Christ the King

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday B, November 21 , 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Daniel 7.9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1.4-8; St. John 18.33-37.

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

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, a feast relatively new to the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism of his day. How appropriate for our day as well, even if it is misplaced on our calendar. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and as its name implies, today is a day when we culminate the season of Kingdomtide where we proclaim Christ as King, Messiah, and Lord of all God’s creation. I’m going to cut right to the chase. Do you believe any of this? If not, here’s why you can.

We start by acknowledging that God’s world is occupied by an alien, malevolent power—Satan and his minions, both human and spiritual. Why God has allowed this, no one can say nor should we spend much time on the question because the answer is not ours to know, at least in this mortal life. What is important for our discussion is that the ubiquitous presence of Evil in this world has caused many, Christians included, to not believe Christ is really king. What kind of king allows Evil to be so awfully present? And frankly, that is just what the dark powers want us to believe! When we see evil run apparently unchecked (the key word being apparently) and have doubts about Christ’s ability to rule over his creation, despite the NT declarations that he does reign as king (e.g., Col 1.15-19, Christ’s ascension or any of his exorcisms), the dark powers celebrate because doubt seeds despair and unbelief and can lead to the abandonment of the faith once delivered to the saints, to you and me, made saints by virtue of the blood of the Lamb shed for us. 

However, the mere existence of Evil cannot fully explain why many of us fail to believe Christ is really king. Part of it involves human pride. We think we know better than God. We forget that we are finite, fragile, and mortal, prone to erroneous thinking and sinful behavior. We forget that God is omnipotent, eternal, and omniscient, that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. To one extent or another we are all products of “enlightened thinking,” an oxymoron if there ever was one, where we limit reality to what our senses can perceive and what we can measure. This creates in us a skepticism about some of the things we read in the Bible, like today’s OT passage, e.g., or Christ’s healings and exorcisms. The Enlightenment, for all the good it has produced, has also produced the Holocaust, Communism, two disastrous world wars, and the woke lunacy that is attempting to impose itself on us today to name just a few. The Enlightenment reveals human pride at work, determined to use one of God’s gifts, reason, to replace superstition and religion, the two sources most enlightened thinkers believed (and still believe) were/are the cause of all the evils of the world. Of course this is utter nonsense and we can see the results of thinking that excludes God from the equation all around us. Contrary to popular belief, when humans actually take God seriously and act according to God’s holy ways and laws, the results are always positive. 

Whatever the reason for our doubts and fears about God’s sovereignty—and let’s be clear, Kingdomtide season is all about God’s sovereignty—as all our lessons this morning testify, lessons that represent the whole of Scripture, Christ really is king and we can live confidently in that knowledge and reality. We must therefore learn what to look for concerning the signs of God’s rule in his world. In our OT lesson, Daniel shares the vision given to to him in response to the previous visions he received. In it we see the Ancient of Days, the Ancient One, God himself, preparing to judge the evil in his world as well as the powers behind it, both human and spiritual. The vivid imagery suggests purity and power, with God’s fiery judgment on all evil and those who perpetrate it. We humans need to be exposed to scenes like this, hidden from our senses, because they remind us God is in control of things, chaotic as our times and lives may be, mysterious as it all is to us. 

And then we see the Son of Man, who interpreted through the lens of the NT is Christ himself, coming on the clouds—biblical language attributing God’s presence and power to him—ready to be God’s agent of justice and judgment. This scene should make sense to us because until the time evil and evildoers are judged, there can be no real peace, no perfect world. Like the blood of righteous Abel, the blood of the martyrs and those murdered and killed unjustly will continue to cry out to God until God finally acts decisively to give them full justice. As Christians, we believe that day will come when Christ returns to finish his saving work and raise his saints to everlasting life. We may not like the fact that we have to wait for this day. Being children of instant gratification we may grow impatient and angry over Christ’s promised delayed gratification, but the fact remains that this promise and hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come—are necessary if we are to thrive in this mortal life where we live in the already of God’s victory over Sin, Death, and Evil and the not yet of its consummation. As St. John the Elder reminds us in our epistle lesson, the blood of the Lamb has conquered Evil in a surprising and totally unexpected way. God’s victory is accomplished by the power of God himself, the only power strong enough to defeat Evil and Sin and Death.

In our gospel lesson, St. John the Evangelist also proclaims that Christ is God become human, that by going to the cross he will fulfill the prophecy and promise of Daniel that God will bring about God’s perfect justice to rid the world of all evil and evildoers. St. John proclaims this in part by telling us the story of Christ’s confrontation with Pilate, i.e., in telling us the story of God’s kingdom and justice confronting worldly power and justice. In this confrontation, St. John in effect proclaims that here is the Son of Man, coming on the clouds, i.e., coming in God’s power, to confront and deal with the evil and corruption of the world’s systems and beliefs. In this deeply ironic story, we see Pilate, who represents corrupt human notions of power and justice, mistakenly thinking that he is in charge and judging Christ as a political enemy when in fact it is Christ who is judging him—by going to the cross. For St. John, the cross is where Christ is crowned King and his kingdom’s rule begins. Again, in a deeply ironic moment, Christ’s crown consists not of gold but of thorns and most who are confronted by the story fail to understand this reality.

Notice carefully that Christ does not tell Pilate his kingdom is not of this world, but rather not from it, meaning the source of his power and authority emanate from God’s power and not human’s. Our Savior’s prayer that appeals for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven makes little sense if Christ’s kingdom is some kind of spiritual kingdom rather than God’s power finally reasserting itself to heal a broken and corrupt world and its people. Pilate, ever caustic and cynical doesn’t get this. Neither do many of us in our cynicism. But our Lord tells him (and us) that he had come to testify to the truth, the truth being that God will not allow alien and hostile forces represented by Satan and his minions, Pilate among them, to go on causing havoc and pain and destruction and injustice and death forever. God in his loving goodness can never ultimately allow Evil to win the day as our OT lesson testifies. Pilate, of course, has no conception of truth because he retorted with the famous question, “What is truth?” Here we see St. John testifying that truth is not of our making. Pilate in his cynicism, a cynicism that is increasingly popular today, cannot fathom this. Truth in his economy is something each of us holds. It is ours for the making so to speak. Not so, says Christ. Only God is the owner of truth and that truth never changes or varies. We can’t bend it or invent it according to our needs and whims. But only by Christ dying for us would the world have the chance to learn this truth and start to live by it. This in part is what it means to submit to Christ’s rule. Because we do not like the truth does not give us the license to change it. We are to obey God’s truth in how we live our lives and that means we are to pattern our lives after Christ. What is truth? God’s great love for sinners like you and me, a love so great that God was willing to become human and shed his blood to rescue us from our slavery to Sin and to conquer Evil by the self-giving power of love. And in so conquering Sin, Death, and Evil, God has pronounced judgment on it all and those who commit and perpetrate it. Evildoers may seem to win the day, but their victory is pyrrhic and short-lived. Their day of destruction and judgment is coming and what a terrible day that will be. That is the truth. If you believe it, you will treat it like the eternal treasure it is and live accordingly.

So what does that look like? What does that mean for you and me? First, when we realize that Christ is our crucified king who has defeated and judged Evil by taking it on himself, we have reason to believe the NT’s promise that on the day of his return, his cruciform victory will be consummated and we will finally be freed from all that has the power to harm and destroy us, including and especially the power of Death. And when we learn to recognize what Christ’s reign looks like, we learn to have confidence in its truth and reality. That means we have real hope for the present and future. No matter how bad things get for us, we persevere in the power of the Spirit as we await the final redemption of our body and soul. Hope is a great blessing, my beloved. Don’t ever abandon it, especially when its source is God himself.

Second, our lessons invite us to learn and live by the truth, not the fiction of our own making, but God’s truth. As we have seen, despite appearances to the contrary, the truth is that God calls us to live according to his laws and created order and when we refuse to do so, we can expect God’s judgment. I will have much more to say about this topic in two weeks, but for right now I would simply point out that God’s judgment always leads to God’s justice and is motivated by God’s love for us. God created us in his image to represent his presence in the world. When we do that, things go swimmingly well for us and we find wholeness and contentment, despite the corrupting influence of living in an evil-infested world. As followers of Christ this means that we choose not to be partakers in evil and to confront evil with love and good after the manner of our Lord Jesus, even when it appears that our efforts are defeated or go for nothing. Let me give you a quick example of what this looks like in real life. Recently the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, confronted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over her support for abortion. Unlike the powers of the world who use vitriol and anger and all the rest, the Archbishop instead called for prayer and fasting on behalf of Speaker Pelosi, asking God to convert her “maternal heart” away from supporting abortion. ++Cordileone also asked Catholic Christians to sign up for a “Rose and Rosary for Nancy,” where a rose would be sent to the Speaker for every Christian who signed up. As of Nov 15, 15,728 roses had been purchased, one of which were mine, and 1000 have been delivered, God be praised! This is how Christ the King’s reign works. In marked contrast to the nasty political business and name-calling (business as usual), we see God’s people praying for the repentance of one who denies the truth and supports murder. There was no name calling, just prayer and fasting and roses. Whether the Speaker repents is not the issue here. Rather, it is God’s people in Christ, working in loving obedience to him and appealing to his power to change hearts, minds, and lives. It is born out of a deep faith in the reality and efficacy of that power to conquer Sin and Evil and it confronts an unholy reality in a way that the person might actually be able to hear it without condemning her because we know that judgment is ultimately left to God and God alone. The world does not expect this and cannot recognize God’s power at work (one critic called the Archbishop “nutty,” for example). Therefore the world has misplaced or no hope, a terrible judgment in its own right. Not so with us. We have seen our crucified and risen Lord and we know his healing love and presence. On his behalf we dare to love each other enough despite our differences to support each other in our trials, tribulations, and suffering because we know that our trials are only temporary and the hope of glory, the new heavens and earth where we live in God’s direct presence forever, await us. And in doing so, we make known his love and presence among us. There is nothing better in all creation. This is why we can believe in Christ the King and his reign despite all the ambiguities, unanswered questions, and chaos that swirl around us. My beloved, I appeal to you to give (or continue to give) your lives and ultimate allegiance to Christ the King because in him, and only in him, will you find the strength and power for the living of your days and the blessed hope of eternal life awaiting you after you have finished running your race. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Hope for Living in a World Gone Mad

Sermon delivered on the 2nd Sunday before Advent B, November 14, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Daniel 12.1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10.11-25; St. Mark 13.1-8.

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

Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Kingdomtide, the 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. Why is this important? Because Christians, at least many in the West, have lost their hope in Christ, and without hope we inevitably shrivel up and die. Hope is an especially important sign of God’s graciousness for us to embrace these days as we watch our society become increasingly unraveled and our lessons this morning point us to the exact nature of our hope in Christ. This is what I want us to look at. 

Any reasonable, informed person who takes even a superficial look at the events swirling around us today would conclude that Western civilization is under attack in various ways. Many of us find empty shelves in stores at which we regularly shop, a product of supply-chain and related issues. This is a strange new innovation that flies in the face of abundance most Americans are used to and there seems to be no quick resolution to the problem. COVID is still an awful reality with which we must deal, made worse by its politicization by all sides. We seem to hate each other more, with various forms of shaming and condemnation being the order of the day. Inflation is running rampant and we can’t seem to find enough workers. Family and traditional sexual values and mores are under relentless attack and the problem of indoctrination in public and private schools is a very real thing. Many of our cities continue to burn and are becoming increasingly lawless. These are but a few examples of the bad news and chaos that bombard us relentlessly, all made more intense by social media, themselves a window into the ugliness of the human condition. Then, of course, there are the personal and private burdens each of us bear: sickness, loss, alienation, mind-boggling rapid change in our lives and routines, isolation, and loneliness to name just a few. All of this (and more) can lead us to despair and hopelessness. We look around for some respite, but find precious little that brings hope and comfort. For us geezers out there (you know who you are), this is not the country in which we grew up, for better or worse, and it makes us afraid.

And what is our response? Despite the fact that we call ourselves “Christian,” many of us scramble to find any solution other than Christ to help calm us. We put our hope and trust in a political party. We put our hope and trust in our bank accounts and wealth. We put our hope and trust in a certain ideology. We try to amass power to exert some control over the chaos in and around our lives. Many of us become increasingly isolated, living almost a hermit’s existence. Regardless of our strategies and attempts to mitigate the chaos and uncertainty swirling around us and in our personal lives, they all have this in common: Every one will inevitably fail because they are based on human solutions, not God’s power. Try as we might to be the master of our own destiny, itself a product of delusional thinking, all our efforts to control our lives and the chaos in them are bound to fail. 

And so I ask you this this morning, my beloved. Is Christ your bedrock foundation on which you stand? Do you see him and the promise of salvation in and through him as your only real hope to navigate through these tumultuous times? If Christ is your bedrock foundation, you already know that what I am about to say is true. If he is not, then why isn’t he? After all, you profess him as Lord! Part of the answer is that the Church over the last 100 years or so has lost her bold voice in living and proclaiming Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead. I don’t have time to explore why that happened other than to say that parts of Christ’s Church have stopped believing her own story! Perhaps it is too fantastic for our “sophisticated” thinking. Whatever the reason, when we take the truth and reality of Christ’s resurrection out of the picture and stop teaching and proclaiming it, no one should be surprised that many Christians in the West refuse to stake their very lives on its reality. Simply put, the Church has lost her cred. Why should we expect outsiders to believe our story when many of us don’t even believe it, let alone stake our lives and future on it?

Another part of the answer also rests with us as fallen human beings. Since being expelled from paradise and losing our perfect communion with God, a communion that resulted in perfect health and happiness, humans have sought our own solutions to the problems we have largely created ourselves. We do this because from almost the very beginning, we have desired to take God’s place and pretend that God doesn’t exist. None of this will produce real hope for the future because it is all a sham and a delusion and deep down we know it, even if we refuse to admit it.

But for those of us who take our story seriously, we can find real hope for the present and future because our hope and trust is centered on God’s power, a God who loves us and desires for us to be and act as the image-bearers he created us to be. We see it in all of our lessons this morning. In both our OT and gospel lessons, we are reminded that history is going somewhere, that despite the chaos and madness that swirl around and in us, God the Father is still firmly in control. Daniel and St. Mark describe this chaos as the time of anguish and the birth pangs respectively: wars, rumors of conspiracy, chaos, suffering, persecution, death and destruction to name just a few. For reasons unknown and unknowable to us, God in his infinite wisdom and providence allows the forces of evil and their human minions to wage war on God’s people and world. Rather than wasting our time trying to figure out why God would allow this, we would be better off focusing on God’s promises to us. And what are those promises? God promises to be with his people, you and me, not necessarily to protect us—although he certainly does—but to assure us a real future, a future with new bodily life equipped to live in a world devoid of evil and sin and sorrow and brokenness and chaos and all the rest. Daniel is the OT’s clearest statement of the hope of resurrection and when he speaks of a dual resurrection with some being raised to everlasting life and others being raised to everlasting shame, he makes it clear that how we live our mortal lives has direct implications for our future. (And as a sidebar, it is noteworthy that the first followers of Christ did not use Daniel’s language of resurrected people shining like stars to describe the risen Christ, indicating that his resurrection was real and unexpected because they struggled to accurately describe it and him.) This is part of God’s promise to Daniel that despite the fact that Daniel and his fellow Jews had suffered God’s punishment for their idolatry and unbelief, God remained faithful to his people and promised to ultimately heal and restore them. The NT promises essentially the same, except the promise is offered to all people, not just Israel, in and through Christ and we see the promise played out vividly in the Revelation to St. John. If we are ashamed of Christ in this world and deny him in our professions and living, we can expect the same from Christ when we stand before his judgment seat. But we should not seek to follow Christ primarily out of fear of judgment because that will ultimately fail. We are way too sin-sick to be motivated by fear to do what’s right. Rather, we should take our cue from Daniel, whom twice God called precious in God’s sight before revealing this promise of resurrection to him. Daniel sought to obey the Lord because he loved the Lord and wanted to please him. Of course there was holy fear and reverence in Daniel’s life, but that was not his primary motivator. Love was.

As Christians we too have ample reason to love God the Father because of the work of God the Son, and here we turn to the letter to the Hebrews. If we are going to enjoy an eternity with God, living in God’s holy Presence, a Presence that cannot tolerate or allow any vestige of evil or sin, how are we ever to have a hope and a chance of achieving the promise of eternal life? After all, we are hopelessly corrupted by the power of Sin and that by definition excludes us from living in God’s direct Presence as Revelation 21-22 promise. The solution? The power and love of God worked out in the death of Jesus Christ. Christ is our great High Priest who bore God’s punishment and wrath on all our collective sins himself, allowing God to work out God’s perfect justice and condemn our sins without condemning us. The result? We are made fit to stand in God’s holy Presence forever by virtue of Christ’s blood shed for us. This is why Christ could sit down at his Father’s right hand. His sacrifice was made once and for all. There’s no need to repeat it, unlike the old priestly order that offered sacrifices for sin but could never take away sin the way Christ did and does. Incomplete work requires one to continue standing. Completed work allows the worker to be seated as Christ’s work on our behalf did. This is why Christ is the only way to the Father. No one else has the power to offer a perfect sacrifice for our sins, making it possible for us to live in God’s direct presence. If this great love for us does not produce a desire to respond faithfully and obediently to God’s commands, nothing else can and we really are hopelessly lost because we are without a saving faith.

So why does this all matter to us? First, we who put our faith in Christ are no longer under God’s just condemnation. That means we have a hope and a future. There is no good reason for us to ever fear the chaos that swirls around us and in our lives or our future. Whatever the reason God allows this chaos is trumped by the fact that God has acted decisively on our behalf to rescue us from the madness. And because it is God’s promise it cannot and will not fail, giving us the basis for real and legitimate hope. This promise will be made complete at Christ’s Second Coming and we focus on it during the seasons of Kingdomtide/Advent to remind us and help us in the living of our days. God is in charge and always has been. The world and its agents try relentlessly to get us to believe otherwise. That is why we need to know our Story contained in Scripture and that demands that we attend to and read holy Scripture on a regular, if not daily, basis. If you want real hope, my beloved, you need to put in your sweat equity so that you know the nature and basis of that hope. 

Second, in addition to being the only real antidote to hopelessness and despair, having a real hope in Christ’s future gives us a reason to live faithfully in the present, even in the face of failure and resistance. Why? Because like Daniel, St. Paul also reminds us our present work is directly related to our future hope. And since our future hope is made secure in Christ, we need to keep to the task of being faithful and obedient to God, working hard to do our part to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven, always remembering that it is God who ultimately makes that happen. Hear St. Paul now: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless [or in vain]” (1 Cor 15.58). So the next time you forgive someone and it seems to make no difference, or the next time you help someone or comfort someone or lend to someone and you see no results, or the next time you proclaim the gospel to an unbeliever and are laughed at or ridiculed, or the next time you profess Christian values in the areas of sex, economics, or politics and are scorned and mocked and hated, take heart and hope because you know Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and he promises you that you share his destiny despite your unworthiness and failures, God be thanked and praised.

There are other applications to all this, of course, but here is my challenge and exhortation to you, my beloved. Believe your story. Live it together and celebrate it together. Continue to give your life each day to Christ and live in hope. Don’t fall into despair and don’t be afraid—Scripture’s most frequent exhortation to us. This will require you to be mindful about it because there is much in this life that makes us afraid and shouts to us that God and God’s promises are a lie. Don’t believe the liars. Jesus Christ is crucified and raised from the dead for you. You are part of his Body and you belong to him forever. Don’t give your pearls to the swine. Don’t settle for second best (or worse). Jesus Christ is King and Lord of all. His rule is not always obvious to us but it is real nevertheless and his promises are true. Accept the gift and stake your very life on this truth. 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: Running the Race

Sermon delivered on 3 before Advent B, Sunday, November 7, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Bishop Dobbs gets all grumpy when we ask for a written manuscript. Nobody’s got time for a grumpy bishop so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Ruth 3.1-5, 4.13-17; Psalm 127; Hebrews 9.24-28; St. Mark 12.38-44.

For All the Saints: God’s Promise of New Creation and the Abolition of Death

Sermon delivered on All-Saints’ Sunday B, October 31, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 25.6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21.1-6a; John 11.32-44.

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

Today is All-Saints’ Sunday, the Sunday where we celebrate the communion of saints, those saints who have died in Christ and who are enjoying their rest with him, as well as those of us in Christ who still struggle in this mortal life with all of its joys and sorrows and everything in between. But why do we celebrate the Feast of All-Saints? Other than giving us a chance to remember our dearly departed—never a bad thing—what difference does it make if we have a robust belief in the communion of saints? To answer that question, we must look beyond the saints and see the power of God at work. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Death under any circumstance is extremely hard, isn’t it? Death is the ultimate form of dehumanization. We don’t get a do-over with death. It separates us permanently from our loved ones and tends to leave us angry and/or without hope. Certainly we grieve. Death can also be the ultimate form of injustice. We’ve had people in our parish family who have lost loved ones prematurely to the wicked monster of cancer. We’ve had folks lose loved ones to suicide. Many of us have watched our parents or grandparents grow old and infirm and waste away, and it is heartbreaking. On a broader scale, we are bombarded with news of mass murder, horrific accidents, heinous crimes, drug fatalities, acts of terrorism, and all the rest. None of those folks deserved to suffer and die the way they did, especially when they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or happened to have the wrong genetic makeup that stacked the deck against them almost from the start. Where’s the justice in that? We can punish murderers but it won’t bring back our loved ones. We might find cures for some of the evil diseases that afflict our bodies and minds but our loved ones are still gone. Where’s the justice, especially for violent or senseless deaths? No matter what we do, no matter how severely we punish evildoers or rage against the evil and injustice of death, our loved ones are still dead and we are still separated from them for the remainder of our mortal life.

All this can make us wonder where God is in it all. Why does God allow such suffering and death to occur? Part of the answer is that Death reigns because the power of Sin reigns in this world and our lives (Genesis 3ff), and as St. Paul reminds us, the wages of sin is death (Rom 6.23). None of us escape it. We can eat right, exercise like crazy, and take very good care of ourselves. The result? We all die because we all have been enslaved by the power of Sin. But this answer is not ultimately a satisfactory one. A life-long smoker who has terminal lung cancer will not really find much help or comfort in the knowledge that his smoking caused him to develop a disease that is killing him. As Christians, we know that sin leads to death and we are going to die because we are all sinners. But in the final analysis that really isn’t going to be helpful to us as we face our loved ones’ mortality and/or our own. In fact, most of us get angry when thinking about Sin and Death. We might understand the relationship on a theoretical basis but we sure don’t want it applied to us or our loved ones! 

The ugly reality of death and God’s response to it is why All-Saints’ Sunday is so important to us as Christians because today reminds us that Sin and Death do not have the final say in this world or our lives. Now as we just saw it is true that we live in a God-cursed world for our sin. God did and does judge human sin because a good and loving God cannot possibly tolerate any kind of sin that corrupts us and God’s good world. And so we live under God’s curse, but that is not God’s final word on the matter. And as we saw last week, the rest of Scripture attests that God is faithful to his creation and creatures, especially his image-bearing creatures, despite our sin and rebellion against God. God does not intend to destroy his good world gone bad, he intends to redeem and restore it and us to at least our original health and goodness where we will once again enjoy perfect communion with God, and with it comes perfect health and eternal life. 

We get a glimpse of God’s promise to heal and restore in our OT lesson when God proclaims through his prophet that he will destroy the shroud of death—an appropriate image, don’t you think?—and swallow up death forever. In doing so God will wipe the tears from all faces and take away our disgrace. I cannot think of a bigger disgrace than death because it utterly robs us of our humanity. So let the picture of this promise take root in your mind. You are standing directly in the Lord’s presence and he raises your dead loved ones back to life. He gently takes you in his arms and wipes your tears away as he reunites you with those whom you’ve loved and lost. You know that never again will you have to worry about the possibility of being separated from either God or your loved ones and so there is no more reason to weep. Let that image sink in and strengthen you. Then give thanks to the One who will make it happen. With that in mind, do you see what’s really going on here? God not only deals with death, God deals with everything that corrupts and degrades, death being the most significant form of corruption. By removing our tears and disgrace, God promises to remove the evil that caused them and free his world from all that infects/corrupts it. While the prophet never says this explicitly, that means the curse must be lifted and we must be freed from our slavery to Sin which leads to Death.

This OT promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and his story contained in the NT. If the evil one has ever tried to deceive you about how God feels about death, look no further than our gospel lesson this morning to find the antidote. We see the Son of God, God become human, snorting in anger—the Greek word for the English phrase “greatly disturbed” literally means to snort in anger—at the tomb of his dead friend Lazarus as the emotions of the crowd and those he loves, as well as his own human emotions, are aroused by the wicked reality of his friend’s death. Sure, Jesus knew he was going to revive Lazarus, a preview of coming attractions when he raises the dead at his second coming, not to mention his own resurrection, but this did not stop our Lord from being offended by death. So if you ever think that God takes any pleasure in our death, look no further than our Lord standing at Lazarus’ tomb and snorting in anger over this obscene evil. That’s the kind of God we love and worship, and thankfully God has the power to do something about it. The Son of God resuscitated his friend and then went on to die a godforsaken and terrible death to spare us from God’s judgment on our sins and free us from our slavery to Sin’s power. In bearing the weight of our sins and taking on the full brunt of God’s terrible judgment on all our sin and evil, our Lord Jesus made it possible for us to stand again in God’s direct presence because we no longer wear our filthy, sin-stained rags that got us thrown out of paradise in the first place. Yes, of course we all still sin in our mortal life. But the NT is adamant in its insistence that on the cross, God the Father has taken care of the vexing problem of human sin and the separation it causes us, and in doing so, has broken the dark Powers’ stranglehold on us forever. And in raising Jesus from the dead, God has broken the power of Death forever. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 6.3-8, those who are baptized in Christ share in his death and resurrection. Where he is, so we will be with him. We didn’t earn this and we sure don’t deserve it, but it’s ours anyway because life and death always have been about the power of God, not our own muddled ways and thinking. 

Jesus’ death and resurrection make the breathtaking scene in our epistle lesson possible. The new Jerusalem, NT code for God’s space or heaven, comes down to earth and everything in this world is recreated so that we get to live in God’s direct presence without the hint of any evil or corrupting force in our lives. This means, of course, that the ultimate evil of Death is destroyed forever. The scene in Revelation 21 is Isaiah’s mountaintop vision on steroids because it promises so much more and is a done deal by virtue of the blood of the Lamb shed for us and his resurrection from the dead. The new heavens and earth are not yet a reality, but they will be when our Lord Jesus returns to consummate his saving and healing work. 

Of course, the resurrection of the dead is fully integrated into John’s vision of the new Jerusalem. Without it, God cannot possibly wipe the tears from our eyes. With it, God’s perfect justice is executed and we can finally be healed. The dead are raised to live forever under the protection and power and beauty of God the Father himself. The cause of our mourning is erased forever and we no longer have to fear being harmed or being sick or alienated or being poor or growing old and infirm. We don’t have to worry about our worth or value. We are living in God’s direct presence! But death cannot be abolished in a world that still has sin and evil in it. That’s why the resurrection of the dead, while massively important, is not the ultimate hope and answer for us. To live forever in a world where there is no more sickness, sorrow, death, or sighing means that all that corrupts and dehumanizes and disgraces us is abolished forever. The NT calls this the new creation and that is the hope and promise for all the saints, living and dead.

So what does this mean for our dead saints? Where are they now? As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, they are with Christ and they are enjoying his presence and their rest in paradise as they await the day when their Lord will return to this world and their bodies will be raised from the dead. The communion of saints means that we have a resurrection and new creation hope, that death is not the final answer. Jesus is the final answer because only Jesus is the resurrection and the life. The saints kept their eyes on Christ in their mortal life, however imperfectly, just like we do, and they are enjoying their penultimate reward because as we have seen, they are united with Christ by virtue of their baptism and their faith in the Son of God who loves them (and us) and gave himself for them (and us). This is the Church Triumphant. Our Christian dead have triumphed because they put their hope and trust in the One who can and does rescue them from Evil and Death. In a little while, we will read the names of our loved ones who have triumphed over Death because of their faith in Christ and who will one day receive God’s perfect justice by being restored to bodily life. That’s why we call it the Roll Call of the Victorious. Rejoice in that hope even as you miss them.

But what about us who make up the Church Militant, those who live by faith and hope, but who do not yet experience the reward for our faith in the way that the Church Triumphant does? We too are called to keep our eyes on Christ, to pattern our lives after his, to extend his love, goodness, mercy, justice, and righteousness out into his world in our own neck of the woods. Of course when we do, it means all hell will break loose and we will suffer for following Christ, just as he predicted, because the evil powers, while defeated, are not yet abolished, and they don’t want us acting like or in the power of the name of Christ. But we don’t lose heart or hope because we keep in mind the resurrection of the dead and the coming of the new heavens and earth. We will be in that reality a lot longer than this current time of trouble. In saying this, I don’t mean to minimize our problems and suffering, my beloved. I know they are substantial. But the reality of the new creation and God’s love and power are far greater, and we must draw on God’s strength to help see us through. Without that strength, we will surely be lost. This is why it is so important for us to celebrate All-Saints’ Day today, especially in the midst of the darkness of this world. So as you go forth from here, let your resurrection and new creation hope guide and control you. As the chaos of this world swirls around you, tempting you to think everything and everyone has gone completely mad, offer the joy and hope of God’s saints to those around you. A few might ask what is your secret. Most will wonder what you’ve been smoking or scoff at you. But that shouldn’t bother you. As Christians, we believe and proclaim that God has overcome Sin and Death and opened the door to eternal bodily life and a new world equipped to sustain that life to one and all who put their ultimate hope and trust in Christ. There is no greater hope and promise in this world, my beloved. Ever. Let us therefore keep our eyes on the ultimate prize, Christ our Savior, and lead righteous lives. When we do, we proclaim to ourselves and others that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

The Bible as a Five Act Play (and Why That Matters)

Sermon delivered on Bible Sunday B, October 24, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon (and today you should listen rather than read the text below), click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 55.1-11; Psalm 19.7.-14; 2 Timothy 3.14-4.5; St. John 5.36b-47.

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

Today is Bible Sunday, celebrated every year on the last Sunday after Trinity Sunday. It is the Sunday we focus on what the Bible is and means to us. NT scholar and renowned commentator and Anglican bishop, N.T. Wright, has likened the Bible to a five-act play. What is that all about and why does it matter to you and me as Christians? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Before we look at Wright’s model, let us keep the following in mind. Holy Scripture is God’s word to us and that alone makes it worth of our reading, reflection, and study. As  we prayed in our collect earlier, we are called to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest God’s word because we need it for encouragement, guidance, reproof, and correction. As we will see, we are created in God’s own image to be wise stewards of his good creation. If that is true (and it is), then it makes sense that we need our marching orders, i.e., we need to know how wise stewards who bear God’s image should think, speak, and act. Scripture isn’t an instruction manual per se, a “how to” for every contingency and situation in life. Rather it tells the story of God’s interactions with his chosen people and the rest of the world, giving us both examples and non-examples of what wise human stewardship should look like based on God’s law/will. Because it is God’s word, we have no right to tinker with it or interpret it according to our own preferences and inclinations. As we saw last week, Holy Scripture isn’t your Bible or mine. It is our Bible and we should read it together as much as we should read it individually. And because we are so profoundly sin-sick, we must read it in the context of how the Church has read it over time and across cultures. Only then can we have any confidence that we are not returning God’s favor of creating us in his image by trying to make God into ours.

Having reminded ourselves that Holy Scriptures are trustworthy and worthy of our best endeavor, let us look at Wright’s model of the Bible as a five-act play, remembering that the overarching narrative/story line is how God is putting his sin-sick and corrupted creation and creatures back to rights. Act 1 is Creation and we find it in Gen 1-2. There we learn that God, who is eternal, created all creation out of nothing by speaking it into existence. We dare not get too literal here nor misread Gen as a science book. Gen 1-2 cares very little about how God created this vast cosmos and us, only that God did. In Gen 1-2 we are told that everything God created was good and that when God created us in his own image to run his creation, God declared everything very good. Yet even in the midst of this brilliant and wonderful creation, the writer notes—almost in passing—that chaos still existed in God’s good and ordered creation. God’s creative word brings goodness and order, and as Christians we should always look back to the creation narratives to learn about God’s original intent for his creation and us. When we do, we learn that God’s world in which we live is full of beauty and goodness. There was nothing wrong with creation before the Fall. In Gen 2 especially we catch the breathtaking beauty of God’s good intention for us as his image-bearers. God created man and gave him dominion over the rest of his created order, expecting man to run it wisely. But man was lonely and so we read the beautiful story of how God created woman from man to be his equal and companion. Only then could man find real happiness and fulfillment. The beautiful and compelling story of how God commanded males and females to become one flesh (to marry) to enjoy perfect intimacy and union for the purpose of procreating and forming families, and so organize ourselves to be wise stewards, is the story of how God intended all this to play out. Only when man and woman come together as husband and wife is the logic of God’s image made known in humans completed. To be sure, some are called to singleness and celibacy, but that is not the norm for God’s created order. If humans are to be good stewards, we need to reproduce and multiply, and only marriage provides the ordered context and security for primary human relationships to thrive and flourish. When we look at the breakdown of the family and other forms of social experimentation, is it any wonder why so many in the West are unhappy and searching for something they know in their bones is possible? But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Here, we note that before the Fall (Act 2), humans enjoyed perfect communion with God and each other, and because we did, there was no such thing as anxiety or alienation or hostility or broken relationships. God created us for this and we need to pay careful attention to what the story of God’s created order intends/desires for us because it represents God’s gold standard for us as his image-bearing creatures and stewards. Even after the Fall, the closer we can align ourselves with God’s original intentions for his created order and us, the happier and healthier we will find ourselves, although not perfectly.

Why not perfectly? Because after the goodness and beauty of creation found in Act 1 comes Act 2, the Fall (Gen 3-11). Despite enjoying perfect communion with God and enjoying God’s presence in paradise (the writer talks almost wistfully about God in the garden, walking daily with humans), humans rebelled against God, trying to usurp God’s rightful role as Creator and Lord. In vivid and memorable language, the writer tells the sad and sickening (literally) story of how humans strove to become God’s equals by eating from the tree of knowledge. Whatever that looked like, it immediately caused alienation between God and humans, resulting in God’s terrible curse on our evil (our first hint that God does not and cannot allow evil to ultimately exist, let alone prevail) by cursing all of creation and expelling humans from paradise. No longer would humans enjoy perfect communion with God or with each other. Human sin allowed evil and the pockets of chaos that God mysteriously allowed to exist in the midst of his good and ordered creation to gain footholds and thoroughly corrupt both creation and us. This is why, e.g., we find evil and ugliness in the midst of God’s beautiful world. Natural disasters, human disasters, birth defects, madness, alienation, fear, and conflict, to name just a few, exist because of the Fall. And marriage? It too was corrupted. As we just saw, originally God created man and woman to be equals and enjoy perfect communion with each other, thus bringing out the beauty of God’s image through mutual love and trust. After the Fall that all changed and divorce, abandonment, abuse, and struggle for relational power/control took over. The beauty of God’s original created order was marred and corrupted by human sin and the evil our sin ushered in so that we were finally enslaved by those two powers. In Genesis 3-11, we see the ever-escalating corruption that human sin and evil ushered into God’s good created order. Murder, mayhem, madness, sickness, alienation, rebellion, war, and all the rest were sadly here to stay. Things got so bad that God considered destroying his good creation and creatures gone bad and starting over. You can read about that in the account of the great Flood found in Genesis 6ff. But as we all know, God changed his mind and didn’t start over because God’s love for his image-bearers is constant and faithful despite our inconstancy and faithlessness, thanks be to God!

But what was God going to do? If God refused to destroy all humanity and his creation and start over, how was God going deal with the corrupting and death-inducing sin and evil? After all, as we have seen, God can tolerate no evil! If humans are so thoroughly sin-sick as to be beyond self-help or human effort (which we are), how was God going to handle the intractable problem of Sin? Appropriately—and quite surprisingly—God again chose to deal with human sin and the evil it produces through human agency! God unexpectedly and inexplicably called Abraham, a wandering nomad, to be the human progenitor of Israel, God’s chosen people God called out to once again be God’s true image-bearers, through whom God would restore his good but sin-corrupted and evil-infested world. Welcome to Act 3, Israel, which starts with Gen 12 and comprises the rest of the OT. But as this Act quickly makes clear, God’s people were every bit as broken as the people they were called to bring God’s love and goodness to bear. This, of course, didn’t catch God by surprise, but it often leaves us scratching our own heads. Why would God choose to call a people to be stewards of his holiness and love if God knew all along they were going to fail? We aren’t told. Instead we are encouraged to trust in God’s wisdom and redemptive plan, a plan in which humans are intricately involved. Despite human wickedness and rebellion, God still chooses to use human agency to make his ways and Presence known to all creation, a reality St. Paul proclaims in Rom 8.18-25.

Israel’s failure to be the people God called them to be resulted in Act 4, Christ. Christ was the one true Israelite, succeeding where Israel had failed, but representing Israel nevertheless because as we have seen, God is faithful to his promises and commitments, despite our failures and wickedness. And so what God’s people failed to accomplish, God accomplished by becoming human to die for us to reconcile us to him and to break our slavery to the powers of Sin and Evil, powers that resulted ultimately in Death. What looked like catastrophic human failure on Mount Calvary, was transformed into God’s mighty victory when God raised Christ from the dead to defeat Sin, Death, and Evil, and to inaugurate God’s new creation, the new heavens and earth. But here again, God surprised us because Christ’s victory over Evil, Sin, and Death, while real, is not fully implemented. We await his coming in glory to complete his saving and healing work. St. John’s Revelation speaks to this reality in quite vivid language and it appropriately closes out Scripture, giving us a vision of God’s new world that exceeds the compelling and beautiful vision of God’s original creation found in Gen 1-2. Simply put, we live with the ambiguity of the already-not yet. God’s victory is accomplished (the already) and we know the good guys are gonna prevail, good guys being Christ and anyone who belongs to him, something left entirely up to God. But the victory is not yet consummated (the not yet) and we are left to endure the enemy, Satan, along with all the heartbreaking evil and sorrow the enemy, his human minions, and a cursed creation bring to bear on us. We will talk more about God’s new world next week, but for right now we should note that despite the ambiguities and unanswered questions, despite the heartache and sorrow, despite the ongoing existence of sickness, madness, chaos, and death, we are promised deliverance and rescue and healing because of the saving work of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Once again, the story invites us to trust God despite all that swirls around us and screams at us not to believe.

This brings us to the final Act in Scripture, Act 5, The Church, you and me in all our redeemed sin and brokenness, seeking to imitate Christ in our lives in the power of the Spirit to bring his Good News to others. As St. Paul astonishingly proclaims in Eph 3.10-11, “God’s purpose…was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Did you catch that? You and I and every other Christian on earth are called to proclaim to earth and heaven how God was reconciling the world to himself through Jesus Christ. Time doesn’t permit me to unpack this other than to say that this is an impossible task without the help and Presence of Christ as mediated by the Holy Spirit. Even then we get it wrong more than we care to admit. But we also get it right more than we sometimes acknowledge because we are people of God’s power. Act 5 will end when Christ returns to consummate his saving work and usher in the new creation in full. When that happens, the story of Scripture will be complete, God be thanked and praised.

So why does this all matter to us as Christians? Beyond the obvious from all we have said up to this point that we are a people with a future and a hope, let us allow today’s lessons to offer us some additional insights. From Isaiah we learn that God truly desires to restore and heal us, thus the inviting language of feasting and drinking. It is an astonishing thing to consider that God still values his human image-bearers and desires his original intentions for us. We also note that this invitation comes after Is 53 with its poignant story of the suffering servant who dies to redeem his people and ultimately the world. We only come to the table through Christ! There is much we do not understand about God’s plan of salvation, and we are sometimes consternated and puzzled over how and why God allows Evil to still make its deadly presence known. But our OT lesson reminds us God is God and we are not. His thoughts and ways are different from ours. But unlike us, God has the power to make good on his promises and we are to trust those promises based on God’s track record among us, most notably in Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead. 

Our psalm reminds us that God’s law or way of doing things revives us and heals us, and is therefore highly desirable. When we align ourselves with God’s created order we can rejoice because we know God is good and just, albeit in some surprising ways, but good and just nevertheless. That is why we are encouraged to pursue God and his ways revealed to us, supremely in Jesus Christ our Lord. Doing so gives us a hope and a future, our only hope for a future.

Our epistle lesson affirms all this. St. Paul argues strongly that when we read Scripture we mysteriously evoke God’s power on our behalf to be his holy people, his true image-bearers patterned after Christ. But St. Paul also warns us that human sin-sickness runs deep and that opposition will arise, even within God’s people. We see this playing out in our world today, and at a frightening pace. We have forgotten about the sacred origin and purpose of marriage and the vital role of procreation. We’ve given up the beautiful and wholesome vision described in Gen 1-2 in favor of human inventions that are bound to fail and in the process destroy people and lives: the oxymoron of “gay marriage,” the racism of CRT, the biology-denying disorder of transgenderism, the plundering of God’s good creation for selfish purposes, human support for abortion, all in the name of “freedom” and “personal rights,” except for the fetus of course, the unhealthy human desire for power that results in disorder of all kinds. Again I do not have time to unpack any of this, but a careful and consistent reading of the Bible as a five-act play gives us solid guidelines to help us in our thinking and doing as we navigate through the world’s chaos. As St. Paul reminds us, we are at war against the disordered human systems of the world, our own disordered desires and sin-sickness (the flesh), and our arch enemy, the devil. And because we are at war we will inevitably suffer for our Lord and his Truth because much of the world does not want to hear God’s truth as proclaimed in holy Scripture. Are we prepared to give up everything for Christ as he gave up everything for us? Without God’s help in the person of the Holy Spirit we are bound to fail. With God, nothing is impossible.

The story contained in the Bible as a five-act play is a story of creation, goodness, order, sin, and redemption. It is ultimately the story of how God’s power plays itself out in his creation and our lives and how we are to cooperate with our Lord’s power made known supremely in Jesus Christ, God become human. The arc of the story points us to new creation, not a disembodied eternity in heaven. Creation matters to God. We matter to God, and God has gone to great lengths to show us this. In the story of Scripture we find our future and our hope: healing, life forever with God in perfect communion with him, forgiveness, mercy, justice, beauty, truth, and righteousness. Best of all, God calls each of us to play our role in his world starting imperfectly right now and being transformed into utter perfection on the blessed day of our Lord’s return. 

But here’s the thing. If you don’t read the story or you rely solely on sermons like this one to learn it, you’ll never know your own story nor will you ever enjoy or benefit from its treasures like the psalmist did. If you love Christ and his Church, you will read his story, a story he told us was about him, even in the OT. So how do you do that? Anglicans have a time-tested and beautiful tradition. It is called the Daily Office and in it you will read the five Acts systematically and regularly over a two year period. If you are new to Scripture, get a good study Bible. I am happy to help you with that. But read Scripture via the Daily Office, which means reading it with others regularly and daily. Since I started using the Office 15 years ago, I have read through Scripture more than eight times and each time God reveals new things to me, building on the foundation he built when I first committed to reading Scripture systematically. Trust me. If you want to know Scripture so that God can help you become a faithful steward patterned after Christ, the one true human and faithful steward, if you want answers to legitimate questions and issues that bedevil us today, if you want a sense of certainty and order in the midst of uncertainty and chaos, if you want to find the meaning to real life, a life lived in and for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and if you want to know the Truth and be set free by it to live as God created you to live, then learn how to read the Bible through the Daily Office so you know your Story. When we get in our new home, we will help you do this, but you have to first commit yourself to the process. Don’t be a fool. Learn your Story, the greatest Story ever. You won’t be disappointed, even in the midst of trials and tribulations, because we Christians have the best story ever and the greatest game in town, and in it God will show you Jesus his Son, who is your only life and hope. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

The God We Worship: The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Sermon delivered on Trinity 20B, Sunday, October 17, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Job 38.1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104.1-10, 26, 27; Hebrews 5.1-10; St. Mark 10.35-45.

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

We are all here this morning, hopefully first and foremost to worship God. But who is the God you worship? Is he the God of the Bible or the god of your own making? This is no small question as worshiping the former leads to salvation and eternal life; whereas worshiping the latter is idolatry—a sad practice of humans over our history—and leads to death. This is what I want us to look at today.

In one way or another, all our readings this morning point to the nature and character of God. In our OT lesson, God finally breaks his silence and answers Job’s complaint. Context is critical for our lesson today and we must remember how the story got to this point. God, you recall, had allowed Satan to bring about catastrophic suffering on Job and Job’s interlocutors had accused Job of bringing on his own suffering through his sins. Job vehemently denied those accusations and increasingly demanded an accounting from the Lord. Today we see that he gets that accounting, but not as he expected. Who are you to tell me how to run my created order, God thunders! Were you there when I created the cosmos? Can you tell me why I created this order the way I did? These rhetorical questions, of course, demand a “no” reply from Job and us. Of course none of us were there when God spoke the cosmos into existence; and while we certainly have a better scientific understanding of how the created order works than Job had, there is still a holy mystery about its operational order and our lives. Why does God allow suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow Evil to operate in his world? Is God ever going to do anything about Sin and Evil, i.e., is God really just? Like Job, these kinds of questions still linger with us and bedevil us, and like Job, God still refuses to give us direct answers to these questions. In the context of this sermon, God’s created order and way of doing things all remind us that God is God and we are not, hard as we try to usurp his role and rightful place as Creator and Lord. Here we see God beginning to answer Job’s questions (and ours) by reminding us we are dealing with things way above our pay grade, things beyond our comprehension and understanding. You want to learn to live in awe and fear of the Lord? Start by looking at his created order and marvel at its beauty and complexity as the psalmist does in Psalm 8. As St. Paul reminds us in Romans 1.20-21, we can begin to learn about God through God’s created order, even if our knowledge is incomplete. And as our OT lesson reminds us in no uncertain terms, our knowledge of God is limited to that which God chooses to reveal to us because God is so much greater and bigger than our finite and mortal minds can comprehend. So the first thing we learn about God is that there is a vastness and beauty to God that defies our best efforts to fully comprehend, try as we might and must. God is God and we are not. If you have God entirely figured out, the God with whom you are dealing is a god of your own making, God-in-a-box, as J.B Philips described in his classic little book, Your God is Too Small

So while Scripture does not give us direct answers to our burning questions about Evil and Justice, God’s holy word does invite us to see God as he reveals himself to us, first through the created order and supremely in his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Here our epistle and gospel lessons offer some rewarding insights to our questions about God’s nature and dealing with his created order and us. In our gospel lesson, St. Mark reminds us how badly disordered the power of Sin has made us and how terribly separated from God we are without God’s intervention, this despite the fact that we are God’s image-bearing creatures. We see this dynamic at play in the interaction between Christ and James and John. The latter two came to Christ and wanted to sit in positions of authority next to him, indicating how totally clueless their alienation from God had made them. Being products of the world’s thinking, they mistakenly saw power as the ability to lord it over others, presumably for their own benefit. Like most of us, they saw power as the ticket to privilege and the vehicle to get what we want. And by implication they equated power with force. And why wouldn’t they? Isn’t God a God of power? Isn’t he the God who rescued his people from slavery by an awesome demonstration of power at the Red Sea? Isn’t he the God who thundered at Mount Sinai as he gave Moses his Law? Isn’t he the God who destroyed 185,000 Assyrians as they besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings 19)? Being good Jews, they would have been familiar with how God had generally dealt with God’s enemies (and by extension theirs). After all, God promised to deal with Evil and evildoers by ultimately destroying them. So surely in their own minds, their request to Christ was not out of line. And of course their request angered the others. Everyone wants to sit in the best seats at the greatest table of all!

But their request showed how badly the power of Sin had corrupted their minds. They saw God, not through God’s lens but through their own muddled and disordered thinking. How do we know that? Because Christ rebuked them and immediately tried to get their minds right about the ways of God. While not denying that God had acted with shock and awe on behalf of his people in the past, Christ instructed them (and us) that this is not what God intends for his image-bearers. No, power is achieved through humility and suffering on behalf of others. Christ would come to rule his Kingdom by way of the cross and he had come to break the power of Sin by dying on behalf of the world to spare us from utter destruction and eternal death, catastrophically separated from God forever. It is a fate we all deserve because all of us are profoundly sin-saturated and broken. Consequently we are all blinded to God’s way of doing business and God’s desires because we are all too busy seeking our own best and often selfish interests, caring very little about the needs of others. God’s chosen method of dealing with the twin powers of Sin and Evil, powers that God mysteriously allows to operate in his good creation to corrupt it and us, was to become human and die for the sake of rebellious humanity, you and me, who time and again reject God’s ways and Way and seek to live life as we see fit. Here is God’s totally unexpected follow-up answer to Job’s “why” questions about Sin and Evil and bad things happening to good people. First we are reminded that there is no such thing in God’s economy as “good people.” All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us are sin-infected and beyond self-help, and this has resulted in us being spiritually blind to the ways and will of God. But here is Christ, telling his disciples and us that God’s chosen method for dealing with us and our sins, as well as with the powers of Sin and Evil that have enslaved us, is to take on our full humanity and die for us to free us from Sin’s tyranny forever. We will not get to see what this looks like in full until our Lord Jesus returns to finish his saving work, but we get to see it imperfectly in Christ’s body, the Church, and the NT promises it is a done deal and calls us to believe it is true and act accordingly as faithful Christians. That the Church cannot get it entirely right after all these centuries is powerful testimony indeed to how profoundly broken and alienated from God the Father we really are. That notwithstanding, we are still invited to the party of Christ’s salvation and we still have work to do on Christ’s behalf. We have his cross, resurrection, and ascension, all inviting us to believe that in his death, we find real forgiveness and the hope of eternal life, all accomplished through humility and weakness, even though Christ is God incarnate as our epistle lesson strongly attests (cf. Phil 2.5-11). It is no small thing that Christ’s very own apostles didn’t get it until after his resurrection. Ironically—and perhaps fittingly because of the human condition—it took a mighty act of God’s power to open their eyes to this truth! They walked and talked with God become human. They ate with him and touched him, and yet they still didn’t understand until God acted in a totally unexpected way by raising Christ from the dead. But there was God in Christ nevertheless, loving them and conquering their sin through humility and weakness. On Calvary we see humans executing God in utter contempt and humiliation, surely the greatest perversion of all! Yet in and through his suffering we find real hope and real life, messy and marred as it is.

So what can we learn here? First, that we must read Scripture together and pay attention to how Scripture has been interpreted over the years, recognizing that even human tradition can become corrupted on occasion. While the Church, or at least minorities within the Church, have misread Scripture on occasion (I am thinking, e.g., about how badly it was misread to justify human slavery during the 19th century), overall the Church has been remarkably consistent in finding consensus in its reading and interpretation of God’s word. This is important for us to remember because of the human proclivity for idolatry and making the Word of God fit our own disordered thinking and desires. We need look no further than woke ideology today, from transgenderism to CRT to everything in between, to see how badly and catastrophically this plays out (a different topic for a different sermon, I’m afraid). 

Second, the overarching story of Scripture shows us a God truly worthy of our worship and adoration. Scripture reminds us that God is our good Creator and actively involved in the affairs of his creation and our lives, often in surprising and enigmatic ways. For example, I have no idea why we have been politely asked to leave these premises when we were so close to being able to occupy our new digs. I do not think there are malevolent motives on the part of our hosts. I think we have overstayed our welcome, and by a lot. When I first got the email, I immediately became anxious. Where are we to go? If we go to Zoom will we lose people? How will this affect your financial support? Will it all come unraveled? And then a short time later I was informed that we have a plumber under contract at a reasonable price and the work will begin Monday, paving the way for us to occupy our digs! God is surely in those developments, I reminded myself, working in quiet and unexpected ways, but active nevertheless, and my anxiety disappeared. Or consider our building financials. We need to raise an additional $48K to finish our renovations. How will we raise that kind of money in addition to our regular operating expenses? I don’t know; it seems like an impossible thing. But nothing is too hard for God and I know God works in powerful and unexpected ways in those like you who love him. God has seen us through to this point. He will not abandon us now. We need to do our part, of course, but God will see us through. The initial anxious thoughts I had on these matters came because like the rest of you, I prefer running my own life as opposed to letting God run it on my behalf. And like the rest of you, I have precious little (if any) real control over people and events in my life, and that inevitably produces anxiety. But then I ran across these words from St. Paul in the Daily Office this past week: 

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4.4-9, NLT

St. Paul wrote this while he languished in prison. He was addressing a feud between two powerful women in the church at Philippi. He had every reason to be anxious. Yet he wasn’t, and because he wasn’t he found the peace of Christ that passes our understanding, but which is real nevertheless. And why was he not ultimately anxious (he very much worried about his churches)? Because he knew the love of God and God’s ability to work in all things, good and evil, for the good of those who love him (Romans 8.28). That promise remains true for us today, broken as we are, and in it we find our peace, or more precisely God’s peace. God is no absentee or uncaring God and if we have the faith and courage to believe God’s promises contained in Scripture, focusing especially on Jesus Christ his Son, we will find true freedom and peace, thanks be to God!

So what about you? Is your God big enough, awesome enough, just enough, and merciful enough for you to love and give your ultimate allegiance to or is the god you worship one of your own making? In the former, you will find strength and purpose and hope sufficient for all contingencies and with them sweet peace, the peace of Christ who loves you and who died for you so that you could be with him in God’s new world forever. In the latter you will find nothing by incompleteness, disorder, madness, and ultimately death because that is the way of all false gods. Chose the real thing, my beloved, the God and Father made known to us supremely in Jesus Christ mediated by the Holy Spirit and contained in God’s holy Word, the very gift of God himself. Give your life to Christ and choose real freedom, hope, and life, despite the changes and chances of life. That God is big enough for all our problems and fears. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Chaplain Tucker Messamore: God’s Answer to Suffering

Sermon delivered on Trinity 19B, Sunday, October 10, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Job 23.1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22.1-15; Hebrews 4.12-16; St. Mark 10.17-31.

Let the words of my mouth & the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“Where are you, God? Where are you?” This seems to be the question weighing on Job’s heart as he sits atop the ash heap, trying to make sense of the incredible suffering that has befallen him. 

Job was a “blameless and upright” man, one “who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). He had a thriving business, a large and tight-knit family, and was considered “the greatest of all the people of the east” (Job 1:3). In short, Job was living the dream! But that dream quickly became a nightmare when in the space of a few hours, Job lost it all. His flocks and herds were stolen by bandits and destroyed in natural disasters. His servants were killed by raiders. All his children died when a house collapsed on them. His body writhed in pain as he was plagued with sores from head to toe. Job’s life had been totally upended by His sufferings. He’d gone from riches to rags, from healthy to hurting, from a position of prominence to a place of pity. 

It’s no wonder that Job is wrestling with these hard thoughts about God that we find on his lips in our Old Testament reading. “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” (Job 23:3a). Job is trying to make sense of his sufferings. He’s frantically searching for evidence of God’s presence, but God seems to be strangely absent. “If I go forward, He is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive Him; on the left He hides, and I cannot behold Him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see Him.” (Job 23:8-9). Job longs to speak with God so that he can plead his case (Job 23:4), so that he can understand what God has been up to (Job 23:5), but so far, it seems that Job’s cries to God have only been met with silence.

Of course, Job is not the only person who has ever wrestled with God in the midst of difficult circumstances. As human beings who inhabit a broken and fallen world, we are unfortunately no strangers to pain, heartache, sickness, and loss. We are faced with the same sorts of struggles when we experience suffering of many different kinds: when we receive that difficult diagnosis, when we are forced to live with chronic pain or a debilitating injury, when a loved one dies, when we suffer abuse or mistreatment, when we experience division in our families. In times like these, like Job, we may cry out to God asking, “God, where are you? Do you see what I am going through? Do you care about my pain? Why won’t you do something? Why won’t you answer me?” God does provide an answer to Job’s questions—and to ours. While Job experiences divine silence in chapter 23, eventually, God does respond to Job with a lengthy speech beginning in Job 38.

But God’s ultimate answer to Job—and to all those who suffer—comes not from “the whirlwind” of Job 38, but from a manger in Bethlehem. The fact that God Himself takes on human flesh illustrates that God not only sees us in our suffering, but He understands it, and He cares for us. God does not remain distant or far-removed from human suffering, but instead, He makes Himself vulnerable and chooses to enter into it. This is the beauty of the Incarnation: “God, who cannot get sick, who cannot grow hungry, who cannot bleed, who cannot die—this God comes near” to us in Christ (Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, 89).

The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus experienced every aspect of our humanity (Hebrews 4:15). He dealt with the mundane weakness of the human body: hunger, thirst, tiredness, aches & pains. Jesus knows what it’s like to experience difficult emotions. He experienced sadness and grief at the death of His friend Lazarus. He felt loneliness as He was betrayed and abandoned by His closest friends. He was plagued with fear and anxiety so intense that He sweat drops of blood as He anticipated the brutality of the cross and the terrible weight of bearing the sin of the whole world. Through His crucifixion, Jesus experienced intense physical pain and even succumbed to death. Adopting the words of the psalmist, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). 

When we turn to God in times of great suffering, we can be assured that God is not distant from our troubles. Though He may seem absent, He sees, He knows, and He understands. Jesus is our great high priest who sympathizes with us, and He invites us to bring our burdens to Him (Matt. 11:28-30) “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

But Jesus didn’t just come to sympathize with us. He came to save us. He didn’t just step into our world so He could relate to human suffering; He came to rescue us from suffering and sin. Scripture makes it clear that pain, suffering, and death were not originally part of God’s good creation. Instead, they entered the world as a result of human sin. But God did not abandon the world and the people He created to futility and corruption. The Father sent His Son into the world in the power of the Spirit to reverse the curse of sin, to restore creation to what it was meant to be. We see this take place in small ways as Jesus goes about His public ministry. He opens the eyes of the blind, heals the sick, and rebukes and casts out demons. Jesus came to make the world right again. 

But this work of redemption would ultimately be accomplished by His death and resurrection. When Jesus went to the cross, He took our sin upon Himself, He suffered, and He willingly died the death that we deserve. But He didn’t stay in the grave—He rose again in victory, triumphing over sin, death, and Satan. Those who belong to Him can be assured that though we may experience pain and difficulty now, suffering and death do not and cannot have the final word. In Christ, we have the hope that though we die, yet we live (John 11:25). One day, Christ will return and “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

This morning, we are pointed to this hope in Christ as we come to the Table. We are invited to reenact the drama of redemption and to participate in it.

The Eucharist is an act of remembrance. As we partake of the bread and the cup, we are reminded that God Himself took on flesh and blood and became like us, experiencing every aspect of our humanity. We remember that He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He suffered and died in our place to put an end to suffering and death.

Communion is also an act of defiant hope by which we proclaim that even though we often encounter pain, suffering, and evil, God is making all things new. Through our celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we boldly declare, in the words of a beloved hymn, that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

Finally, the Eucharist is an act of anticipation. Jesus said He would “not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18). The Eucharist is a reminder to us that this day is coming! Christ will come again, and at that time, the kingdom of God will come in its fullness. Sin, death, and the devil will be no more, and when it does, we will celebrate—with a feast! The prophet Isaiah foretells of this day when “The Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:6-8)

This is our hope. This is our future. In a few moments, as we prepare for Communion, Fr. Kevin is going to exhort us to “lift up your hearts!” Together, by faith, we ascend to the heavenly places where Christ is. Today, may we approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Father Philip Sang: Having Integrity in All Things

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

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

Lectionary texts: Job 1.1, 2.1-10; Psalm 26; Hebrews 1.1-4, 2.5-12; St. Mark 10.2-16.

God’s Justice and Appropriate Christian Responses to Evil

Sermon delivered on Trinity 17B, Sunday, September 26, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124; James 5.13-20; St. Mark 9.38-50.

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

What are we to make of the rather sordid but compelling story of Haman’s execution in our OT lesson? How about St. James’ example of God answering Elijah’s prayer only after Elijah had slaughtered the prophets of Baal? And how about Christ’s hyperbolic exhortation for us to rid ourselves of any source of sin? Our lessons this morning all remind us in their various ways that God hates evil of any kind and acts in judgment against it, both in this mortal life and at the Day of Judgment. What then should be our response as Christians to this rather unsettling reality? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Let us start by acknowledging the terrifying truth that God is no doting old grandpa, willing to look the other way with a wink and a snicker at our sins. To the contrary, it is not too strong a statement to say that God hates evil and sin in all its variety. Why? Not because God is some angry bully waiting to come down hard on wrongdoers. If that were the case, why would God have made us in his image? Why are we still even here? It’s not because of our own virtue and righteousness! No, God hates evil and sin of any kind because sin corrupts us and dehumanizes us, i.e., it slowly erases God’s image in us so that we can no longer be his stewards called to run God’s world as God created us to do. And this should make sense to us because we all know how evil can evoke anger. Who in their right mind doesn’t hate that drug dealers destroy lives and bring ruin on others, all for the sake of money? Who among us doesn’t abhor child molesters and pedophiles for the same reasons? God created us to be fully human beings who bear his image and who have been given the awesome responsibility to rule God’s world on God’s behalf, reflecting God’s goodness out into creation and reflecting creation’s praises back to its Creator. Sin and the evil it creates corrupts and perverts our holy task as God’s image-bearers and God cannot countenance that forever, patient as God has demonstrated he is. God did not speak creation and us into existence to foster madness and loneliness and sickness and alienation, and because God loves us and wants us to live with him forever, God cannot look the other way on our sin forever. In our OT lesson, e.g., Haman plotted to destroy God’s people the Jews, in part to satisfy his megalomania. (I would encourage you to read the entire book of Esther as it is as compelling a story as you will ever read and God’s name is not mentioned in it once). But there God is, operating behind the scenes, judging Haman’s evil to bring justice to God’s people, wicked as they were, because of God’s love and faithfulness to them. 

In our epistle lesson, St. James’ reference to Elijah points us to God’s relenting in his judgment on the land and its people only after the prophets of Baal had been slaughtered. As with the story of Esther, healing could not occur until God had decisively dealt with the sins of evildoers. Why? When we are beset continually by evil, we can never be fully healed, again reminding us why God will not let sin and evil reign forever—it sickens and kills us and God will not tolerate that massive disorder to his good creation and creatures forever. God loves us too much. In our gospel lesson, Christ essentially tells us the same thing. Be prepared to cut out anything in your life—even if the things you must cut out are inherently good and useful—if they cause you to continue to sin because God will one day judge you and you will find yourself in the flames of hell forever. Christ’s warning is a stark reminder that without outside help from a power stronger than the powers of Evil and Sin, none of us have any hope of ever enjoying life in God’s new world when it comes with our Lord’s return. None of us like to think about this and the thought of eternal separation from the healing and life-giving power of God is so terrifying that many of us spend our time living in denial and deflecting the truth, convincing ourselves that God would never do that because God is too loving and merciful. Yes God is loving and merciful. That we are here worshiping God this morning is living proof of that truth. God is not the problem here. We are the problem because we are all slaves to the power of Sin, and unless something is done about that, we are all doomed to eternal destruction. We see it in the story of Adam and Eve, who were expelled from paradise after the Fall. God cannot tolerate forever that which corrupts his beloved (that would be you and me in all our unloveliness). We see it in the story of God’s Tabernacle in the wilderness. God gave Moses strict rules about how sinful humans could approach God’s holy Presence and those who did not follow those rules found themselves destroyed. Whenever the profane tries to meet the holy on its own terms, it never turns out well for the profane! Our problem today is that most of us have persuaded ourselves that this simply can’t be true. We’ve become too used to living with and rationalizing sin, both ours and the sins of others. This is emphatically not the biblical witness on the subject, however, and by God’s grace we would be wise to take these warnings seriously.

But all is not lost, my beloved. Far from it. While it is true that none of us can extricate ourselves from the death grip of Sin’s power and all of us are evildoers, some worse than others, it is also true that the Father’s great love for us is greater than our slavery to Sin. As St. Paul proclaims in his letter to the Romans, God demonstrated his love for us by sending his Son to die for us (i.e. God became human in the man Jesus), even while we were God’s enemies, estranged from and hostile toward God, to bear his own right and just judgment on our sins, thereby clearing the way for us to have a future and a hope. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ was and is the turning point in human history where God the Father acted decisively for us to save us from eternal damnation and open the way for us to live in God’s holy Presence forever. But we don’t have to wait till the new heavens and earth arrive. We can enjoy sweet, albeit imperfect, communion with God right now, enjoying his presence when we worship him together and feed on Christ’s body and blood each week. To be sure, evil still runs rampant in God’s world and we all suffer from it. Everyone of us here today brings our sorrows and fears and brokenness to worship. But just like God’s power working invisibly to bring justice to the wicked Haman, God’s power in and through the Holy Spirit, through his word proclaimed and preached, through sweet fellowship with each other, and in and through the Holy Eucharist, God is at work in us now, both individually and collectively, to bring healing and hope as he makes his invisible Presence known to us, thanks be to God. 

So what should be our response to God’s goodness, mercy, love, and truth? How are we to live faithfully in the midst of increasing chaos and disorder? We start by believing the promise that in Christ we are saved from our sins and God’s wrath and judgment on them. Just as God provided for our rebellious and frightened ancestors after he expelled them from paradise, just as God remained faithful to his stubborn and rebellious people despite sending them into exile, and just as God remains faithful to us by blessing us with his Holy Spirit, so we are reminded that God’s promise to free us from our slavery to sin and evil will be ultimately fulfilled, even if only partially now. We have Christ’s Death and Resurrection to remind us always that God’s will and purposes to heal and rescue us will be done fully when Christ returns to finish his saving work on our behalf. Come Lord Jesus. This must create in us thankful and grateful hearts. When we begin to recognize the enormity our sin and rebellion against God and what God has done to rescue and heal us from those sins, we cannot help but have grateful hearts, hearts (or will) to love and serve Christ and others for all that he has done for us. And when we really believe the promises and are persuaded that despite our sins and foolishness, God still loves us and wants us to be with him forever, forgiving us through Christ’s blood shed for us, we will experience new healing, healing that flows from a thankful heart. 

Our healed hearts will also compel us to pray for others, especially our enemies—we may hate drug dealers and pedophiles, but we’d better be praying for their repentance and salvation—even as we long for real justice, not the phony kinds of justice that various groups try to foist on us today, but the kind of justice that flows from God’s holy heart. We pray ultimately with the realization that we too are evildoers who deserve God’s justice and so we pray for God to heal our enemies and the hearts of evildoers so that they will not suffer such a terrible fate, the fate we too would suffer without the healing love of Christ. Far from being ineffective, prayer is one of the most powerful weapons we Christians can bring to bear on evil and God’s good but sin-corrupted world. But we pray with eyes wide open, realizing that we are at war with the forces of evil who hate us and want to destroy us, and so we bring our fears and sorrows and needs to God, trusting that God is working invisibly as God always does to bring his world and its disordered creatures to rights. There’s more to all this, but there is certainly not less. Let us as God’s holy people bring our prayers to bear on this world and its people, repenting of our own sins and trusting our holy and loving Father to bring about his promise to heal and restore us according to his good will and purposes for us. And let us make sure we do this together as God’s people in Christ because the promise is for us together. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Chaplain Tucker Messamore: Upside-Down Kingdom Wisdom

Sermon delivered on Trinity 16B, Sunday, September 19, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 31.10-31; Psalm 1; James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a; St. Mark 9.30-37.

Let the words of my mouth & the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock & our redeemer. In the name of God: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.

The lectionary picks up right where it left off last week with the theme of wisdom. In our texts for today, there’s a contrast between two types of wisdom—worldly wisdom and wisdom from above; the way of man and the way of Christ; false wisdom and true wisdom.

In our gospel reading (Mark 9:30-37), the disciples exemplify worldly wisdom. For the second time, Jesus tells His disciples that He will He handed over to men, that He will suffer and die, and that He will rise again (v. 31). They don’t really understand what He means (v. 21), but apparently, they grasped enough to realize that Jesus was about to be gone. We cannot say for sure, but perhaps this is what led to their argument about who was the greatest (v. 34): if Jesus was going to die, who would take His place? Surely that vacuum of leadership would be filled by the greatest of Jesus’ followers. This is worldly wisdom on display. Conventional wisdom tells us it’s a dog-eat-dog world. You gotta look out for #1. You have to seize every opportunity and make a name for yourself. The message of our culture is to chart your own course, be whoever you want to be, do whatever seems right or feels good to you, follow your heart. This is how one finds true happiness and inner peace.

But there’s just one problem with this sort of “wisdom”—it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. It doesn’t produce the kind of results it promises. Scripture warns that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Following our own sinful desires and selfish ambitions will never truly satisfy our deepest longings. Instead, it will inevitably lead to heartache and pain, and not just for us, but for others who happen to be in our orbit. St. James tells us, “Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind” (James 3:16). In our self-centered pursuits, we use and abuse others to get what we want (James 4:2). Our psalm warns us where this well-worn path will ultimately take us: “The wicked will not stand in the judgment . . . the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1:5-6). Likewise, Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” The bottom line is this: so-called worldly wisdom is not really wisdom at all. It’s folly. As St. James says, “It’s earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (3:15). If we chose to follow the way worldly wisdom, we do so to the peril of our own souls and to the determent of those around us.

But there is another way: there’s true wisdom, wisdom that comes from above. Jesus takes the wisdom of the world and turns it on its head. He tells his disciples, “Whoever wants to be first [in His kingdom] must be last of all and servant of all” (v. 35). Jesus draws their attention to a child. Children occupied the lowest place on the social ladder; they had no status and no authority. And yet, in a parallel passage, Jesus says one must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). True wisdom is rooted in humility. As St. James tells us, “Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality and hypocrisy.” Jesus perfectly embodies this true wisdom. While the disciples argued about who was greatest, Jesus had His eye toward Calvary where He would take on our sin and lay down His life so we could have eternal life. Instead of following His own desires or charting His own course, Jesus humbly submits to the will of the Father. Jesus shows us that true wisdom does not begin with selfish ambition but with humility. True joy and contentment are not found in self-actualization or in following the cravings of our flesh, but in submission to God’s ways. If we want to know what it looks like to live according to wisdom from above, let us look no further than Christ, the Wisdom of God in human flesh. (1 Cor. 1:24).

But if we want to learn to live in wisdom, we need more than just an example. It’s not enough for me to say, “Be like Jesus!” We can’t do that on our own. Our epistle reading tells us that “envy and selfish ambition” come from “our hearts” (James 3:14), that our conflicts and disputes come from “cravings that are at war within [us]” (James 4:1). We need more than an example. We need to be transformed from the inside out. And thanks be to God, that’s exactly what Jesus came to do, to make us into new creations by the power of the Holy Spirit.

How does this happen? Sanctification takes place when we avail ourselves of the means of grace that God has given us, when we do the kinds of things we do when we gather for worship. We must humbly confess that “following the devices and desires of our own hearts” leads us down the wrong path and ask God to guide us in His ways instead. As our Psalm instructs us, we learn the “way of the righteous” from God’s Word as we meditate on it. God’s Word reveals God’s ways. But not only does God’s Word give us commands and principles to guide the way that we live, it also tells the gospel message—the story of how God is redeeming us—and the whole world—through the death and resurrection of His Son. As we read the gospel message—and as we see it reenacted as we celebrate the Eucharist—God’s Spirit is at work, shaping and molding us into the kind of people that God calls us to be. Confession, Holy Communion, regular reading and study of Scripture—these are just a few of the ways that we can “draw near to God” as our epistle reading admonishes us (4:7), but when we do, we can be assured that he will “draw near to [us]” and cultivate in us the gift of wisdom from above.

As we close, let us do as St. James instructs (James 1:5) and ask God to grant us His wisdom with a prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas:

O God, Creator of all that is,
From the treasures of Your wisdom,
You have arrayed the universe with marvelous order,
And now govern with skill and might.
You are the true fount of light and wisdom.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
Into the darkened places of our minds;
Disperse from our souls the twofold darkness into which we were born: Sin and ignorance.

And since you have given us the privilege to share in the loving, healing, reconciling mission of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, in this age and wherever we are,
May your Spirit make us wise;
May your Spirit guide us;
May your Spirit renew us;
May your Spirit strengthen us.

So that we will be
Strong in faith,
Discerning in proclamation,
Courageous in witness,
Persistent in good deeds.

May You guide the beginning of our work,
Direct its progress,
And bring it to completion.
You who bring all that is good to its proper end,
Now prosper the work of our hands.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

Amen.

Wise or Foolish: The Choice We Each Must Make

Sermon delivered on Trinity 15B, Sunday, September 12, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 1.20-33; Psalm 19; James 3.1-12; St. Mark 8.27-38.

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

We turn our attention today to the biblical teaching on wisdom and foolishness, looking at both in the context of how our other lessons apply them. When Scripture speaks of wisdom and foolishness, what is it speaking about? In the Bible’s economy, how do we know a wise guy (or gal) from a fool? How do we become wise? These are some of the things I want us to look at today.

We are introduced to Lady Wisdom in our OT lesson. At first glance she appears to be quite harsh and demanding, threatening to mock those who do not seek to know her and wind up in a pickle. But when we look closer at her words, we see she is warning us to do what we can to escape the consequences of our foolish thinking, speaking, and behaving. Unlike current “wisdom,” Scripture is very clear in teaching us there are consequences to our words and actions. Better to be wise than to get jammed up over our foolishness. We would be wise to heed her advice.

And what is the essence of wisdom? Pr 1.7 tells us: Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge (wisdom). In other words, wisdom is based on us developing a real relationship with God so that we know him and as a result of that knowledge can develop a healthy, reverent appreciation and awe of God (and sometimes knee-knocking fear when necessary) to help us navigate through life with all its changes, chances, and complexities in ways that allow us to become fully human and thus live up to our status as God’s image-bearing creatures. Simpletons in biblical language are those who have not yet learned this truth regarding our need to conform our lives to God’s teaching, will, and created order but are open to it; whereas fools and mockers have been exposed to the truth and reject it, and worse yet, even mock it. As we shall see, wise folk have a hope and a future. Fools and mockers do not.

Before we look further at wisdom and foolishness, let us first acknowledge that the human race is prone to foolishness because of our fallen nature and enslavement to the power of Sin. We only become wise by the grace and power of God, not chiefly our own efforts, important as those efforts are. So what does wisdom and foolishness look like on the ground, in the context of our mortal lives? All our lessons provide us with some key insights and wisdom (no pun intended) into this question, although the manifestation of wisdom is certainly not limited to what our lessons show us. As we shall see, Scripture often teaches us truth inside the story of the history of God’s people contained in it. We would be wise to learn this simple truth as it helps provide us with needed context to better see how God operates in his created order and its creatures. 

We turn first to our Psalm lesson with its declaration that all creation declares the beauty and handiwork of its Creator (cf. Rm 1.18-20). We see the breathtaking beauty of God’s created world and order—the beauty of nature, of a starry sky at night, of families and all healthy relationships, especially the God-ordained relationship of husband and wife consecrated at marriage. All these proclaim God’s goodness, wisdom, and beauty without ever speaking a word. Wise folk experience them and we just know in our bones that it’s all good, reflecting the bold declaration of Genesis 1-2 (that God created all things good). Fools do not and mockers actually scorn this truth. Then of course there is the beauty of God’s law, how God’s created order is intended to run and how we are to conduct ourselves as God’s image-bearers. Wise people follow God’s law and created order, submitting themselves to it. When they do, they find God’s blessing (not necessarily a reward) in the form of God’s peace and contentment. God’s wisdom teaches the wise to be humble and act accordingly toward God and people because we know we are only mortals and our days are but as grass: fleeting, temporary, prone to the vicissitudes of life. Fools reject this truth, generally favoring their own disordered and brave new world, a world that produces chaos and madness and disorder, a world that swirls around us with increasing intensity. The psalmist puts it like this: “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good” (Ps 14.1, 53.1). Despite the testimony of God’s created order and of Scripture and God’s people, fools and mockers reject it all and even mock it. Perhaps the best biblical example of this is the chief priests and scribes at Calvary, mocking our Savior as he was dying for them (Mk 15.28-32). They were too foolish to accept God the Father’s appointed way to save them from eternal destruction because they didn’t have the needed humility or wisdom to see that they were incapable of saving themselves. And their formal training made them too proud to allow themselves to consider the possibility that when God’s Messiah did come, he might come in a way they never expected or anticipated. And we don’t get a free pass on this one either. How many times do we read and study God’s word and truth only to reject it by not believing it? How many times do we in effect say, “There is no God” because we think we know better than God in how his created order and our lives should be run? Every time our pride leads us to refuse to repent of the sins, or refuse to forgive someone who has wronged us, or refuse to advocate for the poor, the oppressed, the elderly, and the unborn, or worse yet when we fail to challenge the lie that Jesus is just one of several ways to God, to name just a few, we are those fools about whom the psalmist speaks. Doing the opposite shows we are learning wisdom because we seek to follow God’s will made known supremely and uniquely in and through Christ.

This leads us to our gospel lesson where we see wisdom and foolishness clearly on display, the latter in abundance. The story is a classic. St. Peter goes from the penthouse to the doghouse in the blink of an eye! He shows wisdom by acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah or anointed one, presumably from his interactions with our Lord up to that point. No beating around the bush for St. Peter! He comes right out and answers Christ’s question clearly and boldly. You are the Christ! But then St. Mark tells us Christ used St. Peter’s confession to teach his blind and foolish disciples that their thinking about God’s Messiah was all wrong. Christ was indeed God’s anointed one, but he had come to rescue not only Israel but God’s entire sin-sick world from our slavery to the power of Sin, not by being a mighty conquerer and lording it over others, but by dying for us to take on himself the Father’s holy and just wrath on our sins so that we would be spared of that wrath and made fit to live in the Father’s holy presence forever, starting right here and now in this mortal life. Ain’t nobody got time for that nonsense, Lord! St. Peter exclaimed. You see, Christ had totally violated his expectations of who God is and how God works. End-time judgment there will be and there will be no mistaking it when it comes. But not before our Father came to us in weakness and love to save us from ourselves and the power of Sin. The Kingdom comes on earth as in heaven via the cross and Christ’s blood shed for us, not via shock and awe as the world understands power. Only the wise, those who know the heart of the Father and are able to recognize and see it in the life and teachings of God the Son, God become human, can possibly hope to learn God’s radical new (yet very much old) wisdom made known in Christ. And to learn this wisdom requires the God-given humility to listen, ponder, and talk it over, both with God and each other. It is the humility and wisdom needed to submit ourselves to the power and authority of God’s word contained in Scripture, rather than putting ourselves above it so as to interpret it in ways that make us feel good and comfortable. If we don’t know God and are unwilling to get to know Christ and his ways, denying ourselves and carrying our cross so that we can follow him, we can never hope to become (or be) wise. Like the big shots of Jesus’ day (and ever since), we consider ourselves too smart, too sophisticated to believe in all this dying for our sins stuff. And the Resurrection? No way, baby. We all know dead people don’t rise from the grave. Yet here is Christ our Lord, inviting us to see him for who he is as he lives out the very heart and love and goodness and justice of his Father. Know God and we will know Christ. Know Christ and we will know God. Peter at this point in the story didn’t know either very well and he attempted to fit both into his own scheme of things. The result? His Master’s doghouse. Satan had tempted him in the wilderness to abandon his path to the cross and in St. Peter’s (likely) well-intentioned rebuke, Jesus saw the same dynamic at work. Christ could go to the cross because he knew without a doubt the Father’s will for him and had the humility to do that will, massively hard as it was (cf. Phil 2.5-11). The wise know Christ for who he is—the embodiment of the Living God—and believe his promise that we are freed from our sins by his blood and by the sending of the Holy Spirit, and that one day we too will have eternal life in a new embodied existence, all because of the Father’s great love, mercy, and grace. Fools reject this and live their lives accordingly. It’s no small thing to have to deny ourselves, our base and disordered desires in us, and be willing to learn how to live in the manner of Christ. It takes a lifetime and none of us do it perfectly. In fact, most of us do it rather imperfectly most of the time. But Christ is the only way for us to ever enjoy eternal life in the manner the NT promises it. Are you wise in this matter or a fool?

Last, we turn to our epistle lesson because here we see an important way we as Christians learn to live out our faith in Jesus Christ: taming our speech. We just saw how St. Peter’s tongue got him in trouble. We also spoke of the foolish speech we heard at Calvary as the leaders of Israel mocked God as they crucified him. We add our own folly to this. How many times has a thoughtless word caused harm and sometimes irreparable damage? (This is why gossip is so severely condemned in all Scripture.) It causes damage and harm, division and rancor. It is also a terrible witness to our faith. When we speak and act in the manner of the world (think Twitter, Facebook, all the discordant voices that swirl around us), how are we witnessing to Christ? How are we demonstrating a different and better way, a way the world desperately seeks but can never find in the secular domain? I see some of our own people regularly post things on FB that make me cringe. If I were one who hungered and thirsted for truth and beauty and real life and saw some of the stuff we post, I would high tail it as fast as I could. And we will have to give an account for our loose tongue as Christ himself warns us—rather worryingly, to me at least—about this: “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Mt 5.22). Here we see wisdom and folly in action again, this time in the realm of speech. A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger, says Proverb 15.1. Wise folks understand and practice this wisdom. But at other times, a stern word may be needed. Wisdom tells us when, where, and how to apply it (or not). Fools reject this wisdom and act according to their own selfish and myopic desires.

I could give thousands of examples to illustrate the above, but you get the point and I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on this and talking about it together. In short, if we are putting anything or anyone above following Christ to the best of our ability in the power of the Spirit, or if we do not believe him to be who he says he is, the crucified and risen Son of God, we are fools and headed for utter and eternal destruction. There is no cause, no person, no identity, no political party, nothing in all creation other than Christ, that deserves to have our ultimate love, loyalty, and devotion because only Christ offers us eternal life. Learn this wisdom, my beloved. As Christ’s body we are called to live out God’s wisdom (and all that that entails) together, not just individually, and that means we must delve into the word deeply and together. To know God requires that we have a robust prayer life as well. And of course when we come to the Table to receive our Lord’s body and blood, we learn wisdom because we actually consume Christ as we rehearse and become part of God’s wisdom proclaimed in our Lord’s Death and Resurrection. May we all become wise guys and gals as we grow up to the full stature of Christ. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Father Philip Sang: All Equally Favored by God

Sermon delivered on Trinity 14B, Sunday, September 5, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang does not do written manuscripts anymore because he is too big a shot. Nobody’s got time for that so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2.1-17; St. Mark 7.24-37.