Upon A Hill

Three men shared death upon a hill,
But only one man dies;
The other two—
A thief and God himself—
Made rendezvous.

Three crosses still
Are borne up Calvary’s Hill,
Where Sin still lifts them high:
Upon the one, sag broken men
Who, cursing, die;
Another holds the praying thief,
Or those who penitent as he,
Still find the Christ
Beside them on the tree.

—Miriam LeFevre Crouse

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. 

Easter 2022: St. John Chrysostom on Easter

Everyone who is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

If anyone is a wise servant, rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord
If anyone has been wearied in fasting, now receive your recompense.

If anyone has labored from the lirst hour, today receive your just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, have no misgivings; for you shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, do not fear on account of your delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to the one that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!
Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!
He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not nven!

“O Death, Where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!

For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!

Holy Week 2022: An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his Cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “My Lord be with you all.”

And Christ in reply says to Adam: “And with your spirit.” And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”

“l am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

“I command you: Awake, sleeper, | have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; | am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and | in you, together we are one undivided person.

“For you, | your God became your son; for you, | the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, | who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, | became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, | was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

“Look at the spittle on my face, which | received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which | accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

“See the scourging of my back, which | accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

“| slept on the Cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

“But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; | will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. | denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now | myself am united to you, | who am life. | posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now | make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”

Our Ultimate Prize

Sermon delivered on the 3rd Sunday before Lent C, February 13, 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: Jeremiah 17.5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Cor 15.12-20, 35-38, 42-58; St. Luke 6.17-26.

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

Last week we began a two-part preaching series on the Death and Resurrection of Christ based on 1 Cor 15, St. Paul’s massive treatise on the Resurrection of Christ. You recall that last week we focused on Christ’s sacrificial and saving Death. We saw that the problem of Sin, that outside and hostile power that has enslaved us thoroughly, requires more than just human repentance to be defeated; it requires the power of God to intervene on our behalf to offer an atoning sacrifice for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God the Father and thus healed of our sin-sickness so that its power is defeated once and for all. We saw that there is great mystery in all this and that the NT never explains fully how it all works, only that it does. If you don’t remember anything else from last week’s sermon—and being the brilliant teacher/preacher I am, I would be shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, if you didn’t remember every word I spoke—remember this. Christ died to reconcile you to the Father so that you can be fully healed of your sin-sickness. Christ, God become human, did this for you because he loves you and you are precious in his sight, even while you were still his enemy. There is nothing in all creation that can separate you from his love and there is no sin you have committed that has not been fully covered by the Blood of the Lamb shed for you on the cross. There is therefore no need or reason for any Christian to suffer debilitating, crushing guilt or despair. 

We also noted that without the Resurrection, Christ’s death would have been just another utterly humiliating and degrading criminal’s death, lost forever in the vast sea of history and without significance. But Christ was and is raised from the dead, forever alive, never to die again. The Resurrection vindicated Christ’s claim that he was indeed Israel’s Messiah and the eternal Son of God and therefore the cross accomplished what the early Church claimed it did. So this morning in part 2 of this series I want us to look at exactly what is the Christian hope of the Resurrection. I want us to do so primarily for two reasons: 1) as St. Paul proclaimed last week, the Resurrection is of first importance. Without it we are still dead in our slavery to Sin’s power and without hope. Death really does have the final say, a terrible reality made worse by the fact that all of us must endure suffering and hardship in this life to one extent or the other; and 2) we are baptizing two new members into Christ’s Body today, God be thanked and praised! As we will see, resurrection has definite implications for any who are baptized into Christ. Resurrection remains of first importance and needs Christ’s saving Death as much as Christ’s saving Death needs the Resurrection. Without both there would be no Christianity, no Good News, no turning point in human history.

One more preliminary note before we begin our discussion. This sermon presumes the historicity of Christ’s Resurrection, i.e., Christ’s Resurrection really did happen in history. It is emphatically not some made up hokum or wishful thinking. To give a basic defense of the Resurrection’s historicity would require a separate sermon in itself and ain’t nobody got time for that this morning. Coffee hour and Super Bowl are a-waiting and we need to get on with our order of business! Suffice it to say here that from the beginning the Church proclaimed Christ’s Death and Resurrection as historical fact and we have no good reason to doubt this Central Christian Proclamation 2000 years later!

I begin by asking you a question. How many of you find the vision of heaven where you live for all eternity without a body and float on a cloud playing your harp compelling?

Image of Gary Larson's The Far Side cartoon of man with wings and a halo floating on a cloud wishing he had brought a magazine.
Gary Larson’s The Far Side

I ask this question because this vision (or derivatives of it) seems to be the prevailing Christian understanding in the West of what happens to us when we die. Our souls are separated from our bodies and go to heaven to enjoy God’s company, forever as a disembodied spirit, freed from the woes and weaknesses of our mortal body. Is that compelling to you? It’s more than just a philosophical question because as Christians we are exhorted to keep our eyes on the prize—Jesus. Why is Jesus the prize? Because Christ is the only way to the Father because only his death atones for our sins and makes us fit to live forever in the Father’s Holy Presence so that we are not destroyed by God’s perfect Holiness and justice. That’s why the Resurrection needs the Cross (in case you were wondering). But is the vision I just described to you a compelling one? Is it the prize above all prizes for you that motivates your living? I’ll be honest. The vision I just described leaves me cold and I find little to no motivation to follow Christ because of it. I suspect I am probably not alone in my thinking. 

But thanks be to God that this vision is emphatically not the Christian vision contained in the NT, the vision of new creation that Christ’s Resurrection launched and proclaimed. It is a platonic and corrupted version of the Real Thing because resurrection never was about dying and going to heaven; it is instead about life in God’s new world, the new creation, God’s new heavens and earth. The former kind of teaching is the product of creeping gnosticism that believes in part that all things material are bad and all things spiritual are good. And I suspect if truth be told, it stems in part from inherent human disbelief and skepticism regarding the power of God and the utterly fantastic nature of the vision itself. Who among us has the power to imagine such a world so as to give it justice?

So what does the Church mean when it talks about the Resurrection and eternal life? Resurrection and eternal life are first and foremost—and I cannot be emphatic enough and exhort you strongly enough short of yelling and cussing at you, much as I would like that—about bodily reanimation on a permanent basis so that bodies are made fit to live in a radically new creation. When the first followers of Jesus proclaimed his Resurrection they were emphatically not saying that he had died and gone to heaven. They were proclaiming that God had raised his body from the dead and reanimated it by transforming it. This gets at what St. Paul is telling us in his very dense writing from our epistle lesson when he uses the analogy of seed and plant to compare our mortal body with our new spiritual body. St. Paul is telling that there will be radical change (a body that is impervious to death) within basic continuity (we are still talking about bodies, not spirits). We have a mortal body in this life and will have an immortal body patterned after the risen Christ’s body in God’s new creation.

And when we put this radical new teaching about a two-stage resurrection (Christ first and then later us when he returns to finish his saving work) within the overarching story of Scripture, this should make perfect sense to us. Think about it. The creation narratives in Genesis proclaim very clearly that God created creation good (very good after he created humans to run God’s world on his behalf; that’s why God created us in his image in the first place). And God continues to value his creation, creatures included. Only human sin and rebellion corrupted it and the rest of Scripture tells us about how God is going about rescuing his good creation gone bad and reclaiming it and us from the dark powers that usurped God’s rule in the first place, enigmatic and puzzling as that might be to us. God refused to totally destroy creation and start over because God loves and values us. That’s why he spared Noah et al. in the Great Flood. That’s why God called Abraham to be God’s blessing to his broken and hurting world and its creatures, a blessing ultimately achieved in Jesus Christ, the one true Israelite and descendant of Abraham. It makes no sense, therefore, that God would suddenly be uninterested in reclaiming the bodies of his image-bearing creatures, consigning us instead to an eternity of being disembodied spirits. How does that honor God’s faithfulness and love for his creation? Read in this manner, the Revelation to St. John, chapters 21-22, is seen as the successful climax of God’s redemptive project launched through Abraham and fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s saving Death and Resurrection. Heaven comes down to earth (we aren’t raptured so get that lousy theology out of your head). Heaven and earth, God’s space and humans’ space respectively, are fused together in a mighty act of new creation. Our mortal bodies are raised from the dead and transformed into immortal bodies, fit to live in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, with new ways of working and living as God’s faithful, obedient, image-bearers. Death and illness and hurt and suffering and loneliness and alienation and all the rest that weigh us down and kill us are abolished forever, all by and through the power of God the Father who loves us and remains faithful to us as essential parts of his good creation. Seen in this light, resurrection makes perfect sense.

St. Paul also talks about the fulfillment of God’s creative purposes in Romans 8. Hear him now.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us (Romans 8.18-23).

Notice there’s nothing about dying and going to heaven here! No, St. Paul speaks of God’s curse on his current creation, a curse that was in response to human sin and rebellion, reminding us in no uncertain terms that God cannot and will not tolerate any form of evil in his promised new world. Notice too that St. Paul speaks unabashedly about the prize worth seeking above all prizes. This is about radical and total healing and transformation, the kind that can only be brought about by God the Father, and it speaks of a created future, not a spiritual or disembodied one. It is about being fully human, living in the created (or recreated) manner that God always intended for us.

But what about St. Paul’s comparison of the physical body and spiritual body? Doesn’t having a spiritual body mean we really don’t have a body? Not at all. The Greek for physical body, psychikon soma, and spiritual body, pneumatikon soma, both describe a body. In Greek and in the context of this pericope, when an adjective ends with -ikon, it refers not to the nature of the body (what the body is made of) but rather what powers or animates the body. So St. Paul is telling us that our new bodies will be powered not by flesh and blood or our soul, but by the Holy Spirit himself, thus making them indestructible. The reason flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God is not because God hates our bodies. That is ridiculous! God created our bodies and declared them good! No, flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God because the Kingdom is imperishable and immortal whereas our mortal bodies are not. Our bodies die and we are separated from them for a season. When Christ returns, however, our bodies will be raised from the dead and transformed and reanimated in a way that abolishes death forever. The NT has very little to say about what happens to our souls when we die other than a few oblique references (see, e.g., Phil 1.20-26). As we have seen, it has a lot to say about God’s new world, a world launched when God raised Christ from the dead and come in full upon Christ’s return. 

This is a vision that is compelling and worthy of all our striving. It proclaims a new world reclaimed by God, a world in which we get to live directly in God’s presence forever, a world therefore devoid of suffering, sorrow, sickness, and death, a world in which we are finally and perfectly healed forever, a world where we can finally be free to be God’s image-bearers who go about their business of tending to God’s new world with God’s blessing. It is a world where we will be reunited with our loved ones who have died in Christ, never to be separated again. And after our bodies are raised, death will be abolished forever as St. Paul tells us in today’s lesson. Death cannot be abolished until then, even for Christians, because death involves our bodies and souls, and until we receive our new bodies, death still reigns. While our loved ones who died in Christ are safely in his care as they await their new resurrection or spiritual bodies, they are still dead because they do not yet enjoy new bodily existence where their souls are reunited to their bodies. So we can remember them and miss them and find comfort that they are safe in Christ, but we can’t touch them or see them or hear them or feel them or smell them like we did when they were alive in their mortal bodies. The resurrection promises that this will all change one day when we and they are given new bodies. Whatever that looks like it is worthy of our highest calling and striving because it is a vision that exalts both God and humans, a vision beyond our wildest longings and desires and hopes. If what I have described does not stir you to want to give your ultimate allegiance to Christ, the One who makes it all possible because only Christ is the Resurrection and the Life, blame my inability to cast the vision for all it’s worth, not the vision itself with its incomprehensible richness and beauty that point to the power and fathomless love of God the Father for us as his human image-bearers. When it comes in full, whatever it looks like, God’s new creation will fully honor human beings and consummate our life-giving relationship with God the Father, our Creator.

So what do we take from this? Two things. For our about-to-be newly-baptized, it means they are about to become part of this promise because they are about to become united to Christ in his Death and Resurrection, sharing in both. In other words, they are about to tap into the power of God at work in them in and through the Spirit to make them part of God’s family forever. That’s why we can baptize infants and those who cannot speak for themselves. Baptism, like resurrection, is not about human responsibility but about the power of God at work to heal, redeem, and give life in full. It is a powerful and tangible sign of God’s extravagantly generous and gracious love for us. 

Second, for those of us who are baptized, this truth reminds us to remember our own baptism and be thankful. The promise of resurrection and new creation also has the power to help us see life clearly now. Resurrection and new creation are our future and our hope, and both give us a real and appropriate vision of how life is to be lived. If you get this, reread Jesus’ woes and blessings in light of living in the resurrection reality. Both are remarkably appropriate because they encourage and warn us respectively what it is like to live as Christ’s true people. We will make judgments based on what is to come, not what currently is with all of its corruption and false values. We have a promised eternity to live in this manner and it is a sure and certain expectation, based not on wishful thinking but on the historical reality that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. That is why I can preach it. If we find the vision of resurrection and new creation compelling, we’d better get busy and practice living like the resurrection peeps we are, no matter how imperfectly we live it. What better hope for us than to be perfectly healed of all that weighs us down and kills us, death included, never to be afraid again, always to enjoy perfect health and relationships? That, my beloved, is a prize worth all our strivings and it is only made possible by the amazing love and power of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

N.T. Wright Muses on All-Souls’ Day and the Tradition Behind It

Excerpted from his splendid little book, For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed.

Purgatory, in either its classic or its modern form, provides the rationale for All Souls’ Day. This Day, now kept on 2 November, was a tenth-century Benedictine innovation. It clearly assumes a sharp distinction between the ‘saints’, who have already made it to heaven, and the ‘souls’, who haven’t, and who are therefore still, at least in theory, less than completely happy and need our help to move on from there. 

The arguments regularly advanced in support of some kind of a purgatory, however modernized, do not come from the Bible. They come from the common perception that all of us up to the time of death are still sinful, and from the proper assumption that something needs to be done about this if we are (to put it crudely) to be at ease in the presence of the holy and sovereign God. The medieval doctrine of purgatory, as we saw, imagined that the ‘something’ that needed to be done could be divided into two aspects: punishment on the one hand, and purging or cleansing on the other. It is vital that we understand the biblical response to both of these.

I cannot stress sufficiently that if we raise the question of punishment for sin, this is something that has already been dealt with on the cross of Jesus [emphasis mine]. Of course, there have been crude and unbiblical versions of the doctrine of atonement, and many have rightly reacted against the idea of a vengeful God determined to punish someone and being satisfied by taking it out on his own son. But do not mistake the caricature for the biblical doctrine. Paul says, in his most central and careful statement, not that God punished Jesus, but that God ‘condemned sin in the flesh’ of Jesus (Romans 8:3). Here the instincts of the Reformers, if not always their exact expressions, were spot on. The idea that Christians need to suffer punishment for their sins in a post-mortem purgatory, or anywhere else, reveals a straightforward failure to grasp the very heart of what was achieved on the cross.

[W]hat the standard argument fails to take into account is the significance of bodily death. We have been fooled, not for the first time, by a view of death, and life beyond, in which the really important thing is the ‘soul’—something which, to many people’s surprise, hardly features at all in the New Testament. We have allowed our view of the saving of souls to loom so large that we have failed to realize that the Bible is much more concerned about bodies—concerned to the point where it’s actually quite difficult to give a clear biblical account of the disembodied state in between bodily death and bodily resurrection. That’s not what the biblical writers are trying to get us to think about—even though it is of course what many Christians have thought about to the point of obsession, including many who have thought of themselves as ‘biblical’ in their theology. But what should not be in doubt is that, for the New Testament, bodily death itself actually puts sin to an end. There may well be all kinds of sins still lingering on within us, infecting us and dragging us down. But part of the biblical understanding of death, bodily death, is that it finishes all that off at a single go.

The central passages here are Romans 6:6–7 and Colossians 2:11–13, with the picture they generate being backed up by key passages from John’s Gospel. Both of the Pauline texts are speaking of baptism. Christians are assured that their sins have already been dealt with through the death of Christ; they are now no longer under threat because of them. The crucial verse is Romans 6:7: ‘the one who has died is free from sin’ (literally, ‘is justified from sin’). The necessary cleansing from sin, it seems, takes place in two stages. First, there is baptism and faith. ‘You are already made clean’, says Jesus, ‘by the word which I have spoken to you’ (John 15:3). The word of the gospel, awakening faith in the heart, is itself the basic cleansing that we require. ‘The one who has washed’, said Jesus at the supper, ‘doesn’t need to wash again, except for his feet; he is clean all over’ (John 13:10). The ‘feet’ here seem to be representing the part of us which still, so to speak, stands on the muddy ground of this world. This is where ‘the sin which so easily gets in the way’ (Hebrews 12:1) finds, we may suppose, its opportunity.

But the glorious news is that, although during the present life we struggle with sin, and may or may not make small and slight progress towards genuine holiness, our remaining propensity to sin is finished, cut off, done with all at once, in physical death. ‘The body is dead because of sin,’ declares Paul, ‘but the spirit is life because of righteousness’ (Romans 8:10). John and Paul combine together to state the massive, central and vital doctrine which is at the heart of the Christian good news: those who believe in Jesus, though they die, yet shall they live; and those who live and believe in him will never die (John 11:25–6). Or, to put it the way Paul does: if we have died with Christ, we shall live with him, knowing that Christ being raised from the dead will not die again; and you, in him, must regard and reckon yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:8–11). ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ (Romans 5:2).

I therefore arrive at this view: that all the Christian departed are in substantially the same state, that of restful happiness. This is not the final destiny for which they are bound, namely the bodily resurrection; it is a temporary resting place. Since they and we are both in Christ, we do indeed share with them in the Communion of Saints.

I respectfully suggest that is because we have collectively forgotten just what a wonderful thing the gospel is: that ‘our own departed’ are themselves ‘heroes of the faith’ just as much as Peter, Paul, Mary, James, John and the rest. What makes ‘the great ones’ great is precisely that they, too, knew human grief and frailty. The double day [All-Saints and All-Souls] splits off so-called ordinary Christians from these so-called ‘great ones’ in a way that the latter would have been the first to repudiate.

The salvation being ‘kept in heaven’ is God’s plan for the new heaven and new earth, and the new bodies of the redeemed; and this plan is safe and fresh in God’s storehouse, that is, ‘heaven’.

[T]he commemoration of All Souls, especially the way it is now done, denies to ordinary Christians—and we’re all ordinary Christians—the solid, magnificent hope of the gospel: that all baptized believers, all those in Christ in the present, all those indwelt by the Spirit, are already ‘saints’. Where did all that All Souls’ gloom come from? Are we not in danger of grieving like people without hope, instead of grieving, as Paul instructs us to do in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, like people who do have hope? There is all the difference in the world between hopeful grief and hopeless grief, and All Souls’ Day can easily encourage the latter rather than, with All Saints’ Day, the former. Many churches now put a black frontal on the altar for All Souls’ Day; where did that idea come from? Why should the service end in solemn silence? Why should we sing the Dies Irae (‘Day of wrath, that dreadful day’) for our friends and loved ones, if it is true that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? Where is the gospel there?

The Christian hope, as articulated in the New Testament, is that if you die today you won’t be in a gloomy gathering in some dismal and perhaps painful waiting-room. You won’t simply be one more step further along a steep, hard road with no end in sight. You will be with Christ in paradise; and when you see him, you won’t shout, like poor Gerontius, ‘Take me away’. You will, like Paul, be ‘with Christ, which is far better’. How can there be any sense of foreboding, for those who already know the love of God in Christ, in coming face to face with the one ‘who loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20)?

Wright, N. T. (2003). For All the Saints? Remembering the Christian Departed (pp. 13–54). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

An Exhortation to be Living Stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 2021: The Power of the Gospel

We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.

“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’

“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at selfcontrol nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.

“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’

“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’

“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’

“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.

“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.

“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”

—The Way of a Pilgrim

What a wonderful story of the multifaceted ways in which Christ works in our lives! The issue here is alcoholism, but don’t restrict the lesson to that. Christ can heal any affliction if we let him. Notice first how Christ uses human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his Gospel. Notice how the monk abandoned his agenda (begging alms for the church), at least temporarily, to address a person’s needs that he perceived. We have to be ready to see others in pain if we ever hope to help them address it. Notice too the monk’s gentle persistence and the faith he has in the transformative power of the Gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.

Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the Gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered too long in his quarters to read it. Was it really coincidence that the soldier found the gospels before he got to his drinking money? This is how God typically works to control the circumstances of our lives in a wise and loving way, but we have to pay attention to realize it!

Finally, mark how understanding occurs—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas, which sadly many try to do, especially today) through our persistent reading of his word. God doesn’t beat us over the head to make us learn (usually). Instead he uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. Under normal circumstances it would have been best if the soldier had read the gospels with others and learned how to interpret them from the tradition we have, but that didn’t happen in this case. No problem, though. God can use even less than ideal circumstances to break through to us, as the young solder discovered. That may not be sexy enough for some of us but it is much more effective over the long haul.

If you are struggling with your faith, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this story and its lessons. Maybe you should even pick up the gospels and start to read them yourself. Here is indeed balm for your soul!

Easter 2021: St. John Chrysostom on Easter

Everyone who is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant Feast of Feasts!

If anyone is a wise servant, rejoice and enter into the joy of the Lord
If anyone has been wearied in fasting, now receive your recompense.

If anyone has labored from the lirst hour, today receive your just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, have no misgivings; for you shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, do not fear on account of your delay. For the Lord is gracious, and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to the one that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious. He both honors the work, and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and whether first or last receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the Day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fattened; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the Feast of Faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let none lament their poverty, for the Universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let none mourn their transgressions, for Pardon has dawned from the Tomb!
Let no one fear Death, for the Savior’s death has set us free!
He that was taken by Death has annihilated it!
He descended into Hell, and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when it tasted of His Flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, “Hell was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions.” It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body, and face to face met God! It took earth, and encountered Heaven! It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not nven!

“O Death, Where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory?”
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the Angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and Life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the tombs!

For Christ being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept. To Him be glory and dominion through all the ages of ages!

When God Wipes Away Our Tears

Sermon delivered on All-Saints’ Sunday A, November, 1, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Lectionary texts: Revelation 7.9-17; Psalm 34.1-10, 22; 1 John 3.1-3; Matthew 5.1-12.

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

Today is All-Saints’ Day where we remember the communion of saints and the promises of God that stem from our resurrection hope. So this morning I want to ask you this:  What does it look like when God wipes away all of our tears? After all, our tears are legion and a sign that things are desperately wrong in God’s world and our lives. So what does it mean to have God wipe them away? May I have the faith, courage, and holy imagination to proclaim this message boldly and may you have equally the faith, courage, and holy imagination to embrace it.

Today is a day we need to get real about our human condition and the world in which we live. To be sure there is spectacular beauty in our world and our lives.  We see it in creation and in relationships and people we hold near and dear to our hearts. We see it when we gather as God’s people in Christ to worship God, to listen to God’s Word, and to partake in holy Eucharist each week. We see God’s beauty anytime we see true goodness, kindness, compassion, and justice. We see beauty in music, art, poetry, and prose. So let us acknowledge that there is wondrous beauty and goodness in God’s creation because as holy Scripture tells us, God created everything good and intends for it to function and be that way (Genesis 1-2). 

But let us also acknowledge and lament the fact that something is desperately wrong in God’s world and our lives. This is not God’s doing. It is a product of human rebellion in paradise that allowed the dark powers of Evil to gain a foothold into God’s good world to defile and corrupt it and us, and resulted in God’s curse on his good creation. We see the awful results of the corrupting power of human sin and the dark powers of Evil everyday: from the lawless mobs in some of our cities to human trafficking to drug addiction that tears apart and sometimes destroys lives and families to the rising divorce rate and breakdown of families that causes a legion of other problems for us individually and collectively to the acrimony and rancor in our nation’s politics to disordered relationships that cause emotional trauma and devastation to COVID that sickens us and sometimes kills us and makes us isolated and afraid to cruelty toward animals to pollution and waste and a myriad of deadly diseases, we don’t have to look very far to see that along with the wondrous beauty and goodness we behold, things are also terribly wrong in God’s world and our lives. 

Closer to home, many of us have experienced the reality of living in God’s good but cursed and Evil/Sin-corrupted world. In just the last few weeks Father Bowser lost a younger sister to cancer, the second sibling he has lost to that wicked disease. His 97 year old mother has had to endure what no parent should have to endure: the loss of two children. Never mind that they were adult children. The fact remains that parents normally die before their children and she wonders why she is still alive while her beloved daughters are not. Where is the justice in that?

Then there are Nathan and Ashley, who recently suffered a miscarriage of their unborn son, Daniel. Death has robbed them of ever knowing their son in this mortal life and experiencing the joys and sorrows of raising him to adulthood. The couple did nothing to deserve or warrant this, yet it happened anyhow. We will remember Daniel at our roll call in a bit and celebrate that he is known by Christ and is in Christ’s loving arms. But the fact remains that Ashley and Nathan have had to endure an incalculable loss—the death of their unborn child with all of their attendant hopes and dreams for their child crushed. We can only imagine their sorrow and deep sense of loss and injustice.

Or consider our own Doug H., a young husband and father of three who is stricken with  a serious form of cancer. We pray for healing and beseech the Lord to answer our prayers. But the fact remains that the family is terrified of the awful possibility that the evil of cancer has the potential to rob them of their beloved husband and father. This is not what God created us for or intends for us as his image-bearing creatures. The most common phrase in all of Scripture is, “don’t be afraid,” an indication that there are lots of things in this world that make us afraid. The H-Family can testify to this sad reality.

The fact is that every one of us here or watching via live-streaming this morning knows the pain of loss or sickness or alienation or disease. One of our parishioners had his parents killed by a drunk driver years ago, snuffed out in the prime of life. Where is the justice in that? Our young people who live alone are suffering from isolation and loneliness, not to mention real questions about their professional future. All these things cause great anxiety and worry. Where is the justice in that? Some of our older parishioners (you geezers know who you are) lament the onset of infirmity and old age with its attendant diseases and disorders and frailty and loss of independence that often causes a loss of human dignity and perceived self-worth. Where is the justice in that? We have about half of our parish who are staying at home because of real and legitimate worries about contracting COVID. This has the effect of isolating them from their parish family and causes depression and anxiety for some of them. For those of us who choose to come to worship in house, our worship is constrained. We wear masks, social distance from each other, and our parish gatherings and celebrations are either canceled or greatly muted. This is not God’s will or intention for how his people are to live and worship as a parish. Where is the justice in that?

At the Eucharist we will read 78 names at the Roll Call of the Victorious, those saints who have died in the peace of Christ and are now part of the Church Victorious. 78 names! This means that for the friends and families of those 78 saints here in person or watching this morning, we can no longer enjoy their physical presence. We can’t see them, hold them, hear their voices, smell their smells, or enjoy the sweet fellowship of their love the way we could when they were alive in this mortal life. For those of us who lost our saints recently (we will read their names at the beginning of the roll call), the pain of separation that death causes is probably still pretty sharp or raw. For those of us who have had to live without our beloved saints for some time now, we learn to live with the dull ache their absence causes in our lives. Every one of us in this room today knows what I am talking about because Death has robbed every one of us of a beloved saint. Whether recently or long ago, the pain is real. For me, I have had to learn to live with the dull ache over a son that I have not seen or heard from in over eight years and the death of my beloved parents and grandparents. There is nothing good or right about any of this. These things produce buckets of tears for us. Many of us try to put on a brave face and hide our tears from others. But we all know those tears are real and they are present because our hearts ache over our pain, separation, and loss. There is no justice in any of it. It diminishes us as humans and makes us afraid, anxious, and lonely.

But—were you waiting for the great conjunction but?—the pain of death and the sting of Evil, Sin, and living in a cursed creation do not have the final say, thanks be to God. That is why celebrating All-Saints is so important for us. To be sure, it allows us to remember our beloved who have died in the peace of Christ, never a bad thing! But All-Saints also proclaims a far greater promise. Scripture tells us God did not curse the creation because God hates his creation or us. God’s curse can be seen as simply allowing the corrupting effect of our sin and the powers of Evil to manifest themselves in awful ways to despoil God’s good world and our lives. There is a great mystery in all this. But God cannot ultimately let Sin and Evil prevail and so the story of Scripture is the story about how the good and loving God is putting right all that is wrong and corrupt and unjust and evil in God’s world and our lives. In other words, God is busy at work in our lives in and through Christ, wiping away our tears, partially in this life but fully in God’s new creation. 

We get a glimpse of this from St. John’s vision of the heavenly throne room in our NT lesson from Revelation this morning. We need to be clear about this. This vision is not some vision about the future. It is a vision of what is happening right now in heaven, God’s space and the control room for all of creation. There we see a glorious vision of the redeemed in Christ, saints from every tribe, language, and nation. They are dressed in white, NT symbolism proclaiming that they and their sins have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb who sits upon the heavenly throne. They have endured the great tribulation—most likely a reference to being persecuted for their faith but that could also certainly include the various tribulations with which we all have been afflicted in this mortal life. The point is their suffering, sorrow, and loss are forever wiped away, along with their tears. We know this is complete because God the Father is the one who is doing the wiping. Think about that and let it sink in. God the Father himself wipes away our tears forever.

So what happens when God wipes away our tears? Both Old and NTs give us glimpses of this. For starters, when Christ returns to usher in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, the dead will be raised to new bodily life and all things renewed. We aren’t told much about what the new creation will look like other than the fact that we who belong to Christ will get to live directly in God’s presence forever—how awesome and glorious will that be!!!—and the domains of heaven and earth will be forever fused together (see, e.g., Isaiah 25.6-9; 1 Cor 15; Revelation 21.1-7). We know too that as St. John tells us in our epistle lesson, whatever it is we will be in the new creation, we will be like Christ, i.e., we will have a new physical body in the manner of Christ’s. Recall from the resurrection narratives that Christ’s resurrection body was similar to his mortal body but also radically different. The disciples could see their crucified Lord, touch him, eat with him, and hear his voice. They knew it was Jesus and Jesus had a body. But it was also a brand new body that could appear and disappear in locked rooms, a body that was now immortal and impervious to death (see, e.g., Luke 24; John 20). So too will we have old and new bodies when Christ raises us from the dead. We will be recognized and known by Christ and those whom we have loved (the old). But our bodies will also be transformed into perfectly beautiful bodies, bodies that are impervious to sickness, disease, infirmity, hunger, and death. We will not be plagued by anxiety or depression or disordered desires. We will be embodiments of perfect health and humanity (the new). I must be circumspect in my descriptions about our bodies/existence in the new creation because the NT is circumspect in its description of both. But that misses the point here and we should not focus on what our bodies will look/be like.

What we should focus on is this. When the new creation comes in full at Christ’s return, God will put to right all the injustices and hurts in the old world. God will judge and banish the wicked and evil, all things—spiritual and human—that serve as agents to corrupt, defile, hurt, and destroy God’s image-bearers and the rest of creation. Unjust/untimely deaths will be put to rights forever because the dead will be raised to die no more. Ashley and Nathan, e.g., will get to meet their son, Daniel, and get to know and love and enjoy him forever. Can there be a more perfect form of justice?? At Christ’s return all things will be restored to their perfect beauty and goodness in the manner that probably will exceed the beauty and goodness of God’s first creation. Only God has the power to do this and only then can our tears vanish forever because all the loss, hurt, suffering, sorrow, separation, alienation, deformity, ugliness and all the other forms of evil and corruption will be forever done away with, never to bother or hurt us or weigh us down anymore. This is a free gift to those of us who belong to Christ. We have done nothing to deserve the gift but it is ours for the taking because of the great love and mercy of God made known to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Can I get a resounding “Amen”?

Nor do we have to wait for the saving benefits of Christ’s love. We can enjoy them, albeit only partially, right now because God promises in the beatitudes that he will begin to wipe our tears away in this life so that those who mourn, for example, will be comforted as we have just seen. I am talking about our blessed hope, my beloved, the real and only hope that is based on the power and love of God, not some fantasy. Without it we would shrivel away and die a desperate and awful death. So we live by hope and an informed faith, a faith that is based on the historical reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and the revelation of God’s promises that flowed throughout the NT and the Church thereafter. That is why we attend to each other and weep and rejoice with each other. All Saints Day is not about whistling through the graveyard. It is about us as Christians embracing our hope and promise that one day God will wipe away our tears forever and usher in an eternal age where rejoicing and happiness and fulfillment and wholesomeness will be ours forever, all because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us to wipe away our sins and to defeat the Evil that presently bedevils us. That makes the present worth living for in faith, hope, love, and good courage (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.58).

For the love of God, my beloved, let us resolve to boldly embrace our resurrection hope and promise so that we are agents who embody faithfully the Father’s love made known to us in the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit to love and minister to each other and the world, reminding one and all of God’s love for us and our very real and certain resurrection hope. As we do so, we will be living witnesses to the promise that one day God himself will wipe our tears away forever. Until that blessed day, God gives us the grace and ability to embody his love, mercy, compassion, and justice to each other. Let us therefore be bold in our proclamation and living. Death is destroyed and we will know and experience God’s complete restorative healing, justice, and love for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

Don’t Be Afraid. Here’s Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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