Father Philip Sang: Righteous Anger

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4C, Sunday, July 10, 2022 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: Amos 7.7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1-14; St. Luke 10.25-37.

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

When I first looked at this morning’s scripture texts, I was fairly sure that I would preach on the Gospel story about the Good Samaritan. It’s such a classic story of our faith, and it offers us a lot to reflect on. And so my thoughts were centered on the question of what it means to be a good neighbor.

This theme was in my mind every day this week… every time I received a call from Kenya I heard what the country is going through and how people are struggling to put a meal on the table for their families. I did my best to offer what I could. I listened, I prayed, I comforted and encouraged. I directed towards help and I handed out a fair amount of financial assistance to help.

I felt, as I often do, a mixture of frustration and guilt that I could not do more, as well as a good feeling too, because I often felt that what I was able to offer did seem to help, to support, and to strengthen some families and individuals who really were in trouble and in need.

But on Thursday I turned back to the scriptures for today, and I noticed the prophet Amos and his angry words against King Jeroboam II and the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos didn’t hold back his righteous anger against Israel and their king, and instead ask them politely to consider following the laws and commandments of God.

It was somewhere around the year 760 BCE, in the middle of the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel, and it was probably the most prosperous time that Israel had yet known – Prosperity built on trade in olive oil, wine, and possibly horses, with Egypt and especially with Assyria providing the markets.

But the prophets, of whom Amos was probably the most harsh, condemned the materialism and selfishness of the Israelite elite of their day. In the book of Kings, King Jeroboam is said to have “done evil in the eyes of the Lord,” meaning both the oppression of the poor and his continuing support of the cult centers of Dan and Bethel, in opposition to the temple in Jerusalem.

What is striking about Amos’ words is both the passion of his concern for the oppressed, and the power of his language. He declares that God is measuring things up, like a plumbline that checks the straightness of a foundation wall. And when God finds that the wall is not perfect – that Israel and its king are led by greed and selfishness and corruption, God is going to destroy them. God is going to send the wall crashing down. It’s going to be the end of an Israel that has failed to live up to their high calling as God’s chosen and beloved people.

Now, biblical history tells us that Jeroboam II’s reign comes to an end in 745 BCE, and by 722, the Northern Kingdom of Israel does come crashing down when it is conquered by the Kingdom of Assyria. And the prophets interpret that military victory for Assyria to be God’s doing because of Israel’s unfaithfulness and injustice towards the poor and oppressed.

People of faith today are much less likely to interpret the outcome of wars and conflicts between nations and peoples as related to God’s judgment and condemnation of one side or the other.

But what the prophets made clear, and what must be just as true today, is that God is not at all pleased with the continuing greed and materialism and selfishness and oppression of the poor that plagues our world today just as much as it gripped the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The psalmist in our reading today says that God was taking his seat in the divine council, that God was making his judgment over the “gods” (with small g) that seem to rule the world. God asks, “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” And then God instructs, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; Maintain the rights of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; Deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

The psalmist is sure that the “gods” of the world, in Kenya they have coiled the word “deep state” to refer to them, have no real power. “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.” Yes, God is sending them crashing down. God’s kingdom of love and peace and justice is coming. It is being established in our midst.

As I think about the Kingdom of God, I think about Jesus who came to proclaim its coming, who came to show us what it would look like, who came to usher it in and to empower people from all tribes and nations to participate in making it a reality.

There are only a few instances in the Gospels when we read about Jesus sharing the righteous anger of Amos against those who would oppress the poor and misrepresent the priorities of God. I’m thinking of the day that Jesus stormed into the temple, overturned the tables, and drove out the money changers.

Perhaps there are some appropriate times for people of faith to get angry… when women and children are abused and have nowhere to find help and safety, when medical care and food are not made available to all, when despite having welfare and disability programs, there are still so many people who have nowhere to turn to for help.

But Christ, whom we have been called to follow, was not just another prophet or a political activist. He proclaimed with his words, and enacted with his life, the truth that God’s Kingdom of love, justice, and peace was coming. Indeed, it had arrived.

The people of his time could see that kingdom coming as people were healed, lives were transformed, hungry bellies were filled, enemies were reconciled. With parables like “the Good Samaritan,” Jesus taught the common people and the elite alike to look for God’s Kingdom coming through the most unlikely people and situations. And he showed them that they were being called and enabled to participate in bringing that kingdom to its fullness.

I am sure that even after reflecting on these things this week, I am going to have moments when I get angry over things that are not really that important. But I hope, at those times, that I will think of Amos and his righteous anger. And I also know that even after reflecting on these things, I am still going to have moments when I get angry over things that are important – over child labor and human trafficking, over terrorism and war, over racism and discrimination, and over the systemic oppression of the poor and powerless. But I hope, at those times, that I will think of Jesus. I hope I will remember that he got angry too. But that he was not overcome by anger. He was not led by anger, but he was led by love.

Jesus said, “Love God, and love your neighbor.” He told the story of the Good Samaritan, and then he said, “Go and do likewise.” May God’s Spirit fill us, encourage us, and empower us, to be God’s faithful people and to live as Jesus taught us.

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

Deacon Tucker Messamore: The Scandal of Grace

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3C, Sunday, July 3, 2022 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 5.1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6.1-16; St. Luke 10.1-11, 16-20.

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

This morning, we’re going to focus on our Old Testament lesson from 2 Kings 5:1-14 about Naaman, a man who is afflicted with leprosy. 

This story is not exactly one of the “greatest hits” of the Old Testament. It’s not David and Goliath or Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I had Noah’s Ark wallpaper in my childhood bedroom, but I’m going to guess there aren’t many parents who opt for a Naaman the Leper themed nursery. As someone who grew up in the church, I didn’t hear many Sunday School lessons, sermons, or Bible studies about Naaman. In fact, I’m not sure that I even know this passage was in the Bible until I was an adult. But I think this text really ought to get more play than it does. You see, in Naaman’s story, we get glimpses of the gospel: We see both the reality of our sin-sickness and the remedy for this malady—God’s gracious promise to heal us through the cleansing work of Christ.

First, we’ll see that Naaman’s account shows the reality of our sin-sickness (v. 1) 

In the opening verse of this passage, there is a clear contrast between Naaman’s status and Naaman’s sickness. In v. 1, we’re told Naaman is “a great man.” He has a very impressive resume. He’s in a position of authority and is probably well known. Naaman was “commander of the army of… Aram,” another name for Syria. Now, this was not some rag-tag band of volunteer soldiers; Naaman led one of the most powerful military forces on the planet. At that time, along with Assyria, Syria was a major world power intent on building an empire, and Naaman was quite successful in this enterprise. We’re told that “by him, the Lord had given victory to Aram.” Because he of his military prowess, Naaman was well-regarded; he was held “in high favor” by his boss, the King of Syria.

But for all his prestige, power, and accomplishments, Naaman had a problem: he was sick. After this list of all Naaman’s credentials and achievements, the other shoe drops at the end of v. 1: “But he was a leper.” In the Bible, “leprosy” was an umbrella term for several skin diseases, some that were temporary and minor—like a rash or an infection—and some that were chronic (even life-long), painful, and debilitating. Based on the lengths that Naaman goes through to seek healing, it’s likely we’re not talking about a touch of eczema or a mild case of psoriasis. Whatever the exact nature of his condition was, it’s clear that it seriously impacted his day-to-day life.

Being afflicted by such a disease would have been a source of great suffering. Not only could leprosy be painful and irritating, but it also isolated the one who had it from anyone who didn’t have it. According to Mosaic Law, a leper was considered “unclean as long as he has the disease… He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:46). Because some leprous skin diseases were contagious, in Israel, lepers had to live apart from their loved ones until their condition cleared up (if it ever did). Lepers were required to remain distant from others and shout, ‘Unclean, unclean!” when approaching another person (Leviticus 13:45). To make matters worse, lepers—and those who came in contact with them—were considered ritually unclean; they were not allowed to enter the temple for worship (2 Chronicles 26:21). For these reasons, lepers were considered outcasts. They were avoided and despised.

While Naaman was not an Israelite and was not subject to the rules and regulations of Jewish Law, it’s likely that his condition dealt some sort of a blow to his relationships and his status in Syrian society. The bottom line is that leprosy in biblical times led to all sorts of suffering—physical, social, and spiritual. It caused painful skin lesions and separated those infected by it from their family and from the public worship of God.

For this reason, leprosy provides a fitting image for the sin-sickness that afflicts all of humanity. Scripture tells us that sin is like a genetic illness—we inherited it from our ancestors Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12). We all have within us a sin nature that inclines us toward evil rather than good. Left untreated, sin grows and spreads within us like a cancer, corrupting our actions, our thoughts, and our motives. Like leprosy, our sin impacts our relationships with others. It can cause heartache, suffering, and harm to those who are in our orbit. Our sin also separates us from a perfectly holy God. As Romans 3:23 tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Ultimately, our sin-sickness is terminal. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin”—its prognosis, it’s outcome—“is death.,” and not just physical death, but eternal death—separation from God forever.

This is a grim diagnosis. But thanks be to God that in Jesus, the Great Physician, there is a remedy for our sin-sickness, as Naaman’s story illustrates for us (vv. 2-14). 

Naaman learns of the possibility of healing through an Israelite, a little girl who “worked in the service of Naaman’s wife” (v. 2). She tells her mistress about Elisha, a prophet in Israel who, by the power of the one true God, could cure Naaman of His leprosy (v. 3). But even though the little girl has given very clear advice about where to go to seek healing, notice that Naaman takes matters into his own hands, turning to the tools and methods he probably always employed to get what he wanted—his connections, his wealth, and his power. 

Instead of seeking a lowly prophet, Naaman goes straight to the person he thought was really in charge—the King of Israel; he brings a letter from the King of Syria demanding Naaman’s healing (vv. 4-6). But this plan backfires: the king of Israel recognizes that he is powerless to heal Naaman, and he fears that this is some sort of sneaky plot by Syria to reignite tensions with Israel and start a war (v. 7). Naaman’s riches also do no good. He makes a ridiculous display of his wealth, bringing about 750 lbs. of silver and 145 lbs. of gold (v. 5a), not realizing that neither God nor His prophet can be bribed or bought. Naaman’s attempts to wield his might likewise fail. When he finally goes looking for Elisha, he brings his horses and chariots (v. 9), sending the threatening message that he is important powerful. But Elisha is unmoved by this spectacle. Instead of speaking with Naaman face to face, he sends a message through a servant (v. 10).

Try as he might, Naaman could do nothing to earn or secure his healing. I love the way The Jesus Storybook Bible explains this: “[Naaman thought,] ‘I  should do something important so God will heal me’ . . . Of course, you and I both know, that’s not how God does things. All Naaman need was nothing. It was the one thing Naaman didn’t have.” Elisha tells him to simply “go and wash in the Jordan seven times . . . and you shall be clean” (v. 10). Of course, a mere bath was not enough to cure Naaman’s leprosy; if it was, he would have already tried it! Naaman was called to simply have faith—to believe that God’s promise of healing announced through the prophet was true. After some hesitation (vv. 11-13), this is exactly what takes place: “He went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God . . . and he was clean” (v. 14).

And this is precisely how we can be cured of our sin-sickness: by trusting in God’s promise to heal us through the cleansing work of Christ. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, He told them, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8). These words anticipated His sacrificial death on the cross; as St. John says, “The blood of Jesus [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). 

Like Naaman, to receive this cure, all we must do is simply believe God’s promise that Christ has done everything needed to cleanse us of our sin and restore us into right relationship with Him and one another. This truth is beautifully visible in baptism. Cleansing is something that we passively receive; it’s not something we do, but something God does for us: As Titus 3:5 says, God saves “us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

This is the scandal of grace: cleansing from sin is not earned or deserved. This is probably not a revelation to you. If you’re an orthodox Christian, you readily affirm with St. Paul, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This is foundational Christian doctrine. But when push comes to shove, do we really believe this? Naaman’s mindset easily creeps in as we consider our standing before God.

I’ve been reflecting on something a friend recently said during our home group: we have a natural human tendency to try to turn the gospel into law. On one level, I know that Christ has done everything necessary to heal my sin-sickness and reconcile me to God, and yet there are times in my life when I’ve thought, “If I am just more consistent with Scripture reading, if I just commit to pray more, then I’ll really be right with God.” Of course, these are important ways that we abide in Christ, means by which we can receive the grace Christ has already secured for us. But they are not ways we earn God’s favor. If we’re not careful, we make these precious gifts a burdensome duty.

Today, as we come to the Lord’s Table and partake of Christ’s body and blood, let us remember Christ’s words from Calvary: “It is finished” (John 19:30). This is the good news of the gospel. May we find comfort and rest in the completed work of Christ, knowing that our standing before God is secure in Him.

As I conclude, let’s very briefly return to an important but easily overlooked character in this story: the little girl who was a servant of Naaman’ wife. In v. 2, we learn that this girl was an Israelite and that “the Syrians on one of their raids had carried [her] off from the land of Israel.” At a very young age, she had been torn from her family, abducted to a foreign land, and made a slave, the property of another person. But in spite of the way she was treated by her oppressors, the girl had compassion on Naaman. She tells him the good news that a prophet in Israel could cure him. If it weren’t for her message, Naaman would not have been healed. He would not have come to know the one true God. 

As we come to the Lord’s Table, we are reminded that although our sin once separated us from God and alienated us from one another, we who were once far off—outcasts!—have been brought near to God and to one another by the cleansing blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13). Our liturgy ends with a call for us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” As we depart, wherever God takes us, may we, like the servant girl, bring the message of the gospel with us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may we proclaim to others in both word and deed the love of God and the promise of healing from sin in Christ.

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

What to Do When it Appears God Has Abandoned You

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2C, Sunday, June 26, 2022 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 texts below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Kings 2.1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77; Galatians 5.1, 13-25; St. Luke 9.51-62.

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

This morning I want to focus on our psalm lesson. What can we learn from it? How can it help us in our faith journey? Before we answer these questions, I want to read the first part of the psalm again from a different translation as I think it brings added clarity to the psalmist’s complaint:

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me!/ When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted./ I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help./ You don’t let me sleep. I am too distressed even to pray!/ I think of the good old days, long since ended,/ when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and ponder the difference now./ Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me?/ Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed?/ Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion?/ And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me” (Psalm 77.1-10, NLT).

So have you ever cried out to Lord in despair? If you are old enough you surely have. Some of us cry out to the Lord in despair over the state of our nation and the strident voices and lawlessness that are becoming increasingly prevalent. Some of us cry out to the Lord in despair over the “joys” of aging or over a catastrophic illness or over the desperate situation in which we might find ourselves or our loved ones. Whatever the reason for our cries, like the psalmist we who have a relationship with God search for him in hopes that God will comfort us or heal us or relieve our despair. After all, God is all-powerful, right? He raises the dead and creates things out of nothing. Nothing is too hard for him! And indeed, oftentimes God answers our prayers and we then proceed to go about our business acting like we don’t need God at all. But sometimes like the psalmist experiences, God seems to be strangely or even terrifyingly absent. We search for healing or peace or comfort or a sense of God’s presence and find none. If God’s perceived absence lasts too long our doubts and fears can grow like the psalmist’s did. We can’t sleep. We are overwhelmed with longing, desperately wanting God to answer his prayers. And then we ask the awful questions. Has God abandoned us forever? Has God rejected us forever? And more personally, has God stopped loving me because I am so rotten? In the past God has answered my prayers for help and has comforted me. But now? Where is God? Why doesn’t he hear my desperate prayers? Why will God not show me any compassion? All these questions can lead the psalmist and us to this terrible conclusion (not to mention a crisis of faith): God has turned his hand against me, i.e., God finally sees me as I really am, a sinner undeserving of his love and grace, and refuses to help me. Anyone here ever gotten to this point in your relationship with God? I did 22 years ago and I almost took my life as a result. This is very serious stuff about which we are talking and if you are in that boat right now, I encourage you to reach out to your priest, your family, and/or your friends, especially if they are Christians, because God can and does use human agency to heal and comfort us.

St. Paul understood how this all works. In our epistle lesson he reminds us in no uncertain terms that our sin-sickness causes alienation between God and his image-bearers and that alienation can produce the kind of emotional and spiritually dark state the psalmist experienced and we experience, whatever the issue was and is. So what to do? The psalmist along with the rest of Scripture tell us. We are to remember. We are to remember God’s promises to his image-bearing creatures in general and his people Israel in particular, promises to act on our behalf, to free us from our slavery to the power of Sin and our own fallen nature with its corrupted desires. St. Paul catalogues a sample of the fruit of our sinful nature in our epistle lesson: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and all the other fruit of our alienation from God and each other that our slavery to Sin produces. But the psalmist remembers God’s power to act on our behalf, to free us from all kinds of slavery, and that’s why he remembers. He remembers especially God’s mighty act of deliverance for his people Israel when he brought them out of their slavery in Egypt and through the dark and terrible waters of the Red Sea to eventual freedom. God did this. God acted in Israel’s history because God loves his people and is gracious to them, even though they are unworthy of his great gifts. Likewise with us as God’s people in Christ, the reconstituted Israel.

Why else would the psalmist in his desperation seek to remember God’s mighty acts in the past? Why must we do likewise? Because they are proof positive that God does not abandon his people; rather, God acts on our behalf, undeserving as we are, because God loves us and is gracious toward us. Israel did not deserve its liberation. The people demonstrated that when they started grumbling about wanting to return to their slavery almost immediately after God liberated them! You can read that sad and compelling story in Exodus and Numbers. Nevertheless, God acted to free them, even though God knew beforehand what they were going to do. 

For Christians, of course, we are to remember God’s mighty acts of love and power demonstrated enigmatically on Calvary but definitively when God raised Christ from the dead. In Christ’s Death and Resurrection, God did a much greater thing than he did for Israel at the Exodus, jaw-dropping as the latter was. In Christ’s Death and Resurrection God freed us from our slavery to Sin’s power, the stuff St. Paul spoke about above, and defeated the darkest, most evil power of all—Death. But God the Father did not stop there. As Christ told his disciples at the Last Supper, after he had Ascended, he would not leave them (or us) as orphans and without hope or God’s power in this mortal life. No, we have the unseen Risen and Ascended Christ interceding for us at God’s right hand, NT language that proclaims Jesus is Lord over all, as well as the Holy Spirit who makes Christ available to us and intercedes on our behalf, even when we can only groan in desperation, not knowing what to pray for or how to ask for something. All of these gifts from God are real and they demonstrate God’s love for us and his willingness to act on our behalf. 

As a result we are no longer slaves to our fallen, sinful selves. To be sure our fallen nature rears its ugly head from time to time. After all, the very act of doubting God’s love for us is a product of our alienation between God and each other! But as St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, God does not leave us to our own devices. No, we are set free from our slavery to Sin and ruled by the Holy Spirit who empowers us and helps us to live and be as God created us to live and be, surely the mightiest of all God’s acts! The proof is in the pudding of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Whenever these fruit manifest themselves in our lives, we have proof that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in us, i.e., God is present and active in our lives, even when we consciously experience his absence. So like the psalmist, we as God’s people in Christ need to remember how God has acted on our behalf and how God continues to manifest his power in our lives, unlikely as that power appears to the unbelieving world. This is why the psalmist and the rest of Scripture tell us to remember. Why God seems to be strangely absent in our lives at times nobody knows. Why God doesn’t answer our prayers as we ask or seems to ignore our desperate situations nobody knows. What Scripture does tell us is that in all the ambiguities and mysteries and unanswered questions, God’s absence isn’t necessarily a sign God has abandoned us or is punishing us, although the latter is sometimes true, especially when we go off the rails for extended periods of time. But God never rejects a humble and contrite heart. Ever. God never rejects our sincere penance. Ever. God never ultimately rejects us unless we ultimately reject God. Christ’s Death on the cross is proof of that, thanks be to God! 

So what do we do when we are in desperate times, wondering if God has abandoned us? Well, many of us try to tough it out on our own. Instead of remembering that God is faithful to his people, we seek human solutions to alleviate our desperation. How’s that working out for you? I know it never has worked for me. No, as we have seen, we are called to remember, both collectively and individually, and then to rely on each other to remind ourselves that God never leaves us alone. In other words, we are to love each other and be there for each other when we sense God’s absence, just the way all healthy families help each other in good times and bad. Never underestimate the power of godly folk to help lighten your load as they walk with you through the dark valleys of life. The very act of remembering and relying on each other help us focus on God instead of ourselves. It reminds us to be patient and to trust God to act on our behalf in God’s good time and ways. That’s not easy for us god-wannabes but it is the only real option we have if we are not to totally lose heart and hope. When we remember, we are reminded that God is not some inconsistent ogre who delights in torturing us or who behaves erratically toward us as we do toward God and each other. God loved us enough to become human and die for us to free us from his just condemnation and an eternity apart from him, even while we were still sinners and his enemies. If God loves us that much, why would God abandon us now in our darkest hours? St. Paul comes to this exact conclusion in his letter to the Romans: 

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since [God] did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? [Therefore] 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—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 8.31-32, 38-39, NLT).

In this mortal life there are always going to be desperate times. When those desperate times occur in our lives Scripture tells us to double down in our efforts to focus on God and put our trust in him, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how dark the valley. God may not rescue us as we expect or hope, but we all have the assurance that God has indeed rescued us from the gravest danger of all: Death and eternal separation from him. God has broken the power of Sin and Death and promises us an eternity with him in his new world, a world without Evil or Sin or Death, a world that is full of perfect life and health forever. Don’t let your fears and weaknesses rob you of the spectacular hope contained in this promise, my beloved. Remember instead God’s willingness and ability to act on our behalf and for our benefit. 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: God’s Presence in Stillness and Silence

Happy Fathers’ Day! Sermon delivered on Trinity 1C, Sunday, June 19, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no audio podcast of today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 19.1-15a; Psalms 42-43; Galatians 3.23-29; St. Luke 8.26-39.

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

Why is it that sometimes Jesus asks obvious questions? like to blind Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?”—Mark 10. And sometimes he just acts?

“What have you to do with me, Jesus?” This question was asked after Jesus started to work. That’s kind of curious, don’t you think? The demons knew who Jesus was and what he could do. Indeed, Jesus had already spoken and told them to come out. But they played dumb, they recognize Jesus, but they don’t really want to obey him. They want to argue with him or negotiate with him.

Living with brokenness, living with hatred, living in fear doesn’t make any sense. Not to Jesus. He decided not to ask any questions at first; he was just trying to get rid of the problem, until when the negotiation started.

Jesus knows what we need, but is always willing to let us self-determine, even if our choices make things worse. Jesus was going to send the demons out of the mad man; but they chose or determined to ride the pigs. I know, I don’t want to go too far with this metaphor.

Demons can be a slippery subject for any of us. But it is somewhat ironic that the legion or rather the demons asks for a ride on the pigs instead of being sent to the abyss. Except that as soon as they get on the pigs, they end up in the abyss. The very thing they wanted to avoid becomes their fate—their self-determined fate. And Jesus lets them because they asked. Just like Jesus left because the villagers asked. After that miracle of driving demons out of the man, the villagers asked Jesus to leave their village. It was fear that caused them to send Jesus away. Luke says coming and finding the one they knew to be crazy now clothed and in his right mind scared them. It was a change that unsettled them. That’s kind of scary. So, they got together and stirred up their fears and all went to Jesus and asked him to leave. So, they could be safe, and feel great again. “What do you have to do with me, Jesus?” That’s our question too. “What changes will you effect in our lives? What growth will you seek? What effort will you require?”

“What have you to do with me” becomes a man who begged to be with him. The fear that was pushing away becomes a love that desires to move closer. He wanted to be with him, now clothed and in his right mind, all he could think to do was to stay with Jesus.

Reading from the Gospel, the man didn’t stay with Jesus in the way he probably imagined when he made his request. Instead, like us, he stayed with Jesus by telling his story to everyone he met. He chose, having been rescued from a life of despair, to live a life of hope and of joy, sharing the love of Jesus with all he encountered. He was now in his right mind, Luke says, clothed and in his right mind. And that mind was focused on the mind of Christ as Paul puts it in his letter to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” (Phil 2:5). But what was that mind? It was a right mind, a mind of longing and of serving and of hoping and of following. It is a mind of discipleship. We are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But that making process is one of transformation as well. We are being transformed, even as we seek to transform the world. We say here at St. Augustines “we are changed by God to make a difference for God”. To be a follower of Christ, is to be other-centered, outward-focused; it is to see other people, even before seeing self.

To get there, we have to be quiet. We have to set ourselves aside and listen to a profound silence. From our OT reading Elijah had come to the end of himself—the end of his strength, the end of his wisdom. And it is only in the strength of God’s presence that he could hope to continue his life’s journey. He was ready to give up. You’ve been there, maybe not to the degree of wanting to die. Or maybe you have. Maybe someone you love or know has been there. It’s a place of despair, of surrender. It is not a place for condemnation, or shame, but of silence.

We see God leads prophet Elijah to the mountain and let him experience a rock-shattering wind, then a mountain-shaking earthquake, and then fire. At this moment Elijah felt, abandoned and alone, persecuted, hunted and hounded by his enemies of course Jezebel and her team and Elijah was at the end of his strength.

But the text says God was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. In the loudness of this terrifying world, God is not in the destructive forces that beset us when we’re at our worst. So, where was God? The text says God was in the silence.

Come to think of it, what is happening on that mountain is hard to imagine. It sounds like God sends Elijah to the mountain; yet at the same time, it sounds like God doesn’t want him there. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Maybe God is asking for the prophet to do an identity check, or to present his to-do list. But maybe we should read it as “Why are you still here?” Elijah’s rebuttal is that he’s doing his best. And sometimes it feels as if he is the only one doing any work here, the only one putting his life at risk, the only one who represents the true God of Israel. Does his complaint include God? “I alone am left,” says Elijah, which might be another way of saying, “Where have you been?”

So, what is it with the silence versus the madness of the destructive forces of nature? Could it be that God is announcing God’s presence in ways that often get overlooked? We want the big show; we want lightning and thunder to announce God’s presence. We want it to be so obvious that it would be hard to doubt. And there have been those moments, to be sure. But here in this moment, God announces that God works in quieter ways, obscure ways, ways that seem natural, like in the everyday decisions that we make all the time. God is at work in and through what happens around us, even when it doesn’t seem like it. God is present, even when it feels like absence. God is acting, even when it feels like stillness.

The man in the cemetery in the country of the Gerasenes was a force of nature who became a stillness. He moved from the earthquake of his madness to the silence of his right mind, a mind set on following Christ. Elijah was running for his life, so afraid of being killed that he wanted to die; then he encountered the silence and found the God he was longing for. He moved from despair to hope, fear to mission, and got back to work for the God he served. It is my prayer that in the madness, turmoil and craziness of this world that we may be still, and feel the presence of God in the silence and be hopeful and allow God to change us to make a difference for Him. If he did it for the man in the country of Gerasenes and for Elijah he can do it for us.

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

Deacon Tucker Messamore: The Love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 12, 2022 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: Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5.1-5; St. John 16.12-15.

“The Catholic Faith is this: We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father: another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is: such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost.”

These words come the Athanasian Creed which summarizes a proper Christian understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. We believe—and Scripture affirms—that there is one God who exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Not three gods, not one God who goes by three different names, but as the Thirty-Nine Articles puts it, “There is but one living and true God… And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

This is some mind-bending stuff, right? It’s difficult to explain and understand. How can God be both one and three? The math doesn’t seem to add up. It’s beyond our comprehension. It defies human logic.

Although many have sought to find an analogy to the Trinity in nature or human life—the phases of water, the parts of an egg, Neapolitan ice cream—all of them ultimately break down and fail to capture the mystery and complexity of the Triune God.

This begs the question: is the Trinity really that important? Is this just some obscure component of Christian doctrine that philosophers and theologians debate? Does it have any kind of bearing on our day to day lives? Does the Trinity actually matter

This morning, I hope we will see that the answer to that last question is a resounding yes. Just because the Trinity is beyond our comprehension does not mean it’s not worth our contemplation. There is a reason the Church Fathers fought to clearly articulate the doctrine of the Trinity and to defend it against those who denied it. The Trinity does matter. It is central to our understanding of who God is and what He has done for us, and it has practical significance for the Christian life. 

As we take a closer look at our lectionary texts, we’re going to focus on one specific implication of this doctrine: it’s through the lens of the Trinity that we get a clear picture of the love of God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

First, the Trinity helps us see God’s love in who God is.

Our two readings from the Old Testament point us back to Creation. Psalm 8 identifies God as Creator. The heavens, the moon, the stars, and all creation is God’s craftsmanship, the “work of [His] fingers” (v. 4a). Of course, we know this to be true from the very first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

But notice that our reading from Proverbs 8 suggests that when God the Father created all things, He was not alone: “When [Yahweh] established the heavens, I was there . . . when he made first them skies above . . . when he assigned the sea its limit . . . I was beside Him, like a master worker (Proverbs 8:27-30). Not only does the speaker claim to be present at Creation, but also to have taken an active role in it. In fact, we’re told that this One existed with God “before the beginning of the earth” (Proverbs 8:23). The speaker here is God’s Wisdom portrayed as a person. But this is more than just imagery. It’s more than just a creative way of talking about God’s wisdom. Many theologians identify God’s Wisdom in Proverbs 8 with God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.

This is similar to what St. John says in the prologue of His gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1, 3).

St. John identifies Jesus with God’s spoken the Word, the power by which He brought all things into being— “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3).

Gen. 1:2 likewise shows the Holy Spirit’s involvement in creation: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” 

Creation, then, was the work of the Trinity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is why in Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” While we don’t have a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament, we see the fingerprints of the Triune God from the very beginning, even before the beginning.

What I want us to see here is that God has always been three-in-one. As the Athanasian Creed puts it, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “coeternal.” This helps us to understand a rather enigmatic statement about God in the New Testament: that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). That sounds nice, but what does it really mean? Notice that St. John is not talking about God’s characteristics; He doesn’t say that God is loving or that God shows us love, but that God is love. He is telling us something about who God is in His essence. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals what this means: throughout all eternity, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit have existed in what theologian Timothy George calls “ a holy community of love” (George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?, 83). 

This has important implications for how we think about Creation and about God’s love for us. Have you ever thought about why God created human beings? Was it because He was lonely and needed a companion? Was it because He needed someone to worship him? No! God did not create us because He lacked something or needed something from us but to invite us to share in the love that He has always enjoyed within Himself. As George puts it, “God has chosen to love us on the basis of his own free will and not out of coercion or necessity. With full intentionality he has decided not to remain a divine cocoon within Himself.” (p. 84). Brothers and sisters, what greater love could there be than this?

The Trinity enables us to see God’s love in who God is. But it also helps us see God’s love in what God has done.

While our Old Testament lessons pointed us to creation as a work of the Trinity, our New Testament texts show us the Trinity at work in salvation. As we’ve seen, God created humankind that we might participate in the love He has always shared within Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. But when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, sin, death, and suffering entered into the world. Humanity’s relationship with God was marred. Conscious of their sin and of God’s holiness, Adam and Eve “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8b). The curse of sin wrecked God’s good creation and prevented mankind from enjoying full and perfect fellowship with God.

But God was not content to abandon the people He created to sin, death, and exile from His presence.  Out of love for us, the Father, Son, and Spirit act in perfect unity, but each with a distinct role, to rescue us from the effects of sin. As John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” Even in that most famous verse from the Bible, we bump up against the doctrine of the Trinity. Because of His love for us, God the Father purposes salvation and sends the Son.

Because God the Son loves us, He takes on human flesh and stands in our place on the cross, taking upon Himself the wrath of God, the punishment that we deserve for our sin. Through the work of God the Son, our New Testament lesson tells us that we can be reconciled to God the Father: We are “justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Just as the Father sends the Son, so the Father and the Son send us the Holy Spirit who according to our readings “guides [us] ins all truth” (John 16:13) and “[pours] God’s love . . . into our hearts” (Romans 5:5). The Spirit also fill us with the “hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:1, 5). Through the Spirit, we experience God’s indwelling presence, but this is just a “down payment” (c.f. Eph. 1:14), a guarantee that we will one day have complete fellowship with God in the new heavens and the new earth, free from sin, suffering, and death.

Because of the redemptive work of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we have the hope that one day we will share perfectly in the love of the Triune God, just as God intended from the beginning.

As we close this morning, I want to share one final practical implication of the doctrine of the Trinity, an observation I came across in a Trinity Sunday reflection from Fr. Greg Gobel. As we have seen today, the Father, Son, and Spirit are one God—they are perfectly united—yet they are each distinct persons with their own roles. In the Trinity, we see the perfect cohesion and unity and personality.

We live in a world that seems more disunified today than ever. We are divided along racial, political, and socio-economic lines. But the good news of the gospel is that God is not only reconciling us to Himself, but to each other, that we might be one just as He is One. One day, people from every tribe, tongue, and nation will dwell together in perfect unity with God and with one another. As Fr. Greg puts it, “We will live forever as one with God [and each other], through Christ, and yet will continue to fully be our unique selves.”

We get a glimpse of this coming unity in part now through the Church, the body of Christ, made up of many members united together in Him. As we come to the Lord’s Table today, together we will affirm, “Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread.” May we remember that the day is coming when we will dwell with God and with one another in perfect unity and perfect love.

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

Father Philip Sang: Pentecost Power From On High

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, June 12, 2022 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: Acts 2.1-11; Psalm 104.26-37; Romans 8.14-17; John 14.8-17, 25-27.

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

Why did Jesus tell the apostles to wait until the Holy Spirit fell upon them before carrying out the Great Commission?

The last sixty days before Pentecost must have been incredibly strange to the 12 apostles.
In that period one of them Judas Iscariot was replaced by another apostle, Matthias. It all started on what we call Palm Sunday.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey ahead of the most nationalistic feasts of Judaism, all eyes were on Him. They expected Jesus to rise up and throw the hated Romans out. But as he comes into Jerusalem, he turns towards the Temple rather than towards the Roman garrison in the town. And He then proceeds to cleanse the Temple (cf Mt 21 :12-17). And then we have the Last Supper and the Institution of the Holy Communion service on what we recall as Maundy Thursday.

And then the Disciples (and by Disciples I am including the women like Mary Magdalene and Mary the Mother of Jesus), had seen how suddenly public opinion had changed and Jesus had been crucified, as we recall on Good Friday each year.

And so far as the rulers in Jerusalem were concerned that SHOULD have been the end of this annoying little sect. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus rose from the dead three days after his Crucifixion. And we celebrate this each year as Easter Day. And although we don’t know the exact year, most historians put it either as in 30 AD or in 33 AD. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one event that the early Church gave for its phenomenal success. We don’t know exactly how many people saw the risen Christ. However we are told the resurrected Jesus was seen by many.

And then within 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection he bodily ascended into heaven an event we remember on each year as Ascension Day, traditionally on a Thursday – 10 days before Pentecost. Which we moved to last week Sunday, that Father Wylie preached.

Now in that 40 days from Jesus’ resurrection to his Ascension, Jesus gave his Church what is known as the “Great Commission” just before he left this earth. He told them “ Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you till the end of the age” (Mt. 28:19 and 20).

However, it must have been bizarre to the disciples that Jesus gave them very clear instructions when they were to start fulfilling the Great Commission. In Acts 1, Jesus said “But you shall receive Power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1 v.8). So my first question is Why were they to WAIT rather than start evangelizing right away? One reason, I think was that the disciples’ minds were probably still scrambled by the events that had happened. It still would have been hard for them to think straight.

But the second more important reason was that they needed to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to enable the disciples to fulfil the Great Commission. Bringing people to Christ is a spiritual battle. It is not simply an intellectual discussion – as you might have if you were discussing politics. The spiritual battle for people’s hearts can only be won on the spiritual battlefield – and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to succeed.

And note how much time, the disciples spent in prayer in Acts 1 and 2. The Acts 2 outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred in a prayer meeting. It must have been very daunting for the disciples, when they first heard it. But what they also were learning was when Jesus asks us to do something – he provides us with the means to do it.

And so the second question I’d like to pose was WHY did God PICK Pentecost for the outpouring of His Spirit and the launch of the Christian mission to the world? Why did Jesus make such a fuss about the timing? There are a number of reasons but I believe the prime reason is that the actual meaning of the Feast explains to us much of what is going on.

Let me go a little into the background. The Jews had three major festivals in their calendar year, which all male Jews were expected to attend. Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Pentecost (or the Feast of Weeks) was the second major festival of the Jewish year – and always took place 50 days after Passover.

Pentecost is a harvest festival – at the beginning of the wheat harvest – when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were presented to God. When the Power of God came down on the disciples at Pentecost, I believe God was saying that this is the beginning of the spiritual harvest – a harvest which is still going on today almost 2000 years later. The spiritual harvest is the building of Christ’s church here on earth, of which we are all called to be a part regardless of where we live.

From our reading this morning from the Book of Acts, we can see three principles for success in this spiritual harvest.
1. The disciples consulted with and obeyed Jesus
2. The disciples couldn’t do it in their own strength. They needed the Power from on high
3. The disciple’s message was founded in God’s word

The first principle for success in the spiritual harvest is listening to and obeying Jesus
After giving his disciples the Great Commission, Jesus told them to wait. He didn’t explain to them why – though we can now see why with hindsight. They were only going to be successful when they received the anointing of the Holy Spirit. But there is a lesson for us too. The disciples had to learn simply to trust Jesus’ word. If we are going to be servants of Christ, we have to learn to trust in WHAT he tells us to do. Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem until power from on high comes upon them.

So what did they do? Did they spend their time watching TV? No, they spent their time in prayer – in preparation. In Acts 1:14 we read: “They all joined together, constantly in prayer.” They got ready for action. Prayer is the power-house of the Christian life. If we are despondent with the lack of response in our villages to our churches, we must start with prayer. Prayer is the preparation for everything that we wish to do in Christ. It puts us in touch with HQ – with our Commander in Chief.

The second principle for success in this spiritual harvest is the realization that we can only do it in the Power of the Holy Spirit. God asks us to be willing – but we don’t have to preach the Gospel in our own strength. The Church isn’t our worry – it’s God’s worry. It has been said: “Why pray when you can worry!!” If we are going to do God’s work, we need to do it in HIS strength and not our own. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. The Acts 2 experience changed the disciples. It gave them power and boldness.

The third principle for success in the spiritual harvest is that the disciples founded their message in the Scriptures. The only Scriptures that St. Peter has was the Old Testament. The New Testament hadn’t been written. Yet Peter was well versed in his Scriptures. On the Day of Pentecost, he stands up to explain what is going on. Peter defended the event through Scripture – explaining that this event had been foretold 800 years earlier by one of the minor prophets – Joel. His quotation from the book of Joel shows that he knew his Bible well. He was able to find his experience and the experience of the other believers in Scripture, because he spent time with the Word of God.

Many of our modern day Sects get away with their false teaching because many don’t know the Word of God. God has revealed himself in the Scriptures and any genuine Christian experience will be biblically based. What is happening here Peter says conforms to Scripture. Joel prophesied it.

As I conclude, I find it of great comfort to know that growth in our church is not my worry. It’s God’s worry. However, we are called to work for and with God in the spiritual harvest and so we have responsibilities for the success of the operation.

Our first responsibility is that we need to hear what God is saying to us and obey him. The disciples were told to wait in Acts 1 – and that is what they did. This enabled God to release his power for them. And it is interesting to note that on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people were converted. How did the disciples know the will of God – they spent a lot of time in prayer.

Our second responsibility is to ask for power to preach the Gospel. We need to ask for strength and boldness to proclaim Christ – at the right time.

Our third responsibility is to know our Scripture well. If we are going to preach the Gospel successfully, we need to be rooted or founded in Scripture.

May the Lord help us to be faithful followers of Christ 

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

Father Jonathon Wylie: Hope and the Ascension of Christ

Sermon delivered on Ascension Sunday (transferred), May 29, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

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

Bishop Emmanuel Chemengich: Effective Sharing of the Gospel

Sermon delivered on Easter 6C, Sunday, May 22, 2022 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: Acts16.9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21.10, 22-22.5; St. John 14.23-29.

Introduction

I greet you all in Jesus’ name!

It is a joy to come back to St. Augustine Anglican Church. I congratulate you on acquiring new facility to worship God. And praying for your transition to new Rector, and also for a blessed retirement of Fr. Kevin. 

Thanks for supporting the Diocese of Kitale with scholarship for theological students. God bless you for it!

I will use the story of the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16, the first European to accept Christ, and highlight lessons we learn from it on effective ways to share the gospel of Christ. 

I present this message in 2 parts:

  1. Why Sharing the Gospel is Important?
  2. Three Effective Ways of Sharing the Gospel Sharing

Let me introduce this sermon by sharing the story of Lydia, the first convert to Christian faith in Europe to help give us the context and prepare us for this sermon.

Paul and Silas, and now Luke and Timothy have crossed the Sea from Troas to Neapolis, which marks change of direction from Asia to Europe. The Holy Spirit had forbidden them to preach in Asia (16:6-8). So, they went to Philippi because it was the leading city in the colony of Macedonia. On Sabbath day, they sought a place to pray by the riverside because there was no synagogue in this Gentile city. Here they could baptize those who had accepted Christ and believers went there to pray.

Lydia was a Gentile woman of means, and she was god-fearing having left paganism, but had not heard the Gospel of Christ nor baptized. But after hearing the Gospel, Lydia believed, she was baptized, and started serving God by hosting apostles and the first Christian home in Europe. 

I – Why Sharing the Gospel is Important for Christians? 

  1. It is the only way for God to save the world!

It is the only way and means to save the world from the consequences of sin or evil. The Bible tells us that sin and Devil comes to steal, destroy, and kill (Jn.10:10), and that all who are in sin will be destroyed (Jer.6:21 & Rom.6:23). 

After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost in Acts 2, the disciples of Jesus went to different directions as eyewitnesses in preaching the gospel of Christ as mandated by Him Matt.28:16-20.

Today, this remains the urgent mission for the Christians and the church. To be a Christian and follower of Jesus we affirm the fact that each one of us is called to share what we have received and experienced from Jesus (Luke 24:39, Luke 24:42-43, Acts 1:4, Mt 28:9, John 21:9) and become the basis for the preaching. Disciples could not keep it to themselves!

  • It demonstrates God’s love to the World!

Sharing the gospel displays God’s nature of love and mercy. John 3:16 shows how God in His love send Jesus to die on the cross to save us from perishing from sin. 

Several Parables of Jesus reveal God as a ‘Searching Father’, looking for the lost, actively seeking them, and rejoicingwhen they are found.  

An important part of Character of God is His mercy to the undeserving – not only those who we stumble upon, but an active mission and outreach programme of seeking out the hurting and oppressed, the blind and the imprisoned (Luke 4:18-19). That is the message of the cross, the message of active love! 

The disciples must become like the Master, who was driven by love and passion for the lost: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). We share the gospel because it reveals God’s nature of love to restore the lost humanity from perishing. 

  • It is the reason You and I are Christians today!

It is because of sharing the gospel that you and I are Christians today and live with the hope of life now and into eternity. By Paul sharing the gospel, Lydia got converted which opened the doors for Christianity of Europe. And when Europe shared the gospel, North America and Africa got salvation. And faithful believers, generation after generation, have handed over the gospel until you here at St. Augustine Church are worshipping Jesus today. 

We would not be Christians if it were not for God to reach out to me and you by sending Jesus to die on the Cross, instead, we would be lost and perished in sin!

All these 3 reasons are critical for a young, newly planted congregation like St. Augustine, and ACNA at large. Your church will grow like the Early Church by intentional sharing of the gospel so others can come join you. Sharing the gospel is not an option, but a mandatory obligation and strategy that the Holy Spirit uses to grow Christ’s church! 

II – 3 Effective Ways of Sharing the Gospel

Let us look at 3 ways for effective sharing of the Gospel we learn from the conversion of Lydia:

  1. Involve God at Every Stage of Sharing the Gospel!

Like all God’s mission work, God is the alpha and the omega, He begins it and completes the work of gospel sharing. God begins by sending Paul and also preparing Lydia’s heart. He was the One who directed Paul and his team to Philippi from Asia to Europe. And it is God who opens the heart of Lydia to accept salvation.

 We see how God convicts and prepares the listener in John 1:12-13, Rom.9:16 and Phil.2:13.

To succeed in gospel sharing, we must be prayerful to invite God to start and end well the sharing of the gospel. No human being can take credit or glory for evangelism work. Ours is only a little part of being available to be the mouthpiece of God, but God makes it work out successfully.

  • Proclaim the Gospel by Personal Evangelism!

The second effective way to share the good news is to proclaim the gospel truth personally, one-on-one. Lydia would never have heard the gospel if Paul and his team did not accept the call to proclaim the gospel truth to her. 

Apostle Paul makes this truth clear in Rom.10:14-17, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news’”. See also, 1 Cor.9:22

Since creation to our day, God’s plan remains using the human means to achieve divine ends. Every believer is an apostle, ‘the sent ones.’ For others to be saved, you and I must tell them the gospel, or at least get them to somewhere where they can hear it. But because most don’t want to come here, so you must tell them out there.

Let us not be mistaken, my brothers and sisters, it is not just the priest who should share the gospel, but believers. That is why once Lydia was baptized, she went and shared it with her family, and they were all baptized (16:15a). She was probably a widow and head of her family.

Lydia was effective in personal evangelism to her family and are we to our families and to our friends. There is no better effective evangelism than personal evangelism. 

Paul puts it well in 2 Cor.5:11, “Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God and I hope it is known also to your conscience”.

A good mark of true conversion is when one has a strong desire to immediately share with others their new faith. 

We are all commanded to share the gospel with our families, friends and personal contacts and make sure they know and obey the gospel! 

Don’t let the day or week go without sharing the gospel in your household and family members. 

  • Invite New Believers to Personal Transformation!

The third effective way of sharing the gospel is to invite the new believer into personal transformation of living like Jesus and serving like Jesus. Sharing the gospel is not complete until the believer conforms to the lifestyle of Jesus and becomes a disciple. 

After receiving the gospel, Lydia shows her true conversion by expressing her desire to serve. The text shows how she pleaded to host and support Paul and his team. She began serving in the Kingdom immediately.

Paul puts it well in 2 Cor 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new come.

Salvation demands transformation of our lives. For some it is dramatic, for others it is less so, but desires will be transformed. If you have no desire for Christ or His kingdom, you may be deceived. 

The early believers in the Book of Acts were so obedient to Jesus and His teachings that other people knew for certain they were His followers. There was something distinct about the way they spoke, acted, and lived that showed others they were followers of Christ. It’s something to think about when considering our own lives.

Do I love like he does?  Jesus’ own words tell us “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”(Romans 5:5). We have His power to love and serve others in His name. Jesus’ love was pure and sacrificial. Likewise, our love should cost us something. It may be in the form of material goods, but it also may be the sacrifice of extra patience, our time, etc. Each of us should ask self – (i) Is my life lived humbly and in humility as Jesus did? (ii) Do I forgive like Jesus? (iii) Do others see Jesus through me?

The key mark of the Christian when they bear fruit of the Christian faith. The extent to which we bear fruit of the Spirit is the extent to which we are a Christian or not.  So, our identity as a Christian is depended on whether we bear the fruit of Christian faith or not. We shall be judged by the fruit we produce, not by the spiritual gifts we had, or church activities we performed (1 Cor.13:1-3)! 

A WhatsApp message circulating recently states it well this way, “Many Christians grow up in the church, but never grow in Christ. They know hymns, but they don’t know Him”. 

My brothers and sisters the effective way to share the gospel is by calling people to be transformed and to live and serve like Jesus!

Conclusion

I end this message with the way Jesus sought the lost and a story to cement it!

During his earthly ministry, Jesus searched for two different kinds of people: 

(1) those who had never known him and were alienated from a life of faith.  These included, the taxi collectors & sinners. 

Question: How many non-believers, unchurched and alienated people are out there that need us to evangelize to?  

Is St. Augustine reaching people who live in neighborhood around this church building? Are you reaching out to them so they are not lost? Are you reaching those living in immoral lifestyle of corruption, alcoholism, prostitution, drugs, etc.? In other words, ‘Who is seeking the lost’?

(2) those religious leaders, like Pharisees, who did not want to associate with sinners so they don’t compromise their faith. For us, this could me some of us church goers who are believe we are too holy and set apart to reach out to others.

Remember that Lydia was religious or god-fearing, what Acts 16:14 calls, “worshiper of God”, but was not a Christian!  

Question: Are there categories of people we are not sharing the gospel with because they don’t fit our category?

Are you sharing the gospel with the religious category? Those who are regular attend worship but have not known Christ? 

To religious leaders, Jesus said elsewhere in Matt. 21:31, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you”. They were not happy with Jesus for attacking their integrity and their faith.

As today’s church, we must follow the example of Jesus and His apostle in having passion to find the lost and share the gospel.  So, the most important thing we Christians and the Church should do is to reach out to those who need to hear the good news about Jesus. Everything else is secondary. We are told in 2 Peter 3:9 that, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

And in reaching out to the sinners, personal and persistent contact is a key factor. This is illustrated by a story told by one preacher: 

There was once a young man who courted a young lady in a very unusual way. Every day for one full year he sent her a special delivery letter. And so every day for 365 days she received a letter that he sent to her. Finally, one year later, she married. But she didn’t marry the young man who mailed all those letters. She married the postman who delivered them. After all, personal persistent contact makes all the difference!

LET US PRAY!!

Father Jonathon Wylie: The Gospel is for All

Sermon delivered on Easter 5C, Sunday, May 15, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Wylie is a slug and gets all whiny when we ask for a written manuscript. Nobody’s got time for a whiny priest, especially during Eastertide, so click here to listen to the audio podcast of his sermon.

Lectionary texts: Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21.1-6; St. John 13.31-35.

Christ’s Resurrection: Making All Things New

Sermon delivered on Easter 3C, Sunday, May 1, 2022 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 9.1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5.11-15; St. John 21.1-19.

Today is my last regular Sunday to preach to you, my beloved (ignoring the fact that many of you consider that my preaching is enough to make any Sunday irregular). Fourteen years ago today I was ordained to the priesthood. Eleven years ago to the day, we started a home Bible study/eucharist that would eventually become St. Augustine’s. I don’t quite know where the last fourteen years have gone, or more precisely, how they have passed so quickly. But here I am on the verge of retirement, feeling very much like a washed-up old man and hot mess, and so I am resolved to pack fourteen years worth of sermons into one today. I’m guessing that will only take a few hours given my superb skill of summarization. I’m sure you are thrilled at the prospect. I see Father Bowser twitching already in giddy anticipation.

What are we to make of St. John’s strange story of Christ’s appearing to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee? What is St. John trying to tell us? How is this story relevant to us today, both as individuals and the Church? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

Hearing St. John recount Christ’s third resurrection appearance to his disciples, we get the distinct impression that something new has been accomplished, that things have really changed, and for the better. Jesus is the same, yet he is somehow different. Despite appearing to his disciples twice before (Jn 20.19-29), they still don’t recognize him at first. They knew it was him but yet there was something different about him, so no one dared ask him who he was. As one theologian has wryly observed about the nature of these appearances, after the resurrection you don’t find anyone casually slapping Jesus on the back and saying with a grin, “We’re so glad you’re back, Jesus!” No, Christ was alive and had carried his wounds into God’s new world, remaining the same. But he was different and because he was alive and transformed, everything else was new. But were things really new? St. John doesn’t tell us the disciples were busy proclaiming that Christ had risen from the dead and working enthusiastically to build his Church. No, they had apparently returned to their original vocation of fishing, and the story gives us the impression they had done so because they were either depressed and/or bored. Nothing new there. Where was the excitement from the Octave of Easter we read about last week? In our NT lesson, St. Paul was still breathing threats and violence against the fledgling church. Nothing new there. The world still scoffed at the disciples’ proclamation that Christ was risen from the dead. Nothing new there. So what was really new?

Before we answer that question, it is critical to our resurrection faith that we again pay careful attention to the bodily nature of Christ’s appearance in this story (cf. Luke 24.33-42). He stands on the shore and has cooked breakfast for his weary and discouraged disciples. He eats with them and talks with them. They can see him, hear him, touch him. Despite his transformed appearance they know it is Jesus because they recognize him primarily in his bodily form, not to mention his gentle kindness, thoughtfulness, and love. And here is the answer to our “what’s new” question. St. John, masterful and brilliant storyteller he is, is telling us in story form what the early Church proclaimed and what Jesus himself had told his disciples at the Last Supper—that in his Death our sins are forgiven, our wounds are healed, and we are made whole again. We are reconciled to God our Father and freed from our slavery to the power of Sin and with it, from Death’s tyranny. Yes, death will come to us all barring Christ’s return in the interim because all have sinned, but we will live and conquer Death because Christ lives and has conquered Death through his own Death and Resurrection, thanks be to God! Easter anyone?

How do you get all that from this story, you ask, and with a bit of snark? I’m glad you ask, despite the fact that I just told you. But it wouldn’t be right if you stopped arguing with me during my sermons after all these years. That would mean you have stopped being the quirky people that make up this nuthouse of a parish, the people I love so much. So to repeat, while St. John does not tell us these things in exposition, he tells us in personal stories. In other words, we see Christ’s victory over Sin and Death in the transformative power it has on those who belong to him. Take his encounter with St. Peter, for example. There is much to love about St. Peter because he is us. He had shot his mouth off on the night before Christ died, boasting of his undying loyalty to his Lord, only to deny him three times in a spectacular act of cowardice of which we are all capable, especially in the context Peter’s denials occurred. And afterwards he had rightly wept bitterly over his profound failure. Imagine now for a minute that Christ was not risen from the dead, that there was no possibility for reinstatement, for forgiveness, for personal reaffirmation after catastrophic failure. How would St. Peter have felt? Utterly devastated and remorseful, no doubt, with no chance of his failure being put to rights. We all know this because we’ve all lapsed in our resurrection faith on occasion. There’s no worse feeling in the world than knowing a massive wrong/injustice cannot be made right because of our sins and/or failures. But this is exactly the situation we would find ourselves in if Christ really is dead. We may love God and others, but we’ve all let God and others down. We’ve betrayed and denied God and others and failed to live as the holy people God created us and calls us to be, and if Christ is not alive we are still dead in our sins with no hope of resolution or forgiveness. 

But Christ is not dead. He is alive and now confronting St. Peter about his past sin. “Simon, son of John, do you agapao me more than these?” Agapao is the verb form of agape, the Greek word that means the highest form of love, the kind of love that is self-giving and seeks the absolute best for the beloved, the kind of love with which Christ loved his disciples and loves us. “Yes, Lord, you know I phileo you,” St. Peter replied. Phileo is another Greek word for love, but it can refer to a lesser kind of love, a brotherly, affectionate love that is not always self-giving. Back came the response: Feed my lambs (take care of my followers, the Church, Simon). A second time Christ asked his wounded and hurting disciple: Do you agapao me?, receiving the same answer. Yes Lord, you know I phileo you. Back came the response: Tend my sheep. A third time, matching the number of times St. Peter had denied his Lord on Holy Thursday, Christ asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you phileo me?” St. Peter was hurt by this third question, or perhaps the subtle change in it. We aren’t told why. “Lord, you know all things. You know I phileo you.” Back came the response: Feed my sheep. Now while there is much scholarly debate over the significance of Christ using St. Peter’s word, phileo, to ask a third time if St. Peter loved him, count me among those who believe St. John was too good a storyteller to have this be simply about semantics. Here we see our crucified and risen Lord meet St. Peter where St. Peter was emotionally with Christ at that moment. Surely St. Peter had learned from his unfounded bravado that he wasn’t the stud he fancied himself to be, nor did he love his Lord as he thought. He had failed catastrophically the man he loved more than anyone else, the man who had turned his whole life upside down. In telling us this tender and compelling story, St. John is surely telling us that this is how Christ and his resurrection are making all things new. Without forgiveness of sins on the cross, without a newfound freedom to resist Sin’s power, there could have been no real forgiveness. St. Peter, like us, would have remained dead in his sins and alienated from God the Father, doomed to utter destruction. But here was Christ, meeting his wayward and sorrowful disciple where he was, forgiving him and inviting him to take up the victory Christ had accomplished for him in his Death and Resurrection, and Christ does the same for us. St. Peter would accept Christ’s invitation by giving his life for the Son of God and so can we.

In telling us this story, St. John is surely telling us that the power of Jesus is typically not made known in stunning ways, in ways the world recognizes as spectacular, although there are notable and numerous exceptions to this rule. Christ making all things new is not about razzle-dazzle or eye-popping special effects that we love to see at the movies. Instead, it is about the quiet way of Christ with his people, with St. Peter, with you and me, agapaoing us in all our unloveliness, forgiving all our failures and betrayals and denials, recognizing our limitations, but also seeing our potential and putting us to work for him, despite who we can be, out of his sheer grace and love for us. There is nothing we have said or not said, thought or not thought, done or not done that is beyond the healing love and forgiveness of our crucified and risen Savior, nothing that will not eventually be put to rights, even if we must wait for it to be put to rights in God’s new heavens and earth. If you cannot find real hope, real comfort, real healing in this reality and promise, my beloved, surely you are to be pitied most of all. St. Paul found it on the road to Damascus, St. Peter found it in our gospel story today as have countless other Christians across time and cultures. Let us join this happy and forgiven throng so that like the psalmist in today’s lesson, we too can make the bold proclamation of conquering death through Christ our own!

And how does this apply to Christ’s body, the Church, to us together? It is quite appropriate that today’s gospel lesson was the appointed text because it is the promise and power of Christ making all things new, even with all its ambiguity and perplexities, that allows me to leave the people I love so much. Make no mistake. Human leadership, good leadership, is massively important for any family. But human leaders come and go and I am no different than anyone else in that regard. We are a healthy, thriving parish with a bright future, and while I have played some small part in that, the fact remains that we are this way because we make Christ our true Head and Leader. We believe in his promise to meet us where we are in all our changes and chances of life, in all our fears and hopes and dreams and failures, and he promises to lead us through even the valley of the shadow of death. This is what allows me to retire with confident hope for you our beloved family, because I know Christ lives and is present here among us, making all things new, transforming the old.  

My dearly beloved, don’t ever lose sight of this reality and promise. Christ seeks you out, no matter who or where you are, and promises to bring you home one day to a world where there will be no more sorrow or sighing or sickness or alienation or madness or folly or separation or death. We can stake our individual and collective lives on this promise if we continue to respond faithfully to the means of grace that make Christ available to us in real and living ways: Bible reading and study, prayer, confession, sweet fellowship of all kinds (don’t forget to party and enjoy the blessings Christ showers on you), and regular partaking of holy communion. All these things open us to Christ’s risen reality and Presence in and through the Holy Spirit. We have all died and been raised to new life in Christ in our baptism, and we are yoked to him forever, thank God. In Christ is our hope, our present, and our future. In him we find comfort in our sorrows, God’s tenderness, forgiveness, new life in our failures, and a deep abiding joy in all things because we belong to Christ. Imitate this great love as he commands us. Beloved, make this old man happy and proud by responding to Christ’s love with boldness and courage and hope. Remain faithful to him who delivers you from Sin and Death, and never abandon the faith once delivered to the saints, the true apostolic faith. Don’t be worried about your future as God’s family here at St. Augustine’s without the Maneys because you have Christ and he will never abandon or desert you. He is busy making all things new, yourselves included, both now and in God’s new world to come, a world that Christ’s resurrection announced and inaugurated. God bless you, my beloved. I thank God for blessing me with the massive privilege of being your rector for all these years. Toots and I are thankful to have been part of this holy and very quirky family and I am thankful to be yoked to you in Christ forever. We love you more than you’ll ever know. 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. 

Chaplain Tucker Messamore: Resurrection Boldness

Sermon delivered on Easter 2C, Sunday, April 24, 2022 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 5.27-32; Psalm 150; Romans 6.3-11; St. John 20.19-31.

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

Who is Peter? Who is this man we just heard about in our reading from the book of Acts? Surely this is not Simon Peter, the disciple of Jesus. The man brought before the Council who boldly proclaims the good news about Jesus seems quite different from the man we heard about on Passion Sunday, the man who fearfully denied Jesus three times. This Peter seems like a completely different person. But of course, he’s not. The man who once stood outside the home of the high priest and lied about even knowing Jesus now stood before the same high priest and testified about Jesus as the Savior. How can we account for this change? Why is Peter so different?

Before we answer that question, let’s set the stage with a bit of background about what’s going on here. This is actually the second time Peter has been brought before the Council, also known as the Sanhedrin, this ruling body of Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem. In Acts 4, Peter and John had caused quite a stir around the temple complex by healing a crippled man in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:1-10) and by “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). They are arrested and brought before the Council—rulers, elders, scribes, and the high priest—to be questioned and tried (Acts 4:3, 5-6). Council threatens Peter and John, admonishing them “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). Their warning could not have been clearer, but as soon as they left, they “continued to speak the word of God with boldness” and to give ‘their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:31, 33).

And so, Peter, John, and all the apostles are again arrested, thrown into prison, and brought “before the Council” (Acts 5:27). This second meeting would have much higher stakes. We should note that this is the same Council and the same High Priest that tried Jesus after He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:54, 66-71). These are the same religious leaders sat into motion the plot to kill Jesus, the same assembly that took Jesus to Pilate that he might be condemned and crucified (Luke 23:1). Peter ran the risk of suffering the same fate as his Lord. He had already been given a warning by the Council “not to teach in [Jesus’] name” (v. 28) and presumably they would not be so lenient a second time. But even in the face of possible execution, Peter is unwavering. Not only does he refuse to stop proclaiming the good news about Jesus, but he makes it clear that the Council is responsible for putting to death the Messiah, the Savior God had sent for His people Israel.

Is this really Simon Peter? It was just a few weeks prior that Peter had stood by a fire in courtyard of this same high priest so overcome with fear that he refused to acknowledge he had ever even met Jesus. And now, here he was, standing before the same body that handed Jesus over to be crucified, and knowing that he might be next, is adamant that he will go on proclaiming the gospel, no matter the consequences. What has changed? How can we explain this 180-degree turn in Peter’s demeanor? Where did this courage, this boldness, come from?

The answer is the Resurrection, the momentous event that changed the course of human history and transformed Peter’s outlook on the world.

At the beginning of our gospel reading, we see a much more familiar Peter. On that first Easter night, Peter was hunkered down somewhere, huddled together with the other disciples behind a locked because they were “[afraid] of the Jews” (v. 19a). But all of a sudden, in the midst of their fears, the Resurrected Jesus appears among them (v. 19b) and shows them the wounds in His hands and side (v. 20). They witnessed with their own eyes that the same Jesus who had been crucified, died, and was buried had risen from the grave and lived again!

Did you notice the words Jesus repeated to his disciples throughout the gospel reading?  Three times Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.” This phrase, shalom aleichem, was (and is) a common Hebrew greeting. But this is much more than a hello. This is a resurrection promise. 

In the Upper Room, shortly before He was arrested, Jesus had warned His disciples that like Him, they would be persecuted (John 15:20); they would be thrown out of synagogues and threatened with death by those whom think they are serving God (John 16:1-2). It is in this context that Jesus assures them, “I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In John’s writings, “the world” is the unbelieving world, the powers, both human and demonic, who oppose God, Christ, and His people. It was through His death and resurrection that Jesus had overcome the world. Sinful people inspired by Satanic powers had conspired to kill Jesus, but He rose again in victory, foiling their plans and triumphing over even death itself. Jesus’ resurrection had brought peace to those who belong Christ—assurance that God’s plans and purposes cannot be stopped and hope for eternal life.

This is how Peter was able to stand before the Council with such boldness. Peter recognized an important truth that Gamaliel, a member of the Council, later voiced: “If [this plan] is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them” (Acts 5:39). God’s work cannot be stopped! And if they put Peter to death, so what? Through His resurrection, Christ swallowed up death in victory and had taken away its sting (1 Cor. 15:54-55). He knew He would be raised just as Christ had been raised.

Brothers and sisters, the resurrection of Jesus brings us peace and gives us boldness to face the many trials that we face as we live in a fallen world. Jesus’ words in the Upper Room ring just as true for us as they did for His first disciples— “In the world you will have trouble.” None of us need to be reminded of this; it’s our lived experience every day. I see it in my work as a hospital chaplain as I witness people living with debilitating illnesses, suffering from chronic pain, and dying from horrible diseases. I see it in my family as we face the mundane difficulties and challenges that daily life brings. I see it in my own heart as I wrestle with sin and try to live faithfully. I see it, and I know you see it too.

But may we not forget that the second half of Jesus’ statement is just as true as the first. Yes, in this world, we will have trouble. But Jesus encourages us, “Take heart; I have overcome the world.” And so, Christian, when you or those that you love are plagued by disease, when you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, remember that sickness and death don’t have the final word; Christ does. Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, [they] will live” (John 11:25). When darkness overshadows you and evil seems to surround you, remember that God is making all things new, that His purposes and plans cannot be stopped, that “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

The Resurrection brings us peace and gives us boldness. But we should notice that there was something else at work that had changed and emboldened Peter: He had received the gift of the Holy Spirit (v. 22).

Peter tells the Council, “We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts. 5:32). In our gospel reading, Jesus breathes on His disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This symbolic act anticipates the outpouring of God’s Spirit on the apostles at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). 

Just as Jesus connected peace to the resurrection in the Upper Room Discourse, He also connects peace to the work of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus speaks these words immediately after He promises to send the Holy Spirit to guide them when He returns to His Father. “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). On another occasion, Jesus told His disciples that when they “delivered over to the courts” and “dragged before governors and kings for [His] sake,” they did not have to be anxious about what speak, for “what you are to say will be given to you at that hour” and “the Spirit of the Father” will speak through them (Matthew 10:17-19). This is exactly what we take place when Peter is before the Council. The Holy Spirit fills Peter with peace and gives Him boldness to face the very men who had handed over Jesus to be crucified.

In the same way, the Holy spirit empowers and emboldens us today. As we navigate the challenges and trials that life brings, God does not abandon us to do it alone. He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit who grants us wisdom, “guides us in all truth” (John 16:13), and reminds us of God’s Word (John 14:26). We are also not left to our own devices in our struggle against sin. God’s Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8), empowers us to put to sin to death (Philippians 2:13), and changes our hearts so that we can walk according to God’s ways (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Through the resurrection of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God gives us peace and grants us boldness to face the trials life brings.

This morning, we are privileged to stand alongside Evan and Marlene as they receive the sacrament of baptism. In the waters of baptism, we see a portrayal of both the hope of the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit. In our epistle reading (Romans 6:3-11), we learn that through baptism, we are identified with Christ; we die with Him and are raised with Him. Baptism signifies that those who are united with Christ have died to sin, have been raised to “walk in newness of life,” and that death no longer has dominion over us. Likewise, Scripture connects baptism with the indwelling of God’s Spirit. In His sermon at Pentecost, Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Indeed, as our priests pray over the water, they will ask God to “send the Holy Spirit” on those who are being baptized and to “bring them to new birth in the household of faith.” So now, as we come to the baptismal font, may we see in its waters God’s promised peace—signed, sealed, and delivered by the work of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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

Easter: Seeking the Living Among the Living Instead of the Dead

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday C, April 17, 2022 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 10.34-43; Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; St. Luke 24.1-12.

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

In our gospel lesson this morning, St. Luke tells us the women followers of Jesus, the same ones who witnessed his burial on Good Friday, went to his tomb to finish anointing his dead body. There they are confronted by two angels who ask them why they seek the living among the dead, why are they looking for Christ in his tomb? The question reverberates throughout history and applies equally to us as Christians today. Are we seeking the living among the dead or the living? This is what I want us to look at this Easter morning.

At first blush it is understandable why the women were looking for Jesus in his tomb. They knew, like we know, that dead people don’t come back to life. We, like they, still go to cemeteries to mourn our dead and think about them. In recounting this story St. Luke is reminding us that none of Christ’s first disciples expected him to be raised from the dead. The men were in hiding, afraid of being arrested by the Jewish authorities and sharing the fate of their crucified Lord. The women were braver but they weren’t coming to Christ’s tomb expecting to find it empty. They all knew, like we know, that death has the final say. That’s why so many of us, sadly including some Christians, seek the living among the dead. We desperately seek human solutions for the problem of Death in an effort to find some meaning and purpose in life or to discover what it means to be human because we all know dead people don’t come back to life. But in the end our efforts are utterly futile. 

What does this seeking look like? Some seek life by accumulating wealth. We work our brains out to make as much money as possible so we will have enough when we retire. Some seek the living among the dead by trying to acquire power and influence, either socially, economically, and/or politically, thinking that will satisfy us. Some seek the living among the dead through drugs or booze or porn or gambling, anything to take our minds off the real problem of the human condition with our sin-sickness and alienation from God. Some of us pin our hopes on medical and technological advancements, hoping they will save us. Then of course there are identity politics of all kinds, where we are encouraged to find ourselves by identifying with our race or gender (fluidity) or sexual preferences or political party or ideology. Doing so will help us find our true inner selves we are told. All of this, of course, is in direct contradiction to the biblical testimony and truth that our sin-sickness has made our hearts, the center of our will and being, desperately sick and beyond our ability to repair (Jer 17.9). Simply put, we are slaves to the power of Sin and where there is slavery to Sin, Death must follow. None of us can escape this reality and it shows. We are more alienated and isolated from each other than ever before. With all of our fantastic technology and medical advancements, we are more anxious than ever. We are afraid and angry, not to mention dazed and confused. We are this way because we seek the living among the dead, human solutions to our problems with no real hope or future. So this morning as we celebrate the living among the living, the Risen Christ, I ask you: Are you seeking the living among the dead or the living? Are you looking to human solutions and/or trusting yourself to be the solution to the root problem of human sin and the alienation from God and each other it causes? If you are, you are most to be pitied.

St. Paul was not among this crowd, at least after the Risen Christ confronted him on the road to Damascus. He stopped looking for the living among the dead, stopped trusting in his own Jewish pedigree and rich theological knowledge. No, he looked for the living among the living. He kept his eyes on the Ultimate Prize of Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, the one and only way to the Father. Why is this important? Because only God has the power to defeat the power of Death and as St. Paul also reminds us, it was through Christ’s saving Death on the cross that God chose to rescue us from the power of Sin and Death. Christ died for us so that we might have our relationship with God restored and therefore live, imperfect as that restored relationship is in this mortal life. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, Death came through a human and therefore God chose to fix the problem through a human, but in the most unlikely way, by becoming human and dying for us to reconcile us to himself. Even today Christ’s cross remains scandalous to many, Christians included. None of us likes to think we are totally reliant on God’s love, mercy, and grace to heal and restore us to God, but we are and that’s exactly how God chose to free us.

St. Luke tells us essentially the same thing in our gospel lesson. The angels rebuked the women, not because they were afraid, but because they didn’t believe Christ when he was alive and told them about the necessity of his saving Death and Resurrection. This was all firmly rooted in Scripture and the events of the past days were no accident; they were foretold. God wasn’t taken by surprise. No, this was God-ordained, the Father working with the Son to rescue us stubborn and rebellious people from our slavery to Sin and the universal power of Death that results from our sin. The Father and the Son didn’t wait till we got our act together. They acted preemptively to rescue us out of their great love for us. This is why Christ’s Death and Resurrection are the turning point in history. Until that time, we were all helplessly and hopelessly lost. Death and Hell were our final destinations and this was intolerable to God our Creator and Savior because God did not create us to destroy us. What good parent does that?? And so Christ came to die for us as the Scripture foretold, and in raising Christ from the dead, God vindicated his Death on the cross and destroyed the power of Death in the process, God be thanked and praised! The women should have known this (as should have the men). But they didn’t for whatever reason. And so they sought the living among the dead. They never anticipated that first Easter Sunday. 

Many of us still don’t and like them we remain afraid. But we needn’t be if we keep our eyes on the prize of Resurrection and new creation. And let’s be clear about the nature of our Ultimate Prize. Resurrection is about the continuity of bodily existence, albeit in radically new way. We’ll look at this more in two weeks. For right now, when the angels spoke of Christ being raised from the dead (as did Christ’s first followers) they had in mind bodily, physical existence, not some ephemeral disembodied state, the stuff of gnosticism and other new age religions. As St. Peter proclaimed in our NT lesson, the disciples ate, drank, and spoke with the Risen Lord. You don’t do that with a disembodied spirit. And as St. Paul proclaimed in our epistle lesson, Death is not finally destroyed until Christ returns to finish his saving work and the dead are raised. Our loved ones who have died in the faith of Christ are safely in Christ’s care and protection in heaven (Phil 1.21-23), but they are still dead and remain so until the time Christ gives them their new bodies patterned after his own. Resurrection is emphatically not about dying and going to heaven. It is about new bodily existence where we have bodies that are fitted to live in God’s new heavens and earth, a world that will surely be inexpressibly beautiful because God our Father is inexpressibly beautiful, a world where sickness and sighing and alienation and fear and anger and sorrow and madness and incompleteness are no more. More importantly, whatever that world looks like it will be a world where Death is abolished forever and we will never be separated from our loved ones who have died in the peace and love of Christ, no matter how hard their mortal death might have been. Best of all, we will never be separated from God our Father again the way we are now. As our first human ancestors enjoyed intimate fellowship with God in a way none of us can ever experience because of the Fall as we saw last night, so God promises to live directly with us in all his glory and we will be allowed to live in his direct Presence, all because of Christ’s saving Death on the Cross. It is the prize above all prizes, a prize that makes the prizes we strive for pale in comparison; it is worthy of our best striving, labor, and efforts to follow Christ and his Way. Nothing else will do because nothing else ends in life. This promised new world is made possible only by the love and power of God. None can attain it on their own, only by the mercy and grace of God manifested through Christ. When we keep our eyes on this prize, we are truly looking for the living among the living because we are looking at the only Power who can give us eternal life, Jesus Christ, our Crucified, Risen, and Ascended Lord. Resurrection is not a concept, my beloved, it is a person, and his Name is Jesus Christ, the only Son God. Without him we have no hope for real life, either in this world or the next, and all our other efforts to find life and meaning and purpose are utterly futile. When we seek the living among the living, i.e., when we seek to give our lives and ourselves totally to Christ and live as he calls us to live, it is imperative that we keep our eyes on this prize of Resurrection and new creation. I cannot speak for you, but whenever I have taken my eyes off this prize, my search for the living invariably results in me looking for the living among the dead instead of the living. Listen if you have ears to hear.

But how are we to experience the Risen Christ today? Nobody witnessed the Resurrection. Like many Christian interpreters, I am convinced this is because the Resurrection is beyond our ability to see or understand. As we have just seen, it comes from the realm and power of God. And God in his perfect wisdom has ordained that not everyone in Christ’s day would be able to see the risen Lord as St. Peter attests in our NT lesson. Only a select few were allowed to see Christ after his death and even those experiences stopped after awhile as St. Paul attests in 1 Cor 15. So how are we to believe that Christ is raised from the dead? The angels and the rest of the NT tell us. So does the collective and shared experience of the Church. The Resurrection was foretold in Scripture; it is the result of the power and promise of God and that is how we can experience the Risen Christ today. Whenever we read and study and meditate on what Scripture has to say about Christ and believe it, he becomes available to us in the power of the Spirit. He is here with us this morning, God be thanked and praised! Do you sense his Presence? I do! Christ is also available to us when we come to his Table each Sunday and eat his body and drink his blood. We literally take Christ into our own bodies for him to do his healing will and work. This of course requires faith on our part, but that is how God has ordained it and we should not shrink from the Faith or feel compelled to apologize to scoffers for it. When the women told the disciples that Christ was raised from the dead, the disciples considered it an “idle tale,” pure nonsense. They weren’t ready to seek the living among the living because they did not believe and trust in the power of God. The same thing often happens to us when we proclaim Christ crucified and raised from the dead to those who do not know him. Many will consider our proclamation an idle tale, pure nonsense—until they meet Christ in the Scripture and sacraments and see how he works in and among his people. They will know him by our love, our hope, our fearlessness, and our bold faith in Christ, i.e., our faithful seeking of the living among the living, not the dead. 

Let us therefore resolve, especially during this Eastertide, to seek out the living among the living by keeping our eyes fixed on our Ultimate Prize of Resurrection and new creation. Let the world see how we love each other and take care of each other (not to mention what a grand party we are having in the process). Let others see the joy that radiates from our reading the Scriptures and receiving our Lord at Table, in our celebrations and yes, in our mourning and lamenting. We are a people with a real hope and a future, the only hope and future, the kind the world does not know and cannot have until it surrenders to Christ. We all must choose, my beloved. Do you know fully that Scripture is the word of God with its proclamation of Christ crucified and raised from the dead and trust it so that you stake your very life on it? Do you experience Christ in the Eucharist and in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in each of us and collectively? How we answer these questions goes a long way in helping us decide where we seek the living and our zeal for proclaiming Christ to the world. May we always seek the living in the Risen and living Lord. Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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