Father Santosh Madanu: Go Be The Light of Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ disciples will prevent moral decay in the world.

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

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

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

You are salt and you are light.

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

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

You are salt.

You are light.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Santosh Madanu: The Blessing of Candles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we know our salvation?

How can we know the promises of God being fulfilled?

How does God reward His faithful?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colossians 2.13-15, 20a, NLT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Servant’s Servants

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2A, Sunday, January 19, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 49.1-7; Psalm 40.1-11; 1 Corinthians 1.1-9; St. John 1.29-42.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Ric Bowser: What Do You Expect?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meditations on the Incarnation by Select Church Fathers and Doctors

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

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

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

Behold a new and wondrous mystery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now hear this word from St. Athanasius.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 8.3 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

Father Ric Bowser: The Spirit of Christmas

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

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

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

Peering Into the Darkness: The Hope of Advent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deacon Jonathon Wylie: Preparing for the Kingdom

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

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

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