Father Jonathon Wylie: Christ and His Kingdom

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday A, November 22, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie is trying to save the forests and steadfastly refuses to offer a written manuscript of his sermon. To listen to the audio podcast of it, click here. The first 5 minutes of the sermon were not recorded, not because Father Wylie’s preaching was particularly bad but because the tech person in charge is a doofus. ?

Lectionary texts: Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1.15-23; Matthew 25.31-46.

The Day of the Lord’s a Good Thing?

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Advent A, November 15, 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 text: Zephaniah 1.7, 12-18; Psalm 90; 1 Thessalonians 5.1-1; Matthew 25.14-30.

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

If you’ve looked at the sermon’s title and are wondering if I have lost what is left of my rapidly dwindling mind, especially in light of our readings this morning, no I haven’t. We are currently in the season of Kingdomtide, that four week period of time in November between All-Saints’ Sunday and Advent Sunday. The focus of Kingdomtide is, well, on the coming Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven with King Jesus ruling God’s creation unmistakably and unambiguously. Kingdomtide is a pre-Advent season of sorts. Advent, you recall, is the season of four Sundays leading up to Christmas, with its focus on the return of our Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory to raise the dead and renew all things in heaven and earth. We get a sample of this in our readings for today and this is what I want us to focus on. How can we possibly view the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord, the coming day of God’s wrath and judgment on all that corrupts and kills God’s good creation and creatures as a good thing? I will try to make my comments brief and to the point to counteract Father Wylie’s rather, um, robust sermon from last week.

Advent and the season leading up to it, Kingdomtide—formerly one season of Advent, the length of which rivaled the season of Lent—is a season of darkness. The days are shorter, the weather turns colder along with our moods—this year greatly exacerbated by COVID—and the lectionary acknowledges all this by turning to some of the more troubling passages of Scripture (troubling at least for most of us). In both the Old and NTs, the message is crystal clear: God will judge all that is wrong with his world. In both testaments, this is called the Day of the Lord. We see it clearly in our OT and psalm lessons this morning and if you are like me, that Day terrifies me. Now most of us, in our good myopic fashion, are all about having God execute his judgment and wrath on those we dislike or disagree. Serves ‘em right, we say. But we are not so keen on God’s judgment when it comes to falling on us or our friends or tribe. But nowhere in Scripture do we read that we get to dictate on whom God’s judgment falls. That is for God alone to decide. Nowhere do we read that we are exempt from God’s judgment, not even in the NT (cf. 2 Cor 5.10; Rm 14.10)! No, the Day of the Lord, awful as it will be, will fall on every one of us, not just our enemies. 

This is where the terror comes in for me because I know my own fallen heart. I know my own willful disobedience toward God, my own selfishness, my own willfulness, my own transgressions, and they are legion. And if you are honest with yourself, you will admit that for yourself as well. No one is exempt from God’s terrible judgment on our sins and the dark powers behind them. So why would anyone in their right mind, Christians included, actually want the great and dreadful Day of the Lord to come? To answer that question, we turn to St. Paul in our epistle lesson. There he tells us that, “God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (1 Thess 5.9-11). How are we to resolve the apparent contradiction of St. Paul’s logic with the logic of the Day of the Lord?

St. Paul gives us the answer, of course: Jesus Christ. Before we look at this, it is important that we think wisely, humbly, and faithfully about the Day of the Lord and God’s wrath and judgment. For those who refuse to make room for God and acknowledge his order by living wisely and humanly, i.e., as his image-bearing creatures who reflect God’s wisdom and beauty and goodness out into all creation over which we are called to rule, the Day of the Lord will truly be great and dreadful because they, like the rest of us, have failed to live as God calls us to live, and in the process their sin, along with the powers of Evil their sin allows to operate in God’s world, will be rightly judged. In other words, we are talking about God’s good and perfect justice being enforced in God’s good but corrupt world to restore and renew it so that all hints of injustice are forever obliterated. Who among us does not long for such a day? Who, but the most evil and vile among us, does not long for an end to injustice? If God is a God of love, then God must at some point put all that is wrong in this world to rights and hold those who corrupt and destroy it accountable. On that day, it won’t be a matter of personal opinion or your truth vs. my truth. God will judge all according to his Truth, the only truth there is, despite our futile attempts these days to deny its reality. So there will no opinions on that day. We will be held accountable for our actions, good and bad, by God’s Truth, not ours, and all the evildoers, both human and spiritual, will be banished from God’s presence and world forever. So while there is judgment that is coming, it is healing judgment and justice. God loves us too much to let us continue to be plagued by all that currently bedevils us and makes us crazy and less human. If we know we will not be swept away on that day, we can anticipate it with great joy, even as we anticipate it with great fear and trembling. After all, none of us dare presume on God’s great love and mercy. We remember that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rm 3.23). We are all therefore subject to God’s good and perfect justice because we are all part of the problem to one extent or another. As the story of God’s presence among his people in the wilderness attests, when the profane (humans) meets the holy (God) on their terms and not God’s, it never turns out well for the profane (see, e.g., Numbers 15), thus the book of Leviticus and its rules for living in the holy presence of God.

St. Paul understood and acknowledged all this, especially in his letter to the Romans. But St. Paul also knew Jesus Christ, crucified, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven to rule over God’s creation. This is why he said that those of us who put our hope and trust in Christ are destined to escape God’s terrible judgment that will sweep away all things (and all people) evil because on the cross, God poured out his righteous justice and wrath on our sins by condemning them in Christ’s body (Rm 8.3-4). That is why there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Rm 8.1). We are not exempt because we are special people. Far from it. We are exempt only because of God’s great love and mercy for us shown in Christ crucified. Without the cross of Christ, we are all doomed to destruction. Our response to God’s great love and mercy is to put our whole hope and trust in Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead. 

Some Christians sadly act as badly (and sometimes worse) than non-Christians, and if we do so on a regular or systematic basis, we demonstrate to God and the world that we have most certainly have not put our whole hope and trust in Christ. Instead, we demonstrate that we are putting our hope and trust in ourselves and/or something else in this world: money, power, sex, identity, security, etc. as the prophet warned in our OT lesson. I am not talking about occasional (or even frequent) lapses. I am talking about regularly acting in sub-human and ungodly ways, where we treat others and God with contempt while trying to raise ourselves and our agendas to godlike status. Those folks have every reason to fear the Day of the Lord.

But those of us whose thinking, speaking, and behavior reflect the fact that we do put our hope and trust in Christ alone and not ourselves, however imperfectly and ambiguously, have no reason to fear the Day of the Lord because we know we are covered by the blood of the Lamb shed for us. We know that on our own we don’t stand a chance on that awful Day, but we also declare that we are not on our own. We are Christ’s and he is our sole hope and chance to experience God’s promised glory in his new creation. This must create in us a deep sense of humility and thankfulness to God the Father for loving us enough to rescue us in the most unlikely way—through the death of his Son. Part of our hope and trust must therefore manifest God’s great love for us by showing it to others, especially the most unlovely in our lives. We realize we are toast (literally) without God and this must create in us a burning desire to warn and encourage others to join us in giving their allegiance to Christ instead of some lesser thing that ultimately must lead to death. 

This is what the seasons of Kingdomtide and Advent are all about. They force us to look clearly at the harsh realities of life, both about ourselves and God’s world and God’s ultimate and loving response to all the corrupts, destroys, and kills God’s beloved and good creation and creatures. Those who reject its reality are living in a deadly denial, just as the folks did in Zephaniah’s day who lived as if God didn’t care or exist or was powerless to do anything about all the wrongs of this old world and its people. The Day of the Lord reminds us that God really does love and care about us and has the power to put all things to rights one day. The dead will be raised as an answer to the ultimate and massive injustice that is Death. All wrongs will be put right and all injustices will be banished, along with those who perpetrate them. For those of us who are covered by the blood of the Lamb, that day will bring about perfect healing and beauty forever. There will be no more sorrow or sighing or sickness or imperfection, either in ourselves or our relationships with God and others as there are now. What is not to yearn about that? 

As you come for prayer and anointing today, remember that these are imperfect signposts of greater things to come. We enjoy God’s healing right now, but that healing is only temporary. Someday we must all die of something. Not so when Christ returns to raise the dead and restore God’s creation to perfect beauty and health. Use this time therefore to reflect on that promise and resolve, with the help of God, to repent of anything you are doing, thinking, and saying that is in opposition to that promise. Doing so will bring about an even greater foretaste of that blessed day. Do it all with a thankful and humble heart, realizing that without the love, mercy, and power of God, you have nothing for which to hope. But remember also that your are not without God’s love, mercy, and power and therefore have every reason to hope because you know you are Christ’s forever by virtue of your baptism, and nothing in all creation can separate you from his saving love and power. Glory to him whose power working in you is more than you can ask or imagine. Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.

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

Funeral Sermon: The Resurrection of the Dead and the Renewal of All Things

Sermon delivered at the funeral of Baby D, Sunday, November 8, 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: Revelation 21.1-7; Psalm 23; 1 John 3.1-3; John 11.17-27.

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

I come to you this afternoon, not to eulogize baby Daniel—none of us got the chance to know him so eulogies are not possible—but to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead. It is the only loving and merciful thing I can do for his grieving parents and family. Why? Because only Christ can and will restore the dead to new life. If we are to have true balm for our grieving hearts, we must know Death does not have the final word in life.

Death under any circumstance is hard, isn’t it? But it is especially hard when we are confronted by a miscarriage like Daniel’s. We grieve that he never got to see the light of day or to experience the joys and sorrows of growing into manhood and navigating the fickleness and changeability of life. Babies are not supposed to die in their mother’s wombs. Parents are not supposed to grieve their children’s death. Older siblings are not supposed to grieve for their younger siblings. None of this is God’s will for us. But here we are, doing just that. There is no good way we can spin this, nor should we try. His death is just wrong. There is no justice to be found in it, no goodness. The tragic circumstances of Daniel’s death have the power to make us angry and indignant in our grief, the way Jesus was when he snorted at his friend Lazarus’ tomb just before he raised him to life (Jn 11.38) because death is our ultimate enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor 15.26). And like Martha in today’s gospel lesson we want to cry out to God in desperation and despair and demand why God let this awful thing happen.

But if you paid attention to our gospel lesson, you heard Jesus talk about a breathtaking  promise 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 in and through his death and resurrection. He had come to fulfill Isaiah’s gracious prophecy: “[H]e was pierced for our transgressions…and by his wounds we are healed” (Is 53.5). Ponder this promise of healing and life as you keep in mind the image of Jesus, God become human, snorting in anger and indignation over the death of his friend. As you do, the Spirit will surely help you see God’s will and intention about Death as well as the tender mercy and love God the Father has for us his children and the future he has prepared for us, especially Daniel, even as we must live with the paradox and enigma of the darkness of this present age.

That is why Christian funerals are so important. They serve to remind us that for those who are in Christ—and let us be clear and bold in our proclamation about God’s power and declare that even in the womb, we know Daniel knew Jesus because we believe with the psalmist that there is nowhere we can can escape God’s presence: not the grave or the womb or anywhere in between (Ps 139)—Evil and Death do not have the final say because of God’s great love for us expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As Jesus tells us in our gospel lesson, resurrection isn’t a concept, it’s a person, and those who are united with Christ 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—matter to God, and that new bodily existence, not death, is our final destiny for all eternity.

But what about Daniel? What kind of body will he have? What will he look like? After all, we never got a chance to see him as a baby or child or an adult. How will we recognize him? None of us can answer these questions fully, but the NT gives us some guidance. As St. John tells us in our epistle lesson, whatever it is Daniel will be in the new creation, he will be like Christ. In other words, he will have a new physical body in the manner of Christ’s—surely beautiful and radiant—and he will be a full and mature adult, perfectly radiating Christ’s glory as his image-bearer. His parents and family, along with the rest of us, will know him fully and he will know us, all because of the healing love and restorative power of God the Father (cf. Rev 3.5). 

When the new creation comes in full at Christ’s return, the dead will be raised to new life and God will put to right all the injustices and hurts in the old world. 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. We will get to live in God’s direct presence forever and because of this new reality all forms of Evil and darkness will be driven out. God will judge and banish the wicked and evil, all things—spiritual and human—that serve as agents to corrupt, defile, hurt, and destroy God’s image-bearers and the rest of creation. Unjust and untimely deaths will be put to rights forever because the dead will be raised to die no more. Ashley and Nathan will get to meet their son, Daniel; their daughter will get to meet her brother, and they all will get to know and love and enjoy each other forever along with God and the Lamb. Can there be a more perfect form of justice?? How can their tears not be dried up?? 

Only God has the power to do this and only then can our tears vanish forever. It is a free gift to those of us who belong to Christ, irrespective of where they were in the span of mortal life. To be sure, the new creation is a fantastic promise. But God never lies to us and because we worship the God who has the power to raise the dead and call into existence things that don’t exist (Rom 4.17), we have no reason to doubt its reality or be afraid.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting that we should not grieve. That would be cruel nonsense. You don’t have a young life snuffed out and not grieve over what might have been and/or mortal lives that will never be shared. 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 (1 Thessalonians 4.13-18). It is this resurrection hope, the promise of new bodily life in God’s new heavens and earth—even for those still in the womb—that we claim and proclaim today. Our resurrection hope is the only real basis we have for celebrating Daniel’s tragically short existence, because without union with Christ, none of us have life in this world, no matter how short or long, or the next.

And so we return to Jesus’ question to Martha in our gospel lesson. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this? The promise is mind-boggling. But as we have åseen, the God we worship is mind-boggling. Jesus’ promise that he is the resurrection and the life is ours 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 so great that you cannot hear the promise of resurrection today, ask the Lord to help you hold onto the promise until the day comes when you can hear and embrace it. Because of the great love and power of God the Father made known supremely in Jesus Christ, we can proclaim boldly and confidently that baby Daniel is enjoying his rest with his Lord Jesus, safely nestled in his Savior’s arms, until the new creation and the resurrection of our mortal bodies come in full. And that, of course, is Good News, not only for Daniel Miller D, 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 Jonathon Wylie: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Sermon delivered on the third Sunday before Advent A, November 8, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie still has writer’s cramp so there is no written manuscript for today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast, click here.

Lectionary texts: Joshua 24.1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78.1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18; Matthew 25.1-13.

When God Wipes Away Our Tears

Sermon delivered on All-Saints’ Sunday A, November, 1, 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: Lectionary texts: Revelation 7.9-17; Psalm 34.1-10, 22; 1 John 3.1-3; Matthew 5.1-12.

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

Today is All-Saints’ Day where we remember the communion of saints and the promises of God that stem from our resurrection hope. So this morning I want to ask you this:  What does it look like when God wipes away all of our tears? After all, our tears are legion and a sign that things are desperately wrong in God’s world and our lives. So what does it mean to have God wipe them away? May I have the faith, courage, and holy imagination to proclaim this message boldly and may you have equally the faith, courage, and holy imagination to embrace it.

Today is a day we need to get real about our human condition and the world in which we live. To be sure there is spectacular beauty in our world and our lives.  We see it in creation and in relationships and people we hold near and dear to our hearts. We see it when we gather as God’s people in Christ to worship God, to listen to God’s Word, and to partake in holy Eucharist each week. We see God’s beauty anytime we see true goodness, kindness, compassion, and justice. We see beauty in music, art, poetry, and prose. So let us acknowledge that there is wondrous beauty and goodness in God’s creation because as holy Scripture tells us, God created everything good and intends for it to function and be that way (Genesis 1-2). 

But let us also acknowledge and lament the fact that something is desperately wrong in God’s world and our lives. This is not God’s doing. It is a product of human rebellion in paradise that allowed the dark powers of Evil to gain a foothold into God’s good world to defile and corrupt it and us, and resulted in God’s curse on his good creation. We see the awful results of the corrupting power of human sin and the dark powers of Evil everyday: from the lawless mobs in some of our cities to human trafficking to drug addiction that tears apart and sometimes destroys lives and families to the rising divorce rate and breakdown of families that causes a legion of other problems for us individually and collectively to the acrimony and rancor in our nation’s politics to disordered relationships that cause emotional trauma and devastation to COVID that sickens us and sometimes kills us and makes us isolated and afraid to cruelty toward animals to pollution and waste and a myriad of deadly diseases, we don’t have to look very far to see that along with the wondrous beauty and goodness we behold, things are also terribly wrong in God’s world and our lives. 

Closer to home, many of us have experienced the reality of living in God’s good but cursed and Evil/Sin-corrupted world. In just the last few weeks Father Bowser lost a younger sister to cancer, the second sibling he has lost to that wicked disease. His 97 year old mother has had to endure what no parent should have to endure: the loss of two children. Never mind that they were adult children. The fact remains that parents normally die before their children and she wonders why she is still alive while her beloved daughters are not. Where is the justice in that?

Then there are Nathan and Ashley, who recently suffered a miscarriage of their unborn son, Daniel. Death has robbed them of ever knowing their son in this mortal life and experiencing the joys and sorrows of raising him to adulthood. The couple did nothing to deserve or warrant this, yet it happened anyhow. We will remember Daniel at our roll call in a bit and celebrate that he is known by Christ and is in Christ’s loving arms. But the fact remains that Ashley and Nathan have had to endure an incalculable loss—the death of their unborn child with all of their attendant hopes and dreams for their child crushed. We can only imagine their sorrow and deep sense of loss and injustice.

Or consider our own Doug H., a young husband and father of three who is stricken with  a serious form of cancer. We pray for healing and beseech the Lord to answer our prayers. But the fact remains that the family is terrified of the awful possibility that the evil of cancer has the potential to rob them of their beloved husband and father. This is not what God created us for or intends for us as his image-bearing creatures. The most common phrase in all of Scripture is, “don’t be afraid,” an indication that there are lots of things in this world that make us afraid. The H-Family can testify to this sad reality.

The fact is that every one of us here or watching via live-streaming this morning knows the pain of loss or sickness or alienation or disease. One of our parishioners had his parents killed by a drunk driver years ago, snuffed out in the prime of life. Where is the justice in that? Our young people who live alone are suffering from isolation and loneliness, not to mention real questions about their professional future. All these things cause great anxiety and worry. Where is the justice in that? Some of our older parishioners (you geezers know who you are) lament the onset of infirmity and old age with its attendant diseases and disorders and frailty and loss of independence that often causes a loss of human dignity and perceived self-worth. Where is the justice in that? We have about half of our parish who are staying at home because of real and legitimate worries about contracting COVID. This has the effect of isolating them from their parish family and causes depression and anxiety for some of them. For those of us who choose to come to worship in house, our worship is constrained. We wear masks, social distance from each other, and our parish gatherings and celebrations are either canceled or greatly muted. This is not God’s will or intention for how his people are to live and worship as a parish. Where is the justice in that?

At the Eucharist we will read 78 names at the Roll Call of the Victorious, those saints who have died in the peace of Christ and are now part of the Church Victorious. 78 names! This means that for the friends and families of those 78 saints here in person or watching this morning, we can no longer enjoy their physical presence. We can’t see them, hold them, hear their voices, smell their smells, or enjoy the sweet fellowship of their love the way we could when they were alive in this mortal life. For those of us who lost our saints recently (we will read their names at the beginning of the roll call), the pain of separation that death causes is probably still pretty sharp or raw. For those of us who have had to live without our beloved saints for some time now, we learn to live with the dull ache their absence causes in our lives. Every one of us in this room today knows what I am talking about because Death has robbed every one of us of a beloved saint. Whether recently or long ago, the pain is real. For me, I have had to learn to live with the dull ache over a son that I have not seen or heard from in over eight years and the death of my beloved parents and grandparents. There is nothing good or right about any of this. These things produce buckets of tears for us. Many of us try to put on a brave face and hide our tears from others. But we all know those tears are real and they are present because our hearts ache over our pain, separation, and loss. There is no justice in any of it. It diminishes us as humans and makes us afraid, anxious, and lonely.

But—were you waiting for the great conjunction but?—the pain of death and the sting of Evil, Sin, and living in a cursed creation do not have the final say, thanks be to God. That is why celebrating All-Saints is so important for us. To be sure, it allows us to remember our beloved who have died in the peace of Christ, never a bad thing! But All-Saints also proclaims a far greater promise. Scripture tells us God did not curse the creation because God hates his creation or us. God’s curse can be seen as simply allowing the corrupting effect of our sin and the powers of Evil to manifest themselves in awful ways to despoil God’s good world and our lives. There is a great mystery in all this. But God cannot ultimately let Sin and Evil prevail and so the story of Scripture is the story about how the good and loving God is putting right all that is wrong and corrupt and unjust and evil in God’s world and our lives. In other words, God is busy at work in our lives in and through Christ, wiping away our tears, partially in this life but fully in God’s new creation. 

We get a glimpse of this from St. John’s vision of the heavenly throne room in our NT lesson from Revelation this morning. We need to be clear about this. This vision is not some vision about the future. It is a vision of what is happening right now in heaven, God’s space and the control room for all of creation. There we see a glorious vision of the redeemed in Christ, saints from every tribe, language, and nation. They are dressed in white, NT symbolism proclaiming that they and their sins have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb who sits upon the heavenly throne. They have endured the great tribulation—most likely a reference to being persecuted for their faith but that could also certainly include the various tribulations with which we all have been afflicted in this mortal life. The point is their suffering, sorrow, and loss are forever wiped away, along with their tears. We know this is complete because God the Father is the one who is doing the wiping. Think about that and let it sink in. God the Father himself wipes away our tears forever.

So what happens when God wipes away our tears? Both Old and NTs give us glimpses of this. For starters, when Christ returns to usher in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, the dead will be raised to new bodily life and all things renewed. We aren’t told much about what the new creation will look like other than the fact that we who belong to Christ will get to live directly in God’s presence forever—how awesome and glorious will that be!!!—and the domains of heaven and earth will be forever fused together (see, e.g., Isaiah 25.6-9; 1 Cor 15; Revelation 21.1-7). We know too that as St. John tells us in our epistle lesson, whatever it is we will be in the new creation, we will be like Christ, i.e., we will have a new physical body in the manner of Christ’s. Recall from the resurrection narratives that Christ’s resurrection body was similar to his mortal body but also radically different. The disciples could see their crucified Lord, touch him, eat with him, and hear his voice. They knew it was Jesus and Jesus had a body. But it was also a brand new body that could appear and disappear in locked rooms, a body that was now immortal and impervious to death (see, e.g., Luke 24; John 20). So too will we have old and new bodies when Christ raises us from the dead. We will be recognized and known by Christ and those whom we have loved (the old). But our bodies will also be transformed into perfectly beautiful bodies, bodies that are impervious to sickness, disease, infirmity, hunger, and death. We will not be plagued by anxiety or depression or disordered desires. We will be embodiments of perfect health and humanity (the new). I must be circumspect in my descriptions about our bodies/existence in the new creation because the NT is circumspect in its description of both. But that misses the point here and we should not focus on what our bodies will look/be like.

What we should focus on is this. When the new creation comes in full at Christ’s return, God will put to right all the injustices and hurts in the old world. God will judge and banish the wicked and evil, all things—spiritual and human—that serve as agents to corrupt, defile, hurt, and destroy God’s image-bearers and the rest of creation. Unjust/untimely deaths will be put to rights forever because the dead will be raised to die no more. Ashley and Nathan, e.g., will get to meet their son, Daniel, and get to know and love and enjoy him forever. Can there be a more perfect form of justice?? At Christ’s return all things will be restored to their perfect beauty and goodness in the manner that probably will exceed the beauty and goodness of God’s first creation. Only God has the power to do this and only then can our tears vanish forever because all the loss, hurt, suffering, sorrow, separation, alienation, deformity, ugliness and all the other forms of evil and corruption will be forever done away with, never to bother or hurt us or weigh us down anymore. This is a free gift to those of us who belong to Christ. We have done nothing to deserve the gift but it is ours for the taking because of the great love and mercy of God made known to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Can I get a resounding “Amen”?

Nor do we have to wait for the saving benefits of Christ’s love. We can enjoy them, albeit only partially, right now because God promises in the beatitudes that he will begin to wipe our tears away in this life so that those who mourn, for example, will be comforted as we have just seen. I am talking about our blessed hope, my beloved, the real and only hope that is based on the power and love of God, not some fantasy. Without it we would shrivel away and die a desperate and awful death. So we live by hope and an informed faith, a faith that is based on the historical reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and the revelation of God’s promises that flowed throughout the NT and the Church thereafter. That is why we attend to each other and weep and rejoice with each other. All Saints Day is not about whistling through the graveyard. It is about us as Christians embracing our hope and promise that one day God will wipe away our tears forever and usher in an eternal age where rejoicing and happiness and fulfillment and wholesomeness will be ours forever, all because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us to wipe away our sins and to defeat the Evil that presently bedevils us. That makes the present worth living for in faith, hope, love, and good courage (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.58).

For the love of God, my beloved, let us resolve to boldly embrace our resurrection hope and promise so that we are agents who embody faithfully the Father’s love made known to us in the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit to love and minister to each other and the world, reminding one and all of God’s love for us and our very real and certain resurrection hope. As we do so, we will be living witnesses to the promise that one day God himself will wipe our tears away forever. Until that blessed day, God gives us the grace and ability to embody his love, mercy, compassion, and justice to each other. Let us therefore be bold in our proclamation and living. Death is destroyed and we will know and experience God’s complete restorative healing, justice, and love for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Why Baptism Matters

Sermon delivered on Trinity Last A, Sunday, October 25, 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 text: Romans 6.1-11.

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

Father Wylie was supposed to preach this morning but he called me Friday and left me holding the bag as usual. Something about not feeling like he wanted to preach, that he was too important for St. Augustine’s to be spending any time here. Well, actually he might have been exposed to COVID and so I told him to stay at home but I like my story a lot better than reality. Don’t we all? Today we celebrate another big day in the life of our parish family. We will be baptizing our young friend and beloved in Christ, Izro, into the body of Christ and I want to direct my sermon primarily to him. Of course the rest of you ragamuffins are welcome to soak up the great wisdom I will impart along the way.

Izro, you have made the wisest and best decision of your young life. You have decided to reject what St. Paul called the first Adam—the old man living in you despite your young age—and put on the second Adam, Jesus Christ himself. What does that mean? It means that you have decided you no longer want to be a slave to the power of Sin, that you have chosen life over death and no longer want to live your life in ways that demonstrate you are hostile to God by acting in ways that are contrary to his will for you as his image-bearing creature. Instead, you are declaring that you choose to follow Christ and be where he is because you believe him to be God incarnate, the only true reality and Source of life, and you want to live with God forever, starting right now. In biblical terms we call this repentance: you are turning from a life lived for yourself to a life lived for God. You are choosing to kill off in you all that makes you hostile and alienated from God, or as St. Paul puts it, you are crucifying your sinful nature (a lifelong practice), but you realize you cannot do this in your own power or strength. In choosing to be baptized you are declaring that you realize you must rely on the power of God working in your life in and through the Holy Spirit to help heal your sin sickness so that you can live as a fully human being and that your life orientation will point to something (or more precisely Someone) greater than yourself. You are also declaring that you realize this is a free gift from God despite your unworthiness to receive it, but receive it you will because it pleases God the Father to give it to you out of his great love for you. Hear what St. Paul has to say about all this in Romans 6:

[S]hould we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus (Romans 6.1-11).

NLT

Now if you are like me and want to please God, you may find the first thing St. Paul says here to be puzzling. He asks rhetorically if we should “keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace,” developing an argument he began in Romans 5. Of course not, he roars in reply! We’ve died to sin. How can we keep on living in it?? I confess that’s a head scratcher for me, the power of God at work in me notwithstanding. Perhaps you want to say to him with me, “St. Paul, are you crazy? I still sin. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. How can you say I’ve died to sin?” To which St. Paul would reply, “It’s not about you Izro, it’s about the power of God at work in you.” That’s the key. The power of God working in you, invisible to our senses but there nonetheless. Your baptism is a visible and tangible sign of that power. That’s why we call it a sacrament: an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible reality.

St. Paul knew very well that being united with Christ does not make one a sinless person. But that is not what St. Paul is talking about. He is echoing what he wrote to the Colossians when he said that “[The Father] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom [from the power of Sin] and forgave our sins” (Colossians 1.13-14). This is the power of God at work in us to rescue us from sin and death and bring us into the kingdom of his promised new creation that one day will come in full at Christ’s return. God did this for us out of his great love for us. We did nothing to deserve this gift nor can we earn it. In our own right we are utterly broken, unworthy and incapable of living as God’s true image-bearers. This is what the power of Sin has done to us. But God loves us too much to let us go the way of eternal death and so God has acted decisively in Christ to break Sin’s power over us on the cross and transfer us into his new world via Christ’s resurrection. This is what grace looks like and your baptism signals, in part, your acceptance of that grace. We can’t earn God’s grace nor do we deserve a lick of it, but it is ours for the taking because of the power and love of God. What God wants, God gets and nothing, not even the power of Sin or the dark powers, can overcome God’s power made known and available to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. It’s a done deal, even if it may not feel like that to us. 

But Christ’s death and resurrection were not feelings. They were and are the objective reality. They made known supremely the power of God to intervene in our lives on our behalf to rescue us from ourselves, our foolishness, our folly, and our slavery to the power of Sin and Death. That is why St. Paul tells us to consider or reckon ourselves dead to sin. By this he meant for us to do the math, so to speak. When we do the math, we discover the sum of what is already there. For example, when we count the cash in the register, we learn what was there already. We don’t create a new reality; rather we affirm the existing reality. Christ has died for us and been raised from the dead to proclaim God’s victory over Sin and Death, and when we are united with Christ in a living relationship with him, St. Paul promises here that we too share in Christ’s reality, whether it feels like we do or not. Again, notice nothing is required of us except an informed (or reckoned) faith. We look at the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and calculate it to be true so that we learn to trust the promise that has not yet been fulfilled is also true. 

How does this happen? St. Paul doesn’t tell us how, only that it does happen beginning with our baptism. When we are baptized we share in Christ’s death and are buried with him so that Sin’s power over us is broken (not to be confused with living a sin-free life, something that is not mortally possible because as St. Paul reminds us in verses 6-7, we are not totally free from sin until death). We have died to sin and can no longer live in it because we have been transferred into a new reality, God’s new world that was inaugurated when God raised Christ from the dead. So in our baptism we begin our new life with Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5.17), flawed as that might look at times. What St. Paul is talking about here is a matter of will. In ch. 8, he will talk about the power and presence of the Spirit in our lives to help us live after the manner of our Lord. Here St. Paul simply tells us that we have been given a great gift in the death and resurrection of Christ and through our relational union with him. Where Christ is, there we will be with him. If this isn’t Good News, I don’t know what is.

So you have died with Christ and are raised with him. You have been delivered from the dark dominion of slavery to the dominion of freedom and life and light, the Father’s kingdom. Now what? Well, for starters it means you no longer need to be afraid. You have peace with God, real peace, a peace that was terribly costly to God, and you also have life that cannot be taken from you. Sure your mortal body will die, but that’s nothing more than a transition until the Lord returns and raises you from the dead and gives you a new body to live in his new world. As a baptized Christian you have no reason to fear death because you believe Christ is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11.25) and you know that where he is, there you will be with him by virtue of your baptism that signals his great love for you and his power to rescue you from Sin and Death! It means you reject living your life in the darkness of sin. It means you reject false realities and are willing to speak out boldly against them. It means you are willing to love even the most unloveable people (and believe me, we are seeing more and more of them every day), starting with yourself. It means you are willing to speak out against injustices of all kinds. It means you have compassion for people, realizing they are without a Good Shepherd who will love and heal them just like he is loving and healing you, and so you are willing to share your baptismal faith with them. There’s more to this reality, but certainly not less. 

Your baptism also means you are welcomed into and agree to become part of the family of God in Christ, hopefully here at St. Augustine’s, because you understand God created you for relationships and that you cannot live out your Christian faith in isolation because that is how the world, the flesh, and the devil conspire to pick Christians off and get them to reject God’s free gift of life won through Christ. The power of God living in you is often made known in and through other people, and just as we rely on family to help us navigate the rough waters of life, so too must you rely on your parish family to help you stay the course. That means you agree to worship with us, study Scripture with us, feed on our Lord’s body and blood each week to have Christ himself nourish you, weep with us, rejoice with us, and everything in between. Your baptism is a tangible reminder that God the Father has claimed you in and through God the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit to make you Christ’s own forever. Like any healthy relationship, Izro, God will never force you to love him and gives you the freedom to choose whom you will serve. Today you declare you are choosing to serve Life and not Death and all that that entails. Congratulations, my brother. I couldn’t be happier for you. Glory to him whose power working in you is more than you can ask or imagine. Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.

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

Father Philip Sang: Give to God What is God’s

Sermon delivered on Trinity 19A, Sunday, October 18, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no audio podcast for today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 33.12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1.1-10; St. Matthew 22.15-22.

It’s providential that we come to this passage this morning; just a few days before we are called upon to perform an important civic duty and vote.

We talk much about the duties that we are obligated to perform to our government. And it seems to me that, even if we don’t enjoy those duties, most of us recognize their importance and are very careful to keep them. We are careful to vote; and we are careful to respond when called upon to perform jury duty; and we’re careful to pay our taxes. And of course, we’re always grateful for those who rise up for our nation’s defense through the service of the military. We consider these to be among the most important obligations we can fulfill.

But what about our even greater obligations to God? Are we as careful to render to Him the things that we owe to Him as we are to render our obligations to our government? How careful are we to even know what it is that God says we owe Him? And what does it say about us when we are so concerned to carefully perform the duties that a temporal, human government obligates us to, while almost completely ignoring the even greater duties and obligations that the almighty God demands of us?

I believe that this morning’s passage touches on this whole matter. We should, of course, be very careful to perform our duties as citizens of the earthly government in which God has placed. But we should be even more careful to perform the greater duties and obligations we owe to the God of the universe—the God who made us for Himself, and who has absolute and complete Creatorship-rights over us.

To put it another way—a way that I’m sure you’ll recognize—we shouldn’t fail to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; but we should make even more certain that we render to God the things that are God’s.

That, I believe, is the main point of this morning’s passage. It’s a passage that teaches us many important things; but the main thing I believe it seeks to teach us is that above all other obligations we have in life, we are obliged first to render to God His rights over us.

Here is todays gospel reading

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way (Matthew 22:15-22).

I love this gospel for the less-than-noble reason: I love it whenever someone who is arrogant, and malicious, and crafty, gets knocked off their pedestal. I also love this passage for a good reason: it reveals the wisdom and authority of our wonderful Lord Jesus. No one ever made a fool of Him!

But this story isn’t given to us without a very good purpose. If the only lesson that there was to be learned from it was that no one should ever try to trap Jesus, that would certainly be profitable. But I believe there’s more for us to learn than just that.

The first thing we see in this question is that it was motivated by a desire to trap the Lord in His words. Matthew tells us, “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk”. The word that Matthew uses—to “entangle”—is one that was used of the way a hunter trapped and ensnared an animal in order to take it captive. The means by which they intended to trap Him was through His own words; and the bate they proposed to use was this question. They had huddled together in order to craft the perfect question that would make it possible for them to bring Him before the authorities and discredit Him before the people—thus getting rid of Him without having to lay a hand on Him themselves.

And so, notice the trap they set for Him. They said, “Tell us, therefore, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Now; you can be sure that this was a question that they had already been wrestling with between themselves. Obviously, the Pharisees would have answered “no”. They had to pay the taxes, of course; otherwise they’d have the Roman soldiers down on their necks. But they deeply resented doing so. It bucked against them; because every time they paid the required tax to the Roman government, it was a vivid reminder that they were not a free people. Here they were—God’s special people; but they were under the thumb of a pagan nation. The Roman tax was a real thorn in their sandals! And yet, the Herodians would have answered “yes” to the same question.

But this question was specially crafted to discredit our Lord before all the people. Think of it; if He said yes—that it was legal to pay taxes to Caesar—then the Pharisees could accused Him before the people, and say that He was not conquering Messiah that they had expected. And if He said no—that it was not legal to pay taxes to Caesar—then the Herodians could immediately reported Him to the Roman governor. What a clever question! What a great trap! If He simply said “yes”, He would lose. And if He simply said “no”, He would still lose!

“Jesus perceived their wickedness . . .” He said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?”

And again; it would be a very bad move to miss the lesson here. We can very easily fool other people about what’s really in our hearts. Notice how Jesus puts the question back to them. He says, “Show Me the tax money”;

And Jesus held it up and asked, “Whose image and inscription is this?”

When they said the obvious—that it had Caesar’s image and inscription, then Jesus simply said, “Render, therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s . . .” It’s his coin. Give it back to him.

Now here’s where most people place the emphasis on this passage—in the first half of the Lord’s answer. I believe it’s absolutely legitimate to see in this the Christian’s duty to fulfill his or her proper obligations to the government under which God has called them to live. The Bible itself clearly teaches us this (Romans 13:1-7,and Peter 2:13-17)

Fulfilling our God-appointed obligations to the government, as good citizens, is a matter of bearing a good witness to our Lord before the world—to say nothing of it being a matter of obedience to our Lord Himself. I am, first, a citizen of My Father’s kingdom; but because I am a citizen of His eternal kingdom first, I am therefore obligated to be a good and faithful citizen of the temporal kingdom in which He has placed me—just as He has commanded me.

But it seems to me that we often put the greatest emphasis on that first part of our Lord’s answer; and fail to give proper attention to the greater issue expressed in the second part of His answer. In fact, the first part of His answer is there in order to serve as the object lesson of the second part of His answer—that we are to render “to God the things that are God’s”.

That second obligation, it seems to me, is what really brought the conviction down on those who were seeking to trap Him with their question. Matthew tells us that, when they heard His answer, “they marveled, and left Him and went their way.”

If they had given to God what first belonged to God, they would not only render to Caesar what was Caesar’s, but they would have also bowed down before the Lord Jesus Christ and pledged their first allegiance to Him.

So the question is: How careful are we to render to God the things that we owe to Him? This is a greater obligation than all others. How are we doing in terms of keeping it? Let me suggest a few ways that, I believe, state those obligations to us. This list is far from exhaustive; but it may be enough to get you thinking. Ask yourself, as I read these passages to you, how you are doing in rendering to God what belongs to God:

For one thing, you owe God honor. In Malachi 1:6, He says,

“A son honors his father, And a servant his master.

If then I am the Father, Where is My honor?

And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence?” (Mal. 1:6).

Or how about outside of the church building—and in the everyday business of life? You owe God a godly daily life. Micah 6:8 says,

With what shall I come before the LORD, And bow myself before the High God?

Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old?

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, Ten thousand rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8).

What about your wealth. Everything that you have is a gift from Him; and you owe Him the rights to the first and best share. In Malachi 3:8-10, He tells the people of Israel;

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8).

What about your wealth. Everything that you have is a gift from Him; and you owe Him the rights to the first and best share. In Malachi 3:8-10, He tells the people of Israel;

“Will a man rob God?

Yet you have robbed Me!

But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.

You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation.

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:8-10).

You owe Him your service to His kingdom agenda. When it comes to all of the other concerns of life, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33;

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

You owe Him your personal holiness. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says;

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

He has a right to have you glorify Him with your whole being. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says;

For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Corinthians 6:20).

He has a right to your body. In Romans 12:1—after Paul’s long description of God’s work in saving us through faith in Christ—it says;

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy , acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service . . .” (Romans 12:1).

He has a right to your first love. In Matthew 22:37-40; Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment. And He said;

“‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

He even has the right to expect you to believe on His Son. In John 6:29, Jesus said,

“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29).

Dear brothers and sisters, it’s our duty to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But let’s be even more sure that we do the greater duty—to faithfully render to God what is God’s.

In the name of God the Father the son and the Holy spirit

Father Jonathon Wylie: Rejoice in the Lord Always

Sermon delivered on Trinity 18A, Sunday, October 11, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie has been infected by the dreaded I-can’t-produce-a-sermon-transcript bug that has run rampant through the clergy types here at St. Augustine’s (only Fathers Madanu and Maney remain unafflicted). To listen to the audio podcast of his sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 32.1-14; Psalm 106.1-6, 19-23, Philippians 4.1-9; St. Matthew 22.1-14.

 

Wedding Sermon: Ribs Done Well

Sermon delivered in Toledo, OH. If you would prefer to hear the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 2.18-29; Ephesians 5.21-33; John 15.1-8.

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

Michael and Monica, I want to talk with you briefly this afternoon about what it will take for you to have a good marriage and so I’ve titled this sermon, Ribs (or Marriage) Done Well. If God really is our Creator as Genesis proclaims and our faith believes, who knows better than God what it takes for his human creatures to be happy and prosper in this foundational and most important of all relationships—marriage? A quick look at the relational history of humankind with all of its failed alternative solutions to God’s original intention for how men and women should live together as families shows us the wisdom of this. Is it just coincidental, for example, that in this country alone we have seen the breakdown of the God-given family structure and the rise of mass murder, addiction, alienation, and depression over the last 50 or so years? And so my hope and prayer for you, as well as the rest of us here, is that you will have the needed wisdom and humility to hear what God has to say about what you need to do to ensure that your marriage relationship remains healthy and strong over the years.

In our OT lesson we read the beautiful story of how God created man and woman in his own image. We are told that God saw it was not good for man to be alone so God formed woman out of the man’s rib to be his helper and the man immediately recognized that this was exactly what he needed to fulfill his most basic relational needs. Two things immediately jump out at us from this story. First we see one man and one woman coming together to form a lifelong relationship as husband and wife. God did not create multiple Eves nor did he create another Adam to be Adam’s companion and helper. God created Eve from Adam’s rib with the intention that the two should become one permanently in this life. In telling this story, the text proclaims that God ordained and blessed marriage as the foundational relationship for humans.

Second, the logic of the text suggests that only when man and woman come together as one do they become the complete image-bearers of God that God created us to be. When God told Adam that he would make a partner and helper for him, God did not intend this to mean that the woman was somehow inferior to the man or that her purpose in life was to toady after him. Her purpose was to be his equal partner so that together as a family they could be faithful in their task of being God’s wise stewards and rulers over God’s newly-created world.

It was from this created order that St. Paul would later write to the church at Ephesus about the structure and good order of Christian households that we read in our epistle lesson and here is where I want to speak to you both personally because this is what it takes to have ribs (marriage) done well. Let me start with you, Monica. In Ephesians, St. Paul tells us that wives should be subject to their husbands. It is right about now that the women here start giving me the stink eye and wonder where I am going with this. Let’s be honest. The notion of the wife being subject to the husband does not play well to our modern ears or sensibilities. But if we bow to our own hangups and prejudices, we do violence to the text and will miss completely St. Paul’s sound teaching about healthy marital relationships. So please hear me out.

St. Paul wisely understands that every social structure needs a good leader, and he appeals to the created order (man first, then woman) when he tells the wife to be subject to her husband. St. Paul does not mean that the wife should become a doormat for her husband or that somehow she is inferior or unequal to her husband. That would do violence to the creation narratives as we’ve just seen, and St. Paul knew his scripture too well to do that. What he means is that the wife should recognize her husband’s God-given leadership role in the family and allow him to lead. This is further tempered by the fact that St. Paul recognized Christ as the ultimate head of every family. More about that anon. But for right now, Monica, as you enter into marriage with Michael, I encourage you to allow him to lead in the manner of Christ and to correct Michael when he fails to do so. Of course you both will have to work out what this leadership looks like on the ground in the context of your married life. But if you have the wisdom and humility to do this, and if Michael has the wisdom/humility to lead in a godly manner, your marriage will thrive.

Now to you, Michael. If Monica allows you to lead in a godly manner, your charge is far more difficult. In Ephesians St. Paul tells us that the husband’s job is to love his wife. When scripture talks about love, it does not have in mind some kind of sappy, sentimental emotion or the kind of love that attempts to fulfill all the beloved’s desires, even if those desires are disordered or unhealthy. To be sure, scripture validates and celebrates romantic love as the Song of Solomon powerfully attests. But in Ephesians, St. Paul is talking about always acting in the light of God’s truth for the best interest of the beloved. So when St. Paul talks about the husband’s leadership role (not headship) in the family he doesn’t have in mind the husband running roughshod over his wife or barking out orders for her to fetch his slippers, bring him a beer, or cater to his every need. That is not loving your wife; that is loving yourself.

In other words, the kind of leadership St. Paul has in mind is the servant leadership that was exemplified by Christ himself, who died for us while we were still God’s enemies so that we could be reconciled to the Source of all life, and who tells us not to lord it over others but rather to lead by becoming like slaves who serve (Mk 10.35-45). This does not come to us naturally or easily and that is why you have the far more difficult task as husband in your marriage. Your job is to love Monica and care for her more than you care for yourself. Of course, Monica, you are called to love Michael in the same manner by supporting his godly leadership. If you both can do this, you will demonstrate by your actions that Jesus really is your Lord and the true head of your household, that you are part of his vine, and you can therefore confidently trust his promise to be your rock-solid foundation on which your marriage will be able to withstand even the most terrible storms of life (Mt 7.24-27). Our Lord did not tell us we would be immune to those storms, only that when we submit to his Lordship and order our lives as God intends, we will have a power that is greater than ours to help us withstand any evil that besets us.

To help you love each other in the way Christ intends, I want to suggest a good exercise for you both, but especially for you, Michael, because you are given the task of leading your family. Memorize and recite excerpts from 1 Corinthians 13 and substitute your name in places where you read love so that it reads, e.g., Michael is patient, Michael is kind. Michael does not insist on his own way. Michael is not irritable or resentful, etc. If you both can rehearse passages like this on a daily or regular basis you will discover that it will have a profoundly wonderful effect on you, that your relationship is strengthened and blessed, and that you will find joy and purpose in living together that you never dreamed possible.

I do not suggest that any of this is easy or automatic. You have to work hard at it and you have to work hard at cultivating your relationship with Jesus so that you allow him to be Lord of your individual and married lives. To do this, you will need to pray together, read scripture together, and be part of a community of faith who will love and support you, in addition to your families and friends, because there are many forces out there who are opposed to your married life and want to destroy it and you. But if you are wise enough and humble enough to do these things together and as part of the greater family of Christ, you will find that you will bear much fruit as Christ promises in our gospel lesson and so have the necessary power to live your life and marriage as God intends for you. May God bless and enable you to have a marriage that is done well.

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

Father Santosh Madanu: The Parable of Wicked Servants

Sermon delivered on Trinity 17A, Sunday, October 4, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no audio podcast for today’s sermon. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 20.1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3.4b-14; Matthew 21.33-46.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you said I am the vine and you are the braches, apart from me you cannot bear fruits.  Thank you Jesus for your grace and love.  Bless us with your Holy Spirit to be obedient to you, to be faithful to you. Never to reject your warnings against sin. And bless us to witness and proclaim that you are only the promised messiah. In Jesus name we pray.

When a man who says SORRY, when he is wrong.  He is called honest. When a man says sorry, he is not sure about wrong. He is called wise.  And when a man says sorry even he is right, what do you call him?  Husband.

THE CONTEXT

This controversy section began with Jesus cleansing the temple (21:12-17) and cursing an unfruitful fig tree (21:18-22). The chief priests and elders asked Jesus, “By what authority do you do these things?” (“These things” meaning the cleansing of the temple). Jesus countered by asking, “The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” When his critics refused to answer him, Jesus refused to answer them. He then responded with three parables of judgment, where Chief Priests and Israelites should know that Jesus is promised messiah, the Only Son of God and going to come to judge.

• The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32) this we have seen previous Sunday.

• The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (Mt21:33-46) referring to Isiah 5:7 Isiah wrote the vineyard song in 700 BC and destruction took place in 500 BC. By Babylonians. In this parable Jesus Himself personally involved. It is about Himself.

• The Parable(s) of the Wedding Banquet (22:1-10) and the Wedding Garments (22:11-14). These are often counted as one parable because of their common setting, but verses 1-10 and verses 11-14 make different points, and may therefore be considered two parables.

MATTHEW 21:33-41. THE PARABLE OF THE TENANT FARMERS

Greek: kurios—Lord

Greek: karpous—fruits

 “Hear another parable” (v. 33a). This is one of only three parables to be found in all three Synoptic Gospels (see also Mark 12:1-13; Luke 20:9-19)—the other two being the Parable of the Sower (13:1-23) and the Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32).

The Parable of the Tenants is an allegory—has a hidden or symbolic meaning:

• The landowner/Lord is God.

• The vineyard is the nation of Israel.

• The tenants are the people of Israel or its religious leaders.

• The servants/slaves are the prophets.

• The son is Jesus.

• The other tenants are gentiles, most likely followers of the Lord all over the world. The church outside Israel.(New Tenants.)

• God established a covenant with Israel (planted a vineyard).

• God sent the prophets (his servants/slaves) whom the tenants (the Israelites) killed (see 1 Kings 19:10, Prophet Elijah says… the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your alters, and put your servants to sword.

The Jews stoned    Habakkuk in Jerusalem.

The Jews stoned Jeremiah in Egypt, because he rebuked them for worshipping idols; and the Egyptians buried him by the side of Pharaoh’s palace.

Zechariah the son of Berachiah, the priest, was from Jerusalem. Joash the king slew this (prophet) between the stepsand the altar, and sprinkled his blood upon the horns of the altar, and the priests buried him. John the Baptist the last prophet was beheaded.

• God sent his Son (Jesus) whom the tenants (the Israelites) killed.

• God put the original tenants to death (pronounced judgment upon Israel). From Matthew’s perspective late in the first century, this means the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by Romans, which took place several years prior to the writing of this Gospel.

Jesus himself lament over destruction of Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke 19:41-44 Jesus wept over Jerusalem for enemies encircle Jerusalem and destroy it.

• God leased the vineyard to other tenants (the church) who will “give him the fruit in its season” (v. 41).

“There was a man who was a master of a household, who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a winepress in it, and built a tower” (v. 33b). The people to whom Jesus was speaking would recognize the vineyard imagery from Isaiah 5:1-2 where the landowner planted a vineyard, built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine vat. Jesus uses each of these elements in his story:

This landowner must be wealthy. He spends money freely to make this an excellent vineyard.  This landowner, however, does everything right—everything! He spares no expense in making this a first-class vineyard—a vineyard that lends itself to efficient operation—a vineyard that gives the tenants every advantage.

• In Jesus’ story, the outcome is not the destruction of the vineyard but is instead its transfer to “other farmers, who will give him the fruit (karpous—fruits) in its season” (v. 41).

This means that God has done everything possible to give Israel every advantage. He has established an everlasting covenant with them—has led them through good times and bad—has given them the Promised Land as their inheritance—has given them the law and prophets to guide them.

 “When the season for the fruit drew near” (v. 34). The triple emphasis on “fruit” in these verses reflects the importance of the word throughout this Gospel (see also 3:8; 3:10; 7:17-18; 12:33; 13:23 and 21:19). For Matthew, fruit connotes the produce of one’s life. The Jewish leadership, which failed to produce good fruit, is being disenfranchised, and the vineyard is being given to the church, which will produce good fruit.

: The tenants agreed upon giving the produce. They know they supposed to pay lease rent. The Land belongs to the land owner.  Why should they attack the servants?  Don’t you think they are declaring the war?

 “The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first” (v. 35-36). 

Israel’s treatment of God’s prophets. They killed Zechariah by stoning him (2 Chronicles 24:21)—beat Jeremiah and placed him in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:2)—killed the prophet Uriah (Jeremiah 26:21-23)—and “killed your (God’s) prophets that testified against them to turn them again to you (God)” (Nehemiah 9:26). (See also Matthew 5:12; 23:29-37).

“But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will respect my son’” (v. 37). The son, as the father’s heir and official representative, acts with the father’s authority and is entitled to the same respect as these tenants would show the father.

The author of Hebrews expresses the same thought, saying, “God, having in the past spoken to the fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, has at the end of these days spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things”(Hebrews 1:1-2).

“But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and seize his inheritance’” (v. 38). The tenants, however, see an opportunity to inherit the vineyard by killing the heir. 

Jesus is telling this story to make a point—that he is God’s son sent to redeem the world, and that the Jewish authorities are going to kill him.

 “When therefore the lord (kurios—Lord) of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?” (v. 40). The landowner (oikodespotes—master of the house) of verse 33 becomes the Lord (kyrios

“They told him, “He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will lease out the vineyard to other farmers, who will give him the fruit in its season” (v. 41). In this verse, the chief priests and elders pronounce judgment on themselves as they tell Jesus how unfaithful tenants should be treated. 

Because they did not produce the fruits- the righteousness, holiness, obedience and honor and glory God with the gift of Promise land, gift of life, gift of everything that they have.  They chose the judgement of God.  And God is just judge.

Matthew writes this Gospel after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and surely associates this judgment with that event as well as the call of the Gentiles.

However this parable serves as a warning to the new tenants – to all of us.

The Holy Spirit brings about the birth of new churches that, although they might seem unattractive to us, are nevertheless faithful and fruitful. And sometimes, the Holy Spirit breathes new life into the old bones. 

MATTHEW 21:42-44. THE HEAD OF THE CORNER

42Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,

‘The stone which the builders rejected,
the same was made the head of the corner.
This was from the Lord.
It is marvelous in our eyes?’

43“Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruit. 44He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but on whomever it will fall, it will scatter him as dust.”

“The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner” (v. 42). Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23. The rejected stone—the crucified Christ—will become the cornerstone (Greek: “head of the corner) of God’s new edifice. In a physical building the “head of the corner” could refer to a stone that supports two walls at a corner—or it could refer to the headstone in an arch or it could mean the cornerstone supports the whole building from falling down.

In Isaiah, God uses cornerstone metaphorically to assure Israel of her secure future (Isaiah 28:16).

In Ephesians, the author speaks of “the household of God” (the church) “being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19)

Where do we fit in this story?

We fit in the story as new tenants- new believers in Christ- all Christians. You and I are replacement of tenants.  We are given good news of salvation through precious blood of Christ Jesus.  Therefore God expects from us good produce of our life, our God given talents, God given wealth.  This is not our world.  The life does not belong to us God has given us freely as a gift.   Everything that we have gift from God the Almighty. If we don’t bear fruits of righteousness and honor God the vineyard (the kingdom of God) will be taken away from us and given to others.  The story continues.

What is the fair share of a gift?  How can we complain against God? Can you go against God and live?

What might happen if we fail to produce fruits of obedience and honor God?  God would treat us in the same way he treated Israelites.  We are dealing with God.

Never resist God’s warning, 

Never resist God’s voice/word never to mistake the grace of God.

We can never go away with the sins and unholy life. We cannot have kingdom of God without Jesus Christ death and resurrection.

God is looking for people who will bring forth fruit. What kind of fruit? Holy lives—lives lived in accord with God’s will. God won’t judge us based on the number of sermons we have preached or the number of people we have baptized. He will count us as fruitful if we have been faithful.

Verse 44 warns us that the cornerstone becomes a stumbling stone for the unfaithful. It has been said, “You can’t break God’s laws; you can only break yourself on them.” 

This should serve as a warning for us. The day will come when God will demand an accounting, and the stone, intended to provide us a strong foundation, will crush those have failed to position themselves in proper relationship to it.

Prayer: Father God our life is your vineyard.  This is your kind gift to us.  May we always take the keystone –Jesus Christ seriously and be grateful and faithful to Him for His sacrificial love that saved us.  Amen.

When God Puts Us to the Test

Sermon delivered on Trinity 16A, Sunday, September 27, 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: Exodus 17.1-17; 78.1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2.1-13; Matthew 21.23-32.

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

In one way or another all our passages this morning remind us, uncomfortably so for many of us, that God puts us to the test on occasion. What’s that all about? Toward what end? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Before we look at why God tests us on occasion, we need to place the question within the context of the overall biblical narrative of God’s rescue plan for us and God’s creation so that we don’t arrive at some screwy or misguided conclusions like we usually do whenever Fathers Sang or Madanu preach. We recall that the overarching story of Scripture is about how God is busy rescuing his creatures and world from our slavery to the power of Sin that results in Death and the corrupting spread of Evil. This story, beginning with God’s call to Abraham and ending with Jesus Christ, also tells us much about the nature and character of God our Father who has acted decisively in Jesus Christ to reconcile us to himself, doing so even while we were still God’s enemies (2 Cor 5.19; Rom 5.6-10). What kind of God would act that way? Short answer: a God of perfect love and justice, a God who calls his wayward people to himself through the self-giving love and death of his Son to rescue us both from our slavery to Sin and from ourselves. God did and does this primarily through human agency because as our founding documents (Genesis) make clear, God created humans in his image to be his wise stewards and rulers over God’s good creation. Before the Fall, before our first ancestors decided to try to be God’s equals, this arrangement worked swimmingly well. God lived with Adam and Eve in paradise causing them to enjoy perfect physical, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being. Because God makes us for himself, we suffer terribly and ultimately die when our sins cause us to be separated and alienated from God. We’ve all been to this dance. We all have experienced anxiety, loneliness, isolation, alienation, hostility, and fear in our lives and these are but a handful of manifestations that happen when we are unreconciled to God. To put it bluntly, our sin makes us sick and ultimately kills us. That is not what God wants or intends for us and we have nobody but ourselves to blame for our predicament. 

But as Genesis also makes clear, from the time of our Fall and the rupture of our perfect relationship with God our Father, God has been at work drawing us back to himself and making himself and his character known to us. From the heavenly ladder and ascending/descending angels in Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Genesis 28.10-16) to God’s promise to be with us (Emmanuel) in Christ’s birth announcement (Mt. 1.21-23) as well as in the Great Commission (I will be with you always even to the end of the age, Mt. 28.20) to the glorious promise of new creation in Rev. 21.1-7, Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God is with those whom he calls to bless and provide for them. This is the biblical context that we must keep clearly in mind as we ask why God tests us. The short answer here is to see if we really trust God’s goodness and promises contained in the overarching story of Scripture, i.e., have we ceased striving to be God’s equals? This is of course more for our benefit than God’s. God knows our hearts and all that we do (cf. Ps 139). We often act dazed and confused about such matters and often don’t know how genuine our faith, hope, and love are until they are tested. As with all things in life, clarity is always our friend because it helps us see with what we are dealing. We need to trust God if we ever hope to live our lives without fear and hopelessness, i.e., we need to know that God is trustworthy so that we can live as fully human beings.

The question for God’s people, then, is pretty straightforward: Do we trust that God is good to his promise to provide for us and to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and Death? Or to use OT parlance, do we believe the Lord with us or not? Each of our lessons this morning provide a case study of sorts to help us answer that question. We start with our OT lesson (and our accompanying psalm lesson that exhorts us to learn that God is trustworthy and teach our children that truth). In it, we see God leading his people in the wilderness after he has rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. God had promised his people to bring them to the land he promised their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but first God had to free them from their slavery to the Egyptians (we read that story several weeks back). For Israel, the Exodus was and is the defining moment where God acted decisively on his promise to save Israel from her enemies. We (hopefully) know the story. God called Moses to lead God’s people out of Egypt and then rescued them from the pursuing Egyptian forces by parting the waters of the Red Sea, bringing Israel through those dark and menacing waters and drowning the Egyptians who pursued them. Once through that first impossible obstacle, God then led his people through the next major obstacle—the wilderness, guiding them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Now I am not the brightest star in the sky, but I would think that had I lived in that generation and experienced God’s mighty act of power in both the Passover, where God killed all the firstborn Egyptian males, thereby compelling Pharaoh to let God’s people Israel leave, and then experienced God’s rescue through the Red Sea, that I might be convinced God had the power to rescue me from any situation. After all, I had seen God’s power first-hand and that was proof God was good to his word to rescue my people and me from our slavery. So why would I worry about God providing for us as we wandered through this foreboding wilderness with its lack of food and water? Hadn’t God shown us enough for us to trust God? 

Apparently not because in our story today we see the people grumbling against both Moses and God, clearly showing their lack of trust in both. Why did we follow you out here, dude? Did God bring us out of Egypt to kill us? We’d be better off in our slavery back in Egypt. At least there we had enough to eat and drink. Ah, the human condition in all its glory! Charming. Clearly God’s people did not trust God to provide for them in their current situation, stark and foreboding as it was, despite the fact they had seen God do even mightier things in the Passover and at the Red Sea. And Moses was no better. Of course he would have been concerned for his life; his stoning was a real possibility! But this is the same Moses who had seen God call him kicking and screaming to be Israel’s leader and mighty prophet, equipping Moses along the way to grow into God’s call to him. Surely Moses knew God had the power to deliver on his promises to take care of his people. But there he was complaining and grumbling to God right along with God’s people!

The logic of the story set where it is in Exodus also suggests that God had brought his people to this point to test them. Did they believe in God’s goodness, love, and power to provide for them or not? God knew they didn’t trust him, but surely many of the people there didn’t know that because their faith hadn’t been tested in the context of the wilderness. It’s a sad story with a happy ending because God provided once again for his people. Water gushed from a rock and God’s people found the drink they needed to survive and continue their journey to the Promised Land, but not before they had grumbled to God, effectively accusing God of not being with them or caring about them or being able to provide for them. Sound familiar (if it doesn’t you might want to look in the mirror!)?

And what did God do? Did God give up on them? Did he leave them to their own devices? Did he destroy his rebellious and unbelieving people? Of course not! That is not who God is. Instead, God provided for his people and invited them to use this episode to bring about repentance and instill a greater trust of him in them. But the people of God were apparently slow learners. It seems the sins of pride and presumption found in Adam and Eve about which I spoke two weeks ago run deep in all of us. Before we stop and sneer at the ancient Israelites’ lack of faith in God’s goodness and provision as they wandered through the wilderness, we should stop and do a self-check as we wander through our own wilderness. 

What wilderness, you ask? We don’t live in the wilderness. We live in metro Columbus. Well, we may not live in a physical wilderness but we certainly wander in a spiritual one these days. Who among us won’t be elated to see 2020 with its pandemic and social unrest and increasing bitterness and rancor give way to a new year? We watch increasingly godless, lawless forces intent on destroying our nation burn down our cities and we wonder where our political leaders are in the midst of it all. We live in fear of getting the “Rona” and it isolates us and makes us more afraid and crazier than we already are. We see nothing but strident partisanship and rancor among our so-called leaders and wonder if there are any statesmen or women left. Closer to home, some of us have lost jobs during the pandemic and have a legitimate concern about financial collapse. We learned this past week that Westerville has rejected our occupancy permit app. Then there have been a spate of serious illnesses in our parish family. We pray fervently and nothing seems to happen. Where is God in all this, we cry out in anger, fear, and desperation? This morning some of you will come up for healing prayer and anointing and then go away, apparently not having your prayers answered (although some of you will experience answered prayers). What are we to do with that? Yesterday I spoke with a woman whose faith is greater than anyone I have personally known. She loves the Lord passionately and unconditionally, yet there she is in a hospital, apparently slowly dying a painful death from cancer. I’ve prayed hours for her and in every way I know how. I’m at the point where I don’t how to pray for her or what to pray for; I can only groan, trusting that the Holy Spirit is present in my groans and is praying for her in and through them as promised (Rm 8.26-27). Why won’t God answer? Does he not care? Is he powerless to answer? This is the stuff we read about in today’s OT lesson, my beloved, and experience in our lives more often than we would like. 

Yet it is the consistent testimony of Scripture, the Word of God, and the lives of the saints that the Father does know our worries and fears and that God does have the power to act on our behalf. But do we believe that? How many of us believe the lyrics of the song, Great Is Thy Faithfulness? Do we really believe God’s mercies are new every morning, lyrics that are based on Lam 3.16 that the prophet Jeremiah uttered as he surveyed the unthinkable: a desolate Jerusalem, the very home of God, burnt to the ground by God’s enemies and God’s people taken into exile. Do we have that kind of faith to sing that song during the times we walk through the dark valleys of life? The Father’s trustworthiness is there to be had every day if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, your presence here among us this morning being proof positive that God is gracious to us every day. It is to the glory of God and further proof that God’s promises are trustworthy and true that so many of us do believe God really is present in his world providing for us every moment, despite our being worn down on occasion by the circumstances and situations of life and the human condition. That is our challenge, my beloved, and that is why God tests us. He wants to show us he is dependable and trustworthy so that we can continue to grow in our trust in God, even when everything swirling around us suggests that God and his mercy and provisions are nowhere to be found.

Turning to our epistle lesson, we see St. Paul asking something similar to the church at Philippi. Do you trust Christ enough to let him change the way you treat your fellow family members in Christ he asks? For those of us who call ourselves Christian, the challenge to trust God can be even greater than for God’s people Israel. While we can recall the Passover and Exodus to remind us about the power and ability of God to rescue and provide, our foundational salvation event is Christ’s death and resurrection. It is harder for us fallen humans who strive and grasp to be God’s equals to see God’s power in the cross. But that’s exactly what St. Paul and the rest of the NT writers proclaim! On the cross we see the power of God to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and Death, the cross being the very instrument of shame and human degradation. It’s hard to see God’s power in a naked and pierced man dying a godforsaken death as a condemned criminal. But that is the surprising power and promise of God made known to us, a promise vindicated by God’s mighty act of power when he raised Christ from the dead to signal the abolition of death one day. It is a hope and promise we must live with because it is yet to be completely fulfilled. We don’t have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight that makes even the dullest of us look brilliant. No, we are in the wilderness right now and so we must walk in faith, trusting in the promise and power of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The extent we believe in the power and promise of Christ’s saving death and resurrection is the extent we will continue to believe in God’s ability to provide for us and rescue us from all that corrupts, dehumanizes, demeans, and demoralizes us.  

The fact that God became human to rescue us from the darkest power of all—Death, despite our ongoing rebellion against God, despite our insistence on kicking God upstairs so we don’t have to bother with him in the living of our days (because of course we think we know better than God), is compelling evidence that God does love us and is providing for us. He’s given us his Holy Spirit to heal and change us for crying out loud! What more do we need? Whatever it is we think we need, we likely won’t get if it goes against what God the Father knows we need to develop a healthy love and trust in his power. And so, as St. Paul reminds us in epistle lesson, our trust starts with how we treat our families. We are to work out our faith in fear and trembling because we know that, “…God is working in [us], giving [us] the desire and the power to do what pleases him” (Phil 2.12-13). What on earth is St. Paul saying? Is he telling us our salvation from God’s wrath is accomplished by following the rules Scripture and the Church have set over the years? Uh, nope.

As v.13 makes clear, St. Paul is talking about the power of God working in his people. As St. Paul reminds us elsewhere, Christ has died for us to rescue us from the ravages of Sin and Death, and here he calls us to believe our story, a belief based on the bodily resurrection of Christ. We call this belief “faith” and faith always manifests itself in obedience. In the context of the letter, St. Paul is reminding God’s people in Christ to embrace our salvation won for us by God himself in and through Christ. God calls us to work with him to bring his healing love to the world around us, starting with our own families and the family of God, the Church, the context St. Paul addresses here. We are to imitate Christ in his self-giving love and treat each other accordingly because to do that is to imitate God the Father himself. When we live this way we demonstrate our belief and trust in God’s promise that he has rescued us from Sin and Death in and through Christ. 

St. Paul is not talking about being a doormat for people. To the contrary, he is urging us to accept our dignity as those who are loved by Christ and rescued from Sin and Death in and through his self-giving death and God’s mighty act of resurrection. We each have different situations and folks to deal with in our lives and we each have to figure out what that looks like as we act together as the people of God. St. Paul immediately reminds us we don’t have to do any of this on our own. The Christian Faith is not another form of failed human self-help. As we have just seen, God has given us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, to heal and restore God’s image in us one minute at a time. Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, don’t see much spiritual growth in our lives but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. We don’t see ourselves aging everyday or our hair growing. But if we look at pictures from ten years ago or decide we need a haircut, we are reminded that change has indeed taken place despite our inability to perceive it at the moment. The Holy Spirit working in us is like that. Sometimes he produces spectacular results. Most of the time, however, he works in us quietly, gradually healing and restoring us to God the Father. Regardless of speed or outcome, the point is that we are called to live as people of God by the power of God, not our own, and we are called to trust in that power always. We can see that trust in the lives of saints, both living and dead, and we are called to trust their experience and testimony, along with our own, to trust in God’s ability to provide for us, an ability that stems from God’s great love for us. That’s the test we face, my beloved. We see the power of God. We have the testimony from God himself that he is in Christ reconciling the world to himself, you and me in all our unloveliness, so that we will not die an eternal death. That’s why we need to know our story. That’s why we need to encourage and exhort one another. That’s why we need to put the needs of others ahead of our own—not because they are superior to us or their needs are more deserving than ours—but because doing so imitates the self-giving love of God made known in our crucified Savior. That’s why we sometimes have to correct each other, not out of a haughty sense of pride or presumption, but out of a deep love for those whom God loves more deeply than we can ever imagine. That’s what working out our salvation in fear and trembling looks like on the ground. We know we are loved by God and have been rescued from Sin and Death by him. Now we are called to live out that trust obediently, imitating our crucified Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the challenge and the promise. It can get discouraging that we keep making the same mistakes over and over, trusting in anything and anyone but God our Father (we see the same rebellious distrust in our gospel lesson but I do not have time to interpret that for you this morning). Yet we also know that despite our unbelief, despite our waywardness and rebellion, God keeps pursuing us relentlessly because he loves us and wants us to live forever in his promised new world. Let us pray to the Father for the grace to believe his promises and know his character made known supremely in Jesus Christ our Lord, and revealed to us new each morning by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit. And yes, my beloved, let us live out our faith (trust) together as the Father calls us to do. To do so, however imperfectly, means we have passed the test. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Bishop Julian Dobbs: Real Living. Do You Know What it Looks Like?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 15A, Sunday, September 20, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The bishop caught Father Bowser’s anti-writing fever so there is no text for today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast, click here

Lectionary texts: Exodus 16.2-15; Psalm 105.1-6, 37-45; Philippians 1.21-30; Matthew 20.1-16.