What Are You Hoping For This Advent?

Sermon delivered on Sunday, November 28, 2010.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44.

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

Happy new year! Today, of course, is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year in the Christian liturgical calendar. If you are using the daily lectionary in the BCP to read your Bible, remember to switch back to year one today. Since Advent, in part, looks forward to Christ’s birth and Incarnation, it is an appropriate way to begin the Church Year. However, the four Sundays of Advent are not part of the Christmas season itself, but rather a preparation for it. Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” It is a time of preparation and anticipation, both for the birth of Christ at Christmas and for his Second Coming. Today we light the first candle in our Advent wreath, the candle signifying hope, and this morning I want to talk about our Christian hope because in a world like ours it is easy to get distracted and so allow ourselves to be robbed of the hope that is ours in Christ.

At first blush, today’s readings don’t have a lot of hope-filled material in them, especially the Epistle and Gospel lessons. Many years ago when I first started to read the Bible seriously, I remember reading passages like the ones from today’s Epistle and saying to myself, “Boy, Paul sure would be a good time at a party. No reveling, no drunkenness, no good old fashioned debauchery that often accompanies both. What a spoilsport!” Of course, I started to read passages like this in an era that championed sexual liberation and individual “freedom,” but which in fact has resulted in even more oppressive forms of slavery to sin. This, of course, produced a certain mindset in me, a mindset that interpreted passages like this as nothing more than being a set of arbitrary, prohibitive, and oppressive rules. Consequently, it didn’t take me long to develop an inadequate conception of God in which I believed him to be some kind of Resident Police Officer, always looking over my shoulder and waiting for me to do something wrong so that he could quickly punish me for my offenses or even wanting to have fun. I reasoned that if Paul really was the voice of God, then God must be someone who was always haunted by the fear that somewhere someone was having a good time and he was determined to put a stop to all that nonsense. Sadly, I suspect there are still some Christians today who have a similar, if not identical and erroneous, view of God. But to read passages like today’s Epistle and Gospel lessons with that kind of interpretive lens is to miss their point almost completely. Instead we should read passages like these as reminders that we are to live our lives in ways that are consistent with being hope-filled and Kingdom people. To this we shall return shortly.

So what is this hope that is ours as Christians, a hope that would want to make us change the way we live our lives so that others stop and take notice? We get hints of it in both today’s OT lesson and Psalm. It is the hope of New Creation and if we do not understand its glorious promise and the wondrous depths of God’s grace and love behind it, we will likely never be able to live truly hope-filled lives.

The promised New Creation will be ushered in at Christ’s Second Coming. When our Lord comes again in great power and glory, the dimensions of heaven and earth will be fused together into one glorious and new dimension. We will no longer be separated from God’s direct Presence as we are now. Instead, we will get to live directly in God’s great Light. When that happens, our exile from him will be ended permanently. Sin and evil will be abolished forever and so will our alienation and separation from God.

When God ushers in his New Creation with the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus, awful things like mass murder will happen no more. Their darkness will be forever banished and replaced by God’s wondrous and life-giving Light. In practical terms, this means that there will no more death or dying. There will be no more sickness or suffering. There will be no more deformity or decay. We will not have to be worried about being excluded or forgotten or abandoned or accepted for who we are. All of our hurts and sorrows will be healed forever. We won’t have to worry about any of the hundreds of things we worry about now in this life because all of our needs will be provided for by God himself. We will be reunited with our loved ones in Christ whom we have lost for a season and our mortal bodies (and theirs) will be transformed into immortal and resurrected ones. Everyone who is in Christ will be invited to the party and it will last forever. Now that’s my idea of a great party! What about you?

We must be careful about assigning too much detail to what the New Creation looks like because the Bible speaks about it more in general terms than in specifics. But nothing I have described is inconsistent with what Scripture tells us about it. We get glimpses of the New Creation in today’s OT passage when Isaiah speaks of God judging and instructing the nations, transforming them to be the kinds of people God created them to be. As the prophet reminds us, this will inevitably happen when people walk in God’s Light.

If you want to read more about the New Creation—and I hope that my description of it has been at least adequate so that you want to do so—then read the Creation narratives in Genesis 1-2 to remind you of the paradise God originally created for us to live in and how our sin got us kicked out and exiled from his direct Presence. As you do, take note of the fact that even as we hid from God in the Garden, he sought us out because he loves us and created us to have a relationship with him. Then read the wondrous promises of New Creation in Isaiah 55, 60-65, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21-22. Read these passages slowly and deliberately. Allow the breathtaking promises of New Creation to sink in and then dare to dream of the day you will get to live directly in God’s Presence and enjoy his company, love, and life forever. As you do, think about this question. Does the thought of living in God’s direct presence excite or frighten you? How you answer will give you keen insight into the kind of God you worship and whether you are worshiping the God of the Bible or the god of your own making.

And, of course, we have the sure and certain expectation–which the NT always calls hope–of being invited to the New Creation because we have been redeemed from our slavery to sin by the blood of Christ. It doesn’t matter who we are or what we have done (or not done). Christ loves us and bids each one of us to believe in him and act accordingly. That is what it means to have a saving faith and we are now ready to look afresh at today’s Epistle and Gospel lessons.

Read through the lens of our Christian hope, the hope of New Creation, we see Paul reminding us to act like people of real hope. Paul is essentially reminding us to avoid the things that dehumanize us or that entice us to give in to our sinful, selfish nature. In the New Creation, there will be no artificial distinctions that separate us in this life and we will treat each other accordingly. We who anticipate living in the New Creation must do likewise in God’s current creation. That is why, for example, we are to refrain from drunkenness because drunkenness makes us lose our inhibitions and typically exacerbates our less than stellar behavior, behavior that is inconsistent with Kingdom behavior. That is why we are to refrain from quarreling and jealousy because both indicate a selfish and possessive spirit and neither will be allowed in the New Creation. Think of this life, then, as a kind of basic training for the New Creation. Paul is not telling us not to have fun. On the contrary, he is reminding us to live out our faith as redeemed people of Christ and faith always manifests itself in action. That, of course, was Jesus’ point in telling us to be ready for his return because we don’t know when that time will be. If we really do not have faith in Christ or his promise to return to finish his redemptive work, it is unlikely that we will live as if there will be a New Creation. Instead, it will likely be business as usual and we all know what that looks like.

And when Paul reminds us to put on the armor of light and Christ, he is reminding us of the spiritual law that we tend to become like that on which we focus, whether for good or for bad. He is also implicitly reminding us that we have the very Presence of the promised Holy Spirit living in us, working in us and transforming us to be just like Christ. It is by the Spirit’s power that we will be able to overcome our sinful and selfish desires about which Paul talks in today’s passage. That is why we must spend adequate time in our spiritual disciplines so that we can make room for Christ, our hope of glory, to live in us (Colossians 1:27). If we truly believe in the hope of the New Creation, a hope made possible not by our merits but by the blood of Christ shed for you and me, then we will start to see this as a lifestyle we want to live, not a lifestyle we have to live. We will want to live this way because we’ll have hearts overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to God in Christ for giving us a gift we can never earn or deserve.

What about you? Do you want to put on Christ because what he has done for you and the promise of New Creation that awaits you because you are his, or are you still reading passages like this as something you just have to do because, well, Christians are supposed to follow the rules? How you answer will give you great insight into the state of your relationship with the Lord Jesus.

So what is a practical application of this during this season of Advent, a season of anticipation and preparation? This Advent, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on your hope as a Christian. Better yet, do this as a family and/or in your small group and expect Jesus to engage you as you do. Don’t get caught up in the mad rush that secular culture demands we engage in during the weeks before Christmas. Instead, take some time and be purposeful before God. Read the New Creation passages from Isaiah, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Revelation. Read the Creation narratives from Genesis and ask the Lord to give you fresh perspective on each. Don’t try to read all these passages as once. Instead, read them in small chunks that are manageable for you. As a supplement to your Bible reading, pick up a book like Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. This book contains appropriate reflections from some of the greatest Christian saints, past and present, and you will certainly be edified by their insights.

Then take time on a regular basis these next four weeks of Advent to ask the Lord in prayer to help you put on his armor and make you into the kind of person he created you to be. If you have doubts or fears about his love for you, ask him to take those from you and to bless you with his assurance. Be ready to hear that assurance from any number of sources, including trusted Christian friends and family. Among other things, you will likely find that you have a new sense of hope and purpose, not only for the New Creation but for living in God’s current creation, because you will be allowing yourself to let God use you to help him bring about his New Creation by introducing its ways to those who are around you and who might not know the ways of God’s Kingdom, let alone the hope of New Creation. What a great privilege and honor! If you want to find meaning and purpose in this life, you need look no further than living as a Kingdom citizen.

Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation. It is also a time of great hope, the hope of New Creation. As we prepare our hearts and minds to remember the wonder of Christ’s Incarnation at Christmas, we also prepare our hearts and minds for the hope that is ours at his coming again. When he returns, there will be darkness and judgment for those who reject God’s gracious offer of healing and redemption and an end to exile. But for those who put our whole hope and trust in Christ, we can look forward to the New Creation with longing and eagerness. Even as we struggle to live faithfully in God’s good but fallen creation, we remember our hope. We also embrace God’s living Presence in us in the person of his promised Holy Spirit who will help us become the persons God created us to be, to love and enjoy him and each other forever. And when we really understand this, we will discover that we really do have Good News, not only for this season of Advent but also for all eternity.

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

President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Thank you, Mr. President.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

Read the whole thing and give thanks for the country in which we live, warts and all.

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

After the first successful harvest in November of 1621, Governor William Bradford decided to organize a celebration, a festive three-day feast remembered today as America’s first “Thanksgiving.” The Governor gathered together the colonists along with a group of their Native American allies including Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe for the celebration.

The only written account of the festivities comes from Pilgrim Edward Winslow’s journal in which he describes how Governor Bradford sent out a party of four men on a “fowling” expedition prior to the celebration and that the Wampanoag guests arrived bearing five deer.

Due to the lack of ovens on the Mayflower and the dwindling sugar supply by the fall of 1621 historians suggest that the traditional dinner and deserts we have today may not have been on the menu during the event. Many believe the feast more likely consisted of a variety of traditional Native American fare such as deer, lobster, seal and swan along with local fruits and vegetables.

Read it all.

Is Christ Your King?

Sermon delivered on Christ the King Sunday, November 22, 2009.

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 23:1-7; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37.

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

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. This particular feast is relatively new in the Church’s calendar. Pope Pius XI instituted it in 1925 as a way to resist the rise of totalitarianism and secularism of his day and the corresponding decline in faith. It marks the last Sunday of the Church’s calendar year and is a time when we celebrate Jesus as King, Messiah, and Lord. Today I want to encourage you to make Christ your King (if you have not done so already) and offer you reasons why you should do so (or remind you why you have).

In today’s Epistle lesson, John tells us that when Jesus returns again in glory to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection, all the nations will wail on his account. John was painfully aware that having Jesus as King is a terribly costly act because the world is in active rebellion against God. In the very next verse he describes himself as a brother who suffers persecution and who patiently endures his situation for Jesus’ sake. His situation, of course, is that he has been exiled to the island of Patmos because he follows Jesus.

The world has never been very friendly to Jesus because we are broken and fallen people who stubbornly insist on worshiping ourselves rather than God. We insist that we know what’s best for us and expend much of our time and energy pursuing those things. For some of us, work is king and we spend ridiculously long hours doing our jobs. For others, financial security is king and we work hard to build up a nest egg for ourselves, all the while worrying that we’ll never quite have enough to keep us in the lifestyle to which we are accustomed. Some of us make health our king and we are fastidious in our diets and compulsive in our exercise (you can see by my appearance that health is not my king). Others of us make fear our king, worrying incessantly about things over which we have no control. Increasingly, many of us are making individualism our king, insisting that it really is all about us and our rights, and the list of rights seems to grow longer with each passing day. But none of these things can ultimately give us life or raise us from the dead, can they? Only God can do that. That is why making these other lesser things our king is folly because nothing besides God is eternal and nothing besides him can give us life.

Thankfully, however, we do have a King worthy of our ultimate loyalty and obedience. He is King Jesus. As John reminds us in today’s Epistle, we have a God who loves us so much that from all eternity he has had a plan for our redemption because he wants us to have the kind of relationship with him that he intended for us when he created us. Our sin has caused us to be alienated from him and each other, and so he has done what it takes to set things aright. To deal with the problem of sin and the alienation it has causes, God took on our flesh, entered our history, suffered and died for us, and thereby satisfied his holy justice by bearing the punishment for our sins himself. In doing so, he has given us our one and only chance to live with him forever.

“But wait,” you say, “I still see sin, suffering, and alienation.” Yes you do because the work Jesus started on the cross is not yet finished. There is a mystery to, as well as a power in, the cross of Christ and we are asked to trust that what the NT tells us about the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is true, that God has dealt decisively with sin and its attendant problems once and for all. The work is simply not finished yet and if we believe God to be true to his promises, we must embrace this wholeheartedly. In today’s Epistle, John reminds us there is still unfinished business when he alludes to the time when Jesus will return to finish his work. In vivid apocalyptic language, he talks about Jesus coming on the clouds, language that suggests an earth-shattering and mind-blowing event that will be unmistakable when it occurs. Unlike the first time God came to us in human form, in weakness and humility, the next time we see him there will be no mistaking who he is—our Lord, our Savior, and our Judge.

John fleshes this out a bit more in the final chapters of Revelation as does Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, and it is a magnificent vision of hope. Heaven and earth will be fused into a New Creation, the dead will be raised, we will get new resurrection bodies like our Lord has, bodies that will be immortal and never again be subject to death, decay, sickness, or deformity. God’s justice will finally be executed and evil destroyed forever. Best of all, we will get to live in God’s direct presence forever and he will wipe away all our tears and sorrows (Revelation 20-22; 1 Corinthians 15). What a magnificent hope and future for us! It is a Kingship worth our total allegiance!

And so we Christians live in the “already-not yet.” God has dealt with the problem of sin on the Cross but he has not finished his work. He tells us to be patient and believe the story. Yet he knows we are weak and liable to fall away and so he has blessed us with his Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness and infirmity. The Spirit testifies to us that God’s promises are true. He encourages us to live our lives faithfully until he returns again in power and glory to set everything aright. That is the whole point of the parable of the ten talents that Jesus told in Matthew. The King is coming back again. Make sure you expect him and keep your affairs in order because you do not know when he is going to return and you will have to give an accounting of your loyalty and the stewardship to which you are entrusted (Matthew 25:14-30). Do you have the faith and trust in God’s promises that stirs your love for him so that you want to make him your King and give him your ultimate loyalty and obedience?

So what does the Second Coming have to do with us as Christians living today who are trying to make Christ our King? What does it matter? Just this. It means that we are to live as people of hope, as people who have real hope. It is a hope based not on transitory things that cannot give life; rather, it is a hope based on the Source and Author of all life, Christ our King.

We have hope because he has given us his Word contained in Scripture. He has given us each other, his Church, to help sustain us in the good times and bad. He has given us his holy sacraments so that we can feed on him as we seek to follow him and find power and strength. He has given us prayer so that we can engage in an ongoing conversation with him. And most of all, he has given us himself to act on our behalf and to be present with us as we await the fulfillment of his mighty promises. All we have to do is accept this wondrous grace by faith and it will be ours. This means we have power to live, power to overcome anything that life throws our way. This means we have joy, peace, hope, and contentment despite all of life’s adversities.

What would our lives look like if we made Jesus our King? A good place to start might be to pray this prayer Augustine prayed in his Confessions.

Lord I want to know you as you have known me. You are my strength. Dive deep into my soul and wash it out. Make it a good place without spot or wrinkle, a fine place for you to live. I hope for this and when I am thinking straight the very hope gives me joy. As for the rest of the things in my life (other than knowing you) I have learned that those that receive the most tears deserve the least and those that have less tears shed for them deserve much more. (Augustine, Confessions, 10.2)

In this beautiful prayer, we find the prerequisites for making Jesus King: repentance and humility. We acknowledge that God is God and we are not. We acknowledge that we are cracked pots, incapable of ever getting it entirely right on our own or living in the manner we were created to live. In this prayer, we also see a magnificent hope and trust in God to be with us, to help us become more like him so that we can love him as he deserves, and to guide us through the all the dark valleys of life. If we want to make Jesus our King, we have to first believe he is more capable of being king than we are.

Second, if we are to make Jesus King, then we must follow his command for us to serve rather than be served. As Jesus reminded us in Mark 10:42-45, he came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus expects those of us who make him King to do likewise. This has special implications when we consider the Second Coming as well. It is the consistent biblical witness that we Christians are to reject the false teaching of dualism that posits all material things are evil while all spiritual things are good. The very notion of the New Heavens and New Earth contained in Revelation 21-22 rejects this belief outright. It reminds us that God’s creation is good, albeit fallen, and that God himself believes it worthy of redemption, that ultimately there will be a New Creation to replace the old fallen one.

This means we are to roll up our sleeves and get to work to establish God’s kingdom and his justice here and now. It means we do not insist on having our way all the time or try to lord it over others. In today’s Gospel lesson, when Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, he did not mean that those of us who follow him should check out of living in this world so that we can engage in introspective navel gazing. No, the promise of the Second Coming reminds us that while God is the one who will ultimately put everything aright, we who choose to follow him must do our part to help him here and now. We must be good stewards of his creation and our following him will always manifest itself in service to others, especially to the least and the lost. Are you following Jesus in this manner?

Last, and related to the point above, if we are to do our part in helping to restore God’s creation by our humble service and work to establish his justice in a broken and fallen world, then we must know what that looks like for us. That, of course, requires that we know the biblical story intimately and have a robust prayer life so we can have confidence that we are indeed acting on God’s behalf, rather than on our own or on some mistaken notion we might have. Toward that end, we must also keep connected with other faithful Christians so that we can hold each other accountable for the ways we follow Jesus. Do you love Jesus and each other enough to do this? Are his promises compelling enough to motivate you to serve him by serving others?

Making Jesus our King is never an easy thing to do. John of Patmos knew it. Paul knew it. Mother Teresa knew it. Many of you know it. Living as a subject of King Jesus will require you to give him your all, and that will be costly. But the hope that is ours is far greater than any costs we must bear. We are promised new life, new bodies, and a New Creation where we can live in joy and happiness in God’s direct presence forever, and where there will never again be evil or any kind of suffering or sorrow. That is the pearl of great price and it is worth our greatest efforts to pursue it because it is the gift of life. It is ours for the taking if only we have the courage to say yes, and it is life that will never end, even when our mortal bodies die. That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity.

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

Patrick Trueman: The Pornographic Pandemic – We are Awash in Porn

H/T: Anglican Mainstream.

A deeply disturbing piece. Most folks do not know how highly addictive porn is until it is too late. The crack cocaine analogy is quite appropriate and its effects on individuals and families are equally devastating.

Pornography is now more popular than baseball. In fact, it has become America’s pastime, and we are awash in it. Porn is on our computers, our smartphones, and our cable or satellite TV. It’s common in our hotels and even in many retail stores and gas stations. For many men — and, increasingly, women — it is part of their daily lives.

…While astounding to many, users of pornography eventually put religion, marriage, family, work and friendships secondary to their desire for pornography. They may want to change, to go back to life as it was before porn, but most will return and descend further. Dr. Mary Anne Layden, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program at the Center for Cognitive Therapy, likens pornography to crack cocaine. In a testimony to the U.S. Senate in November 2004, she noted, “This material is potent, addictive and permanently implanted in the brain.”

Please do read and reflect on the whole thing.

Walking in the Light Even When It’s Dark

Sermon delivered Sunday, November 13, 2011 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church.

Lectionary texts: Zephaniah 1.7, 12-18; Psalm 90.1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11; Matthew 25.14-30.

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

As we approach Advent with its season of patient watching and hopeful anticipation—can you believe that it is only two weeks away?—it is appropriate for Christians to turn our attention to things pertaining to the end times or the last days. The latter is a term that the NT writers use to denote the period of time between Christ’s first and second comings. It is appropriate that we do this as Christians because we believe history is going somewhere and that God is firmly in control of it.

As we think about the end times, about heaven and hell, death and judgment, it is natural that our fears should be aroused. We can see this phenomenon illustrated clearly in today’s OT lesson, epistle, and psalm. It is also echoed in our Gospel lesson. Typically, if we think about the end times at all, two broad categories of fears are evoked. We wonder what will happen to us and our loved ones when we die. We addressed that question last week when we looked at the hope of New Creation that the resurrection of Jesus previewed for us. We know that when we die in the Lord, we go to be with him for a period of rest, refreshment, and healing as we await his Second Coming and the gift of being reunited with our new resurrection bodies fitted to live forever in God’s New Creation.

Closely related to these fears about our eternal destiny is our fear about God’s judgment. This is natural because it is the biblical message that all humanity will fall under God’s wrath and judgment when God finally moves to end evil forever and put all the world’s wrongs to right, a good thing. This naturally arouses our fears because if we are honest with ourselves, we are aware that we’ve missed the mark a lot of times and we don’t really see God’s judgment as being a good thing, even when it is. And so when we think about the eschaton (end times) it is natural for us to wonder if there is any hope for us to escape God’s wrath and judgment.

Of course, it is the glorious Good New of Jesus Christ that we as Christians have every reason to have hope, even as we contemplate the end times. We see this illustrated powerfully in Paul’s letter today. There, like the good pastor he was, Paul addresses the Thessalonians’ concerns about the end times and we would profit by paying attention to what he has to say so that we have real hope as Christians. So this morning I want to look briefly at what Paul and other biblical writers have to say about God’s judgment and the hope that is ours in Christ. What can we learn from them and what does it have to do with the living of our mortal days?

As today’s psalm lesson clearly states, human sin and rebellion have caused alienation from and hostility toward God. This has resulted in evil and death, among other things, and the psalmist uses language that alludes to Genesis 3.19 (dust to dust) to make his point. Simply put, when humans rebelled against God it not only got us kicked out of paradise, it also resulted in our death because it separated us from the Source and Author of all life.

Not only that, human rebellion has led many to live in a state of denial about the consequences of their sin. As both the prophet Zephaniah and Paul state clearly in their respective lessons, many folks live their lives under the delusion that either God does not care about their rebellion or that he will not do anything about it. Some even think God is just too nice to be angry about their sin. Like the false prophets in Jerusalem who prophesied that all was well even as the Babylonians prepared to bring death and destruction to the city and its people, many today go through life blithely ignoring (or outright denying) that there will be any lasting consequences over their hostile and rebellious behavior toward God and their fellow humans.

Paul sums up this delusional thinking quite well. Those who have no room in their lives for God go around saying that all is well when in reality all is not well. For as surely as a pregnant woman will enter into labor before giving birth, so too will God’s judgment fall on rebellious and hostile humanity. This is not a pretty picture to contemplate and no one who cares about people should find any pleasure when contemplating the great and terrible day of the Lord, even if it is the time when God will put to right all wrongs. No wonder our fears are aroused when we think about the eschaton!

Now before I go any further, let me be clear about what I am and am not talking about here. When I talk about human sin and rebelliousness, I am not talking about our ability to follow the rules, so to speak. God is not some kind of Resident Policeman who is determined that his human creatures should never have any fun and who will punish us if we try. What I am talking about is a life that is turned inward on itself. It is a life that says by its actions that the person does not care about anyone or anything except himself. And God? No love there either. At best the person believes God is irrelevant because God is powerless or impotent to act in any kind of meaningful way in life. This is the kind of overall selfishness and hostility that the writers of Scripture have in mind when they talk about human sin and rebellion.

So when we as Christians think about the end times and God’s righteous judgment on sinful humanity, why should we not be afraid? Why should we have hope when we think about the eschaton? Paul tells us in today’s epistle lesson. We can face the end times with hope and even anticipation because of what God has done for us in the cross of Christ. There is no developed atonement theology here, but Paul clearly has in mind what he later articulated in chapter 8 of his letter to the Romans, that in the cross of Christ God condemned sin in the flesh and bore his own terrible wrath himself so that we would not have to bear it.

We as Christians are not spared from the wrath of God because we are better people than others. We are every bit as broken and flawed as the rest of humanity. But by God’s grace we have faith to accept God’s gracious gift of life offered freely to everyone in and through the cross of Jesus. This, in turn, gives us real hope because when we see the cross we realize we are looking at God’s symbol of justice. In the cross we find God’s mercy and love for his children made known in a powerful and unexpected way, and we find peace and reconciliation with God. As the prophet Isaiah said, “by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53.5).

Not only that, but as we saw last week, we have the hope of resurrection and New Creation awaiting us. This confirms God’s intention in and through the cross of Christ to offer us a hope and future, not death and destruction. Again, we did nothing to deserve this gift but we claim it through faith in Jesus. And when, by the power of the Spirit, we embrace our faith it changes everything for us. We know the Day of the Lord is coming and it will not be pretty. But we also know that God did not destine us for wrath but for salvation. That is why he became human and died for us and that is why we are to live in hopeful expectation. Our sin is great but God’s love for us in Jesus is even greater and it is offered freely to everyone, not a select few.

And as Paul also reminds us, our hope in God’s tender mercy made known in the death and resurrection of Christ will impact not only our future but our present lives as well. Because our eternal destiny is made secure by the mercy and grace of God, we are freed to live in God’s good but fallen world as his children of light and this is where today’s Gospel lesson comes into play. Contrary to what some have taught, we are not to withdraw from the world and wait for the end to come. Neither are we to spend any time trying to predict when the end will come. Instead, we are to use the gifts God has given us right now to bring his healing love to bear on his broken and hurting world. We are to share our resurrection faith and hope with others by our actions and words in loving service to them. As Jesus implies in his parable, there is no reason for us to fear using our talents to bring God’s love in Christ to bear on his world because God is the author of these gifts and expects us to use them wisely and on his behalf. God cares passionately about his creation (and creatures) and intends to ultimately redeem, not destroy it (and us). Why would those of us who put our whole hope and trust in Christ not want to do likewise? We cannot change the world by ourselves but we can be open to letting God use us to help usher in his New Creation. Can you think of a more awesome privilege and responsibility?

But it all starts by us being changed first. It starts only with the help of God’s Spirit living in us, changing us into the very image of Jesus and helping us use our gifts to embody Jesus’ presence to others. And when our work for the Lord gets hard and we get beaten up (or down) by it, we remember that we do not do it alone. As Paul further reminds us, we are to offer each other help and encouragement precisely because we do have a hope and future in Christ.

In closing, I would like to offer two final observations. First, talking about the human condition and God’s judgment is never an easy thing to do. We live in a culture that increasingly denies such things but as we have seen, self-delusion is not a healthy response to these matters. If we really love people, we must love them enough to speak the truth in love and order our lives to reflect God’s love and glory to them so that by God’s grace they will hopefully see what it is they are missing. In other words, when we live faithful and Spirit-filled lives in loving service to others, we put ourselves in a position to talk to them about God’s love for all people.

Think about it this way. Would you stand by and do nothing if you saw that a person was about to drive his car off a cliff? At minimum, would you not try to persuade that person to change his course so that he would avoid catastrophe, even if he didn’t initially believe you that he was driving toward a certain death? The message of the eschaton should give us the same sense of urgency. We know the way to life through our faith in Christ. And while we cannot force people to change their course in life or impose our beliefs on them, shame on us if stand by and let unbelievers drive toward the cliff without even trying to use our talents to show them the better way–Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.

Second, if you are still looking at the end times with fear because like David’s lament in Psalm 51, you know your transgressions and your sin is ever before you, then you are still making it all about you. You are in effect rejecting God’s great gift of healing, mercy, and life offered to you through the cross of Jesus. I would encourage you to stop doing that and accept God’s good gift offered to you. No Christian who really believes in Christ crucified has any reason to fear the eschaton. And when, by God’s grace, you learn to appropriate the present and future hope of God’s love for you made manifest in the death and resurrection of Christ, not only will you not be afraid, you will discover how to live your life with meaning, purpose, and power. And that, folks, really is Good News, now and for all eternity.

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

A History of Veterans Day

As you pause this day to give thanks for our veterans, past and present, take some time to familiarize yourself with the history of this day.

World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” – officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France.

Soldiers of the 353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, Meuse in France, wait for the end of hostilities.  This photo was taken at 10:58 a.m., on November 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect

In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

The original concept for the celebration was for a day observed with parades and public meetings and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11:00 a.m.

Read it all.

For All the Saints: Our Resurrection Hope

Sermon delivered on All Saints Sunday, November 6, 2011, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church.

Lectionary texts: Revelation 7.9-17; Psalm 34.1-10, 22; 1 John 3.1-3; Matthew 5.1-12.

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

Today is All Saints Sunday, a day in which we honor the saints triumphant, the Christian dead who have died in the Lord. The actual feast day is November 1 but when that date does not fall on a Sunday (like this year), we usually celebrate it the following Sunday (like we are doing today). All Saints Day was originally assigned to the Sunday after Pentecost and was celebrated as early as the 4th century. The Eastern Orthodox Church still observes the feast on that day. Here in the west, All Saints Day was moved to November 1 in the 8th century and the change was made official in the 9th century.

I think it is important for us as Christians to take a few moments and stop to think about what it is we are celebrating today because All Saints Day reflects the glorious Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we all need to hear Good News on a regular basis, lest we lose heart and hope. God knows that we are beaten up on a regular basis and everyone in this room has burdens that we are bearing. So this morning I want to look at two things. First, I want to look briefly at some of the specific aspects of our hope as Christians that are derived from the death and resurrection of Jesus. Second, I want to look at what our resurrection hope can mean for us in the living of our mortal days right here and now.

So what is our resurrection hope? Where are our loved ones right now who have died in the Lord? What will happen to us when we die? I cannot give you much specificity about the venue because none of us here have experienced death to know for sure. What I can tell you with great certainty is that when we die we will go to be with the Lord. Paul tells us this in Philippians 3.20-21 when he talks about how much more he would prefer to die so that he could be with Christ. Likewise, on the cross our Lord himself tells the repentant thief that today he would be with Jesus in paradise (Luke 23.40-43). So there is apparently no wait time to be with Jesus after we die. This promise of being with Jesus when we die is echoed in John’s farewell discourse where Jesus seeks to reassure his frightened disciples and promises them that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house so that they would one day be where Jesus is (John 14.1-4). Call this place heaven or paradise or resting in Jesus. Call it whatever you want. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is the reality of the promise. Whatever else you do, embrace this promise! You will be with Jesus when you die and so are our loved ones.

We get a further glimpse of this intermediate state in today’s NT lesson from Revelation. In his vision, John  describes God’s very throne room where there is a countless multitude of saints who have suffered and died in the Lord. They are there because they have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb and because they persevered in their faith while on this earth, even to death. Moreover, they are not asleep but conscious. We know this because the multitude in John’s vision are praising and worshiping God for what he has done for them in the death of Jesus.

This too gives us additional hope because John is reminding us that God has taken care of the intractable problem of human sin and the alienation it causes by becoming human and dying on a cross. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8.3-4, in doing so, God has condemned sin in the flesh so that we do not have to remain condemned in our own sin. Note carefully that Paul tells us God condemned sin in the flesh, not humans. This means we have hope and life in our future, not condemnation and death. This is what John means in today’s epistle lesson when he calls us children of God. We have been made clean and fit to live in God’s direct presence forever by Christ’s blood shed for us, thanks be to God!

Of course, we don’t deserve any of this nor can we earn it. In fact, just the opposite. The only thing we can hope to earn is God’s condemnation and wrath because we are so thoroughly infected with sin that keeps us hostile toward God and alienated from him. But God and his love for us is greater than our sin! The hope and promise of Jesus death and resurrection is ours because God loves us and is gracious to us. He created us for life, not destruction, and has acted decisively on our behalf to make that life possible for those who accept by faith his gift offered to us. I can live with that. Can you?

Getting back to the question at hand, this resting place with Jesus is not our promised final destination. It is only an intermediate place or rest stop, grand as that surely must be (and if you don’t think being with Jesus is a grand proposition, then think of the times you have felt our Lord’s presence in a particularly close way. That should help give you the proper perspective). No, our ultimate destiny is God’s promised New Creation, the new heavens and earth.

The New Creation will be ushered in at Christ’s Second Coming. John alludes to this in today’s epistle lesson when he talks about us becoming like Christ when he appears (cf. also 1 Thessalonians 4.13-5.11; 2 Thessalonians 1.5-2.16). What John is talking about, of course, and what Paul talks about massively in 1 Corinthians 15, is the promise of a resurrection body, a body that will be like Jesus’. In the New Creation there will be continuity but there will also be radical transformation, our mortal bodies included. Our body will no longer be powered by flesh and blood. Neither will we be weighed down any longer by the sin that is part and parcel of our fleshly being. Instead, when Christ returns, our mortal body will be raised from the dead and transformed to be like Jesus’ resurrection body. Whatever that looks like, our new body will be indestructible and impervious to all that can afflict our mortal body, and it will never die.

God’s space (what we call heaven) and our space (what we call earth) will be fused together into a New Creation. Evil will be banished forever and we will get to live directly in God’s presence with our new resurrection body (cf. Revelation 21-22). I cannot get any more specific than this because Scripture does not get more specific. But whatever the New Creation looks like, it surely must be so mind-blowingly wonderful that we can only begin to think about the possibilities with our finite minds. If your hope and imagination are not fired by this vision that the NT reports, if your heart does not leap with joy over this promise, it is only because I have done a lousy job in trying to articulate it for you. And if that has happened, I apologize.

This, then, is our Christian hope. When our body dies we who are in Christ go to be with the Lord, not because we are deserving but because we have been washed clean by Christ’s blood shed on the cross for us. In Jesus’ place, heaven if you like, we will get to rest and be refreshed in Jesus’ healing and loving presence as we await his final return to finish the redemptive work he started when he became human. When that happens, we will know in full the reality of our final destiny, the New Creation—a radically transformed and fused heaven and earth where evil, death, and suffering are forever banished and we will have a new and wonderful resurrection body, animated by the very Spirit of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 13.12).

Why then would we be ultimately sad for our loved ones who have died in the Lord as we remember and honor them today? And what do we have to fear? As Paul tells us in that magnificent passage from Romans 8, if God is for us, who can be against us? Not even death can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord! We have nothing to fear because there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus. This is our hope and our destiny and this morning I encourage and exhort you to embrace that which is offered to you freely so that you too may find strength and hope and purpose in the living of your days.

That’s all well and good, you say. But what does the resurrection have to do with us right now? What about that mission statement of ours, Changed by God to make a difference for God? What does the resurrection hope have to do with that? Sounds pretty future oriented to me. Good questions! What our resurrection hope reminds us is this. Creation matters a great deal to God. He has promised to redeem it and us, and we had better pay attention to that because it means we have work to do right here and now.

Moreover, if we have the hope and promise of living in God’s direct presence forever in his New Creation, we had better get busy and start working on developing the kind of Christian character that will allow God to shape us into the humans he created us to be. This is where the beatitudes in today’s Gospel lesson come into play because they point to the only kind of character that will be suited to live in the New Creation, character that is selfless, humble, merciful, gentle, and peaceable, among others. Contrary to what some have maintained, the character traits Jesus talks about in the beatitudes are not impossible goals. They are evidence that we are growing in faith, hope, and love by the power of the Spirit living in us right now.

These Christian character traits will also equip us to do the work Jesus calls each of us to do on his behalf so that he can use us as agents of his healing love and redemption for his broken and hurting people and world. It is a holy and awesome honor and call, and putting on the character of Christ, i.e., developing the the kind of Christian character the beatitudes illustrate, is a surefire way to guarantee that we live our life with meaning, purpose, and power.

Suffering there will be, but the consistent message of Scripture is to take heart, retain our hope that is is Christ, and hold on, even in the face of massive suffering. God is in control and will redeem all that is wrong in his world because God is greater than the evil that afflicts us. Not only that, we also have an eternal future that is secure; again, not because we are worthy but because we have a God who is gracious beyond anything we dare imagine or hope for. And when, by God’s grace, we learn to appropriate the present and future hope of the resurrection, we know that we really do have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be praise and honor and glory forever! May we, with the rest of God’s saints, rejoice in the great and glorious gift that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia!

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

For All the Saints

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

–Revelation 21.1-4, 22-27 (NIV)

The saints are those who are moved by God’s grace to do whatever good they do. Some are married and have intercourse with their spouse sometimes for the sake of having a child and sometimes just for the pleasure of it. They get angry and desire revenge when they are injured, but are ready to forgive when asked. They are very attached to their property but will freely give at least a modest amount to the poor. They will not steal from you but are quick to take you to court if you try to steal from them. They are realistic enough to know that God should get the main credit for the good that they do. They are humble enough to admit that they are the sources of their own evil acts. In this life God loves them for their good acts and gives forgiveness for their evil, and in the next life they will join the ranks of those who will reign with Christ forever.

–Augustine of Hippo, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, 3.5.14

I love Augustine’s description of the saints of God because the folks he describes are just like me–flawed and broken yet loved and redeemed. It is an accurate and realistic description of the saints of God because it reminds us we are saints by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, i.e., by God’s grace alone, not by our own achievements or any inherent goodness we might have. True, some of God’s saints really do come close to achieving the full stature of Christ. Yet all the saints of God are being transformed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. As we read Augustine’s description of the saints, it reminds us in a very poignant way that we are God’s, warts and all, bought by the price of Christ’s blood.

Then of course we read in today’s NT lesson the wondrous promise of the New Creation, God’s new heavens and earth, that await us and of which Christ’s resurrection gives us a preview. We are reminded that despite the burdens and suffering we must bear in this mortal life, a better day’s a coming and we are encouraged elsewhere in Revelation to keep our hope and faith and to hang on. This passage reminds us that a disembodied eternity is not what we as Christians hope for. No, it’s God’s New Creation in which we will enjoy living in God’s direct presence in our new resurrection bodies that follow the pattern of Jesus’ resurrection body. Whatever that looks like it will be glorious beyond our ability to hope or imagine because God is a God who is capable of blowing our puny minds to the extreme.

All this helps us in two important ways. First, we are reminded that death is not the end, that the hurts and sorrows and frustrations and failures and everything else that is broken in this life will be redeemed and restored. Those who have died in Christ have an eternity–not just a period of time but an eternity–to enjoy God’s promised New Creation, and that gives us real hope.

As I write this, I am thinking of my mother’s last days as she lay dying in a hospital after a massive stroke. As I kept vigil at the foot of mom’s bed, I watched my beloved bride labor over mom to help alleviate her distress and I was reminded by the Spirit that this was not mom’s destiny. Neither was it her end. There was a better day a coming for her because she had faith in Christ and lived accordingly, not unlike the way Augustine describes the saints above. I also was reminded that in my wife’s labor of love, there was Christ himself, ministering to my mama.

Don’t misunderstand. Those were the longest three days of my life and at times it was unbearable for me to watch. But hard as it was, it would have been absolutely crushing had I not had the hope of resurrection that Jesus has won for those who believe in him and who put their hope and trust in him. Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians rang in my ears, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4.13). No, our hope of the resurrection is what gives us hope to carry on, even in the midst of death, suffering, and despair.

The second way our resurrection hope helps us is to give us real meaning and purpose for the living of our mortal days. If we have the hope of God’s New Creation, we had better get ready for it right now. Think of it as boot camp for eternity where we must put off those things that dehumanize and degrade us and learn the virtues and characteristics of human beings as God intends for us to be. We are to be busy cultivating the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love–virtues that will transcend our mortal existence and God’s creation (cf. 1 Corinthians 13.13)–and which will help equip us to put on the full stature of Christ, i.e., help us to become like Christ, so that we will have the character that is needed and suited for us to live forever in God’s New Creation. When that happens, we will be fundamentally changed, and for the good. Our life will be characterized by love that shows itself in humble and obedient service to others in the name of Jesus. And God will use our work and our efforts to help bring in his New Creation here on earth as it is in heaven. If you cannot find hope, meaning, purpose, and real power for living in that, you never will be able to find it in this life.

So on this All Saints Day, we stop and remember our dead who have died in the Lord and celebrate. Yes, we miss them. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my beloved who have died in the Lord. But we take hope because we are a resurrection people. We know that while our loved ones’ soul and body have been separated for a season, body and soul will be reunited on the day of resurrection when Christ returns to finish his redemptive work and that our loved ones will be raised with new and imperishable bodies fitted to live in the New Creation with God forever.

In the meantime, we know that our loved ones are with Jesus and are enjoying a period of rest and refreshment, and we cannot be sad about that. We also believe with an informed faith that we too will join them when we die, not because we (or they) are somehow more deserving than others but because we (and they) have been bought at a great and terrible price by the God who loves us and created us to have a relationship with him forever.

This is the hope and destiny of all God’s saints, and the best news of all is that we don’t have to be some super holy or pious individual to embrace that hope and promise. We can be just like the saints Augustine described above. Thanks be to God in our Lord Jesus Christ! To him be praise and glory and honor forever and ever! Amen.

A Prayer for All Saints Day

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: grant us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that we may come to those inexpressible joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.