes these disordered desires a sham and delusion. Lent reminds us what is real and what has real worth. It gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves in the light of God’s judgment and mercy and to develop the holy habits that will help us to remember the power and love of God through prayer, repentance, self-reflection, worship, Bible reading and study, and regular participation in the Holy Eucharist where we feed on the Bread of Life, the very bread that gives us life forever, Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead.

There is indeed much to make us afraid in this world, but we have the power to overcome our fears, a power that is not our own, the power of God who loves us more than we dare love ourselves. Let us therefore not throw these pearls to the swine, my beloved. During this season of Lent, let us renew our commitment to Christ who has the power to take away our fears now and for all eternity. 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 Jonathon Wylie: The Temptation of Jesus

Sermon delivered on Lent 1C, Sunday, March 6, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Psalm 91.1-2, 9-16; Romans 10.8b-13; St. Luke 4.1-13.

Lent: Time to Focus on the Power and Love of God

Sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022 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.

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

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 day season we call Lent. It is a time for self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. 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 alien and malevolent force 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 grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation that God the Father makes available to all through the work of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, i.e., the surprising power of God at work. 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 in the new creation, 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 (gifts of God’s grace) to acknowledge the fact that we are all slaves to the power of Sin. 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—the problem of Sin— and we know it in our bones, despite our best efforts to deny it. But left to our own devices, 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 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 some areas of your life? How is that working out for you? If we are honest with ourselves, try as we may, 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 will 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 own 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 why we can expect to receive God’s wrath on our sins. God is first and foremost a God of love and if that is true, God must also be a God of justice. God cannot and will not ultimately allow anything or anyone in his creation to continue corrupting it and us. God loves us too much to allow us to be permanent victims of injustice and all the evil that flows from Sin’s power. 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. 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 is 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 grace, 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 its power. 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 turned away from (or repented of) worshiping false gods and turned to the one true God, then there was hope that God might not execute 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 had 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 forgave 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 God’s grace at work to achieve 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 as we saw in our preaching series on Christ’s Death and Resurrection, 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. We see it all the time from the Twitter mob and in 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 notwithstanding. 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 beautifully 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 and through the cross of Jesus Christ as St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson. As we saw three weeks ago, here is the essence of the Good News of Jesus Christ. God became human to bear his own just punishment on our sin and wickedness so as to spare us from bearing 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. How all this works with all of its mysteries, enigmas, ambiguities and the continuing messiness of the human condition, we aren’t told, only that it does. 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 have the gifts of humility and wisdom to accept God’s invitation 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.In other words, deep and sincere repentance, the kind that really matters in helping us learn and prepare to live as truly human beings in God’s promised new world—a world we can only hope to inhabit because of the cross of Jesus Christ—comes in response to our knowledge of God’s grace, not before. This is power of God at work, reconciling us to himself in Christ. Nobody likes to be confronted with their sin and their abject standing before God without God’s intervention in and through Christ. But we cannot hope to be reconciled to God without it.

We see this whole process vividly 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? Profoundly 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. One more thing before we close. In this story, Christ does not tell us to suspend moral judgment when he challenged 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—the power of God at work in us. 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.

Father Philip Sang: Transformed to be Like Him

Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday C, February 27, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang gets all whiny when we ask for a written manuscript—mainly because he doesn’t have one—but we digress. Nobody’s got time for a whiny priest so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his fine sermon.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 34.29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2; St. Luke 9.28b-43.