Remember V-J Day 2019

vj-day pict

Today marks the 74th anniversary of Victory Over Japan (V-J) Day and the end of World War II (the formal, unconditional surrender was not signed until September 1, 1945). Stop and remember the brave men and women who fought against the evil of Nazism and Japanese militarism in the 1940s.

Remember too our brave soldiers today who are fighting against another form of evil and keep our soldiers in your prayers.

From the History Channel.

On this day in 1945, an official announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allies is made public to the Japanese people.

Read it all.

Also read the text of President Truman’s radio message broadcast to the American people on September 1, 1945.

From here:

My fellow Americans, and the Supreme Allied Commander, General MacArthur, in Tokyo Bay:

The thoughts and hopes of all America–indeed of all the civilized world–are centered tonight on the battleship Missouri. There on that small piece of American soil anchored in Tokyo Harbor the Japanese have just officially laid down their arms. They have signed terms of unconditional surrender.

Four years ago, the thoughts and fears of the whole civilized world were centered on another piece of American soil–Pearl Harbor. The mighty threat to civilization which began there is now laid at rest. It was a long road to Tokyo–and a bloody one.

We shall not forget Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese militarists will not forget the U.S.S. Missouri.

The evil done by the Japanese war lords can never be repaired or forgotten. But their power to destroy and kill has been taken from them. Their armies and what is left of their Navy are now impotent.

Read it all as well.

Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 8C, Sunday, August 11, 2019 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: Isaiah 1.1, 10-20; Psalm 50.1-8, 22-23; Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16; Luke 12.32-40.

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

In our epistle lesson this morning, the writer of Hebrews speaks about faith. Given that the NT writers claim that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, it is vital for us to understand what genuine biblical faith looks like on the ground. This is what I want us to look at this morning.

“Faith,” says the writer of Hebrews, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” St. James tells us that faith without works is dead and useless, and St. Paul tells us in several of his letters that we are only made right with God by having faith in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. But what does that all mean? To answer this question, we start by looking at what faith isn’t. When the biblical writers speak of faith, they didn’t have in mind some kind of spirituality that is an entity unto itself (she’s a person of faith). Neither did they have in mind some kind of resolute belief that their faith would guarantee them wealth (gee, I’ve got faith so God will surely make me rich). Nor did the biblical writers define faith as a blind leap against known facts. Atheists and other critics of the Christian faith often parrot this latter understanding of faith when ridiculing those of us who have faith. But these criticisms are patently false and inaccurate because this is not what the Bible means when it speaks of faith.

Faith, as the writer of the letter to the Hebrews articulates, involves confident action in response to what God has made known to us through his word in Scripture and through his involvement in his created order. Faith is closely related to hope in Scripture, with both terms often used synonymously. And before we go any further, we need to be clear as to what the biblical writers meant by hope. Hope in Scripture is not wishful thinking or whistling through the graveyard. No, hope as the biblical writers use it, means a sure and certain expectation that something is going to happen in the future based on what has happened in the past. Our Christian hope of forgiveness of sins and new creation, a future hope, is based on the death and resurrection of Christ, past historical events. Without these past events, we really would be fools to believe in a future new world made perfect as well as the resurrection of the body. There would be no historical basis on which to pin our hope on God’s promised new world. But because we believe that Christ was raised from the dead, we believe that instead of judgment for our sins after we die, we will find mercy and new bodily life when Christ returns to finish his saving work because in baptism we share in Christ’s death and resurrection. We weren’t witnesses to these latter events but we believe the testimony contained in the NT of those who were. This is what the writer of Hebrews is talking about. We have faith in the power of our baptism to bind us to Christ and have the hope of bodily resurrection and new creation because the word of God promises such, both in the story of Christ and the subsequent testimony of those who witnessed these saving events. And because we trust God’s character, we trust God’s word and believe it to be truthful. Obviously if we do not know God, we will have a hard time knowing God’s character and trusting God’s word. But if we know the story of God’s salvation contained in Scripture, if we have a robust prayer life, if we are firmly ensconced in the household of God, i.e., the Church, even with all its warts, if we pay attention to how God works through human agency, then we have the basis for trust. This is why we have the assurance of things hoped for and why Christian hope is always a sure and certain expectation. 

Faith therefore is never blind because it is always based on the promises of God contained in the OT and NT, nor are we called to have a blind faith. If we do not know God, it is impossible to have a mature biblical faith because there will always be doubt in our minds as to whether God is really trustworthy, especially when things go south for us or our world. It would be really easy, e.g., for us to look at the chaos of the seemingly never-ending mass shootings and conclude God’s promise to heal and redeem his broken and sinful world and its creatures is false and unbelievable. But this mindset is present- and human-oriented. True biblical faith by contrast is always God- and future-oriented because it is based on known instances of God’s mighty power, goodness, mercy and justice at work. That is why when faith is threatened by doubt—always a threat to us, especially in the ever increasingly chaotic world in which we live—Scripture exhorts us to remember, just as the writer of Hebrews does in our lesson. Listen to these following examples taken from the psalms:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? / Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief. / Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. / Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. / They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced (Ps 22.1-5, NLT).

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! / When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. / All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. / I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help./ And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” / But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. / They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works (Psalm 77.1-3, 10-12, NLT).

Do you see faith in action here? The psalmist is riddled with doubt. It feels like God has abandoned him and he is in danger of giving up and losing his faith. But then he remembers. He remembers God’s mighty intervention on behalf of his people at the Red Sea. In God’s dealing with his people, the psalmist is reminded of God’s character and trustworthiness. We aren’t told how the crisis the psalmist faced turned out. We simply see him working to maintain his faith, the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. When things are desperately dark in your life or when news of current events threatens to overwhelm you with its reporting of new evil and perversity, seemingly every day, do you keep your eyes on God by remembering his mighty works on your behalf (Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit to name but two examples) to help you maintain your faith, or do you let the darkness overwhelm you by focusing on it? 

Notice carefully in these examples from the psalms that the focus of biblical faith is on God’s promises contained in the story of his rescue of his good world gone terribly wrong. God created this world. Our faith tells us this is true because Genesis proclaims that God is our Creator and the psalms reinforce this belief. Consider Psalm 19, for example: 

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. / Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. / They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. / Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world (v.1-4).

This same God, Creator of all that is, is perfect, good, loving, just, merciful, and holy. God created humans in his image to run his good creation on God’s behalf and when we failed that call and our sin allowed Evil and Death to enter and corrupt God’s good world and us, God declared he would rescue us through a human family, Abraham and his ultimate descendent Jesus Christ! This totally unexpected plan is fitting for the dignity of human beings and is another sign that God honors us and wants us to return to him. Along the way, Scripture tells us the story of how God repeatedly came to his people Israel’s rescue, requiring them to choose between the old covenant’s blessings and curses outlined most notably in Deuteronomy 27-28. Covenant curses are God’s judgment on his people’s lack of faith; they chose not to submit to his way of living, in part, because they don’t believe God’s promises to them. Covenant blessings, on the other hand, result from God honoring right living which is indicative of faith in the God who promised his people to be their God and commanded them to live by his laws (more about that anon). This is what was going on in our OT lesson today. The Lord through his prophet Isaiah exhorts his people to faith by living righteously according to his laws. If God’s people Israel really had faith in God, the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen, they would have behaved accordingly. But Israel didn’t have faith in God because they choose to worship and follow false gods. This is why true worship of God the Father requires faith. Nothing else will do in God’s eyes. By worshiping false gods, Israel in Isaiah’s day showed where their faith really was focused, and it wasn’t on the God who called them out of their slavery in Egypt and gave them the Promised Land as a base of operation for their saving mission. They could therefore expect nothing but exile and death, the ultimate covenant curses, just like we can expect nothing but judgment and death when we fail to put our hope (faith) in Christ.

The NT modifies and completes the OT theme of covenant blessings and curses by proclaiming that Jesus Christ ultimately rescued us from exile and death, even after we had fallen away. Jesus Christ was and is the game-changer because lack of faith cannot fully explain human rebellion against God. We all know that from personal experience! We rebel against God, in part, because we lack faith and, in part, because we are held captive by the power of Sin and unable to break free from its grip. So God broke Sin’s power over us on the cross and accomplished his justice. We believe this because we believe God raised Jesus from the dead and in doing so, vindicated his death. And while God has not consummated his rescue of his sin-sick world and creatures, we know it’s coming because we believe in the efficacy of Christ’s saving death and resurrection and are convinced it comes from God. With St. Paul, we believe in the God who creates things out of nothing and who raises the dead; therefore we have hope against hope (God’s hope vs. human hope) that our salvation is assured. As St. Paul also reminds us, our life with Christ is hidden with him in heaven (Col 3.3). We cannot currently see him, but we will see him one day when he returns and so we have the sure and certain expectation (hope) that he will finish what he started. In having this hope in Christ and trusting he is God incarnate because the NT writers proclaim him to be, we demonstrate our faith in the power of God and his revealed word. Simply put, our faith is based on Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Only God is capable of doing this as the whole story of Scripture attests. Our future is linked to God’s power and we are gradually transformed by it.

As we saw earlier, St. James reminds us that faith must be actionable because our actions are usually consistent with and based on our beliefs. Our faithful actions are always consistent with God’s clear commands to us to live rightly, both as individuals and as communities. That is why we forgive when wronged, are generous with our resources, show grace where none is deserved, advocate for families and life, demonstrate love for all, and pursue real justice based on God’s laws. We will live like that in God’s new world and are given a chance to show our faith in our future citizenship there by how we act in this present world. Much of faithful living is counter-intuitive and runs against our natural grain because we are all sin-corrupted and self-centered by nature. That’s the sad outcome of the Fall that Genesis 3ff describe, so faithful living does not come naturally or easily for us. But God the Father is greater than our sin-sickness and gives us his Spirit to help us answer his call to us to be truly free to live as fully human beings made in his image, a life patterned after the perfect life of Jesus Christ our Lord. And here again we must be clear that living faithful lives, however imperfectly that may manifest itself, does not guarantee us health, wealth, and prosperity. God’s blessing there will be for our faithful living, but that blessing does not guarantee or automatically lead to health, wealth, and power, even if the ancient Israelites often saw it doing so, a mistaken notion that our Lord himself repeatedly had to correct (see, e.g., Mk 10.17-27; Mt 16.24-27). No, living faithful lives can (and often does) result in ridicule and persecution as our actions and words challenge the fallen and death-dealing ways of our culture and the world. Even the writer of Hebrews admits that the exemplars of faith he cites died without seeing the promise of their faith fulfilled; and barring Christ’s return before we die, we too will not live to see the promise of our faith in Christ fulfilled. But we believe it nevertheless because we believe in the God who creates things out of nothing and raises the dead to life. Nothing is impossible for this God and he has the track record to prove it. 

Having said this, we must also acknowledge that God promises to reward faithful living and this promise of reward makes many of us very uncomfortable. Our reluctance to count the importance of rewards as a motivator for faith stems from a mistaken notion that real Christians shouldn’t desire a reward for faithful living, that doing so is selfish. But that thinking would have surprised the biblical writers and our Lord Jesus himself (think for example about our gospel lesson this morning or about the parable of the ten talents found in Mt 25.14-30). Why then should we blush or apologize for seeking to be rewarded for our faith? We seek all kinds of lesser rewards in the things we do, things that will pass away. Why not seek the ultimate prize of living with and loving God forever as our most desired-reward? 

With all this in mind, we can see that the theme of faith runs through all our lessons today. For example, when we look at Christ’s parable in our gospel lesson through the lens of faith, we see him calling us to faith. Be ready for the Master’s return (Christ himself), he tells us. Demonstrate your faith by doing the things that show God and others where your true riches are, by demonstrating your hope and trust in God’s love and power. It gives the Father great pleasure to give you the kingdom where you will have light and life forever. Don’t let the darkness of this world lead you astray so that you follow its values and dehumanize yourself. If you live faithfully, you will find your reward. The master will serve you when he returns (think Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper in St. John’s gospel). So demonstrate your assurance of things hoped for and your conviction of things not seen by living in ways that are consistent with the Father’s great love for you. Don’t make money or sex or power or security your gods. Make me your God by following and imitating me for I am God become man. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. Don’t let the darkness of this world fool you. I am going to die to rescue you from God’s terrible judgment on your sins and reconcile you to the Father, and my Father will raise me from the dead to prove to you that this unbelievable promise is really true. And what do we require from you? Faith made manifest in your living according to our will for you. My Father loves you and wants to rescue and restore you to your rightful place in his creation and has sent me to accomplish what you cannot accomplish for yourself. Please have the wisdom and humility to accept our gracious gift to you. 

 This is what real faith is all about, my beloved. As with all things from God it is rich, multifaceted, complex, and often challenging because we are mere mortals with limited understanding who live in a dark and challenging world in the midst of our own conflicting fallen and noble desires. So do what the biblical writers tell you to do when your faith is challenged. Remember, so that your assurance of things hoped for and your conviction of things not seen—forgiveness of sins and your place in God’s new creation—will not be overcome by people or forces who hate you and want to destroy you. Remember that it is the Father’s pleasure to give you his kingdom, so focus often and regularly on this God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead. This is the God who creates things out of nothing and gives life to the dead. He is the same God who wants to give you a place in his kingdom forever, starting right now and culminating fully when he raises you from the dead at his Son’s return to finish his saving work on your behalf. That’s a faith worth living and dying for, even as we live constantly in a world of uncertainty and enigma. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.   

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

An Ancient Theologian Defines the Christian Rule of Faith

From Tertullian, who died in the early third-century (ca. 225AD). Notice the emphasis on the resurrection of the body. Is this your faith?

Now, with regard to this rule of faith—that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend—it is, you must know, that by which we believe that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, sent forth before all things; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen in various ways by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles, was crucified, and rose again the third day; then having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent in his place the Power of the Holy Spirit to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both good and evil, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than to those which heresies introduce, and which make people heretics.

On the Prescription of Heretics 13: CCL 1, 197-198

Fr. Santosh Madanu: The Parable of the Rich Fool

Sermon delivered on Trinity 7C, Sunday, August 4, 2019 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: Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 107.1-9,43; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21.

Luke 12: 21 “This is how it will be with those who store up things for themselves but are not rich toward God”.

In the world we have a day devoted to fools called April fool’s day where we trick someone into falling for something to make them appear to be a fool. Have you ever been tricked into being a fool?

Psalm 14: 1 says “The fool says in his heart there is no God.”  The fool in the parable was deceived into thinking and living like there was no God. God blessed him with abundant harvest but he failed to give thanks to God.  His life became self-centered and based on things and his pleasures.  He thought his struggle in this life is only over material things.  I pray through today’s message we may not be struggling only over material things but to learn to struggle with God.  That we learn to bring our hearts to God and offer up the things God gave us.  So that we become rich toward God.

Verse 13-15A man in the crowed says to Jesus “Teacher, Tell my brother to divide the inheritance”.

During those days it is customary that the older brother received double the inheritance and rest is divided between the other siblings. However, this man seems to have received nothing.  Perhaps it was this sense of unfairness or injustice that prompts this man to come to Jesus.  Struggling with this sense of injustice or unfairness must have so consumed this man that first is able to get the attention of Jesus; secondly that he dares ask such a personal question in the midst many thousands of people.

When we look at this man’s plea to Jesus, it reminds us of our children coming to us seeking parents to take their side in the dispute to share the property. This makes the parents go insane.

Jesus replied,  to “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you ? Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”  Jesus response is not surely the response he expected to say to his brother.  However Jesus immediately turns to this man’s heart problem.

Proverbs 4:23 states “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” 

Life is not fair but we must know and live by spiritual truth.  By not fixing his heart his entire life will be affected.  When people place their priorities on material things rather than on eternal things, they are doing the foolish thing.  People affected by similar experiences often play the role of victim their entire life, holding on tightly to whatever they have and living in self-pity. And blame God saying God doesn’t help them out.  Though the life is not fair but Jesus is fair.

Romans 10:11-13 states “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.  For every one who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

In Jesus, the weak will be made strong; the poor will be made rich.  Whatever injustice or pain you are suffering from the hurt of others bring it to Jesus and he will heal you and make you a new creation.

What was man’s heart’s problem?

The selfish desire or the greed and thinking that everyone exists for him. The greed will blind the person.  The material possession will never satisfy person.   The most valuable things are of eternal joy, eternal life and loving relationships with each other.

Jesus goes on to tell the rich man as fool.  Because his purpose of life involves nobody but himself.

The Rich man says to himself, I will do this, I will store up my grains, I will say to my soul.  He is preoccupied with himself.

This man thinks his wealth can buy him the security for the rest of his life.  However he is extremely short sighted.  Jesus says in verse 20 “this very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? A few years ago in China there was a billionaire who worked hard all day and night accumulating his vast amount of real Estates and wealth.  Then one day in his late 30’s the man suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack. Soon after, his wife re-married to his driver.  The driver had one word to say to everyone “all of these years I thought I was working for my boss, it turns out he was working for me.”  This is the tragedy for many, many politicians, businessmen, chief ministers and prime ministers and presidents. Most of them amass lot of wealth at the cost of some ones hard work or by cheating. They left their wealth for government or for others.  They are all foolish ones who think the money helps them to control every one and have their way in their lives.  Since this parable should help us that we become rich toward God.

First, we must know that God is the source of all riches. We need to store up many treasures in heaven.

1 Cor 8:6 “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live.”

1 Timothy 6: 17-19 says  “command those who are rich in this present world not to arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but put their hope in god who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds and to be generous and willing to share…. So they may take hold of the life that is truly life.’

Our secular society has become enamored with having more and becoming more. Our kids want more toys and nicer clothes.  As adults we may desire the new car, the new/bigger house, that nice boat for the lake, or to be able to take that vacation to the Caribbean. But, to what end? The point is not that material things by themselves are bad.  The issue is that we get obsessed and become a slave to these things. 

Rather than using our time, talent, and treasure to glorify God and become rich spiritually, we become slaves to material things. Before we know it, we are making excuses and thinking how we really need that new pair of shoes when in reality we don’t and the $50 could buy several cases of food for the local soup kitchen or bedding for the homeless shelter. We have to work those long hours in order to keep the high paying job that pays for the nice house at the expense of spending time with our families or at Church. We skip Church on Sunday so we can take out the new boat on the lake that we just bought.  We focus so much on the house we need, the cars we need, and how much money we need for retirement 20 years from now that we don’t stop to think, “what if I’m not here?”  “What if I am called to God before then?” “Will I be able to say I fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, or clothed the naked?” Or, will I have an excuse that is rooted in my own desire to have more? 

We have all heard the saying “live like there is no tomorrow”, but it’s time to think about this in context of our eternal life. Even if our earthly time comes to an end, are we ready for eternity? There is going to be a tomorrow, but are we prepared for it? How about, “live like your eternal life starts tomorrow!”

I am as guilty as anybody here. I pray that Sacred Scripture helps me make better choices and maybe for you as well.

The lesson here is that God doesn’t care about our earthly treasures and riches.  Having lots of money, lots of possessions, and lots of things that we think are going to make us happy mean nothing to God, and don’t help us get into Heaven.

Fr. Santosh Madanu: The One Thing That’s Needed

Sermon delivered on Trinity 5C, Sunday, July 23, 2019 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; Luke 10.38-42.

Martha, we think that the important thing is doing – but Jesus teaches us to sit – to listen – to learn – to love.

Our story starts, “As Jesus and His disciples went on their way, Jesus entered into a certain village” (v. 38). That raises two questions. First, Jesus and His disciples were on their way – on their way where? We find the answer to that question in the last chapter – chapter 9. It says that Jesus “intently set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem – on His way to the cross – on His way to die. Sort of puts a spin on everything else which is to follow, doesn’t it?! Second, where was this “certain village” that Jesus entered? Luke doesn’t say, but the Gospel of John tells us that the name of the village was Bethany (John 11:1) – and that Bethany was near Jerusalem (John 11:18). 

John also tells us that Martha and Mary have a brother – Lazarus – and that, shortly before Jesus’ death, He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:17-44). Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are friends of Jesus. Jesus is popular, and many people would be proud to have Him as a guest in their house. John tells us that Jesus loved all three of them (John 11:5).

Martha welcomed Jesus into her house, and then went to the kitchen to fix dinner. Mary, Martha’s sister, did NOT go to the kitchen to help, but instead “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his word” (v. 39). That seems OK to me. You can’t just abandon your guest while everyone works in the kitchen. 

But it wasn’t OK with Martha. Luke says that Martha “was distracted with much serving” (v. 40a). You know how that feels, don’t you! You have experienced being “in over your head” – “distracted with much (work).” You have wanted help, and didn’t know where to turn. I have been there too. I’m a lot like Martha. I like to work, and I usually pitch in and do my part. Sometimes I end up working while others sit around chatting. Maybe, like me, you know how Martha felt. 

So Martha, angry at being abandoned in the kitchen, came to Jesus and said, “Lord!” Now don’t miss that little word – “Lord.” The first word out of Martha’s mouth acknowledges Jesus as Lord. Good job, Martha! But then Martha, who has just acknowledged Jesus as Lord, rebukes Him. First, she asks if Jesus doesn’t care that Mary isn’t helping. Then she gives Jesus an order: “Tell my lazy sister to get into the kitchen to help me.” Well, those aren’t the exact words that Luke uses to report this incident, but that’s what Martha meant! Now that kind of outburst has a tendency to make everyone angry. If you are Mary, you wonder why Martha didn’t just say – to you rather than to Jesus – “Mary, I need some help.” Mary would have helped her. And if you are the guest – like Jesus – it’s embarrassing to have your hostess blow up like that.

I’m sympathetic to Martha. I sometimes get angry when I feel that I’m doing all the work. I have surely said a few angry words in my life – very much like Martha did. Having been there and done that, I know what Martha could have done differently. Listen carefully, because this might help you to know what to do next time you’re angry. 

Here’s what Martha could have done. Instead of stomping into the living room and chewing out Jesus and Mary, she could have gone into her bedroom and closed the door. Martha could have prayed this way: “God, I’m so angry. Something is tempting me to go out there to spew my anger all over Jesus and Mary – but I know that would be wrong. God, please drain this anger out of my heart. Help me to feel love for Jesus, my guest, and Mary, my sister. And then help me to ask Mary nicely for help.” 

Then, after praying, Martha could have stayed there a minute to let the anger drain – and then she could have gone into the living room and asked Mary nicely for help. That would have been so much better. 

She could have asked her sister saying, “Martha, could you help me in the kitchen please?”

Next time you’re angry and want to say angry words and do angry things, try that. Try going to a private place for a few minutes – or just shutting out the noise – and ask God to help. If you ask God to help you with your anger, God will help you. Give it a try. 

I am more like Martha than Mary. I want someone to appreciate Martha and those of us who are like Martha. 

The priority of relationship

Deuteronomy 2:24-4:14

Moses recorded how God had given them the land and had also given them the commands. Yet the greatest privilege for the people of God is not the land or the law but the love of God: ‘The Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him’ (4:7).

And it suddenly occurred to me how Mary’s focus on her relationship with Jesus was so right – and how Martha’s anger was so disruptive. Jesus said as much. He said: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her” (vv. 41-42). As I say those words, I feel sorry for Martha. I want Jesus to commend Martha for her work. I want him to say, “Mary, let’s both go in there and give Martha a hand.” But instead, He says: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part.” Is there anything in this little story for us? I believe there is. We are such busy people, and we live in such a busy world. It’s easy to miss the important things. The story of Martha and Mary tells us that there is value in sitting – in listening – in learning – in loving

Have you allowed yourself to be distracted from the ONE THING NEEDED? Have you been absent from worship services or Bible Classes? Have you failed to set aside time each day to meditate on the Words of your Savior? Can you afford to allow these precious opportunities to slip past you? Remember: there’s a time to work, and a time to stop work and listen to the Word of your Lord. Take heed to your Savior’s warning question, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” — Mat 16:26.

Today – and every day – you are invited to leave your anxieties and your troubles behind. You’re invited to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from Him. Led about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Mary looked into the face of her Savior and let His soothing words comfort her soul. Mary recognized that the ONE THING SHE NEEDED above everything else was to hear God’s Word. Everything else is less important. In fact, when you take care to choose this good thing, you’ll see that God will supply you with everything else you need! Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” — Mt 6:33.

First of all, when you pay attention to the ONE THING NEEDED, you get peace of conscience. I’m sure Mary did! Mary, after all, wasn’t that much different than you and me

To my mind, one of the most comforting things about this text lies in the last sentence. Jesus said, “Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” You can lose all your money. You can lose your house, your car, your family, and your friends. Even your health can be taken from you. But God’s Word is a treasure that can never be taken away from you. Every time you read that Word with your family, every time you come to church to hear it preached, that precious Word will be a fountain of salvation to you, springing up to everlasting life. That’s why Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for you treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” — Mat 6:19-21. AMEN

Like Martha, we think the important thing is doing – but Jesus teaches us to sit – to listen – to learn – to love. Whether at home or work or school, take a moment to look around and find the blessings. Take a moment to thank God for giving you another day. Sit at God’s feet for just a moment. Be quiet. Listen. Treasure the moment. We live in a Martha world, but take time to be Mary for just a bit. Jesus says that that’s the one thing that’s needed. He says that’s the good part that won’t be taken from you.

The Surprising Power of the Gospel

Sermon delivered on Trinity 4C, Sunday, July 14, 2019 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: Amos 7.7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1-14; Luke 10.25-37.

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

What are we to make of the prophetic oracles contained in our OT and psalm lessons with their fearsome message of God’s judgment on human sin? Or what can we expect to happen to us when we fail our Lord’s challenge to us to act like good Samaritans toward our neighbors (and even our enemies)? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

To begin, it will be helpful to look at our lessons through the lens of locus of control. On whom is the responsibility placed? Locus of control implies being in charge so this is a critical question for us to answer. Who is really in control of God’s world, God or us? In our OT lesson, the Lord, though his prophet (or mouthpiece) Amos, clearly condemns Israel’s idolatry which had led God’s people to practice all kinds of perversity and injustice. This is no small matter because we always become what we worship, whether for good or for ill. Despite God’s repeated calls to his people to repent, they stubbornly refused to do so, choosing instead to worship all kinds of false gods instead of the one true living God, the God who had called them to be his people. Their stubborn refusal to repent would lead to their exile to Assyria some twenty-five years later. And when Amaziah the priest challenged Amos’ prophecies, he too found himself under God’s terrible judgment. The locus of control seems to be with God’s people, presumably because they had a real choice. God called them to repentance and expected them to choose wisely, giving them the freedom to do so. But God’s people failed to choose wisely and found themselves under God’s ultimate judgment of exile. 

Likewise, in our psalm lesson, God condemned the rulers of his people for ruling unjustly as God called them to do. Instead of protecting the weakest and most helpless in society, Israel’s rulers had apparently ruled as the rest of the world’s rulers ruled. They took care of the rich and powerful while ignoring the needs of others. While God had given his human image-bearers the freedom and power to be stewards over creation, Israel’s rulers had failed to learn the ways of God and ruled instead in the darkness and evil of the world’s ways. This resulted in God’s judgment on them and their rule: exile and death. Once again the locus of control seems to be with the rulers. God had given them the free will and ability to choose wisely to rule on God’s behalf and they had failed to do so. Like God’s people Israel over whom they ruled, Israel’s rulers found themselves under God’s fierce and terrible judgment for failing to act faithfully as God’s image-bearing stewards.

Turning to our gospel lesson, the locus of control seems to remain with humans. In his parable about the good Samaritan, our Lord tells us unequivocally that we are to act like the true image-bearers that God created us to be. How do we do that? In part, by loving our neighbor, neighbor broadly and inconveniently defined to include anybody and everybody in need, enemies included. It won’t do to treat well just those we like and love. No, we are to treat all human beings well because all human beings are created in God’s image, even if some have worked really hard to destroy that image. But what happens to us when we don’t follow the good Samaritan’s example in our Lord’s parable? While Jesus didn’t explicitly tell us, the implication is that we too will fall under God’s judgment because we will have failed to act wisely (in the manner God expects). The locus of control still seems to be with us. We have a choice to do as Jesus tells us to do and many times we fail to act accordingly.

Now for those who do not believe in God or have any notion of Sin and its power to destroy, this is no big deal. They go blithely along without a clue or care in the world, at least about locus of control when it comes to acting rightly in the image of God, supremely modeled by our Lord Jesus Christ. But as Scripture makes clear, ignorance is no excuse; neither is it bliss in this context. Those who deny God or reject God’s commands for us to act rightly will still come under God’s judgment and this should bring us no joy because we too are in the same boat. God calls us to act justly and rightly and all too often we miss the mark, acting selfishly and myopically, pursuing our own broken desires and interests. This can cause us great anxiety, especially if we believe in God’s righteous-ness and justice. If God truly is good and right, how can God not judge our sinful behavior and us? God gave us free will to choose between right and wrong and expects us to choose the right, much like we as parents expect our kids to choose the right. So when we miss the mark, i.e., when we sin by failing to act as truly human beings God created us to be, the consequences fall on us because we have a choice and fail to choose wisely. Consequences follow.

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking as St. Paul pointed out in his letter to the Romans. While we do have free will and ostensible freedom to choose, ever since our first ancestors rebelled in the garden and got expelled from paradise, the human race has been held captive by an alien and hostile power better known as Sin. I am not talking about the misdeeds we do (our various sins). I am talking about Sin, that dark power that has enslaved us and greatly circumscribes our fee will. Don’t believe me? Check out Romans 7 for starters. How many times have you resolved to do the right thing, only to find yourself thwarted? For example, how are those new year’s resolutions you made in January coming along? Want to lose weight? No problem. Go on a diet. Want to break your addiction to porn? No problem. Just stop looking at it. Want to stop smoking? Just put down those cancer sticks. Right. Naiveté anyone? Because we have free will and the ability to choose wisely, because we are made in God’s image and therefore have God’s spiritual DNA, it should be no problem for us to do these things. We are blessed with locus of control! But the history of the human race since after the Fall tells a grimly different story. Father Bowser spoke of it two weeks ago when he talked about the “egoic mind,” our fallen nature. We all seem to have a bent toward sinning beyond our control that makes us behave and speak and think in ways that sometimes just baffle us. This is the power of Sin at work and it has enslaved all of us to one degree or another. 

Let me be crystal clear. I am not talking about a “devil made me do it” mentality. Nor am I absolving us of any responsibility for our actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I am suggesting is that the myth of unfettered free will and locus of control is just that—a myth. There are dark forces at work in our world that have enslaved us and cause us to work in some very ungodly ways at times, some more so than others, much to our chagrin. Even so, our behaviors fall under the judgment of God. We can’t and won’t be able to use Sin’s power over us as an excuse when we stand before God’s judgment throne and are required to give an account of our lives. 

So what’s the answer? So far, there’s been no Good News in what I have just said. If we are enslaved by an outside power that hates us and wants to see us destroyed, what to do? St. Paul has the answer for us in our epistle lesson. The Father, he tells us, “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1.14). St. Paul, of course, is talking about Christ’s death and resurrection. God knows we don’t have the power to break our slavery to Sin, desperately as we might want to be freed from its tyranny. And so God broke Sin’s power over us on the cross, bearing its full weight himself, so that we could be truly free to act as fully human beings who are created in the Father’s image. We will indeed have to give an account of our lives when we stand before God’s judgment seat, but we will hear the verdict of not guilty because we have put our whole hope and trust in Christ and the power of him crucified and resurrected. As St. Paul would write elsewhere, none of us are totally free of the vestiges of Sin’s power over us until we die (Romans 6.7), but as Christians, we have nothing to fear because we kneel in humility and repentance at the foot of the Cross, our only hope to escape God’s just and terrible judgment.

This great gift of unmerited grace must change us in the power of the Spirit. We don’t see the Cross as a “get out of jail free” card that allows us to keep living in a state of perpetual rebellion against our Creator and Father. No, when by God’s grace and power we begin to grasp the terrible cost and deep love the Father and the Son have shown us in Christ’s death and resurrection, it hits us like a ton of bricks how costly our sins and slavery to Sin’s power is to God the Father, and with what love he has acted to free us so that we no longer need to fear his just condemnation of our sins, irrespective of locus of control. 

And because we are given the Holy Spirit to help break and mitigate Sin’s power over us so that we truly can be free people in Christ (Galatians 5.1), we are given the power to live godly lives, not perfectly of course; for whatever reason we are not completely free of Sin’s power this side of the grave. To complicate things further, God’s power at work in our lives through the gospel is typically not spectacular or sexy. Sometimes we don’t even recognize it! The Father works in our lives through his Spirit in quite unremarkable ways, and this can sometimes trip us up because when we hear the term “power” we are conditioned to think shock and awe. But that’s not how the Spirit typically works. Listen to this example and pay careful attention to the dynamics in the story because in it we see the power of the gospel, i.e., the power of God, at work.

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 self-control 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

If you ever needed an example to illustrate St. Paul’s statement that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8.28), here you have it. Notice first how Christ works. He used 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 (good Samaritan, anyone?). 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 had 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 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 occurred—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 God uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. 

This is the power of God at work. This is the surprising power of the gospel. If we do not pay attention to these dynamics, we will likely miss seeing God’s providential work in our daily lives and become greatly impoverished in our ignorance. But when we start to look for God at work in our daily lives we will see his presence in the various circumstances and “chance” happening in our lives, which God will then use to develop a deep trust in his goodness and love for us, each and every day. That trust, in turn, can help see us through the darkest times of our lives. Without understanding and seeing how the power of God works, we are likely to fall victim to the old lie that God has abandoned us and doesn’t care about us, that God is not active in our world; we’re in it by ourselves, baby, and that is a terrifying prospect. Understanding how the power of God works is the best antidote to counter this cancerous thinking. For you see, the locus of control, despite our illusions and delusions and darkened thinking, has always been with God, and nothing in all creation, not Sin, not death, not our own folly nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love 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. 

Fr. Carlo Carretto: The Church as Prophetic Voice

Always a much-needed reminder to God’s people in the Church catholic. How desperately we need our Lord’s power to be such.

An assembly where people do not love each other, where they accuse each other, where there is rancor or hatred, cannot call itself prophetic. A person who keeps silent about the truth, who hides the light, is not a prophet.

A people which kills, which deteriorates the quality of life, which suffocates the poor, which is not free, is not a prophetic people.

That is why it is not enough for just any assembly to call itself Church, just as it is not enough to be a bishop or a pope in order to possess prophecy.

A group of young people which meets for sports or outings with the “do everything” blessing of the up-to-date parish, another group which meets to camouflage some political position cannot be called Church, even if the sports are refereed by a famous devout layman and the social ideas are worked out by a priest.

To call itself Church, an assembly must mirror the first assembly that met in the Upper Room with Christ: an assembly of faith and grace, an assembly of love and Eucharist, an assembly of prayer and prophecy.

But it is not easy to prophesy; it is terribly costly. It has to be drawn from the silence of God, and there is need to swim against the stream, need to pray at length, need to be without fear.

—From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

Fr. John Jorden: We are Called

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3C, Sunday, July 7, 2019 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Our guest preacher today, Father Jorden, got writer’s cramp from Father Bowser so there is no written text for today’s sermon. To listen to the audio podcast of his fine sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: 2 Kings 5.1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6.1-16; Luke 10.1-11, 16-20.

Independence Day 2019: Lincoln on the Declaration of Independence and the 4th of July

lincoln19In 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 2019: Today in History

From here:

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims imagesthe 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.