Family Duties on Memorial Day

Our nation will observe Memorial Day this year on the same day we traditionally observed it until 1971—May 30. Thankfully our family did not lose anybody to war, although my grandfathers and dad fought in World War I and II respectively. So in addition to remembering those brave men and women who fought and died to preserve our country’s freedom, I have made this weekend a time for both remembering those in my family who have died and honoring them.

Since they are no longer living, I have decided that on my watch their graves will be well kept and in good repair. So my wife and I go out and trim around the tombstones, rake the graves, clean them up, and put flowers on them for the summer. Doing so is a way for me to continue to honor them, both for being such a good family and for their service to our country.

At Woodland cemetery.

At Woodland cemetery.

It also reminds me of how fleeting and transient this mortal life is. When I was a kid, we’d spend Memorial Day at the lake at my grandparents Shaffer’s cottage with my extended family. It was a grand time and I have great memories of those halcyon days. Now I only have their graves to visit and I confess I liked it a whole lot better when I was able to be with them at the lake.

So Memorial Day is a bittersweet time for me. But as long as I am able, I will continue to honor my family on this holiday, in part, by caring for their grave sites. It is the least I can do considering all they did and sacrificed for me.

May you too find ways to honor and love your loved ones, especially if you are blessed enough to have them still be living.

Giving Thanks for the Methodists in My Life

On this feast day of John and Charles Wesley, I am thankful for John Wesley and my Methodist heritage, even though I have returned to the mother Church and am now an Anglican priest. I am especially thankful that God blessed me with Dr. Paul Chiles, Dr. Phil Webb, Rev. Ron Payne, and Rev. Bill Patterson. Each of these men served as ministers in the Methodist churches I attended in Van Wert, Perrysburg, and Toledo, and each had a profound influence on my spiritual development.

And of course I am thankful for my parents who were faithful Methodists all their married lives and who hauled me off to church every Sunday. 🙂

A Prayer for the Feast Day of John and Charles Wesley

A day to remember two of my favorite theologians. John especially is one of my personal heroes.

From here:

The Wesley brothers, born in 1703 and 1707, were leaders of the evangelical revival in the Church of England in the eighteenth century. They both attended Oxford University , and there they gathered a few friends with whom they undertook a strict adherence to the worship and discipline of the Book of Common Prayer, from which strict observance they received the nickname, “Methodists.” Having been ordained, they went to the American colony of Georgia in 1735, John as a missionary and Charles as secretary to Governor Oglethorpe. They found the experience disheartening, and returned home in a few years. There, three days apart, they underwent a conversion experience. John, present with a group of Moravians who were reading Martin Luther‘s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, received a strong emotional awareness of the love of Christ displayed in freely forgiving his sins and granting him eternal life. Following this experience, John and Charles, with others, set about to stir up in others a like awareness of and response to the saving love of God. Of the two, John was the more powerful preacher, and averaged 8000 miles of travel a year, mostly on horseback. At the time of his death he was probably the best known and best loved man in England.

Read it all.

Lord God, who inspired your servants John and Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed them with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervor, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience

John WesleyToday marks the 278th anniversary of Fr. John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience, in which his heart was “strangely warmed” and which changed the course of the Methodist movement forever. I was a Methodist for the first 50 years of my life and am proud of that heritage. It is a sad testimony to the human condition that Wesley’s followers eventually split from the Church of England. But that does not take away the fact that Wesley and his movement came from the great umbrella that is the Anglican Tradition and we are the better for it.

Wednesday, May 24, [1738]. I think it was about five this morning, that I opened my Testament on those words, “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature.” ( 2 Peter 1:4.) Just as I went out, I opened it again on those words, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul’s. The anthem was, “Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? For there is mercy with thee; therefore shalt thou be feared. O Israel, trust in the Lord: For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his sins.” In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there, what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught, that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation: But that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth them, according to the counsels of his own will. After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations; but cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.

—John Wesley, Journal

Fr. Carretto Waxes Eloquent on the Mystery of God

See what you think.

Then we come to understand the dimensions of heaven; then we see things as they really are, and we see God as really God!

But then, too, we realize that this cannot last, that in order to keep its gratuitous quality, the fragrance of that hour must be paid for in a harsh and severe way.

Perhaps because it would all be too beautiful?
Perhaps because contemplation would destroy the roots of action?
Perhaps because you would never again get anything done, as though you were on too perfect a honeymoon?
Perhaps because heaven would start here and now, whereas the way is still long, and possession of the Beloved is feeble?
Yes, all this and many other things are true.

But there is one other thing which seems to me still more true, and I understood it only very late:
You would not be free any longer.
And God is terribly concerned about your freedom in loving him.
He knows that you can be suffocated by the greatness and the quantity of his gifts.
It is difficult to make a marriage between two persons who are in such different circumstances.
He brings you his all, while you can only bring him your nothing.
How can one set about reconciling such differences?
How can he be certain that you are not seeking him out of self-interest?
That you are not going to him only because you have found no one else?
That you are not going to him for the pleasure you get out of it?
That would be too easy and too shallow a love.

When the Bible says that God is a jealous God, it is speaking truly.

But God’s jealousy is not like ours. He is jealous because he is afraid that, instead of loving him in his naked being, we love his creation, his riches, his gifts, the joy he bestows, the peace he brings, and Truth he makes us a present of.

God is not only jealous in his love. He is tragic. Before making you his, before letting himself be possessed, he  tears you to shreds—rather, he makes history tear you to shreds…

For much of my life, I asked myself why God acted in such a strange way.
Why is he silent so long? Why is faith so bitter?
He can do everything, so why does he not reveal himself to us in a more sensational way?

What would it cost him to come out into the streets, among those who cry “God does not exist,” give a hard slap to the noisiest, and say—better still, shout—”Don’t believe these fools! I am here indeed! To convince you, let’s make an appointment to meet tomorrow evening in Leningrad’s museum of atheism. You’ll see what I’ll do! I’ll crush you and reduce you to souvenir envelopes!”

But it seems that God does his best to remain silent, as if to demonstrate that he does not exist, that it is useless for us to follow him, that we would do better if we went all out to possess the earth.

And are there not those who, when faced with his silence, convince themselves that he does not exist? And are there not others who are scandalized merely by the way the world goes?

If God exists, why evil? If God is love, why sorrow?
If God is a Father, why death?
If I have knocked, why has he not opened to me?
I used to think all this and more, when I was new to this school.

But then, walking patiently, not allowing myself to become frightened off by the first difficulties, hounding his door with the determination of a man on a hunger strike, and, above all, believing his gospel true and unrelenting, I began to see the way things are, I began to discover how God goes about what he is doing, I began to distinguish his stealthy footsteps….

It was for him to open it, not me, always in a hurry.

Sin lies in Adam’s haste, and my lust for possession is stronger than my true love for him. Wait! Oh, the anguish of that “wait,” the emptiness of that absence!

But then, little by little, I began to understand, as never before, that he was present in the emptiness, in the waiting.

—Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes

Fr. Philip Sang: The God We Worship: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday C, May 22, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8.1-10; Romans 5.1-5; John 16.12-15.

There is a story that St. Augustine was walking on the beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity. Then he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole. St. Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?” “I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.” “That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made” said St. Augustine. The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.” The story concludes by saying that the boy vanished because St. Augustine had been talking to an angel.

For six months now, in the course of our calender Church’s calendar, we have been remembering and celebrating the Incarnation and the redeeming works and life of Christ our Savior.  We Started with his birth, and actually with preparing for his Incarnation and Birth, and our need for him. These last two weeks we saw the culmination of it all, with his glorious Ascension, seating at the Right Hand of the Father, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. And the end of all this, the point of it all, is that we should behold and come to know and love God. The Incarnation, a word for the Son’s taking our nature upon himself, is the revelation of the life of God: his being, his love, his majesty, and his glory. The lectionary lets us see his glory lived out in his life, like John says in the beginning of his Gospel. John 1:14

Today then, as we celebrate Trinity Sunday we are reminded the divine life of God himself, in which we are called to share: adopted children, by grace, “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” So today for those of us who are liturgical and follow the church calender we try to sum up the great heavenly truths about God. And that’s not easy. Our words do not describe very well the glories of heaven.

Today being Trinity Sunday, many pastors will focus on this doctrine of our Christian faith, one of the most inexpressible mysteries of our faith and at the end of the sermon still words cannot explain well. There have been many attempts to try to bring this mystery into our level of understanding. Some have said that the Trinity is like water in its three phases: steam, liquid, and ice. Others have said that the Trinity is like the same person with three different titles, such as a woman could be a mother, sister, and daughter all at the same time. With all things considered, none of these analogies or metaphors or symbols or whatever it is you want to call them is an accurate illustration. The Trinity is three distinct Persons in One God. All three, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, have been around for all eternity; all three co-exist so that all can be apparent at the same place at the same time, as we heard from the scriptures during Epiphany season with Jesus Baptism. If you were born during that time like me you can’t afford to forget, God the Father speaking, God the Son being Baptized in the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descending upon Him. If you forget then you better change your date of birth if it is possible, by the way this is possible in Africa.

During Jesus Baptism, Each of the Three are able to talk to each other as distinct Persons (like when God the Son prayed to God the Father). Also, the presence of One can be emphasized over the other, which we saw in our Gospel lesson this morning. A symbol of this Trinity in Unity at work. Christ speaks to his disciples, telling them that he is going away, going to the Father, from where he will send the Spirit, the Helper, to be with them The doctrine of the Trinity is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. Our “faith is this,” says the Athanasian Creed, “that we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity.”

If you recall something of the early history of the Church, perhaps you know with what difficulty the doctrine of the Trinity was clarified. St. Athanasius was exiled five times from his diocese of Alexandria in his struggles against the Arians, who denied that the Son was Fully God. That is why we say, in the Nicene Creed, “being of one substance with the Father,” (of one being with the Father) “very God of very God.” (True God from true God)
These are phrases which pass can pass easily off our tongues, but they are phrases which were shouted by multitudes in processions through the streets of ancient Rome and Constantinople, to teach all that Christ was as fully God as God the Father.

The Arian solution–that Jesus is God-like, but not very God, would have meant a very different Christianity. If he is not really God, he is not our Savior. If Christ is not God, his death would not be sufficient to pay for our sins. The Trinity tells us of our relation to the Father as children. Where Hindu’s see deity as a disembodied cosmic force behind everything, and Muslims see God as an angry master, however, we as Christians, we know God as Father, and Christ as brother, from which we can understand all Fatherhood and Brotherhood. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit, who marks us as His, and who enables us to live as God would have us to live. “We worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in unity,” says the Creed of St. Athanasius. “Three Persons and One God.” But what does that mean, beyond sheer mystification? St. Augustine asks us to consider the life of the human soul, God’s image. The soul remembers, it knows, it loves. These are three activities, and yet they are the activity of one soul.

Father, Son and Spirit, three persons and one God: all equally divine, all absolutely God, one nature, one reality. God is not three beings, or three personalities: God is one.
Hope you get the idea. It seems to be a complex God who cannot be easily described. Each of the Three Persons of our One God has different attributes yet the Three work together as One. The last couple of weeks we have been focusing on unity. We saw unity through the commandment of Christ that we love one another (John 17:20-26). Then we saw the unity we have in that we are many being with different languages, nations and ethnicities made into one church. But those are examples of a human unity, and many times an imperfect unity. The Trinity, however, is a divine unity, the one and only perfect unity, of how three distinct Persons are together as One.

Our Epistle lesson from Romans 5 provides one example of how the Three Persons of our One God work together. In this instance, Paul writes about how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit gives us hope. Hope that does not disappoint us. Paul tells us there how we are justified with God the Father by faith. Justified means “made in alignment with.” Like your margins on a computer. When we are justified with God, we are brought into alignment, made right, with God by faith.

How? We are justified by faith through God the Son, God the Son acts as intercessor for us with God the Father. It is through Christ’s grace that we are able to stand before God the Father as justified. It is through the Holy Spirit, that this grace is applied into our lives. Yet these three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, are One.

The Trinity is one of the hardest things to explain and understand in Christian Doctrine, despite the fact that we recite the creed every week. But the one thing we certainly can say, and do, is to Praise God, even when we do not understand Him. We Praise God that he is a loving Father, and the One, True, Holy and Living God.

We Praise Him because he is our creator, King, Shepherd, and the preserver of all things. We praise Him that his Love, Power, Wisdom, and justice is displayed throughout His Creation. All these things are worthy of Praise! As for God the Son, we can praise him for his obedience to live as a servant and to suffer and die upon the cross to become our savior. Praise him for conquering the grave by rising from the dead. Praise him that he made eternal life with God the Father possible. And as for God the Holy Spirit, we can praise Him because His presence with us never ends. He is the one who reveals the word of God to us so that we not only become Christians, but also grow and become faithful witnesses. This is why David could write such a powerful message in Psalm 8 which we prayed this morning. As David gazed out into the vast universe, with its celestial bodies, he couldn’t help but have a sense of awe and wonder for who God is.

That Hymn of Praise is to God as the Good Creator, Ruler, and sustainer of everything in the Heavens, on Earth, and in the Sea. It is a song of Thanksgiving that, no matter how small we are in comparison to all that God has created, the Father is always mindful of us and caring for us. David couldn’t help but lift up this song of praise after pondering the fact that instead of giving us the judgment our sins deserve, he gives us love and care. That despite the fall of humanity, he still blesses us by appointing us as the caretakers over all of his creation to maintain its order and to shine God’s Light upon it.

This is why we join the Psalmist in crying out, “O Lord, our Lord, How Majestic is your name in all the Earth. That is why we Praise God, the Trinity, the Three in one. I’d like to close with these words “First, I have learned to believe in God the Father, who has made me and all the World. Secondly, to believe in God the Son who redeems me and the whole world. Thirdly, to believe in God the Holy Spirit, who Sanctifies me, and all the people of God. It is my prayer that we will humbly accept this Biblical Truth and Join with all Christians in praising our God, the Trinity, Three in One, And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, three Persons, one God, be all might, majesty, dominion, and power, both now and forever, world without end. Amen

An Ancient Account of how Pentecost was Celebrated

From here.

But on the fiftieth day, that is, the Lord’s Day, when the people have a very great deal to go through, everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow onwards; vigil is kept in the Anastasis, and the bishop reads the passage from the Gospel that is always read on the Lord’s Day, namely, the account of the Lord’s Resurrection, and afterwards everything customary is done in the Anastasis [the cross], just as throughout the whole year. But when morning is come, all the people proceed to the great church, that is, to the martyrium [the church], and all things usual are done there; the priests preach and then the bishop, and all things that are prescribed are done, the oblation being made, as is customary on the Lord’s Day, only the same dismissal in the martyrium is hastened, in order that it may be made before the third hour [9am].

And when the dismissal has been made at the martyrium, all the people, to a man, escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, [so that] they are in Sion when the third hour is fully come. And on their arrival there the passage from the Acts of the Apostles is read where the Spirit came down so that all tongues [were heard and all men] understood the things that were being spoken, and the dismissal takes place afterwards in due course For the priests read there from the Acts of the Apostles concerning the selfsame thing, because that is the place in Sion—there is another church there now—where once, after the Lord’s Passion, the multitude was gathered together with the Apostles, and where this was done, as we have said above. Afterwards the dismissal takes place in due course, and the oblation is made there. Then, that the people may be dismissed, the archdeacon raises his voice, and says: “Let us all be ready to day in Eleona, in the Imbomon [place of the Ascension], directly after the sixth hour [noon].”

So all the people return, each to his house, to rest themselves, and immediately after breakfast they ascend the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, each as he can, so that there is no Christian left in the city who does not go. When, therefore, they have gone up the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, they first enter the Imbomon, that is, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and the bishops and the priests take their seat there, and likewise all the people. Lessons are read there with hymns interspersed, antiphons too are said suitable to the day and the place, also the prayers which are interspersed have likewise similar references. The passage from the Gospel is also read where it speaks of the Lord’s Ascension, also that from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven after His Resurrection. And when this is over, the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed, and they come down thence, it being already the ninth hour [3pm], and go with hymns to that church which is in Eleona, wherein is the cave where the Lord was wont to sit and teach His Apostles. And as it is already past the tenth hour [4pm] when they arrive, lucernare takes place there; prayer is made, and the catechumens and likewise the faithful are blessed.

And then all the people to a man descend thence with the bishop, saying hymns and antiphons suitable to that day, and so come very slowly to the martyrium. It is already night when they reach the gate of the city, and about two hundred church candles are provided for the use of the people. And as it is agood distance from the gate to the great church, that is, the martyrium, they arrive about the second hour of the night, for they go the whole way very slowly lest the people should be weary from being afoot. And when the great gates are opened, which face towards the market-place, all the people enter the martyrium with hymns and with the bishop. And when they have entered the church, hymns are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; after which they go again with hymns to the Anastasis, where on their arrival hymns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; this is likewise done at the Cross. Lastly, all the Christian people to a man escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, and when they are come there, suitable lessons are read, psalrns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal takes place. And after the dismissal all approach the bishop’s hand, and then every one returns to his house about midnight. Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day, but the whole celebration (of the Feast) lasts so long that it is midnight when every one returns home after the dismissal has taken place at Sion.

—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria85-90

Jesus is Lord? I Mean, Jesus is Lord!

Sermon delivered on Ascension Sunday, Easter 7C, May 8, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 16.16-24; Psalm 97.1-12; Revelation 22:12–14, 16–17, 20–21; John 17.20-26.

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

Today is Ascension Sunday, the 7th Sunday of Easter, the day we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into heaven (Luke 24.50-53; Acts 1.6-11). We actually celebrated the Feast of the Ascension on Thursday (you did celebrate it, didn’t you?). But the Church has also wisely observed it on the following Sunday. Unfortunately, however, most of us have learned to ignore the Ascension. What’s it all about? Who really cares? I mean, after all, isn’t it just some fantastic made-up story that describes Jesus as being the first primitive astronaut, blasting off to heaven? Well, no, the Ascension really isn’t about that at all. The Ascension is really about Jesus completing the path to becoming Lord of the cosmos and that is what I want us to look at today.

That the NT writers believed Jesus is Lord is evident in the language they used to talk about the Ascension. Either directly or indirectly, Luke, Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews all speak of Jesus sitting down at the right hand of God the Father (see, e.g., Acts 2.33; Romans 8.34; 1 Peter 3.22; Hebrews 1.3), language that means Jesus is now in God’s space, heaven, ruling on behalf of God until he returns to consummate the saving work he started in his earthly ministry. This concept of a right hand man is not foreign to us either. We all understand that a big shot’s right hand man has clear authority to speak and act on behalf of the big shot.

But here is where many of us get tripped up about Jesus’ lordship. If Jesus really is God’s right hand man (actually Jesus is more than that, he is God himself), i.e., if Jesus really is Lord, then why doesn’t he do a better job of showing us that he is? Let’s be honest. When we hear terms like Lord and King, we expect to see mighty acts of power that dazzle and awe us. We expect a real Lord and King to take care of us and protect us from all that can go wrong in life or that is evil, and when that doesn’t happen, well, we’re skeptical to say the least. And so we look at the Ascension and yawn. We say to ourselves (or think it unconsciously) that Jesus isn’t Lord. He’s an absentee landlord just like his Father, who really doesn’t care all that much about us and his world. So for many of us, the Ascension is nothing more than a confirmation that Jesus is out of sight and out of mind, and it really is up to us to get on with life and forge a happy existence for ourselves as best we can. When that happens, we not only sin against God, we become powerless and ineffective Christians and are to be pitied most of all.

But thankfully, Jesus is not an absentee landlord, nor are we left to our own devices to schlep through life as best we can. In fact, God gives us lessons like the ones we heard this morning to help us better understand the nature of Jesus’ lordship. To be sure, Scripture provides us plenty of examples that meet our human expectations about what a heavenly Lord and King should look like. We see this in our psalm and epistle lessons. The psalmist talks about the fact that the Lord is King, shrouded in mystery, yet full of light and power, who has the ability and determination to both act dramatically and judge his good but sin-infected creation so as to rid it of the evil that plagues us. We should note that judgment is a good thing according to the psalmist because when God comes to judge his creation and its peoples, right order will be restored and we will no longer be afflicted by any kind of evil or suffering. This is the nature and character of God. That is why God’s righteousness and holiness are to be respected and celebrated. He judges for our good. And we should note that only a real Lord and King has the authority and power to effect this kind of judgment. So too does his right hand man.

We see this same theme of judgment in our epistle lesson. Jesus reminds us at the beginning and end of our lesson that he is coming soon to judge all according to our works (or lack thereof). Jesus can do this precisely because he is given the authority to carry out God’s judgment. Clearly there are going to be those who get to live in God’s new creation, here described as having the right to the tree of life—a right taken from us in the Garden when our first ancestors sinned against God—and access to the New Jerusalem where God lives directly with his people forever. It’s a wonderful, glorious, and life-giving picture! But there are also going to be those who are denied access to the tree of life and the New Jerusalem, a passage curiously (or maybe not, listen if you have ears) omitted by the Revised Common Lectionary. These folks are described as, “dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22.15). This is not a pretty picture and it should invoke in us a reverent fear (respect) commensurate with a God big enough and powerful enough to be called Lord.

But that’s then and this is now. While the NT makes clear that Jesus will return one day to finish his saving work, we are given no timetable. We are told only that Jesus will return and we should live accordingly. So what about the interim? What does Jesus’ lordship look like in the living of our days? Here again, our lessons today provide us with some valuable insight to help us live faithfully and with power as we await his return so that we don’t buy into the lie that Jesus isn’t Lord and King but really an absentee and uncaring landlord.

Before we look at our NT and gospel lessons, it is critical to remind ourselves what kind of king the NT portrays Jesus to be. He is not a typical king who lords it over his subjects and forces us to obey. No, Jesus is a crucified and risen king, who died for us to break the power of evil and sin in our lives and to reconcile us to God so that we can live in God’s presence. God chose to do this, not by sending in the tanks, not by a wave of his hand to sweep away all evil. To do that would mean that we would be swept away with no hope of being healed or reclaimed because we all carry around evil in us to one degree or another. So we must first and foremost acknowledge and celebrate the fact that Jesus is our crucified Lord. That is why the redeemed in our epistle lesson can eat at the tree of life and live in God’s presence. Their clothes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross. Judgment there will be. We will have to give an account of our actions. But at the end of the day, we are assured that when we put our whole hope and trust in Jesus, imperfect as we are, prone to sin as we are, his death is greater than our brokenness, and we are washed clean, thanks be to God!

So when we understand that God’s kingdom was ushered in through ostensible weakness and powerlessness (the apostles didn’t understand this notion that a crucified and publicly humiliated man was actually bringing in the kingdom by pronouncing judgment on sin and the forces of evil until after Jesus was raised from the dead), it helps us to change our conception of what Jesus as Lord looks like. When we understand Jesus is our crucified Lord, it helps us to see signs of his lordship in the most unlikely places.

Take Paul and Silas for example. Their belief that Jesus is Lord had led Paul to expel an evil spirit from a girl and deprived her owners of their economic livelihood. Paul’s exorcism is indeed an act of power that we recognize. But what did it get them? A severe beating and imprisonment. So what kind of Lord fails to protect his followers? Conventional wisdom on power would compel us to dismiss Jesus’ lordship as being weak and/or ineffectual. But this is our crucified and risen Lord we are talking about, who is made known to us in the power of the Spirit whom he sent so that he could be with us, and we see the results of this when we look at the prison scene. Here are Paul and Silas, severely beaten and imprisoned in stocks because Paul had acted in the name of the Lord Jesus. Here is evil and the dark powers behind it doing their best to destroy Jesus’ followers. And what are those followers doing? Singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God! What’s going on here? The only plausible explanation is that they knew Jesus is Lord because he was with them in the power of the Spirit. Jesus wasn’t some kind of uncaring or absentee landlord. No! He was with them, ministering to them so that they too could rejoice in their suffering for his sake. For you see, this is how the kingdom comes. Jesus is ascended and reigns as Lord, but his reign must spread through humans acknowledging his lordship though our actions and words. This is how Jesus brings in the kingdom—through us!

I can hear some of you now: But, but, we’re not qualified! We don’t have it in us! We’re only human like everyone else. Well, yes you are, Jesus replies. But it isn’t about you. It’s about me and my power, the power of crucified love made known in and through you in the power of the Spirit. That is why it is so critical for you to avail yourselves of the ordinary means of grace so that you open yourself up to the Spirit’s influence and know that I am really Lord, even when everything around you screams otherwise. Paul and Silas could have succumbed to the same mistake. They could have thought I had abandoned them when they were arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. But they didn’t. They understood they lived in an evil age, but that my love and power have overcome evil when I was crucified, and the power of death was broken forever when I was raised from the dead. So focus on cultivating my presence in you through the ordinary and proven ways I have given you. Read and study Scripture together and individually. Worship me regularly and take to heart the things you hear from brilliant preachers like Fr. Maney. Come to table each week and feed on my body and blood. Pray together and individually. Remind each other of my mighty acts of power, like the earthquake I produced that led to Paul and Silas’ release, and which serves as a reminder to you that even when things look bad, evil and those who perpetrate it will be judged. I am the Lord. This is how I work.

But we want to protest that we haven’t seen earthquakes and other acts of power. Perhaps not, Jesus replies, but some of you have. Don’t discount their testimony. Learn to look for my reign being made known in and through you my people. Every time you honor my request for unity (not uniformity) by loving each other and respecting Christians from other traditions, you proclaim to the world that the Father has sent me. Every time you forgive each other after you have quarreled, you proclaim to the world that I am Lord because I forgave you when I died for you. Every time you see a disease healed or a prayer answered, no matter how big or small the problem is, you see evidence of my love for and presence with you. Every time you show humility and generosity and compassion, you proclaim that I am your Lord—and the kingdom comes. This is how it works. I don’t expect you to fully understand. I expect you to trust and obey me because I’ve got a track record to warrant your trust and obedience. And if you partake in the means of grace we’ve talked about so that you are open to the healing influence of the Spirit, you too can be a Paul and Silas in your faith, even in the darkest valleys of your life. This is why the Ascension matters. It proclaims that Jesus is Lord, now and for all eternity. And that means we have Good news, commensurate with that reality. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen and ascended! The Lord is risen and ascended indeed! Alleluia!

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