Fr. Ric Bowser: Merry Pentecost!

Sermon delivered on Pentecost Sunday C, June 9, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

To cover his inability to write, Father Bowser thinks you’ll have a better experience listening to his sermon rather than reading it. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.1-21; Romans 8.14-17; John 14.8-27.

Fr. Philip Sang: Reaction Toward Troubled Times

Sermon delivered on Ascension Sunday, Easter 7C, June 2, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 16.16-24; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21; John 17.20-26.

May the Words of my Mouth and Meditations of our hearts Be acceptable to you o Lord our Rock and Redeemer. Amen

But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you. (2 Tim 4:5)

It seems like everywhere you look today, listening to what is going on in the world, many are predicting that troubled times are ahead. I’ve heard several who have claimed that this nation today is more divided than it has been since the days before the civil war. I’m not completely persuaded about that, but I do think this country is more divided than when i first came here, and that many are saddened by the fact that we are living in “troubled times.”

But we shouldn’t be surprised that many decry the fact that the times are troubled. In fact, Jesus said that’s the way life will always be in this world until He returns to make all things new.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

He never stopped at that but prayed for us that we may be one even during those troubled times.

Paul and Silas were ministering in the city of Philippi when trouble befell them.

It seems that the work Paul and Silas were doing was perceived by some to be a threat to their business, so they had them arrested, flogged, and imprisoned. Ever have one of those days when things don’t seem to be going too well? Well, it was certainly that kind of day for Paul and Silas, and I’m sure you’ve had a few of those, too. Interestingly enough, some people mistakenly think that Christians are people who God promises to protect from problems and difficulties. On the contrary, God tells His children that since they belong to Him, not only do they have the usual difficulties that everyone else encounters as they live in this world, but now they have Satan as an enemy, which can often compound the problems the Christian encounters.

But take heart! God has a purpose in allowing His children to deal with difficulty. His purpose is to use these times to reshape us into the image of His dear Son, and, in the process, allow us to show a lost world the difference a relationship with God can make in one’s life.

You see, the Christian faces the same kinds of problems in this world that everyone else encounters – Christians have to deal with disease, losing their job, raising their kids, working through marriage problems, getting an education, losing a loved one, dealing with change, and living in a nation that is, at times, severely divided. Christians face many of the same kinds of troubles that everyone else does. The only difference is that we, christians have a God to turn to in troubled times.

God’s design is for us as Christians to bear testimony in troubled times to the difference God makes. And God uses our “tests” to allow us to present a “testimony.” But how? Let’s see what we can learn from the example of Paul and Silas. During troubled times . . .

  1. Give our attention to prayer

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)

Every day of my life is a time of need, I just don’t always realize it. But when I find myself facing troubled times, I become more aware of my need of the Lord. It’s in those times especially, when I should turn to Him in prayer! As I do, I can rejoice in knowing I can come before His throne with confidence because I’m His child. As I humbly acknowledge my need of Him, I can rest assured that He will provide me with the guidance, the peace, the calm, whatever I need to deal with the troubled times I am facing.

“God can’t resist those who humbly and honestly admit how desperately they need him.” – Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God’s Spirit Invades the Hearts of His People

In the devotional, “My Utmost For His Highest,” Oswald Chambers says that it is wrong to say that prayer changes things. Instead, it is more proper to say that prayer changes me so that things might be changed.

Through prayer, God can use troubled times I have to deal with to change me in whatever way is necessary to enable me to respond to the difficulty in the right way and reflect Christ to a lost world.

  1. Center our attitude on praise

“Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power. Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.” – Chuck Swindoll, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Through praise, we acknowledge the power of God. Praise focuses our attention away from our problems to God’s sovereign power. It causes us to be reminded that God is on His throne and that He is in control. Through praise, we are enabled to surrender to His divine purpose and abandon ourselves to His sovereign will.

Praise is also a declaration of faith by which we declare the greatness of our God.

? Through prayer we can tell our God how big our problem is; and through praise, we can tell our problems how big our God is.

Through praise, I testify to my faith in an all-powerful God who is worth serving, despite the problems I face, because I know that His power is greater than any problem, and that His purpose for my life transcends any difficulty I might encounter. “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” – Romans 8:18 (NLT)

Through praise, we can present a positive testimony in troubled times.

  1. direct our action toward people – vs. 27-31

Rather than thinking only of themselves, Paul and Silas concerned themselves with those around them who could be influenced by their testimony in their time of trouble. In this case, it was not only the other prisoners, but the jailer and his family.

Notice how Paul and Silas were concerned for both the jailer’s safety (vs. 26-27); and his salvation (vs. 28-31).

In times of trouble, there are many who concern themselves with the safety of their fellow man. And, certainly, the Christian should be concerned for the physical well-being of others. But if that is the limit of our concern, we will have failed to effectively bear the witness that is needed. We must also be concerned about their salvation.

Difficulties have a dramatic way of causing people to think about eternal things. As Christians, we also must be alert to matters of eternal significance and take advantage of every opportunity we have to urge others to make sure they are prepared for eternity; and to also testify to them about how a personal relationship with God can see you through daily difficulty and troubles in this world.As we do this let’s hear everyday the same voice that John heard:

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the ?rst and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. The one who testi?es to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

God is calling us to transform our tests to testimony in troubled times, we need to commit ourselves to bearing a consistent testimony everyday.

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” – Ephesians 6:13 “But as for you, be clear-headed in every situation [stay calm and cool and steady], endure every hardship [without flinching], do the work of an evangelist, fulfill [the duties of] your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:5 (Amplified) That means that daily, I must give my attention to prayer, center my attitude on praise, and direct my action toward people!

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

Fr. Philip Sang: Remembering the Greatest Sacrifice Compelled by Love Led by the Spirit

Sermon delivered on Easter 6C, Sunday, May 26, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 16.6-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21.10, 22-22.5; John 14.23-29.

As Christian citizens, we celebrate Memorial Day today for a couple of reasons:

  • The word of God commands us to give honor to whom honor is due.
  • This day also helps us in thanking God for the freedoms we enjoy as a result of the extreme sacrifice made by so many of America’s sons and daughters for the sake of freedom.

So as we remember the sacrifice of others, it is appropriate to thank God who strengthened those who made that sacrifice possible.

In his 1828 magnus opus, American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster defined “sacrifice” – to destroy, surrender or suffer to be lost for the sake of obtaining something (of greater good?). He illustrates this definition in a sentence, 

  • “We should never sacrifice health to pleasure, nor integrity to fame.”

Generally speaking, the reality of sacrifice is something of which this generation of Americans, Kenyans and other countries of the world is sadly ignorant. One unmistakeable proof is the breakdown of the family unit taking place at an alarming rate. I have learned and keep learning that Sacrifice is necessary for any marriage to be successful .Eph 5:25 Husbands are to love their wives as christ loved the church.

We do well as a free citizenry to remember the sacrifice of fallen soldiers. Can I say with utmost respect to the soldier who has given his life for freedom’s cause, that there is an even more obvious omission than being ignorant or unappreciative of such sacrifices? And that is being ignorant or unappreciative of the ultimate sacrifice offered for mankind, a sacrifice that procures the highest freedom man can know…spiritual freedom. Tomorrow I trust the appreciation for the sacrifice of our armed servicemen and women will be renewed. More so i trust that we will seek to increase our appreciation for the leading of the Holy spirit in making sacrifice for those we love.

Last week’s sermon was about the command that christ left us of loving one another and He said no greater love that this that one lays down his life for another.

How far should i go in Love?

When an individual enlists in the military, especially during times of war, he or she must be cognizant that the answer they may have to give to the question, “How far should I go?” is “all the way,” even to the death.

Thinking about the sacrifice of Jesus for us, I sincerely doubt there exists an adequate illustration in our natural world that communicates the depths to which Christ went in giving His life for mankind. It is because we are deceived and blinded by our own collective tendency to overstate our value that we fail to grasp the absolute depths Christ experienced.

The unifying theme of today’s readings is “Guided by the Holy Spirit.” this is on the work of the Holy Spirit that is the focus during easter.  

Christian art has typically depicted the Spirit as dove, wind or flame, all of which are grounded in Scripture. Today’s texts use none of those images.

Instead, the Spirit is One who calls, One who sends dreams and visions, One who opens hearts and reveals new leaders, and One who leads people into all Truth.  

Paul has a vision or dream of a man from Macedonia calling him to come help the people in Macedonia. In response to this, Paul led his traveling companions on a journey that ended in Philippi.

The travelers stay there a few days, long enough to get the lay of the land and to discover where a group of Jewish women normally met for Sabbath prayers just outside the city walls. Here Paul found warm reception for his message of Jesus Christ the results results, Lydia, was baptized with her household.

The reason why Paul came here is more important. Paul relied on the Holy Spirit to direct him in mission. If you go back a few verses, you will see several instances right before this where Paul had intended to preach or teach in Asia Minor (Turkey), but the Holy Spirit stopped him. Instead, as revealed in the dream, Paul was to go across the sea to Macedonia. Upon receiving this vision, Paul and his companions set sail right away.

The mission is the Spirit’s first. Ours is to follow where the Spirit calls and leads.

I believe those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom today in this country too were led by the Holy spirit.

Paul trusted the Spirit who called him to open opportunities for sharing the gospel, starting with any of his fellow Jews who may live there. There was no synagogue in Philippi, so Paul visited the prayer meeting by the river outside the town walls. 

Today, the Holy spirit still lead to the different ministries in the church 

The Holy Spirit directs us in discipleship and mission, closing some doors and opening others.

Living in the Spirit requires that we be open, listening, and watchful for what the Spirit is already doing in the lives of others around us, wherever we may be sent or find ourselves.

Last week, we heard of new creation and the New Jerusalem, a sure sign that our promised hope is in a renewed earth with a renewed human culture. This week we see the new creation not simply as one city, but indeed as a whole planet with nations, political leaders, energy that flows from God, an economy built on the tree of life and the water of life from God, and a renewed world order in which dishonor and falsehood are thoroughly driven out and security and shalom abounds for all whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

In Revelation, this world order reflects the goal and summit of God’s new creation. As disciples of Jesus, we are empowered to be witnesses and bearers of that new creation now, while recognizing it is always only God who makes all things new.

Here the Spirit appears not as air or wind, but as light from the lamp (the Lamb, Jesus) and the flowing water of the River of Life. People find their way by the light, and their lives, personally and politically, are sustained and made whole by the water that also nourishes the Tree of Life. The Holy Spirit thus irradiates and flows through everything in this final state, the fulfillment of the life we already have now because in baptism we have been reborn of water and the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit shows the way and continually gives life to all who will receive it.

Jesus says if we love him, we keep his commandment to love one another as he loves us. As we do this, we will find the Holy Spirit teaching us everything we need to know and reminding us of everything Jesus has said.

The Spirit is empowering, powerful, and demanding, continually driving us to do things we could not have imagined we could ever have done, all in obedience to Christ and love to God and neighbor.

Those who fought for the freedom of our beloved nation were motivated i believe by obedience and love for their family and our country  

The peace Jesus offers in these verses is indeed not as the world gives, not a quieting but a “couraging,” not a stilling but a stirring of our hearts to follow where Jesus continues to lead. Christ’s peace and the Holy Spirit give us the capacity to do all of this, regardless of circumstances, unshaken.

Remember that the Holy Spirit continues to teach and guide us in obedience to the word of Jesus.

This week as we remember over 1.1 million men and women have died to guarantee our freedom as Americans, be reminded also that they gave their all so that we might enjoy all the blessings of this great land.  Today, we honor their memory and their sacrifice.  Thank God for every one of them.

 Thank God for His unspeakable gift of Jesus!  May we, never forget Who Jesus is, what He has done for us, and where He is taking us some day!

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

Fr. Santosh Madanu: The New Commandment of Love

Sermon delivered on Easter 5C, Sunday, May 19, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, open my heart and mind, so I may accept, love and welcome others as you would.  Dear Lord Jesus, help me to have talk with you in faith, trusting all things to your care Amen. 

What’s New about Jesus’ New Commandment?

We have heard from the book of Torah, Leviticus, “you should love your neighbor as yourself”   Jesus himself cited Leviticus, along with the verse from Deuteronomy, when asked by the Pharisees which commandment in the Biblical Law is the greatest?  Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with your entire mind.  This is the greatest commandment.  And second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is calling to love Him and to love each other.  The most important point is: Jesus is calling for the kind of love for which one is willing to die.  Let us open the gospel of John 13: 34 “ a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have love you, so you also should love one another”.

John 13: 14-15 “if I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15. For I have given an example, that you also should do just I have done to you.  Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus puts the point explicitly:  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  Jesus loved his friends, all of us and so radically acted out His love in this world, where he was crucified to save us from the slavery to sin and evil; to free us from the den of religious robbers, hypocrites, who lock the people out of the kingdom of God and political power mind emperors.  

Perhaps one of the best modern example of new commandment of love was Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.  He lived and died trying to manifest the radical form of love to which Jesus has called us.  Remember how he put it in the sermon he delivered very night before he was assassinated:  Now we are going to march again… for when people get caught up with that which is right, and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory… we need all of you… let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness….  The question is not if I stop to help this man in need. What will happen to me? (The question is)  If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?  King said more than once that we are not fully alive until we’ve found something for which we are willing to die.  In his book “The strength to love”, he directly confronted the fear of death, quoting the first letter of John:  There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast out the fear.”

Last Sunday we celebrated the Mother’s Day.  Most of the mothers we know, they love their children so deeply and fully that unquestionably in an instant they would give up their own lives to save one of their children’s lives.  Many of the Fathers would do the same. 

The joy of Husband and wife will complete only when each can call other true friend and are ready to lay down the life for each other.

Story: The story of Damon and Pythias, two friends in the Sicilian city state of Syracuse in the 4th Ce B.C.  Pythias spoke out against the king, who ordered him executed for treason.  Pythias asked the permission to go home long enough to say goodbye to his wife and children and put his household in order.  His friend Damon instantly volunteered to be imprisoned until Pythias returned, to be killed himself if Pythias don’t show up on the execution date.  As the fatal day approached without Pythias having returned, the king came to the prison to sneer at Damon and to see if he was sorry for having made such an arrangement.  “You were fool to rely on your friend’s promise,” scoffed the king.  “Did you really think he would sacrifice his life for you or for anyone else? Damon simply replied, “He is my friend, I trust him. “As Damon was being led to be executed on the crucial day, Pythias suddenly appeared, breathless exclaiming, “you are safe, Praise God.  My ship was wrecked in a storm and Bandits attacked me on the road.  But I refused to give up hope, and at last I’ve made it back in time.  I am ready to receive the sentence of death.”   The king was so astonished and moved that he revoked the death sentence out of respect for their friendship.  So, we need to have these kinds of friendships.  Our set of people to fulfill Jesus’ New Commandment of love may now include children, spouse, relatives and all brothers and sisters of the world.

Saul tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. (Acts 9:26)

Soon after Jesus died, there was already bickering and arguing about who fit in and who didn’t. The disciples feared Saul because he persecuted Christians and spoke out against Jesus. Now, here he was claiming he had a powerful conversion and wanted to join them in preaching the gospel. I probably would have been suspicious, too. But that is not the message Jesus taught.

Remember it was this openhearted Teacher who welcomed those whom the rest of the world deemed unworthy of contact. Jesus spent time with crooks, prostitutes and numerous others whom religious people counted as lost souls. All have respect and dignity in the eyes of God who sees much further and deeper into the hearts of people than we do. Let’s approach each person with the heart of Christ. 

As a follower of Christ, we are embracing Jesus’ way of life. This means we are accepting a new way of thinking and a new way of living. Instead of living like everyone else and blend in with the crowd we are to follow the New Commandment of the Lord and do what Jesus tells us to do. It also means we obey God when it comes to how we spend our money, how we vote, what television shows we watch and how we spend our free time.

What is my motivation in doing the things I do? What is the standard and goals for me to make my decision? The tugs within my heart, when I have to make a difficult decision, reveal the conflict within me. The inner voice is the guidance of  the Holy Spirit is trying to lead me. We need to stay in tune with that. So every day, every morning, spend a few minutes before you start your day with the Lord, empty yourself and so God may fill it. Ask God to guide you and to walk in His path, then when you are faced with day to day decisions, you will hear God’s voice more clearly in the midst of the chatter of the world. 

Let us meditate on the Acts of the Apostle 11: 1-18

Peter first experiences the vision from God that overturns the categories of clean and unclean that shaped his existence (Acts 10:1-23). Even the most cherished things are not immune from the newness that results from the resurrection. Then Peter’s realization is verbalized in proclamation to the Gentiles. The effect is not just for Peter to see things differently; it is for the benefit of the Gentiles’ participation in God’s salvation (10:23-48). Not only is Peter changed, but Gentiles’ relationship to God is changed.

The Teaching of Jesus and His Salvation is not just meant for Jews in Jerusalem and Israel but to all the people of the world.

“The Gentiles received the word of God.” Notice also that whereas the Jerusalem leaders were focused on Peter’s actions, Peter draws attention to the activity of God among the Gentiles. He does not explain himself in the face of their accusation; he explains the activity of God.

In Acts 10 God “accepts” all who fear God and work justice; here the Gentiles’ receive or “accept” the word of God.

Peter emphasizes that what both the Gentiles and the Jewish believers hold in common is a gift of the Holy Spirit from God.  

The repentance that leads to life; it is salvation. While the work of the Spirit seems to be the primary referent.

The Holy Spirit had just broken down common and unchallenged ethnically and socially based evaluations of humanity, and the “leaders” in Jerusalem are worried that Peter ate in the home of a Gentile. Let us watch the humility of St. Peter, he says “who was I could hinder God?  No authority on earth can hinder God’s Plan of salvation to all the children of the universe.  St. Peter could feel the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and act upon it without any ones approval.

Revelation 21:1-6 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beau fully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. 

“Heavenly-Focused for Earthly Good”

The new vision of Revelation 21 helps us to see ourselves with a new life and a new purpose in life. Jesus wants us to realize, we are his bride. He takes us as his own, no matter how many of our goals we’ve achieved, no matter how much of a difference we’ve made in this world. We are prepared because we are robed in the righteousness of Christ and beautifully dressed because we are arrayed in the garments of the salvation he won. We have a new home. Our dwelling with God is only possible because of Christ’s perfection earns we have direct access to God. We are one of God’s people because Jesus shed his blood for us. On the cross Jesus paid our debt of sin. Triumphing over sin means all the earthly consequences of sin are defeated. All sorrow and crying and pain are banished by Christ’s triumph. Jesus rose victorious from the grave on Easter Sunday to conquer death. Death is defeated so we have a home where there will be no reason to weep.

God transforms hearts through gospel promises fulfilled in the new heaven and new earth, promises that bring people into God’s new order.  Since we do not know when these things will be, we need to be ready for all the time.

Prayer:

May God the Father grant us His Spirit to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in order to prepare ourselves for New Heaven, Holy City. Amen.

Is Your Shepherd Good Enough to Get You Through the Night?

Sermon delivered on Easter 4C, Sunday, May 12, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 9.36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7.9-17; John 10.22-30.

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

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, which always falls on the fourth Sunday of Easter. Accordingly, this is what I want us to look at this morning. Is your notion of Jesus as the Good Shepherd big enough to truly honor him and get you through the dark valleys of life?

What do you conjure up when you think of the term shepherd? For most of us living in a post-agricultural society, I suspect when we think of shepherds we think of some quaint fellow leading his sheep to pasture. In other words, if we think about it at all, we think of shepherds as being pretty irrelevant to our lives. But shepherds meant something very different to the Old and NT writers. When they spoke of shepherds they had in mind a king who would not only lead his people but also protect them. And the best way for a king to lead and protect God’s people Israel was to encourage them to be faithful to their covenant with the Lord. Doing so would ensure that they would receive his blessing and protection as Moses made clear to God’s people Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. When the Bible speaks of shepherds, it has something quite different in mind than we do. Life, happiness, blessing, and safety are not possible without a Good Shepherd.

And this ought to make sense to us because we live in a world that has been invaded by evil and hostile powers, powers that were unleashed on God’s good world by human sin and folly. These dark powers are death-dealing. They hate us and want to destroy us. Combined with our proclivity to elevate and worship self over God, the dark powers often have an easy time finding human agents to assist in dealing out death to us. Think of the rash of bombings and mass murders that have occurred over the past month. Hundreds of Christians were blown up in Sri Lanka as they celebrated Easter. Another synagogue was attacked in CA. Then of course we have yet another school shooting. We see the devastating results of those who allow themselves to be used by the dark powers to bring death and sorrow and anger whenever they can. Christians seem to be especially targeted by the dark powers and their agents. While not prevalent in this country—at least not yet—did you know that in 2017 there were some 215,000,000 Christians who reported being persecuted for their faith, and that today 4 out of 5 people being persecuted for their faith are Christian? Never have Christians been more widely persecuted. Just this past week, Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman who had been sentenced to death for preaching blasphemy and who was finally exonerated, was allowed to leave for asylum in Canada. Yet even there she is not safe as Islamic extremists have vowed to hunt her down and kill her. She has become one of their favorite targets to hate. Our Lord surely knew what he was talking about when he warned his disciples that they would be hated because the world hated him first (John 15.18-23).

As we think about these things, we dare not develop an “us vs. them” mentality. Without the help from an outside power stronger than the powers of Evil and Sin (God), we are all capable of collaborating with the forces of Death. As our culture becomes increasing less Christian, our innate desire to elevate ourselves over God will only increase and so will the darkness that ensues. The Vatican apparently recognizes this trend as well as it recently opened up its exorcism summit for the first time to those outside the Catholic Church because of the unsettling rise of satanic worship and demonic incidents throughout the world. It seems that ever since Eden, we humans seek to worship and follow anything but God, the only Source of Life. 

Given this reality, we instinctively know that we need a shepherd in the true biblical sense who can guide and protect us from the forces of Evil and Death that hate us and want to destroy us. We wall ourselves up in gated communities, we refuse to get involved with issues of justice or deal with people who are “not like us,” we seek all kinds of power to insulate us from the darkness of this world, we stockpile our wealth and other material goods, hoping that they will protect us from all the darkness that life can bring. But this is just delusional thinking. All the money in the world, all the fame, all the power, all the gated communities cannot protect us from sickness or madness or growing old or loneliness or alienation or death. Nothing in this world is capable of doing that. Nothing. Even if we are faithful Christians, if we do not have a grown up conception of who our Good Shepherd is and a resurrection hope that is lively and robust, we are most to be pitied because we are play acting and whistling through the graveyard, hoping all our futile self-help efforts will suddenly and magically work. They won’t. As we have just observed, self-help is of this world and nothing of this world in its current configuration has the power to give life. Nothing.

Even if we have a healthy understanding of the nature of Christ as our Good Shepherd and an accompanying resurrection hope that is lively and relevant to us, it doesn’t make us immune from the dark valleys of life. But God never promised us this. We note that the beloved 23rd psalm doesn’t tell us that the Good Shepherd keeps us out of the dark valley. No, the Good Shepherd promises to be with us to strengthen and comfort us when we are confronted by the darkness of this world and our sins and ultimately the darkness of death. We aren’t told why a good and loving God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, allows Evil to operate in his good world to corrupt it. No one has that answer, not even our Lord Jesus when he walked this earth. What Christ gave us was much better. He gave us himself. He gave his life to free us from the power of Sin so that our destiny is life, not death—after all, only Christ is the resurrection and the life—and here is where we have to be crystal clear in our thinking about our resurrection hope because it is the key to us living life with a tenacious and dogged hope, even when confronted with the reality of death. 

As St. Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians, Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said, and that he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. This is how the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death are defeated. Christ died for our sins so that we can be spared God’s good and right judgment on our sins. And in raising Christ from the dead, God showed us that even the universal power of death is destroyed. Not completely yet, of course, but it’s coming and Christ’s resurrection is historical proof that God’s promise to destroy death one day is true (apparently God’s word isn’t good enough for us; we need historical proof as well, another reminder of why the cross is so necessary for us to be reconciled to God, but I digress). The dark powers did their worst to Christ. They had him arrested, tortured, humiliated, reviled, and killed in the worst and most degrading manner ever devised by human depravity. The result? Christ is risen! Death is overcome by life! God showed us decisively his intentions for us: life, not death, thanks be to God! Amen?

And when the New Creation is ushered in fully, we see two things happen. First, we see the abolition of death on a universal basis, at least for the followers of Christ. Death is destroyed forever. Second, we see the implementation of God’s perfect justice. Human justice, no matter how just and right it can be, is never complete. Murder victims, for example, are still dead. Lives are destroyed, the loss is still real. Not so in God’s new world. Evildoers are vanquished forever, the dead are restored to life, all brokenness and imperfection is healed, along with our memories, and we shall live directly in God’s presence with his attendant protection and healing forever. Let me give you a personal example. In 2008 my mother had a massive stroke and lingered for three days. She died a hard death and it was painful to watch. She died when Dondra and I were out for supper. When I returned to her room I saw her corpse lying there. It was ugly and unnatural. It showed the recent signs of her physical suffering. My mother was a good woman and a faithful Christian. You’ll find no better mother around. She didn’t deserve to die in this way, a death that was made more painful by our decision, made out of ignorance, not to hydrate her. This awful vignette encapsulates the entire history of human sin and folly. Sin results in death, in this case my beloved mother’s. Human folly was involved, in this case my ignorance of the importance of keeping her hydrated which only increased her suffering and my guilt when I found out what I had inadvertently done to her. There was grief over the loss of a dearly loved one and its permanent alteration of my life. She was my last surviving parent and even at aged 55, I felt like an orphan for the first time in my life. Nothing in this world can change any of that. I could run after false gods, choose to dampen my pain in a variety of ways, tell everyone what a great person my mom was, seek to increase my bank accounts, or try to increase my status, but none of it will bring her back to life. That’s not how this world works.

But now let’s shift our attention to our epistle lesson to see what I am talking about in terms of having a resurrection hope. In it, St. John shares his glimpse of the heavenly throne room. It isn’t a vision of the future; it is a vision of the present heavenly reality. And what did he see? A huge and countless throng of people from every tribe, language, and nation. They are wearing white robes and waving palm branches. They are in the direct presence of God and his Lamb, Jesus Christ our crucified and risen Savior. St. John is asked the question we want to ask. Who are these people? An elder tells him that they have come out of the great ordeal (they have survived being persecuted and suffering, even unto death). They lack nothing because they are living in God’s direct presence and are now under his eternal protection, and God himself has wiped the tears of sorrow and suffering from their very eyes. Think about that! Think about God wiping your tears from your eyes and how wonderful and restorative that must feel! The Good News is that you’ll get to find out one day.

We notice several things from this poignant vision. First, we note that the palm branches the throng waves are symbols of their victory over the dark powers and Death. The Christian dead have this victory because the blood of the Lamb has taken away their sins and made them pure and able to stand in God’s holy and life-giving presence, without which we are all walking dead. Their white robes symbolize their Christ-endowed and life-giving purity. Notice carefully that St. John doesn’t tell us that the people standing in God’s heavenly throne room are the ones who did the most good or went most regularly to church or are a superior race or ethnic group. No, everyone is there because of the love of Christ for them, not because of who they are or what they’ve done. Likewise with us. 

We notice too that we see the risen Christ with his transformed body in heaven. Does it surprise you that human bodies can exist in heaven? I know it surprised me when I first was taught it. The vast throng are not yet risen. They are not yet fully alive as Jesus is, but they are alive because they are with the Source of Life and their destiny will be like their risen Savior’s because they belong to him, just like we do. Even in their pre-resurrected state, the Christian dead find life and they suffer no more. Whatever injustices they had to endure are made right and their memories are healed. We know this because they are worshiping God and the Lamb for redeeming them from the darkness of Evil and Death, just like we do when we give thanks for the Resurrection in our Eastertide liturgy. Did you notice that? And because they are in the presence of God and his Lamb, they are protected from evil of any kind because no evil can survive in God’s holy presence. Returning to the story of my mother’s death, this is the only satisfactory hope I could have to sustain me in my grief and loss. I know when I see her next, the memories of that hospital room and her dead body will be erased forever, in part, because when I see her next she will be alive! And when the new creation comes in full, she will have an indescribably beautiful body that will also be indestructible. The injustice of her death will be made right. Her death will have been swallowed up in life. Works for me. Worked for Dorcas in our NT lesson, short-term and for eternity. How about you? 

Clearly, St. John intends this vision to encourage us in our suffering as well as give us an indomitable hope because we realize our present and future are secure if we are the Lamb’s, and we can be sure we are his because we hear his voice and obey, not perfectly, but we hear his voice nevertheless and seek to obey him. And he assures us that we will remain his. Nothing can snatch us away from him because nothing is stronger than the love and power of God. He tells us this in our gospel lesson. But what if the worst you have suffered for your faith is having to endure long sermons by your preachers, especially when Fathers Sang, Bowser, and Madanu preach? Then what? How can this lesson encourage you? My only response is that suffering of one sort or another will come before your mortal life ends and you had better be ready with the power of the risen Christ when it does or you will be left without hope. The encouragement found in this story will help you develop that needed power. But what if you have suffered for reasons other than your faith that are beyond your control? Then what? Well, consider this. What if our present suffering is a result of those dark powers working against us and not God punishing us, especially if we cannot directly attribute our suffering to the consequences of our sin, stupidity, or folly? What if God uses our afflictions as opportunities to test us and to draw us closer in our suffering to our Lord Jesus who suffered and died for us? St. John’s vision testifies that Christ will use our suffering to draw us closer to him if we have a resurrection hope that allows us to see that nothing is beyond the redemptive power of God, not even death itself. So be ready. Your hour will come. Draw then on Christ’s power.

Of course, our hope must remain just that until it is realized in the new creation. We will still grieve our dead and have to deal with all the hurt and sorrow and brokenness in this sin-corrupted and God-cursed world. But there is no one or nowhere else to which we can turn. Only in Christ is there hope and life because only Christ has been raised from the dead to break the power of Sin and Death. Only the resurrection offers a real future with full justice and restoration and healing. It is too breathtaking for us to fully contemplate because it comes from God, but contemplate it we must; otherwise we die of hopelessness, wallowing in our sin. And if you are not a fan of delayed gratification, think of the alternative: Hopelessness and no future at all in the face of darkness and the finality of death. So let us persevere and rejoice in Christ, our living hope. Let us resolve to stop seeking life in the world of the dead. Instead, let us embrace fully our Good Shepherd who takes away the sin of the world. Let us live joyfully in the power of the Holy Spirit who makes our risen Savior available to us, even in the face of suffering and death, so that by God’s grace we can show the world and each other what a true and lively Easter hope looks like, and thus encourage each other. 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. 

The Promise and Power of the Resurrection: Not Another Fish Story

Sermon delivered on Easter 3C, Sunday, May 5, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

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

Did you catch the sense of transformation, hope, and power in our readings today? It’s all there. But what is the basis for the transformative hope and power of Christ’s resurrection? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We start with our gospel lesson. Despite the fact that Jesus had previously appeared twice to his frightened and hiding disciples and commissioned them proclaim the Good News, they are now in Galilee and have returned to fishing. We aren’t told why they chose to do this, only that they did. It’s easy for us to understand this, especially since we have not witnessed the risen Lord in the manner they did. We look around and see evil running rampant despite the NT’s proclamation that the powers behind it have been defeated on the cross of Christ. The old corrupted order seems to be thriving despite the fact that Christ’s resurrection proclaimed the beginning of God’s new world with its ultimate defeat of death. Like St. Thomas, we sometimes become skeptical about the reality of our crucified and risen Lord and get discouraged. Whatever the reason, the disciples returned to their old order of business just as we often do. 

But then they encounter a stranger on the shore after a futile night of fishing. He tells them to throw out their net and they suddenly have a huge catch of fish. The beloved disciple recognizes the stranger on the beach as the risen Lord and soon they are eating the breakfast he has prepared for them. More about that in a moment. St. John then says something quite peculiar. He tells us that none of the disciples dared to ask Jesus who he was because they knew he was Jesus. We want to say to St. John that if they knew who Jesus was, why would they have to ask him? Here we get a glimpse into the nature of Christ’s risen body. Whatever it was composed of, it was different from Jesus’ mortal body. One commentator wryly notes that none of the disciples came up to Jesus, slapped him on the back, and very casually said to him, “Welcome back, Jesus!” New creation doesn’t work that way. There is continuity (they recognized the Lord and he had a body), but there was also discontinuity (he appeared different to them so that there was an element of newness). 

And why wouldn’t we expect this? If Christ’s resurrection really did launch God’s new heavens and earth, and if in his resurrection Christ has gone through the dark valley of death and emerged on the other side, we would expect things to be different, even if we can’t imagine a world without suffering and death, without sickness and sorrow, without alienation and conflict, without brokenness and deformity. But that’s exactly the world Christ’s resurrection announced! As St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, when the dead are raised, death will be vanquished forever! And because God’s new world is almost impossible for us to imagine because it transcends human power and imagination, we are tempted to discount it like the disciples apparently did because we are so regularly pummeled by the chaos and evil in God’s current world. But we dare not let our resurrection hope fade away because if we do, we give up our inheritance and will lose hope—defined as the sure and certain expectation of things to come. We have been given a glimpse of our future in Christ’s resurrection in the testimony of his first followers so let us embrace God’s gracious gift! Not only do we see Christ transformed in St. John’s story, our perception of God is also changed in light of Easter. In the vivid imagery of our epistle lesson, the countless multitude of heaven proclaim the crucified and risen Christ as deserving of the honor and praise and glory of God. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and only God can take away sin. Listen if you have ears…

Here we see the power of God defined. In Christ’s death, the dark powers are defeated and our slavery to the power of Sin is destroyed, not perfectly in this mortal life, but destroyed nevertheless. God’s power, we are told, is made known in suffering love for his wayward and rebellious creatures, you and me, and none of us deserve a lick of it. But by his wounds we are healed and find the only kind of freedom that really counts: freedom from the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death. We know this is true because we know that God raised Jesus from the dead; and because we are baptized, we too share in his death and life. Our mortal bodies will one day moulder in the grave but that is not our destiny, new creation is: Endless and perfect life without a trace of evil, corruption, sin, or brokenness of any kind. If this does not give you hope in the midst of darkness and joy in the midst of sorrow, nothing can, my beloved. Only the power of God can accomplish this.

And in their encounter with their risen Master on the seashore, St. John is inviting us to see another transition. No longer is the focus on Christ’s death and resurrection. It is on commissioning his followers to take up his love and work and proclaim it to the world. In the poignant story of breakfast for his disciples who may have doubted and wanted to cling to the old order of things, an order than can never end up right, and in the restoration of Peter, St. John is reminding us of two things we all desperately want to hear. First, he reminds us that in Christ we find God’s forgiveness that changes our status with God so that we have the awesome privilege to do his work, and second we are given God’s power to do the work he calls us to do. 

Notice that despite a huge catch of fish, our Lord didn’t need the disciples’ fish to cook them breakfast. He already had what he needed. There were fish already cooking. Yes, Jesus invited them to bring some of their fish, but he didn’t need them. Sometimes we Christians think that Christ calls us to be his disciples because he is totally dependent on us and our efforts. We think we have to organize or proclaim the gospel, that we have to be his hands, eyes, mouth, and heart, because without us Jesus can’t get anything done. What a bunch of caca. Christ has the power and he gives us a share of his power by giving us his Holy Spirit. That was the whole point of last week’s gospel lesson. Receive the Holy Spirit, he told the disciples. Only then did Christ send them into the world to do his work. When we free ourselves from the delusion that Christ needs us instead of us needing him, it frees us to work tirelessly and joyfully for our risen Lord because we are relying on his power and his strength, not our own. We see the logic of this in St. Paul’s conclusion of his massive treatise on the Resurrection found in 1 Corinthians 15. After proclaiming the abolition of death and all evil when the dead are raised at our Lord’s return, St. Paul doesn’t tell us to have a big party (although we should have one in anticipation of our eternal party in God’s new world). No, St. Paul says this: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (v.58). Too often we focus on the results of our work on the Lord’s behalf and too often we don’t get the results we hoped for or wanted. We might try to persuade a friend or loved one to believe the Good News and we get rebuffed or reviled. Or we try to do the right thing by someone only to receive evil in return. Because we don’t keep our resurrection hope at the forefront of our lives, we tend to get discouraged because it appears we are not making a difference. Not so, St. Paul admonishes us! Christ is risen and you live and move and have your being in his power even when it is not self-evident to you. Don’t fall for the lie. Don’t believe the enemy or a hostile world. Because the Lamb lives, you operate in his power and he will finish what he started. Yes, we are given the wondrous privilege of doing Kingdom work. But we are not called to bring in the Kingdom. We don’t have it in our power. Only God does and in Christ’s resurrection we have a clear demonstration of that power. 

Which brings us to the second basis for our call to follow Christ—forgiveness. In all our lessons, we see the power of God’s forgiveness at work. As we saw in our epistle lesson, the heavenly host proclaim the Lamb’s saving work and worship him as a result. Jesus truly is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death for us on the cross and because in that death the power of Evil and Sin have been defeated, we are called to have a new and restored relationship with God, a relationship that can only end in life. God has dealt with our sins on the cross and we are forgiven if we have the good sense to accept God’s forgiveness. Our call to be his healed and restored kingdom workers along with the promise that we will one day reign with Christ in God’s new world—something we currently can’t see and do not experience—is intended to give us hope as we labor in darkness and are confronted by the powers of Evil. St. John intends for us to worship the Lamb who was slaughtered for us so that we are strengthened and find encouragement in our struggles in this mortal life. Forgiveness is the basis for this. 

But—and this is massively important to anyone who struggles to be forgiven—it isn’t just one size fits all forgiveness. In our gospel lesson, we see Christ deal with a deep hurt and painful memory to restore his beloved disciple, St. Peter, and Christ tailors his forgiveness accordingly. Recall that in a moment of false bravado with which so many of us are afflicted, Peter arrogantly proclaimed that he would never deny or leave Jesus, no matter what happened. Then reality set in and Peter betrayed his Master three times. Notice carefully that Jesus didn’t come to Peter and name his sin. He didn’t say, e.g., “Simon, you were a cowardly little weasel when I needed you most and you denied me. You boasted you never would do that but you did. What a loser. But I forgive you, dude. Love you, man.” Why didn’t Jesus do that? Because he didn’t have to. We are told elsewhere that St. Peter went out and wept bitterly because of his betrayal and we all know that feeling only too well. Like Peter, we sometimes wonder if Jesus can ever forgive us because we know our transgressions and our sins are ever before us. Stating the obvious to St. Peter would have only rubbed his nose in it and Jesus didn’t do that. Instead, he asked the only question that could lead to St. Peter’s healing and restoration: Do you love me, Simon? Do you love me despite your failures and your fears and your cowardice? The Greek for this interchange is interesting as Jesus uses agapao in asking and Peter uses phileo in response, a lesser form of love than agape love, until finally Christ used phileo in asking Peter if he loved him. Was our Lord meeting his beloved follower where St. Peter was, as do all good pastors? We aren’t told. What the story tells us is that Christ gently got to the heart of Peter’s sin and then forgave it; and in that forgiveness St. Peter found the power of Christ to shepherd his early Church, God be praised!

Likewise with St. Paul. Here we see Christ forgive in a completely different manner because St. Paul’s sin was much different than St. Peter’s. St. Paul was a murderer and vigorously persecuted  the early Church. Strong action was needed and strong action was taken. There was blindness followed by fasting and prayer. But there was forgiveness and a great commission that could only be undertaken in the healing power of Christ’s forgiving love. None of us are St. Peter or St. Paul, but all of us desperately need Christ’s healing forgiveness to be his as they did. These stories and images proclaim exactly that. Will we be too stubborn or proud to accept the forgiveness that we need and in the way we need it, whatever that might look like? God forbid that we be so stupid!

When we accept our Lord’s forgiveness and power, we are made ready to do his work and proclaim his story to others, and it all starts with this parish family because charity starts at home and we are called to do this work together. When we accept Christ’s forgiveness, it humbles us because we realize we don’t deserve any of it (and if we think we do deserve Christ’s forgiveness, we’re outside of the Kingdom entirely). This realization creates humility in the power of the Spirit and that humility helps make us patient and allows us to endure all kinds of things, especially from our brothers and sisters, just like healthy families endure all kinds of baloney for the sake of each other. We realize we are in the same boat, but we also realize we share a common destiny—reigning with Christ in God’s new world. None of us are equipped for that call! But we do not answer the call in our own power. We answer in the power of Christ and with the faith-driven knowledge that we are loved and forgiven; and because we are, we are called to the privilege of being part of God’s family. Like the power of the Christ’s cross, this power is not the kind the world recognizes, but it is the power of God nevertheless and it is a sign of God’s new world breaking in on us. Hear the minister of one of the bombed churches in Sri Lanka testify to this power: 

We are hurt. We are angry also, stated Zion’s senior pastor, Roshan Mahesen. But still—as the senior pastor…, the whole congregation, and every family affected—we say to the suicide bomber, and also to the group that sent the suicide bomber, We love you and we forgive you. No matter what you have done to us, we love you, because we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ [emphasis added].

Jesus Christ on the cross, [sic] said, Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing, said Mahesen. We also, who follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we say, for the Lord, forgive these people.

This is the power of God’s suffering love made known in a hate-filled world. It is new creation power based on Christ’s death and resurrection that announce our forgiveness and freedom from the corrupting powers of Sin, Evil, and Death. The world may scoff, but we dare not because this is our call, my beloved. God willing, we will never be bombed or shot up. But if we ever were, this must be our proclamation as well. Regardless of circumstance, we show the world Christ’s power by our generous love and care of each other, by patiently bearing each other’s foibles that irritate us and with which we disagree. We are gracious and humble with each other because we know we’ve been given the gift of eternal life and are greatly beloved by God despite our unloveliness.

This is the Easter Faith we are called to proclaim and live. This is the God we worship, the God who creates new things out of nothing and who raises the dead, the God who forgives us and heals us and equips us to love others and to embody his love, goodness, and justice to others, even when they don’t want any of it. This God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has sent his Son to restore us fully to himself and makes himself known to us in and through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the sacraments of baptism and holy Eucharist. Our worship of this God and his Lamb calls for us to celebrate and feast during this joyous season of Eastertide (are you partying like it’s the eschaton?), even as we love each other and forgive each other as well as a world that is hostile to us and to our crucified Lord. Come what may, let us resist our urge to fall back into our old ways. Instead, let us worship and serve Christ with joy and faithfulness all our mortal days because our present and future are secure in his great and healing love. 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. 

Fr. Santosh Madanu: Christians Must Obey God Rather than the Authority of Men

Sermon delivered on Easter 2C, Sunday, April 28, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 5.27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1.4-8; John 20.19-31.

Prayer:  Thank you Lord Jesus, for thinking of our generation and our challenges to believe in your resurrection and for offering us your blessings.  We thank you for the ways you minister to us at the Father’s right hand as our exalted Lord.  May we your church, demonstrate your compassion as we live as your presence in the world.  Amen.

One of the things I love about the Gospel of John is that we get to see Jesus specifically thinking about us, those who come after the generation of the apostles.  We believe, but without having seen.  We have to trust the testimony of those who did see.  We have to take their changed lives based on their conviction of Jesus Resurrection.  The resurrection was a moment in history for all the time.  When we profess Christ is risen, we acknowledge our faith in the eternal life with Him.

Jesus first words after resurrection were “Peace be with you”. This is most expensive value that no one can buy but is given to those who are humble to receive it.   Jesus came to give us this PEACE.  Every human being good search for peace in the heart and peace in the world.  One can be really happy when one enjoys true peace that come only from the Lord. Jesus is price of peace.  He wants us to have His peace.  From the resurrection of the Lord we need to know and believe that Jesus is alive and he wants us to be alive.  Jesus is Lord of peace and he wants us to have His peace. Jesus came to give us joy that world can’t give us.  With the Peace, Jesus is sending His apostles to be missionaries of the Good News all over the world.  Jesus sets them on fire to be instruments of peace and love.  

Verse 22 “and with that he breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit”

Please pay attention to the words of the Bible “breathing”.  This is exactly happened in the creation of the world. Genesis 2:11 God breathed over Adam and given him life.  Now Jesus as new Adam recreating new life into human.  No one can give us life but God.  Jesus indeed is true God.

Receive the Holy Spirit Jesus says.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are Piety, counsel, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, fortitude, and fear of the Lord.

The twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit we find in Galatians 5:22-23 like Charity (LOVE) joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, Gentleness, Faithfulness, Modesty, Self-control, and Chastity.

The gifts of Holy Spirit enabling the first disciples to establish heart to heart communication with the good news. They effectively proclaimed the gospel, shouting the truth, the cause of sin is sickness and death.  Thus changed the lives of many of course changed their own lives to be free from sin. 

Apostles going to all the nations with conviction to proclaim, Jesus risen from the grave. HE has authority to forgive sins and to raise the dead. Jesus is God indeed who forgave our sins and forgave sins many forever. This same authority and grace to forgive sins is given to the Apostles and to the church. Grace to forgive the sins is given on Easter to save sinners- to save us all.

The disciples cower in fear.  They locked themselves in the room but once they received the Holy Spirit they went about whole world in proclaiming the Gospel.  

Why does the world need Christian church?

Because despite of our constant efforts and examples to the contrary, we possess the power to bring peace to the world.  Peace through submission, through forgiveness and peace through service. Even though we experience anxiety and fear, we must remember that we are heir of grace and peace.

What is it for us?

The promise of resurrection at the end of time, and reality of reconciliation with God and other people here now.  Like the first disciples, we experience Jesus risen from the dead, freeing us from the fear of the death that will come at life’s end, and freeing us from all other worldly fears. Therefore let us experience this resurrected Jesus in our lives.

Let us reflect the words of St. Thomas “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

It is unfair to single out Thomas as the doubter because just about everyone who first heard about Jesus’ resurrection had their doubts.  Allow me to recall for you some of other doubters in those early hours after Jesus rose from the dead.  Consider the disciples themselves.  Listen to Luke 2:9-11 when (the women) came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the eleven and to all the others.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.  But THEY DID NOT BELIEVE THE WOMEN. The disciples doubted. Yet we don’t say and hear doubting Philip, doubting James etc.  Then there’s the two men on the road to Emmaus.  They walked with Jesus and spent the entire evening gut could not recognize him and they were so depressed and said in their own words .Luke24:19-24 “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  The chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.  And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. They felt that Jesus had let them down.

Let us reflect our own lives.  We spend time every day with people who doubt God’s grace, God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s mercy and God’s presence in our lives. In certain situations like my unborn son death shacked my faith.  I said to the Lord where shall I go, you are the one who gives life and who make the things new and make a way.

Have you ever doubted God’s goodness, God’s protection and God’s providence?  May be during the financial ruin. May be waiting for the test results on a serious health conditions…may be one of your friends death…..may be marriage fallen apart…..may be lost job  and may be sickness and so on.  We all have times when our faith is being shaken. Again we can learn from St. Thomas’s profession of faith saying MY LORD AND MY GOD. Thomas discovered, the resurrection is not just at the end of life but can be experienced in the midst of life.  Resurrected life is about life being restored, relationships reconciled and new life emerging out of disappointment. Life being enhanced and hope being fulfilled.  And believing Jesus Christ we will have life in His name.

From the Acts of the Apostle as we heard in today’s reading that priests, Sadducees arrested Peter and John for teaching the resurrection.  This is not the first time that the Council (Sanhedrin) required apostles to appear before it to defend their actions.   Just a short time ago, Peter healed a cripple beggar and then taught the assembled crowds about Jesus in Solomon’s portico. He told them that God had raised Jesus from the dead.  We hear (4:4) about five thousand people believed as a result of Peter’s preaching. (5000).

Peter and Joh responded after arrest, ‘’whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for your selves, for we cannot help telling the things which we saw and heard” (4: 19-20).  The council, not knowing what else to do, threatened them and released them.

When Peter and the apostles appeared before the council once again, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men.” (5:29) – and brief account of God exalting Jesus.  The council members were enraged and wanted to kill the apostles, but Gamaliel, a Pharisee, advised them to let the apostles alone, “for if this council or this work of men, it will be overthrown.  But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found to be fighting against God.” (5:38-39).

Dear friends, Peter makes it clear that when human authority is in conflict with Godly authority, Christians must obey God.

Prayer: Come Holy Spirit fill our hearts with fire of your love and enkindle in us the love of Jesus and your power to preach and teach the Gospel of life and love. And to heal and witness of the Resurrection of the Lord.   We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.

The Resurrection: Death Destroyed by the Power of God

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday C, April 21, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; Easter Anthems; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; Luke 24.1-12.

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

Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the greatest day in all history. Why do we believe this? Because Christ’s resurrection signals that death, our last and greatest enemy, will be destroyed. Yet many of us are skeptical about this central and foundational proclamation of our Christian faith. Why is that? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Earlier in the liturgy we exchanged the Easter Acclamation: Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. We will be acclaiming this historic truth throughout the fifty days of Easter and we can trace it back to the very beginning of the Church. But do you believe it? It seems that many folks today, church goers sadly included, have gotten the idea that they can’t believe in the Resurrection and be a sophisticated, smart person they style themselves to be. After all, dead people don’t come back to life. We all know that. Moreover, organized religion is getting an increasingly bad name. We read stories of clergy abuse and folly and so become skeptical of the story they are supposed to tell. We are told that the Christian faith is repressive, exclusive, and controlling. The cumulative effect of all this bad publicity and hostile thinking tends to make even the best of us a bit timid about proclaiming the central truth of our faith: that Jesus Christ, crucified, died and buried, has risen from the dead. We are reluctant to proclaim that only in Jesus Christ is there life and freedom from our slavery to Sin and Death because we will surely be accused of being fundies, intolerant of other faiths, reactionary, judgmental, and all sorts of other crimes against enlightened thinking and PC.

And it seems we are not alone in our unbelief. In our gospel lesson this morning we read that the women came to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning to anoint his dead body and we need to be very clear about what St. Luke is telling us. The women didn’t come to the tomb expecting to find a risen Lord. They came to the tomb, like we go visit the graves of our dead loved ones, expecting to find a corpse. Otherwise, why bring spices to delay the decay of death? There was no expectation of a resurrection. They weren’t prepared to sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today. There were only painful memories of his naked, bloody, mutilated, and pierced body being laid in the tomb that previous Friday. Even in the first century, everybody knew dead people don’t come back to life.

Now here they are at the tomb and become alarmed at finding it empty. Being “perplexed” is a poor translation of the Greek word apore?. Imagine if you went to visit the grave of your loved one and discovered his/her body was no longer there and you had no idea what happened to it. You would be more than “perplexed.” You would be alarmed, consternated, anxious. Their anxiety quickly turned into terror when they were confronted by two angels who asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead. Whatever could that mean? The angels then reminded the women that Jesus himself had told them—six times in Luke’s gospel to be exact—that he would be crucified and raised from the dead. The women remembered his words and only then apparently believed, even if they didn’t fully understand what had happened to Jesus, because they went back and reported it all to the disciples. The disciples in turn were skeptical because St. Luke reports that they considered the women’s report of an empty tomb to be utter nonsense. The English translation for “idle tale” understates the case as well. The Greek St. Luke uses means the story of someone who is either deliriously out of his mind in pain or who has lost all contact with reality. Like the women before their angelic encounter, Jesus’ closest friends did not expect that he would be found alive.

And here is where we dare not be timid in our proclamation of the Resurrection. We are often told that the Resurrection is unimaginable and impossible for humans to believe, and from a human perspective that is quite true. We can’t imagine the Resurrection because it is not within our power or realm. We can’t undo death and so we don’t look for the living among the dead. But the Resurrection is not about human power. It is about God’s power and God’s realm, the same God who created this vast universe out of nothing and who raises the dead (Romans 4.17). Many can’t imagine Jesus being raised from the dead because we are not God, much as we want to be. The women did not come to believe that Jesus was alive by their own power and accord. They didn’t believe until God revealed it to them through an angelic intervention and by being reminded of Jesus’ words found in Scripture. Likewise, the disciples didn’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead until God chose to reveal it to them as St. Luke makes clear in his poignant story of the two disciples’ encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus and Jesus’ encounter with the disciples later that day (Luke 24.13-48). St. Peter tells us the same thing in our NT lesson, attesting his belief in the Resurrection because God’s intervention made it known to him.

Here’s the point. The first disciples didn’t come to believe on their own or by their own thinking. They didn’t have that in their intellectual or experiential matrix. No human does. They came to believe because God chose to reveal his risen Son to them and by reminding them that Christ’s death and resurrection were predicted in the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread. If you are wavering in your resurrection faith because you have never encountered the risen Christ in the manner the first disciples did (no one living has), pay attention to these stories (stories as history, not fiction). Apart from a personal encounter with the risen Christ, the same means of knowing him are available to you, just as they were to the first disciples (I can’t say first witnesses because nobody witnessed the Resurrection). So if your faith is tepid, instead of blaming God for that or trying to look sophisticated to a world that can only offer death, perhaps look at your own house first to see if you are really availing yourself to God’s power contained in God’s Word, the sacrament of Holy Communion and made available to you in the presence of the Holy Spirit. When you do, you will discover (or rediscover) why today is the greatest day in all history. By the grace of God you will have discovered the real power of God.

This is what happened to St. Paul. There was no more vehement scoffer than St. Paul was before his encounter with the risen Christ. Despite the pressures he faced (like we do) and the persecution and great suffering he endured for his Lord’s sake, St. Paul never wavered or was intimidated in his bold proclamation that God the Father had raised Jesus Christ from the dead. We see it in our epistle lesson where the apostle found disbelief and muddled thinking about the Resurrection in the church at Corinth. Why are you saying stupid stuff like Christ has not been raised from the dead? If Christ has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is futile and you are still a slave to the power of Sin and your destiny is death. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection showed him to be God’s Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. If God did not raise Christ from the dead, then Jesus was just another lunatic and all that stuff about atonement and forgiveness is nonsense. We would still be God’s enemies and remain under God’s terrible judgment. And if that’s true, our faith is based on a lie and we are to be pitied most of all because we will still suffer as Christians always have for our faith. 

But, proclaims St. Paul, Christ has been raised from the dead just as God always planned, to heal and restore his sin-sick world and human creatures. The resurrection has already begun when God raised Christ from the dead. This is what St. Paul meant when he referred to Jesus’ resurrection as the first fruits. Christ had to be raised first before those who belong to him because only in Christ do we find life. This had been God’s plan and intention all along. Christ had to die for us because we are all enslaved by the power of Sin and our sin leads to death. As we read last night at the Vigil, our first ancestors got us kicked out of paradise because of their rebellion and their sin-sickness has infected everyone ever since. There’s something desperately wrong with the world and our lives and all but the most delusional know it in our bones. Want examples? Consider the heartbreaking stories of those on our prayer list. Or just ask anyone who is growing old if life’s a picnic, or a desperately lonely young person with no hope of finding companionship, or the family whose child is a drug addict and who lives in constant danger of relapsing and dying, or the person who struggles with a disease that very well may kill her but not before ravaging her body and afflicting her with pain. There may be pockets of happiness and of course the arrogance of youth that lives in a state of perpetual denial of the reality of things, but this is what happens when we live in a world cursed by Sin and enslaved by the powers of Evil. This is what Paul meant when he spoke of death coming through one man (Adam). If Christ has not been raised from the dead, this is the world we are condemned to live in forever. But in raising Christ first, and because Jesus is fully human, God signaled his intention to destroy the powers that corrupt and dehumanize us and lead to death. Because God has annihilated death when he raised Jesus and because Jesus has destroyed the power of Sin over us and freed us from God’s just condemnation of our sins on the cross, those of us who have a real relationship with the risen Lord and really believe God raised him from the dead are made alive because we will share the same destiny as our risen Savior. For those who don’t have a relationship with Christ, only God’s fierce judgment and death awaits. 

But we wait our turn to be raised. For those who have died believing that Jesus really is the Son of God whom God raised from the dead, they too will share in his resurrection when he returns to finish the work he started. Why this has to be a two step process, we aren’t told. We have to accept it as God’s wisdom at work as we muse on his power. In his eloquent and emotional sermon on Good Friday, Father Bowser spoke of spiritual warfare being waged and won on the cross. Here we see St. Paul speak in similar way. He makes the most astonishing claim that the fruits of Christ’s resurrection will become so far-reaching that it will actually bring about the end of history as we know it and allow Christ to consummate the Father’s kingdom by destroying all the dark powers of Evil and ultimately the final evil of death. Elsewhere, St. Paul sums it up like this: 

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

And make no mistake, despite our denial of death and our frantic efforts to avoid it at all costs, it is our ultimate enemy. Our neighbor’s 49 year old son died suddenly of blood clots in his lungs last week, one day shy of his 50th birthday. He had just fallen in love with a woman. The two were planning on getting married and having a future together along with his fiancé’s two daughters. Now he is dead and the family is devastated, heartbroken beyond repair. Or consider the memorial of the Columbine massacre yesterday. The families who lost loved ones that terrible day have been changed forever. There is nothing in this world that is going to make any of this right, no memorials, no celebration of life, no flowers or sympathy offered. Nothing. The only thing that can make this right is the resurrection of the body.

Here again we must be crystal clear in our thinking and bold in our proclamation about the Resurrection. We are talking about dead bodies being raised to a new and transformed life patterned after our Lord’s. His raised body had characteristics of his mortal body. His wounds were visible and he could eat and drink. He talked with his disciples and cooked them breakfast. He could be touched, seen, and heard. But his body also had new characteristics. He could appear suddenly behind locked doors and disappear just as suddenly. He wasn’t always recognizable. But he had a body nevertheless. When St. Paul proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ, he and the other NT writers weren’t talking about life after death or some disembodied state. Neither were they talking about Jesus dying and going to heaven or arguing that he had an immortal soul or that he existed in some spiritualized state about which the disciples eventually became aware. They weren’t interested in any of that baloney because this did not reflect the reality of God’s power in Christ. His mortal body had been raised and transformed, i.e., they were talking about new bodily life. That’s why there was an empty tomb. That’s why the women were chastised for seeking the living among the dead

And if we understand the whole narrative of Scripture that tells us how God is going about rescuing his sin-ravaged world and its people, the resurrection of the body ought to make perfect sense to us. God didn’t create us as spirits. God created us with a body to house our soul and our bodies are what make us human. So why wouldn’t God recreate our bodies in the manner he created us in the first place? Bodies matter to God and they should matter to us. They allow us to develop deep relationships with each other. We can talk to each other, hold each other, procreate and enjoy sexual intimacy in the context of married life. Think about the patterns of your best beloved and how you would miss those patterns terribly if that person were dead because those bodily patterns helped make the person present to you. That is why death cannot finally be destroyed until Christ returns and raises those of us who belong to him back to new bodily life. While those we love who have died in Christ are with him in heaven, they are still dead. Their bodies lie mouldering in the grave and we cannot talk to them or see them or touch them or feel their warmth. 

Not so when Christ returns to raise the dead to new life. Only then will we be reunited with our loved ones and really have them back, never to worry about losing them again. Death will be destroyed. Can you imagine anything more wonderful than this? On the contrary, we can scarcely begin to imagine it, for it does not come from human imagination but from God. All our sins wiped away, all evil done to death forever, the devil and his minions destroyed, our loved ones restored to us, all the injustices and wrongs of human history made right in a new heavens and earth. These things are neither humanly possible or religiously possible. But nothing is impossible for God. The Resurrection proclaims that everything is new! Changed! Our sinfulness exchanged for his righteousness, our mortality for his immortality, our sorrow for his joy, our bondage for his freedom, and our deteriorating human body for an altogether transformed one that will be impervious to death, disease, aging, and deformity, a body that will be our very own and no one else’s, a body with which to love others and be loved in return with all the love of Christ himself. This is the hope and power of Easter, my beloved. Is it your hope and power? If it is, nothing in this world can rob you of the joy (not happiness) that must accompany your resurrection faith because you know that while mortal death awaits, it has been swallowed up in life, all by the love and mercy and power of God. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified, died, and raised from the dead. 

I promise you this. On my watch here, you will not hear a tepid, half-baked, human-oriented or over-spiritualized (gnostic) gospel preached, despite the fact that we have Fathers Sang, Bowser, and Madanu on staff, nor will St. Augustine’s be ashamed of the gospel, despite the fact that we are a quirky bunch of ragamuffins. We worship and proclaim a God who creates new things out of nothing and who raises the dead. This God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has sent his Son to restore us fully to himself and makes himself known to us in and through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the God we proclaim and love, and this is what makes today the greatest day in history. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! (Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!) Alleluia!

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

Fr. Ric Bowser: Good Friday: The Decisive Battle of Spiritual Warfare

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, April 19 , 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Bowser believes the word is mightier than the pen, or something like that. The result is that there is no written manuscript of tonight’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast of tonight’s excellent sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52-13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18-19.

Fr. Philip Sang: A New Mandate

Sermon delivered on Maundy Thursday, April 18, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang’s writing skills have deteriorated and he has no written manuscript. He has been hanging around Father Bowser too much. To listen to the audio podcast of tonight’s sermon click here.

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

Recognizing Our Visitation

Sermon delivered on Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) C, April 14, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Luke 19.28-40; Psalm 118.1-2, 19-29; Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31. 9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Luke 22.14-23.56.

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

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

Now if you are wondering whether I am going to preach the equivalent of two sermons  since there are effectively two liturgies, you can relax. While there is much to plumb in our lessons, time does not permit me to give them the full attention they deserve. If I did, you would likely run out of patience and I would likely run out of stamina, despite the fact that I love hearing myself talk. My brilliant preaching would also overshadow Father Sang’s and Father Bowser’s mediocre and lackluster sermons on Holy Thursday and Good Friday respectively and steal their thunder, and I certainly don’t need them being all pouty and whiny with me this week, so we will only focus on a few key points in our lessons on which to reflect as we enter Holy Week. On a more serious note, I am aware of my sacred obligation to preach God’s word faithfully this morning because as Isaiah reminds us in our OT lesson, faithful preaching of God’s word sustains the weary, you and me.

To understand the dramatic turn of events from the hope and promise of our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the desolation of his passion, we need to read what St. Luke tells us immediately after reporting Christ’s coming to Jerusalem. Hear the evangelist now:

But as [Jesus] came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes…because you did not recognize it when God visited you” (Luke 19.41-42, 44).

Did you catch the last sentence? You did not recognize it when God visited you. Our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem clearly signaled his intention to announce that he was (and is) Israel’s Messiah and ours. Acting out the prophecy contained in Zechariah 9.9 that spoke of the Messiah coming to Jerusalem on a donkey, the animal of choice for Israel’s kings, and choosing Passover, the time of God’s liberation of his people, to come to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, Jesus signaled that he believed himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. That in itself is not problematic and many people might have recognized the symbolism of Christ’s actions. So why did our Lord lament that his people did not recognize his coming? Because almost nobody expected the Messiah to be God himself. Rather, they expected the promised Messiah to be a human king and a conquering warrior who would drive out the hated goyim from their land, cleanse the Temple, and establish God’s rule. Jesus certainly did cleanse the Temple and pronounce God’s judgment on it, but he emphatically did not enter Jerusalem as a warrior to establish God’s kingdom. Instead, he was faithful to Zechariah’s prophecy, “Look, your king is coming to you…triumphant and victorious…yet he is humble, riding on a donkey…” (Zechariah 9.9b-emphasis added). Conquering heroes are rarely humble and war is rarely the way to peace. Our Lord indeed came to conquer and establish peace, but the enemy was not who his people expected and the way he would conquer his enemies was certainly not expected or even wanted. Even today, many of us who call ourselves Christian fail to recognize how God does business.

Like our Lord’s contemporaries, we want God to conquer by shock and awe, or to use biblical language, we want God to conquer with a mighty arm and outstretched hand to obliterate his enemies, who usually just happen to be our own enemies. After all, if God really is omnipotent, why mess around with evil in the world? If God really is all powerful, why not just wipe out the enemy and rule justly with an iron fist? Let’s face it, we like our mighty warriors and conquering heroes and not many of us count a crucified Messiah as one of those persons. In fact, we think quite the opposite. That is why St. Paul and the other NT writers speak about the cross as being a scandal and off-putting to people. In other words, we don’t recognize when God visits us because we are looking for the wrong things. Is it not ironic that Jesus pronounced creation’s recognition of him as Christ in the stones crying out but that God’s image-bearers couldn’t or wouldn’t recognize our only hope for peace and the good life? The disciples didn’t recognize God’s coming to them in weakness and humility as they argued who was the greatest on the very night Christ gave them and us the Holy Eucharist to explain his impending suffering and death. St. Peter didn’t recognize God’s coming to him when he boasted arrogantly that he would never deny his Lord, only to do so three times and weeping bitterly afterwards at his own failure. Judas failed to recognize God’s coming to him when he betrayed our Lord for a pittance of money. Neither did the Jewish religious leaders or Pilate or Herod recognize God’s presence in their midst when they mocked, humiliated, spat on, beat, and scourged our Lord. Neither did the crowds recognize God’s coming to them when they called for Pilate to condemn Jesus while insisting that he release a known murderer and terrorist. 

Nor do we recognize God’s coming to us when we buy into the alternative stories that our culture insists make for peace, or when we lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, pursue our own selfish interests, overlook (or ignore) injustices of all kinds, speak evilly of our neighbors and friends, not to mention our enemies, gossip and backbite, betray the confidence and trust of our brothers and sisters to pursue our own agendas, refuse to forgive those who wrong us, or ever admit we are wrong, all the while calling ourselves Christian and claiming to pick up our cross. We especially fail to recognize God’s coming among us when we arrogantly try to make ourselves equal with God by refusing to submit to his ways and will, instead pursuing vigorously our own will and fallen desires, and by minimizing the gravity of sin, excusing all kinds of bizarre and immoral behaviors in the name of tolerance and love and trying in vain to justify our own ungodly and immoral behaviors because deep down we believe that in the final analysis it really doesn’t matter to God and/or that God will forgive us because, well, we’re good people—unlike those who are truly evil—and God has to forgive us. Doing so denigrates what God has done for us in Christ and effectively calls God a liar. The creature pronounces judgment on the Creator. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we set ourselves up as self-righteous judges over others or that we shouldn’t be gracious to those who pursue false lifestyles, or that we should not forgive those who truly wrong us, whether or not they repent of their sin against us. We must do so because that is what God has done for us in Christ. What I am suggesting is that if we are to recognize God’s presence among us, we must see God for who God has revealed himself to be in the Old and New Testaments. 

And who is that God? He is an all-powerful God to be sure. Just ask the Egyptians who followed God’s people into the Red Sea at the Exodus (Exodus 14) or just look at the starry host and be amazed at the incomprehensible size, beauty, and power of the universe that God created out of nothing. Just ask the first disciples who encountered the risen Christ that first Easter Sunday. Nothing is too hard or impossible for God (Jeremiah 32.17; Romans 4.17). But as all our lessons this morning proclaim, God often shows his power in weakness and humility and here we must keep in mind the overarching story of Scripture. That story is about how a good God is going about restoring his good creation and creatures from the ravages of Sin and Evil. We’re all familiar with this story because we are confronted with the consequences of Sin and Evil, both ours and others, every day; and in dealing with the darkness of Sin and Evil we often fail to recognize God’s presence among us because we look for strength, not weakness. We see loved ones suffer and die. We deal with all kinds of hurt and heartache. We see the world in which we live becoming increasingly chaotic and we wonder why God has failed to act or where God is in it all. 

What we fail to account for, however, is God’s word that reveals at least a partial answer to our “why” questions. Before we look at this, however, let us acknowledge that some of our most profound “why” questions do not have answers this side of the grave. Perhaps they never will. We aren’t told, for example, why a good and loving God allows the power of Evil to operate in his world and that can be extremely disconcerting to those of us afflicted by Evil. What Scripture reveals to us, especially in the NT, is what God is doing about Evil. The short answer, as both Isaiah and St. Paul proclaim in our lessons, is that God has chosen to defeat the dark powers of Evil and Sin and to conquer death in and through human weakness and utter humility.The gospels tell us this in story and the epistle writers of the NT interpret that story for us, as, e.g., St. Paul does when he tells us that God became human so God could condemn our sin in the flesh and free us from its tyranny (Romans 8.1-4). We struggle to believe this story and the NT’s interpretation of it because life is not always so cut and dried. We are promised that on the cross Sin and Evil have been conquered, but we see both running rampant in the world and often in our own lives. Like the cynical criminal on the cross, we are tempted to chide Christ and berate him for not saving us when he already has. St. Luke tells us as much when he tells us the curtain in the Temple that separated the holy of holies—God’s space from the rest of the Temple space that none but the high priest could enter and then only once a year because of the corrupting presence of human sin—was torn in two. In telling us this, St. Luke is telling us that Christ’s death opened the way for us to live in God’s holy presence forever. You want peace with God? Christ’s death is the only way you’ll ever have it. But we don’t believe this. We focus on all that’s wrong with the world and us and conclude God hasn’t addressed the problem of Evil or is indifferent to our suffering. We fail to see Jesus, God become human, weeping over the sins of his people, as he rides into Jerusalem and sees that his people (us included) have failed to recognize that he has come there to die for their sins (and ours), just as the Scriptures said he would, so that we all will be free from Sin’s enslaving tyranny and God’s terrible condemnation of our sins that results in our death (Romans 8.1). We fail to recognize God’s healing presence among us in the person and power of the Holy Spirit, a presence that is only made possible by the sacrificial and atoning death of Jesus Christ. We want to discount all this, in part, because we delude ourselves into thinking that we can make ourselves right by following the rules so that we don’t need Christ’s blood shed for us. We couldn’t be more wrong because we are utterly sin-infested and without the ability to heal ourselves. Without Christ’s blood shed for us, we all remain under the terrible judgment of God with no hope of reprieve. When we fail to see God’s presence among us: naked, utterly scourged and humiliated, dying on a cross, bearing God’s just wrath on our sins so that we could live, we have rejected God’s gift to us—and God’s way of saving us.

But for those of us who by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, recognize the power of the cross to save and heal and forgive and make life possible, no matter how imperfect our recognition, no matter how wicked and voluminous our sins, we have a real hope and promise, just like the dying thief who did recognize God’s presence in his midst, and therefore we have a real future, no matter how dark our present or imperfect our lives. We also find real peace because our alienation from God is ended forever. We have this hope, this peace, and this future not because of who we are but because who God is. This is the power of Holy Week’s story. It is the power and wisdom of God.

Whether you are someone who clearly recognizes the presence of God among us or struggles to believe the promise or even wants to believe, even though you currently don’t, that God has visited us in Christ to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and make us his own, then Holy Week is for you because when you immerse yourself in the story and become part of it, you will find the Lord’s blessing in it and the path to true freedom and real transformation, however imperfectly that might look to you and others. Come therefore 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! With that in mind, come and venerate the cross on Good Friday as you ponder and contemplate the presence of God among us in the death of his Son for your sake and the sake of the world. Such contemplation demands silence, desolation, humility, and honest confession that your sins and mine are also responsible for the godforsaken death of our Lord. Was there ever any suffering like our Lord’s (and if you answer yes to this question, there’s a good chance you don’t really understand the magnitude of what happened on Good Friday!)? Grieve with his first followers as they laid his crucified and dead body in the tomb with no expectation of Easter Sunday. Holy Saturday is the time to do just that, culminating with the Easter Vigil and the reading of the story of God’s salvation on Saturday evening. It simply won’t do to observe any of this from afar. It’s as unedifying as listening to one of Fr. Madanu’s sermons. 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. So let none of us be too hasty to celebrate the great Paschal Feast next Sunday without first pondering and agonizing and reflecting on the great and astonishing love of God that flows from God’s very heart as it was pierced by a Roman soldier’s spear, a saving love poured out for you and your salvation. To be sure, this isn’t a pretty or fun thing to do or contemplate. But if you commit yourself to walking with Jesus this Holy Week it will change you in ways you cannot imagine or envision, and for the good. It will change you because it is the Good News of our salvation, now and for all eternity. May we all observe a blessed Holy Week together as God’s people at St. Augustine’s. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Dr. Jonathon Wylie: Christ is Greater: Lenten Repentance Toward Rightly Ordered Affections

Sermon delivered on Lent 5C, Sunday, April 7, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Ps 73:25-26

Dear friends of Jesus Christ,

The lines I just quoted are from Ps 73. They express the psalmist’s complete satisfaction in God to the point that “there is nothing on earth that [he] desires besides God.” The question I want to put before you is whether that is also your prayer. Do you delight in the Lord? Does he satisfy you? Or are there things that, if we’re being totally honest, stand ahead of him? What do you really, actually prize? Are your affections rightly ordered?

As you know, this is the 5th week of the season of Lent. I want to suggest that the arrangement of your affections is the fundamental issue of Lent. How is that? Lent is a season of self-evaluation and pruning leading to repentance and holiness. That’s why we “give stuff up.” We give things up for Lent not simply because we think a little self-deprivation is good, though it is, but because in giving things up we strip away whatever stands in the way of Christ and our affection for him. In Lent we put into practice what the author of Hebrews exhorted us to do when he said “Let us strip off every impediment and every controlling sin, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking to Jesus” (Heb 12:1). “Giving stuff up” is a means to an end, which is to focus ourselves on a better, truer, lovelier, holier affection, which is Christ. So, again I ask, What, or Whom, do you cherish? And does your your daily life corroborate your answer – how you use your time, your resources, your talents, your imagination, how you treat your family, your neighbor, the poor, the resources of Creation? What would it look like if we, individually and collectively, truly cherished Jesus above all else?

Today’s epistle and the gospel readings give us a glimpse of that might be like. For Mary and for Paul, Christ is everything. He is all surpassing in worth. The thing – the One – than which no greater can be imagined. So let’s consider at how Mary and Paul express their affections for Christ, and perhaps even more importantly, what undergirds their love for him. Whydo Mary and Paul deem Jesus so worthy of their devotion?

Phil 3:4-14

 In our epistle lesson from Philippians 3, we hear the clearest and most heartfelt proclamation of Paul’s devotion to Christ of all his letters. He begins “If another person thinks they have reason to be confident for worldly reasons, I have more” (Phil 3:4). He then runs out his résumé backing that sentence up:

  • He’s a child of the covenant of Abraham, circumcised at 8 days old.
  • He is a man of pedigree: A man of the chosen people of God, of the tribe of Benjamin; a Hebrew among Hebrews.
  • He’s a religious man: A Pharisee, a man who followed the law scrupulously and blamelessly.
  • He’s a zealous man: A persecutor of the church.

A résumé doesn’t get better than that in the context of 1stcentury AD Judaism. In a system in which one’s worth is determined by personal merit, by personal pedigree and achievement, that is top of the line.

But look at what he says next: “Whatever was a (worldly) “gain” to me, I have considered these things a loss because of Christ. (8) Indeed, I consider all things to be a loss because of the surpassing thing, which is the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:7-8a). In a world of profits and losses, Paul doesn’t just think of his pedigree and merits as neutral; in comparison with Christ, he considers them to be damages, disadvantages, losses. They move things in the wrong direction. So these things that, in the worldly systems of 1stcentury Judaism would have made Paul regarded as an elite and accomplished Jew, he rejects because they are precisely the thing that keeps him from the thing – or rather, the person – who is altogether surpassing in value.

As Paul continues, he emphasizes his point, saying “I have endured the loss of all things. In fact, I consider them rubbish so that I may gain Christ and be found in him”(v. 8b-9a). Paul considers all his achievements and accolades as rubbish! Trash, spoiled leftovers, manure; smelly, filthy, and vile. In a worldly economy, Paul’s resume is first-rate. In an economy where Christ is supreme, where Christ is all in all, whatever does not incline us toward him is for the dumpster or commode.

That purpose clause at the end of v. 8 is very important. Paul counts his pedigree and merits as rubbish so that he might gain Christ and be found in him. The key to getting Christ is disregarding all tokens of personal worthiness. The issue isn’t that the things Paul surrenders are bad or wicked in their own right. There is nothing implicitly wrong with being an Israelite or a Pharisee or a keeper of the law. These things become problematic when they hinder one from Christ, as they did for Paul. Paul rightly saw that no human resume, indeed no thing in the world, was better than Christ. To get Christ, Paul deemed all else worthless.

This is very costly devotion, isn’t it? Would you renounce your education if it hindered you from Christ? Would you renounce your citizenship? Your proudest achievements? What undergirds a discipleship that is so costly? It is nothing but Jesus’ prior love for Paul, which Paul intimately knows.

John 12:1-8

As I reflected on today’s gospel passage over the last week or so, I came to see it as a really beautiful passage. As we heard, Mary anoints the feet of Jesus with a very costly perfume and then proceeds to wipe his feet with her hair.

This is not your run-of-the-mill gift. It’s a gift fit for a king. John tells us that this perfume was “pure nard.” The nard plant is not native to the Middle East; it comes from India. So this ointment would have been imported from very far away, which means it was very rare and very expensive. According to Judas, Mary’s ointment could have been sold for 300 denarii. Just to give you a sense for what kind of number that is: A denarius was the going wage for a day of manual labor in 1stcentury Palestine, so 300 denarii would be equal to roughly a year’s income for an average laborer, factoring in days off for the sabbaths, holidays, and so forth. Imagine putting your entire annual salary into the offering plate, and that’s something along the lines of Mary’s gift to Jesus.

Actually, though, hers is still more than that, because it isn’t as if she simply handed Jesus a bag of coins and said “this is my offering.” It isn’t just that Mary’s gift is high in value, it’s the way she gave it. This is a gift from the heart. You can envisioned her there: down on the floor, wiping his dirty feet with her hair. She displays an attitude of humility before Jesus that flows from a heart full of love and devotion. This is a bold act of service and humility. It should be noted, by the way, that foot-washing was not a dignifying activity in the ancient world, any more than it is now. Feet are gross, especially feet that travel dirt roads in sandals. I dare say that even Jesus’ feet were gross. Foot-washing was a servant’s job. Of course, this makes it all the more significant that in the next chapter (John 13) Jesus will be the one doing the foot-washing.

Why does Mary treat Jesus in this manner? This is a profound act of love; Mary makes very much of Jesus in this passage. Why? The answer, I think, is that Mary knows who Jesus truly is. Not only that, Mary has experienced Jesus’ own love for her, which has drawn her into reciprocal, imitative love. Let me explain what I mean, focusing for a moment on John 12:1.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”

 John 12:1 is the kind of verse that is very easy to mistake as more or less insignificant background material. Actually, verse 1 is critical to understanding Mary’s act of anointing Jesus, for two reasons.

First, John’s brief chronological note telling us that Jesus arrived in Bethany 6 days before the Passover is of profound importance. Why? Because John is reminding us where Jesus is headed and who Jesus really is. Where is Jesus headed? To the cross. Why? Because he is the end-all-be-all, once-and-for-all Passover Lamb. Whenever you see a reference to Passover in the NT, especially in John’s gospel, your mind should instantly go to Good Friday. That’s because Jesus is the Passover sacrifice, crucified on the eve of Passover to take away the sins of the world (John 19:14-19; cf. John 1:29, 36; 1 Cor 5:7). Mary, of course, knows this. She’s heard Jesus’ teaching. She knows what he’s about to do. Tomorrow, Jesus will enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to shouts of praise. Five days later, he, the Lamb of God, will be slaughtered on the alter of the cross, making a just and perfect atonement for Mary’s sin, for my sin, for your sin. John knows this. We know this. So does Mary. And she cherishes him for it, so she loves him and serves him as the lamb of God who is about to die by anointing him with sweet-smelling perfume in preparation for his burial.

That’s one reason why Mary makes so much of Jesus – indeed, an important reason. There is a second, also referenced in 12:1. Let’s look there again:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”

 Did you catch the second half of that verse? “…Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.” It is impossible to grasp Mary’s affection for Jesus in John 12 without reference to John 11, which  tells the story of how Lazarus fell ill and died, how is sisters Mary and Martha mourned his death, how Lazarus was in the tomb for 4 days, and how on the fourth day Jesus arrived from the other side of the Jordan and called Lazarus out from the tomb. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25), and no one knows that better than Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. So, a second reason why Mary pours out such affection for Jesus here in John 12 is the fact that she knows that Jesus is the Lord of life, the author of life, the restorer of life, the one who raises people from the dead. She has seen it first hand in her brother, whom Jesus brought forth from the tomb.

Parenthetically, I think here of that beautiful verse we read every year on Easter Sunday from Isa 25:8, which says that God will swallow up death forever and he will wipe away the tear from every face. Mary gets that because she saw Jesus overcome death, and she experienced the comfort that only the Lord of the Resurrection can give. Happy are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted by Jesus. That’s Mary. That’s all of us who put our hope in the Resurrection.

Now, let me pause right here to bring us into the story. If you are in Christ through faith and baptism, you are in this scene too. What do I mean? If you are baptized, then there is a way in which you are Lazarus. You have died a spiritual death to be resurrected to new spiritual life. If you are in Christ, then you have been crucified with him so that you might rise with him. If you are in Christ, then you have denied yourself, taken up your cross, and followed Christ all the way to Golgotha – walking the humble way of the cross with the promise of resurrection. In this sense, all Christians are Lazarus – having been raised from the dead by Christ; and all Christians are Mary and Martha – rejoicing in the resurrection of our beloved brothers and sisters. Jesus Christ is in the business of raising the dead. He is the resurrection and the life, not just for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, but for all the saints past, present, and future. And that includes each of us.

The question is, What kind of response is appropriate for the one who takes away sin, who is stronger than Death, who brings people back to life? You’re looking at in John 12, with Mary kneeling over Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair. If Mary’s gesture in John 12 does not resonate with you at all, let me suggest that you don’t know who Jesus is, or at any rate, you have not grasped who he is for you, what he has done for you, the love he has first shownto you.

Application and Conclusion

You know as well as I do that we live in an age of pandemic cultural discontentment and dissatisfaction. People always want more – more money, more education, more clothes, more toys, more power, more glory/honor/prestige. Just 5 minutes of commercials will show you that this is basically true. The irony is that we also live in an age of too much. We already have too much stuff, too much to do, too many places to be, too many meetings, too much work, too many practices, too many extra-curriculars, too many obligations that keep us from the things that really, truly matter.

The antidote to that is to make much of Christ. Make him king. Make him first. And everything else falls into place. Because when Christ is king of your life then you know who you are, and you know what is important. You will take your place in the Kingdom of Christ and dedicate yourself to loving him and serving him, especially by loving the things he loves.

So, who is Christ to you? Is he your source? Your joy? Your prize? The focus of your love and devotion?

Or is he something less than that? Is he for you a ticket to a social club or status? Is he merely a means to an end? Is he just interesting, a good moral teach but functionally not much more? I should tell you, Jesus hates lukewarm devotion; it’s an insult to him. If you know him, the worst thing you can do is be iffy on him (Rev 3:15-17). Either he is Lord and King or he is not. And if he is, then consider him so.

So again I ask you, do you delight in Christ? Is he the object of your affections? Does your life – in thought, word, and deed – show that he is worthy? To help you answer that question, let me say again that if Christ is your chief affections, then your subsequent affections will be toward the things that Christ loves.

Jesus loves the Father. How is your prayer life?

Jesus loves Scripture. Are you feasting on the word of God?

Jesus loves holiness. Are you repenting of your sin, striving to become more like him?

Jesus loves his poor neighbor. Do you?

Jesus loves his lonely neighbor. Do you?

Jesus loves his confused neighbor. Do you?

Jesus loves children, these children. Do you?

Having been one himself, Jesus loves the foreigner, immigrants and refugees. Do you?

Jesus loves the mission of God to redeem the word with the good news of salvation by faith. Are you playing your part in that mission? The Spirit has equipped you for it.

Jesus loves the fatherless, the abandoned and neglected, those who are vulnerable in the world. Do you?

Jesus loves the Church, his living body on earth. Do you love the Church, in spite of its imperfections?

I will close with this: As you come to the table in a few minutes, don’t just go through the motions. Be mindful of what you’re doing. We call it communionfor a reason, which is that we believe that we fellowship with the risen Christ in the bread and wine. So as you eat this meal, eat it with gratitude and with mindfulness of the one with whom you dine. Cherish it. Think upon the one whose flesh you eat and whose blood you drink.

Now to him who sits upon the throne, and to Christ the lamb, be praise and worship, dominion and splendor, now and forever more. Amen.