N.T. Wright: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

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Wonderful stuff. The video is over an hour but you don’t have over an hour to watch it. Do yourself a favor and watch it anyway.

And if you are the reading type rather than the viewing type, pick up Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, and read chapter 4 because it essentially contains the contents of this lecture.

Fr. Ron Feister: A Vineyard of Love

Sermon delivered on Easter 5B, Sunday, May 3, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you would prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 8.26-40; Psalm 22.24-30; 1 John 4.7-21; John 15.1-8.

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

In last week’s Gospel, we heard Jesus describing himself as the Good Shepherd. He portrays himself as the Shepherd to whom the sheep belong, compared to someone who is a mere hired hand, with no personal interest in the sheep, in so doing Jesus is using a reference which can easily be understood by the people of his time and culture. He assures his listeners that like the good shepherd he will not abandon the flock when hard times and dangers come. This is a message that the early church needed to take to heart after Jesus appeared to have been taken from them in his crucifixion. The Risen Christ appears to his disciples after his death, in fulfillment of this promise. The wolves will come but Jesus, the Risen Lord will stand by them and not abandoned them. His disciples all were familiar with the role of the shepherd and while they may not have been shepherds themselves, they understood the importance of that r ole both economically and socially.

InToday’s Gospel, Jesus present himself in the image of the grape vine and his Father as the owner of the Vineyard, the grape grower. Again, Jesus is drawing from the experiences and understandings of the common person. If the Shepherd was a well-known and important profession in the time of Jesus, basically indispensable, so were those who provided the grapes. The vineyards provide grapes as table fruit. They also provided grapes for wine in its many forms and uses. Wine was used as a common table drink, it was used in making vinegar for both flavoring and preservation. It was often used as a form of disinfectant to clean wounds. Wine also played a significant role within the Jewish religious practices both in the home and at the Temple. In the first public miracle of Jesus, he turns water into wine so that a couple’s wedding celebration will continue and be remembered with joy and not disappointment or embarrassment. Even people not in the grape growing business understood something about grape growing so we can see and appreciate why Jesus would use this symbolic way of describing himself.

I grow grapes myself and thus I can very much appreciate much of this Gospel in a special way. Jesus says that he is the vine, the true vine, that is rooted in the Father. When you first plant grapes, the plant looks like a beaten, dried-out stick with no life. The shoot needs to be planted deep in the soil. This causes me to reflect on how the Body of Jesus must have looked as it was taken down fro the cross and carried to the tomb. It too was beaten and dried out. It had no life, but while his Body was planted within deep within the earth, Jesus always remained deeply rooted in the Father. Planted in the fall, the grape plant retains its death-like appearance until in the Spring when it takes on its vibrant nature. On Easter the Lord arose from his death and shown forth in his most vibrant glory. Over time the grape stem begins to become a grape vine. But before, it grows very much, the grape grower needs to immediately prune the stem so that the grape plant will have the most fruitful shape and energy and so that it will not in its first years be trying to produce fruit that I can not support.

This pruning process is done annually to ensure that the vines remain fruitful. Jesus tells his disciples that they have already received their initial pruning or cleansing by having heard the word that he spoke to them. We likewise, have heard the word of God preached to us in church and if lucky, in the home and definitely we “hear” the word of the Lord in the lives of those other Christians who give witness to it by the way they lead their lives of which their many examples in this Church family. The annual pruning is most often done in January and February, this is a time when the unproductive branches are removed and tossed into the fire. We as followers of Christ need to be aware that despite being initially prepared to serve with Jesus that there are parts of our lives that are non-productive. There are areas of sin that need to be removed and there are parts of our lives that while not sinful in themselves but do not help us to be fruitful and should we remove these we will have more energy and more vitality in which to serve. While this type of pruning can be done any time during the year, the Church has chosen the season of Lent, for most of us a time of the year not unlike the cold bleak season when the grapes are cut-back, but now that time of self-inspection and sacrifice is past.

Now is the time of Resurrection and renewal. Now is the time when we, rejoicing in the Good News of the Risen Lord are called to bear first blossoms and then fruit. We can only produce good quality fruit if we continue to remain attached to Jesus. In the case of the grape vine, those branches that are closest to the main vine are the branches that produce not only the most fruit but the best quality as well. So the closer we connect ourselves to Jesus through reading the Scriptures, receiving the Sacraments, and by Prayer the more fruitful we will be in bearing our fruit to the world. There is another characteristic of the grape vineyard that also helps the grape vine be fruitful and resistant to outside pressures. The branches of the grape vine interweave with each other and support each other. Each branch supporting those next to it. So it needs to be with God’s vineyard. Not only must we be attached to the true vine Jesus Christ, but we need to be intertwined with each other. We need to realize that we can only be our best when we are involved in supporting others. We also need to be willing to be supported by others when we are in need or distress. Fortunately again this Church family has showed itself as a vineyard of God in which the members, are well intertwined and are quick to respond to the needs of others.

So what then is this fruit that we are to produce? It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which comes in many many forms but all from one source. We are called to be people in whom this fruit can be experienced by the people around us. As the wine at the wedding feast brought joy to the bride and groom and their guest, we are to be a source of joy. As a toast of the fruit of the vine often is a sign of people or counties making peace, we are to be a sign of the source of the only true peace – Jesus Christ. As wine was used as medicine to heal wounds, so we are called to help heal the wounds of this world by our kindness. As wine was used and understood to show God’s faithfulness in home and temple worship so we are called to show by our faithfulness that God still cares about the people of this world and especially of those who call upon his name.

As many wines grow richer with maturity, so we who have who have achieved a measure of human maturity are challenged to show the richness of God in our lives. The fruit we bear is not meant to be kept to ourselves. It is meant to feed the whole world. So we find in our first reading from Acts, that Philip the Apostle, not to be confused with our Father Philip, on hearing the Ethiopian reading from Isaiah about the Suffering Servant, is willing to share the good news of Jesus with him. This Ethiopian was not a Jew although obviously a respecter and student of the Jewish faith but still a foreigner. Philip was willing to take the time to share with the Ethiopian the whole of the Scriptures and in doing so to show how Jesus was the very fulfillment of those Scriptures. In doing this, Philip was letting the fruit of God’s Spirit, so abundant in his life, come into the life of another.

We also who are blessed by God’s fruitfulness in our lives must be willing to share that fruitfulness with others. If we were to sum up what the fruit we are to bear, it is in one word, love. In being part of the vine that is Jesus Christ, we are bound to the God of Love. This love is not something of mere emotion or sentimentality but rather is a love that is in action. It is a caring for our sisters and brothers. It is a compassion for those around us especially those in need be it physical or spiritual. It is a willingness to bring the the good news to foreigner and enemy as well as friend. Most fruit once picked from the branch begins after but a short time to wither and decay but the fruit that comes from the true vine of Jesus Christ remains fresh and nourishing. Of all God’s fruitful gifts the greatest of these are faith, hope and love and it is the fruit of love that will never pass away.

Christ is Risen. Alleluia, alleluia.

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

Suzanne Venker: Why Men Won’t Marry You

Interesting. See what you think.

660-marriage-APWhat gives? Why are men here and abroad avoiding the altar in spades?

1. Because they can: Men used to marry to have sex and a family. They married for love, too, but they had to marry the girl before taking her to bed, or at least work really, really hard to wear her down. Those days are gone.

When more women make themselves sexually available, the pool of marriageable men diminishes. “In a world where women do not say no, the man is never forced to settle down and make serious choices,” writes George Gilder, author of “Men and Marriage.”

Scoff if you wish. Call me a fuddy-duddy. But how’s that new plan working out?

Read it all.

Bishop Roger Ames: Stay with the Resurrection

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 4B, April 26, 2015 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you would like to hear Bishop Ames’ sermon, click here. There is no text for today’s sermon.

Lectionary texts: Acts 4.1-12; Psalm 23.1-6; 1 John 3.16-24; John 10.11-18.

An Early Account of Why We Offer the Peace Before the Eucharist

Notice the emphasis on the body. No gnosticism here!

When the bishop and the congregation have exchanged blessings, the bishop begins to give the Kiss of Peace, and the church herald, that is to say, the deacon, in a loud voice orders all the people to exchange the Kiss of Peace, following the bishop’s example. This kiss which all present exchange constitutes a kind of profession of the unity and charity that exists among them. Each of us gives the Kiss of Peace to the person next  to us, and so in effect gives it to the whole assembly, because this act is an acknowledgement that we have all become the single body of Christ our Lord, and so must preserve with one another that harmony that exists among the limbs of a body, loving one another equally, supporting and helping one another, regarding the individual’s needs as concerns of the community, sympathizing with one another’s sorrows and sharing in one another’s joys.

The new birth that we underwent at baptism is unique for this reason, that it joins us into a natural unity; and so we all share the same food when we partake of the same body and the same blood, for we have been linked in the unity of baptism. St. Paul says: “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the same loaf. This is why before we approach the sacrament of the liturgy we are required to observe the custom of giving the Kiss of Peace, as a profession of unity and mutual charity. It would certainly not be right for those who form a single body, the body of the Church, to entertain hatred toward a brother or sister in the faith, who has shared the same birth so as to become a member of the same body, and whom we believe to be a member of Christ our Lord just as we are, and to share the same food at the spiritual table. Our Lord said: “Every one who is angry with his brother [or sister] without cause shall be liable to judgment.” This ceremony, then, is not only a profession of charity, but a reminder to us to lay aside all unholy enmity, if we feel that our cause of complaint against one of our brothers or sisters in the faith is not just. After our Lord had forbidden any unjust anger, he offered the following remedy to sinners of every kind: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother [or sister] has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother [or sister], and then come and offer your gift.” He tells the sinner to seek immediately every means of reconciliation with the one offended, and not to presume to make an offering until amends are made to the one wronged and the sinner has done all that is possible to placate the offended person; for we all make the offering by the agency of the bishop.

Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia [d. 428], Baptismal Homily, 4.39-40

Martyrs in Ethiopia

I had not heard about this and am very troubled that this isn’t being covered by MSM. Very troubled.

From Bishop Grant LeMarquand, one of my old professors at seminary and a good guy. Received via email.

A new coptic icon of the 21 Egyptian martyrs of Libya

A new coptic icon of the 21 Egyptian martyrs of Libya

I have just learned the horrifying news that as many as twenty-eight Ethiopian Christians have been shot or beheaded in Libya by members of the terrorist group known as ISIS or ISIL. This alarming act of violence against those that ISIS calls “people of the cross” comes just two months after twenty-one other Christians – twenty Egyptians and one Ghanian, were beheaded on a Libyan beach.

It is too early to learn the names of these newest martyrs. It is also too early to know what churches they came from. (The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has more than 30 million members, but there are also members of many other churches in this country, including at least 15 million Protestant Christians.) Personal details about the men who have died may emerge. For now we can note the most important things to be said about these victims. Their names are known to God and they are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 13:8). Their denominational affiliation is no longer of any importance: they are among the unnumbered throng from every nation, tribe, people and language gathered before the throne and the Lamb (Rev 7:9) who have come out of the great persecution (Rev 7:14) and have had every tear wiped away from their eyes (Rev 7:17).

The persecution of followers of Jesus is one of the terrible facts about today’s world. Although the popular imagination may still associate the persecution of Christians with the distant past (of the Roman Empire, for example), it is a reality that more Christians have died martyrs’ deaths in the last hundred years than in all the previous centuries of Christian history combined. We are living in a time when the words of Jesus “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also,” (John 15:18) are being fulfilled on a more and more frequent basis.

How are we Christians (those of us in Ethiopia as well as around the world) to react to this most recent atrocity? First, we must look up to God in thanksgiving for the lives of these brothers who loved not their own lives, but followed Jesus in the way of the cross. Second, we must ask for the Holy Spirit to strengthen us to abandon the temptation to hate. Instead we must follow Jesus, who not only suffered death on the cross, but also prayed for his executioners to be forgiven. If we are turned to hatred, the terrorists have won. Finally, we must continue to reach out to a world desperate for the love of Jesus. Make no mistake, the terrorists who executed these martyrs of Ethiopia have exhibited the worst of human depravity, but they have also revealed their desperate need of a Saviour. The apostle Paul, a great persecutor of the church of God, was turned to love by his experience of meeting Christ on his way to the Syrian city of Damascus. May God use his church to so act and speak of and from the love of Christ that many former or potential persecutors may be turned and have their names written in the book of life.

+ Grant, The Horn of Africa

Rt Rev Dr Grant LeMarquand and Dr Wendy LeMarquand are missionaries of SAMS (Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders)

Bishop Grant is area bishop for the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, Eretrea, Djibouti); under the Most Rev Dr Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

Fr. Simon Tugwell: Looking for God?

Another picture that our Lord loves to use is that of the shepherd who goes out to look for the sheep that is lost (Matthew 18:12).  So long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, then we must often lose heart.  But it is the other way about: he is looking for us.  And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from him, in high rebellion against him.  And he knows that and has taken it into account.  He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought finally to escape him, we run straight into his arms.

So we do not have to erect a false piety for ourselves, to give us hope of salvation.  Our hope is in his determination to save us.  And he will not give in!

This should free us from that crippling anxiety which prevents any real growth, giving us room to do whatever we can do, to accept the small but genuine responsibilities that we do have.  Our part is not to shoulder the whole burden of our salvation, the initiative and the program are not in our hands: our part is to consent, to learn how to love him in return whose love came to us so freely while we were quite uninterested in him.

Also we can let ourselves off that desperate question, “Am I in the right place?”  “Have I done the right thing?”  Of course, we must sometimes acknowledge sins and mistakes and we must try to learn from them; but we should not foster the kind of worry that leads to despair, God’s providence means that wherever we have got to, whatever we have done, that is precisely where the road to Heaven begins.  However many cues we have missed, however many wrong turnings we have taken, however unnecessarily we may have complicated our journey, the road still beckons, and the Lord still “waits to be gracious” to us (Isaiah 30:18).

If we let these things really speak to us, then we can surely accept our Lord’s invitation, indeed his command, to cast all our cares upon him (1 Peter 5:7) and let him care for them. We can give space in our hearts for Christ to dwell there, and it is faith that gives him space.  We can let him dethrone us from being God in our own hearts, and establish there his own rule.  We can then let him give us to ourselves, just as at the beginning he gave Adam to Adam.  Then we can receive from him all that is ours, all our faculties, all our freedom, our capacity to take initiatives, to make our own decisions, so that our own true independence no longer challenges God’s sovereignty but is precisely a most wonderful expression of it, as we receive our freedom day by day, minute by minute, from the creative love of God.

—Simon Tugwell, O.D., Prayer

Justin Martyr Writes About Early Christian Worship (Mid-Second Century)

I don’t know about you, but I love reading about the practices of the ancient Church, in part, because it reminds me that our Anglican liturgy is in line with how the Church has worshiped since the time we have records of its practices. Justin wrote about the eucharist a little over 100 years after the death of Jesus and would have been a “spiritual grandson or great-grandson” to the apostles. That means there is a high probability that he received what he wrote indirectly from the apostles themselves. And as Richard Bauckham masterfully demonstrated in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, the early Church was very careful in passing down oral tradition to preserve its teachings intact.

It is an awesome thing to be part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Check it out and see how it compares to how you worship.

No one may share the eucharist with us unless they believe that what we teach is true, unless they are washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of sins, and unless they live in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a human being of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilate for their nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: “Do this in memory of me. This is my body.” In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: “This is my blood.” The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the  Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or in the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us urging everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks as well as possible, and the people give their assent by saying: “Amen.” The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, the president takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

—From Justin, Martyr at Rome (ca. 167), First Apology, 66-67

Like Jesus

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Easter 3B, April 19, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4.1-8; 1 John 3.1-7; Luke 24.36b-48.

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

Last week we read in John’s gospel the story of Jesus appearing to his disciples that first Easter evening. Today we read of a similar appearance of Jesus in Luke’s account. If these two stories report the same incident, Luke adds some new details that John omitted, details that give us further insight into Jesus’ resurrection body and what it foretells. But why should we care? What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make for us who live almost two thousand years later? One hint comes from our epistle lesson. John tells us that when Jesus is revealed we will be like him for we will see him as he is, and this is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

As Luke makes clear in our gospel lesson, the risen Jesus was no spook or ghost. Jesus suddenly appeared to his disciples and Luke tells us they were terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus was no ghost as he went on to demonstrate. Ghosts remain dead. Jesus was demonstrably alive. Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones as Jesus had. Neither can they eat food as Jesus did. And it is to the glory of the gospel accounts that they clearly reject the false notion that equated the risen Jesus with being a ghost.

Neither was Jesus’ body a resuscitated corpse in the manner of Lazarus or the widow of Nain’s son, both raised to life by Jesus. Their mortal bodies, while being brought back to life, would die again because they remained mortal and powered by flesh and blood. Luke, on the other hand, makes it clear that things were somehow different with Jesus’ body. To be sure there was continuity with his mortal body as demonstrated by the fact that his hands and feet still bore the wounds of the nails that had pierced him on the cross. And yes, Jesus was able to consume food the way we do. But there were significant differences. First, Jesus appeared to them suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, suggesting that his new body had properties that made it equally at home in heaven (God’s space) and earth (our space). Once heaven and earth are fused into a new creation as Revelation 21.1-7 promises, there will be no need to flit back and forth between the two dimensions as the resurrection narratives in the gospels clearly indicate Jesus did. How else to really explain his sudden appearances and disappearances?

Second, Jesus’ resurrected body was not always recognizable. Despite the fact there were some in the room to whom Jesus had previously appeared, no one apparently recognized him at first. This was also the case with Mary Magdalene in the garden, with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and with the encounter by the Sea of Tiberius. Why weren’t the disciples able to recognize their Lord immediately? Was there something manifestly different about his resurrected body? We aren’t told. But it remains a distinct and reasonable possibility. And Jesus himself suggests this is true when he said to his disciples, “While I was still with you.” Jesus was obviously with them at that moment, but in a fundamentally different way. Clearly Jesus had gone through death and emerged on the other side in a way nobody else had done previously, and in doing so had inaugurated the in-breaking of God’s new world on the old.

This, frankly, is just as hard for us to wrap our minds around as it was for the first disciples of Jesus. Like them, we really want to rejoice in this new reality but are terrified to do so because this concept is so radically different and new from our current worldview that is shaped by sin and death, and it poisons us. The resurrection narratives also fly in the face of much current false teaching about what constitutes an afterlife and heaven. The resurrection accounts flatly contradict the current gnostic and/or Platonic teaching of our day, sadly found in some Christian churches, that eternal life is all about a spiritual, disembodied existence rather than a new creation in the manner of Jesus’ resurrected body, or the various versions of reincarnation that deny the NT’s clear teaching about eternal life in God’s new world where heaven and earth are joined together, and where there is a real future and a hope.

I can hear some of you now. That’s all well and good, Fr. Maney. Fascinating even. But who gives a flip? What’s the point? The point is this. As long as we keep the resurrection disconnected from its source, namely Jesus, its promise and hope will appear to us empty and ridiculous. But when we connect the resurrection to Jesus as our Lord himself attempted to do for his disciples when he opened their minds to what the Scriptures said about him, we can start connecting the dots and this brings us back to what John says in our epistle lesson: We will be like Jesus, even if what that is hasn’t been revealed to us fully. But we do have some clues.

First, as we just stated, we will be like him in his resurrection body. This doesn’t mean we will share Jesus’ body with him but rather when our mortal bodies are raised from the dead and we are reunited with them, we will have a new body patterned after Jesus’ body. It will be impervious to sickness, infirmity, madness, sin, and all the other maladies that currently afflict our mortal bodies. So why is that important (besides the obvious)? Because it means creation matters to God. We matter. God created us with a body, mind, and soul and each dimension counts in God’s economy because we are redeemed in toto. And if creation and we matter, it means there is a built-in purpose for living. More about that in a moment. Bodily resurrection also means that one day we will get to look into the eyes of our Savior who loved us and gave himself for us so that we could share in his present reality and future hope. What a moment! Not only that, we will also get to look once again into the eyes of those we have loved but lost for a season. Think about it. Don’t we all long to see our loved ones again, to see them smile, to hear their voice, and to embrace them? Who among us wouldn’t give everything we have for the opportunity to look once again into our loved ones’ eyes as well as the one who made it all possible in the first place—Jesus? We don’t know if we will be able to do this during the intermediate state between our mortal death and resurrection. But John tells us plainly here that we will get to do so when our Lord Jesus is revealed and the new creation comes in full.

And for anyone who has suffered a serious illness or watched a loved one waste away from a deadly disease or struggle with infirmity or madness or addiction or dementia, with all of its dehumanizing and degrading effects, think about what the hope of resurrection promises with its vision of a sin-free, evil-free, and perfect world inhabited by God and us with our transformed and beautiful human bodies? Here is real hope for the future, and hope is not to be sneezed at because without hope, we shrivel and die. So our lessons today give us a glimpse of our future reality as it breaks in on this sad old world that is so badly marred and damaged by sin and evil. Once we can wrap our minds around the reality of this promise and connect it to Jesus so that we know it actually happened and will happen again on a much grander scale, we no longer have any reason to fear or disbelieve, but only to rejoice in the goodness, love, mercy, and power of God the Father who created us in his image and redeemed us to be his people forever.

But that’s the future. What about now? Both John and Luke tell us. Second, when we make Jesus the center of our world, we are transformed, not only physically as at our resurrection or when we are healed, but also spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and morally. As John tells us here and elsewhere, we really are God’s adopted children by virtue of Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross. And because we are bought with Christ’s own dear blood, our call is to become like him. John has spent a good part of this letter warning us not to be deceived and to encourage us in our new life in Jesus. He has warned us not to be deceived by those who claim that there is no such thing as sin or that sin doesn’t really matter, or by liars who deny Jesus is the Messiah and the antichrist who denies the Father and the Son (1 John 1.6, 2.22-23). He warns us not to believe those who claim that we can know God without knowing Jesus because they deny that Jesus is the very embodiment of God. In short, John warns us not to be deceived by those who do not know God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and who therefore try to make up their own reality that suits and justifies their evil and/or misguided ways.

John warns us about these things, not so much to tear down the deceivers but to help us see their teachings as the false and empty things they really are. And now in today’s lesson we see John starting to encourage us. Why settle for tofu when we can have the choicest filet?? No, John says. Because we are God’s children bought with the price of the Son’s blood, we will share in all that Jesus has so that when he appears we will be like him. This is why John goes on to make the remarkable (and troubling) statement that no one who abides in (i.e., no one who has a real relationship with) Jesus sins. This is true because Jesus does not sin and we who are tied to him become like him. John clearly doesn’t mean that Christians do not sin. That would contradict what he previously said about sin and flies in the face of experience. It also contradicts what he tells us elsewhere, that when we do sin we have Jesus as our Advocate. Rather, what John has in mind is that as we are transformed by Jesus in the power of the Spirit, we abandon our sinful patterns of living and start to imitate Jesus, so that he and his will are at the center of our decision-making and lives, not our selfish and proud ambitions and desires.

This should make perfect sense to us in light of God’s promised new world. If we are being shaped to live in that world by virtue of our relationship with Jesus, it means we have to learn new patterns of living characterized by love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and the like that are compatible with God’s new creation rather than clinging to our old patterns of living in God’s good but fallen world and characterized by anger, hostility, pride, mercilessness, and the like.

This is why Jesus tells his disciples and us to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his Name to all the world. We are to do this because we are the recipients of God’s forgiveness and by the healing and transforming love of Jesus are enabled to leave our former unproductive lifestyles for a new one that promises our transformation and healing. We see this played out in our NT lesson. Peter and John had just healed a paralytic to the astonishment of the crowd and now they are telling the crowd their secret. It was not by their own power but by the power of the Author of Life, Jesus of Nazareth, and faith in his name. For you see, whenever we let Jesus get ahold of us, transformation of all kinds always follows. Sometimes it happens in immediate and spectacular ways as when the paralytic got healed (and some of us do). But more often than not, it happens in gradual and almost imperceptible ways. And there’s an additional bonus. Living our life in the manner Jesus lived his means that we will always find meaning and purpose for living because we are living in ways that God always intended for us when he created us, as well as how we will live in God’s promised new world when it comes in full.

A moment’s thought ought to help us see the reality of this truth. Think of the seemingly intractable problems in our world with its hatred and war and injustice. In every case we hear voices clamoring for us to believe that it is the fault of one side exclusively. But that is never the case. The problems in the Middle East are not caused exclusively by Jew or Arab. Both sides contribute. And until there is repentance on the part of both sides, i.e., until both sides admit their hard-hearted and stubborn refusal to acknowledge their role in the dispute so that each has a basis to forgive the other, the warring madness will continue. The same thing is true with race relations and the emerging issue of religious liberties versus gay rights. Or consider those families who refuse to forgive a killer, even when the killer is executed. There can be no closure or healing where there is no forgiveness and we see this expressed consistently by those who are asked if the killer’s execution brought them closure. We can also see it on the faces of those who steadfastly refuse to repent and forgive because they are fueled by their own anger, for whatever reason. There is a hardness to their features that develops and they tend to grow old before their time. It is a sad spectacle to watch. No wonder the Bible warns us consistently about the deadly effects of sin! It literally does make us sick and kill us. But as Jesus’ people who are powered by our Easter hope with its call to repentance and the forgiveness of sins, we are to bring his healing love to bear on these people and situations (and others closer to home), both through our prayers and in our words and actions, all the while proclaiming that in no other Name can real healing and transformation occur. By Jesus’ life we find life and so can the world.

None of this is easy, of course, because the human condition is very complex and because there are sworn enemies out there who hate us and want to deceive us (and worse). To counteract the dark powers and their minions as well as the various circumstances of life that beat and weigh us down and cause us to become so distracted that we forget our resurrection hope, Jesus himself reminds us what we must do to keep him at the center of our world. We are to search the Scriptures regularly and diligently to learn the story of how God is rescuing us and his world from evil, sin, and death, a rescue that finds its culmination in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are to search the Scriptures to remind us that Jesus is also our risen and ascended Lord who rules over his world, mysterious and improbable as that seems to us at times. We are to feed on our Lord at his Table each week and find him in our fellowship and worship. Doing these things will allow us to stop and take the time to reflect and remember that we are Easter people who have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Source: Poets.org

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
First published in January 1861

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Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Dr. Ben Witherington: A Searching Book—Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday

Dr. Witherington makes an excellent case. See what you think.

There are many poignant moments and powerful passages in this book about the sacraments, about silence, about other spiritual disciplines, and especially about the feeling of being bereft, cut off from the church, feeling abandoned or even spurned by the Evangelical Churches in which she was raised. A trial separation from such churches gradually became something of a divorce, and she landed in a ‘less-judgmental’ Episcopal Church in Cleveland Tn. What her book fails to really grapple with however is the major difference between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance of us as we are. 

Frankly put, God doesn’t ‘accept’ us as we are, because what we are is fallen and flawed sinful people. God loves us as we are, but God is insistent that we all change, repent of our sinful inclinations and ways, and become more like Christ. A loving welcome by Jesus does not exclude incredible demands in regard to our conduct, and indeed even in regard to the lusts of our hearts. As it turns out, God is an equal opportunity lover of all humanity, and also an equal opportunity critiquer of all our sin, and with good reason— it is sin that keeps separating us from God and ruining our relationship with God. This is why the only proper Biblical approach to everyone who would wish to be ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the body of Christ’ is that they are most welcome to come as they are, and they will be loved as they are, but no one but no one is welcome to stay as they are— all God’s chillins need to change. Welcoming does not entail affirming our sins, much less baptizing our sins and suddenly calling them good, healthy, life giving.

Rachel also does not seem to understand that the remarkable growth in the church in the global South is not something that should lead to an expectation of a further rise in the support for the LBGTQ agenda. To the contrary, the churches in Africa, Asia, and South America are overwhelmingly and adamantly opposed to such an agenda. I’ve spent time in and lectured in most of those places and they are not supporters of late Western views on sexual ethics.

Read the entire review.