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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 4.4-9, NLT

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

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

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

Chaplain Tucker Messamore: God’s Answer to Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Philip Sang: Having Integrity in All Things

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

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

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

God’s Justice and Appropriate Christian Responses to Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaplain Tucker Messamore: Upside-Down Kingdom Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wise or Foolish: The Choice We Each Must Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father Philip Sang: All Equally Favored by God

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

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

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

Father Jonathon Wylie: Receive the Word, Do the Word

Sermon delivered on Trinity 13B, Sunday, August 29, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie is a new daddy and gets all whiny when we ask for a written manuscript. Nobody’s got time for a whiny priest who’s also a new daddy so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Song of Solomon 2.8-13; Psalm 45.1-2, 7-10; James 1.17-27; St. Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

An Exhortation to be Living Stones

Sermon delivered on Parish Dedication Sunday B, August 22, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Revelation 21.9-14; Psalm 122; 1 Peter 2.1-10; St. John 10.22-29.

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

Today we celebrate again the founding of our parish ten years ago on May 1. We had our big celebration back in May and it remains a glorious memory for many of us. We celebrate our founding again today because it is our custom to transfer this festival to the Sunday in August closest to the feast day of our patron saint, Augustine of Hippo, which falls on August 28, marking the anniversary of his death in AD 430. Having dispensed with why we are having two celebrations of our parish this year, we turn now to our readings for today. In our epistle lesson, St. Peter refers to Christ’s people as living stones. But what does that mean? This is what I want us to look at today.

We start with our NT lesson from Revelation because in it we find our future and our hope. Both are indispensable for us if we ever want to fully grasp and embrace the meaning of being living stones. Why? Because first and foremost we are a people of promise and hope and for a host of reasons the Church, at least in the West, has lost sight of that hope and therefore we have generally lost our boldness and power as God’s people. Of course I am speaking of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of God’s new creation. Let me be clear. Nowhere else in the religious or the secular worlds do we have anything like the hope and promise of the resurrection. Christ either is who he says he is—the embodiment of God who was crucified for our sins and raised from the dead to announce that God the Father had defeated death on our behalf—or he is not. If Christ really is God, we had better pay attention to him and accept the gift of healing, salvation, and life he offers us. If Christ isn’t God the Son, then we ought to treat him like the lunatic he is and go about our merry way trying to find some meaning and happiness on our own (good luck with that, BTW). But as the NT boldly proclaims, Christ was and is no lunatic. He is God Incarnate, the Word become flesh. Only in him do we have any hope of being finally and fully reconciled to God. Only in Christ do we have the promise of new bodily life after death, a life lived in the direct presence of God—heaven and earth joined together as Revelation proclaims—a life devoid of sickness, sorrow, disease, despair, loneliness, alienation, and madness to name just a few, an unimaginably beautiful and perfect life. 

Without Christ in our lives we are dead people walking and have no hope or future, only the expectation of death and eternal judgment. And as all our lessons make chillingly clear, only God’s people in Christ dare to hope for this future. While final judgment is up to God, the NT gives little hope for a future for those who die without believing in Christ crucified and raised from the dead. We do not have this hope and future because of who we are. We are not unlike unbelievers; many Christians sadly act no better than some unbelievers. Some act worse. No, we have this promise of a hope and future, again defined as new bodily life where we live in God’s new world devoid of any form of evil, only by the grace of God, only by his calling as our lessons proclaim. In describing the New Jerusalem, St. John reminds us that it is not primarily a place as much as it is a new reality between God and his people. Why the Church has rejected her heritage is baffling to me. Perhaps the hope and promise are too spectacular and mind-boggling for our puny minds to comprehend. I don’t know and such speculation is frankly a waste of our time. What I do know is this, my beloved. If we are ever to recover our bold voice in proclaiming and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ, if we are ever to truly be unafraid of all in this world that can harm us and the accelerating chaos swirling around us, we must once again fully embrace the promised hope—the sure and certain expectation of things to come—that we are resurrection people by the love, grace, and mercy of God the Father through Jesus Christ. We must believe that promise with everything we are and set our eyes firmly on Jesus, asking him to be present in our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the ordinary means of grace that the Church has recognized and established: regular Bible reading and study individually and together, regular participation in worship and the holy Eucharist, sweet fellowship, and regular and humble service to Christ and his people and to the broader world. In short we must be living embodiments of Christ to his broken and hurting world, i.e., living stones. And we must do this primarily together because only together do we constitute living stones that comprise the New Jerusalem in St. John’s vision. When we are convinced that not even our mortal death can hurt us or separate us from God’s love, we will no longer be afraid to believe, speak, and act accordingly with all boldness. Neither will we be reticent to proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead to a world that grows increasingly hostile to that message and those who proclaim it. When we really truly believe Christ is the God who loves us enough to die for us to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and reconcile us to himself, and when we really truly believe that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead in bodily form and promises that where he is so will we be with him, despite our unloveliness and brokenness, we will no longer be embarrassed or ashamed of being called his disciples or living faithfully according to his good will and purposes for us and for all human beings. If anything we will be embarrassed and ashamed that we were so stupid and reticent in living out and proclaiming our faith, costly as that can be. We will look with pity and sadness on those who ridicule and mock us because we know they have no future or hope. They, like us without Christ, are dead people walking and our hearts break over this reality. 

 But Father, you retort, we don’t feel much like living stones. We are losers and ragamuffins—not as big a loser and ragamuffin as you of course—but still losers and ragamuffins nevertheless with all our fears, hurts, failures, and broken dreams. We get angry and want to act and believe like the world encourages us to act and believe. How can you call us living stones? Well, yes you are losers and ragamuffins (I plead the fifth). None of that matters, though. Feelings in matters of the faith are notoriously fickle and we should should rarely factor them in when considering the reality of our standing before God. Moreover, to argue this way is to miss the point completely. The point, as St. John tells us in his vision of the new heavens and earth, is that we become living stones by God’s power, not our own. On our own we will fail. And even with God’s power we will sometimes fail and miss the mark. We are that badly broken and alienated from God. But God’s love and power and mercy are greater than our brokenness and weaknesses. Nothing is too hard for God, my beloved! After all, he created this universe out of nothing and has the power to raise the dead. Do you think he will renege on his promise to give us life through his Son? No he will not!!  God the Father has raised Christ from the dead to proclaim the inauguration of his new world, a world we get a glimpse of in our NT lesson today. God loves us and is grieved by our slavery to Sin and the rebellion and alienation it has produced. And God loves his good creation and will not let it be permanently destroyed. The same power that spoke worlds into existence and raised Christ from the dead is available to us right now if we stop being afraid and fully embrace our resurrection hope. It is the power to be living stones full of God’s boldness, grace, mercy, love, goodness, righteousness, and justice with the power to embody those qualities and more to each other and to God’s world for the love and sake of his Son who has rescued us from Sin and Death. 

There is no better time than on our parish dedication festival to fully embrace our resurrection hope and let it change us into living stones, the people of God, pleasing in our Lord’s sight. We can trust the promise precisely because we know Jesus Christ is raised from the dead as the early Church and NT proclaimed and as countless people over time and across cultures have experienced ever since. I therefore encourage and exhort you, my beloved, to embrace your inheritance and let the Holy Spirit affirm it in you. When you do, no matter had bad things are or get, no matter how much evil and chaos and anarchy seem to rule the day, you will remember that not even the gates of Hell can prevail against us as members of Christ’s body, the Church, because Christ has defeated the strong man—Satan! No matter how much our enemies threaten us or even persecute us, we will draw on our faith in Christ and rely on his power to help us persevere and ultimately prevail. In his power we will fight our fears and not be afraid, remembering the promises of God made known to us in the Word made flesh, in his holy Word, and in the Eucharist. For the love of God, again I encourage and exhort you to seek Christ with your whole being and strive to imitate him in all your thinking, speaking, and doing. When we do this we will surely find the power to be living stones who embody the presence and goodness and love and power of the One who loved us and gave himself for us so that we could live forever. 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: Jesus the Bread of Life

Sermon delivered on Trinity 11B, Sunday, August 15, 2021 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: 1 Kings 2.10-12, 3.3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5.15-20; St. John 6.51-58.

Good morning St. Augustine family.

I would like to begin with a real story:
A lady went to the priest and said, I won’t be attending the church any more. The priest asked. May I know Why? She said I see people are on their cell phones during Church Services. Some are gossiping, some just aren’t living right, they are all just hypocrites. The priest was silent for a minute and said Ok…. But can I ask you a favor to do something for me before you make a final decision. What is that? Then the priest said take a glass of water and walk around the church two times and don’t let any water fall out of the glass, yes she said “I can do that” she went around the church twice and said I did it. Then the priest asked three questions: 1. Did you see anybody on their phones? She said NO. 2. Did you see any one gossiping? No. 3. Was anybody living wrong? She said: “I didn’t see anything because I focused myself on this glass, so the water wouldn’t fall.” So the priest said to her, when you come to the church you should be just focused on God so that YOU don’t fall. That is why Jesus said “Follow Me”.
He did not say follow Christians, or follow somebody else. Therefore your relationship with God should not be determined by how others relate with God. Let it be determined how focused you are with God. (My relationship with God Jesus should not be determined by the relationship of others with God. But you and I can learn from the church many good things to grow in faith and love).

How hungry is your soul for God? The psalmist says “my soul thirsts for the Lord”. Bread is such a powerful symbol for what God is giving us in Christ, the bread of life. Without food we die. Without Christ we cannot have abundant life. A life that lasts for eternity. I would like you to hear once again what people did and said to Jesus: John 6:21-25:

22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ (6:21-25)

Looking for Jesus for the Wrong Reasons (6:26)
If Jesus had performed another miracle of feeding 3000 men on that day, then Jesus would simply have been fixing the problem temporarily. And people would have been hungry again. So what did Jesus do? He became the life giving bread. He said “I am the bread of life’ and promises that ‘he who comes to me will never be hungry and he who believes in me will never thirsty’. Jesus is the solution to all our hunger and God the father gave His only Son Jesus who has the power and capacity to satisfy our innate craving and hunger. Jesus was born in “Bethlehem” that means “House of bread” and it is no surprise that today, he identifies himself as the bread of life.

When Jesus called himself the bread of life, his listeners no doubt thought of Moses. Through Moses God sent down manna, bread from heaven that fed the chosen people for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land. Jesus explained, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die” (John 6:49-51).

The Bread of Life Discourse and the Lord’s Supper
The bread of life Jesus speaks of is his body and blood that eventually the institution of the sacrament of the Eucharist by the Lord with his Last Supper with His disciples.
In the gospel of Mathew 26: 26-28 ‘the Words of Institution’: “26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” (Matthew 26:26-28)

When we partake of the Eucharist, Jesus feeds us with his body and blood. We enter into communion with him and with one another. Unlike other food, which becomes part of us, Jesus in the sacrament of Holy Communion, the sacred bread and wine makes us more like him. Therefore we, too, are to be bread for the world to many who are searching for the bread of life in the Lord Jesus. The living bread sustains us and prepares us for that day when we will come to the heavenly banquet. It is a pledge of future glory. It is the means by which Christ fulfills his promise, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). When we eat the Bread of Life Jesus lives in us and we live in the Lord. God provides us with food, through Jesus, for our journey through this life.

In Exodus 3 Moses meets God in the burning bush and asks God’s name… It is there that he declares “I AM Who I AM”. This is the name Jesus takes for Himself. What does that mean? Jesus is God – the Divine Redeemer of the world.

There’s so much more to life than daily bread/ food, fame, wealth and power. That is why our hearts are not satisfied with all the success and glory of this world. That is why St. Augustine prayed “O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in You.”
We can try to fill our lives with work, hoping that achievement and success will make that inner restlessness, that inner gnawing, that inner hunger go away. But the harder we work, the hungrier we get. No amount of recreational therapy – be it gold medal sports or exotic cruises -will plug the gap. Doesn’t matter how many friends or relationships you’ve got, trying to find in someone else what we are lacking in ourselves, the spiritual hole in the soul will still be there.
Jesus Christ alone satisfy hunger of our hearts.
Jesus brings heaven to earth. Jesus unites God and humanity in Himself. Jesus fills our lives with holy vitality and power. Jesus is Bread with a capital B which gives life with a capital L.
The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus’ message. That is why Jesus says “I am the bread of life”.

We have the life to live to the best of our ability. There are many possibilities and potentialities that God has blessed us with. Therefore when we get hurt; when our life become tough; when we lose the loved ones; when we are diagnosed with cancer, covid 19 and many chronic deceases we need to become strong in faith and hope. It is easy to believe God when everything goes well. But when we face the storms in our life, we question God. Why Me? Life is for living. Life takes sacrifices, challenges, setbacks and miseries. But in the midst of all these one should celebrate the life because many could not make it today. You are still alive. You are breathing. As long as your heart is pumping blood you got to do what you got to do.
In all the circumstances trust in the Lord Jesus as the bread of life.

Lessons for all the Disciples and followers

  1. True disciples must look beyond the physical blessings to hunger for spiritual life, eternal life (6:26-27).
  2. Eternal life is gained by faith, not by certain works of righteousness (6:28-29).
  3. Jesus is the Bread of Life who nourishes people spiritually and gives them eternal life (6:35).

I would like to end with humor:
A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small.
The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible.
The little girl said, ‘when I get to heaven I will ask Jonah’.
The teacher asked, ‘What if Jonah went to hell?’
The little girl replied, ‘Then you ask him’.

Jesus, please teach me how to feed on you more than I do. I do believe in you; increase my faith, my willingness to obey, and the effectiveness of my ministry on your behalf. In your holy name, I pray. Amen.

Christ: The Key to Living the Good Life

Sermon delivered on Trinity 10B, Sunday, August 8, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 18.5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4.25-5.2; St. John 6.35-51.

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

What are we to make of St. Paul’s exhortation in our epistle lesson to be a different kind of people, a people who live the good life—good life defined as conforming our lives and ourselves, our thinking, speaking, and doing, to the created order and will of God our Father—especially in light of our OT and gospel lessons that showcase the ugliness of the human condition? Is St. Paul simply being delusional and exhorting us to be likewise? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Scripture is crystal clear in its assessment of the human condition. Our first ancestors’ sin got the human race expelled from paradise and created a terrible chasm between God and humans and between humans ourselves. We see the fruit of our rebellion all the time: death, illnesses of all sorts, broken relationships, anger, alienation, and mutual hostility and distrust. We search vainly for all kinds of remedies for our loneliness and alienation by pursuing various idols (sex, power, and security being the most common), remedies that are sure to fail because they are grounded in unreality. I don’t have time to rehearse all the weirdness but if you are old enough, you can quickly list the crazy thinking and behaviors in our culture today. We are so alienated and hostile to God that we are willing to do almost anything to avoid being reconciled to him, despite the deep yearning in our hearts to the contrary. We see the human condition on full display in our OT lesson in the death of David’s son, Absalom. The whole sordid story is itself a grim reminder of the consequences of David’s terrible sins of adultery and murder that we looked at a couple weeks ago. Forgiveness there had been, but God had allowed the consequences of David’s sins to remain, consequences that were deeply painful and divisive for David’s house: Here is his beloved son Absalom in open rebellion against his father. Here is Absalom’s father seeking to save his rebellious son from the consequences of treachery and treason. And here is a bloodthirsty commander and relative of David’s, a relative with a history of treachery and violence, all purportedly in the name of the king he serves, who satisfies his bloodlust by disobeying the David’s direct orders and effectively murdering his son. 

Then there are the crowds resisting Christ’s teaching on a baffling scale. Did you notice the repetition in our gospel lesson? To drive his point home, Christ repeated multiple times that he is the bread of life who will raise to life those whom the Father gives him on the last day, yet the crowd hears but doesn’t understand or believe. Think about it. Christ is God become human speaking to his image-bearing creatures, the very people God the Father had called out to bring God’s healing love and reconciliation to bear on his sin-sick and evil-infested world. If there ever was anyone who could be classified as a master teacher who knew how to reach his pupils, surely Christ would be that person. But inexplicably the people do not have ears to hear, eyes to see, or minds to comprehend. Instead, after hearing the breathtaking promise of Christ to heal and reconcile them to God, and to raise them up on the last day to enjoy life fully as God created them to live it and desired for them (and us) to have, they complained about him rather than accepting the most precious gift they could ever receive! Remarkable. And if we are honest with ourselves, things haven’t changed much from Christ’s day to ours. Many of us still don’t want to accept Christ’s gift of eternal life by giving ourselves to him in faith and obedience. We, like them, are a profoundly broken and hopeless people because we are all slaves to the power of Sin, that alien and hostile power that has enslaved us and compels us to continue our ongoing rebellion and hostility toward God. There is no such thing as self-help and self-improvement. People do not come to know Christ through their own effort as Christ himself repeatedly reminds us in our gospel lesson. If this is true—and our own experience affirms the awful reality of the human condition—how can we ever hope to be the people St. Paul exhorts us to be in his epistle? How can we put away all the bitterness and rancor that plagues the human race? How can we control our anger and truly love God and neighbors when our hearts (wills) are naturally at war against them? How can we proclaim the love of Christ if no one will listen? How can we work consistently to build each other up and love each other here in our parish family with a love that encourages each other to conform to the Father’s created order rather than to cave to our own disordered desires? Answer? On our own it is impossible and if we try to be the people St. Paul calls us to be and do the things he calls us to do on our own power, we will be danger of falling into despair and/or becoming neurotic because self-help and self-improvement are a lie and a delusion. We only come to Christ by the grace and power of God. Period. Those who are enslaved to the power of Sin (that would be all of us) cannot simply be told to stop sinning. It won’t happen. We must be freed from our slavery to Sin. Those who cannot hear or see the Truth of the gospel cannot be helped by assigning blame to them or offering advice, no matter how good the advice is. They have to be healed, and only Christ has the power to heal us from our sin-sickness and free us from the steely grip of Sin’s enslavement. Putting on Christ, feeding on him through holy communion, regular Scripture reading and study, prayer, Christian fellowship, and service are ordinary ways we put on Christ, i.e., ways we submit to Christ and allow him to heal and transform us, all fueled by our faith in the efficacy of his healing and saving power, a faith that is itself a gift from our Father’s generous and loving heart.

We can never hope to be the people St. Paul (and through him Christ himself) exhorts us to be unless we strive in the power of Christ available to us in and through the Holy Spirit to imitate Christ, who loves us and has claimed us from all eternity. Putting on Christ (or imitating him) is not effortless, but neither is it futile because it is rooted in Christ’s power, not our own efforts. Setbacks there will be. We are all too profoundly broken and alienated for that not to happen and Christ doesn’t manipulate us like puppets. But if we willingly seek to imitate Christ and to feed on him in the ways I’ve just outlined, we will find that our new selves, the new creation about which the NT speaks, will slowly but surely allow us to be the kind of people God calls us to be and St. Paul exhorts us to be in our epistle lesson. Why? Because we rely on Christ’s power that he willingly and gladly gives us. We do not worship a God who is a tyrant and a bully, bent on punishing or even destroying us. We worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who became human and who promises to love us despite our sins and to free and heal us from our slavery to Sin’s power and our own incurable sin-sickness. And when we worship this God, the one and only true God, and are humble enough to submit ourselves to his will, believing all the time that he is busy working in and through us in the power of the Holy Spirit even when we don’t perceive that power at work, we will see growth and healing and freedom. None of it will be perfect in this life. We live in a cursed world that can never be the entirely good created order God intended it to be. But we are not people of this world. We are people of God’s new creation because we belong to Christ and Christ has promised to raise us from the dead to complete our healing process and bestow upon us perfect goodness and freedom. We will be free to love and imitate our crucified and risen Lord perfectly and in doing so we will discover fully what it means to live life abundantly, to be fully human beings. 

This does not protect us from life’s hurts or the evil that we all must endure on occasion. What Christ does promise us is the power to overcome. We don’t come to faith in Christ without the Father first drawing us to him. Are you willing to relinquish control and trust God to do so with you and others? It’s a hard but necessary first step. That we are here is evidence that the Father has claimed us, no matter how poorly we live our faith, and it reminds us that we do not worship an absentee or uncaring God. There is much mystery and enigma in all this, my beloved. But part of a real and saving faith is the attendant humility to not need all our questions answered about God/faith, to be content with what God has revealed to us in Scripture and in his very own Son, Christ, the Word made flesh. He came to us in weakness and humility to destroy Sin’s power over us and call us to be his people, people who have eternal life starting here and now, despite the vicissitudes and ambiguities and sorrows of this mortal life. He came to free and heal us when we were still God’s enemies and he overcame the sting of Death by being raised to new life. The reality of Christ’s promise extends to us even in our profound weakness and sin-sickness. My beloved, believe this promise with all your being and might because it’s true; Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Wrestle with it in the power of the Spirit together as God’s people, and you will find that you are becoming the people God calls us to be. When by God’s grace you really know that the promises of God are coming true, you will also find life in abundance, even in the midst of a broken and hurting world and your own hurts and sorrows. It is a foretaste of that glorious life promised to us forever through the grace, merit, love, and power of Jesus Christ our crucified and risen Lord. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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