This Day in History: Japan Formally Surrenders Ending WWII

Seventy six years ago World War II came to an end six years to the day it began. Give thanks for the brave men and women who fought against the twin evils of Nazism and Japanese militarism and if you know a vet from WWII who is still living (sadly they’re becoming fewer and fewer in number each year), take the time today and thank him/her for his/her service to our country and in the name of freedom.

This Day in History: WWII Begins

The massive conflagration known as World War II began this day 76 years ago when Germany invaded Poland. Prisoners were taken from German prisons, executed, and then dressed in Polish uniforms. Their bodies were placed at the Polish German border and used as the pretext for invading Poland. Truth never did matter to Hitler and his henchmen.

George MacDonald on Forgiveness (2)

There are various kinds and degrees of wrongdoing, which need varying kinds and degrees of forgiveness. An outburst of anger in a child, for instance, scarcely wants forgiveness. The wrong in it may be so small, that the parent has only to influence the child for self-restraint, and the rousing of the will against the wrong. The father will not feel that such a fault has built up any wall between him and his child.

But suppose that he discovered in him a habit of sly cruelty towards his younger brothers, or the animals of house, how differently would he feel! Could his forgiveness be the same as in the former case? Would not the different evil require a different form of forgiveness? I mean, would not the forgiveness have to take the form of that kind of punishment fittest for restraining, in the hope of finally rooting out, the wickedness? Could there be true love in any other kind of forgiveness than this? A passingby of the offence might spring from a poor human kindness, but never from divine love. It would not be remission. Forgiveness can never be indifference. Forgiveness is love towards the unlovely.

—George MacDonald, Creation in Christ

George MacDonald on Forgiveness (1)

“Every sin and blasphemy,” the Lord said, “will be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” God speaks, as it were, in this manner: “I forgive you everything, Not a word more shall be said about your sins—only come out of them; come out of the darkness of your exile; come into the light of your home, of your birthright, and do evil no more. Lie no more; cheat no more; oppress no more; slander no more; envy no more; be neither greedy nor vain; love your neighbor as I love you; be my good child; trust in your Father. I am light; come to me, and you shall see things as I see them, and hate the evil thing. I will make you love the thing which now you call good and love not. I forgive all the past.”

I thank you, Lord, for forgiving me, but I prefer staying in the darkness: forgive me that too.”

“No; that cannot be. The one thing that cannot be forgiven is the sin of choosing to be evil, of refusing deliverance. It is impossible to forgive that sin. It would be to take part in it. To side with wrong against right, with murder against life, cannot be forgiven. The thing that is past I pass, but he who goes on doing the same, annihilates this my forgiveness, makes it of no effect.”

“Let a man have committed any sin whatever, I forgive him; but to choose to go on sinning—how can I forgive that? It would be to nourish and cherish evil! It would be to let my creation go to ruin. Shall I keep you alive to do things hateful in the sight of all true men? If a man refuse to come out of his sin, he must suffer the vengeance of a love that would be no love if it left him there. Shall I allow my creature to be the thing my soul hates?”

There is no excuse for this refusal. If we were punished for every fault, there would be no end, no respite; we should have no quiet wherein to repent; but God passes by all he can. He passes by and forgets a thousand sins, yea, tens of thousands, forgiving them all—only we must begin to be good, begin to do evil no more.

—George MacDonald, Creation in Christ

LifeSite: Eight Facts Most Don’t Know About Physical and Psychological Consequences of Abortion for Women

1. 31% of women having abortions report suffering physical health complications (1)

2. 10% of women having abortions suffer immediate, potentially life-threatening complications (2, 3, 4)

3. Women have a 65% higher risk of clinical depression following abortion vs. childbirth (5)

4. 65% of women suffer symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after abortion (1)

5. Women’s death rates from various causes after abortion are 3.5 times higher than after giving birth  (6, 7)

6. Many women describe their experience as ‘a nightmare’, which can hardly equated with ‘choice’. 60% of women surveyed after abortion responded that: ’Part of me died’ (1)

7. Suicide rates among women who have abortions are six times higher than those who give birth (7, 8)

8. Abortion increases a woman’s risk of future miscarriages by 60% (9)

Read it all to see the citations.

Jesus Creed: The American Flag in the Church

Makes sense to me. See what you think.

[A]ccording to American flag etiquette (yes, there are people who specialize in that), it is okay to fly the U.S. flag upside down (as a signal of distress), at half mast (mourning) and alongside other national flags in certain spaces such as at the United Nations headquarters in New York. But it is never okay to fly it “in submission” to something else—for example lower than another flag in the same space. According to my friend who is also a scholar of Christian worship and has taught graduate level course in Christian worship for many years, having the U.S. flag in any worship space is wrong because it is “being flown in submission”—to God.

A very interesting conundrum to consider.

The point is that the worship space, the sanctuary (whatever it is called), is dedicated to sole worship of God above all else. The people gathered are ostensibly worshiping God alone and expressing their supreme loyalty to God, Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God. Having the national flag in the same space violates flag etiquette because it is flying it “in submission.” It should only be flown where nothing else is being placed above it in terms of importance.

Read it all.

Don’t Follow Your Heart

Sermon delivered at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church’s annual parish dedication festival, Trinity 13B, Sunday, August 30, 2015.

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

Lectionary texts: Song of Solomon 2.8-13; Psalm 45.1-2, 7-10; James 1.17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

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

On this day when we celebrate the founding of our parish, now well into its fourth year, and our patron saint, Augustine of Hippo, whose feast day was this past Friday (August 28), the anniversary of his death, how appropriate for us to consider the question, what makes a person righteous? In other words, how can we live our lives in ways that are faithful to God’s good will and purposes for us as his image-bearing creatures who are charged with being stewards over his good creation? The short answer is this: It’s a matter of transformation, and this topic was near and dear to Augustine of Hippo. This is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

In our gospel lesson, we see Jesus again being confronted by his adversaries, this time over the matter of cleanness and uncleanness. Not being first-century Jews, these terms can seem strange to us, so let’s use the terms we are better acquainted with, righteous (or right) and unrighteous (or wrong). Yes folks. your heard me correctly. Despite what some would have us believe, there still are ways of thinking and acting in this world that constitute right and wrong. At the heart of the matter, Jesus’ adversaries are arguing that external things we do can make us right in God’s eyes. The immediate context in our gospel lesson was ceremonial (not hygienic) washing. Do this, say Jesus’ opponents, and you will distinguish yourself from the hated pagans who surround and control us, and make yourself right in God’s eyes at the same time. Sweet.

Nonsense, replies Jesus. It’s not the ceremonial things you do that make you right in God’s eyes, things like attending worship or praying or reading the Bible regularly or doing acts of charity (you know, stuff we Christians are called to do). You are focusing on the wrong things. What defiles you is what originates within you, within your heart. For it is out of the heart that all kinds of nasty things come. This is what alienates you from God and destroys your relationship with him. In other words, this is what makes you unclean and not right with God. Your corrupt heart is what makes external, ceremonial stuff necessary in the first place. It’s possible to do all those things well and still have a bad heart. For Jesus, the heart was not just the center of our emotions, but the center of our will.

This, of course, runs against our current thinking. Listen to your heart, we are told, and be true to it. Doing so is the key to success or happiness or whatever. But if we take Jesus’ claim here seriously, we can see the folly of that advise. We dare not listen to our heart, at least until it has been healed and transformed by Jesus in and through the power of the Spirit, because our heart is corrupt. Fixing this problem is not a matter of superficial window dressing (external acts), but of tearing down and rebuilding the very structure of the building (internal transformation)!

Jesus’ teaching also refutes an argument we hear a lot these days, that “God made me this way.” God did not create us with corrupt hearts that lead us to follow our own proud and selfish desires. God did not create babies with birth defects, etc. This is the result of human sin in the garden and God’s subsequent curse on it. Anyone with a realistic and biblical perspective understands that while there are many things in this world that are good, right, and beautiful, there is also something terribly wrong with the world, and here Jesus tells us what part of the problem is. We have corrupted hearts that make us act in unwise, unhealthy, and outright sinful ways. Fix the heart and the behavior corrects itself. Jesus wasn’t railing against human tradition. He was railing against human tradition that sets aside God’s teaching about how we are to conduct our lives. He didn’t say stop washing or tithing or doing the things we do here at St. Augustine’s as the Lord’s people. He said stop thinking that doing those things make you right in God’s eyes because they may simply be covering a corrupt heart. Augustine himself saw the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching when he said that, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you,” i.e., until our corrupt hearts are healed and regenerated by Jesus.

Now at this point, I can hear some of you grumbling to yourselves. “I hear what Jesus is saying, but surely that doesn’t apply to me. I’m not a murderer or a rapist or a terrorist. I don’t preach long sermons like Fr. Maney. I’m basically a good person.” Well, you may be a good person at some level, says Jesus, because I created you good. But you are no longer pure. Every time you say a hurtful word to others out of anger, every time you tell a lie or gossip or speak evilly about someone else or are indifferent to the plight of another, you are bearing the fruit of your corrupted heart because none of these things is from God. None of these things are after my example. And until your corrupt heart gets healed, you have a fundamental problem with God, the source and author of all life, because your corrupt heart inevitably alienates you from God.

Now that I’ve sufficiently depressed you and made you feel all uncomfortable and stuff, let me tell you that a corrupt heart is not the end of the story. While we must certainly acknowledge our brokenness as humans and the estrangement our hard heart causes between God and humans and between humans, it is a testimony to the love and faithfulness of God that he would move to heal our corrupt hearts by becoming human and dying on a cross to end our alienation from him and each other. No matter who we are or what we have done, there is nothing too great for the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ to overcome or heal. Nothing. God wants us to live rightly so we can finally begin to enjoy real happiness and purpose of living, something that is only possible when he replaces our hard hearts with human ones. So in addition to addressing the basis of our alienation with him by dying for us, God poured out his Spirit in our hearts to heal us and give us hearts of flesh, human hearts, that will help us to live in the manner pleasing to God and us. Contrast this response to our own when we are the victims of someone’s hard heart. Our own hard heart doesn’t tell us to forgive the offender and be reconciled to him. Our unhealed hearts make us want to lash out and seek revenge on the offender, inevitably escalating the conflict and alienation we feel. This is not what we are hardwired for. We are hardwired for relationship and goodness and peace. But our sin changed us and gives us just the opposite. That is why God’s mighty acts of justice and mercy on the cross and his giving us the Holy Spirit are such wonderful, life-changing things, thanks be to God!

Jesus hints at this in our gospel lesson. Don’t replace God’s teaching found in the broader story of God’s redemption contained in Scripture with your own human traditions. Instead, examine your motives and seek a pure heart, a heart that can only be healed and changed by me. I am available to you in the power of the Spirit and in God’s word contained in Scripture. This means that until our consistent desire is for God to cleanse and purify us by healing our hard hearts, we will never know the real transformative power of God. Failing to desire purity and then not doing the things on our end that must accompany a real desire to be healed, e.g., obeying Scripture, praying for purity, etc., is simply another manifestation of our corrupt heart.

This is why James urges us to take our human condition and the resulting sin seriously. Don’t be deceived, he tells us. Sin is deadly and will ruin you if you do not embrace the gift you’ve been given in Jesus. To be sure, your sins are forgiven by the blood of the Lamb shed for you. To be sure, you have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred into God’s kingdom of light because of what God has done for you in Jesus. But if you really believe God has done this for you, you must respond to the gift you’ve been given. For starters, you will begin to see your utter inability to change and heal your corrupted heart and understand that only Jesus can do that for you (humility anyone?). Faith in Jesus will also open your eyes to the utter deadliness and horror of your sin and cause you to seek to pattern your own lives after Jesus so that you can be freed from the sin that will destroy you. And how does James think we do this? Through accepting the word of God in our lives, i.e., by obeying the clear teachings of Scripture found in the broader narrative of God’s rescue plan of his creation and creatures, not just the parts we happen to agree with. When we are cafeteria Christians, picking and choosing what we will obey in Scripture and what we will ignore, we are demonstrating that we prefer to follow our corrupt heart rather than submit to God’s word. This is fundamentally self-defeating because all Scripture points us to Jesus our Lord and Savior, and only Jesus can truly change us for the good for which we were created. This is why we must obey all of Scripture, not just the parts we happen to like.

As our hearts get healed by Jesus so that we become more consistently like him, it will inevitably lead us to work for God’s justice to protect society’s weakest and poorest and those least able to defend themselves, i.e., we will begin to practice our faith. Why? Because our healed hearts lead us to have real compassion for the least and the lost, folks just like us before we were touched by the love of God. But our healed hearts will do more than this. Our heart of flesh will cause us to recognize that we must consistently work to develop new behavior patterns to replace our old corrupt ones. This is what Paul meant by putting on Christ. So, e.g., we must learn to put aside our anger, our evil speaking, our gossip, our pride, our selfishness, and all the other manifestations of our corrupt hearts. We don’t do this on our own, of course. We do it in the power of the Spirit. That’s why our urgent pleas for purity must inevitably lead to our transformation, maddeningly slow and idiosyncratic as that seems to us at times. But this is what James is talking about when he talks about us being the firstfruits of God’s good and generous gift to us made known in and through Jesus and the presence of his Spirit in and through his people. Thanks be to God! Our healed hearts cause us to bear good fruit and give the world a preview of what will be standard operating procedure in the new creation. Right now, healed hearts are an exception to the rule. When the kingdom comes in full, it will be the rule, no exceptions. I can assure you, Augustine would be all about healing and transformation that leads to action!

As I look at the fruit we bear as a parish, it is evident to me that the Spirit is at work in and through us and our hearts are being healed. I see how we care for each other and those who are not part of our family. I sense the spirit of goodwill and charity when we gather together and I rejoice at seeing us work tirelessly for our Lord who loved us and has claimed us. This isn’t an invitation for complacency and self-congratulations. Our healed hearts cause us to know better. But it is a sin not to celebrate our Lord’s good gifts to us as we resolve to continue to work tirelessly and joyfully on his behalf. Doing so is the best way we can witness to the world that God really does heal corrupt hearts and that we really do have Good News to offer others and ourselves, 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.

Frank Bruni: The Real Threat to Hillary Clinton

Bruni is not one of my favorites. But he sure gets it on this particular issue. Good for him. Let’s hope the Repubs wake up. See what you think.

In the eyes of many disapproving conservatives, “[Kasich’s] the one Republican in the field that not only embraced Obamacare, but took it out in his dad’s station wagon and made out with it,” as the Republican strategist Rick Wilson told Caitlin Huey-Burns of Real Clear Politics.

There’s no reason to think he’ll do well in early primary contests in Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada. That puts do-or-die pressure on New Hampshire.

He’s known to have attention problems and a mean streak. His congressional career links him to the disastrous mid-1990s effort to shut down the government. And after Congress, he worked as an investment banker with Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street firm. That’s a résumé line out of sync with the electorate’s mood.

But he has made the best of it, portraying it as an inside look at a vital part of the economy, a fruitful research mission. He’s dexterous that way. And Democrats, trust me, have noticed, enough to hope that Republican primary voters don’t wake up to the same realization.

Read it all.

From St. Augustine’s Confessions

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you, though if they did not have their existence in you, they had no existence at all. You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.


CT: When Jesus Got the Bible Wrong

Very nice. See what you think.

All of us are tempted on occasion to approach biblical tensions—texts that seem to contradict each other—in flippant or offhand ways. At one end of the spectrum are skeptics who reduce tensions to textual incoherence and human invention. On the other are those with more evangelical commitments, who desperately trawl books and websites to harmonize mismatching texts. Once they find one, they sigh and move on as if the tension has nothing to teach us. The “problem” has been “resolved.”

But if we want to take Scripture seriously, we must ask why tensions exist in the first place. Why did the Holy Spirit—who inspired Scripture—cause these discrepant texts to be written? What do they reveal? And what might we lose if we “resolve” the problem? We are, after all, listening for the voice of God, not solving a puzzle.

Read it all.

Fr. Philip Sang: Trusting by Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12B, August 23, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 8.1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84.1-12; Ephesians 6.10-20; John 6.56-69.

May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to your oh Lord our rock and our Redeemer, in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen.

In today’s gospel, we learn of how, after listening to Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, many of his disciples found his words difficult to the extent where they could no longer be Jesus’ disciples. Jesus was teaching them about the sacrament of Holy Communion; of eating and drinking his flesh and blood. To many, this was going too far. How could they, being faithful Jews, participate in the most offensive act of cannibalism? Such a teaching went beyond sound reasoning and common understanding. However, Jesus was not teaching or advocating that his disciples practice cannibalism. Rather, he was speaking of living in relationship with him as God’s Holy One who would open the door to the Father. He was their true Master Key; he would be able to open the door and bring them into the Father’s kingdom.

As this gospel story unfolds, the people, who were disciples, we are told, are abandoning Jesus, so he asks the twelve disciples if they too wished to go away from him. Peter, being the spokesperson for the other disciples then responds with this confession, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

One wonders, how could Peter and the other eleven, of course with Judas being the exception, remain with Jesus and make this confession, while, on the other hand many others, who were also his disciples, abandoned him? Well, apart from the deep mysteries of God, the main reason seems to be that the ones who left placed their own understanding; their own knowing; over and above faith; of being able and willing to trust in Jesus even if they did not completely understand his teachings.

Men and women have come to God, not to find prove to bread or curious to analyze it; they have come as hungry people, needing to eat if they would live. And they have found life glorified by faith in him. It was with Peter and his companions as it is with us too; that faith and believing take precedent over and prior to knowledge and understanding. We do not know and understand in order to have faith and believe. Rather, it is the other way round, we have faith and believe in order to know and understand. This we see in the words of Peter’s confession as well, when he says: “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Belief comes first, then the knowing. This truth is born out further as we read the whole story of Christ and his disciples in the gospels. Overall, we notice that it is not until after Christ’s resurrection that the disciples really knew and understood what Jesus was talking about before he died and predicted his Passion and resurrection. So it is with us too, we believe and have faith in Jesus long before we completely know and understand him. In fact, our knowledge and understanding of him is always growing and maturing as we take practical steps of faith in our daily living.

Another reality and truth to which Peter’s confession points us is the importance of commitment to Christ. Here we have people giving up their commitment to Jesus. In this context, when the going gets tough we see the tough gets going, it is Peter and his companions who stay put and remain committed to Jesus.

By following Jesus and being committed to him like Peter and his companions, we are able to make our life count. A committed life can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary this happens by us investing our time, talents, gifts and resources to work for the good of one another and for all. When we are committed to Jesus, we can leave a legacy of faith, a legacy of hope and a legacy of love for others that will last not only a lifetime, but into all eternity. Peter’s confession then reminds us all that by being committed to Christ our lives can make a tremendous difference in the church and in the world. Of course that is what we stand for; saved by God to make a difference for God

Most of us who have “fallen in love” with someone often say things like: “she/he is the only one for me;” or “she/he is the best man/woman in the whole wide world.” For us, the love relationship that we are involved in is so intense that there is no room for any other person to meet our needs or share our life with than that particular person whom we love.

So it was with Peter and his companions, when he made his confession to Christ. Notice the words he employs to communicate this exclusive loyalty and love towards Jesus: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” The question here might be translated something like this: “Jesus, you alone are the only one for us; there is no one in the whole wide world like you; you are the best; you are the greatest; you are number one!” Then Peter adds: “You have the words of Eternal life.” In other words, Jesus in his person now is the word become flesh, living and dwelling among us. His flesh present word along with the words that he spoke gives life. It is difficult to understand, how is this so? Well, it is this way because of the content in his word: his incarnate word-become-flesh and his spoken word both are life-giving because they are full to overflowing with promises. Promises like: “your sins are forgiven, I am with you always till the end of time, I love you, you are a precious member of my family, you are created in the very image of God, in me you are given everything you need to live an abundant life, I accept you unconditionally, I love you so much that I have suffered and died for you, I am the Holy One of God who through my resurrection, have defeated the powers of sin, death, and evil, and can save you and offer you eternal life.”

Peter and his companions trusted and later came to know that such words of Jesus were full-to-overflowing with promises that no other human being could live up to or match or improve upon. That is why they could go to no one else but Jesus. So it is with us too. Yes, at times we face many tests and hardships in life. Yes, at times we pray and pray; yet it seems to no avail and we feel that God doesn’t answer us. Yes, at times we are tempted to turn away from Jesus and go looking for “better things.” However, our God does not reject us or punish us for all of this. Instead, God hears us through Jesus and he invites us back from our wonder-lust, back to him. So we too, like the twelve, are invited to stay with him; he will give us all and so much more that we need to live a life of abundance, since there is no one else who can ever take his place.

Paul writing to the church of Ephesus and to us today warns that there will be struggle against the evil one and he encourages the church to be strong in the Lord and put on the spiritual armor of God to be able to stand against the methods of Satan. The struggle is not physical in nature but spiritual. Thus Paul mentions the spiritual weapons that we ought to have to face the battle, gird your waist with truth, put on breastplate of righteousness, gospel of peace, and shield of faith; As somebody puts it, the head of a Baptist, the heart of an Anglican, and the feet of a Pentecostal.  These are required to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one. The presence of these weapons in our lives means the presence of Jesus in our lives. People of God our strength is not in ourselves but in the Lord.

The psalmist has perfectly described the true meaning of putting one’s trust in the Lord. Putting our trust in the Lord is not simply confessing that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God or is the Lord of our life. We truly trust in the Lord when our desire is to be in the presence of the Lord above all else. We would rather serve God and worship God than enjoy the comforts of life. We must desire to ever sing God’s praises. When our hearts are on the highway to God, we will go through the valley of wailing, but enduring from strength to strength. God is our shield who hears our prayers and helps us through our difficult times. But we need to truly put our trust in the Lord. It is time to stop making excuses that we think justify us before God. Give God your time and full effort and you will find these things to be worth the effort.

Solomon and Israelites understood what it means to trust in the Lord and the presence of the Lord among them. The psalmist understood how blessed it is to trust in the Lord, Paul acknowledged trusting in the Lord who is the source of the strength to fight the enemy, the disciples resolved to trust and stick to the Lord who has life and none other. It is my prayer today that we will make a resolution to trust in the Lord Jesus who is our life and all in all. To Him be all Glory forever and ever

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