Kingdomtide: How the War was Won

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Advent C, November 17, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 65.17-25; Song of Deliverance (Isaiah 12); 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19.

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

During the Sundays between All-Saints and Advent, we celebrate Christ and his kingdom, a period of time we call kingdomtide. But why should we celebrate this when it appears that anyone (or anything) but Jesus rules this world? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

It is no secret that we live in a world corrupted by human sin and the forces of Evil. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks of a cosmic battle being waged both in heaven and on earth (3.10, 6.2), and our Lord himself enigmatically refers to Satan as the ruler of this world (John 12.31, 14.30, 16.11). This is contrary to God’s original creative purposes because we know that God created humans in his image to run his good creation on God’s behalf (Genesis 1-2). And our readings from this morning, each in its own way, speak of a world gone terribly wrong. 

In his breathtaking vision of new creation, unique to the prophet Isaiah and the OT, the prophet tells us of a world devoid of crying and full of joy and celebration, peace and harmony, and abundant life. Implicit in this spectacular vision is the acknowledgement that in God’s original creation there is crying and disorder and calamity, and we all get that. We weep over sickness and the death of our loved ones. We all know what it is like to be afflicted with any number of calamities that can beset us. The chaos going on in our nation makes many of us want to scream and pull our hair out (or maybe the hair of those who cause such great chaos—insert your favorite villain here).

In our canticle we echoed Isaiah’s proclamation that we will trust God and not be afraid. In fact, “don’t be afraid” is the most common phrase in all of Scripture, indicating that there is plenty in our world and lives that can make us afraid. And if we lived in a world devoid of sin and evil, why would we need God to be our salvation? This all suggests things are not as God intended.

Our Lord himself even acknowledges that all is not right with God’s world, despite the fact that Christ himself was God’s agent of creation. In our gospel lesson Jesus warns his disciples of the cataclysm about to be inflicted on Jerusalem for its impending rejection of the Son of God (this, BTW, does not give us license to be antisemitic; Christ is simply speaking of God’s awful judgment on his people’s rebellion against God and his Messiah). Moreover, Jesus warns his followers of future persecution for being his disciples and proclaiming him to be the Son of God. Rarely have Christ’s true followers enjoyed peace and goodwill because they are Christians. To the contrary, because the dark powers and their human minions have usurped God’s rightful rule of his creation, Christians more often than not experience persecution and suffering for their faith, not the accolades of a fallen world. This is one way we can measure our faithfulness to Christ. Are we suffering for his name’s sake? If not, there’s a good chance we are not engaging the forces of evil by acting in Christlike ways and/or proclaiming his gospel to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

The fact that Satan and his minions are in control of God’s world and actively rebel against God in God’s own space (heaven), can leave us even more baffled and discouraged. How can an all-powerful, all-knowing, totally good God allow this to happen we wonder? Why does God allow this? We know a small part of the answer. When our first ancestors sinned in paradise and got thrown out, it allowed the forces of Evil to usurp the role God reserved for humans. Nature abhors a vacuum and when we rebelled against God we allowed forces eager to control and corrupt God’s world to take our place. But there are other greater questions for which we have no answers. Why did God allow evil to exist in the first place? Why would God allow evil forces to step in and fill the void left by his image-bearers? Why does God allow the powers to operate and rebel against him when he has the power to destroy them forever? And how can the forces of Evil even exist in heaven, let alone rebel against the Almighty God? On a matter closer to home, in a few minutes we will hold our quarterly healing service. So why doesn’t God answer our prayers and bring about immediate healing and relief as we ask and desire? We aren’t told. Nowhere does Scripture give us answers to our questions and this can make us wonder what kind of King Jesus really is.

Instead, Scripture tells us that God is in control and has done something about Sin and Evil, despite appearances to the contrary and the evil with which we all must deal on a regular basis. For example, in our OT lesson, God tells Isaiah that God is about to create new heavens and a new earth, a breathtaking promise echoed powerfully in the Revelation to St. John (21-22). If there is no more crying or sounds of distress or chaos or war or lives cut tragically short, then the promise signals that God must have defeated all that corrupts his good world and creatures, especially his image-bearing ones. In our canticle from Isaiah 12, the prophet tells us to sing God’s praises because he has triumphed gloriously over the forces that have corrupted and harmed God’s people. When OT prophets spoke of salvation, they typically meant being rescued from the forces that made this mortal life an awful experience, things like famine and foreign invaders. Because God has rescued his people from the powers of Evil, they could now enjoy God’s presence among them once again. After all, the dark powers had no shot at harming God’s people as long as God remained with them. 

Even in our gospel, Christ speaks a reassuring word to us. You will be persecuted but hang on. Persevere and you will reap the reward of eternal salvation. For his immediate followers, Jesus also reminded them that even when they were arrested, he would be with them in the power of the Spirit to guide their speaking and testimony about him so that his Name would become known and honored throughout the world (think the promise and blessing of Abraham). There is an awesome mystery in all this. We aren’t told how it all works and often we can’t see that it does. Despite this, Scripture urges us to be content to mind our own business and trust that God is good to his word and promises to us. In short, we are called to be humble and trust God’s wisdom and power.

But how has God defeated the powers? And what about human sin and the death it causes? While none of our lessons address these questions directly, the NT certainly does. Its writers all proclaim that in Christ’s death and resurrection, the powers of Evil and Sin were defeated on the cross and the ultimate evil of Death was dealt with in Christ’s resurrection. The first witnesses to Christ all proclaimed that somehow and in some way God dealt with and defeated Evil and Sin in and through the death of his Son. St. Paul proclaims this boldly in his letter to the Colossians. Hear him now:

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

Elsewhere, St. Paul writes to the Ephesians:

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere (Ephesians 6.10-18, NLT).

We want to shake our heads in disbelief and say to St. Paul, “Are you out of your blooming mind? Has Father Bowser finally gotten to you? Look around you! Nothing’s changed! In fact, things seem to be getting worse by the day!” But here’s what we need to remember. St. Paul wrote these letters while languishing in a prison for Christ’s sake! He knew the power of evil first hand. He knew the world hadn’t suddenly become an idyllic place to live! Yet St. Paul knew that what he wrote was true because he had seen and experienced the risen Christ. When God raised Christ from the dead, everything changed for St. Paul and the rest of the NT writers, not to mention the early Church. To be sure, the victory has not been consummated nor has Death been defeated as St. Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians 15.50-57, but that’s only because our Lord Jesus has not returned to finish his saving work and consummate his victory over all that oppose God. Again, St. Paul knew this promise to be true because Christ is raised from the dead and rules over all creation as well as in heaven until the mysterious plan of God calls for the end of all that ruins and corrupts. This obviously takes faith on our part because we are regularly subjected to Evil and Sin, often of our own making. But if you believe Christ is raised from the dead, then you too must believe that God has won the victory and accomplished for us that which you and I cannot accomplish for ourselves: the defeat of Evil and the end of our slavery to the power of Sin and the Death sin causes. Do you believe this? If you do, then you have at your disposal the weapons to engage in the mop-up battle in this mortal life, enigmatic as life can be at times, i.e., you have the full Armor of God: prayer, God’s righteousness, the power of the gospel, and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to make Christ available to you, among others. This is not a conventional war, my beloved, nor are we called to be the principal combatants. God has already fought the war on our behalf and won it. When the resurrection comes in full, justice and goodness will be fully restored. What we are called to do in the interim is to live faithfully and in ways that proclaim we believe Christ’s victory is ours (think baptism for starters). 

Like the monumental battle of D-Day signaled the inevitable defeat of the Nazis in Europe during WWII, so Christ’s cross signals the inevitable defeat of all the forces that hate us and want to destroy us. This victory is for the entire people of God, the Church; it is not simply an issue of “me and my salvation.” As St. Paul makes clear in Ephesians 3.6-11, those who follow Christ are promised a share in his rule and that means the Church, not just a motley crew of individuals, and that means together we are called to live in certain ways that are befitting of God’s new world. In other words, we are to live in ways that proclaim we really do believe the battle is won on our behalf. We are to persevere. We are to let love and charity guide our behavior toward each other. We are to care for one another and put up with each other’s respective idiosyncrasies, even to the EGRs among us—extra grace required folks (you know who you are). In our epistle lesson this morning, St. Paul has some harsh things to say about loafers. But we miss the point if we focus on this. What the apostle is telling us is this. You have to care for each other and when you don’t do your fair share, you proclaim by your actions that you matter more than your brothers and sisters in Christ do and that dog won’t hunt in God’s new world. So instead of using food, let me use the examples of time and money. It is a well known phenomenon that about 20 percent of parishioners do all the work. For the 80 percent who let them do that, what are you proclaiming to the ones who do the work? Do you mean to tell them that your time and energy are more important than theirs or that your other commitments are more pressing than theirs? Is this how rulers in God’s new world will rule? Christ didn’t think so because he told us that rulers who follow him will act like slaves and serve, instead of being served as the world’s rulers are (Mark 10.35-45). When you let others do the work or give of their money to fill in your parsimony, this is the message you proclaim to them and the world, and Christ’s name is dishonored, just like when those who do the work get all haughty and self-righteous with those who fail to pitch in and help and/or give of their resources. 

So part of living as beneficiaries of Christ’s victory is to show our awareness that we are part of his body and we are part of that body because of his great love for us, not that we deserve his grace and gifts. Another part of being members of Christ’s body is to live with hope and to persevere, to endure. St. Paul is telling us, among other things, that we are not to get tired of doing what is right. It is very easy to become tired when we see, all around, people who are living in a different way, including some of our own number stepping out of line. But the dance of new creation must go on (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.58). St. Paul can say this because he knew God had won the victory for him and us, undeserving as he was and we are to receive it. Let us therefore live like resurrection peeps and proclaim to each other and the world that unlikely as it seems, God has won the victory for us. How do we know this? Because Christ is raised from the dead, thanks be to God, and this is what we proclaim as we persevere in our humble and righteous words and deeds! 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: Take Courage

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Advent C, November 10, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Haggai 1.15b-2.9; Psalm 145.1-5, 18-22; 2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-17; Luke 20.27-38.

In 586 BC the armies of Babylon destroyed the Jerusalem temple , and took most of the Jews into exile. About 50 years later Cyrus, the Persian, took Babylon, and brought the Babylonian Empire to an end. Then he allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. All of this was owing to the sovereign hand of God fulfilling the prophecies of Jeremiah (Ezra 1:1).

Among the returning exiles were (probably) the prophets Haggai and Zechariah.

So Haggai and Zechariah were sent by God to assist in the rebuilding of the temple. This work was begun, but there was a delay in the start of the work of rebuilding the temple. This delay is what brings forth the message of Haggai.

The way Haggai motivates the Jews to build the temple of God has a powerful application to our own efforts to build the Church of God today.

The first Chapter 1 of Haggai reveals to the governor and priest and people that the reason they are all frustrated is that they have tried to make their own lives comfortable while neglecting the temple of God. Verses 4–6:

Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now therefore consider how you have fared (or: consider your ways). You have sown much and harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages earns wages to put them in a bag with holes.

So they lived in perpetual frustration and discontentment. Nothing satisfied. We can’t pass over this lesson easily. It’s for us, too. If we devote ourselves to sowing and eating and drinking and clothing ourselves and earning wages, but neglect our ministry in the body of Christ (the temple of God, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17), we will live in constant frustration. If we spend our time and energy seeking comfort and security from the world, and do not spend ourselves for the glory of God, every pleasure will leave its sour aftertaste of depression and guilt and frustration.

Both then and now the real problem is not the neglect of a building but indifference to the glory of God. The temple of the Old Testament existed for the glory of God. And the Church today exists for the glory of God (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). Indifference to the growth and spiritual prosperity of the Church and its mission is always a sign of failure to love the glory of God. And the sour fruit of this failure is a life of chronic frustration.

Haggai reports that Zerubbabel and Joshua and the people obey and begin to work on the temple, this was after 18 years of neglect and of course frustration, the people begin to learn their lesson.

A little less than a month after the people had begun to build. It seems as though the work has slowed or come to a complete stop, because Haggai’s message is that they take courage and get on with the work (v. 4). What makes this message so practical and relevant is that we can see ourselves so easily in the workers. And God’s encouraging words become very easily words of strength for us, too.

Haggai says why the people have become weak and discouraged in their labors. He asks, “Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?”

The workers are discouraged because the memory is still alive of how glorious the temple used to be. Less than 70 years it stood in this very spot, the apple of God’s eye, the magnificent achievement of Solomon, for centuries the center of holy worship. But instead of inspiring the people, this memory made the people look at the small insignificant temple they were building and feel hopeless. “How do you see it now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?” What’s the use, they say. We can’t match the glory of Solomon’s temple. We’re wasting our time. Nothing beautiful or worthwhile will ever come of it. We got along without it in Babylon; we can do without it here. Better to have the beauty of a great memory than a paltry imitation. So their hands are slack in the work. Does that sound like anything in your experience? I think anybody who has ever undertaken a work for the cause of Christ has felt that kind of discouragement: the sense that you work and work and the product seems so petty. You pour yourself into a thing week after week and month after month and the fruit is so minimal. Then you look back in history or across town and see the grand achievement of others, and your temple seems so trivial. And you get discouraged and are tempted to quit and put away your aspirations and drop your dreams. Who wants to devote his life to a second-rate temple? Fear and discouragement grips us

Anglican church in North America is a prime target for discouragements like these. This church is the Solomon’s temple of the Anglican communion. There once was such a glory here that across the Anglican Communion is still thought of mainly in the past tense: once the biggest church; once she had an impact across the nation and the world. Most of you have known the discouragement of feeling that what we are doing here may be of so little significance that you may as well quit.

The message from Haggai is made for our hearts today. God confronts the discouragement of the people, first of all, with a heartening command:

“Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work.”

God clearly does not agree with their assessment of the situation. If they think their work on the temple is of so little significance that they can quit, they are very wrong, for God says, “Take courage, . . . work!”

He gives two arguments why they should take courage and work heartily. And both of these are crucial for us as well. The text continues “Work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not.”

God’s first argument why they should “take courage,” “work,” and “fear not” is that he is with them. How could we ever, then, belittle a work when God says he is with us in it? When God is working at your side, nothing is trivial. But the promise is not only that he will be at our side; he will also be in our hearts encouraging us.

“I am with you, says the Lord. And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and worked on the house of the Lord.” (1:13)

If we will ask him and trust him, God not only works with us, but he moves in to stir up our spirit and give us a heart for the work. He doesn’t want crusty diehards in his work; he wants free and joyful laborers. And so he promises to be with them and stir them up to love the work.

But not only that. When he refers to the promise or covenant made at the Exodus, he shows that his presence is the same powerful presence that divided the Red Sea. Exodus 19:4 says, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” So when he promises to be with the people in their work, he means: I will use all my divine power like I did at the Exodus to help you and strengthen you and protect you. Therefore, take courage, work, fear not.

But there is one other encouraging thing about this promise. For those Jews whose minds were all taken up with the glory of Solomon’s temple, this promise may have had a very special impact. Just before David’s death he encouraged his son, Solomon, with words very similar to Haggai 2:4 and 5: “David said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and of good courage and work. Fear not, be not dismayed; for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work of the service of the house of the Lord is finished”‘ (1 Chronicles 28:20). The implication of this similarity is that the same God who worked with Solomon to build his great temple is also at work with you now. Therefore, take courage, work, fear not.

The second argument God uses to encourage those who think their work only produces paltry results is found in verses 6–9:

For thus says the Lord of hosts: once again in a little while I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake the nations so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

In other words, take courage, work, and fear not, because you build more than you see. All you see is a paltry temple. But God promises to take your work, fill it with his glory, and make your labors with a million times more than you ever imagined.

The point is this: God had a purpose for a temple. The Jews of Haggai’s day could not see it all, and what they could see seemed so paltry. So God came to them with a word of promise: Take courage. You build more than you see. The heavens and the earth and sea and land and all treasures are mine. I will take the fruit of your little labor and make it glorious beyond measure, no matter how trivial and paltry it may seem to you now.

There is a principle here that applies to you and me: God takes small, imperfect things and builds them into a habitation for his glory. O, how we should take courage in our little spheres of influence! And is this not the message of Advent and Christmas? What more appropriate word could God have said to Mary as Jesus was growing up: Take courage, young mother, you build more than you see. And so it is with every one of us. Nothing you do is a trifle if you do it in the name of God. He will shake heaven and earth to fill your labor with splendor. Take courage, work, and fear not for the Lord is with you and you build more than you see.

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

All-Saints: Anticipating the Great Reversal

Sermon delivered on All-Saints’ Sunday C, November 3, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Daniel 7.1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1.11-23; Luke 6.20-31.

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

Today is All-Saints’ Sunday, the feast day where we celebrate the communion of saints, both those who have died in the faith of Christ, the Church Triumphant, and those of us in Christ who still labor in this mortal life, the Church Militant. It is customary for us to focus on the Church Triumphant today, and we will certainly do that. But All-Saints points to a much greater reality and future than just eternal life, massively important as eternal life is. As all our readings attest, All-Saints is an appropriate day for the saints of God to anticipate the Great Reversal when the Kingdom of God comes in full on earth as in heaven as our Lord prayed in the prayer he gave to us, and good finally triumphs over evil. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

On All-Saints’ Sunday, we must be careful not to gnosticize and/or platonize this feast day. While it is very appropriate to celebrate the fact that our loved ones who have died in the Lord are with him in heaven as they await their new resurrection bodies, we must remember that heaven is not our final destination. Many Christians believe this because we have fallen for the old gnostic heresy that claims all things spiritual are good while all things physical or material are bad. But this goes against the overarching story of Holy Scripture that proclaims God created this vast cosmos of which we are part and intends to restore it one day. This is the story of salvation and it culminates in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. As St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, we have a hope in God’s promised new creation because of Christ’s resurrection and as St. Paul tells us elsewhere, we who are baptized in Christ share in both his death and resurrection (Romans 6.3-8). Because Christ is raised from the dead, and because we believe that we are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb shed for us and made fit to stand in God’s holy presence, we have the sure and certain expectation that we will be with Christ when he returns to consummate his saving work by ushering in the new heavens and earth, God’s new creation about which St. John speaks in his Revelation, raising the dead and transforming their mortal bodies as well as the bodies of those who are still alive at that point into immortal ones (1 Corinthians 15.51-52). Hear St. John now:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea [symbolic of Evil] was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children (21.1-7, NLT).

This is the context for eternal life, my beloved, and the destiny of those whom we have loved and lost for a season—God’s new creation. As Christians we are not destined to live in a disembodied state for all eternity. That’s a platonic (and bor-ing!!) notion. No, God created all things good and intends to restore his good but sin-corrupted and evil-infested world to its goodness and human beings to our rightful place as God’s wise image-bearers who run creation on God’s behalf. That is the biblical hope and proclamation, not a disembodied eternity in heaven. Heaven, a blessed state to be sure because it is God’s space and Christ is there, is but a way station as we await the redemption of our bodies and life in the new creation (cf. Romans 8.18-25). This hope of God’s new world where all things evil, including and especially death, are destroyed and all the damage of human sin and folly are undone and healed is what we celebrate today and what our readings proclaim.

We start with our OT reading from Daniel. This passage clearly contains apocalyptic language, a genre of biblical writings that concerns visions or revelations of the end times or age to come. Because it deals with things of God well above our ability to fully comprehend, apocalyptic writings use rich and vivid symbolic language that most of us today find strange and incomprehensible and therefore we avoid them like the plague. That’s a shame because when we skip over writings like this, we miss the blessed hope they proclaim. Let us not make that mistake here. 

In our OT lesson Daniel is terrified by a vision of beasts coming out of the sea (respective biblical symbols for evil and chaos) to terrorize the earth, and we don’t need vivid apocalyptic language to get this. We know what it’s like to live in an evil-infested world where we can be terrorized by mass murder or terrorists, untimely and/or unexpected death, opioid addition, financial catastrophe, and sickness of all kinds, to name just a few. We are bombarded by rancor and divisiveness in this country, and all kinds of perverse thinking. We all know what it’s like to live in a world that serves up uncertainty and fear on a regular basis, and it can make us terrified and challenge our faith. How can God let this happen? Why does God let this happen? Here in Daniel’s vision we aren’t given answers to those questions. Instead we are given a vision of the Great Reversal, the time when the goodness and justice of God will overthrow the forces of evil and wickedness and restore God’s good and just reign on earth as in heaven, and we as God’s people will be the primary beneficiaries of this because of God’s tender love and mercy. No wonder the psalmist tells us to rejoice and sing God’s praises! Like Daniel, the psalmist knows that God’s people suffer greatly for their faith and can lose hope in the midst of the darkness that surrounds them. But the psalmist also knows that in the Great Reversal when God’s new world comes in full, God’s people will be vindicated and freed from our suffering so that we can serve our merciful God in peace and with joy.

St. Paul says something similar in our epistle lesson. He speaks of an inheritance for the saints of God who compose Christ’s body, the Church. While nowhere in this passage does St. Paul speak explicitly of the Evil, Sin, and Death that reign and destroy and corrupt God’s people and creation, it is implicit in all that the apostle says here. God raised Jesus from the dead. That is the basis of our hope and future because it demonstrates God has power even over the evil of death and the Sin and that causes it. Not only that, but Christ now sits at the right of of God, biblical language that proclaims the Lordship of Christ as ruler over all the cosmos, and who rules until he returns to consummate his saving work. When that happens, the Great Reversal will be complete. Good will prevail over Evil in full and God’s people in Christ will reign with Christ over God’s new world forever. What an astonishing hope and promise (cf. 1 Corinthians 6.1-8)!! Until that day comes, however, we Christians can expect to suffer for our opposition to the ways of the world and must constantly remember both our inheritance and the fact that Christ reigns now so that we do not lose hope. To the contrary, St. Paul tells us elsewhere to rejoice in our sufferings for Christ because they are signs that we belong to him and that is the only future and hope available to humankind (cf. Romans 5.1-11).

In our gospel lesson, our Lord himself speaks of the Great Reversal where those who have used and abused the ways of the world to enrich themselves at the expense of others will be judged severely by God the Father who abhors injustice and unrighteousness, and those who suffer injustice will find themselves being the recipients of God’s goodness, mercy, love, and justice. Many of us get uncomfortable talking about God’s judgment but a good God must judge at some point. To ignore the injustices and Evil that currently afflict us and God’s creation is to be party to it and God cannot be party to evil of any kind. Ever. So it is for our good and an integral part of our hope that God’s judgment and justice will one day fully prevail, and we must take the promise to heart and not lose hope or fall into despair. 

But glorious as it is, the Great Reversal and our Christian hope of living in God’s new world where God’s kingdom reigns on earth as in heaven is in the future. That’s massively important because without hope we all die. But what about now? What do our lessons have to tell us about the living of our mortal days? If we really do have the hope of God’s new creation, we are to live out our hope to the fullest in this life, imperfectly as that will be because we do not yet live in God’s direct presence, and we still live in a world that is profoundly broken and laboring under God’s curse and the inexplicable reign of Evil. In other words, we are to be living signs of new creation. And how do we do that? For starters, we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We don’t retaliate when evil is done to us and we love others, especially those in our parish family, at least as much as we love ourselves. We proclaim the right and oppose the wrong. We realize that the ways of the world are self-centered, evil, and corrupt, and we avoid them whenever we can. We are quick to forgive and slow to speak and act evilly. This way of life is called holy living, my beloved. We live this way, in part, because our Lord commands us to this kind of living. But we also do it because this is the way we will live in the new heavens and earth, and God gives us the opportunity in this world to demonstrate our love for him and commitment to his way of living as the fully human beings God created us to be. 

 When we live this way, the way of the cross, we proclaim to the world that we have a real hope and a future, despite the chaos and darkness around us. We proclaim to the world and ourselves that Evil and Death do not have the final say, that despite our imperfect living we are forgiven and healed and reconciled to God the Father through the blood of God the Son and in the power of God the Holy Spirit. We will be mocked and scorned and despised for living in these ways and for our sure and certain expectation of God’s new world. But we are in good company because those in the Church Triumphant also were mocked and scorned and despised for their faith. And more importantly, so was our Lord Jesus, who died for us so that we could enjoy communion with the Father now and forever. This is what we celebrate today, my beloved. Let your new creation faith and your belief in the communion of saints heal and refresh you, and let us encourage each other with this hope in the living of our mortal days. 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 Emmanuel Chemengich: Finishing Well

Bishop Chemengich who oversees the Diocese of Katali, Kenya is our guest preacher this morning. Sermon delivered on the Last Sunday after Trinity C, Sunday, October 27, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no written text for today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast, click here.

Lectionary texts: Joel 2.23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4.6-8, 16-18; Luke 18.9-14.

Biblically-Prescribed Remedies for Despair

Sermon delivered on Trinity 18C, Sunday, October 20, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 31.27-34; Psalm 119.97-104; 2 Timothy 3.14-4.5; Luke 18.1-8.

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

If you are one who characterizes the OT as being all gloom and doom while the NT is all warm and fuzzy, you will be a bit grumpy over hearing our texts this morning because in them our OT lesson promises a breathtaking hope while our NT lessons exhort us to hang on and persevere as we await our Lord’s return to put all things to rights. What’s going on here? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

In our OT lesson from Jeremiah, God breathes a fresh and stunning new hope and promise to his people (that would include us as well). God starts with the obvious. Your sins have caused you to live in exile. For God’s people Israel this meant literal exile to a foreign land, an unthinkable punishment for most of them. For us, exile is more figurative but every bit as real: alienation from our Source of life and health: God himself. This causes all kinds of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual maladies in us from anxiety to cancer to heart disease to apathy to anger, you name it. If we enjoyed perfect communion with God as our first ancestors did in paradise, we would live in perfect health and enjoy life to its fullest as God’s image-bearing humans. But we no longer live in paradise. Our sins have forced us to live in exile, alienated and hostile toward God and each other.

So what do to? From God’s perspective, sins can be and are forgiven. But that doesn’t address the root cause of the problem: a thoroughly corrupted heart, the biblical term for the center of our will. As God reminded his prophet Jeremiah earlier, the human heart is desperately sick and beyond repair. Who but God can understand it (Jeremiah 17.9)? Until the heart is fixed, the problem of sin will remain. Forgiveness there is but forgiveness under the Old Covenant was not thorough enough to address the root cause of sin, a corrupt heart.

We’re now ready to hear the breathtaking part. In today’s lesson, God promises to not only forgive our sins, but to heal our corrupted hearts so that we will no longer sin and God will no longer have to forgive. But how? Before we attempt to answer this question, we must humbly acknowledge that any answer we offer will be incomplete. We are dealing with issues above our pay grade as mortal and finite humans. We must therefore trust God to be good to his word. With this in mind, God promises to heal our corrupt hearts in two ways. First, God will pour his Spirit into us so that our hearts are inclined toward him. We will remember that we are his bride, his beloved people, whom God has rescued from the outside powers of Evil and Sin as well as from ourselves. This promise was fulfilled, albeit only partially, at Pentecost when all God’s people who were in Christ received the Holy Spirit. That phenomenon continues to this day. But the history of the Church indicates that God’s people are good at rejecting the Spirit’s presence and/or refusing to listen to his wise but gentle counsel, and the Spirit, who never forces himself on us, puts up with our ongoing rebellion and hostility toward God even as he continues to heal us one day at at time, even when we cannot see that we are making any progress. When we are humble and wise enough to obey the Spirit’s promptings, however, we find ourselves empowered to be the fully human beings God created us to be. In biblical language, this means our hearts (or will) are inclined to obey God’s will to be the image-bearing creatures who are fit to run God’s world on his behalf. Given this dynamic, we can assume the day will come when God’s Spirit heals us completely, presumably in God’s new creation. Given that St. Paul tells us our resurrection bodies will be animated by God’s Spirit and not flesh and blood like our mortal bodies, it is not unreasonable to think that this will be the time God gives us a new and uncorrupted heart that is willing and eager to obey God and reflect his image out into his new world.

The second way God promises in our OT lesson to heal us, albeit implied, is through radical and complete forgiveness. If you have ever been forgiven of a serious offense, you will know immediately the healing power that real forgiveness brings. If God is going to bring the kind of healing to our corrupted hearts that he promises through his prophet, God must find a way to bring massive and complete forgiveness for the sins of the entire human race, ours included. Of course we believe this has happened in and through the blood of the Lamb shed for us on the cross. This is why holy communion is so important for the healing of our hearts. When we take communion, we literally consume our Lord’s body and blood given for our redemption and the forgiveness of our sins and are tangibly healed in the process.The extent to which we have the grace, humility, and good sense to accept God’s complete forgiveness of our sins, is the extent to which we allow God to heal our corrupted and sick heart. Jeremiah also indicates how terribly costly it was for God to forgive our sin. When God tells us that he will remember our sin no more, it doesn’t mean that our sin doesn’t remain in God’s memory; rather, God is telling us that he will not act on our sin (in Scripture to remember something is to act on it, to not remember something is to not act on it). This is why forgiveness is so hard. We are not called to try blot out the memory of the offense, but rather to not act on it by exacting revenge. This costly act of total forgiveness of all human sin on God’s part is indicative of the depth and length and breadth of God’s love for us, despite our rebellion against him.

This two-fold dynamic of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us combined with the healing power of radical forgiveness, the kind that only God can provide, is how God intends to fulfill his promise and heal the human heart. But we all know this promise has not been fulfilled, nor has the Lord returned as promised, and this can lead us to despair. So what to do as faithful Christians? Stop believing the promises and adopt an “every person for him/herself” mentality? Turn cynical? Drink heavily? No, these are all symptoms of despair and as Christians we are never to fall into despair because we are a radically forgiven and loved people despite our warts and flaws and sins.

Instead, St. Paul and the Lord Jesus himself have the answers for us. We are to ensconce ourselves in God’s word contained in Scripture and remain vigilant in prayer. Let’s face it. Being an orthodox Christian gets harder every day as our society increasingly turns away from God. We are mocked because we fail to get with the program of the post-modern world with all its sickness and narcissism. For example, we are derided as haters because we will not succumb to the new sexual ethics being forced on us. We still believe that a healthy life is lived the way God’s created order runs, including how we view and use sex and how we treat each other. Moreover, after two thousand years we are still waiting for Christ to return to finish his saving work and usher in the resurrection of the dead and God’s new creation, and this can create doubts in us. That St. Luke included the parable of the unjust judge and the widow suggests that even in the first century AD, Christians were falling into despair because they had expected Christ’s return and it hadn’t happened. 

But both St. Paul and Christ himself tell us to stand firm despite our doubts. God’s timetable is not ours and we are dealing with matters far above our pay grade. And so we learn the story of God’s rescue plan in Scripture and in so learning the story, we learn how to live our lives in ways that are pleasing to God, all the while confident that we have God’s Holy Spirit living in us and helping us to be transformed into fully human beings. As St. Paul reminds us, Scripture is useful for teaching and training and correcting our thinking, speaking, and behavior. When we read Scripture we are reminded of the mighty acts of God and his promise to give us a future and a hope. And because all Scripture is God-breathed, i.e., it finds its origins in God through human writers, it has the power to heal as well. I suspect the reason so many of the mainline Christian churches have abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints (to you and me) is because many interpreters and ministers have become disillusioned over unfulfilled promises or were taught and trained incorrectly. We know our ears itch for new innovations because our hearts are corrupt as we’ve seen, and the Spirit will never force us to think correctly when it comes to matters of the Spirit and of God. So we have to read Scripture together and interpret it faithfully within the confines of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. When we do so, we are promised that our reading faithfully will change us for the better. Not perfectly, of course; perfection will have to wait for God’s new world. But reading Scripture will change us enough to help us live righteously and this pleases God. For anyone who claims to love God, living in ways that we know please God is healing balm in itself.

Likewise with prayer. Our Lord reminds us that God’s promises are true and we are to hang on and pray in the manner the widow did in his parable. And what did she do? She was tenacious and bothered the unjust judge. The Greek word for bother means to give someone a black eye so our Lord intended for us to persevere and be tenacious. We are to pray this way, not to bend God’s will to ours, but rather as a witness to our faith that God really does exist and that God really is good and just and right. Not only that, bold and tenacious praying bears witness to the fact that we believe an invisible God is truly accessible to us and cares about us. God isn’t like the unjust judge in the parable. That never was the point. The point is that we are called to keep the faith, even as we wait for God to answer our prayers, or even when God chooses not to answer our prayers. However, if we pay careful attention to what we pray for, we will surely discover that more often than not, God does answer our prayers, even if it is not in the way we ask for originally. There is a holy mystery about this, my beloved, but underneath it all there must be an indefatigable faith in the power, goodness, mercy, and love of God. And so we pray, in part, because God uses prayer to strengthen our faith and this, in turn, helps keep us from falling into despair. When the time is right, the Father will surely act quickly to vindicate the faithful and this must be our sure and certain expectation.

As we pray, we also must act as the widow did. Praying and acting are never mutually exclusive. Our inner house must be in order if we ever hope to have our behaviors make a difference as well as please God, and so the widow acted by bothering the unjust judge. So we must too. We often hear that there needs to be more action and less praying. The implication is prayer is ineffective and should be consigned to the dustbin in favor of action. But this criticism would have surprised the Son of God, who prayed to find strength and direction for his actions and decisions. So we must not be kowtowed into silence or shamed into abandoning prayer in favor of social action.

This is the biblical prescription to fight the despair we all feel in our lives from time to time. We are to read Scriptures to learn the story of God’s rescue plan for his creation and image-bearers and persevere in prayer. It was practiced and endorsed by the OT prophets and the Son of God himself, along with his apostles. And so we have a choice. If God really is our Creator, who knows us better than God? And if God really does love and care about us, why would God purposely lead us astray by telling us to do things that will not help and benefit us? Will we be wise and choose God’s help or be fools and resort in pride to self-help as the human race usually does? The latter option will surely fail because the human race does not know God or God’s ways. God’s ways, on the other hand, are always good and just and right, and we are called to have an informed faith that the Holy Spirit will use to see us through the darkest valleys if we will persevere and do so together. Is this the kind of faith you have? If so, are you, e.g., persevering in prayer to God to open the way for us to find a home we can call our own? Does your faith not only carry you through the dark times of your life but also create in you a generous heart so that you will support the work of your parish family? God has given himself to us to rescue us from death and despair. Let us resolve to honor him by following after his generous ways. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.   

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

When God Doesn’t Seem to be in Control

Sermon delivered on Trinity 17C, Sunday, October 13, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 29.1, 4-7; Psalm 66.1-11; 2 Timothy 2.8-15; Luke 17.11-19.

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

Our lessons this morning all exhort us to faithful living, especially during times when it seems that God is no longer in control of things. This is what I want us to unpack this morning.

We start with our OT lesson. The prophet speaks a surprising message to God’s people Israel who are living in exile in Babylon. Last week you recall that our psalm lesson had some very harsh things to say about Judah’s captors. Happy is the one, said the psalmist, who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks. In his cry for justice, the psalmist, it seems, takes a dim view of his captors (to put it mildly). Behind this shocking statement, however, rests a faith in God to make things right on behalf of his people and to exert his sovereign control over the nations by giving justice to his people Israel who are living in exile.

In today’s lesson, we see Jeremiah’s faith shine through in a distinctly different way. We have every reason to believe that those living in exile would have welcomed the psalmist’s sharp call for God’s justice against their captors. After all, hadn’t God used human agency (the Babylonians) to bring judgment against his own people? In today’s OT lesson, on the other hand, we have every reason to believe that the exiles would have disliked Jeremiah’s exhortation to pray for the peace and welfare of their captors every bit as much as they liked the psalmist’s cry for justice. A bit of context is needed for us to fully understand why the exiles in Babylon would have had such a dim view of Jeremiah’s advice to them to pray for their enemies. As part of God’s awful judgment on the sins of his people Israel, there were three deportations of God’s people living in Judah to Babylon. Jeremiah was addressing the exiles involved in the first deportation before the Babylonians finally sacked Jerusalem and burned down the temple. God’s people exiled to Babylon were hearing false prophets among them predicting a short exile. Not so, said Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God’s true prophets or spokesmen. You are suffering God’s ultimate curse for breaking his covenant and chasing after false gods (read Ezekiel 23 if you want God’s earthy and graphic description of his exiled people). But being the stubborn people they were (just like we can be stubborn), many of God’s people refused to believe God would punish his beloved people. Instead, for many living in exile, it seemed to them as if God was no longer in control. How could he be with them if they were exiled?

But Jeremiah disagreed with that assessment, having laid out a compelling and damning case against God’s people on behalf of God. Israel was in exile because she had been unfaithful to God’s call to them to be his people to bring his healing love to God’s broken and hurting world. Instead, they had adopted the false gods others around them worshiped and had become like those they had been called to heal. And precisely because God was in charge, now they found themselves exiled in a foreign land. You’re going to be here for awhile, Jeremiah told his people, so pray for your captors and for their welfare. It is the destiny of God’s people to flourish and prosper, and your situation depends on the welfare of your captors. So take the long view here, people of God. Pray for your captors even if you despise them. 

This advice requires great faith that God is in control despite appearances to the contrary and we all get this. Life for the exiles as they knew it before they were deported was over. For all intent and purposes, their sentence was permanent. God would one day end his people’s exile but well past their life span and this would surely have been demoralizing to the exiles just like we get demoralized when our world is rocked by awful change, be it the death of a loved one, a serious or debilitating illness, financial catastrophe, or being betrayed by a loved and trusted friend, to name just a few. Like the exiles, we ask where God is in it all? If God really is in charge why all the chaos in our lives and this world? 

And how about the Church? Almost every day I hear folks predicting the Church’s demise and proclaiming our irrelevance to this culture. But what if God has exiled his Church due to the sins of our ancestors as well as our own? What are we to do then? Accommodate the demands of our culture to be “relevant” again to win people for Christ? No, said Jeremiah to his people and us. Pray for your enemies and remain faithful to God’s call to be his people and embody God’s holiness. For Christians that means we imitate Christ in the power of the Spirit. We must therefore ask God to bless our cultural enemies because our welfare is tied to our broader culture. If God weren’t in control, even in the midst of the chaos that swirls around us, if God isn’t sovereign over the nations, this advise would be absurd. Without God in charge, why bother praying? Instead we would be wise to adopt the attitude that it’s every person for him/herself; we’re on our own, baby!

But Jeremiah and the rest of the biblical writers would tell us not to lose hope or become demoralized like that, just like he told his own people, because a few verses later we hear this astonishing promise from God to a demoralized people living in exile under the curse of God’s judgment: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer 29.11). This is what God’s grace looks like on the ground and if God weren’t sovereign or in charge, God could never promise this to us. Almost twenty years ago when I was living through one of the darkest periods of my life and actively considering suicide, I memorized this passage and repeated it often and on a regular basis. Because I am standing here today I can attest to the power of God’s word to heal and sustain in the midst of immense darkness and would encourage you to do likewise as you walk through your own dark valleys. God is faithful and his plans for us are for our good. We can depend on him if we are willing to be patient and take the long view of life.

In our epistle lesson, St. Paul tells us to do essentially the same thing as Jeremiah told his people. Following the advice and practice of the psalmists who remembered God’s power to deliver his people from their captivity in Egypt with its own cruel chaos, and who encouraged God’s people to do likewise during the dark times of Israel’s history as well as their own, St. Paul remembers the power of God as he gladly endures suffering for the sake of the gospel. St. Paul points us to Jesus Christ, crucified, died, and buried, raised on the third day to new bodily life. Like Jesus telling the returning leper in our gospel lesson to get up—the Greek word for “get up” refers to resurrection—and get on with life because the leper’s faith had saved him (or made him well), St. Paul makes the bold claim that Christ’s resurrection is the historical event that was the game-changer for those of us who put our faith in Christ. Echoing his claim in Romans 6.3-5, St. Paul reminds us that because we have died with Christ in our baptism, we will live a resurrected life with Christ in God’s new world. Despite the darkness, loss, sorrow, heartache, fears, chaos, and the transitory nature of life, we who belong to Christ will share in his eternal future. We must therefore be bold in proclaiming this truth, a truth that will one day overthrow the dark powers who currently rule God’s world, and in doing so we must expect to suffer for Christ’s sake. If we are willing to suffer for Christ, we will reign with him in the new heavens and earth. Our future destiny isn’t rest and refreshment. It’s a call to be what God created us to be in the first place—God’s image bearers who run his new world and reflect his goodness and glory. There will be no darkness or evil in that world and life because we will live in God’s direct presence as Revelation promises. Christ’s resurrection is definitive and historical proof that God has defeated the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death on our behalf and calls us to imitate our Lord Jesus in the living of our days. It is a call for us to be fully human beings. Being human in this mortal life, of course, means we will also sometimes miss the mark, or in St. Paul’s words, we will be faithless. But we are to take hope because Christ is always faithful, just like the Father is always faithful to his people and good to his word. So we dare not cave to our culture nor should we be ashamed of proclaiming the gospel to a hostile world that desperately needs to hear it but refuses much of the time to do so. This can be discouraging itself, but we are to stand firm. We are resurrection peeps, my beloved. We must take the long view of life because we have a future and a hope, a sure and certain expectation. Is your faith strong enough and bold enough to sustain you when you must walk through your own dark valleys? 

I don’t know why God allows so much suffering and wrong in this world. I don’t know why God allows the bad guys to prevail sometimes. But I do know this. Our future in Christ is secure and we have been washed clean of our sins and all the separates us from God by the blood of the Lamb shed for us to end our self-imposed exile and alienation from God. The Father has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. I know all this is true because I know Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and I therefore I know he reigns over this world and his promises to us are true as Scripture proclaims, even in the midst of chaos and darkness. 

So here is how we as God’s people in Christ can find power to live in a world gone bad. First, we ensconce ourselves in God’s word contained in Scripture and faithfully interpreted by the Church to learn the story of God’s rescue plan for his good but sin-corrupted world. We learn it to know God is in charge, to recognize God’s ways, and to understand our role in God’s rescue plan. Second, we pray for our own welfare and for the welfare of our enemies and captors even as we are bold to expose their lies and proclaim God’s Truth contained in the gospel. And last, together we remember our resurrection faith and let it sustain us in the power of the Spirit by reminding us that despite appearances to the contrary, God has reclaimed his world and us and defeated the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death. Are you doing these things to help sustain you in the living of your days? If not, you are setting yourself up for failure as well as denying the Lord’s love for you along with his power to heal and rescue you, and when you crash and burn, you will have no one but yourself to blame. Don’t despise yourself like that, my beloved. For the love of Christ, don’t do that to yourself.

So how does all this apply to our stewardship campaign? Simply put, stewardship is a loving and thankful response to the power of God. It acknowledges God’s ways are not our ways and gives thanks that we have meaning, purpose, and hope in this mortal life. We are in day 28 of our 40 days of prayer and fasting, praying to the Father to end our homelessness. Are you persistent in your prayers? There is no way you can be if you do not believe in the efficacy of prayer! As we have seen, praying is one of our main duties as Christians because prayer has the power to heal and transform. Sometimes it seems as if we are too small a parish to really make a difference and we tend to be stingy with our time, our talents, and our money. But this attitude denies the power of God that we have seen is available to us who come to him in faith with thanksgiving. As you consider your pledge for 2020, I urge you to have a generous heart patterned after the Father’s generous heart as manifested chiefly in God the Son. We have been given an immense gift in Christ and called to be God’s own through him. Let us resolve to give generously to ensure that we at St. Augustine’s really do live out our mission statement to be “changed by God to make a difference for God” in the power of the Spirit. Our future is secured and this knowledge can and will help us live faithfully in this present age because we know our work in the Lord is not in vain (cf. 1 Cor 15.59). We know this because we know know that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and our present and future are secure because of it, thanks be to God! 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 Santosh Madanu: Increase Our Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 16C, Sunday, October 6, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Lamentations 1.1-6; Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1.1-14; Luke 17.5-10.

Prayer: Lord Jesus bless us to have faith like you lord.  Though we experience your boundless love and care yet we lack faith in you.  Increase our faith Lord Jesus that we should come out to proclaim that you are the only true God, you showed the mighty deeds in your chosen and continue in our lives and in the world.  In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.

I would like to begin my reflection with the story:

Once in a circus the Ring Master said, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me direct your attention to high wire, how many of you believe that these daring men can ride safely over the high wire on bicycles while carrying someone between them? Raise your hands if you think they can. Many people raised their hands, a great chorus of belief.” Very well then,” says the Ringmaster, now, who would like to be the first to volunteer to sit on his shoulders? And all the hands quickly went back down.

Dear friends:

There is a keen difference between belief and faith.  It is easy to say we believe when we can stay in our seats.  But to climb onto the shoulders of that high wire artist- well, that is Faith!  

Today’s bible reading has the disciples of Jesus learning about faith. The disciple watched Jesus’ miracles and believed, Miracles like changing the water into wine at the Wedding at Canna and feeding the five thousand with five loafs of bread and two fish, Jesus raises the son of the widow of Nain from death. Luke 7:11–17 and Jesus Christ raises Jairus’ daughter to life and so on. The disciples believed in Jesus. But Jesus wanted not just belief, but Faith, Faith has the power to do the things of healing, forgiving and loving the enemy.

Note what Disciple said to Jesus, as recorded in Luke 17:5:

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  

But the Lord doesn’t increase their faith. He just reminds them that they have already been given all the faith they could ever need or call upon. He is trying to help them and us to understand that we just have to remember that believers already have it, and it is time to practice it. The seed of faith has to grow with the scripture reading, Sunday worshiping, daily personal prayers and spiritual life.   And God will nurture the seed of faith that God has planted in us, so I and you must use the faith that we have.

Faith is like anything else: the more we practice, the better our performance. It’s like practice and play an organ or a piano. The more one practices the better one produce beautiful and inspiring music.

A similar thing happens with prayer.

The more we pray, it is easy to offer up a beautiful prayer. This also comes from practice. So, what does Jesus say to the apostles to remind them?

And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you (Luke 17.6).

First, let’s remember that a mustard seed, or any other seed, know only how to produce a plant or tree after its own kind. It can’t do anything else.  It has a single purpose in life: to do what the Lord commanded it and designed it to do. We, on the other hand, have been given many tasks to do; but still with one single purpose, which we all too often forget. We are first and foremost to serve the Lord our God. Everything else we do should be so directed that it becomes part of our service.

We have two options one either we can ask for more faith or we can give up.  We see in the world around us, many people are giving up their faith. What if they are all people of faith? If they possess at least a tiny seed of faith, they can do wonders to spread the love and teaching of Jesus Christ and be part of the kingdom of God.

Faith is the unseen gift of God’s Spirit. Faith takes roots in us when we make sincere efforts.  The faith grows with the daily prayers, service to neighbor and doing good deeds of the Lord

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is our contemporary example.   She put her faith to work in extraordinary ways by serving the poorest of poor and orphaned in Calcutta, India.   She says “Our calling is not to do great things, but to do small things with great love.”  She did no miracle but influenced the world with the power of faith in Jesus Christ as true witness of LOVE. The faith of Mother Teresa may be telling us, we don’t need more faith, what we need is to use the faith that we have.  God has blessed us already with the faith that is needed.

Most of the time we make similar request with Jesus like disciples, especially when we faced with crisis and urgent needs, then we say- God please heal my very sick child; God please save me from the shame and embarrassment of this sin in my life, God, please give me the right answer to this difficult problem I face. And we find ourselves repeating the remark of the father in the Bible, speaking to Jesus about healing his son- Lord, I believe, help my unbelief— another way of saying to the Lord, I have faith, but I need greater faith to deal with this child’s problem.

We could take a long time talking about what faith is or what faith means but most of us already have a pretty good idea because of being disappointed by the faithlessness we have all experienced at one time or another. The most common example is the person who promises to be somewhere at a certain time and then never shows up without any explanation or she told you even promised you she would never do it again and then she went ahead and did it again. Some people promise you the job but don’t keep up their promise. And what did you say to yourself about that person:

“I don’t have much faith in him or her.” And we know exactly what you mean- the person can’t be counted on, can’t really be trusted, because they are unreliable for whatever reason. What can be more encouraging is what Jesus said to his disciples after they asked Him to Increase their Faith. He said to them:

If you had faith even the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this tree to be rooted up and be planted in the sea and it would obey you.

In Mark 11:23 Jesus uses the example of a mountain (Far greater than a tree): “whoever says to this mountain, be taken up and cast into the sea and does not doubt in his heart, but believes it will come to pass; it will be done for him.”

If we can’t even move trees or mountains into the sea, our faith must be smaller than a mustard seed or is this just hyperbole, exaggeration that Jesus is using to make a point about how important faith is in our spiritual life? I wonder if we have more faith in our car starting than we do in Jesus answering our prayer. I wonder if we have more faith in our best friend helping us than we do in Jesus helping us. I wonder if we have more faith in our self to make a living and pay the bills than we do in hearing and answering the call of Jesus to serve Him.

Romans 10:17 (NKJV) says, So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. If no one had ever told me about Jesus, and about God’s plan for my life, or if I had never read for myself about Him, I would be clueless about the need for faith. Reading or hearing God’s Word is like planting a garden. If you want to grow or “build” a garden, you must first plant the seeds, or the actual plant or flower. God’s Word is the seed that grows the faith. 

 Heed the Word

James 1:22-24(NKJV) offers a second way to increase your faith: 

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 

A Personal story of a certain woman:

A certain woman, she says “The first time my husband and I had to admit we were financially challenged, we had some choices to make. The biggest one was, would we trust God and the promises we had read in His Word? When a new difficulty developed, we faced the same choices. If we chose to believe God, our faith grew a little more. Then the really big crises erupted, like unemployment, parenting, and marriage challenges. But each time we looked back and saw the tracks of God’s faithfulness. He truly had kept His Word, and we came to understand the true meaning of “perseverance.” Trusting Him with smaller problems has built our faith to believe Him for the harder issues. Therefore the power of faith does not lie in how much you believe, it lies in what you believe. What a privilege we have in the Lord Jesus, our Teacher and Master who loved us enough to give up his life for us.

Prayer: Father God we are weak physically, mentally and spiritually.  Bless us with your strength and with your faith in your promises of kingdom of God. Bless us to recognize the seed of faith you planted in us through Baptism in order to use it for your glory and for the healing of this world.  We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Father Santosh Madanu: Good Stewards for God’s Resources

Sermon delivered on Trinity 15C, Sunday, September 13, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 32.1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91.1-6, 14-16; 1 Timothy 6.6-19; Luke 16.19-31.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40. 

Learn that Jesus wants us to share with others. 

Understand our need to follow Christ’s example. 

Learn that God sees the attitude of our heart.

What happens to a rich person who loves his money more than his neighbor and laughs at those less well off? What happens to a nation that glorifies such attitudes? Plenty. We live in times when this is happening all around the world. A day is coming when all such abuses will be judged.

Almost daily we hear stories of how the rich and powerful get ever richer and more powerful. We’re awash in global wealth, yet the wealth will be concentrated in fewer hands as we near the end of this age. Meanwhile, the poor will get poorer by comparison. The abuses will get to the point where economic slavery will sap the life from many (Revelation 18:13).

Jesus had no qualms in confronting such attitudes. He spoke a parable to warn us not to love money more than people. He confronted religious leaders who were lovers of money, telling them that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:14-15).

There is the judgment of God based on how we use the resources as a good steward and love of neighbor. 

Luke 16:19  conveys spiritual truth. This parable of the rich man and Lazarus is one of the most dramatic and pointed of the parables. It’s the only one where the main character is given a name, perhaps in part to make it more personal for each of us reading this. Real people are impacted by our actions. We have it in our power to be a force for good. This story should motivate us to take a deep hard look at the legacy we’re building each day.

The parable begins by telling us, “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). This man dressed in the finest clothes and ate well every day of the year. Nothing is wrong with these pursuits in and of themselves. But this man was not willing to share his wealth. He lived by the “zero sum” rule—he wanted the whole pie for himself. None of it could be shared with others because, in his twisted way of thinking, that would leave less for him.

We hear often that Microsoft founder Bill Gates regained the title of world’s richest man—his net worth this year soaring to more than $70 billion. Mr. Gates’ wealth grows even as he is working very hard to give much of it away through his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At least he and other billionaires realize their wealth can do much good to alleviate pain and suffering among the world’s poor. I find it a remarkable story that a fabulously rich man works full time to give away his money and then sees it continue to multiply.

The rich man in this parable personifies an attitude of hoarding: “I have what is mine, I worked hard for it and no one gets a penny, lest I have less than what I had.”

Christ contrasts the rich man to the poor beggar named Lazarus who was wracked with sores and reduced to being laid at the gate of the rich man hoping any amount of charity would come his way. Neither the wealthy tycoon nor anyone else gave him an ounce of care.

First of all, Jesus teaches here that heaven and hell are both real, literal places. Sadly, many preachers shy away from uncomfortable topics such as hell. Some even teach “universalism” – the belief that everyone goes to heaven. Yet Christ spoke about hell a great deal, as did Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews. The Bible is clear that every person who has ever lived will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Like the rich man in the story, multitudes today are complacent in their conviction that all is well with their soul, and many will hear our Savior tell them otherwise when they die (Matthew 7:23).

This story also illustrates that once we cross the eternal horizon, that’s it. There are no more chances. The transition to our eternal state takes place the moment we die (2 Corinthians 5:8Luke 23:43Philippians 1:23). When believers die, they are immediately in the conscious fellowship and joys of heaven. When unbelievers die, they are just as immediately in the conscious pain, suffering, and torment of hell. Notice the rich man didn’t ask for his brothers to pray for his release from some purgatorial middle ground, thereby expediting his journey to heaven. He knew he was in hell, and he knew why. That’s why his requests were merely to be comforted and to have a warning sent to his brothers. He knew there was no escape. He was eternally separated from God, and Abraham made it clear to him that there was no hope of ever mitigating his pain, suffering, or sorrow. Those in hell will perfectly recollect missed opportunities and their rejection of the gospel.

Like many these days who buy into the “prosperity gospel,” the rich man wrongly saw his material riches as evidence of God’s love and blessing. Likewise, he believed the poor and destitute, like Lazarus, were cursed by God. Yet, as the apostle James exhorted, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (James 5:5). Not only do riches not get one into heaven, but they have the power to separate a person from God in a way that few other things can. Riches are deceitful (Mark 4:19). It is certainly not impossible for the very rich to enter heaven (many heroes of the Bible were wealthy), but Scripture is clear that it is very hard (Matthew 19:23-24Mark 10:23-25Luke 18:24-25).

True followers of Christ will not be indifferent to the plight of the poor like the rich man in this story was. God loves the poor and is offended when His children neglect them (Proverbs 17:522:922-2329:731:8-9). In fact, those who show mercy to the poor are in effect ministering to Christ personally (Matthew 25:35-40). Christians are known by the fruit they bear. The Holy Spirit’s residence in our hearts will most certainly impact how we live and what we do.

Abraham’s words in verses 29 and 31 referring to “Moses and the Prophets” (Scripture) confirms that understanding the revealed Word of God has the power to turn unbelief into faith (Hebrew 4:12; James 1:181 Peter 1:23). Furthermore, knowing Scripture helps us to understand that God’s children, like Lazarus, can suffer while on this earth—suffering is one of the many tragic consequences of living in a sinful and fallen world.

The Bible says our earthly lives are a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Our earthly sojourn is exceedingly brief. Perhaps the greatest lesson to learn from this story, then, is that when death comes knocking on our door there is only one thing that matters: our relationship with Jesus Christ. “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26Mark 8:36). Eternal life is only found in Christ. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12). The truth is, if we wish to live apart from God during our time on earth, He will grant us our wish for eternity as well. 

 “If you board the train of unbelief, you will have to take it all the way to its destination.”

There’s a lot of that in the world today, as there has been in every age.  The Kappa Beta Phi is a fraternal organization of Wall Street’s leading executives from the major banks, equity firms, brokerage houses and other major corporations. Their motto, Dum vivamus edimus et biberimus, is Latin for “While we live, we eat and drink.”

 Use all your wealth to honor God. Use it for you and your family and to help others as you are able. This approach reminds us that, as James 1:17 tells us, God is the source of every good and perfect gift.

 The rich man wasn’t lost because he was rich. He was lost because he did not listen to the law and the prophets. Will you be lost for the same reason?

It is a terrible warning that the sin of Dives was not that he did wrong things, but that he did nothing.

The climax of Jesus’ application is verse 13: “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (see also Matthew 6:24). If God is our Master, then our wealth will be at His disposal. In other words, the faithful and just steward whose Master is God will employ that wealth in building up the kingdom of God.

God to the Rescue

Sermon delivered on Trinity 14C, Sunday, September 22, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 8.18-9.1; Psalm 79.1-9; 1 Timothy 2.1-7; Luke 16.1-13.

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

Every once in awhile, the preacher is confronted with lectionary readings that make him wonder how many drugs the selection committee did before choosing them. For me, today’s readings is one of those times. As I read over them initially, I scratched my head and muttered, What were they thinking? Where is there a unifying theme on which to preach? Why didn’t I make Father Bowser preach today? Is there no balm in Gilead for me? No mercy? Fortunately for me (and you), the Holy Spirit is much smarter than I am and by God’s mercy, he finally showed me a theme on which to preach, and that theme is God to the rescue. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

The whole story of the Bible is about how God has come to rescue his sin-sick and evil-corrupted world, a world and its creatures God never intended to create. God, the writer of Genesis tells us, created all of creation good and pronounced his human image-bearing creatures and the world over which they ruled to be very good (Genesis 1.31). But then we turn to our OT and psalm lessons, more hard-to-hear lessons like last week’s, and there’s not much good to be found in them, let alone very good. So what happened? Two words: Human sin. Our rebellion against God and his good will for us got our first ancestors booted out of paradise and by Jeremiah’s day in the sixth-century BC, the situation had become truly desperate. We see anguish from all parties concerned: from the prophet, from God, and from God’s people. God’s people living in Jerusalem, the place where they believed heaven and earth intersected at God’s Temple located there, desperately wondered where God was as the Babylonians besieged their city. Why was God not coming to their rescue? Had the Lord abandoned them? Yes I have, said the Lord. You have chased after other gods, i.e., you have chased after unreality, and in doing so you have provoked me to anger. You have provoked me to anger because I love you and I am jealous that you are pursuing other lovers even though you are married to me. When you chase unreal things, you don’t even realize how desperately sick they make you and how wickedly you behave. And now, you must pay for your sins of idolatry and social injustice. God’s condemnation of his people Israel’s sins was to send an invading army to utterly destroy Judah and its chief city Jerusalem. Think how we would feel if we knew God planned to destroy Washington, DC, then multiply that fear and horror by a thousand-fold, and we can begin to understand what is going on in our OT and psalm lessons (the latter is a lament after the fact while the former gives us a glimpse into the people’s reality before Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple burnt to the ground, a sure indication that God had abandoned his people there).

Jeremiah saw all this and was as appalled as God’s people were. Being a prophet is not easy (none of us want to hear our desperate plight before God that our sins cause) nor are prophets immune to having their hearts broken. Jeremiah grieved for his people because like the God who sent him, he loved his people, even though he had to say hard things to them. Jeremiah also grieved for his people because many of them were oblivious to the dire straights they were in. Their worship of all things false in this world had numbed their spiritual senses and this compounded the problem of their sins. Think about it. What kind of people besides me irritate you the most? Are they not those who are in trouble but who steadfastly refuse to see their predicament and admit they are in error? Folks like this tend to blow up relationships of all kinds because they refuse to acknowledge that perhaps they are wrong about some very important matters and this creates a sense of arrogance and proud self-righteousness. They are quick to judge and condemn others while refusing to acknowledge their own sins and they make it extremely difficult for others to forgive them. They exist in families, in churches, in government, in businesses, and elsewhere. Their denial of the reality of their predicament or the evil of their thinking/speaking/behavior makes them insufferable and as long as they steadfastly refuse to see the reality of their condition, repentance is never possible. Why repent of something when you are convinced you are doing nothing wrong? This is part of what was going on in Jeremiah’s day and it continues to plague us in our own.

Jeremiah in his wisdom realized that living like fools did not protect his people from God’s judgment on their sins. We can live in La-La Land all we want. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are the arbiter of truth, that there really is no objective Truth or right or wrong. It’s all a social construct, it’s all what we think truth and right and wrong are. We couldn’t be more mistaken. The prophet was also wise enough and humble enough to realize he was not immune to the human race’s slavery to the twin powers of Evil and Sin and because he loved his people as God loved them, the prophet wept for himself and for his people because judgment was coming and most were going to their destruction, clueless about what caused their fate. That’s why they cried out in terror asking where God was and why God had apparently abandoned them. They couldn’t possibly imagine their sins were the cause. Hard as it is to hear our OT and psalm lessons these last two weeks, there is a reason we must: They, like all the other biblical warnings, are there to remind us that unless we repent of our proud and wicked ways and stop pursuing false gods like money, security, fame, power, sex (insert your favorite idol here), and turn to Christ, we all face the awful judgment of a righteous God who will ultimately tolerate no evil to corrupt his good world. God created us to represent him and run his world. When we act evilly, we in no way reflect our Creator and that’s a problem. So if we are wise, we will thank God for loving us enough to warn us about our desperate plight before him so that we have time and opportunity to do something about it (turn to Christ). 

But here’s the problem with the OT. Jeremiah asked in desperation if there was no balm in Gilead for the healing of his people? Was there no physician? No medicine for the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health of God’s people? Sadly, Jeremiah would probably have answered no to his desperate questions. God had promised a Messiah to heal and rescue God’s people, but no Messiah was in sight. What a terrible predicament to be in! Many of his people were ignorant of their sins and to make matters worse there was no rescue in sight. 

That is why we Christians are not exclusively OT people. We are old and NT people. We no longer have to wait for a solution because it (or rather he) has already arrived. Hear what St. Paul has to say in Romans 11.32. Talking about why many in Israel refused to believe that Jesus was and is the Messiah, and what a problem that was for the veracity of God’s promises to Israel, St. Paul makes the astonishing statement that, “…God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.” Now if we don’t understand clearly our desperate need for God’s redemption, we will forever be ignorant of what great and wonderful things the living God has done for us in Jesus Christ and this statement will make no sense at all. Why would God imprison us in disobedience so that God could have mercy on us? Because without the blood of Christ shed for us to cleanse us from our sins and reconcile us to God, our only Source of life, there is no hope for us. None. What St. Paul is getting at is that God can and will use our disobedience to accomplish our rescue from his terrible judgment and an eternity in hell. When by God’s grace we become painfully aware of our sins and how they separate and alienate us from God so that death and destruction are our only lot, we are ready to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead for our sake. Here is God to the rescue. It is literally in Jesus’ name (the Lord saves), and it is by God’s power, mercy, and grace that we are rescued. Should we mourn our sins? Absolutely. But if we stop there we are no better off than Jeremiah! To the contrary, our mourning should lead to our rejoicing because of what God has done for us in Christ. He imprisoned us in disobedience so that he could use it rescue us and restore us to life and health, i.e., God turned an utterly hopeless situation into good! As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, this is God’s will for us, that everyone should be saved! God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners, and we who believe that God rescued us from his terrible judgment by taking on our flesh and bearing his right judgment on our sins to spare us, must now align our desires with God’s. That’s why we are to pray for leaders, even when they are pagans and vehemently oppose us. Think it through. God called Israel through Abraham to be God’s light to the world. God continues to call Israel—God’s reconstituted people in Christ—to reflect his goodness, mercy, truth, justice, and righteousness out into the world. It’s hard to do that when we are cursing our enemies and acting just as badly as they are instead of praying for them and bearing patiently with them because we want them to know Christ like we do. How different our political arena would look today if even a majority of Christians took this charge seriously. There would be a lot less vitriol and condemnation. There would be more focusing on issues and less on ad hominem attacks. God wants all to be saved and so should we, especially because God rescued us when we too were God’s enemies and as undeserving as our enemies (picture in your mind the political leader you detest most and apply St. Paul’s teaching to that person from now on). 

This is what is also going on in our gospel lesson. Remember that Jesus was telling a parable. He wasn’t giving us financial advice or telling us to cheat our enemies. As we’ve just seen, Israel was called to be the light of the world to bring God’s healing love to all people. But Israel had perverted her call. Instead of praying for her enemies and asking God to heal and forgive them, many in Israel prayed that God would execute his judgment on the nations who were hostile to God’s people. This ran contrary to God’s purpose and charge to them. Likewise with us. It is perfectly acceptable to pray for God’s justice to be done. But we must always do so with the realization that we are no different from our enemies, that all have sinned and stand under God’s just judgment without the intervention and mercy of Christ. The outside world matters to God, just like we do, and God wants us to use all our resources, especially spiritual resources like prayer, to demonstrate God’s concern for all humans, not just the ones we happen to like. This is a tall order for us, my beloved, but we do it in the power of the Spirit who strengthens us to do the work he calls us to do.

There are many applications to this dynamic, but I focus on just one today. This discussion reminds us why the forty day period of prayer and fasting is so important for the life of this parish. God calls us to be his light to the world and we do that now. But our homelessness is not something that pleases God because it diminishes our capacity to do God’s will and to be God’s people. God has rescued us from eternal death and destruction through the blood of Christ and he expects us to call on him in our troubles as well as when the good times are rolling. We are called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ boldly and we are not to be ashamed of doing so. Our culture tries to beat us down and silence us, mostly in the name of “freedom,” in this context, a euphemism for doing the evil our fallen and disordered hearts desire. But true freedom always comes from being obedient to God our Savior, not following our own distorted and selfish desires. Only then can we be truly human. God has rescued us from that predicament and given us hearts and minds to worship him and proclaim the Good News to others. Can God use a homeless people to do that work? Yes he can. We are living proof of that. But that falls short of the goodness and glory of God who desires the very best for all people, especially those who love him. Let us therefore resolve in the power of the Spirit, to be good stewards of God’s goodness, mercy, and grace, and to live and work and be the people God calls us to be. Let us call on the Lord to end our homelessness and then do our part in cooperation with God. Let us do so always with a thankful heart and spirit because we no longer have to worry about God’s judgment and can eagerly look forward to the day we will get to live in his presence and see him face-to-Face. 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 Foundation for Real Healing

Sermon delivered on Trinity 13C, Sunday, September 15, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 4:11–28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1.12-17; Luke 15.1-10.

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

Today we hold our quarterly healing service. But what is the basis for our healing? Obviously the power of God but are there other factors involved? Our lessons today give us some insight into this question and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

Our hard-to-hear OT and psalm lessons remind us in a graphic way that we are a sin-sick lot. God tells his prophet Jeremiah that his people Israel are stupid and lack understanding. Why? Because they are skilled at doing evil and do not know how to do good. Likewise the psalmist makes the stark observation that there is no one who does good, not one single person. To the contrary God sees that many increasingly refuse to believe that God even exists! The result? God’s people and the human race in general are alienated from God and ripe for God’s terrible judgment on our wickedness. This is tough stuff because it refers to you and me. Not only that, our rebellion against God’s perfect and good ways corrupts the land. God created us to care for his creation, land included, and when we refuse to reflect God’s goodness out into the world, the land suffers along with us (strip mining and pollution-caused catastrophes, anyone?), this on top of the fact that creation already suffers under God’s curse for the sin of our first ancestors. 

Not only do our sins result in God’s judgment on them (if you haven’t figured it out yet, God detests any form of evil, even as he loves us), our sins make us sick: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally because they separate us from our only source of life and health: God our Creator who sustains us. End our sin-caused alienation from God and every kind of illness, malady, and land corruption go away (new creation, anyone?). So today you get the punchline to the sermon’s title right away. Value added. You can nap in peace now and still pass the quiz at sermon’s end. But here’s the problem. If we believe the OT (which we should), we are powerless to heal our sin-sickness by ourselves. Our sin destines us to wander in the wasteland of the wilderness even as we live in our million dollar mansions and grow fat on our sumptuous diets and enjoy the glut of consumer goodies produced by our economy. Human knowledge and technological advancements may allow us to overcome the corruption of the land and to an extent heal many of our sicknesses, but we cannot cure the root cause of all illness: our alienation from God.

But it is to the glory of God our Father that the grim message about Sin contained in the OT is not the final word, that the OT was always a story awaiting its completion, and that final word is the coming of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. To be sure, the human condition about which I have just spoken did not change from the OT to the NT periods. Neither has it changed today. We are more sophisticated in hiding, rationalizing, and dressing up our alienation from God, but the psalmist’s charge about the wickedness of the human race remains true and valid today. So what changed?

The Good News, of course, with its proclamation that God has fulfilled his promise to Abraham to address our sin-sickness and heal us through Abraham’s family. God has accomplished that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God become human, to rescue us from our slavery to the power of Sin that has bound us ever since our original ancestors got booted out of paradise. We get a glimpse of the heart of God in our gospel lesson this morning and it is the key to our healing at the deepest level of our being. In response to his opponents’ criticism that he was always partying and hanging out with folks who were most despised in his culture, our Lord told two parables about the relentlessly loving heart God the Father has for his image-bearing creatures.

In the first parable, we see the shepherd (God through Christ) leaving his flock behind to search for the one lost sheep. What kind of sheep was that? Was it the cutest one? The one who nestled up to the shepherd to sleep? The one with the finest wool? No, the shepherd went after the sheep because it was lost. No prerequisites, no qualifications except disqualification (sin). No structure of personal piety, no good sense (it got lost), no obedience. This was the one that got a ride home on the shepherd’s shoulder. This one is you and me in all our inglorious chaos and vanity and baggage we carry around. The message here is that there is nothing we can do to get a ride home; it is entirely up to the Shepherd searching for and finding us, and the Shepherd is willing to search us out! And here we need to be clear about what this parable isn’t saying because too often it has been used to excuse ongoing sin which fosters ongoing alienation from God. Christ was not saying that God accepted the people he hung out with as they stood. Sinners must repent so that God can heal us. The sheep didn’t run away from the shepherd once found; it let the shepherd carry him back home. God searches for us and calls us to repentance, not because God hates us but because God loves us and wants to heal us. He searches for us as we are (rebellious and hostile toward him, skilled at doing evil and not knowing how to do good without the help of God), but God doesn’t expect us to stay as we are. The folks who hung around Jesus had to resolve to give up their lifestyles that made them sick so that God could thoroughly heal them. Likewise with us. The old Scottish preacher, George MacDonald, put it like this:

I thank you, Lord, for forgiving me, but I prefer staying in the darkness: forgive me that too.”

“No; that cannot be. The one thing that cannot be forgiven is the sin of choosing to be evil, of refusing deliverance. It is impossible to forgive that sin. It would be to take part in it. To side with wrong against right, with murder against life, cannot be forgiven. The thing that is past I pass, but he who goes on doing the same, annihilates this my forgiveness, makes it of no effect..Let a man have committed any sin whatever, I forgive him; but to choose to go on sinning—how can I forgive that? It would be to nourish and cherish evil! It would be to let my creation go to ruin.”

There is no excuse for this refusal. If we were punished for every fault, there would be no end, no respite; we should have no quiet wherein to repent; but God passes by all he can. He passes by and forgets a thousand sins, yea, tens of thousands, forgiving them all—only we must begin to be good, begin to do evil no more.

None of this negates the power of the parable in which our Lord tells us about the great love the Father has for us; in fact, it reinforces it. That is why there is rejoicing in heaven. God has brought another lost sheep back into the fold and the Father’s heart overflows with joy because he loves each and every one of us in all of our disarrayed glory! Imagine you are that lost sheep our Lord finds. What would be your reaction? Would it not be one of instant relief and healing? Would you not be rejoicing and want to please the One who loves you despite your hostility toward him and wants you to be his forever?

Elsewhere the NT tells us a definitively about the Father’s great love for us made known in Jesus Christ. We are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb shed for us. Our sins have been put away. God’s desire for justice and mercy has been accomplished on the cross so that we are spared of God’s terrible judgment on our sins because God took it on himself; and our slavery to the power of Sin has been broken. We know this because Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and we have been given God’s Spirit to help us lead new lives when we have the good sense and humility to let the Shepherd carry us home on his whipped and crucified back.

So why aren’t we all healed? There are many reasons (as well as a great enigma surrounding it all), but I only have time to explore one of those reasons with all its complexity. Some of us are self-loathing. Like David in Psalm 51, we know our transgressions and our sin is ever before us. We can’t believe that a good and righteous God could ever love us, let alone have mercy on us. We read about God’s hatred of all things evil and we conclude that because of our sins, we too are evil and therefore outside of God’s love and mercy. The Good Shepherd would never come looking for us. We are beyond saving. But our self-loathing comes from the world, the flesh (usually from within ourselves), and the devil. It ignores the truth about the love and mercy of God made known in Jesus Christ and him crucified for our sins and for our sake. When our self-loathing prevents us from accepting God’s love for, and mercy upon us, we effectively run away from the Good Shepherd or refuse to let him put us on his shoulders to carry us home. Our self-loathing is a subtle form of pride and alienation against God, all dressed up in pietistic language and thinking, and it distinctly goes against the parable of the lost sheep, which is all about the love and mercy of the Shepherd, who seeks out the least, the lost, and the self-loathing. As a result, our alienation from God continues because we falsely believe God can’t and won’t love us and we never are open for the core healing that comes when we are reconciled to God our Father through Christ. If you are one of those self-loathers, STOP IT!!! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!!!! I plead with you to take this parable to heart and give your Father a chance to show his love for you. You will not be disappointed.

And here is where the parable of the lost coin comes into play because it speaks as much about God’s perseverance as it does about rejoicing over finding the lost. As we saw, Christ implicitly calls us to repentance in the parable of the lost sheep, and many of us consciously seek to repent but often find ourselves failing miserably. This is especially bad for you self-loathers; it just adds fuel to the fire. Does that mean we really haven’t repented and remain lost? The parable of the lost coins suggests otherwise. Repentance is not a one time deal or event. Neither is our relationship with God a one time event. We are a work in progress. St. Paul recognized this when he made the astonishing claim in Romans that we will share in a death and resurrection like Christ’s because we are baptized in him (Romans 6.3-5). He then immediately acknowledged that we are not done with sin until we die (Romans 6.6-7). That means we will sometimes fail to miss the mark but that in no way negates the power of the cross and Christ’s victory over Sin and Death for us. The cross is the eternal sign of God’s great and relentless love for us, that God is patient and perseveres in his pursuit of us, despite our flaws, weaknesses, self-loathing, and rebellion. This is because God created us for life and creation, not death and destruction. God’s love for us means the Father wants the best for us and has acted as only God could on our behalf to bring us safely home to him where there will be no more sickness or sighing or alienation or death. 

St. Paul also serves as a poster child for this mind-boggling promise. He wasn’t just a lost sheep. He was a wolf who actively devoured the sheep by persecuting God’s reconstituted people in Christ out of a sincere but mistaken belief that Christ was not the real deal until Christ got a hold of him. St. Paul’s story reminds us that sincerely held beliefs about God, wrong as they can be when we do not humbly submit to God’s word, cannot rescue us. Only God can rescue us. St. Paul, chief of sinners because he actively persecuted God’s people in Christ, is saved by the One who pursued him relentlessly and patiently until he repented of his evil. The message? Nobody is beyond hope. Nobody is beyond the healing love and mercy of God. We simply have to accept the gift offered to us unconditionally. The extent to which you have accepted the gift is the extent you will find healing.

In a few moments we will invite you to come for intercessions and anointing to be healed. As you come forward, do so with a thankful and believing heart and mind, imperfect as both are. Your faith and resolve to follow Christ, however imperfectly you might live it, is evidence of God’s love for you and his willingness to heal you. Therefore, don’t be afraid. Continue to examine your heart and your life and resolve to ask the Lord Jesus to heal you of anything that causes you to remain alienated from God. Give thanks to the Great Shepherd, the one who pursues you relentlessly because he loves you beyond your ability to understand—not because of who you are or aren’t, but because of who God is—and let this God heal you to your very core. The Good News of Jesus Christ is this: You are created in the Father’s image to reflect his goodness and love, but you rebelled against that purpose. Despite your rebellion, God loves you and has acted on your behalf to end your stupidity and skill at doing evil so that you are freed to do what is truly human, good, and life affirming (i.e., it’s not about you, stupid, it’s about God). In giving you this great gift you will find both his peace and your healing, thanks be to God! To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Funeral Sermon: The Resurrection: The Abolition of Death

Sermon delivered on Friday, September 13, 2019 in Deshler, OH.

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

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

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

Good morning. I am Father Kevin Maney, rector of St. Augustine’s Anglican located in suburban Columbus, OH where my wife and I live. I am preaching today because Bob asked me to. He told me that my sermons reminded him of the peace and mercy of God. Flattered, I asked him what he meant by that and he said my sermons reminded him of God’s peace because they pass all understanding, and God’s mercy because they seem to extend forever. 

Bob and I go back over 30 years and we spent a lot of time talking about faith and life and death, among other things. I also had the joy and privilege of teaching his two daughters when they were in high school, and because Bob and I had such a unique and tight relationship, Susan and Baby R. didn’t have a prayer. If you are expecting me to eulogize Bob today, you will be disappointed. I do not come to eulogize the dead because even the most eloquent eulogies will not bring the dead back to life. Instead I come to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and raised because only Christ can and will restore the dead to new life. 

For those of us who knew and loved Bob, especially his family, these last several months have been grueling to say the least. He was afflicted by a host of illnesses that caused him and those of us who love him to suffer and grieve. His death, while a blessed release from an astonishingly rapid decline, is the ultimate form of evil because it robs us of our human dignity as God’s image-bearers and can leave survivors stunned and angry. Death ends permanently the relationships we cherish most about being human in this mortal life. We can no longer see our beloved, hear them, touch them, smell them or interact with them. Our Lord Jesus also knew this about the evil of Death because he snorted in anger at his friend Lazarus’ tomb just before raising him to life (John 11.38). Death is our ultimate enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15.26). It entered God’s good world as the result of human sin and has inflicted its evil on us ever since. Like Martha in today’s gospel lesson we want to throw our hands up in the air in desperation and ask why God allows this to happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so we return to Jesus’ question to Martha and us in our gospel lesson. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this? If you do, then act like the resurrection people you are! I don’t know why God allows all the suffering and bad things that happen in this world. I don’t know why Bob had to deal with the illnesses and the evil of cancer that he did. I don’t know why he declined so rapidly. I don’t know why his daughters, especially Cathy, had to be subjected to the heavy burden of caring for their failing father. None of it had to go that way, yet it did. 

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

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

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

Faith, Ministry, and God’s Sovereignty

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12C, Sunday, September 8, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 8.1-11; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-18; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14.25-33.

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

In one way or another, today’s lessons confront us with the enigma of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. If God is sovereign over us and the events of his world, how can God hold us responsible for our actions? God is in charge, right? Everything is fixed. We’re just doing what God predestined us to do so why bother? Why try? What’s the point? And given that today we have blessed our various ministries, how does the enigma of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility come into play? These are some of the confusing things I want us to look at this morning (and hopefully not get you or me even more confused than we already are as we do)!

We start with our OT lesson from Jeremiah. God tells his prophet to visit his local potterer and there God schools Jeremiah (and us) about God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. God likens the potterer to himself. God created us and can therefore choose to do whatever God pleases to do with us; after all, God is our Creator and sovereign. And God is good. In the context of our lesson, of course, God is referring to his upcoming judgment on his rebellious and idolatrous people who live in Judah. The Lord reminds Jeremiah that all people (the nations) are his because God created everything and everyone, and now God is going to use one of those nations to bring destruction on his people Israel living in Judah for their ongoing and stubborn rebellion against God (the northern kingdom of Israel had already suffered the same fate at the hands of the Assyrian Empire about 125 years earlier). The message? God is sovereign. He can do as he pleases, just like the potterer Jeremiah was observing. Judah’s goose was cooked. It was a done deal.

Not so fast, my friends. Don’t try to become little Calvinists quite yet because after declaring his sovereign right and power to summon a nation to enact God’s judgment on his people for their sins against him, God makes the astonishing statement that we his creatures can actually have a say in God’s sovereign decision-making. If God’s people abandon their false gods along with the false and dehumanizing practices that accompany the worship of them, the one true God, the sovereign Lord over all that is, will relent in imposing his judgment on Judah. But if they repent and then think they are in the clear and start worshiping all things false again, they will once again bring upon themselves God’s fierce judgment. God can and will change his sovereign mind depending on how his people decide to live (or die). There you have it. The enigma of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, two seemingly contradictory realities. Nowhere does Scripture try to explain how it works, just that it does. God created us in his image and gave us moral capabilities and the will to use those capabilities (or not), and God expects us to act morally to reflect his goodness, love, justice, and mercy out into his world so that the world and its peoples will come to know, worship, and praise their Creator, not get sidetracked with all things false and death-dealing.

Now of course Jeremiah was written BC—before Christ, and so things have changed a bit. In Christ God has reconciled us to himself on the cross. God did this on his own initiative while we were still God’s enemies and hostile toward God (some of us sadly remain so today). But God’s love and justice can be seen clearly in the cross of Christ. Again, Scripture does not tell us how this all works, only that it does. It’s called having faith and trusting in the veracity of God’s word contained in Scripture and in God’s Word become flesh. And if God really is God, if his ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55.8), then we should expect to be confronted on occasion with enigmas and things we do not fully understand or can’t adequately explain, things like the sovereignty of God vs. human responsibility or how Christ’s blood shed for us broke Sin’s power over us and reconciled us fully to God despite our lingering sinful behavior. It’s simply above our pay grade. We are asked to accept it by faith because we believe it truly comes from God our sovereign and is grounded in history. So we believe that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor 15.3), i.e., we believe in the sovereign power of God to reconcile us to himself in the way he chose to do that. But we also believe that we have the power to choose, i.e., we must choose to believe in Christ and follow him (human responsibility) before God will relent in imposing his fierce and right justice on us and our sins. 

We see this theology being worked out in our epistle and gospel lessons. St. Paul reminds both slave and slaveholder about the good they can do when they share their faith. They both have an incalculable debt they owe Christ. In his death they have new life and are reconciled to their Creator so they no longer need fear his judgment on them. Elsewhere St. Paul has reminded us that there is no longer any distinction for those who have a real relationship with Christ. It doesn’t matter if we are male or female, slave or free. We are Christ’s and we are to behave accordingly. For Philemon and Onesimus this meant perhaps doing the hard and detestable thing: freeing a slave and returning to a slave owner respectively. Do that, says St. Paul, and you and the world will see the good you do and how effective your faith can be. Put another way, St. Paul might have said do the hard but right thing (take responsibility for your actions) and then marvel at how the sovereign God will use your efforts to bring about further reconciliation and his kingdom on earth as in heaven. Was God going to destroy the institution of slavery whether Philemon and Onesimus did the right thing? Of course. God is sovereign. But when God’s image-bearers behave in ways that mimic God become human (Christ), how much more can God do! There is a great (and enigmatic) dynamic at work here but it should be tremendously comforting to us that God is in charge and that God actually invites us to work with him as he heals his good creation and creatures gone bad. Let’s be clear about this. Only God can bring about the final healing (salvation) of the world and its peoples, but God honors us by inviting us to cooperate with his sovereign rule. This means we aren’t so concerned about the results as we are about cooperating with our Creator and Sovereign.

In our gospel lesson, we see our Lord telling his followers the same thing. Do you want to follow me? You’d better consider the costs and benefits before taking the plunge. If you decide to follow me, you must make me your number one priority. Christ’s use of the word hate is startling here and needs some clarification. In this context, hate can (and probably does) mean a lesser secondary attachment, and there is biblical precedence for this meaning. We are told, e.g., that God loved Jacob but hated Esau. This didn’t mean God detested Esau; it means Jacob held priority over Esau by virtue of having secured the Lord’s blessing through Isaac’s blessing. Moreover, given Christ’s high view of marriage and family and his stern condemnation of adultery, he surely doesn’t call us to detest our family and love only him. Why would he tell us to love the one who beats us and despise the ones who nurtured us? St. Matthew probably convey’s Christ’s intentions better when he tells us that Jesus said whoever loves family more than him couldn’t be his disciple. Here again we are confronted with human responsibility. If we expect to enjoy the saving benefits of Christ won for us in his death and resurrection, we have to make him the top priority in our lives, even over those whom we love. This notion of God’s sovereignty vs. human responsibility also argues against universal salvation. God is willing to relent or change his mind about his fierce judgment on human sin and has acted on our behalf to do so because he knows we are powerless to break our slavery to Sin without the cross and help and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But God gives us the freedom to choose to follow Christ and honors our choices. Some will choose badly, others will choose wisely. God is still sovereign but requires that we have skin in the game.

So how does this apply to the blessing of our ministries today? When we believe in God’s sovereignty we can engage in those ministries with great joy and perseverance because we know that when we do the work God calls us to do, both inside and outside our church family, God will bless that work, no matter how meager or average or dysfunctional our work might be. Having said that, God calls each of us to ministry and gives us a choice. If we engage in ministry, we are doing what God calls us to do. If we refuse, then we effectively thumb our nose at God and tell him we have other priorities in life greater than God. Each decision has consequences. Statistics, e.g., tell us  that about 20% of members do the work of the parish. For those who do the work, they get tired and resentful and God is not glorified in this. But the minority need to remember that God is sovereign and will bless their work no matter how tired or incomplete they and their work are. For the 80% who choose to let others do the work, while Christ died for you to reconcile you to God the Father, the notion of human responsibility suggests that Christ will be questioning your faith and discipleship. How does your refusal to have skin in the game proclaim your faith in Christ? How does your non-commitment increase the perception that the gospel has the transformative power to do good as St. Paul proclaimed in our epistle lesson? It is God who saves and it is God who expects a thankful response to his free gift, not to earn our salvation but to acknowledge his love, mercy, grace, and sovereignty displayed in Christ crucified. God never calls us to do that which we are incapable of doing, but God gives us gifts and expects us to use them in his service and the service of others, no matter how great or small.

Likewise with our homelessness. As I spoke two weeks ago, this has become an intolerable burden for me and I pray God will make it an intolerable burden for you. God will find us a home (think Exodus) and God wants us to have a home (think the New Jerusalem). But God is waiting to hear our collective cry. It won’t do for any of us to sit on the sideline on this and so starting next Sunday, I am calling us to a 40 day period of prayer and fasting. I will be sending out a letter to the parish this week that includes a prayer for you to use if you don’t know how to pray thusly. I have charged the vestry with taking leadership in this effort and to interact with you during this 40 day period. To be sure, a parish is more than a building. But we need a home that we can turn into our own sacred space to worship God. We need a home so that new ministries can be birthed and new educational and fellowship opportunities can be offered. Homelessness is never a good thing, especially for God’s people, and we are a homeless people right now. I thank God for the love and graciousness of CCPC. But this is not our home and we dare not be content to see our participation in God’s family here at St. Augustine’s as a Sunday morning frozen chosen experience. As we have seen, that simply will not do. God will overcome our sloth and indifference but he will not reward or honor it, and this is not who we are as God’s people at St. Augustine’s Anglican. 

Let me be clear. I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on you, nor am I being judgmental. We all fall short of the prize and when I preach a sermon like this, which is not often, the first person I look at is the one in the mirror. I simply want us to work through together some of the ramifications of the enigma of God’s sovereignty vs. human responsibility. I therefore encourage you to view this sermon as an invitation for you to do some deep self-reflection about your theology and discipleship. We worship a great loving and merciful God who honors us as his image-bearers and who has given himself to us to rescue us from his judgment and eternal death. Let us show God and the world that we are a thankful and energetic people who answer God’s call to us to do the work God calls us to do, confident that God will use our work to help achieve his purposes for us and for the people whom we love and serve on his behalf. We need a home to best answer that call, so let’s ask God to show us his sovereign power on our behalf. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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