Father Santosh Madanu’s Sermon for Trinity 4A

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4A, Sunday, July 5, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 24:34–38, 42–49, 58–67; Psalm 45.10-17; Romans 7.15-25; Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30.

Let us Pray: Dear Lord, be with me when I am in doubt and drive away my fear. Refresh my mind and affirm my faith that you are with me and I am in your promises. Amen. 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus,

How are you all!

Even today, Number of cases of Covid 19 is  going on increasing along with the deaths all over the world. This Virus caused lot of mental issues like fear, scared, depressed, don’t know what to do & how to deal with it, domestic violence, looting the stores, some people went back to addictions. In this situation we gathered here as a St. Augustines’s family to shout along with Joshua 

24:15 “ As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. ( Could you repeat after me please!)

We gathered together to celebrate the life in Christ Jesus. God in His graciousness blessed us to be safe from this deadly Virus.  Isn’t it? Yes.

The word of God speaking to us directly during this situation 

Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. “

Fear not, Abram. (Genesis 15:1) 

     When  you find yourself in a place where you feel as though your only companion is fear, change Abram’s name to your name, and receive this promise of God – Fear Not- as part of your spiritual inheritance. Whether you are aware of this or not, you are always held in the hands of God’s promises. Are you afraid? Remember the One who is your shield. Your name is always being called as you are invited into deeper faith. Faith is the guardian angel overshadowing you at all times. Much is invisible at first glance. Look deeply.

     How difficult it must have been for our father, Abraham, to believe the promise of God. Likewise, it is not easy for us to believe there is a rich future awaiting us. It is not easy to see a Divine plan for our lives and for  St. Augustine’s Church. So let us hold hands with our ancient father in faith and with faith itself.  And  today’s first reading is about God Yahweh promise to Abraham is being fulfilled through Isaac the son of Abraham. And Isaac got married to Rebekah and had two sons Esau and Jacob. So let us be strong in faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

Now let us reflect on letter to Romans chapter 7

St. Paul is dealing with the Law, Sin and the Flesh.

This passage in Romans 7:15-20 gives us the first-hand account of the battle between the new nature and the sinful flesh within the apostle Paul. He writes these verses as a mature believer in Christ. Paul’s own life demonstrates that this struggle with our sinful flesh never goes away while we are on the earth. Paul is in a fight for holiness, just as you and I are. We must take action to buffet our body and make it our slave. We must resist temptation and fight the good fight. We must resist temptation and flee immorality. The Christian life is a fight for holiness. This battle within us is real, intense, ongoing, internal, spiritual, and found within all true believers. Romans 7:15-20 These verses are like looking into a mirror and seeing the struggle with sin that resides within each one of us.

If you do feel the intensity of this internal strife, it is because you are converted to Christ Jesus.

John Calvin wrote in chapter one, section one of his Institutes of the Christian Religion that with the knowledge of God comes the knowledge of self. Everything in your Christian life begins with knowing who God is and, in turn, knowing who you are. Until you know who God is, you will never know who you are. And until you know who you are, you will never advance in spirituality. Paul is being completely honest with us. This is a private thought that is now made known publically in order to help us to learn about our struggle with sin. If when you sin, you are thinking, “What is wrong with me?,” the reality is that this is what is wrong with all of us. The reality is that even as a believer, we still struggle with sin.

 Sin is a Legal Offense (7:16)

Sin is a legal offense against God and His word. Paul writes, “But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (verse 16). Paul is obviously talking about the sin that he does not want to do. We know he is a true believer because no believer wants to sin. But Paul confesses that he does the very thing that he does not wish to do. This man, who authored fourteen books in the New Testament, yet even as a mature believer in Christ, Paul is still entrenched in this war against the sinful flesh within him.  This is the same struggle we all face in day to day lives.

let us answer some questions in this regard:

can the law save us? No.  only the grace of God can save us.

Paul shows that even though the law is glorious and good, it can’t save us – and we need a Savior. Paul never found any peace, until he looked outside of himself and beyond the law to his Savior, Jesus Christ.

How the law help the humanity? The law help us to  respect every human. And every human life is matter, not just black or white but everyone, born in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and North America, and to bring harmony in the society,  and for the welfare of every human being.

 We must know that the Law Reveals Our Sin.

This is the great paradox of the Christian life. Are we free? Yes! We’re free from sin’s dominion and free to worship God, but we’re also trapped in this flesh which will never be free from sin until death. That’s why Paul cries out “who will free me from this body of death?” at the end of the chapter.

As much as we hate it, we’re in a battle, not just with Satan and demonic forces, but with our flesh which desires to heed to sin. How does a believer know that there is still sin within him? The answer, according to verse 16, is that the Law reveals it to us. One of the necessary ministries of the Law of God is to expose sin in our lives, even as a believer. Paul writes, “But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (verse 16). What is it that the Law testifies to Paul, to which he is in agreement? It is that the Law reveals to us our sin.

Anyone who has tried to do good is aware of this struggle. We never know how hard it is to stop sinning until we try. “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.” (C.S. Lewis)

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man says Paul: Paul knows that his real inward man has a delight in the law of God. He understands that the impulse towards sin comes from another law in my members. Paul knows that the “real self” is the one who does delight in the law of God.

Jesus was born under the law, but in his death and resurrection, he reformed  the law, and he did so on behalf of all humanity. The risen Christ does not have to keep the Sabbath or any other laws of Moses.  Yet he did it to fulfill Father’s Will and to be our Master and Model.

We cannot adopt a defeatist attitude, because greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. Because of the all-sufficient grace of God, we will grow in personal holiness. We will experience ever-increasing victories over sin in our lives. There is still sin within us as believers, but we are, nevertheless, making progress and moving forward into greater conformity to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

 What role does the Law play in an unbeliever’s life?  It defines sin.  The Law condemns an unbeliever.  It can be the ‘tutor’ that shows an unbeliever that he/she needs a Savior 

24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.. (Gal 3:24). 

Can obeying the Law save anyone?  Why or why not?  The Law cannot save anyone.  No one can keep it perfectly….except Jesus! 

Paul described the process of how our flesh can be aroused by the Law in vv8-10.  

But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 

I would like to give my own  example  as  I   apply  this text to my life.   Few times in my work place, I did my personal works and I used company material .  The rule is every employee has to dedicate their time fully towards the job and never to use the material of the company.   So If I keep the rule I am free from mistake and fault but If I do not keep, the same rule points out my mistakes.

We can apply this for the sins and failures.  The commandments  help us to obey God and respect other human beings.  And the same Commandments points out our sins when we do not follow.

 Let us read the text:            

17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

In Rom 7:17-20  Is Paul giving believers an excuse to sin? No

Is he removing any hope of walking in godliness? NO

Paul speaks of two persons in himself.  We can understand this way,  Saul of Tarsus and Paul the Apostle.  The old Saul has the nature of sin  with the Law and new Paul has the nature of spirit of Jesus to do good with love of Jesus Christ.

Paul is making a clear difference with the desires or works of flesh Vs  the desires of the Spirit in the believers.

Gal 5:16-24.  

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

What is the conflict in these verses?  What do you learn about the Law in these verses?  What do you learn about believers and their flesh? 

There is always conflict between Spirit Vs Flesh; 

The Law points out the restrictions, boundaries, requirements and sin 

The Believers have to live by the new spirit and new heart rather than worldly and fleshly desires.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Dear friends in Jesus

The Law related to Marriage is to guide  the married people to be faithful, to have mutual love and respect and to have the family instituted by God.  God in His graciousness instituted the family. Wife, husband and children living together in love.

 Therefore let us  love the family life and be bound by the law that guides and directs the family.

There is a law and order in the universe that brings harmony.  Therefore the law is  so important for human society  for common good.  

Throughout the history of the church, people have debated who Paul was describing in vv14-25.  Here are some common interpretations:

            1.  Paul is describing himself before he was saved.  (unbelievers)

            2.  Paul is describing his personal experience as a believer. (believers)

            3.  Paul is describing himself before salvation, when he was under conviction.

            4.  Paul is describing the struggle of anyone who is trying to live ‘under the law’…believer or unbeliever. 

I personally believe when we are motivated by Love we do not need the law. And we may overcome all evil and sin with the grace of Jesus Christ.

The freedom in Christ is new creation  yet we need to deal with all the issues of the world.  Because we have the symptoms of this flesh virus ( Eg: Bad habits drinking , smoking, lustful Thoughts, anger, violence etc) .  We struggle very hard to fight against all these sins.   

We have the good news: Rev 3:20-21

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

WILLIAM  HOLMAN  HUNT painted the picture of Jesus knocking the door ( England)

I would like to conclude my reflection with the Image of Jesus Knocking your door- The door of  your heart, only you can open it from inside.   would you open it for Jesus to enter into your life!   

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit .Amen.

Dr. Jonathon Wylie: Choose This Day Whom You will Serve

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3A, Sunday, June 28, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Despite the fact that Deacon Wylie has a PhD, you won’t find a written manuscript for today’s sermon because, well, his PhD is from the University of Wisconsin. Need we say more? To listen to today’s sermon click here.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 22.1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6.12-23; Matthew 10.40-42.

Don’t Be Afraid. Here’s Why

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2A, Sunday, June 21, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 21.8-21; Psalm 86.1-10, 16-17; Romans 6.1-11; Matthew 10.24-39.

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

Today we continue our preaching series on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, focusing on our epistle lesson today. You recall that last week we looked at St. Paul’s astonishing teaching about God’s great love for us made known in Christ. There he told us that while we were still God’s enemies, hostile toward God and hopelessly alienated from him because of our slavery to the power of Sin, God moved decisively on our behalf to end our hostility toward him by becoming human (or in the words of St. Paul, by sending his Son) to die for us, thereby freeing us from our slavery to Sin’s power and its ultimate and inevitable outcome—death. We are now reconciled to God and called, in part, to be ministers of reconciliation, reflecting God’s great justice, love, mercy, and grace to the world that desperately needs to hear it even while it is vehemently opposed to God and his gospel. Today we look at what St. Paul has to say about the process by which sin is defeated in the life of believers. Before we do that, however, we must look at the passage leading up to our epistle lesson today which the lectionary (bless its pointy little head) has left out like it did last week because it provides the immediate context for St. Paul’s teaching in chapter 6. Hear now the rest of Romans 5:

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.

Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5.12-21).

In this passage, quickly, St. Paul speaks of two Adams. The first Adam, our first human ancestor, rebelled against God and that resulted in humans getting thrown out of paradise and losing their intimate and life-giving relationship with God so that instead of being God’s children and faithful image-bearers who ran God’s world on God’s behalf, we now were hostile and alienated from God. As St. Paul reminded us sin leads to death and eternal separation from God, something God found intolerable as he demonstrated when he sent his Son, the second Adam, to die for us to rescue us from that fate. The law magnified our slavery to the power of Sin (or sin’s rule) more and more but in Christ, God’s grace, or undeserved mercy, reigned even more because only God is greater than the power of Sin and so only God can free us from our slavery to its power. That raised the logical question. Should Christians sin more and more so that grace can abound more and more? The 18th century German poet, Heinrich Heine famously (or infamously depending on your perspective) put it another way when on his deathbed he was asked by a priest if he thought God would forgive his sins. Heine replied, “Of course God will forgive me; that’s his job.” Right.

Now in our epistle lesson, St. Paul anticipates this rejoinder to his teaching about sin and grace and gives us his answer (this clearly wasn’t St. Paul’s first rodeo). He asks rhetorically if we should “keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?” Of course not, he roars in reply! We’ve died to sin. How can we keep on living in it?? Now if you are like me, you read this passage and are tempted to scratch your head in puzzlement. You want to say to him, “St. Paul, are you crazy? I still sin. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. You even address this phenomenon in chapter 7 of Romans. How can you say I’ve died to sin?” To which St. Paul would reply, “It’s not about you stupid, it’s about the power of God at work in you” (well, he probably wouldn’t have called you stupid, but this gave me an opportunity to do so, which always makes me feel better about myself so I’m good with it).

St. Paul knew very well that being united with Christ does not make one a sinless person. Like Father John Wesley, he would have said sin remains but it no longer reigns in our lives. But that is not what St. Paul is talking about. He is echoing what he wrote to the Colossians when he said that “[The Father] has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom [from the power of Sin] and forgave our sins” (Colossians 1.13-14). This is the power of God at work in us to rescue us from sin and death and bring us into the kingdom of his promised new creation that one day will come in full at Christ’s return. God did this for us out of his great love for us. We did nothing to deserve this gift nor can we earn it. In our own right we are utterly broken, unworthy and incapable of living as God’s true image-bearers. This is what the power of Sin has done to us. But God loves us too much to let us go the way of death and extinction and so God has acted decisively in Christ to break Sin’s power over us on the cross and transfer us into his new world via Christ’s resurrection. This is what grace looks like. We can’t earn it nor do we deserve a lick of it, but it is ours for the taking because of the power and love of God. What God wants, God gets and nothing, not even the power of Sin or the dark powers, can overcome God’s power made known and available to us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen? It’s a done deal, even if it may not feel like that to us. And let’s be real. We are all about feelings these days, corrupted and unreliable as those feelings might be. But Christ’s death and resurrection were not feelings. They were and are the objective reality. They made known supremely the power of God to intervene in our lives on our behalf to rescue us from ourselves, our foolishness, our folly, and our slavery to the power of Sin and Death. That is why St. Paul tells us to reckon ourselves dead to sin. By this he meant for us to do the math, so to speak. When we do the math, we discover the sum of what is already there. For example, when we count the cash in the register, we learn what was there already. We don’t create a new reality; rather we affirm the existing reality. Christ has died for us and been raised from the dead to proclaim God’s victory over Sin and Death, and when we are united with Christ in a living relationship with him, St. Paul promises here that we too share in Christ’s reality, whether it feels like we do or not. Again, notice nothing is required of us except an informed (or reckoned) faith. We look at the reality and calculate it to be true so that we learn to trust the promise that has not yet been fulfilled is also true. 

How does this happen? St. Paul doesn’t tell us how, only that it does happen beginning with our baptism. When we are baptized we share in Christ’s death and are buried with him so that Sin’s power over us is broken (not to be confused with living a sin-free life, something that is not mortally possible because as St. Paul reminds us in verses 6-7, we are not totally free from sin until death). We have died to sin and can no longer live in it because we have been transferred into a new reality, God’s new world that was inaugurated when God raised Christ from the dead. So in our baptism we begin our new life with Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17), flawed as that might look at times. What St. Paul is talking about here is a matter of will. In chapter 8, he will talk about the power and presence of the Spirit in our lives to help us live after the manner of our Lord. Here St. Paul simply tells us that we have been given a great gift in the death and resurrection of Christ and through our relational union with him. If we have been given such a great and life-saving gift, why would we not together want to live our lives in the manner Christ calls us to live them? Today is Fathers’ Day and most of us who were/are blessed with good fathers seek to live in ways that honor our fathers or their memories. If we do that for folks who cannot give us life or raise us from the dead, how much more should we want to live our lives in ways that bring honor to God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ? This is what dying to sin looks like. It often looks messy on the ground and in our lives, but because it is the power of God at work in us and for us, it is a done deal nevertheless. If this isn’t Good News, I don’t know what is, my beloved.

So we have died with Christ and are raised with him. We’ve been delivered from the dark dominion of slavery to the dominion of freedom and life and light, the Father’s kingdom. Now what? Well, for starters it means we are no longer afraid. We have peace with God, real peace, a peace that was terribly costly to God, and we also have life that cannot be taken from us. Sure our mortal bodies will die, but that’s nothing more than a transition. We have no reason to fear death, even the worst of sinners who have genuinely given their life to Christ, because we believe him to be the Resurrection and the Life (John 11.25). It means we reject living our lives in the darkness of sin. It means we reject false realities and are willing to speak out boldly against them. It means we are willing to love even the most unloveable people (and believe me, we are seeing more and more of them every day), starting with ourselves. It means we are willing to speak out against injustices of all kinds. It means we have compassion for people, realizing they are without a Good Shepherd who will love and heal them just like he is loving and healing us. It means we recognize all human beings as being made in God’s image and therefore worthy of our highest respect and honor, even when they do nothing to earn it. 

Our Lord had something to say about this in our gospel lesson. There he tells us essentially the same thing St. Paul has told us in our epistle lesson. Preach the gospel boldly because it is the only way for real healing, goodness, justice, and forgiveness to happen. Be ready to challenge false gospels and narratives that are death-dealing and destructive. Know you will be called all kinds of vile names in an attempt to silence you, and some of you will be killed along the way. But don’t worry. Your effort to proclaim the Truth of the Good News will be made revealed to all by God the Father come judgment day, even if your voice isn’t heard now. But don’t keep silent out of fear of reprisal. Even if they kill you, I have won back your life by going to the cross for you. It’s a done deal. So don’t be afraid. Proclaim the Good News of my death and resurrection, of God transferring folks (not systems—listen if you have ears) from the kingdom of death to the kingdom of life only through me. Just don’t keep silent in word or deed. If you do, I will disown you come judgment day because your silence proclaims you really didn’t believe in my promise to rescue you from Sin and Death. Your faithful living and bold proclamation will be terribly costly to you, but count it a blessing because if you are truly acting faithfully and proclaiming my Truth, the only Truth, you have my promise that nothing in all creation will harm you or separate you from me or my love (cf. Romans 8.31-39).

My beloved, as I watch dark forces trying to dismantle and wipe out this country’s history and ethos, I can no longer remain silent and I encourage you not to remain silent if you are as troubled as I am about the state of our nation. Besides regular and fervent prayer for our nation, I’m not sure exactly what that is going to look like for me, but I cannot stand by silently and watch a false narrative and divisive ideology that is decisively anti-Christian be foisted on this nation. I am not talking about being a super patriot or about political solutions because fearful and arrogant politicians are a massive part of the problem. I am talking about the people of God, you and me, finding and embracing our identity in Christ to speak the truth in love to forces who are preaching lies and attempting to intimidate and silence us through their false and divisive narrative. When you start pulling down statues, erasing chunks of history, and not allowing historical figures to be human, you are doing what tyrants have done throughout history. If you don’t believe me, check out how the Reign of Terror came about in France. History doesn’t repeat itself perfectly but you will find some very disturbing analogues there, starting with the radical Jacobins’ refusal to believe in the Christian faith or any religion other than their own secular one. They renamed streets and institutions and even developed a new calendar in an effort to repudiate their history. They attempted to create a whole new and false reality and took no prisoners in the process, only to have their own hate-filled narrative ultimately collapse on them. When folks try to create an “us-versus-them” mentality, when they attempt to pigeonhole the narrative of history into oppressors oppressing the oppressed, they are no longer dealing with the reality of history and ironically are wiping out chances for history to teach about the good and bad of this country. The very foundation of democracy depends on the ability of humans to act wisely and humanly, rather than myopically and selfishly, and if the forces in our country today prevail, we will see the end of democracy. While this country is far from perfect, it has offered the best hope for human flourishing in history, in part, because we have been so influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition that must flourish if democracy ultimately is to flourish. 

As God’s people in Christ, we must work hard in the coming months to find and embrace our identity in Christ first and foremost so that he can equip us to be his voice and embody his goodness, justice, mercy, and love to one and all in these tumultuous times. Whatever we do, it means we do it gently and without rancor and vitriol. It means we are gentle as doves and wise as serpents. We learn to do that through regular worship, Bible study, prayer, partaking in the eucharist and through sweet fellowship with each other to love and support each other, even in our disagreements, because we realize we are all in the same boat and reject the false and arbitrary classifications and identities that divide rather than unite us. We have been rescued from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of light and life in and through our crucified and risen Savior, in whom, and only in whom, we have redemption from our slavery to Sin and forgiveness for our ongoing sin and rebellion against God. We have died to sin and live now in union with Christ. Let us therefore embrace the only identity that truly heals, saves, and give life: Jesus Christ our Lord, and let that identity be the basis for our fearless and gentle witness as we proclaim boldly God’s love and Truth to a world hostile to the gospel but in desperate need of it. It is the only loving thing to do and as Christ himself reminds us, it will be a litmus test of our own faith when we stand before our Judge on the last day. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Reconciled to Reconcile

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1A, Sunday, June 14, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 18.1-15, 21.1-7; Psalm 116.1-2, 12-19; Romans 5.1-8; Matthew 9.35-10.23.

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

The appointed readings from the lectionary this year (we are in the first year of a repeating three year cycle of readings) focus on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, a massively important document in the NT. Accordingly, I have asked our staff to preach on the assigned readings from Romans and I kick off our summer preaching series today with this sermon. I do so at an extraordinarily dark time for our nation. We are beset by a pandemic that has left us isolated and fearful, decimating our economy and further aggravating our fears and feelings of uncertainty. George Floyd’s recent death at the hands of a police officer has triggered massive protests and riots. Racism is the new cardinal sin and the BLM movement appears to be the new required dogma. Failure to get on board with its political agenda will cause you to be named and shamed publicly as being a racist. I do not want to be flippant about this or make this sermon about politics. The issues are so much bigger than that. Racial injustice is a serious problem that has plagued our nation from its inception and as Christians, we should be speaking out against it and doing what we can to end it. But lawlessness is an equally serious problem and calls to defund law enforcement agencies across the country and woke zones like the one that has been created in Seattle threaten to accelerate the lawlessness we have seen in the riots and undo not only our country but the democracy on which it is based. I cannot speak for you, but for me, the prospect of seeing our nation succumb to mob rule is as terrifying as the prospect of contracting COVID. In this kind of climate, what does St. Paul’s letter to the Romans have to offer us as Christians? Much, and the Church must be bold in our proclamation and willingness to speak to these issues because we have the only solution to the problems that confront us—Jesus Christ. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

The lectionary curiously and frustratingly cuts off our lesson from Romans at verse 8 instead of the more natural ending at verse 11. But if we are going to understand what St. Paul is getting at we need to hear what he said immediately before and after today’s pericope from Romans. So bear with me a moment while we prepare to look at today’s passage. In the first three chapters of Romans, St. Paul has laid out a devastating and grim picture of the human condition. There he spoke of our ongoing rebellion against God where we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge and obey God so that we are no longer his image-bearers who rule God’s world wisely on God’s behalf, resulting in God giving us up in judgment to our own disordered desires. This doesn’t afflict one race of people; it afflicts the entire human race. All have sinned, says St. Paul, and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Therefore we all can expect nothing but God’s terrible judgment and condemnation, not because God is an angry, intolerant God but because God in his moral perfection can countenance no evil or sin because both lead to our dehumanization and ultimately to death, and God loves us too much to let that happen. We are too thoroughly broken and infected by sin to fix ourselves and without outside help, we are slaves to the power of Sin and destined for eternal separation from God, the Source of all life and things good. BTW, only the converted, you and me, will entertain St. Paul’s teaching on this matter and realize we are sinners. The unconverted won’t have anything to do with the idea, itself a symptom of the human race’s sin-sickness.

But thankfully we have outside help from a Source more powerful than the power of Sin: God himself. St. Paul makes the astonishing claim that despite our rebellion against God, despite our outright hostility toward him and/or our resolute unbelief in God, God the Father has acted decisively on our behalf to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and bring about our reconciliation with him and each other. God did this by sending his Son to die for us to reconcile us to him and free us from our death-dealing slavery to Sin. Listen to St. Paul as he leads up to our epistle lesson from this morning.

Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God (Romans 4.20-25).

Here St. Paul lays out the basis for the peace we enjoy in Jesus Christ. As we’ve seen, we are incapable of fixing ourselves and our relationship with God. No amount of trying harder is going to work and God knows that. So God sent his Son to die for us so that we could have a right relationship with God. In Christ’s death and resurrection, God offers us forgiveness and healing and this is a free gift to us if we take God at his word. Despite our ongoing hostility toward God, despite our slavery to the power of Sin and the chaos and alienation from God that results, God has offered us healing and reconciliation if only we will believe he has forgiven us through the death and resurrection of Christ. Where once we stood as condemned enemies of God, we are now reconciled to God and can expect healing and forgiveness because of what God has done for us in Christ. We can enjoy our changed status in the present as soon as we dare believe this Good News, and this is known as justification (or being made right with God) by faith. God promises this is true and by faith we believe the promise.

The result? “[S]ince we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory” (Romans 5.1-2). St. Paul drives home this point starting at verse 6:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God (Romans 5.6-11).

Did you catch the breathtaking promise of the love and mercy of God in this passage? Notice carefully there are no preconditions for this saving gift from God. In fact, just the opposite. God did all this for us when we were utterly helpless to save ourselves or change our relationship with God. God’s act is not contingent on our repentance and remorse. That comes naturally after we realize what God has done for us and what fools we have been to reject and deny God. Here we see God practicing what he preached: To love our enemies and do good to them. When we believe the promise of God to heal and forgive us so that we can share in God’s promised new world as his image-bearers, it must change us and the way we live. We realize how great is the Father’s love for us and what a terrible price God paid to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and restore us to himself, and it must change us so that we act for God, not ourselves. Trust in Jesus Christ is the only way we escape God’s just condemnation of our sins. Jesus Christ is the only way we are reconciled to God so that God can begin to heal our sin-sickness in this world. When we truly believe we are reconciled to God, undeserving as we are, we find real peace, the kind of peace our first ancestors enjoyed with God in the garden. And we learn over the course of our lives to live for God, not ourselves or the corrupt and evil powers of this world and its human-made systems. Our future glory awaits us but we have the promise right now and when we truly believe God is big enough to fulfill his promises, we find real peace, God’s peace, the only true peace there is. This is why St. Paul tells us to boast in our hope. It is boasting based on the love, mercy, and goodness of God, not ourselves, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having this kind of pride in God. In fact, God encourages it!

So what does this have to say to us as Christians and the current Zeitgeist of our age? First, since we are reconciled to God, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. First and foremost this means that we are to introduce folks to Christ in our speaking and doing and encourage them to find their identity in him and not some other death-dealing identity. Doing so will allow us to see humans, ourselves included, for what we are, and to proclaim God’s great love for us as well as his willingness to initiate forgiveness and reconciliation so that we are willing and able to forgive and repent of our evildoing that causes discord and rancor with the help of the Spirit. Hear what St. Paul writes about the effects of having peace with God in his second letter to the Corinthians:

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him [the ministry of reconciliation]. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5.17-19).

In other words, because we enjoy real peace through a new and reconciled relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ, we are commanded to live, proclaim, and offer that same healing love of God through Christ to others so that they too might be reconciled to God and find his great and precious peace. When that happens, the walls of racial divide come tumbling down.

To engage in a ministry of reconciliation, we must first be clear about the human condition and our slavery to the power of Sin without God’s help. It’s what makes reconciliation necessary in the first place and a realistic knowledge of our slavery to Sin’s power keeps us humble and helps remind us we are all in the same boat. For example, we see the chaos that sin produces (because at its essence all sin is chaos in its opposition to God) in the actions of the police officer who callously murdered George Floyd. We also see the power of Sin at work in the rioters and the chaos it engenders. When we realize the truth of the human race’s enslavement to the power of Sin we no longer develop an “us versus them” mentality because we realize everyone of us is capable of good and evil, and left unchecked we are more likely to do evil than good. Why is this important to our ministry of reconciliation? Because we know that only by the grace of God are we spared from God’s wrath and how desperately the human race needs the healing and restorative power of God’s love for each of us. We acknowledge that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, ourselves included, and we are thankful that God loves us and has rescued us from his wrath and condemnation so that we enjoy peace with God. If we truly love others, wanting the best for them, even our enemies, how can we not engage in a ministry of reconciliation? This is the chief difference I see between the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s and BLM movement. The former was grounded in the Christian faith. Martin Luther King had a vision where one day no one would be judged by the color of their skin because all humans are created in the image of God. Dr. King resisted violence and rioting as means of getting justice because he knew that sin is chaos and ultimately will destroy us. Contrast this with some of the violent and oppressive ideology of the BLM movement that makes it all about fostering racial discord and insisting that history be seen only through the lens of racial oppression and injustice. By definition this kind of thinking can never lead to reconciliation. It leads only to division and rancor and as Christians we must oppose it even as we advocate for justice for all.  

In the context of the current debate about race and law enforcement, as ministers of reconciliation, this means we are ready to listen to all sides, not just one, and to acknowledge all sides have a role in contributing to the current tensions because we realize the real problem is human sin, not race. This means we listen to the pain expressed by many in the black community and acknowledge it is real, even if we do not fully understand the basis for that pain or makes us uncomfortable. It means we speak out against racial injustice when we see or experience it because the love of God demands that we do justice and love mercy as we walk humbly with him, submitting to his just and sovereign rule. This means we resist the strident voices who attempt to demonize all law enforcement officers and discredit their legitimate role and function in helping preserve the rule of law in our country. It means we try to put ourselves in their shoes, just as we try to put ourselves in the shoes of black communities so that we can better advocate for all people, not just some. It means we are willing to have an honest conversation about all causes for racial disparity, poverty, crime, and violence, not just racism, important as the latter is. It means we are not interested in winning debates about which side is right and which side is wrong. Reconciliation rarely, if ever, results from winning debates, but rather from having empathy and compassion and understanding for others, realizing we all desperately need to be healed and reconciled, first to God and then to each other. And as we engage in this ministry of reconciliation, we must take to heart Christ’s admonition to us to be innocent as doves and wise as serpents. This means, in part, that we must not be naive in our listening but also not cynical. It means we must be both thin-skinned enough to be empathetic and thick-skinned enough to withstand criticism, and it means we must be angry at injustice but gentle in overcoming it, just as our Lord Jesus did for us by dying for us to reconcile us to God.

Being ministers of reconciliation means that we talk to people about the love of Christ and how he has healed and changed us in the living of our days. It means we offer forgiveness and mercy to our enemies, not anger or vitriol or the desire for revenge, even when they act hatefully toward us and accuse us falsely, which they most certainly will. Instead, we are to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, and proclaim the love of Christ offered to one and all. These are signs of the in-breaking Kingdom of God in our midst. We may not raise anyone physically from the dead (although nothing is impossible for God working in and through us), but by the power of God’s love and Word made known in Christ and available to all in the power of the Spirit, we can bring new life to those who are dead from despair, apathy, grief, hedonism, or absence of meaning. And certainly we must confront and cast out the demons of violence, hatred, injustice, and division that currently terrify and corrupt us. We are to do all this because our Lord himself tells us to do so in our gospel lesson. And let us be clear-headed about this. Being ministers of reconciliation will bring about the world’s wrath and vitriol as our Lord himself warns us in our gospel lesson. Proclaiming the love of God made known in Jesus Christ will sadly be rejected by many, but even here St. Paul has good news for us. He tells us to rejoice in our sufferings because our sufferings produce solid Christian character through perseverance. We persevere because we have peace with God and a future hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come. When we suffer the world’s wrath for Christ’s sake, we are equipped by the Holy Spirit to endure it and reminded that our future is life and total healing, not death and condemnation.  This, in turn, helps us offer that same healing love to others, even in the face of opposition and threats. There is much more to say about these things but I am out of time. I pray I have stimulated your own prayerful thinking about being ministers of reconciliation and that we will walk this journey together as God’s people, supporting one another in love. Remember, our little parish is a microcosm of the society that results from the ministry of reconciliation. We are equal brothers and sisters in Christ from many tribes, languages, and nations, all healed and restored to God and each other by the mercy and grace of God, God be praised!

But none of this will happen if we do not believe in the power of God to work in our lives and the lives of others. It is only in and through God’s power that we can ever hope to be ministers of reconciliation. Now is the time for the Church, for you and me, to find our voice and to be bold in our proclamation about the love of God made known in Jesus Christ. Now is the time to engage in the ministry of reconciliation with others in the context of our daily lives. We have the peace and power of God to make a difference in our world and if the Evil One tempts us to not believe in the efficacy of the gospel or our ability to live and proclaim it, I would point you to our OT lesson. Sarah and Abraham laughed because they struggled believing in the power of God to bring about his promises. But a child was born to them out of time and by the grace and power of God. It took a long time but God fulfilled his promise to Abraham to bless him with descendants as numerous as the stars. 

God loves us and has given himself for us in a great and costly act. In doing so, God calls us once again to be his image-bearers whom God will use to reflect his goodness, mercy, and justice to a sin-sick world, image-bearers who live in the power of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead, to reconcile us to God the Father so that we can be his image-bearers once again, patterning our lives after Jesus our Lord. We worship a God who creates things out of nothing and who raises the dead. Nothing is too hard for him, not even our own fears and foibles in these desperate times. Let us thank God that he loves us enough and honors our role as his image-bearers to call us to this ministry of reconciliation in Jesus Christ our 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. 

Deacon Jonathon Wylie: Life and Love in the Triune God

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday A, June 7, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The pandemic of no manuscripts started by Father Bowser continues to spread throughout the staff. There is no written manuscript of today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Lectionary texts: Genesis 1.1-2.4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13.11-13; Matthew 28.16-20.

Father Ric Bowser: The Holy Spirit is More than Metaphor

Sermon delivered on Pentecost Sunday Year A, May 31, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

This is Father Bowser preaching so of course there is no written text. Click here to listen to the podcast of the sermon.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.1-21; Psalm 104.24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12.3b-13; John 20.19-23.

Father Philip Sang: Joy and the Power Drawn from Goodbye

Sermon delivered on the Feast of the Ascension (transferred), Year A, Sunday, May 24, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Sang has apparently lost the ability to write so there is no manuscript of today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 1.1-11; Psalm 93; Ephesians 1.15-23; Luke 24.44-53.

Proclaiming Christ During the Pandemic

Sermon delivered on Easter 6A, Sunday, May 17, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 17.22-31; Psalm 66.8-20; 1 Peter 3.13-22; John 14.15-21.

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

This sermon is a bit different from what I normally preach so I was feeling anxious about it until I realized that I am not subjecting you to Father Bowser’s or Father Sang’s preaching and I immediately felt better about myself and the sermon. Besides, given the delay of our worship service, only about a third of you will hear it anyway, so it’s all good!

As we continue to deal with the effects of this pandemic, our readings remind us that we have a wonderful opportunity to proclaim our resurrection hope to folks who are afraid or who wonder where God is in it all. This is what I want us to look at this morning. 

A word of clarification before I begin. When I talk about proclaiming Christ, I don’t have in mind you all jumping up in your respective pulpits and preaching a sermon. I have in mind the many opportunities we have in the circumstances of our various lives. There is great fear out there, my beloved, and we have the only real antidote to that fear. So in our conversations and interactions with others, when opportunities arise, let us take advantage of them, thanking God for giving us those opportunities to proclaim our Easter faith to others.

In our NT lesson, we see St. Paul proclaiming his resurrection faith to a society that was essentially ignorant of the one true and living God, the God of Israel, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. While we don’t live in first-century Greece, we do live in a society that increasingly does not know the God we worship, and like St. Paul as he observed the various idols the Athenians worshiped, God will give us opportunities in this pandemic to connect with those who do not know Christ and witness to our Easter hope of resurrection and new creation.

How might we do that? Well, for starters we are to meet people where they are, just like St. Paul met his audience where they were. Many want to know if this pandemic is from God. While we must be very circumspect in answering this question because frankly none of us knows the entire answer to the issues it raises, we can say with certainty that God has allowed this pandemic to take place, even if God’s reasons for doing so are less clear. So the better question to ask, perhaps, is what spiritual resources do Christians have available to help us cope with this plague and sustain us with real hope? This we can readily share with those who are perhaps now more ready to listen to our message than they were before this pandemic struck, always keeping in mind St. Peter’s admonition to us to proclaim our faith gently and with reverence.

Like St. Paul did with the Athenians, a good place to start is to challenge society’s false gods. The Epicurean gods of St. Paul’s day made a roaring comeback with the 18th century Enlightenment movement. The false, largely monotheistic god of the Enlightenment is an absentee and fickle god who is hard to please and who doesn’t seem to care about the affairs of this world. This deist god of human invention is made popular by increasing biblical ignorance and capitulation to the Enlightenment movement that is essentially hostile to God. This false god gladly allows pandemics and other nasty things to ravage our world and its people because he is essentially a cruel and angry god, who cares little about creation; hence, he doesn’t get involved in human affairs. 

But if we spend any amount of time in the Bible and learn its overarching story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—you do know what I refer to, right?—we quickly realize this distant, cruel god who gladly inflicts suffering and unhappiness on people is a false god and not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians we know how important creation and we are to God. After all, we humans bear his image and God created us to run his world on his behalf. While we have gotten that part terribly wrong, that isn’t about the nature of God; it’s about us and our sin and folly. But as both the Old and New Testaments proclaim, God loves his world and us and has promised to heal and redeem us, along with God’s beloved creation. The resurrection of Jesus Christ stands as living testimony to this truth. Our God cares deeply about us and the affairs of his world, and from the very beginning has actively sought us out to heal and restore us. We see God’s love made known supremely to us in Jesus Christ, crucified for our sake to restore us to God as St. Peter proclaims in our epistle lesson, and raised from the dead to announce death’s ultimate destruction with the coming new world. So first of all we are people with Good News, the Good News of God’s rescue of us, despite our hostility toward him and our ongoing rebellion against him. This is the God who promises to be with us always as our Lord himself declares in our gospel lesson. Here we have it. Jesus, God become human, promising to be with us always through the Spirit’s presence until he returns to finish his healing and saving work. Scripture is the story of our God who loves us and seeks us out to heal and restore us to himself. This God is actively involved in his world in the power of the Spirit and through his people, and this God flatly contradicts false narratives about an absent and uncaring god who actively seeks to punish us with pandemics and other catastrophes because he hates us. The world desperately needs to hear about this God, my beloved.

A second place to start witnessing our resurrection faith is to be willing to talk truthfully about the reality of death. As we saw two weeks ago, we Americans have lived in La-La Land when it comes to death. We deny it as best we can and prior to this pandemic we foolishly believed we are masters of our own destiny. If nothing else, this pandemic has shown us emphatically that we are not masters of our destiny and death is a constant reality. As Christians, we can bring to bear something that no one else can: the love, power, and promise of God to defeat and abolish death in and through Jesus Christ. We believe that on the cross, God made peace with us and dealt with our ongoing sin, folly, and rebellion once and for all. Much of that remains a mystery to us because we look around and see sin, folly, and rebellion everywhere we turn. But it is the NT’s proclamation that God has indeed dealt with all that separates us from him and makes us sick as a result, the ultimate sickness being death itself. We know this is true because God raised Christ from the dead to usher in God’s promised new creation and with it the abolition of death and everything evil. Because God does care about creation and us, God has acted decisively on our behalf to heal and restore us. Christ raised from the dead means that death will ultimately be abolished forever and the hope and promise of our baptism proclaims that because we belong to Christ we will share in his resurrection, learning as we do how to live as the truly human beings God created us to be, beings who reflect the love, goodness, mercy, and justice of God. We can’t do this on our own, of course, because we are too profoundly broken. But we don’t have to do it on our own because we are promised and have been given the very Spirit of Christ himself who helps heal us and shape us into his own likeness, and promises us that we will be his forever. No other religion proclaims the new creation and the resurrection of the dead and when we truly believe that this is our destiny, a destiny made possible by the love of God made known to us supremely in Jesus Christ, we no longer have to be afraid of death or of dying. Again, Christ himself promises to be with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death, so that even if the virus strikes us down, we are not separated from him. Hear St. Paul beautifully describe this unbreakable bond made possible by Christ’s death on the cross for us:

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  …No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow [nor Covid-19]—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.31b-39, NLT).

Here is great hope and power to help people deal with their fears during this pandemic. When we give our lives to Christ, we become resurrection people, whose destiny is life, not death. Mortal death comes to all humans because all have sinned and death results from sin. But God in his great love and mercy has conquered death for us through his Son and we no longer have to fear death or dying. None of us deserves this great love and grace of God, but it is available to anyone who is willing to enter into a relationship with our Lord Jesus. If this is not an appropriate conversation during this pandemic, I don’t know what is. Eternal life in a world devoid of any kind of evil or sorrow is a great antidote to the despair of pandemic. For the love of Christ, how can we remain silent?

Of course there are other ways to talk about our faith to non-believers and sadly not everyone will be interested or willing to hear us. But these are two good ways to start and the love of God demands that we try. When we do, we are assured that Christ himself is with us to strengthen us and use us to advance his good purposes in the world, despite its opposition to God and us. 

But before we can proclaim our faith to others, we have to know our own story well enough to proclaim it. That comes through regular Bible study together, prayer, fellowship, and worship. The Christian Faith is essentially relational and as with every relationship, our relationship with Christ requires us to do our part. While we have a God who loves us passionately and pursues us relentlessly, we will never know him or his love for us if we continue to run away from him or refuse to listen to his voice contained in Scripture, in the lives of our parish family and other faithful Christians, and in the Eucharist. When Christ tells us he will be with us in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have to learn what that looks and sounds like in the living of our days so that we can recognize his spiritual presence and voice. We learn this and receive guidance from Scripture, from the lives of his saints, in the Eucharist, and in studying his word. Just like married couples come to know each other more intimately with every passing year, so we too can expect to grow in our knowledge of Christ and appropriate his promises to us as time goes by. When we do, we discover that we actually are supremely loved by our Great Shepherd despite our unloveliness and learn to imitate his love to others. Whenever we forgive when no forgiveness is warranted, whenever we are generous to others where no generosity is deserved, whenever we learn to bless our enemies instead of cursing them, we are given power to grow in our knowledge of Christ, and when that knowledge grows, so too does our faith in his promise to us that we really are resurrection people whose destiny is the new heavens and earth where we will live in God’s direct presence and protection forever, thanks be to God!

So proclaim the Good News we must, especially if we claim to love God and others. But first we must come to know and believe our Story and make it our own by faith. As our psalm reminds us, we will not have all our questions and concerns answered in this mortal life because we must live and walk by faith, and faith requires an abiding trust in the power of God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and creates things out of nothing. But we can walk by faith, confident that God the Father in his great love for us gives us the resources we need to grow in our love and faith and so imitate his dearly beloved Son so that God’s will may be done on earth as in heaven. We believe this is true because we believe that God really did raise Christ from the dead, thereby demonstrating that all his promises are trustworthy and true. It is a spectacular promise and one the world desperately needs to hear, whether it knows it or not. Let us give thanks to God that he loves us enough and deems us worthy enough by virtue of the blood of the Lamb shed for us to call us to this great and sacred task. Let us resolve with all our might to be obedient to his call and proclaim boldly the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Father John Jorden: Amid All of This Be at Peace! Really?

Sermon delivered on Easter 5A, Sunday, May 10, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

The Father Bowser Syndrome continues to spread and infect the clergy and guest preachers at St. Augustine’s. We therefore have no written manuscript to share, but you can listen to the podcast of today’s sermon by clicking here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 7.55-60; Psalm 31.1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2.2-10; St. John 14.1-14.

Living Out and Dying In Our Resurrection Faith

Sermon delivered on Easter 4A, Sunday, May 3, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2.19-25; St. John 10.1-10.

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

Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter, the Sunday traditionally celebrated as Good Shepherd Sunday. In these dark days of virus, social isolation, death, and fear it seems especially appropriate to talk about why we need Christ as our Shepherd and this is what I want us to do this morning.

In our gospel lesson, our Lord tells us that he is our Good Shepherd, who both leads and guides his followers, and it is critical for us to remember in these dark times, especially you self-loathers, that it is the shepherd who seeks his flock, not the other way around. As our psalm lesson reminds us, Jesus, and only Jesus, is the Shepherd who can and will lead us to peace, the kind of peace our first human ancestors enjoyed with God before their rebellion in paradise. Ps 23 is a beloved psalm, especially the KJV, and it is traditionally used at funerals. But if nothing else, this cursed pandemic has shown us in no uncertain terms that all of mortal life is lived in the valley of the shadow of death, not just when we die. I suspect prior to the onset of the pandemic many of us would have said, “Medical science and technology are my shepherds, I shall not want” instead of saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” because we can cure (or slow down) all kinds of diseases, and this has made us very adept at putting off and denying death in our culture. With our facelifts and tummy tucks, we deny the aging process that is part and parcel of this mortal life. We send off our old folks to “retire” and die in nursing homes and hospitals. Doing so helps us manage our fear of death and keeps us from having to deal with the reality of living in the dark valley of death, a reality caused by human sin and God’s just judgment on it. Don’t misunderstand. There are times when hospitalization and nursing homes are critically necessary and I would not want to live in a society where pre-modern medicine is practiced. God be praised that his image-bearers have used their minds and imagination to help increase our quality of life. My point is that our faith in medical miracles and technology can prevent us from seeing that all mortal life is lived in the valley of the shadow of death, which in turn helps us keep Christ and his demands on us at arm’s length.

But our delusions have been thoroughly exposed by this virus that is both insidious and evil. If we are honest with ourselves, many, if not most, of us are stunned that we even have to deal with a pandemic like our ancestors and most other parts of the world did and do. We are stunned because we foolishly believed our medical and scientific communities could protect us from evils like this. We were wrong. We now find ourselves living in social isolation and fear, terrified that we will be stricken with the virus and die. We have clearly forgotten that we have a Good Shepherd who leads us and guides us, even during our transition from this mortal life to the eternal life of new creation. But rather than wring our hands in fear and despair over the current state of things, I want us to remember we are people of real power, God’s power. We are resurrection and new creation people by virtue of God’s grace and great love for us made known fully in Jesus Christ, and we are promised that as Christians we are united to our crucified and risen Lord in and through our baptism and faith that he is who he claims he is and has done for us what the NT claims he has done for us.

So what does it mean for us to have Christ, the Great Shepherd, walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death? It means first and foremost that we are not to be afraid of the precariousness or fickleness of life. While none of us is guaranteed immunity from being afflicted by the virus (or a thousand other diseases)—nor are we immune to the heartaches, disappointments, failures, or hurts that come with living in a sin-sick and evil-corrupted world—we nevertheless live in the presence and power of the One who loved us and gave himself for us so that we might live. When we follow Jesus Christ, we live out our belief that condemnation and death is not our final destiny and that means we have the power to overcome our natural tendency to be afraid because we know that on the cross, God has dealt with all that could cause him to condemn us and lead to our permanent death. And when God raised Jesus from the dead, he gave us a preview of the day when our greatest enemy, Death itself, would be destroyed. Medical advancements and technology, wonderful as they are, cannot keep us from dying. When a vaccine is developed to help us overcome the virus, we will be protected but we will still die. Only the power of God who creates things out of nothing and raises the dead can give us eternal life and that is exactly what the resurrection of our Lord Jesus proclaims God intends to do! St. Paul put our situation in stark terms when he wrote to the Ephesians that, “You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Eph 2.12-13). Living in a world without God and hope is an awful thing. It makes us afraid and it slowly kills us. All of us instinctively know that living without hope is not sustainable. Imagine, e.g., what would happen if we found out that a cure or prevention of this virus was never going to come; it would be catastrophic to us and our society. Sadly, however, many choose to find hope in things that do not and cannot give hope and life; it is a symptom of our deep-seated hostility toward God that causes us to rebel against him. Nothing in this life, not power, money, fame, political identity, technology, medicine, or science, to name just a few, can overcome the valley of the shadow of death and putting our ultimate hope in these things is idolatry at its finest, which will result in God’s condemnation and our death. Only our crucified and risen Shepherd can help us overcome our fear of death because only in him are our sins forgiven and we are reconciled to God. Only Christ is the resurrection and the life who promises that those who follow him will live forever, even though our mortal bodies must die (Jn 11.25-26). So let us resolve in this time of pandemic to put our whole hope and trust in the only One who can and will walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. When we do, we have nothing to fear because we know our greatest enemy, Death, has been defeated and will one day be destroyed forever when God’s new creation comes in full with Christ’s return. Living without fear of death is partly what it means to live as resurrection people. In Christ our ultimate death is abolished. Why should we be afraid?

Second and related to the first point, when we are convinced our Great Shepherd walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, we are able to die well. Hear me carefully here. Nobody should want to die. Death is our greatest enemy. But we are mortal and despite our denial about this fact, we will all die. Dying without fear, dying a peaceful death when our time comes, are marks of a vibrant and lively resurrection faith rooted in our Great Shepherd. One of the most wicked things about this virus is that it has forced many to die alone without human presence and touch. That in itself should be enough to convince us that it comes from the devil himself. But when our Great Shepherd walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, we can go without that human touch because he is there with us and we know we are not dying alone. Human senses may not perceive his presence any more than we know when our Lord speaks to babies in the womb at their conception, but that does not make his presence and peace any less real. Again, please do not misunderstand. I deeply lament the fact that some have to die alone. This is not how God intends it. But those who have a lively resurrection faith in Christ have his assurance that they are never alone, not even in death, and that he will welcome them into his loving presence, so that they no longer have to be afraid. How well we die is as important as how well we live, and without a real and lively relationship with Christ, it is impossible to die well, human denial and fantasies about death notwithstanding. Are you prepared to die well in the faith and peace and love of Christ who gave himself for you because he loves you, even in all your unloveliness, so that you can live forever? During this time of pandemic, we as God’s people in Christ have the holy opportunity to proclaim our faith in our Savior by preparing to die a good death whenever it comes.

But as we have seen, the whole of mortal life is lived in the valley of the shadow of death. So how do we cultivate our Lord’s risen presence in the living of our days? To that we turn to our NT lesson for some helpful insights because as all our readings make clear, being people of our Great Shepherd is a collective, not individual, thing. As St. Luke makes abundantly clear in Acts, our life in Christ is to be lived out together as a family. If we ever hope to develop the deep and abiding faith in Christ needed to allow us to live as people without fear who are prepared to live and die well in his risen presence, people who know his great love for them and who stake their very lives on this knowledge, we have to participate in the four marks of the Church: We have to appropriate the apostolic teaching contained in the NT, enjoy a common life together (fellowship), break bread together, and pray together. The history of the Church is littered with various examples of the wreckage of those who failed to participate in these four marks of the Church and if we at St. Augustine’s fail to participate in them fully, we can expect to be part of that wreckage. I appeal to you, my beloved, let us not do that to ourselves!

First, we are to learn the apostolic teaching in the NT because we believe that they were eyewitnesses of our Lord’s life and death who received Christ’s teachings and example directly, and are therefore in a position to pass on to us what we must do/think/say to be his followers. For example, last week we learned how the first Christians became resurrection peeps who believed in the power of Christ’s bodily resurrection that announced the new creation and the resurrection of the dead, filling them with joy and new hope. In our epistle lesson today, we learn from St. Peter that followers of Christ are not to retaliate against their enemies and those who afflict them with suffering. We are to do this because this is what Christ did for us. He did not condemn us for our sins but took them on himself so that we would not suffer God’s just condemnation. As we study the Scriptures together, we learn how to live out hard teachings like this and to identify markers of what real love looks like, the love of God that heals and sustains, not human love that often seeks its own distorted pleasures and goals. As fallen human beings, we are prone to misinterpreting the word of God, so we need the family corrective to help us get it right and keep it right. And as our NT lesson also attests, we can learn from apostolic teaching how we can know Christ’s presence in and among us in the power of the Spirit. St. Luke tells us the Church did the four things at which we are looking and God blessed and grew their numbers because they did, filling them with joy and power. 

Second, we are to enjoy sweet fellowship together because as we have already seen, we all need the human touch. We also need sweet fellowship to help us not be afraid. Think about it. When are we most vulnerable to fear and despair? When we are isolated and feel all alone. We need each other to weep with and celebrate with. When we enjoy the kind of intimate family relationships St. Luke reports in our NT lesson today, we can be real with each other. We will be there for each other and we can be charitable in our agreements and disagreements. We may not always see eye to eye on lesser things in life, but that will not prevent us from being part of the same flock our Great Shepherd leads, and together he helps us help each other in our weaknesses to grow in our relationship with him as well as with each other. As St. Paul reminds us, the Holy Spirit lives in us individually and collectively (1 Cor 6.19), and Christ is made known to us in and through the Spirit’s presence. Families are the glue of a coherent society and God’s family in Christ is no exception!

When we break bread together, especially at the eucharist, we remind each other that we have died and been raised with Christ to new life. We feast on our Lord’s body and blood, literally consuming him, and we are sustained and nurtured by him in the power of the Spirit. If you have ever wondered where Christ is in the midst of darkness, look no further than his Word contained in Scripture and in the sacrament of Holy Communion. There you will find a healed and redeemed people, people who are far from perfect but who have caught a glimpse of what risen life in Christ is like and are refreshed and made whole over time. We will have to wait for God’s new creation to come in full to enjoy perfect healing and health, but we still enjoy the imperfect healing and wholeness made known to us in Christ’s death and resurrection. This is why in the midst of a plague-ravaged world, Christ’s resurrection with its announcement of new creation can be such a healing and stabilizing factor to help us navigate during these desperate times. When we do not participate in the eucharist on a regular basis, we are in clear danger of failing to make Christ’s death and resurrection the center of everything we say and do and believe, and we will suffer badly as a result.

And of course we are to pray together because we are heaven and earth people. We pray for ourselves and for others who are in desperate need because we desire to bring God’s power to bear in our lives and the lives of others so that his kingdom will come on earth as in heaven. It is what loving people do. In prayer we can draw close to Christ himself, who sits at God’s right hand (rules) and intercedes for us out of his great love for us. We can pour out our hopes and fears in prayer, asking for Christ’s guidance, confident that he will guide us—often through his people—because he has promised to be our Great Shepherd. Prayer helps keep us rooted in the reality of God’s Kingdom and reminds us we do not worship an absent or uncaring God. 

This is what St. Luke is describing for us. It is the family of God at work (and play) together. It isn’t a version of primitive communism as some have argued. It is a winsome and wholesome description of the first followers of Christ living together as a true family and it is a far more compelling notion of church than those who see doing church as coming to worship once a week and then going their own way to do their own thing. And I am here to tell you, St. Augustine’s, that we fit this description of church pretty well. Not perfectly, of course, because we are a bunch of ragamuffins. But we have the marks of a vibrant family and so there is no reason for any of us to be afraid or not have a lively resurrection faith. And if you are still skeptical, I would invite you to read or reread Bethany’s testimony of how she came to believe in the resurrection of the body. It wasn’t just apostolic teaching. It was fellowship and breaking bread and prayer as well. She realized you aren’t the total losers she originally thought you were and God used you to help bring her to a healthy faith, thanks be to God! This is how Christ nurtures us and helps us not to be afraid. This is worth celebrating, my beloved, even in the midst of pandemic. I pray we will all do what is necessary to become people of power, resurrection people who know they have the Great Shepherd to walk with them wherever they go, even in the valley of the shadow of death. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Deacon Jonathon Wylie: Reborn to a Living Hope

Sermon delivered on Easter 3A, Sunday, April 26, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

While Deacon Wylie has his PhD, apparently he never had to learn to write as he was getting it as there is no written manuscript for today’s sermon. To hear it, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 2.14a, 36-41; Psalm 116.1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1.3-23; St. Luke 24.13-35.