Do You Have a Resurrection Hope that is Worthless or Worthwhile?

Sermon delivered on Trinity 18C, Sunday, September 25, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 32.1-3a, 6-15; Psalm 91.1-6,14-16; 1 Timothy 6.6-19; Luke 16.19-31.

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

In one way or another, our lessons this morning remind us of the need to live in the present with God’s future in mind. For us as Christians, that future, of course, is resurrection and living in God’s new world. So this morning I ask you this question. Are you living your life as if the resurrection of Jesus and the hope and promises that accompany it really matter to you, or are you simply schlepping along, whistling through the graveyard, as you try to navigate through life? How you answer this question will determine whether you are overcoming this sin-sick and evil-infected world world in the power of Christ or are being overcome by it.

We start by looking at the remarkable story in our OT lesson. How do we explain Jeremiah’s apparently bizarre decision to purchase land in the midst of utter chaos and hopelessness? I mean, after all, Judah’s cruel enemy, the Babylonians, were laying siege to Jerusalem and would eventually burn down the city and its Temple. Not only was Jerusalem under siege, but the entire nation was being overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians. Adding insult to injury, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had already carried out a mass deportation of the Jewish people and would carry out a second one that would leave only a tiny remnant of Jews to live in the land God promised to give them. And if that weren’t bad enough, Jeremiah found himself imprisoned as a traitor in the midst of a starving Jerusalem where cannibalism was commonplace. If we assess this situation on its own merits, things look hopeless. Why would anyone in his right mind want to buy real estate given those conditions? There really wasn’t any hope that the land would increase in value in the future. There was no future! Common sense dictated that Jeremiah’s purchase was utter foolishness and stupidity!

But Jeremiah wasn’t looking at the present with myopic eyes. He looked at the hopelessness, despair, and destruction in his own life and the life of his people with an eye on God’s future. And what did that future promise? Healing and restoration of the land and its people. Just as the Lord had astonishingly told his exiled people through Jeremiah to settle down in their exile, to build houses, marry, have children and prosper, to pray for their captors, and for the peace and welfare of the place where they were held captive (Jeremiah 29.4-14), so now Jeremiah is instructed to purchase his relative’s property, which Jeremiah did. But why? Not because Jeremiah was cray-cray, but because God promised to return to his people and to restore them from their exile! Their sins had yielded the ultimate covenant curse of exile from their beloved land (Deuteronomy 28.36-37). But God in his grace and mercy was not going to let that be the last word. He was going to forgive and restore his broken and hurting people, and return to dwell with them as he had done before their exile and destruction. So Jeremiah did the apparently crazy thing. He bought land that conventional (worldly) wisdom proclaimed to be worthless because he had a real hope in God’s promise to heal and restore his people and the land in which they lived, and that made all the difference in the world to Jeremiah. This is what living in the present with an eye on God’s future looks like for God’s people. This is what hope for a future with God does for God’s people. It makes us look crazy in the eyes of the world!

For us as Christians, of course, that future is resurrection and new creation because we believe that in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has acted to defeat evil and put to rights all that is wrong with us and his world, including ending our alienation toward God and restoring us to a new, right, and life-giving relationship with God. As Christians we believe that we are given a glimpse of God’s new world in the bodily resurrection of Christ. In Christ’s death and resurrection we believe, contra conventional wisdom that proclaims dead people don’t come back to life, that when God raised Jesus from the dead, God defeated death forever and declared that our bodies as well as God’s creation are important to God and will be restored to full health, beauty, and vitality. As we grow older and our bodies are afflicted by more sickness, infirmity, and decay, we are reminded that this process isn’t the end game, that one day we will experience healing and restoration and a deathless existence for all eternity. This hope compels us to take care of our bodies because they matter to God, and so they should matter to us.

But the new heavens and earth are more important than just the hope of bodily resurrection, massively important as that hope is. The new heavens and earth promise to be free from evil and injustice and suffering and loneliness and fear and all the other nasty things that afflict us in this present age. It will be like this because we will get to live directly in God’s presence for all eternity and be the real human beings God created us to be. It means we will have new work to do as God’s regents over his new world. Think of the best times of your life when you were healthy and happy and fulfilled in your personal and professional life, and then multiply that feeling by a gazillion-fold, and you will begin to comprehend the hope and promise that is yours by virtue of belonging to Jesus. And like Jeremiah, that hope should impact how you live and view this present age as you wait for God’s new age, the age to come, when Jesus reappears to complete his healing and restorative work as he ushers in fully God’s new creation.

We have to keep in mind this future hope of God’s promise to heal and restore all creation to God’s intended good and beautiful state, us included, as we read our epistle lesson this morning. Without keeping God’s future in view as we live out our lives in this present age, we are likely to read passages like this as God trying to rain on our parade and force us to follow a bunch of arbitrary rules so that we can get our ticket punched into heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Paul (and Jesus in our gospel lesson) are doing is warning us not to succumb to false gods and unreality. There is only one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only in this God, who revealed himself most supremely in Jesus, will we find true happiness and real life. Nothing else will do, try as we might to make lesser things a viable substitute for authentic contentment that is based on a real and life-sustaining relationship with God. And in our culture, the temptation to worship the god of money is a supremely powerful one.

Think about it. In our affluent and consumer-driven world, we are bombarded with the message that more is better and instant gratification is the ticket. We need more money to buy more stuff so that we can enjoy ourselves and gain a modicum of security and a sense of importance. After all, it’s the rich who get ahead and gain the headlines and notoriety, right? And so we scrimp and save. We become stingy with our money because we believe our security and very existence depend on it. At minimum we need food, clothing, and shelter, don’t we? And everyone knows there’s just not enough to go around (egoic mind anyone?). In other words, we tell ourselves that God can’t or won’t provide abundantly and it’s up to us to fill in the gap.

But this mindset leads us to make money our god instead of the one true and living God. Yet a minute’s thought exposes this folly. Money cannot buy us life or sustain it forever in the way God can and does. And all that hard work and saving? Anyone who lived through the great recession of 2008 will tell you that’s a lie. Wealth can be wiped out in a skinny minute. How many folks do you know or have heard about, who now must continue to work because their retirement savings were obliterated in the stock market crash? So we slave and work to have more, only to realize how fleeting is that wealth, and how uncertain. We watch anxiously over our money and worry about keeping and/or protecting it. And we are tempted to do just about anything to get more of it. No wonder Paul and Jesus warn that love of money (not money itself) is the root of all evil and causes many otherwise faithful people to fall into complete destruction. It very well may be that Paul had Jesus’ parable in our gospel lesson in mind when he issued this warning! It’s not that money in itself is bad. After all, in our epistle lesson, Paul admonishes the rich to use their money generously for the benefit of others. He doesn’t command them to give it all up because money is evil. What is evil is our desire to be self-sufficient and independent of God, and we foolishly believe that money is the best way to help us attain our goal of God-independence.

Of course, in all of this, we see what happens to us when we live for the present age only and reject or minimize our resurrection hope. As we have seen, we become anxious and fall victim to the changes, chances, and circumstances of life, which are often cruel and unjust. We become self-contained and fearful, looking out only for ourselves and for our own best interests. We are willing to sacrifice others to gain what we think we need because we convince ourselves we are in it all by ourselves with no other available resources to help us overcome the hardships, difficulties, suffering, and injustices in our life. In other words, we have no future hope to sustain us in the present!

Contrast this anxiety-ridden mindset to Paul’s admonition to practice godliness that leads to contentment. What does that mean? To practice godliness is to decide to make God our one and only king and to live our lives in ways that are consistent with God’s good created order. This leads to contentment because we are living in harmony with our Creator. And when we really believe that Jesus has rescued us from evil, sin, and death, and that we have an eternal future with him in God’s new world, it helps us meet the present difficulties with courage and hope, which leads to even more contentment because we trust God to provide what we need right now based on his promises for a renewed future (cf. Philippians 4.11-13). We understand that all we have, money included, comes from God. Sure, we have to put in our sweat equity, but ultimately all the good things we enjoy—health, wealth, meaningful relationships, family, and everything in between—come from God and are not strictly of our own doing. God blesses us because he loves us and is gracious to us. He doesn’t always give us what we deserve, either good or bad—thanks be to God! But God created us and knows what we need to make us truly happy and content, and it all starts with our relationship with him in and through Jesus. When we have our eye and hope set on God’s future, we can navigate through this world with meaning, purpose, and power.

We will also start behaving in ways that the world considers strange at best. Instead of striving to gain and hoard, we strive to give away because we understand that all humans are created in God’s image and are therefore critically important. We take to heart God’s command for us to look after the least and the lost—because they matter to God as we matter to him. We lose our usual rationalizations for not giving our money to those in need (you know, they’re lazy, they’ll just buy drugs, they choose to be poor, etc.) because we know these folks are important in God’s economy, even if they aren’t important to the world’s.

And you know what? Every time we do stuff like this, God uses us to bring in his kingdom on earth as in heaven, just like we pray for every week in the Lord’s prayer. For example, when we go to Faith Mission, the hungry are fed. What would happen if we all stopped doing that? People would starve and there would be all kinds of unknown and unexpected consequences. That person we refused to feed might murder to eat or steal money so he can buy food. Whatever it looks like without our generosity, the world would certainly be an uglier and darker place. Likewise when we give money to build a beautiful worship space like we are trying to do. We do so to worship God together and be refreshed and strengthened together to do God’s work in God’s world in new and unexpected ways. This is what godliness looks like. It means we love God with all that we are and others as ourselves, because all creatures are important to God, especially his image-bearing ones. I could go on but you get the idea.

When we place our hope and trust in God at the center of our lives, we learn to develop a godly contentment, and that enables us to keep the long view of life in mind. We realize we have a future and a hope because we take to heart God’s promise to us that he knows his plans for our welfare and not our harm, plans that ensure we have a future and a hope (cf. Jeremiah 29.11). And we have seen the empty tomb of Jesus and experienced his risen presence among us in the power of the Spirit living in us as God’s people. This means that nothing in this world has the power to overcome us, not even the fear of death. Fr. John Wesley, an Anglican priest and founder of the Methodist movement, once said that the mark of real Methodists is how well they died. By that he meant that Christians should not fear death because we believe God has abolished death when he raised Jesus from the dead so that death doesn’t have the final say, even though our bodies lie moldering in the grave. Reports of Wesley’s own death indicate he died an astonishingly peaceful death. He knew the reality of his risen Lord with its attendant resurrection hope and so died in great contentment. There’s real power in that, my beloved.

Now don’t misunderstand. I am not suggesting we minimize our struggles and fears in this world. There are truly scary things that can happen to us and there are lots of scary people around. But when we have a real and vibrant resurrection hope, we understand that not even the gates of hell can overcome us because we belong to Jesus and we have a real future in God’s new age. That future begins right now because God’s new world will be the renewal and transformation of God’s current world, but without all the evil and heartache and suffering that afflict us now. Therefore we are called to get to work on our Lord’s behalf and generously use our resources toward that end, gifts from our generous and loving God, on behalf of God and his people. We will fight injustice and work to overcome all that dehumanizes people. In doing so we proclaim boldly that Jesus is Lord and the world’s systems are not. The world will hate us and persecute us to stop us and shut us up. But we are simultaneously people of the present age and age to come so that we do not fear persecution or ridicule. We know the One who guarantees our future and therefore we know our present is secure, despite appearances to the contrary at times. And that, folks, is the essence of living the Good News, not to mention our mission statement (to be changed by God to make a difference for God), now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

All About Holy Cross Day

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Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Roodmas)

 September 14, 335 

Roodmas1 — more commonly known simply as “Holy Cross Day” — was first begun to commemorate the Dedication of the Basilica of the Resurrection, built by St. Helena holy-cross-graphic-2(Constantine the Great’s mother), in Jerusalem in A.D. 335 — but the true Cross was found shortly thereafter, also by St. Helena, so the two events were joined.

The story of the finding of the True Cross, from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

In the year 326 the mother of Constantine, Helena, then about 80 years old, having journeyed to Jerusalem, undertook to rid the Holy Sepulchre of the mound of earth heaped upon and around it, and to destroy the pagan buildings that profaned its site. Some revelations which she had received gave her confidence that she would discover the Saviour’s Tomb and His Cross. The work was carried on diligently, with the co-operation of St. Macarius, bishop of the city.

The Jews had hidden the Cross in a ditch or well, and covered it over with stones, so that the faithful might not come and venerate it. Only a chosen few among the Jews knew the exact spot where it had been hidden, and one of them, named Judas, touched by Divine inspiration, pointed it out to the excavators, for which act he was highly praised by St. Helena. Judas afterwards became a Christian saint, and is honoured under the name of Cyriacus.

During the excavation three crosses were found, but because the titulus was detached from the Cross of Christ, there was no means of identifying it. Following an inspiration from on high, Macarius caused the three crosses to be carried, one after the other, to the bedside of a worthy woman who was at the point of death. The touch of the other two was of no avail; but on touching that upon which Christ had died the woman got suddenly well again.

From a letter of St. Paulinus to Severus inserted in the Breviary of Paris it would appear that St. Helena herself had sought by means of a miracle to discover which was the True Cross and that she caused a man already dead and buried to be carried to the spot, whereupon, by contact with the third cross, he came to life. From yet another tradition, related by St. Ambrose, it would seem that the titulus, or inscription, had remained fastened to the Cross.

After the happy discovery, St. Helena and Constantine erected a magnificent basilica over the Holy Sepulchre, and that is the reason why the church bore the name of St. Constantinus. The precise spot of the finding was covered by the atrium of the basilica, and there the Cross was set up in an oratory, as appears in the restoration executed by de Vogüé. When this noble basilica had been destroyed by the infidels, Arculfus, in the seventh century, enumerated four buildings upon the Holy Places around Golgotha, and one of them was the “Church of the Invention” or “of the Finding”. This church was attributed by him and by topographers of later times to Constantine. The Frankish monks of Mount Olivet, writing to Leo III, style it St. Constantinus. Perhaps the oratory built by Constantine suffered less at the hands of the Persians than the other buildings, and so could still retain the name and style of Martyrium Constantinianum. (See De Rossi, Bull. d’ arch. crist., 1865, 88.)

A portion of the True Cross remained at Jerusalem enclosed in a silver reliquary; the remainder, with the nails, must have been sent to Constantine, and it must have been this second portion that he caused to be enclosed in the statue of himself which was set on a porphyry column in the Forum at Constantinople; Socrates, the historian, relates that this statue was to make the city impregnable. One of the nails was fastened to the emperor’s helmet, and one to his horse’s bridle, bringing to pass, according to many of the Fathers, what had been written by Zacharias the Prophet: “In that day that which is upon the bridle of the horse shall be holy to the Lord” (Zechariah 14:20). Another of the nails was used later in the Iron Crown of Lombardy preserved in the treasury of the cathedral of Monza.

Scientific study of the relics of the True Cross show it to be made of some species of pine. The titulus crucis  —  the wood on which the inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38 and John 19:19)  —  is made of an olive wood. The titulus has been scientifically dated to the 1st c. and the script is still legible (interestingly, the Latin and Greek are in reverse script), though the Hebrew is missing due to the entire thing being halved, the second half having been lost in the 6th century. It is from the Latin inscription  —  “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum” that we get the abbreviation “I.N.R.I.” that is found on many Crucifixes.

The titulus crucis and relics of the True Cross can be seen in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

Footnote:
 1“Rood” is the Middle English word for “Cross.”

 

A Prayer for Holy Cross Day

Almighty God,
who in the passion of your blessed Son
made an instrument of painful death
to be for us the means of life and peace:
grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ
that we may gladly suffer for his sake;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Daniel Semelsberger: Reading Scripture for All Its Worth

Sermon delivered on Trinity 17C, Sunday, September 11, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Daniel is our guest preacher today. It is really a pleasure to showcase young, faithful talent.

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 4:11–12, 22–28; Psalm 14.1-7; 1 Timothy 1.12-17; Luke 15.1-10.

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

Good morning, everyone!

It is a pleasure to see you all.

As you may infer from my presence (again!) here in this pulpit, our good rector still suffers from temporary bouts of insanity whilst in my company, and, in a fit of lunacy, asked me to preach. I can only hope that being this close to me has triggered an episode, and that I will manage to tidy off this sermon before Kevin recovers sufficiently to have any memory of this…

So, without further ado, let us crack on.

A word of introduction: I make no pretense to being an expert theologian or exegetical scholar. I am, just as the last time I stood here, approaching our texts this morning as an apologist for the faith, sensitive to the questions and doubts that many non-Christians—and, for that matter, many Christians, too—carry with them, and, when they feeling either brash or brave, ask aloud.

So, I want to talk briefly to you this morning about story, and imagination, and the power that narrative has to create meaning for the hearer. To be sure, I am not tilling any new ground here. A revolutionary, I am not. However, I have found that it is quite frequently the job of the apologist to offer a gentle reminder of how the fundamental, essential things—basic assumptions about core realities—that we hold to be true inform the way that we see everything else, and how we live our lives. And that, to give the game away up front and use terrible grammar, is what I am up to.

The narrative of scripture is captivating—even thrilling, if we will only let ourselves be thrilled by it. This is something that many of us here in the post-Enlightenment West seem to find rather difficult. With our modern sensibilities and hyper-reliance on rational thinking, we prefer to talk of concrete realities when at all possible (my cat is fluffy), and abstract conceptual realities when we have to (my cat is a simultaneously a diva and a dunderhead), but certainly not about imagination and silly stories, as if they have anything useful or truthful to tell us. So who wants to hear the tale of Josey and the Catnip Mouse? Anyone?

Cat analogies aside, however, the point remains. We place great emphasis on reason to tell us the truth, and imagination only to entertain us, and this informs how we interact with scripture. Indeed, I find that we are constantly under temptation—whether in defending the faith against an attack, or in an effort to prove that one’s way of think about God is “clearly best, you dunderhead”—to crack open the scriptures solely to mine them for concrete particularities of theology and doctrine. But, in so doing, the narrative thrust of scripture is often overlooked, which is problematic for reasons I shall touch in just a moment.

Before I do that, however, lest anyone mishear me (or Kevin snap back to sanity prematurely, overhear only this bit of the sermon, and heave me bodily out the front door), I must offer this disclaimer: reading scripture for theological and doctrinal particularities is a good and proper thing. I am not, in any way, attempting to mythologize away the historicity of scripture as if it is somehow just a story, in the sense that something which is just a story is fabricated or made up. It is emphatically not just a story. But the Christian faith revealed in scripture does tell a story—one that that appeals to and exercises both our rational and imaginative faculties.

But why is this important, you ask? Why is this impertinent little whippersnapper so insistent that we not overlook the narrative of scripture?

Because the stories that we tell ourselves and believe about ourselves end up informing the way that we see reality. And that being the case, it is critically important that we tell ourselves the True Story (capital ‘T’, capital ‘S’). And not only that, but it is likewise important that we tell others the True Story, and learn to recognize, and push against, counterfeit stories when we see them.

Our Old Testament texts this morning offer a tense bit of narrative, brimming with conflict, and depicting the imago dei at its most shattered. Human brokenness is front and center in our readings. Be attentive to the starkly unflattering depictions of human sinfulness offered by David and Jeremiah. The judgment rendered—by the psalmist, by the prophet, and, within the voice of Jeremiah, by God himself—is both unflinching and, to borrow directly from the prophetic text, unrelenting. In both passages, humanity is charged with having devoted all of its ingenuity to devising and committing evil.

The psalmist weeps, both angry and despairing, that the children of man “have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good.” Through the prophet, God declares of the kingdom of Judah that “they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding; They are wise—in doing evil! But how to do good they know not.”

In response to this faithlessness, both the psalmist and prophet point to God’s judgment against the wicked as a restorative force, bringing justice, refuge, and salvation, for “God is with the righteous”.

Is this a happy picture? I doubt that most of us moderns would describe it thus. However, it is quite difficult to describe it as inaccurate. That humanity has a propensity for turning away from God and either in on itself or toward something darker is a central theme of scripture. It is a part of the True Story, as any cursory glance at recorded history will quickly convince you. Likewise, divine judgment of sin and wickedness is an inescapable part of the scriptural narrative, even if it does not jive with our somewhat misplaced contemporary sensibilities.

But. These are only parts. On their own, or even put together, they are woefully incomplete. Stop here and we risk making too much of human sinfulness and divine judgment—and, moreover, risk coming close to distorting the story of scripture, making it only about ourselves (i.e. humanity) and our problems. Scripture is a story about God and his purpose. We matter greatly, but this is not chiefly about us, and we risk missing the point if we put ourselves at the center of the narrative.

So, let us not do that.

Let us instead turn our attention to the Gospel parables found in Luke 15.

What ought to strike us, immediately, is that Luke tells us that the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Jesus. Here we have a crowd of persons “wise in doing evil” who, rather than running away in fear of the “hot wind… of judgment” spoken of in Jeremiah, found the presence of the incarnate Son of God irresistible and flocked to him. And the Pharisees and scribes, no doubt wise to sea of human depravity enveloping the rabbi Yeshua—and perhaps taking their spots in his company—register complaint: “How can this man be righteous when he welcomes such obvious sinners into his presence and break bread with them? Surely he knows how God feels about sinners like these?!?”

In response, Jesus tells…. stories(!) as a means to communicate truth and meaning.

The two parables in today’s readings, of the lost sheep and the lost coin, present roughly the same pattern: a worthwhile possession—one of a hundred sheep or one of ten coins—becomes lost. In each case, the shepherd and the woman, respectively, are unconcerned about those things that remain found and in their possession, and devote their energies to discovering and recovering the single lost possession. Upon recovery, each is so overjoyed that they must share their news with their friends and loved ones.

Lest the point be lost on the hearers, Jesus concludes each parable by telling his audience that the angels in heaven rejoice all the more when a single lost sinner “is found” and repents. Because the allegory is so straightforward to our modern sensibilities, I wonder if we have lost some of the beauty of these stories as they must have sounded to the crowd of sinners—outcasts of both Jewish and Roman societies—sitting, listening to Jesus as he described for them the love and redemptive purpose of God. How must they have felt? Did they understand for the first time?

Here, then, we have another, indispensable part of the story of Scripture: God’s purpose of recovery, reconciliation, and restoration, even at great cost. It is difficult, seeing as we are not first-century Jews, to appreciate Jesus’ choices of imagery in all their fullness. Even the story of the prodigal son, which accompanies these two in Luke’s account, suffers from the separation of cultures and two millennia. And, yet, we are given something other than the abstract concepts I supplied just a moment ago. I can talk of “restoration” until I am blue in the face, but letting one’s imagination entertain the image of a shepherd forsaking his flock of ninety-nine perfectly safe, non-wayward sheep to head off into the wilderness to find a single lost sheep, which, when he finds, he then carries back to his flock on his own shoulders—rejoicing the whole while—is far richer and more compelling,

A few thoughts, by way of closing:

The core realities offered to us in scripture—that humanity was created by God, is separated from God, but is loved by God such that He came and sought us, to restore us to Himself, even at great cost to Himself, and now rejoices over us—are thrilling and wonderful. They offer a radically different story than modern man’s program of moral and ethical self-improvement and progress. They offer hope in a world troubled by those that have set themselves to doing evil. And they are beautiful.

When is the last time that you stopped and marveled at them? At the Being who set them into motion?

I hope, for your sake, that it has been recently. Wonder is good for the soul. Engaging with the story of Christianity, with both one’s reason and one’s imagination appeals to our whole being, rather than just one part of it.

This is, in fact, I would argue, one of our central purposes in gathering here this morning, in this building, together, and participating in this liturgy. We are here to be reminded, because we are frail creatures, easily forgetting the most important truths and telling ourselves the wrong stories. To engage with mystery in the Eucharist, even as we recite the fundamental tenets of our faith found in the Nicene Creed. We are here to marvel and to think. To wonder and to ponder. To imagine and to reason. To experience awe.

And for the sake of God’s overwhelming purpose of redemption and reconciliation revealed to us in scripture, Christ’s people (that’s us) must be people marked by this story, the True Story. We must also be marked, among many other things, by wonder. Let the purpose of God—namely to see the lost, to find them, and to rejoice over them when they are found; that they who were formerly lost have been restored and reconciled to God—let this purpose fire your imagine, so that you find it possible to love your brothers and sisters in Christ, and, indeed, love your enemies. Imagination is, in fact, necessary to loving one’s enemies, for it is often impossible to treat your enemies with love, to pray for them, unless one can first imagine oneself doing it. If you can imagine loving another it becomes all the easier to act practice it.

I mean to encourage you, of course, not toward cheap emotionalism, or to a patronizing sort of tolerance, but toward consuming, purposeful love, fueled by imagination and wonder. We live in a world that is starved for these things, for the transcendent. If we will not be witnessed to it, to God’s purposes, as God’s people, then who will?

YN: Woman in iconic WWII Times Square Kiss Photograph Dies at 92

Sad. For everything there is a season…

c4659b7b0f9766c638650601dccc4e99The woman kissed by an ecstatic sailor in Times Square celebrating the end of World War II has died.

Greta Zimmer Friedman’s son says his mother died Thursday at a Richmond, Virginia, hospital of what he called complications from old age. She was 92.

Friedman was a 21-year-old dental assistant in a nurse’s uniform on Aug. 14, 1945. She went to Times Square amid reports that the war had ended. That’s when she was kissed by George Mendonsa celebrating Japan’s surrender.

Read it all.

Deacon Terry Gatwood: A Confession from Luke 14

Sermon delivered on Trinity 15C, Sunday, September 4, 2016, 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: Jeremiah 18.1-11; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-18; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14.25-33.

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

What does it cost to go down this road? What is the price that must be paid to go on this journey? Now that we’ve counted up all the assets of the Kingdom, we hear the call of the Lord to know the liabilities. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

But, Lord; I do not understand. How can hate be a part of your kingdom plan? Aren’t you the one who has fed us with the loaves and the fish? Are you not the one who has healed the man of dropsy on the Sabbath day? What about the great feast to which you have called us? Do we not get to eat with you there?

This task you have called us to, to bear a cross; this is torture! Pure torture! This is how the ruffians are put to death. Yet, you have called us to it; how shall we keep such a command?

Is this a question of my love and devotion for you, O Lord? Are you asking what I would be willing to give up in following you down this road? What must I do, Lord, to stay with you? How harsh is this really going to be? Will it hurt? Am I going to lose friends, and even family relationships in this journey?

My love burns for you, but I am afraid. I am afraid that in my devotion to you these things will happen. My heart hurts to think that I would have to give up such relationships. Surely you’re not telling me to just leave them behind, are you? Or are you asking me to love you so much, to be devoted to you with such a passion that, by comparison, my love for you makes my love for others, although not weakening but strengthening as I love and serve you more and more, seem as if it’s hate. Surely that’s what you mean! You’re being hyperbolic. That you are the center of all things, as would only be fitting for the One who created all things by a single word, and gave life to the living with a breath! Praise to you, my Lord! Help me to love you to the utmost! Help me to bear my cross with joy, following in your footsteps to the Place of the Skull, that I might inherit the Kingdom in which you have prepared a place for me!

My Lord, I know that you know me better than I know me. You know all of my days before I even walk through them. You knew me before I was even knit together in my mother’s womb. You see all things, O God, and know my words before I even form them. Give to me the words I need to praise you and to tell of your love for us. Who am I? Who am I that you would want to know me, to see me, to hear my words? I cannot even comprehend how great and wonderful you are, and your love toward me. It is far above me, and I do not fully understand. But nonetheless, you have chosen to know me, and to love me, and to call me to walk this path with you. You have chosen your people, our ancestors, Israel; you shaped them and through them came to us as a Savior; our King has come, and he walks among us! And where the Church goes you, Lord Christ, are walking. For it is you who has ordered our steps to begin with.

So this road is ahead of us. It’s not always the easiest way to go down. There are those who would do evil on it; you have spoken most severely against it. Lord, spare us from your wrath. You are the one who has called us, and may we ever follow you as you have shown us. May our hearts be clean, our lives be righteous. May we keep in step with the call you have given to us.

Lord, we are counting the cost; help us count the cost. You have not hidden the plain facts of what a life spent with you can mean. It can mean difficulty; it can mean pain; it can mean that we lose everything. You have even called us to renounce all that we have, all that is not you at the center of our lives, that you might be the true Lord of our lives. For you are the Lord, whether we take the time to recognize it or not.

What is it, at this time, you are calling me to do, O Lord? How shall I start loving you in a manner worthy of the calling I have received? How do I count the cost adequately enough to know what kind of war it is you are leading me into? Lord, may I sit down and consider what it will be like living in this world as a disciple of yours, and ponder what all these things mean. Help me to know what my intended purpose is in this calling that when I sit down to consider these things I know what kind of tower you wish me to build in my life for you, and that I have the wherewithal with which to build it. For it is you, O Lord, who has built us into one Church, laid on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, and it is you who is our Chief Cornerstone; you keep us living stones in our proper places. As you have considered what the cost was to build your Church in the world, and your Kingdom that has and shall come, may I consider all things in this light. You are my tower and my refuge. It is you to whom I come for my help and my deliverance. Give me shelter, Lord, when the times get rough. Protect your servant. Help me to be willing to carry my cross, and to renounce all things that do not bring you honor and glory in my worship of them, because it is false worship and they are not you.

Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High; Glory to your Father, God Almighty; and Glory to your Holy Spirit, who has come to bind us together, to sanctify us, and to lead us, your Church, down this costly road. May I be blessed, may I love with a love that is new and stronger every morning. May I take up my cross and follow after you. And when I fall, Lord, please help me up. Give me healing for my wounds, and strength in my inner person to continue walking behind you, God who has placed your hand on me. You are truly with me, and have your hand upon me, and know me in my innermost depths. Help me to love.

May in my following I bring you all the glory, honor, and praises due your name, for calling me to such a path. It seems daunting, but you, O Lord, are there. You already know the way home. And, even with fear of what hardship may be ahead of me, I will follow, I will love, I will be yours because you have made me so.

So this cost, this price to walk down this path, for me, for your whole Church, might seem steep from a cursory glance. It looks like it’s going to be filled with all the pain and hardship that could possible present in our lives. And sometimes, I suppose, Lord, it does. But it isn’t without joy. It isn’t without happiness. It’s not without your blessing upon us for our good, which is what you work all things for the good of. You have loved us enough to pay the price in full on Golgotha for our salvation, and that is enough to strengthen us for the road that lies ahead. You, Jesus, are enough to make it all worth it.

All glory, and honor, and majesty be unto your name, through the ages of ages. In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Why the Church Matters: Why We Matter

Sermon delivered at the parish dedication festival of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Sunday, August 28, 2016, in 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: 1 Chronicles 29.6-19; Psalm 122.1-9; Ephesians 2.19-22; John 2.13-22.

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

On this feast day of Augustine of Hippo, our patron saint, we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the founding of our parish. It is therefore appropriate for us to look at the nature of the Church. What is it and why should we care?

When I say “church,” what comes to mind? Do you think immediately of a building, like when we say, “Oh goodie! It’s time to go to church so we can hear another one of Fr. Maney’s brilliant sermons”? Or did you recognize church more readily in our OT and psalm lessons this morning, when they talked about a place to gather, than in our epistle and gospel lessons, with their emphasis on something quite different? If you did, I suspect you are probably in the majority. Most of us today equate church with a building or a place to worship. Now on one hand, there is nothing wrong with this thinking. After all, we do need a place to assemble to worship and serve God together, and there is something to be said about having a beautiful worship space to evoke a proper sense of wonder and awe as we assemble before God. On the other hand, this kind of thinking is so, well, first and second temple kind of thinking, and not at all consistent with the NT’s vision of what really constitutes church.

What do I mean by this? What does first and second temple thinking mean? As David makes clear in his prayer in our OT lesson, the temple for Israel was much more than a building. It was the very place where heaven and earth came together, the place where the Creator of this vast universe chose to come and dwell with his called-out people Israel. Now certainly no building can contain God, as David acknowledged in his prayer. But it was critically important for God’s people to believe that the same God who had called them to be his people would continue to be with them to guide, protect, and redeem them. This was the function of the movable tent or tabernacle that God had ordered Moses to construct as God’s people wandered in the wilderness. You can read about that in the book of Exodus. If God was going to call a people for his own, it would be quite unsporting of God to leave them to their own devices. As David acknowledged in his prayer, without God’s abiding presence, God’s people would be nothing but wandering sojourners on earth and without hope. After all, who among us can have any real hope for this life and beyond without God? So here in today’s lesson, as David’s son, Solomon, prepared to build the first temple in Jerusalem, God’s people rejoiced that there finally would be a permanent dwelling place for God to live with and among his people.

As we know, the first temple was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians in 586BC because of Israel’s unrepentant sin and chronic rebellion (you do know that, right?). The only way for that to happen was for God’s presence to leave his temple, which God did. You can read about that in the book of Ezekiel. After deportation and exile to Babylon, God graciously restored the remnant of his people and returned them to the promised land, where a new or second temple was built. But a funny thing happened. God’s presence never apparently returned to this temple, even though God had promised through the prophet Ezekiel to do so. This was the state of the temple in Jesus’ day and it is what makes our gospel lesson so important. Jesus came to Jerusalem during the Passover festival, the great celebration of God’s rescue of his people from their slavery in Egypt, to pronounce judgment on God’s house because it had ceased to fulfill its function as God’s dwelling place. Instead, it housed all kinds of false and unreal practices, religious and otherwise, much like some church buildings do today. As Jesus told the authorities, no longer would the temple be the place where heaven and earth came together, where God dwelt. No, the new temple would be his own body, because he was the Word made flesh (John 1.1,14). You want to experience God’s presence among you, he asks? Then look to me and you will find the true temple of God, the place where God dwells with you on earth. I came because my Father and I love you greatly and want you to live with us forever. My death and resurrection promise to be the ultimate Passover for you, where you will get to live a new bodily existence forever in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, with new resurrected bodies like mine, incomprehensibly beautiful and indestructible. You will finally get to be the fully human beings my Father created you to be, free from the sin and brokenness that plague your mortal bodies, and you will be safe from evil and death forever.

This gets us ready to hear what the NT says about what constitutes church. Church for the NT writers isn’t about a building or specific location, precisely because Jesus has become the new temple where God chooses to dwell with his people in the power of the Spirit. No, church for the NT writers as well as the apostles, is about a living organism, specifically the body of Christ, you and me and anyone who claims the faith once delivered to the saints.

In our epistle lesson, Paul lays out a breathtakingly beautiful vision for the reconstituted Church in Jesus. Speaking to the gentiles of his day, Paul calls them former strangers and aliens who were hostile and alienated to God. They didn’t have God in their lives and were without hope, and their lives showed it. Death was their inevitable and permanent end. But now because of what God had done for them in and through the cross of Jesus, and because they had come to believe in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, through whom, and only through whom, folks come to God to find healing and new life, they were no longer on the outside looking in. They were part of a new family, the place where they could be themselves and be assured that they were accepted. This is the kind of security nuclear and extended families provide when they are stable and functioning according to God’s good purposes for families.

In our day, of course, we don’t think much of the Jew/gentile divide, but that does not diminish the truth of Paul’s words. Sadly, there are Jews and gentiles alike who are still hostile and alienated to God because they have not yet discovered God’s great love for them in Jesus. But for those of us who have, everything changes. Jesus’ death has brought reconciliation with God and each other. To be sure, we are all very different personalities who come from different backgrounds and experiences, and that is a good thing because it makes us richer and more complete as Christ’s body. But we all have one thing in common. We are all greatly loved by Jesus and we have given our lives to him. Not perfectly to be sure. We are all works in progress and some of us are further along than others. But we have all been rescued from evil, sin, and death by the blood of Christ shed for us and have been given the Holy Spirit to live in us and to make Jesus readily accessible to us on a continuing basis.

Why does this matter? Because as Paul tells us, we have a heavenly citizenship where we are citizens with a hope and a future. Our mortal bodies will die but because we are Jesus’ people, we will share in his resurrection one day, so that life is our future, not death. And because we are a forgiven and redeemed people in Christ, we are called to be his body, the Church. As we say each week during the eucharist, “Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in the one bread” [of Jesus’ body given for us]. The living God now seeks to make his home in our hearts, lives, and bodies. He has called us together in a new family with Jesus as our head so that we choose to live our lives in ways that are fundamentally at odds with the ways of the world. In other words, we are the Church where the love and presence of Jesus is embodied in and through us. We are living stones as the apostle Peter tells us (1 Peter 2.5). We choose to live our lives in obedience to Jesus in love and humility. And we are called to live our lives together, as part of the one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

This exposes the lie that many embrace that there really is such a thing as an isolate Christian, that we can find God walking on the beach or looking at the stars at night. To be sure, this is true. We can find God anywhere. But the Christian faith is much more than finding God. It is living out our lives consistent with the will of God most powerfully expressed in Jesus Christ. We aren’t saved so that we can go around acting snotty and thumbing our noses at the rest of the losers who aren’t Christians. No, we are called to live our lives in ways that are patterned after Jesus’ love for all people, and that use our individual personalities and gifts for God’s glory, not our own. And part of our calling is to call others to this way of life, whether they accept our invitation or not. When we do this, regardless how imperfectly we do it, two things happen. God uses us to advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven and to pronounce judgment on the disordered ways of the world. But this can’t happen unless we live our lives together. If we are truly living stones, healed, redeemed, and greatly loved by Christ, how can we be a temple in and of ourselves? Whoever heard of a one-brick house or temple? It simply can’t exist, let alone stand.

No, we are called to be Jesus’ people together. It means that we love each other and bear with each other despite our differences because we realize Jesus has rescued us all, even the folks we don’t much care about. This, of course, requires great humility on our part, a humility derived from the knowledge that there is nothing inherently deserving in us to warrant God dying on a cross to rescue us from ourselves and our sin. When we get this fundamental truth, it changes us and helps us love in the manner God created us to love. We do this not only as individuals, but as a community, because we are part of God’s new living temple that has Christ as our chief cornerstone, the most important stone of the building, the stone that determines the shape, function, and features of the rest of the building, i.e., our lives.

To be the living church of Christ means that we need to know our own story and how greatly loved we really are in God’s eyes. It means we must reject the tribalism that is inherent in each of us, the aftermath of trying to build the tower of Babel (Genesis 11.1-8), so that we really can love each other and work for the other’s best. It means we must grow and mature in our faith and in our living, all the while confident that God loves us and accepts us, warts and all, even as he remains faithful and present to us, and helps us grow together. This growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens when by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit we as Christ’s living stones overcome our differences and the things that can separate us, and dare love each other enough to want to live out our faith together. It means we encourage each other and study together. When that happens, we discover what real joy and power of living means.

Will things be perfect? Not a chance. We all have our troubles and sorrows. We all are profoundly broken and fragile. There will be disagreements and conflict at times. The difference is that when we realize we are the Church and not some building or location, we commit ourselves to caring for each other and learning how to resolve conflicts in a Christianly manner so as not to let the things that can separate us become more important than the thing that joins us together—the love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ. In that way we ensure the structure of the church always remains strong. It is the necessary and ongoing maintenance of Christ’s living Church, so to speak. It means too that we will always have someone to share our joys and sorrows with, confident that because we are Christ’s, we will love others as we love ourselves. Life is meant to be lived together and when we are faithful to our call to live as living stones who constitute the Church, the Church becomes the supreme example of what that looks like. This is no small or insignificant witness to a world starved for real relationships.

As we celebrate our fifth anniversary today, I look at the living stones of St. Augustine’s with whom God has blessed us—you all, those here and those absent today. And when I see you interact with each other and how you love the Lord and each other, it is enough to bring me to tears. I rejoice in seeing the tribes and nations represented in our parish being called together by the love and power of Christ. I see a real unity of spirit amongst us and a real love that is expressed in a variety of ways, internally and externally. This is what it means to be truly catholic, i.e., universal, and that is something we all should desire—to be catholic for the sake of Christ and in obedience to his prayer that we all might be one (John 17.20-23). Don’t let this praise go to your heads, my beloved. You’re good, but not that good! Rather, let your faithfulness be a call to even greater love and humility so that we can continue to honor the one who loved us and gave himself for us, using the individual and collective gifts with which he has blessed us. Not only will that help us be faithful to our mission statement to be, “Changed by God to make a difference for God,” it is also the essence of living the Good News, now and for all eternity. To him who is the foundation and chief cornerstone of his Church be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.

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

ABC News: Tribute to WWII Veteran Goes Viral When Group Sings ‘Anchors Aweigh’ at His Doorstep

God bless ‘em all.

dcdfede0-6a36-11e6-a5e6-2bb7b8f0db19_14034735_10210231665696964_2768258516483648When one WWII veteran could no longer visit his local battleship to relish in stories of his days at sea, a special group brought the memories of his Navy days right to his doorstep.

Ernest Thompson, of Gardena, California, got the surprise of a lifetime when the Chief Selects of the Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center showed up on his neighborhood street to serenade him with “Anchors Aweigh.”

Read it all.

Fr. Philip Sang: The Call to Our Freedom and  Freedom of Others Too

Sermon delivered on Trinity 13C, Sunday, August 21, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 1.4-10; Psalm 71.1-6; Hebrews 12.18-29; Luke 13.10-17.

Jesus calls us to freedom, but what kind of freedom? What does that look like on the ground? What does being free mean for his body, the Church? Listen to Fr. Sang’s sermon and see what you think. There is no text for today’s sermon.

RJS (Jesus Creed): They Will Know We Are Christians By Our…Politics?

A helpful and insightful analysis/reminder for those of us who claim the title, Christian. See what you think.

Despite the title this isn’t a post about the current US presidential election – although I hope it gets people thinking about how they frame their position, whatever that may be. In fact, the title may distract from the theme of the post. But it is an attention grabber.

“They,” that is the non-Christians in our increasingly diverse and secular culture, will not know we are Christians by our political affiliation. They will  not know we are Christians by the logic of our words, by our fancy buildings, popular orators, rules, or philosophical arguments.

They will know we are Christians by the way we live. Christianity will also be defined (in their minds at least) by the way we live. Try asking people some time “What is the first word that comes to mind when I say Christian?”

It goes beyond this though. They will know that Christianity is true (or not) by the way Christians live.

One of the commenters on Tuesday’s post Testable Faith made a point worth a good deal of consideration.

Should our views be verifiable or at the very least subject to falsification on matters of faith?

I think yes. And can give you some examples of how that could work.

If the claims of Scripture are true, we should see a qualitative difference between Christians filled with the spirit and non-Christians in the “world.” We should see “fruits” of the spirit. Light and salt. In a way that is striking by way of comparison. And this should be even more pronounced the more devout one is in their faith. In a way that does not compare with how devout one is in another non-Christian faith.

Subjectively, one ought be able to say something qualitatively more compelling in their Christian “testimony” than the sincere “testimonies” of those from other faiths.

We should see greater wisdom and discernment in devout Christian communities than those of other faiths or non-faith.

Read it all and think it through during this tumultuous election season.