Father Philip Sang: Living the Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 6C, Sunday, July 24, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Hosea 1.2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2.6-19; St. Luke 11.1-13.

Our Christian life is not to be confined to a closet. Our belief must be revealed in our practice. If we walk in Christ, then we must act as Christ would act because Christ is in us, in our hopes, our love, our joy and our lives. We are Christ’s reflection.

At first glance, the reading from Hosea doesn’t seem to make sense. Would God really ask a prophet to marry a prostitute? Well, the answer is yes he can, and yes he did. You see, this was part of God’s plan, and we all know that God’s ways are not our ways, and sometimes God’s ways don’t make sense to us because we can’t see the overall plan God has for someone or something.

God wanted to teach Israel a lesson, so he told Hosea to marry Gomer the prostitute. When God used the word whoredom, he was not necessarily referring to prostitution. The word translated as whoredom is a broad term that refers to various types of sexual misconduct. It only refers to prostitution in certain cases. In the case of Hosea, it refers to a married woman being unfaithful to her husband. This was a metaphor for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God. Hosea’s marriage began well and ended badly, just like Israel’s relationship with God began well and had become bad by the time of Hosea.

Hosea probably asked God, “Why are you doing this to me? I am a good man, I try to be a godly man. All I want to do is have a family and raise children. Why should I be married to the wrong woman? Why should I be forced to raise strange children?” God’s likely answer was, “It is because you are my prophet that you are living through this situation. Who else could suffer like I suffer, grieve like I grieve, and understand what I understand? Israel abandoned me just like your wife abandoned you. You can grieve for Gomer like I grieve for Israel.”

God knew that Gomer would be unfaithful and he used that knowledge to teach Israel a lesson. He used the names of her children as statements of prophecy. The first child, Jezreel, was a reflection of 1 Kings 21 where Ahab’s wife Jezreel planned to murder Naboth so that Ahab could seize Naboth’s vineyard. The licking of Ahab’s blood by the dogs was a metaphor for God’s future judgment of people who follow other gods.

The name of Gomer’s second child is translated as “No Mercy”. Scholars suggest that Hosea was not the father. He did not have the natural affection that a father has for his children. This was a metaphor for the lack of love that God had for Israel at this point in time.

The name of Gomer’s third child is translated as “Not My People”, and again scholars suggest that Hosea was not the father. It represents the breaking of the natural bond that God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai; however, this breaking of the bond did not nullify the promises God made to Abraham. Like Abraham, Israel’s salvation was by grace through faith and not through works of the law. The salvation would be offered through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

God used Hosea’s family to call Israel back to him and his teachings. Paul said the same thing in Colossians. Both the Colossians and the Israelites had been led away from God. In the case of the Colossians, they were led away by false prophets. They were deceived. They forgot that in God and Jesus they were living new lives after being forgiven of their sins. They were united with Christ and shared his power over all earthly rules and authority. The only way they had to gain spiritual maturity was to hold fast to their faith in Christ and not to the man-made rules of the Pharisees.

The story of Hosea and Gomer is really a story about God and the covenant people. Hosea used his family struggles as a way to speak to Israel about its unfaithfulness to God. Israel paid a heavy price for its unfaithfulness. Reconciliation would not be easy, just like it was not easy for Hosea and Gomer to reconcile. Israel had to learn a hard lesson. We as Christians have to learn the same hard lesson when we forsake Christ for other worldly ambitions. Thank goodness God is stubborn and pursues us even when we turn from him in sin. This is Hosea’s ultimate message: God is faithful to his promises and can’t let us go. His faithfulness to us overcomes our faithlessness to him and to each other.

We as modern Christians are also called to faith in Christ as a way of gaining spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is gained through faith. Faith allows us to withstand life’s challenges. Faith will guide us to the end of our life’s journey. It will guide us into the time of Judgment Day when God will say “Welcome Home!” Without faith, we are destined to hell.

God can’t give us up as his children regardless of how unfaithful we have been. He loves us too much. At the same time, he can’t overlook our sins because of the damage sin does and will continue to do so as long as we hold on to our sins. Our closeness to God is broken because sin offends God. Sin hurts us because sin always has negative consequences and cuts us off from others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. God had to find a way to comfort us and heal us-and the way he found was through Christ’s death on the cross.

Jesus came into the world for a purpose, and that purpose was to die on the cross, the just for the unjust. When Jesus died for us, he took away our sins and nailed them to the cross. He provided the redemption referred to in Hosea. We must not take that grace for granted like Israel did. We must not drift so far from God that we can’t cherish his grace. That’s what happened to Israel at the time of Hosea. When we accept Christ, our condition is changed from condemnation and death to forgiveness and life. We are given a new nature-one that wants to please God. We are then adopted into God’s family, but that adoption requires us to submit to Christ’s authority. He paid for us with his blood, and since we are now his, he has the right to rule our lives. We have to let Jesus have complete control of every area of our lives-every decision, every action, every word, every motive, every attitude and every thought.

As Israel listened to the news about Hosea’s family, they learned about God’s undying love for his people. God’s faithfulness combined with our faith in him gives us hope that we can be changed, forgiven and saved. He wipes the slate clean and renews the relationship he has with us. We are restored as children of God.

In the Letter to the Colossians Paul encourages us to be rooted in Christ. Israel in Hosea’s time didn’t have those firm roots, so it’s no wonder that they drifted away from God. Once we have this firm foundation, Colossians teaches us to continually renovate ourselves so that we become more Christ-like, but we must not become rigid. We do not have to follow a rigid set of rules. All we have to do is come to Christ in humble faith and prayer. Jesus gives us a good example of a prayer to use in Luke 11:1-13.

There are two forms of prayer: quiet contemplation or thanksgiving and petition. Jesus used both forms of prayer to seek God’s presence, guidance and provision for both body and spirit. His prayer life reflected the life of friendship with God. God met Jesus’ needs when Jesus prayed, and he can meet our needs when we pray.

When Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread”, he was referring to the manna that the Israelites received every day when they wandered in the wilderness. It reminded them of their daily dependence on God for the basics of life. Bread serves the same function in a primitive, agricultural society where hunger is never far away. This might seem to be trivial in our modern, affluent society, but the term “daily bread” represents the modern essentials of our lives- for example, a car or medical care. God out Father listens to our requests but he does not blindly grant every one of them, just like good parents do not grant every one of a child’s requests. To do so would please us in the short term, but it would also hurt us in the long run, just like granting every one of a child’s requests would hurt the child in the long run. Instead, God provides what is needed, including limits and discipline

When I was preparing, I found this prayer, which I thought tied in quite nicely with the sermon. It’s a prayer we should all pray when we don’t get what we pray for:

I asked for strength that I might achieve;

I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy;

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;

I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I had asked for,

but everything that I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

My brothers and sisters when we turn to other people and things to meet our needs, we turn away from God just like Israel did. There are so many people today who believe that if they can simply do this or that, then their lives will be fulfilled. They are very disappointed when they reach their goals and discover that the view from the top isn’t as great as they thought it would be. They try to hide their disappointment with drugs, alcohol sex or material goods. They reached their goals without asking God if their goals were compatible with his plans for their lives. God wants us to seek, ask and knock and in return he promises to answer our prayers. We need to plant our roots deep in the faith of who Jesus is and what he did for us. That way, when the storms of life hit us, we will remain strong.

If we are to be like Christ, we must also forgive others like God forgives us. We as Christians are to be faithful reflections of the image and values of God. How can the world learn of God’s forgiveness if we do not forgive others?

The story of the man who loaned the three loaves of bread is a metaphor for God’s promise to save his people. People in that area and culture took hospitality seriously at that time. Failing to show hospitality would bring shame on the host family because the traveler would go to other homes for help and tell everyone about the person who refused to show hospitality. God refuses to allow his name to be brought to shame, so he saves his people. In other words, he keeps his promises and shows his own version of hospitality.

So how do we keep our faith strong in the face of our modern, secular, godless society? One way is through studying the Scriptures and through prayer.

Society is filled with people like Hosea and Gomer-people whose lives are messed up, who don’t have it together, who make poor choices and live with the consequences. I know, because I’m one of them. We might pretend that we are prefect, but behind our perfect appearances lie deep flaws that exist in spite of our appearances to cover up our sinfulness.

As I started my sermon today so do I  repeat again, Our Christian life is not to be confined to a closet. Our belief must be revealed in our practice. If we walk in Christ, then we must act as Christ would act because Christ is in us, in our hopes, our love, our joy and our lives. We are the reflection of Jesus, and people will say of us, “They are like their Master. They live like Jesus Christ”.

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

Occasional Reflection, July 19, 2022: Entering God’s Holy Presence

1 Then David again gathered all the elite troops in Israel, 30,000 in all. He led them to Baalah of Judah to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house, which was on a hill. Uzzah and Ahio, Abinadab’s sons, were guiding the cart that carried the Ark of God. Ahio walked in front of the Ark. David and all the people of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals.

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God.

David was angry because the Lord’s anger had burst out against Uzzah. He named that place Perez-uzzah (which means “to burst out against Uzzah”), as it is still called today.

David was now afraid of the Lord, and he asked, “How can I ever bring the Ark of the Lord back into my care?” 10 So David decided not to move the Ark of the Lord into the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. 11 The Ark of the Lord remained there in Obed-edom’s house for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his entire household.

12 Then King David was told, “The Lord has blessed Obed-edom’s household and everything he has because of the Ark of God.” So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration.

—2 Samuel 6.1-12

How do sin-stained humans approach a Holy and morally perfect God, a God whose holiness can tolerate not one hint of evil or imperfection in his direct Presence? Very carefully if we are to believe the old and new testaments. Take today’s story for example. King David had decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant, the very place where God chose to dwell with God’s people, the very place ancient Israel believed heaven and earth intersected, to Jerusalem even though no ark could contain God. Touching the Ark meant entering the Presence of a Holy God. God had given Moses very specific instructions on how to handle and transport this Ark. Only Levites were authorized to carry the Ark and handle it. You can read about that in Numbers 1.50-51 if you’re interested.

Now here we are with David leading the procession to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem. But the oxen pulling the cart with the Ark stumbled and the Ark was about to be thrown off. One of men guiding the Ark instinctively reached to catch it before it fell. Surely he did so with the best intentions. And what happened? In great understatement the writer tells us that this act aroused God’s anger and God struck him dead. Talk about the ultimate buzz-kill to spoil a perfectly good party!

God’s seemingly heartless and merciless action made David angry, and why wouldn’t it? At first blush it would make anyone angry. Isn’t God supposed to be kind and merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? What kind of cruel God would strike someone dead over a seemingly innocent behavior like this?

God is indeed loving and merciful and gracious, but God is first and foremost a holy God, separate and apart from creation and God’s creatures, and God in his holiness can brook no act of disobedience or sin or evil. Nothing but good can dwell in God’s presence and that is for our ultimate good if we ever hope to live with him throughout eternity. Who wants to live forever with evil or brokenness or sickness or incompleteness?

So why did God strike this man dead? The answer is straightforward. Uzzah was not a Levite. Obed-edom was (we learn that from 1 Chronicles 15.14-18). David and Uzzah did not follow God’s strict instructions to his people about how to handle the Ark of his Presence and awful consequences ensued. But when David finally followed God’s instructions, God’s blessing ensued. God blessed Obed-edom and his household.

If all the above is true, how can sinful mortals like you and me ever hope to live in God’s holy Presence forever, the same Presence that can tolerate nothing but perfection? Even the best of us are far from morally perfect as this story powerfully and frighteningly shows! No wonder David was angry and afraid. Who in his or her right mind wouldn’t be afraid if this is true? It would seem none of us will get to go to heaven or live in God’s direct Presence forever in the new heavens and earth. And this isn’t the only story of its kind in Scripture. Any time sinful mortals approach God’s holy Presence in ways not prescribed by God, it never turns out well for us. What to do?

Some will dismiss this story as pure fiction. It’s too terrifying to actually believe. But there is a better, life-giving way. Thankfully God has given us a way to approach him without fear. Enter the Cross of Jesus Christ. The only way we can approach God’s Presence is through Christ’s Death. In Christ’s holy Death, God took away our deserved punishment for our sins and made us spotless and without blemish in God’s sight. We aren’t told how this all works, only that it does. And those who put their faith in Christ and act accordingly can have every expectation and confidence that their present and future are with God, not separated from him. We have God’s very word on that contained in the NT and the tradition of the Church. God did not have to do that for us. In the Cross of Christ, in becoming human and dying our death and suffering God’s terrible separation on our behalf, God found a most unexpected way to make us holy and acceptable in God’s sight while satisfying God’s sense of real justice so that we could not only approach God but also get to live with God forever, God be thanked and praised!

This is the God we worship. This is the God we are called to love. Resolve today to stop serving the ways and gods of this broken and sinful world with its destructive and death-dealing systems and beliefs and give yourself entirely to this God who loves you so much he became human (or as the Church has traditionally stated, sent his only Son, Christ) to die for you to make you holy so you are worthy to stand in God’s Presence forever. This is the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is what real love is always all about. Real love never enables sin and brokenness or anything else that dehumanizes us and therefore is not always easy to give or be recognized because the world loves its sin and brokenness. Real love shows us the way to receive real healing, real hope, real mercy, the kind that only God the Father can give us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Real love always shows us Jesus, the only Way to the Father.

—Mark 4:9

Deacon Tucker Messamore: God Will Break You Down?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 5C, Sunday, July 17, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Amos 8.1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1.15-28; St. Luke 10.38-42.

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

“Therefore, God shall utterly bring you down; he shall take you and pluck you out of your tent and root you out of the land of the living” (Psalm 52:5). What was it like for you to hear these words read aloud this morning? How did it feel to recite them together? If I am honest, for me, it’s a bit jarring. It’s uncomfortable. These are not the sorts of words you might expect to hear during a church service. This is not, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). This is not, “I know the plans I have for you,  plans to prosper you and not to harm you” (Jeremiah 29:11). You’re probably not going to find Psalm 52:5 printed on wall hangings at Hobby Lobby.

But this is why I am thankful for the lectionary. It forces us to reckon with passages of Scripture we may otherwise avoid, texts that reveal to us truth about who God is and what He is up to in the world.Indeed, this psalm teaches us an important aspect of the gospel message: that there will be a day when the wicked will be held accountable for their atrocities, God’s people will be vindicated, and evil will be fully and finally defeated.

To fully understand and appreciate this psalm (or any passage of Scripture), we need to understand it in the context in which it was written. The psalm’s heading gives us a clue: “A maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, ‘David has come to the house of Ahimelech.’” David wrote this psalm during events that are described in 1 Samuel 21-22. At the time, Saul was king of Israel, but because of his sin and disobedience, God had rejected Saul and called David to be king instead. Following David’s famous defeat of the giant Goliath and military successes against the Philistines, Saul’s approval rating began to tank and public support in Israel began to shift toward David.

Saul was angry, jealous, and fearful, so he decides to kill David. David has to go on the lam, and he ends up in a place called Nob, hiding with a man named Ahimelech who was a priest of the Lord. Ahimelech and his fellow priests give David a place to stay and offer him some provisions. But a man named Doeg, who is “The chief of Saul’s herdsmen” happens to witness all of this (1 Samuel 21:7). 

Doeg informs Saul that David was sheltering in the house of Ahimelech. Saul summons the priests of Nob and confronts them about aiding and abetting the fugitive, David. Ahimelech admits to it, and Saul is furious. He orders his guards, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because their hand also is with David, and they knew that he fled and did not disclose it to me,” but Saul’s royal guards defy his command, refusing to shed innocent blood (1 Samuel 22:17). And so, Saul asks Doeg to slay them instead, and he does so without hesitation. Not only does he murder Ahimelech and 84 other priests, he slaughters innocent townspeople of Nob, “both man and woman, child and infant, ox, donkey, and sheep” (1 Samuel 22:18-19).

When David learns what has happened, he’s stricken with grief, and he pens this psalm. He laments the wickedness of Doeg, a man who not only commits atrocities, but who delights in them, boasting in his evil deeds (v. 1). The opening verses of the psalm describe Doeg as a deceiver, one who schemes and plots to harm others, one who “loves evil more than good” (vv. 2-4). This is pure, unadulterated wickedness on display. It’s violent and grotesque. 

Unfortunately, we do not have to look far to find this sort of evil around us today. We see news coverage about Ukraine and countries in Africa and the Middle East that are ravaged by violence and war. In our own country, innocent children are abused and exploited; vulnerable people become victims of sex trafficking. It seems like every week, we get report of another mass shooting.

What are we as Christians to do in light of this inescapable reality of the evil that pervades our world? Psalm 52 shows us four ways we should respond.

First, we should remember the fate of the wicked (v. 5). The psalm has been describing the sinister plots of Doeg, but there’s an obvious shift in v. 5: “But God…” No matter what a wicked person like Doeg may scheme or plot, it is God who ultimately has the last word. This verse uses violent images to describe the fate of the wicked: a wall being torn down, a person being snatched out their home, a tree being uprooted. All of these metaphors point to God’s wrath and judgment poured out on unrepentant evildoers.

Even though we may not immediately think of it as such, this is a precious gospel truth. We live in a world that has been wrecked by the curse of sin. God’s good creation is marred by the evil and atrocities we have been describing. But the good news of the gospel that God sent His Son into the world to redeem and restore His creation to what it was meant to be. This work, which reached its high point in the death and resurrection of Jesus, will one day culminate in Christ’s return, when the wicked who have not turned to Christ in repentance and faith will be punished, God’s people will be rescued from their suffering, and sin, death, suffering, and evil will be no more. Brothers and sisters, this day is coming.

Not only should we remember that his day is coming, but we should pray for God’s justice to prevail. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the psalms as the prayer book of the Bible. As we read and pray the psalm, we learn the vocabulary of prayer, the kinds of things that we ought to pray for.  This is significant because the psalter may lead us to pray in ways we might not be inclined to if we were left to our own devices.

Tish Harrison Warren, an author and Anglican priest in Texas, recently wrote an article for Christian Today which I would commend to you. It has a rather provocative title: “Go Ahead. Pray for Putin’s Demise.” The article is about Psalms like this one that point to God’s judgment on the wicked, as well as those that explicitly call for it—For example, Psalm 10:15 says, “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.” She argues that these psalms were written and included in Holy Scripture for times such as the ones we’re living in: “These psalms express our outrage about injustice unleashed on others, and they call on God to do something about it.” 

These psalms help us to take seriously the reality of evil and to recognize that evil cannot ultimately be overcome by human efforts, but through God’s divine work to bring about justice and peace. Warren concludes by saying, “I still pray, daily and earnestly, for Putin’s repentance. I pray that Russian soldiers would lay down their arms and defy their leaders. But this is a moment when I’m trusting [not only] in God’s mercy but also in his righteous, loving, and protective rage.” May we join her and the psalmists in praying for God’s justice.

Third, we should respond to the coming judgment by examining ourselves. After the psalmist vividly depicts the fate of the wicked in v. 5, he tells us how the righteous respond to the judgment of the wicked: “The righteous shall see and fear.” This may seem like a strange initial reaction. After all, as Christians, we know that we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and that in Him, we need not fear God’s judgment, for in Him we have forgiveness from our sins, and nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:39). While this is certainly true, at the same time, we must acknowledge that evil is not just something that is out there, it’s in here, in our own hearts.

This is something God’s people Israel seemed blind to in the time of the prophet Amos. The book of Amos begins with the prophet announcing judgment on many Israel’s enemies: Syria, Philistia, and Phoenicia; the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Moabites. We can imagine Amos working his original audience into a frenzy as they salivated at the thought of their enemies getting their just desserts. 

But then comes a curve ball: Amos begins to announce God’s judgment on Israel too! In today’s OT reading, speaking through the prophet, God says, “The end has come upon my people Israel” (Amos 8:2). The majority of the book of Amos is devoted to God denouncing the unrepentant sin of his own people: their sexual immorality, their idolatry, their oppression of widows, orphans, and the poor. While Israel was quick to recognize and condemn the sins of their neighbors, they were slow to see the sin in their own lives.

This is a reminder for us to be watchful lest we become blind to the evil that can take root within us. May we pray for the God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden” to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts” by His Spirit.

Finally, in the face of evil around us, we should trust in the Lord. In contrast to the wicked person who trusts “in the abundance of his riches,” in v. 8b, David proclaims, “But I trust in the steadfast love of God, forever and ever.” He demonstrates that trust in the Lord in v. 9 when he says, “I will thank you forever, because you have done it.” What has God “done”? This statement refers back to v. 5, which, as we’ve seen, announces God’s ultimate judgment of the wicked. But that doesn’t seem to make sense. The psalmist says, “You have done it,” but the final judgment hasn’t happened yet. So what’s going on here?

David is so completely confident that God will do what He says He will do—bring the wicked to account—that he can speak of it in the past tense, as if it has already happened. God’s promises are sure, and David can trust in them completely. Brothers and sisters, this is what it looks like to live by faith. As see evil in the world around us, as we suffer from it personally in our own lives, history is moving towards a definite point, that God is making all things new, and that one-day evil will be fully and finally defeated.

We know this because Christ has already sealed this victory through his death and resurrection. As our communion liturgy reminds us, “Christ has risen from the tomb and scattered the darkness of death with light that will not fade . . . And though the night will overtake this day, [God] summon[s] us to live in endless light, the never-ceasing sabbath of the Lord.” May we rest in the good news of God’s sure and certain promise to bring an end to evil, wickedness, suffering, and pain, and may we pray for God’s justice to prevail—for His kingdom to come, for His will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

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

Occasional Reflection, July 16, 2022: Where’s God?

13 O Lord, I cry out to you.
    I will keep on pleading day by day.
14 O Lord, why do you reject me?
    Why do you turn your face from me?

15 I have been sick and close to death since my youth.
    I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors.
16 Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.
    Your terrors have paralyzed me.
17 They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
    They have engulfed me completely.
18 You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
    Darkness is my closest friend. —Psalm 88.13-18

As the war between the house of Saul and the house of David went on, Abner became a powerful leader among those loyal to Saul. One day Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, accused Abner of sleeping with one of his father’s concubines, a woman named Rizpah, daughter of Aiah.

Abner was furious. “Am I some Judean dog to be kicked around like this?” he shouted. “After all I have done for your father, Saul, and his family and friends by not handing you over to David, is this my reward—that you find fault with me about this woman? May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t do everything I can to help David get what the Lord has promised him!10 I’m going to take Saul’s kingdom and give it to David. I will establish the throne of David over Israel as well as Judah, all the way from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south.” 11 Ishbosheth didn’t dare say another word because he was afraid of what Abner might do.

12 Then Abner sent messengers to David, saying, “Doesn’t the entire land belong to you? Make a solemn pact with me, and I will help turn over all of Israel to you.” —2 Samuel 3.6-12

If you have had a relationship with God for long enough, you will surely have experienced a feeling similar to the psalmist’s above. You are rocking along and then all of a sudden disaster of some kind strikes. You cry out to God for help and relief, but hear and experience nothing but darkness.

Our psalm appointed for yesterday reflects the terror we feel when that happens. We accuse God of abandoning us and/or rejecting us. We tell ourselves that God does this because God is angry at us. In the psalmist’s day it was a commonly held belief that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Many of us still cling to that belief despite the warning of Job that that might not necessarily be the case in every instance. Because God allows bad things to happen to us doesn’t necessarily mean that God is punishing us. Unless we hear clearly from the Lord that he is indeed punishing us, we need to be very circumspect in our thinking about this.

All that notwithstanding, the fact remains that the psalmist despairs God has abandoned and rejected him forever. For those who believe in God, this is a terrifying prospect. And yet, the psalmist continues to reach out to God in prayer. Like St. Peter asked Christ, “Lord where else can we go? To whom can we turn?”

And then we read today’s OT lesson. Surely the players involved in this sad story would have been tempted to believe God had abandoned and rejected them. God had indeed rejected Saul and his line. There was prophetic confirmation of that reality. So why hadn’t Abner and Israel submitted to David’s kingly rule? Was Samuel really a false prophet?

The point is this. God’s will didn’t magically come about by God snapping his fingers and making it so, much as many of us expect God to act in this manner. God didn’t cause chaos for Ishbosheth, Ishbosheth caused his own chaos. Whether his accusations against Abner were true we are not told, but if they were it would have been a clear attempt by Abner to usurp Ishbosheth. Neither was Abner’s murder or Ishbosheth’s murder caused by God. Human agents were responsible for both treacherous acts. You can read about them later in the story above.

What God did do was use these evil acts to help accomplish his purpose of making David King over all Israel. The point here is that even in the midst of treachery, murder, duplicity, and chaos God was at work accomplishing his purposes. Unless the players and those surrounding the players were tuned firmly into God, God’s hand at work would have been hard to see. The psalmist surely would have understood this dynamic.

And so do we. I look at the chaos and lawlessness running rampant in many of our nation’s cities. I see the wicked fruits of the the sexual revolution coming to full fruition and making otherwise reasonable people act and talk like lunatics. I see green politics causing all kinds of suffering and hunger and want and I wonder if this nation will survive me. How can humans flourish with all this darkness swirling around us? Where are you God? Why are you not making things right? Why are the patients running the asylum??

So what to do? For Christians, the answer is to come together as God’s people in Christ and keep our eyes firmly fixed on Christ’s cross. As we saw on Thursday, that is the answer. As the NT audaciously proclaims, Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. It didn’t look that way to Christ’s followers that first Good Friday. It took a mighty act of God the Father raising Christ from the dead that first Easter Sunday to show them that God was still in control and the promises and proclamations of Christ were true. That hasn’t changed over the course of history.

But let’s be honest here. Many of us increasingly feel like the psalmist who wrote Psalm 88 above, and with good reason. But that isn’t the last word. God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. Christ rules, even in the midst of chaos to accomplish God’s will. That takes a good bit of faith, the kind you only develop by having a real relationship with the living Lord and studying his word contained in Scripture to learn how God has set about to rescue his good creation and creatures from ourselves and the Evil we have unleashed in our foolishness. We need to do this together as a family in Christ and to support each other because seeing Christ’s hand at work in our lives and his world is not always easy to see. Sometimes it is impossible. But his Death and Resurrection remind us in no uncertain terms that God is in charge and works through suffering and injustice to accomplish God’s will. Christ is the supreme exemplar of that dynamic and truth. And because it is true, one day those who put their hope and faith in Christ will see the reward for their faith and suffering in this mortal life. When that blessed day comes and Christ returns to finish his saving and healing work, these momentary trials and tribulations, awful and real as they were and are, will seem as nothing compared to the beauty, health, and life that will be part and parcel of God’s new heavens and earth.

—Mark 4.9

Occasional Reflection, July 14, 2022: God’s Justice

Today begins an occasional series of reflections based on assigned readings from the Daily Office. May God bless you in your reading and reflection of them.

How long, O Lord?
    How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?
How long will they speak with arrogance?
    How long will these evil people boast?
They crush your people, Lord,
    hurting those you claim as your own.
They kill widows and foreigners
    and murder orphans.
“The Lord isn’t looking,” they say,
    “and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.”

Think again, you fools!
    When will you finally catch on?
Is he deaf—the one who made your ears?
    Is he blind—the one who formed your eyes?
10 He punishes the nations—won’t he also punish you?
    He knows everything—doesn’t he also know what you are doing?
11 The Lord knows people’s thoughts;
    he knows they are worthless!

20 Can unjust leaders claim that God is on their side—
    leaders whose decrees permit injustice?
21 They gang up against the righteous
    and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord is my fortress;
    my God is the mighty rock where I hide.
23 God will turn the sins of evil people back on them.
    He will destroy them for their sins.
    The Lord our God will destroy them.

—Psalm 92.3-11, 20-23

Strong language from one of the psalms assigned for today. The psalmist sees massive injustices all around him and calls on the Lord God to do something about it. Doesn’t God see what’s going on? Doesn’t God care about his people? But how can that be? After all, God punishes the nations. God punishes evildoers. God knows human thinking on its own is worthless, leading to no good, and God will not let it stand. The psalmist finally concludes that God will act on behalf of God’s people. He will punish evildoers and actually destroy them. Strong words. Troubling words. Nobody likes to think about God punishing humans because in our heart of hearts (if we have not totally deluded ourselves or lost our minds completely) we all know we are candidates for God’s punishment. Every one of us has missed the mark of God’s moral perfection.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with these words. Apparently many deep thinkers of the church had trouble with these words too because there was a lot of scrambling to rationalize them and to convince us God wasn’t really that way.

Right.

And their efforts trickled down into the pulpits and ministers who were supposed to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ totally and faithfully. After all, look at Jesus. He never had strong words for evildoers. Gentle Jesus meek and mild and all that.

Right.

Apparently texts like St. Matthew 23 (and many more) held and hold no weight to these deep thinkers and those they influenced. Or maybe these texts are later insertions by the church.

Right.

This is why Christian denominations that have rejected strong words like these and drunk the culture’s Kool-aid in an attempt to fit into today’s bizarre new world are dying. They deny their own story in the name of relevance. Nobody likes or respects someone who denies or disrespects his or her own story.

At one point in my life I almost drank the Kool-aid. But by the grace of God as I grew older I came to realize with the help of God and some true deep Christian thinkers how beautiful, real and hopeful these troubling words actually are. If God is truly a good, just, and loving God, how can God have any other reaction to evil and evildoers, human or otherwise? Why would God not be angry at things that dehumanize and ultimately destroy humans, God’s image-bearing creatures? Why would God not act on our behalf to rescue us from real injustices and wrongs, not the made-up, distorted ones we humans love to devise in our worthless thinking?

Think about it. We see folks attempting to foist critical race theory—a hateful, distorted, and inherently racist viewpoint—and apparently succeeding. We see DAs who refuse to prosecute criminals or uphold the law and we hear all kinds of angry rhetoric aimed at dehumanizing and delegitimizing law enforcement. As a result crime is skyrocketing in our cities as lawlessness and chaos ensue. How can humans flourish in that kind of environment? We hear angry voices denouncing our nation’s cherished institutions like the Supreme Court because it had the audacity to do the right thing in overthrowing Roe v Wade and put the decision back on the states as to whether to legitimize the murder of innocents. Let us pray that by the grace of God the states are wiser and more courageous than the 1973 Supreme Court who gave us Roe v Wade. How can humans flourish, especially the unborn, if they aren’t?

I can’t speak for anyone else but all these things and others make me angry because all these movements at their very core advocate lawlessness, the very essence of sin, and I hate sin, both my own and the sin of others. Sin is evil, wicked, harmful, and it has our destruction as its goal. If broken and fallible people like me can get angry over sin and injustice, how much more will God—the only perfectly good and moral being, our Creator who created things to run according to his good and perfect will—get angry at such doing and thinking?

I hope and pray God will make all things right. I also hope and pray that all men and women, even the worst of us, even those who make me angry, will be saved by God’s grace, justice, and mercy. I can have such a hope, even as a sinful man deserving God’s just punishment, because I have put my whole hope and trust in Christ crucified, the God-man who bore the punishment I deserved out of love for me, a sinner and evildoer. That same God-man loves and died for you to spare you of God’s just punishment for your sins if you will only believe God’s promise in Christ (the gospel) contained in holy Scripture. This is God’s merciful, righteous, just, and surprising justice. It has the power to heal you, but it won’t if you do not accept the gift and live by it in faith. Without Christ I could not pray for all to be saved. Neither would I have any hope for myself because I am part of the human race. The same goes for you too. Without Christ and his Death and Resurrection no one has the basis for any real or legitimate hope.

So the next time you read or hear about hard things in holy Scripture like God’s punishment and anger toward evil and evildoers, stop and remind yourself about the end game, God’s promised new creation, the new heavens and earth, a creation utterly devoid of human sin and evil and the suffering and brokenness it all causes. Who in their right mind would not want to live in such a world forever? This is the unique hope (the sure and certain expectation) of the Christian faith, a hope and expectation made possible only by the terrible sacrifice of Christ himself, God become human, offered on our behalf to spare us from God’s anger and punishment for our sins by bearing that anger and punishment himself, not because we deserve it (we absolutely deserve nothing of the kind), but because of the astonishing and breathtaking love of God the Father for us his wayward and rebellious creatures. God did this for us because God loves us and wants us to have a real relationship with him so that we can live with him both in this world and in God’s promised new world. Try reading the whole of Scripture through that lens, the lens of God working to make all things right through his surprising love, grace, and power, the power of crucified and resurrected love. Resolve to make this love your own and start (or continue) to live accordingly. It has the power to heal you.

—Mark 4.9

Father Philip Sang: Righteous Anger

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4C, Sunday, July 10, 2022 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Amos 7.7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1-14; St. Luke 10.25-37.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence Day 2022: The Full Text of America’s National Anthem

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so galantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen thro’ the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
‘Tis the star’spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O’ver the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confustion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out there foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

—Written by Francis Scott Key, 1814

Independence Day 2022: George Washington’s First Inaugural Address of 1789

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.

Read it all.

Independence Day 2022: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble to the Constitution
Read it all.

Would that God raise up leaders for us who would speak to the vision and ideals laid out in our Constitution’s Preamble instead of creating rancor and division by engaging in partisan and petty politics and playing the shame and victim’s game. There is much talk of justice, but not about justice for all, including those tasked with insuring domestic Tranquility. Where fearless leaders are desperately needed who are steeped in our nation’s history and willing to carry on the many good traditions of this country while addressing the bad ones, generally I see only weak and spineless politicians (I cannot call them leaders because they fail to lead) who cower at the mob because they are clueless about their own nation’s heritage (or even worse, hostile to it). It’s a sad state of affairs and simultaneously infuriating. There has been much blood shed to defend our nation and its great heritage, and those politicians who refuse to honor our Constitution’s Preamble by defending it not only betray those who elected them to office but also bring dishonor to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend this country. May the good citizens of this country condemn this behavior by voting them out of office this November. This Independence Day, pray for our nation. We are in desperate need of God’s blessings.

Independence Day 2022: Lincoln on the Declaration of Independence and the 4th of July

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In the 1850s, Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric was suffused with a profound sense of loss. He considered it shameful national backsliding that a new affirmative defense of slavery had arisen in the South. At the time of the Founding our nation had merely tolerated slavery; now, it was an institution actively celebrated in part of the country.

In a letter in 1855 despairing of ending slavery, Lincoln wrote to the Kentuckian George Robertson that “the fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day–/for burning fire-crackers/!!!”

At around this time, Lincoln fastened on the Declaration of Independence as “his political chart and inspiration,” in the words of his White House secretary John G. Nicolay.

He made it the guidepost by which the country could return to its lost ideals. His example shows the enduring vitality and the endless potential for renewal that is inherent in the Declaration.

Some good stuff here. See what you think.

Independence Day 2022: Today in History

From here:

images

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the independence of the United States of America from Great Britain and its king. The declaration came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually encourage France’s intervention on behalf of the Patriots.

Read it all and give thanks to God for this country of ours.