Father Jonathon Wylie: Zeal for Your House Shall Consume Me

Sermon delivered on Lent 3B, Sunday, March 7, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie gets all uppity about having to submit a written manuscript of his sermon. Nothing worse than an uppity priest so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 20.1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1.18-25; St. John 2.13-22.

The Power and Promises of God

Sermon delivered on Lent 2B, Sunday, February 28, 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: Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22.23-31; Romans 4.13-25; St. Mark 8.31-38.

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

In one way or another our readings this morning focus on the power and promises of God and the faith needed to appropriate them. Why are the power and promises God vital for us as Christians? First, because they make us properly focus on God instead of ourselves, and second, because we live in a world that appears to be spinning out of control at an increasingly alarming rate; and if we do not believe in God’s power or promises, sooner or later the world’s insanity and darkness will take us down with it. Simply put, when we focus on the power and promises of God, we will have hope that God really is in charge and things will turn out precisely as God has always intended, sometimes despite our best efforts to defeat those promises! But when we focus on our own limited and ephemeral power, the basis of our hope is far more tenuous. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We begin with our OT lesson. In it we see God once again promising Abraham that God would make him the father of many nations, giving him descendants too numerous to count. This despite the fact that Abraham was nearly 100 and his wife Sarah was 90, way too old to bear children. Keep in mind that Abraham had heard God promise him offspring for almost 25 years (Gen 12.1-4) and this latest reiteration of the promise would surely have forced him to decide if he really still believed in the promises of God. From a strictly human perspective there would be no reason to believe God. Abraham had heard this promise for a quarter century. Most of us get impatient after 25 seconds let alone 25 years! And the biology was all wrong. We all know 90 year old women don’t get impregnated by 100 year old men. Had Abraham relied on conventional human wisdom he would have scoffed at God’s promises—and as a result have no future, no hope. Old age was already on him; all he had to look forward to would be increasing infirmity and death. In fact, while the author does not tell us this explicitly, we know from the story that Abraham and Sarah did struggle with God’s promises of progeny because they took the matter into their own hands and Abraham ended up having a son through Sarah’s slave, Hagar. Were they simply being impatient with God (who could blame them after such a long time had passed?) or did they simply lose faith in the promise? We aren’t told. What we are told is that this part of the story did not have a particularly happy ending for the parties involved. This is typically what happens when humans refuse to trust in the promises and power of God. 

But we are talking God’s power and promises and God’s promises will not be denied. Despite their momentary relapse into doubt and despair—two of the many symptoms that always accompany unbelief and lack of trust in God’s power, promises, and character—God still made good on his promise. Sarah would deliver Isaac, the son of the promise. But that was later. Here we are told that Abraham believed God would be good to his word because he fell on his face in worship and trust. Furthermore, we are told in the verses immediately following our lesson that both he and Sarah laughed, not the cynical laugh of derision we see from people who don’t believe in the power and promises of God, but laughter from an old man and woman who had seen a future with no hope and promise transformed into a future with a hope and a promise by the faithfulness and power of God. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, Abraham trusted in God’s promises, i.e., he had faith in God, despite the apparent hopelessness of his situation because he trusted the power of God, the God who gives life to the dead and who calls into existence things that do not exist. For this God, nothing is too hard to accomplish. Nothing. When we have this kind of faith, a faith that trusts in the power and promises of God no matter how desperate or impossible the situation, we are assured that God will turn our tears into laughter just like he did Abraham’s and Sarah’s.

Contrast Abraham’s trust in the power and promises of God to St. Peter’s in our gospel lesson this morning. In the verses immediately preceding our lesson, by God’s grace St. Peter had declared boldly that Jesus was the promised Messiah, God’s anointed one who would deliver Israel from its oppressors and establish God’s kingdom on earth. St. Peter, like many of his contemporaries, believed that God’s Messiah or Christ would overthrow Israel’s enemies using conventional means: might and power. There was no room in their Messianic thinking for a crucified Messiah. The notion was incoherent and therefore simply not conceivable. Combine this with the sure fact that St. Peter loved Jesus deeply and wanted the best for him, both as a man and as God’s Christ, and it is not surprising that St. Peter responded as he did to our Lord’s dire prediction that he must suffer and die a Godforsaken and utterly degrading death by crucifixion. God forbid this happen to you, Jesus! Here we see in this powerful and poignant interchange between the Lord and his chief disciple a very different kind of faith emerging. Instead of looking at the power and promises of God that Scripture had foretold, St. Peter relied on traditional human wisdom and convention to rebuke his Lord. And in doing so, Christ turned his laughter into tears by calling him Satan! What just happened? 

It’s likely that Jesus didn’t believe St. Peter to actually be Satan, but rather that in his own misguided expectations and concern for his Lord, St. Peter had allowed the the Accuser (Satan) to tempt Christ from going to the cross, thus thwarting God’s promise to redeem humanity from our slavery to powers far greater than Rome or any worldly power: the powers of Sin and Death, powers that have enslaved humankind ever since our first ancestors rebelled in the garden. This is how Satan typically operates. He plays on our fears, thoughts, emotions, and proclivities to corrupt us and others in an attempt to thwart God’s will. In this case Satan knew, as did our Lord, that the cross was the only way to win our freedom because it was God’s appointed way, a way that ran contrary to and shamed conventional human wisdom (cf. 1 Cor 1.18-25). Avoid the cross and the enemy is not defeated. Go to the cross in cooperation with the will of the Father, and the enemy’s power is undone and Satan and his minions are defeated.

God had promised Abraham that he would bless and restore fallen humanity through Abraham and his descendants, but they had failed the faith test almost immediately after God delivered Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Soon thereafter they built a golden calf to worship in the absence of their leader Moses. Now God had come to his people in the person of Jesus to deliver them himself and as we saw last week, Jesus passed the first wave of temptations he faced in the wilderness. But Satan was not finished. Having failed the first time, Satan tried to tempt Christ again, this time using Jesus’ trusted friend to derail his great saving task of dying for the ungodly, for you and for me, so that we could be rescued from utter destruction. Unlike Abraham and the psalmist, who showed his faith in God’s ability to turn suffering into joy—our whole psalm lesson flows from the verses that preceded it, verses that spoke of the unjust suffering of God’s faithful servant to redeem God’s people, verses that our Lord cried out as he felt God’s abandonment for the first and only time in his life—St. Peter did not trust in the power and promise of God, and Satan used St. Peter’s protestations for his own wicked purposes. But as Christ then warned his disciples and us, that’s not how the power of God works to fulfill the promise of life. You want life? Jesus asks. Then lose it. Give your life to me. Deny your fallen self with its myopic and selfish desires. Take up your cross instead and follow me in my way of self-giving love because only in me can you find life and hope and a future. Dare to proclaim me as the only way to escape death and utter destruction. Do justice. Love to show mercy, and walk humbly with me, your God. You will suffer greatly when you follow me because the world and its powers hate me and won’t go down without a fight. You will be persecuted, humiliated, mocked, scorned. But here’s the thing. In your suffering you will find life, both here and hereafter. But first you must trust my promise and how I will bring it about, even if you don’t fully understand how my power works to fulfill the promise. Only when you trust me fully by giving me yourself and your life can I turn your tears into laughter and give you a future and a hope. It is the only way.

These stories confront us and challenge us to examine the depth of our faith and trust in the power and promises of God. We live in perilous times. We are cursed by a wicked disease that simply won’t go away. It isolates us and makes us afraid. We wonder where God is in it all. Many of us fear for our nation, for its present and future. More and more extremist and utterly godless ideas are being pushed as viable solutions to our problems. The cancel culture is out of control, attempting to consume everything and everyone that gets in its way. If we don’t toe the line, we can expect to be silenced and shamed. Do we really have a hope and future in this kind of environment? And what about the Church with its scandals and decreasing attendance, at least here in the West, and its increasing departure in some quarters from the faith once delivered to the saints? What is our future as Christians who live in an ever increasingly secularized and hostile culture? How can we live faithfully? Do we really have a future and a hope as God’s people? Paradoxically, how are we to live faithfully in exile in our own back yard? The short answer is that we must have the kind of lively faith that produces a trust in the power and promises of God so that we do know that we have a hope and a future. But how do we do this?

If we are to have a living faith and trust in the power and promises of God, we must first remind ourselves regularly what is God’s promise for us as Christians. Our hope and future is new creation, God’s new heavens and earth fused together under the just rule of Jesus Christ where death and sin and evil and sorrow and sickness and brokenness and new bodily life go on for all eternity. It is a rule made possible and launched by Christ’s death and resurrection and promised only to those who believe in the promise and live their lives accordingly in this life. The promise of new creation gives us a future filled with life and joy and meaning and purpose. Yes our mortal body will die barring Christ’s return to finish his work before that day. But as Christ promises us in St. John’s gospel, he is the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in him will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in him and believes in him will never ever die (11.25-26). If we really don’t know the promise of God to heal all things and make them new or we don’t believe he has the power to raise the dead, we can never hope to have our tears turned to laughter. Without God and his power, we are doomed to a life of utter hopelessness and despair, the brief periods of respite, pleasure, and success that we sometimes enjoy notwithstanding. Why? Because the powers of Sin and Evil are not defeated. We remain in our sin and death must reign. There will be no happy endings. Real justice, perfect justice, will never be achieved. Our hurts and wounds and sicknesses and alienation remain because our slavery to Sin remains unbroken. The promise of new creation, a promise based on the power of God alone, is the only balm that can ever truly heal because only then will all the wrongs be put to rights so that we are completely healed from all that bedevils and sickens us. 

If we are to know this power we must know the Author of the promise, Jesus Christ and him crucified and raised from the dead. We come to know him through regular worship, prayer, Bible reading and study, and fellowship. We come to know him by wrestling with the unlikely power of God made manifest in Christ’s crucifixion. We come to know him by feeding on his body and blood each week so that our body, mind, and spirit are strengthened and refreshed by his power. This is a great challenge to us because we are wired through the Fall to trust no one but ourselves and our own power and cleverness. But that produces death and sorrow. We see it in Abraham’s descendants—time does not permit me to talk about the litany of bad living that would make any modern-day reality show pale in comparison—and our lives every day. Each day that we choose to trust ourselves rather than the promises of God, we die a little more and edge closer to eternal oblivion. We realize, even if we refuse to admit it publicly or to ourselves, that like Abraham we are 100 years old, irrespective of our actual chronological age, and our future is bleak and impossible. But if we know the One who creates out of nothing and gives life to the dead, if we know his love for us because we have seen and believe his cross and empty tomb, if we see his power demonstrated in countless ways in our lives through the power and Presence of his Spirit, we are able to overcome and develop a lively trust so that we know we have a future and a hope, the future and hope of a new creation. This is the regular challenge for us as Christians, especially during Lent. We are called to put to death all that is in us that makes us shrink from God so that we deny his faithfulness and do not trust him or his power or promises. We are called to abandon our tepid faith and to live our lives gladly in ways that proclaim Christ is Lord and that without him, no one has life in them. No one. 

If you don’t know where to start in this task, try this. Examine your life to see whose will you seek in all that you do, things big or small, yours or God’s. If you find yourself compartmentalizing your life in ways that only partially honor and demonstrate trust in God, this is where you must begin the painful task of killing off your fallen self with God’s help. The stakes are enormous, my beloved, and the cost is great; it requires that you come and die. But so are the rewards; and so we count it all as gain because we believe, by the grace of God, in the power of God and his promise to rescue us from Sin and Death—if not always from the vicissitudes of life—so that we can live with and enjoy our blessed Lord’s presence for all eternity. Only the power and promise of God can give us this hope. This Lenten season, may we all find our faith in Christ strengthened so that we may live out and proclaim this faith boldly each day of our lives in the power of his love and Spirit. 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: Life in the Wilderness

Sermon delivered on Lent 1B, Sunday, February 21, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang gets all whiny and pouty when he has to submit a written manuscript of his sermon. He learned that from Father Bowser before he retired. We don’t want that so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25.1-9; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.9-15.

Ash Wednesday Sermon: Grace, Guilt, Gratitude

Sermon delivered on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Joel 2.1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5.20b-6.10; John 8.1-11.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 day season we call Lent. It is a time for self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter. Our Commination Service earlier today reminded us that something is terribly amiss in God’s world and our lives, that without the love, mercy, goodness, justice, and power of God, we remain hopelessly alienated from God and each other because we are all slaves to the power of Sin, that outside and malevolent power that is too strong for any of us to resist on our own power. And if we are not reconciled to God, we are undone forever in ways too terrible for us to imagine. Lent therefore is a time for us to focus not so much on ourselves but on the power of God manifested most clearly in the cross of our Lord Jesus. So tonight I want us to look at the dynamic of forgiveness and reconciliation that God the Father makes available to all through the work of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, the interaction of grace, guilt, and gratitude. Until we understand this dynamic and what we are up against, we can never hope to observe a holy Lent (and beyond).

If we ever hope to be reconciled to God our Father so that we can live with him forever, we must first acknowledge our utter helplessness to fix ourselves so that we are no longer alienated from God. This means that we must first have the wisdom and humility (signs of God’s grace) to acknowledge the fact that we are all slaves to the power of Sin, that malevolent power that was unleashed in God’s good world when our first human ancestors rebelled in paradise. Too often we speak of our sins and think of them as misdeeds or acts of wrongdoing, the root cause of our alienation to God. This diminishes the problem of Sin to an absurdly reductionist level. This thinking implies that we can get right with God by simply adjusting our behavior or changing our thinking on certain things or making better choices—the current darling of excuses for our feel good culture. This is a fatal mistake on our part, however, because it implies that we can fix ourselves and our problems, that if we repent of our bad choices or thinking or behavior, our sin problem with God goes away. But the whole of Scripture makes very clear that there is something vastly more sinister going on. There is something desperately wrong in the world and our lives and we know it in our bones if we have the courage to be honest with ourselves. We don’t have the ability to defeat the power of Sin in our lives and we delude ourselves if we think otherwise. Don’t believe me? How are you doing with your new year’s resolutions six weeks on? Or how about those sins you confess? I bet you never do them again after you confess them, do you? Or how about your resolution to do better in your life? How is that working out for you? Try as we may, if we are honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that our efforts matter very little when it comes to turning away from our sins. Why? Because we are up against a power that is far greater than us, a power that seeks our destruction and undoing as God’s image-bearers, a power that must ultimately lead to our permanent death. The sins that we focus on are not the root cause of our alienation from God. Rather, just as a fever is a symptom of a larger problem, not the problem itself, our sins reflect our slavery to the power of Sin, again defined as an outside and malevolent force that has enslaved us. We acknowledged this very starkly in our Commination Service this noon when we acknowledged that without the cross of Jesus Christ and his presence in our lives, we are condemned to utter and complete destruction forever. This should both humble us and scare the hell out of us—literally. Until we get our thinking straight on this, we will surely have and live out a half-hearted faith (at best) because we live under the delusion that we can fix ourselves so that we are pleasing to God and set ourselves up for a self-righteousness complex. When we think like this, we inevitably dismiss the cross of Jesus Christ and the life-saving gift God the Father offers us all in and through his Son. But when we understand that Sin is a power we cannot overcome on our power and there is nothing we can do or say that will change our status before God, we are ready to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead.

This calls for us to be sober in our thinking about the power of Sin and see it as God sees it—a force that corrupts and destroys God’s precious image-bearers and good creation. This is why God hates Sin and this is why we can expect to receive God’s wrath on our sins: they are symptoms of the problem that God hates. God is first and foremost a God of love and if that is true, God must also be a God of justice. Why? Because God cannot and will not ultimately allow anything or anyone in his creation to continue corrupting it and his image-bearing creatures. God loves us too much to allow us to be victims of injustice and all the evil that flows from the power of Sin. Since we are powerless to break Sin’s grip on us, and since God is the only person who can free us from our slavery to it, God must intervene to destroy Sin and set things right, the very essence of justice. Otherwise, we would be doomed to be forever in Sin’s grip, catastrophically and permanently separated from God’s eternal love for us and excluded from God’s great heavenly banquet he has prepared for us so that we can enjoy him forever. It means that we would forever be trapped in our worst selves and that violence, greed, selfishness, cruelty, rapacity, suffering, hurt, brokenness, and alienation would continue to rule unchecked in our lives and God’s world. If God really is love, God cannot let this state of affairs go on forever, and when we understand this we can begin to see God’s justice as a positive thing. If we are going to follow God, we have to be sure that God loves us enough and has the requisite power to put all things to rights. To be sure, punishment is involved in this making-right process, but the overall thrust of God’s justice is restorative and healing because the heart of God his merciful, kind, generous, and loving. God does not create us to destroy us (What parent looks at his/her newborn baby for the first time with the intent of destroying it? The notion is absurd. If we fallen humans don’t think like this, why would God? Makes no sense!!); God created us so that we can enjoy him and rule his world faithfully and wisely on his behalf. 

This knowledge will also help us think clearly about the dynamic of repentance and forgiveness. As we have seen, because we are helpless to free ourselves from our slavery to the power of Sin, our repentance is not enough to reconcile us to God because we will continue to sin even with repentance. Repent or not, unless our slavery to Sin is broken, we are doomed to continue living in the power of Sin. This is the guilt part of the dynamic or repentance and forgiveness. We see this clearly in our OT and gospel lessons tonight. The prophet calls God’s people together to collectively repent of their sin of idolatry, the worship of false gods that inevitably leads to all kinds of sins that will provoke God’s anger and wrath (idolatry is a primary sin because sooner or later we become what we worship). If God’s people turn away from (or repent of) worshiping false gods and turn to the one true God, then there was hope that God might relent on executing his wrath on his sinful people. Here we are reminded that we dare not presume God’s mercy on us, that God is free to show us wrath or mercy quite independently of what we resolve to do (or not do). In other words, God’s mercy is not contingent on repentance. The prophet believes God will be merciful because God has revealed his character to his people: God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. If God relents on punishing his people for their idolatry, it will be because of who God is, not because God’s people have repented. 

Likewise in our gospel lesson. Notice that our Lord forgives the adulterous woman before calling her to repentance (go and sin no more). In this case God the Son showed mercy before the woman changed her behavior, reflecting the heart and character of his Father. This is the grace part of the grace, guilt, and gratitude dynamic of forgiveness and reconciliation between God and humans. Grace—God’s undeserved blessing, goodness, bounty, mercy, and forgiveness on us—precedes our awareness of sin, not vice-versa. This is because God’s character is eternal, preceding our slavery to Sin. In fact, without God tugging at our heart and mind, we would be unaware that we are alienated from God and stand under God’s just condemnation of our sin. Why? Because sin is a theological concept. People whose lives are devoid of God have no awareness that their behavior is offensive to God and that they are slaves to Sin’s power. Don’t believe me? Just check out Twitter or listen to the extreme rhetoric of self-righteousness that accompanies the sense of warped justice that invariably accompanies human thinking and behavior without the intervention of God. Simply put, if the Holy Spirit is at work in us he will make us aware of our awful unmediated state before God and our own sinfulness, our awareness of his Presence not withstanding. But here’s the thing. The moment we become aware of our sin captivity, we are already standing in God’s grace, ready to receive God’s healing love, mercy, and forgiveness because of God’s eternal nature! We see this dynamic expressed powerfully in the old favorite hymn, Amazing Grace. John Newton, who wrote the hymn, was a slave trader whose eyes were opened to the wickedness of his sin by God’s grace. He was a wretch who was saved, a man lost but now found, by the grace of God that preceded his evil deeds, a grace that called him to repentance. God’s grace always precedes our repentance because God and God’s character always precede us. God makes us aware of our slavery to Sin and the chasm it creates so that we will turn to him and let him heal and rescue us from our slavery.

And how did/does God do this? In the cross of Jesus Christ as St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson. Here is the essence of the Good News of Jesus Christ. God became human to suffer his own just and right punishment on our sin and wickedness himself so that God could spare us from suffering his wrath and eternal condemnation that would lead to our destruction. In the process the power of Sin is broken in us, only partially in this life but fully in the next (a topic for a different day and sermon). Our knowledge of the power of Sin and our slavery to it makes us realize that we don’t deserve this kindness and mercy. None of us do. But it is ours for the taking if we only have the humility and wisdom to believe it to be true, despite the fact that we cannot fully explain how God accomplished this all in the cross of Christ. But because we believe that Scripture is the word of God, we believe the promise to be true. God’s undeserved mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness lead us to a sense of profound and deep relief and gratitude because we realize we are no longer under God’s just condemnation and there is not a thing we did to deserve it. This is the gratitude part of the dynamic of God reconciling us to himself in Christ. We see it powerfully illustrated in our gospel lesson and we should take our cue from it. Imagine you are the woman who was dragged before Christ. You know your sin because you know God’s law; God has made himself known to you through it. And so you expect the worst, a death sentence for your sin of adultery. You are braced to feel the stones strike your body, slowly and painfully killing you (not unlike our sin does to us over the course of time). And then comes a remarkable surprise. Jesus pronounces you not guilty, despite that fact the he and you both know you are guilty of an awful sin. You have experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness, not because of who you are, but because of who God is. How would you feel? Stunned? Relieved? Grateful? All of the above and more, no doubt! He tells you to go and sin no more (he calls you to repent of your adultery), but his forgiveness is not contingent on that. Certainly the vast majority of us would be grateful for this reprieve and our gratitude would likely serve as ongoing motivation for leaving the adulterous life. She, like us, would certainly have to recall her sin and the great gift of forgiveness because life, well, gets in our way and distracts us so that we forget. That’s why we recall our sins and God’s mercy shown to us in Christ, not to make us feel bad (although that is really unavoidable on occasion), but to make us remember the love, mercy, grace, and faithfulness of God applied to our wickedness. When the woman remembered Christ’s intervention on her behalf, was she grateful? Did her gratitude help motivate her to repentance? We aren’t told, but our own experience suggests that it can and does, and this is what God desires from us. In this story, Christ does not tell us to suspend moral judgment by challenging those who brought the woman to him. Instead, he was exposing their hypocrisy and evil intent to trap him. In doing so, he was able to show mercy to the woman caught in adultery, calling her to repentance and giving her the motivation we all need to live our lives in imitation of our Lord and Savior, the essence of repentance and faithful living. 

This is what it means to observe a holy Lent and beyond, my beloved. We are called to reflect on the fruit of the dynamic of repentance and forgiveness in our lives. We are called to understand that to be reconciled to God means trusting in the power, mercy, love, and character of God revealed supremely in Jesus Christ and not our own perceived (and often delusional) abilities to make ourselves right with God. It means we see clearly the truth about the human condition and our standing before God without the intervention of Christ. We needn’t fear the truth because the truth always sets us free to love and serve the Lord, thanking him for his love and kindness and justice, and asking his mercy and forgiveness when we miss the mark as we attempt to imitate him in the power of the Spirit as we live out our lives together. May we all observe a holy Lent and sing God’s praises with grateful hearts forever and ever. 

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

Father Santosh Madanu: Transfiguration of the Lord

Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday B, February 14, 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: 2 Kings 2.1-12; Psalm 50.1-6; 2 Corinthians 4.3-6; St. Mark 9.2-9.

Prayer: O God, who in the glorious transfiguration of your Only Begotten Son, confirmed the mysteries of faith by the witness of the Fathers, and wonderfully prefigured our full adoption to son ship, grant we pray, to your servants, that listening to the voice of your beloved Son, we may merit to become coheirs with him. In Jesus’ name we pray- Amen.

Dear Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

Personal encounter always pushes our faith beyond the level of belief to the level of knowledge and certainty. That is why the Gospel of today speak about one thing – the experience of God’s glory. This is the experience of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then to Moses and Elijah in the form of cloud and fire. 

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. (Matt. 17:1-3).

The event of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ stands at the middle of his ministry. Six days earlier, our Lord prods the apostles on a survey about the popular and in-house opinions about him. Hence comes the two-fold questions: “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?”

The transfiguration answers the question of the identity of our Lord Jesus Christ with his glorious transfiguration before three of his apostles who stand as witnesses. The event further confirms Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi “You are Christ the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). As a beatific vision, it settles our Lord’s promise: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they SEE the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16: 27–28).

The surprising revelation of the Lord Jesus is that he is God.

Jesus Christ is a living, divine person who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life, and this revelation is not just a matter of an idea or a feeling, but is a densely textured fact of history. In Jesus Christ, God enters the events and circumstances of our lives by becoming a man, and he does so that humanity might share in the life of God.

 The solemnity of the Transfiguration is great day for the church to celebrate the privileged moment when three of Christ’s disciples glimpsed Christ’s divine glory. Peter, James, and John saw Christ for who he really and truly is—not just a prophet, or a philosopher, or a social activist, or one of many important historical figures, but God!

The reality of all this is overwhelming, and as such we might be tempted to make it all less that what it is, to dull its impact. Some would soften the blow in attempts to rationalize a differentiation between a “Jesus of history” and a “Christ of Faith,” making the man the reality and the God a symbol; but attempts to do this inevitably introduce us to a simulation of Jesus Christ rather than the real person.

In trying to make Christ less than who he reveals himself to be, it is Christ himself that we lose, and in losing Christ, we lose the gifts he wants us to enjoy- the forgiveness of sins, the salvation through grace and everlasting kingdom of God.

Faith in Jesus Christ engenders a unique, particular way of life, and through this way of life, Christ acts to change us and to change the world.

For this reason, what we believe about the Lord Jesus matters. The proclamation that Jesus Christ is God is not just a dogmatic statement or a religious proposition. The Church is not playing games with language, but identifying what the revelation of Jesus Christ really and truly is. The Church knows who the Lord Jesus is—not because of a scholarly consensus or a popular vote, but because she bears the legacy of the testimony of the Apostles, who knew Christ personally and learned from him who he is and what he asked us to do.

If you do not know who the Lord Jesus is, how will you know what it is that he wants you to do?  The way of life engendered by Jesus Christ necessitates a personal encounter with him in his Church.

God became human in Christ so that humanity could share in the life of God. This is the great mystery of the Transfiguration unveiled. This is what the Gospel is all about.

The surprising revelation of Jesus Christ, who is God, is what the Church celebrates today.

  • The ascent to the mountain with the three disciples
  • Lot of encounters with God take place on the mountain top. Abraham takes Isaac to mount Moriah to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God where he hears the voice of God speaking with Him.
  • Moses receives the Law on Mount Sinai and he hears God speaking with Him.  
  • The height of the mountain signify the transcendence- the vision from the hill top.  This is the stand point of God.
  • Martin Luther king    the night before his assassination in his famous speech said “I have been to the mountain top”.  The experience beyond the ordinary.

Our Lord invites three of his apostles to undertake a pilgrimage with him to the mountain. He chooses Peter, James, and John. The number “three” not only reminds us about the Trinity, but it also indicates completeness, and regarding bearing witness, it is apt.

He chooses those who are willing to climb the mountain with him (Psalm 24:3). From the Gospels, the three represent the highly ambitious trio within the apostolic college. Peter is determined to stand with the Lord (Matt. 26:33) while James and John request for seats at the right and left hand of the Lord in his GLORY (Mark 10:35-45) and they would experience that glory on the mountain of transfiguration.

  • The mountaintop transfiguration.
  • Jesus went to beyond the form that he had- something more.  He revealed the depth of Himself.  The divinity beyond humanity.
  • The light is the symbol of mystical experience and symbol of beauty.
  • The tent is the place where the Tabernacle of the Lord is kept to worship. May this be focus of our worship because the mystical become the reality for our worship.
  • The voice from the cloud indication of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. God speaks with His people.

Transfiguration is an incredible positive change, something amazing happens, While the disciples watch, our Lord’s appearance changes as his face shine like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white.

What could be the meaning of this luminous apparition? 

The vision of Daniel (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14) tells us among other things:

I saw: One like a Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; and when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, the One like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship….

The Transfiguration represents the unveiling of the glory of heaven on earth with the appearances of glorified men of the mountain; Moses, and Elijah. No wonder Peter declares as the vision lasts: “It is wonderful for us to be here.” Yes, it will be more wonderful if we all could make it to heaven and be in God’s presence forever.

  • Lessons from the mountaintop transfiguration
  • The point is that we have access to God the Father and for our salvation is only through Jesus Christ.

The description of the kingdom of heaven has been the theme of the Gospel that Jesus preached. The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord seems to be the last in the series but with a deeper and more involving description the Kingdom of heaven.

 The kingdom of God is beautiful, glorious, and comforting. However, before we get there, we need to ascend the mountain.  It requires resilience, commitment, and discipline.

To get to the mountaintop, one would need to drop one’s baggage at the foot of the mountain. Dropping our baggage entails disengaging from the distractions of the lower region to advance to the upper area. It involves change and profound change as such. It requires disengagement from sin.

The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ is a divine facility at our service; it is also our transfiguration. The Transfiguration is a call for us to rise from our preoccupation with lowly things while striving and longing for higher values. The Transfiguration encourages us to rise from the base to the tops.

In life, we grow by changing. Those who do not grow are those who refuse to change. But those who embrace positive change improve, obtain new values, opportunities and new beginnings.

As we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ may we strive daily to respond to the invitation to change by ascending to the mountain with the Lord for a better and more resplendent life. May we also accept the instruction of God the Father to listen to His Beloved Son who is pleasing to Him

 St. Peter was a testimony of the transfiguration. St. Peter noted that they “did not follow cleverly devised myths” in order to proclaim their experience of the transfiguration. They were eyewitnesses to Jesus’ glory and heard the command from the Father. It was a life changing experience for them, Peter, James, and John. For them to even suggest to just stay there revealed much of the transfiguration. 

 (2 Peter 1:16–18).

This personal encounter that must enable every Christian to make what Soren Kierkegaard calls ‘the transcendental leap of faith’ or embrace a fundamental option for Christ through a daily devotion to the listening and obedience to God’s Word.

This, I imagine, was the reality of being a follower of Jesus. Moments of amazement and joy at the miracles and thoughts of a new kingdom where the last would the first, the meek would inherit the earth and those who were persecuted for the sake of righteousness would claim the kingdom of God; followed closely by intense times of confusion, jealously and terror of the unknown. Peter has experienced these two feelings at the same time before and here he is again. Wanting to be helpful, trying to care for the temporal needs of Jesus and much to his amazement Elijah and Moses but knowing somehow that something has changed. Something is different, something important has just happened here and although he doesn’t seem to recognize it, something has also begun to happen to Peter.

Transfiguration Sunday is right before Ash Wednesday and the church’s season of Lent because it marks a final turning point in this metamorphosis of the disciples. In the next weeks they will walk with Jesus on his journey toward Jerusalem and the cross. They will understand the peril they will face, that their own ends will not be any better than Jesus’. They will share in his passion, struggle to understand why they agreed to follow him in the first place, deny knowing him, and then try to be able to comprehend his resurrection and their part in this Good News that would be shared to the four ends of the earth.

Jesus revealed to them the glory and the kingdom that awaits those who suffer on his account. That his kingdom is not like earthly kingdom built with authority and power but the one that is built with self-giving and love. The revelation of his glory gives us reason to believe, reason to hope and reason to move on.

Let us have experience of this transfiguration of the Lord and hear the voice of God and obey the command of Jesus Christ to be holy and truthful.

Happy feast of Transfiguration.  Amen, Alleluia.

Father Philip Sang: Times of Hopelessness and Powerlessness

Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Lent B, February 7, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang gets all in a snit when he has to submit a written manuscript of his sermon. We don’t want that so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 40.21-31; Psalm 147.1-12, 21; 1 Corinthians 9.16-23; Mark 1.29-39.

The Presentation: God’s Answer to Our “Where is the God of Justice” Questions

Sermon delivered on the Feast of Candlemas (transferred), Sunday, January 31, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

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

Today we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple. This is the day when Mary and Joseph came to the Temple to complete Mary’s purification process (cf. Leviticus 12.1-8) and to perform the redemption of the firstborn, where they offered Jesus as holy (set apart for service) to the Lord (cf. Numbers 3.40-51). Both were prescribed by the Law of Moses and neither ritual was unique to Jesus. This feast day also came to be known as Candlemas, or the Festival Day of Candles, in which the priest would bless candles for use in the local church for the coming year and would occasionally send some of them home with his parishioners for them to use. It is one of the earliest known feasts to be celebrated by the Church.

Candlemas falls 40 days from the birth of Jesus because that is the day Mary would have completed her purification process as prescribed by the Law, which means that Candlemas always falls on February 2 (we are transferring it to today to celebrate it). It is also the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox and before there ever was a Groundhog Day (also observed on February 2), tradition held that when Candlemas fell on a sunny day, there was more winter to come. But when it fell on a cloudy, wet, or stormy day, it meant that the worst of winter was over. For you Christmas junkies out there, tradition also holds that any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5) should be left up until Candlemas and then taken down. Candlemas also officially marks the end of the Epiphany season, a season in which the Church celebrates Christ as being the light to the world, and so it is particularly appropriate for us to celebrate today with the blessing and lighting of candles. Now that you’ve had your history lesson on Candlemas, I want us to look briefly at what this feast might mean for us as Christians living in the 21st century.

What are we to make of the strange scene (to us anyway) St. Luke paints for us in our gospel lesson? To understand the significance of what is unfolding before us and what Simeon and Anna prophesied, we need some background. As our psalm lesson proclaims very clearly, ancient Israel believed that God was and is Creator of heaven and earth, the dimensions where God and humans respectively dwell. Israel believed that while God was actively and intimately involved in his creation and the lives of his creatures, especially his human image-bearing creatures, God was present in a very special way to the people he had called through Abraham to bring God’s healing and blessing to a sin-ravaged world, first in the Tabernacle that God directed Moses to construct as God’s people wandered 40 years through the wilderness on the way to the promised land, and then later in the Temple Solomon had constructed in Jerusalem, the place where heaven and earth intersected. This meant that God expected his people to be holy, called out and separate from other folks (the Gentiles) to act in godly ways so that God’s people could embody God’s goodness, blessings, and healing presence to a world that desperately needs it. When you are in the presence of the King you are expected to act accordingly.

But Israel had failed in its call to bring God’s healing love to the world, a failure that resulted in God abandoning his Temple in Jerusalem and withdrawing his special presence from his people. God’s people were subsequently conquered and exiled, a horrifying and unthinkable fate for most Israelites. The Temple had been rebuilt after Israel’s return from exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC but God’s Presence had not returned to the Temple as promised. This was the situation in Jesus’ day and the context for our OT lesson. In the verse immediately preceding, the people of Israel had asked impatiently, “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal 2.17). In response, God told them through his prophet that God would indeed return to clean house, starting with God’s own people who failed to live up to God’s call to be his people, and they had better repent before the Lord’s return; otherwise they would be in for a very unpleasant surprise, just like unrepentant Christians will be when Christ returns to finish his work (cf. 1 Pet 4.17). 

Malachi wrote approximately 400 years before Christ and when Mary and Joseph brought him to the Temple to be consecrated, God’s people were still waiting for God to fulfill his promise to return to them and dwell in his Temple to deal once and for all with all the wrong and injustices that plagued God’s people and the rest of the world. 400 years! That’s a long time to wait and God’s people despaired and became impatient. Why hadn’t God returned to fulfill his promise? We get this dynamic because we look around our world today and see that things haven’t changed that much. Evil and sin run rampant to despoil God’s world and our lives. We see injustices of all kinds. As a nation we have rarely been this divided and chaos seems to be the order of the day. Others, especially the geezers among us, are astonished at the sea change that has occurred in our lifetime. We see our culture systematically setting aside the Christian faith in favor of all kinds of bizarre and perverse thinking and ideologies, becoming post-Christian in its media, its educational institutions, its legal arrangements, its political rhetoric, its moral discourse, and even in some of its churches. Like the ancient Israelites we too want to know where is the God of justice? What has happened to the nation and culture in which we grew up? Throw in the pandemic of the century and it all makes us afraid and causes some of us to lose our faith and hope. Where is God in it all? Why isn’t God doing anything about the chaos in his world?

And now we are ready to hear what St. Luke and the author of the letter to the Hebrews have to say. In reporting Christ’s presentation at the Temple, St. Luke is telling us that here we see God fulfilling his promise to return to his Temple and people, but not in the manner they expected! Israel (and we) expected a conquering Messiah to appear, destroying all God’s enemies and those who oppressed Israel (in Jesus’ day that would have been the Romans). That same Messiah would also cleanse the Temple of all impurities and evil practices perpetrated against God by God’s priests and people. Instead we see God returning as a helpless infant to be consecrated as holy to the Lord as all first-born male children in Israel were, tipping us off to the real nature of our rescue—through apparent weakness and humility. Notice carefully the trinitarian nature of this story as St. Luke relates it. We see the Father returning to his people to fulfill his promise to be their God and always dwell with them, especially after he had purged the evildoers from among his people. We see God the Son being consecrated for this great task: God become human to rescue and heal his people. And we see God the Holy Spirit leading the faithful prophets Simeon and Anna to proclaim this strange but astonishing thing that God is about to do for them and the world in and through Jesus. The long-hoped for Messiah had indeed appeared to fulfill the promises of God, but many missed it because his appearance violated their expectations. Simeon and Anna on the other hand were enabled by the Holy Spirit to recognize Christ for who he is and in the process found real peace, God’s peace, a peace that passes human understanding. When we realize God always fulfills his promises, no matter how long it seems to take, there is always real peace for us to help us live our days in the midst of chaos. 

But God’s plans and desires are far greater than ours. Not only had God’s Christ come to rescue God’s people, he had come to rescue the Gentiles as well! This would have been deeply offensive to many of God’s people—just like many of us are offended when we think God might actually find favor with people we despise—but it always was part of God’s promise to Abraham. God is the God of all nations, not just some, and God had called his people for just this purpose. But God’s people had failed in their task because they were as broken as the people they were called to help God rescue. So here St. Luke is showing us in this poignant scene that God himself comes to be the one true and faithful Israelite who will save God’s world. 

And how will the Lord do this? We get a hint in Simeon’s warning to Mary and a clear explanation from the writer of our epistle lesson. Christ came at just the right time to address the root problem: human sin and the Evil it unleashes. Sin, of course, also leads to death and it is our common fate because we all have sinned. So if God the Father was going to break the power of Sin, Evil, and Death over us, God had to become human to die for us as the writer of Hebrews explains. St. Paul tells us likewise in his letter to the Romans when he tells us God took on our flesh to condemn our sin in the flesh so that God would not have to condemn us (Rm 8.3-4). This meant that Jesus Christ was not going to fight the dark powers on their terms. He was going to fight them on God’s terms, agreeing to become human so that God could spare those who believe God’s promise from suffering his final terrible judgment on all who fail to repent and believe God’s promises. This meant that the power of God would be shown mainly in the way of suffering love revealed supremely on the cross. This was the sword that would pierce the Mother of God’s heart. Her heart would also be pierced by the opposition and division that swirled around Christ. The mere presence of Immanuel, God with us, would create great opposition and division because there are sadly many who want no part of God or being in God’s presence. Even among those who do long for God’s presence, there would be conflict and division. Some would believe God was uniquely present to his people in Christ, who would be crucified and raised from the dead to inaugurate God’s promised new creation. Others would reject the Son of God, many doing so violently, believing him to be a charlatan. And as Christ warned his disciples, if they persecuted him, they will persecute those who follow him (Jn 15.20)!

Of course, Jesus Christ did not come to rescue us so that we could keep on sinning happily ever after and going on our merry destructive ways. Our OT lesson reminds us of this reality in no uncertain terms. Following Christ starts with repentance, turning from following our own selfish ways to following and imitating the living One who gave himself for us in a terribly costly act so that we would have life, not death, as our future. We are saved so that God can use us as he always intended to use humans: to embody God’s goodness, justice, mercy, and peace in the world around us, just like we will be doing perfectly when Christ returns to usher in the new heavens and earth. 

So what should we see when we see Christ being presented at the Temple? For starters, St. Luke is telling us that God is true to his word and has fulfilled his promise to return to his people to dwell among us. God never returned to dwell among his people in the Temple at Jerusalem and it was finally destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans. But God’s promise to return to his people did not fail. God did not abandon his people. God returned to dwell with his people in Christ himself, God’s living temple, who now is our one and only link between heaven and earth and who mediates God’s presence with his people as our great High Priest, constantly interceding for us to his Father. And we are called to be living stones who compose the new temple of Christ’s body, the Church. As St. Paul reminds us, we have the power and Presence of the Holy Spirit living in and among us as Christ’s people to make him known to us, to guide us in the living of our days, and to comfort and encourage us when we enter dark valleys. That is so much better than dwelling in a building! Christ’s presentation at the Temple reminds us that God loves us and is with us, even in the midst of chaos and disorder, troubling and disconcerting as that can be for us. God’s faithfulness reminds us that we can trust God’s promises to act on our behalf, no matter how long those promises take to come to fruition. Out of his great love for us, even when we were his enemies, God has returned to his world in mercy and judgment and Jesus Christ proclaims to us both the nature and character of God and his promises. We can therefore live our lives with confidence, courage, and hope. No matter how chaotic things get, no matter how bad things appear, especially when evil and madness seem to rule the day, Christ’s presentation at the Temple reminds us of the greater story of God’s plan in and through Christ’s death and resurrection to rescue his world and beloved human image-bearing creatures from all that bedevils us, especially from the ultimate evil of Death itself, and to set the world ultimately to rights so that peace and justice and love and goodness reign, partially in this age and fully in the age to come. Simply put, we are a people with a real hope and future. When we believe this, we, like old Simeon and Anna, can rest secure in God’s faithful love and power. Let us therefore encourage each other with this truth as we live out our days together as God’s people in Christ. Of course as we all know, living faithfully with courage and hope is no easy task, but nothing worthwhile ever is easy. Christ is Immanuel, God with us. When God is with us, who or what can ever really harm us? There is real peace to be had in this great Truth, my beloved. Be like old Simeon and Anna. Claim the peace that God offers you and proclaim it to others who do not know Christ. Dare to believe the promise and to live it out faithfully and boldly all your days. You will never regret it. 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 Jonathon Wylie: Water to Wine, Sign of Glory Divine

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 3B, Sunday, January 24, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie gets all whiny and pouty when he has to submit a written manuscript of his sermon. We don’t want that so click here to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 14.17-20; Psalm 128; Revelation 19.6-10; St. John 2.1-11.

Come and See

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 2B, Sunday, January 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: 1 Samuel 3.1-20; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6.12-20; John 1.43-51.

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

In our gospel lesson Philip responds to Nathaniel’s caustic question about meeting Jesus by inviting him to “come and see.” That invitation still stands for us concerning Jesus. But if we looked at Jesus what would we see? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

We start with our OT lesson. We are told that the word of the Lord was rare in the days of old Eli and Samuel, the days when ancient Israel had no king and everyone did “whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). And we certainly get how ominous that statement really is. The word of the Lord is rare in our day as well; more and more of us are doing whatever seems right in our own eyes. As our nation increasingly rejects its Judeo-Christian heritage with its strictures, mores, and values, our nation falls ever deeper into chaos. We see it most keenly right now in the political arena and in how we think about and treat those with whom we disagree. Our abandonment of our Judeo-Christian heritage with its accompanying values is the root cause of all our problems because as we abandon God-given ways for thinking, speaking, and acting in favor of our own fallen desires, chaos descends. The word of the Lord is indeed rare in our day and people are increasingly doing whatever seems right in their own eyes, resulting in ever-increasing vitriol, invective, hyperbole, vindictiveness, and demonization that is quite simply breathtaking, and not in a good way. All this makes us very afraid. We look for God’s help and presence but apparently find none. But are we looking in the right places and for the right things? Are we allowing God to take us by surprise and rescue us in unexpected ways as he did in Samuel’s and Philip’s day? This is at the heart of both our OT and gospel lessons this morning. Instead of trying to dictate to God how God should intervene and rescue us, we are called to listen before we speak, to open our eyes and minds so that God can speak to us in the ways God chooses, not how we choose, and to respond accordingly and faithfully. When we do, like young Samuel we will know that God is present with and among us.

And now we return to our gospel lesson with its great existential invitation concerning Christ: Come and see! When you look at Jesus, what do you expect to see? A cosmic Santa Claus to give you your heart’s desires? A mighty warrior who swoops in at just the right moment like a conquering hero to rescue you from all your problems? A Messiah (Christ) who will rid you and this country of all your enemies so that all the chaos conveniently disappears? A bolt of lightning and thunderclap to smite all the evil and wrong in this world and your life? We are promised that indeed one day when the Lord Jesus returns to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection, we will have our expectations of a mighty warrior and conqueror fully satisfied. Just read Revelation 20 with its vivid language if you doubt that. God is indeed God and he will not let fallen humans and/or the powers of Evil and Sin mock him forever. But that is not what our gospel lesson is pointing to today. Here is Christ, God become man, to dwell with his people. So if we come and see, what will we see? St. John has given us hints leading up to our lesson today. He began his marvelous gospel by telling us about the eternal Son of God coming into his world and to his people to dwell or pitch his tent (live) among them as we read on Christmas Eve. St. John reaffirms this glorious truth at the end of our lesson today when he recounts that Christ told Nathaniel (and us) that we would see God’s space (the heavens) open up and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. In other words, we would see heaven and earth coming together in the person of Jesus despite the fact that we don’t particularly want God to dwell with us because we are slaves to the power of Sin that has blinded us to his presence. We hid from God in the garden and we continue to hide from God today, and to our detriment. St. John also reminded us of this sad reality in his prologue when he told us that God’s own people failed to recognize God when he came to live with them as Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, when by God’s grace we do let Christ into our lives, we get glimpses of heaven meeting earth, God’s new world and Presence breaking in on us and the chaos that swirls around us. More about that anon. When you look at Jesus, do you believe this promise?

Come and see, St. John invites us through Philip. So what else do we see in Christ? As St. John has also previously reminded us, in Christ we see the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—our sins, our rebellion, our hostility toward God, our selfishness, our desire to do whatever seems right in our own eyes—and reconciles us to God the Father through his saving death on the cross. Here we see God’s totally unexpected and illogical grace, illogical at least according to the wisdom of the world, in action. Who dies for their enemies so that their enemies can be reconciled to them and find life instead of death? No one I know, no one expect God the Father that is. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, at just the right time Christ came into the world to die for us sinners and reconcile us to God (Romans 5.6-11). We use the word grace quite freely and casually, and in doing so I think we miss the astonishing power and reality of God’s love for us behind it. God didn’t wait until we came to our senses and realized we need God if we ever hope to have life—life defined as being more than mere biological existence. We cannot hope to live, either in this age or the age to come, without being reconciled to God and as both Scripture and the collective human experience testify, we are incapable of ending our hostility and rebellion toward God on our own. We remain unreconciled to God and dead in our sins without outside help. That help comes from the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—your sin and mine—and in doing so overcomes the evil our sin generates. We aren’t told how this all works. We are simply told that it does and are invited to believe it by faith because of the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection and because God promises it is true in Holy Scripture. When you look at Jesus, do you see the Lamb of God who takes away your sins and gives you life? If you do, what difference is it making in how you live and see this world and your place in it?

Come and see, St. John invites us. What else do we see in Christ? In telling us that we will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man, Christ promises us that when we see him we will see the agent through whom God’s promised new world will come into existence, a world made possible by his saving death on the cross and through his mighty resurrection, a world where the dimensions of heaven and earth come together in a mighty new act of creation greater than the act of God’s original creation to heal and restore all things. As St. Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, our bodies matter greatly to God. We know this because God raised Jesus’ body from the dead and will do the same for ours on the Last Day. In other words, our bodies are part of God’s good creation that God has promised to heal and redeem in and through Christ’s resurrection. So what we do (or don’t do) with our bodies matters to God. Not only that, the Holy Spirit dwells in our bodies and God has paid a terrible price to redeem our bodies from eternal death when he came to die for us and be raised again to new life (Rm 8.3-4). When you look at Christ, do you see the promise of God’s new world embodied, a world where heaven and earth are joined together and all things are made new, a world where death and sorrow and sickness and sighing and all things broken are forever abolished, a world where the powers of Evil, Sin, and Death are banished forever so that they can no longer harm or destroy us as they do now? If you don’t see this in Christ, if this is not your ultimate hope, you have missed seeing Jesus Christ entirely and are most to be pitied. This promise and all that it entails should give us ample reason to hope, even in the most desperate times. It should also motivate us to imitate God’s great love for us, even when we were his enemies, by proclaiming and inviting others to come and see Christ along with us.

Come and see, St. John invites us. What else do we see in Christ? As St. John and the other gospel writers proclaim, when we see Jesus we will see God’s Messiah (Christ) come in power and love and mercy to call us to repentance, i.e., to turn from serving ourselves to serving God and others, heal the sick, mend broken bodies and minds, raise the dead, feed the hungry, provide living water to those who desperately need it (that would be all of us), and to announce the Good News that despite our wickedness, despite all that is desperately wrong in our lives and the world around us, God the Father loves us and demonstrates his love by giving us Christ to show us these signs of God’s kingdom breaking into the midst of the chaos of his world and our lives. But it would be easy for us to miss this because as we have seen, God accomplished it all in a most unusual and unexpected way by dying an utterly godforsaken death in the most cruel and vile manner ever invented by humans. Creatures trying to destroy their Creator. What a travesty! So we need to pay attention to Holy Scripture because in it, God tells us how he has and will accomplish all that God promises. As young Samuel found God’s presence in his day, if we are willing to come and see who Jesus really is, we must start by listening before we start speaking. Only then can we start to think through the truth of these claims, both individually and together. 

When we dare come and see who and what Christ really is, it will require a response from us. Will we choose to limp along, following our own thinking and doing whatever seems right in our own eyes, or will we ask the God who seeks us out, whether we love him or not, to open our eyes so that we can begin to glimpse his glory among us in the person of Christ? Nathaniel cynically asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth. Jesus would end up showing him and the rest of us that everything good could and did come out of Nazareth! God himself came to reconcile us and draw us to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son so that through the Son, God could heal and restore us to be the fully human beings God created us to be. Nothing else can make us fully human, especially not the perversity that comes from doing whatever seems right in our own sinful eyes. May we all, by the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, have our eyes opened to the reality of our crucified and risen Lord and Savior by living out his commandments faithfully, especially as they pertain to our bodies and the bodies of others, through the faithful reading of Scripture together, in our worship, in confessing our sins and experiencing God’s healing forgiveness, in partaking of the Holy Eucharist as a tangible sign of that forgiveness, and in our holy fellowship so that Christ becomes a dynamic and healing reality and Presence to and among us, able to sustain us, even (and especially) in these dark days. When we see Christ, may we be blessed to see the Son of God, the crucified and risen Lamb who takes away the sin of the world along with our own, and may our hope that God really is bringing in his kingdom on earth as in heaven in and through Christ and his people bless and sustain us until to see it realized in full and our blessed Lord and Savior face-to-face. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

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

Father Jonathon Wylie: The Baptism of Jesus, Humble Way to Glory

Sermon delivered on Epiphany 1B (The Baptism of Christ), Sunday, January 10, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie has not changed his stripes for 2021. He’s still a Calvinist and he still refuses to submit manuscripts of his sermons. To listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19.1-7; St. Mark 1.4-11.

Father Philip Sang: The Wise Seek Christ

Sermon delivered on the Feast of the Epiphany (transferred), Sunday, January 3, 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 Isaiah 60.1-6; Psalm 72.1-15; Ephesians 3.1-12; St. Matthew 2.1-12.

I would like to look at the Epiphany story this morning The Readers’ Digest once asked this question: Have you ever imagined what would have happened if there had been three wise women instead of three wise men at the Epiphany? They suggested that if there had been three wise women:

? They would have asked for directions to the stable locally instead of going to King Herod.

? They would have arrived on time and helped deliver the baby

? They would have cleaned the stable and brought food for the family to eat

? And there would have been peace on earth!”

Why did God reveal Jesus to the Magi?

We know the story of the Magi coming to worship Jesus very well.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why God revealed Jesus to the Magi and not the “Good and the Great” personified by King Herod Who were the Magi? Very little is known about the Magi.

Matthew doesn’t even record how many of them there were.

All the Bible tells us is that they came from the East to Jerusalem.

It is generally accepted that “the Magi were a priestly caste from Persia once a mighty country where modern Iran and Iraq are now located. They were probably astrologers In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship the Christ. Tertullian also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In the sixth century, someone decided that their names were Melchior, Baltazar and Gaspar. The term Magi is the base from which our modern words “magician” and “magistrate” are derived.

The Magi, in the eyes of the Jewish people to whom Matthew wrote his Gospel , had two strikes against them. – The first strike was that they were Gentiles – Persians to be precise. After all weren’t the Jews alone God’s chosen people?

  • But the second and more important strike was that they were astrologers. And astrology was expressly forbidden in the OT. (Dt 18:9-14) So why did God reveal himself to astrologers?

Here are three of the many reasons you can think of why God revealed Himself to the Magi Firstly God revealed Jesus to the Magi to show us that the Gospel, that Jesus’ birth heralded, is for all nations. It is not just to the select few righteous people in the world. We don’t have to wait until we are living a “morally good life” before God seeks us out. If moral perfection was God’s criteria, I doubt any of us would be sitting in church today.

God accepts us as we are as he did with these Magi.

The second reason – that I think God revealed Jesus to the Magi – was that the Magi were SEEKING God, as best as they knew how.

The Magi sought Christ out to worship him. God honors a spirit within a person that SEEKS God. We won’t get everything right – but if we have a right heart God will honor us.

And God reached out to the Magi – where they were – by a Star. But that wasn’t a chance Star

– God had ordained and it had been prophesied over a millennium earlier by Balaam the prophet when he said – referring to Jesus:

17 “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A Star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre will rise out of Israel. (Nu. 24:17).

My third reason why God revealed Jesus to the Magi was that they had a number of right attitudes.

Attitude1. They obeyed the leadings of God they were obedient to the guidance of God. They weren’t too big to follow the star. As St. Matthew records them saying, “We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Mt. 2:2) They weren’t star gazers – they put their beliefs into action. And even though they didn’t know the destination they were prepared to step out in faith. Following the leading of the Lord can be quite risky and it can be time consuming. The Magi probably had to go from Persia to Jerusalem – a journey of a good over 1000 miles – on foot and travelling with camels.

It could well have taken several months. But they persevered over dangerous territory too – with maybe bandits along the way. I wonder if I would have been prepared to follow a star for so long?

Attitude 2 – They sought Jesus for the right reasons “to worship him” (Mt. 2:2).

It’s quite a challenge isn’t it? Do I come to church to worship Jesus – or for some other reason? Attitude 3 – They gave Jesus of the very best that they had.

They bought costly gifts to Jesus

? Gold

Gold indicated Kingship. What is more fitting than gold for a King!

If Jesus is to be the King in my life, then I am challenged by the thought: What gold can I bring to Jesus today?

What do I hold onto as precious that I can give to the Lord?

? Frankincense

Frankincense was an ingredient used by the priests in temple worship to blend with the smell of the sacrifices. Frankincense was brought to symbolise worship.

If we wish to worship God, Jesus wants us to offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Rom 12:1).

What is the frankincense that we can offer Jesus today?

? Myrrh

In Jesus’ time, people used Myrrh to embalm their dead. A thoughtless gift, you might say for a baby shower?

Not for this baby. These wise men knew that Jesus was born to die.

Hebrews 10:10 says, “And … we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Myrrh reminds me that Jesus came to die on a Cross – to bring all of us into a new relationship with God. In return Christ expects us to die to our old selfish desires and take on the desires of God.

Paul put it well when he said in Galatians 2:21 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” Attitude 4 – The final attitude that the wise men was that they did what God called them to do. Mt 2:12 “Then being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way” What a challenge to us – simply to do what God wants us to do and not count the cost. If Herod had caught up with the wise men, he would have had their heads.

There are times in life when God calls us – and we must respond – regardless of the cost.

If we want to hear from God we need to come in worship to Jesus rather than in fear. We are challenged to make Jesus Lord of our lives – rather than fear losing control over our destiny. Perhaps all this is to say we allow God to handle our schedule today and everyday As I conclude, the wise men sought Christ taking all the risks included to bring the best to Him. When we think of them and the gifts these wise men brought, it is my prayer that we would seek Christ more and let The Gold remind us to bring to Jesus what we hold precious The Frankincense to remind us to bring Christ our true worship and The Myrrh to remind us to die to self and live for Christ day by day In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Meditations on the Incarnation by Select Church Fathers and Doctors

Meditations read on Christmas 1B, Sunday, December 27, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

Behold a new and wondrous mystery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now hear this word from St. Athanasius.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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