About Fr. Kevin+

Fr. Kevin Maney completed his studies for a Diploma in Anglican Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, and did his coursework almost entirely online. He was ordained as a transitional deacon in the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) on February 9, 2008 and as a priest in CANA on May 1, 2008. He is now the rector for the new parish plant, St. Augustine's Anglican Church in Columbus, OH, part of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Tremper Longman III: Getting Brutally Honest with God

From CT. Good stuff from Dr. Longman. Check it out.

56279I remember hitting my forehead over and over on the glass door of the shower. My mentor and dear friend, Ray Dillard, had just died at age 49. He had trained me in seminary, encouraged me to go to graduate school, and eventually hired me to teach Old Testament alongside him. Besides the loss, his death meant that my already heavy workload would double, as I would need to teach his classes in addition to my own. This increased responsibility came at a bad time: my teenage sons were acting up at school and needed my attention. To say I felt sad and stressed was not even half of it…

I already understood that the lament psalms gave me permission to complain to God. God invites us to speak to him with utter honesty and boldness. This is different from grumbling against him, as the Israelites did when they journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land (Num. 11).

The Israelites spoke about God behind his back—or so they thought. Conversely, the complaints of the psalmists are spoken directly to God. And whereas the wilderness generation had given up on God, the psalmists had not. Even though they often addressed God in anger, they spoke to him, asking for help and hoping that he would answer them in their distress.

Read it all (especially if you are in a dark valley right now).

Fr. Philip Sang: Being Participants With Christ

Sermon delivered on Lent 5B, Sunday, March 22, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 31.31-34; Psalm 51.1-13; Hebrews 5.5-10; John 12.20-33.

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

The fifth Sunday of Lent is a Sunday that is traditionally given in the church to think about the passion of Christ. It marks the beginning of an increased emphasis on the sufferings of Jesus. To speak of the death and sufferings of Christ is to be reminded of the human side of the One we confess to be the Son of God.

This stands in contrast to the first four Sundays of Lent which are traditionally given to a personal reexamination of our lives and to penance. We move from that emphasis to the last fourteen days of Lent which become a time for thinking more exclusively about the sufferings of Jesus. And so today with our text our attentions is turned to the passion of Jesus.

No writer speaks well about the humanity and sufferings of Jesus than does the writer of Hebrews. In this Epistle we see Jesus as one with us. The writer says in chapter 2 of the One whom he has already declared to be the Son of God, “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”

In a wonderful way the writer speaks of the full identity of the Son of God with us. Hebrews 2:17?18: “Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” It is, of course, as one with us that the Son of God suffers and dies. In his sufferings we see him fully human, enduring the testings of this life as we also do. And even as we learn through our experiences of pain and suffering, so also did Jesus. What did Jesus learn? The writer says “he learned obedience.” This was obedience put to the test in the darkest hour of his life. The writer of Hebrews gives a very vivid description of that ordeal in verse 7.

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”

He was tempted and tested in every way that we are and yet he was without sin. When offered early in his ministry ways to avoid the cross by embracing the values and claims of this world, Jesus refused to give in to the desires of the flesh. When he could have fled for his life to some remote part of the world, Jesus stayed the course to do the work God had sent him into the world to do. He learned in his sufferings to put his trust completely in God and God heard his prayers because of his reverent submission.

Learning obedience and suffering do go together. That is to say, obedience is always tested in the trials and tribulations. Of course, It is easy to obey when there is nothing standing in the way. If we were placed in a protected environment, obedience would be easy and perhaps also meaningless, since it is not really tested.

In our gospel lesson today Jesus is talking about his death. This is, however, something we do not talk about. Yes I mean Death. We acknowledge death when it happens but for the most part we do not talk about death with any real depth or substance, and certainly no enthusiasm. We don’t deal with it. We deny it. We ignore it. We avoid it. No one wants to die. We don’t really acknowledge, talk about, and deal with death. The death of our loved ones is too real, too painful. Our own death is too scary. The relationships and parts of our lives that have died are too difficult. So, for the most part, we just avoid the topic of death. Especially in a culture that mostly wants to be happy, feel good, and avoid difficult realities.

The Greeks in today’s gospel did not go expecting to talk or hear about death. They just want to see Jesus. And who can blame them? Jesus has a pretty good track record up to this point. He has cleansed the temple, turned water into wine, healed a little boy, fed 5000, given sight to the blind, and raised Lazarus from the dead. The gospel does not say why they wanted to see Jesus but we know the desire. We want to see Jesus. I think everybody wanted to see Jesus. We too are not left out we would want to see Jesus. Seeing Jesus makes it all real. We all have our reasons for wanting to see Jesus.

If you want to know your reasons for wanting to see Jesus look at what you pray for. It is often a to do list for God. I want a good job, I want a good house, I want a good car. When in trouble, Lord save me from this. When sick, Lord heal me. You probably know those kind of prayers. We want to see Jesus on our terms. We don’t want to face the pain of loss and death in whatever form it comes. Sometimes we want something from Jesus more than we want Jesus himself. There is a real danger that we will become consumers of God’s life rather than participants in God’s life. We pick and choose what we like and want but we skip over and leave behind what we do not like, want, or understand. Christianity, however, is not a buffet. Christianity means participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what Jesus sets before the Greeks who want to see him.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. If we want to see Jesus then we must look death in the face. To the extent we refuse to acknowledge the reality of death, to the degree we avoid and deny death, we refuse to see Jesus. Really looking at, acknowledging, and facing death is some of the most difficult work we ever do. It is, as Jesus describes, soul troubling. It shakes us to the core.

There is a temptation to want to skip over death and get to resurrection. So it is no coincidence that this week and last week the Church points us towards Holy Week and reminds us that death is the gateway to new life. Death comes first. Death is not always, however, physical. Sometimes it is spiritual or emotional. We die a thousand deaths every day. There are the deaths of relationships, marriages, hopes, dreams, careers, health, beliefs. Regardless of what it looks like, this is not the end. Resurrection is always hidden within death. There can be, however, no resurrection without a death.

Is death something we can avoid? No way, to the extent we avoid death we avoid life. The degree to which we are afraid to die is the degree to which we are afraid to fully live. Every time we avoid and turn away from death we are proclaiming it stronger than God, more real than life, and the ultimate victor.

The unspoken fear, anxiety or the big dragon as Fr. Ric calls it, and avoidance of death underlies all our “what if” questions.” What if I fail, lose, fall down? What if I get hurt? What if I don’t get what I want? What if I lose that one I most  need and love? Every “what if” question separates and isolates us from life, from God, from one another, and from ourselves. It keeps us from bearing fruit. We just remain a single grain of wheat. We might survive but we aren’t really alive.

Jesus did not ask to be saved from death. He is unwilling to settle for survival when the fullness of God’s life is before him. He knows that in God’s world strength is found in weakness as Paul says when I am week then I am strong, he knows that victory looks like defeat, and life is born of death. This is what allowed him to ride triumphantly, as we are going to see, into Jerusalem, a city that will condemn and kill him. That is what allows us to ride triumphantly through life. Triumph doesn’t mean that we get our way or that we avoid death. It means death is a gateway not a prison and the beginning not the end.

Regardless of who or what in our life has died, God in Christ has already cleared the way forward. We have a path to follow. That path is the death of Jesus. Jesus’ death, however, is of no benefit to us if we are not willing to submit to death, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Ultimately, death, in whatever way it comes to us, means that we entrust all that we are and all that we have to God. We let ourselves be lifted up; lifted up in Christ’s crucifixion, lifted up in his resurrection, lifted up in his ascension into heaven. He is drawing all people to himself, that where he is we too may be. Grains of wheat. That is what we are. Through death, however, we can become the bread of life. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains just a single grain.”

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

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Thomas Cranmer on the Anniversary of His Martrydom

Thomas_Cranmer_by_Gerlach_FlickeThe Collect for Thomas Cranmer
Father of all mercies,
who through the work of your servant Thomas Cranmer
renewed the worship of your Church and through his death
revealed your strength in human weakness:
by your grace strengthen us to worship you in spirit and in
truth and so to come to the joys of your everlasting kingdom:
through Jesus Christ our Mediator and Advocate,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.


Dr. Ben Witherington: Suspicious Minds

We live in an era when people are prone to suspicion, and susceptible to believing conspiracy theories, even in extreme forms. What often happens is there are things that people would like to be true about people or institutions or beliefs they don’t much care for, and when a conspiracy theory comes up that smears the person or belief or institution in question, they are all too ready to believe it. Sometimes this form of cynicism is confused with critical thinking. But genuine critical thinking start with an open mind and examines evidence. It does not start with a suspicion and then looks for one’s suspicions to be confirmed, selecting evidence that supports the preconceived notions. When the blinding searchlight of suspicion is turned on the subject of religion, including Christianity, all sorts of evidence is left in the dark in order to focus on this or that fact which one wishes to highlight. This does not constitute good critical thinking, much less objective analysis. It is in fact a sort of negative apologetics, or as Paul Simon once said “still a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest”. While that is a cynical view of humankind, it is sadly too often true in a cynical age. Suspicion is a corrosive acid, and it is the opposite of trust much less faith. The saddest part is it destroys the soul of the person who is pouring the acid on this or that object that one used to care about— a loved one, a cherished belief, and so on.

Read it all.

Myth-busting: What You Need to Know About St. Patrick

From Christian Today.

st-patricks-dayToday is St Patrick’s Day, when all around the world people with Irish roots – and plenty of others who just like to party – celebrate the life of the fifth-century saint. There are parades with floats and banners, Guinness consumption doubles, and there is even the odd church service.

Ah, St Patrick – who could be more Irish than that? 

Pretty much anyone, actually. Whisper this, but Patrick was actually a Brit, captured by Irish pirates and sold into slavery. After six years he escaped and went home.

There must be more to it than that. 

Oh, all right. During his enslavement he became a Christian. After his escape he saw a vision in which he was called to return to Ireland as a missionary. He probably landed at Wicklow, at the same port from which he had earlier escaped, but the natives were unfriendly and he was forced further north. He was energetic, innovative and fearless, becoming the first bishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland.

Read it all.

St. Patrick’s Day in Maney Family History

Picture of John Fox Maney in a foxhole somewhere in Europe during WWII

On this day, March 17, 1943, one week after he was inducted into the army, my dad, John Fox Maney, departed on a train from Van Wert, OH for basic training, first at Camp Perry on Lake Erie and then at Ft. Leonard Wood. He was 20 years old at the time. What a way to spend St. Patrick’s Day!

A Tale of Two Poles

Sermon delivered on Lent 4B, Sunday, March 15, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Numbers 21.4-9; Psalm 107.1-3,17-22; Ephesians 2.1-10; John 3.14-21.

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

Our readings this morning are full of contrasting themes of light and darkness. They remind us of the reality of the existence of human sin and evil, and God’s mysterious response to it all. In doing so, they remind us what the gospel is all about and how we should respond to both the light of Christ and the darkness that has been defeated by God in and through Jesus, and this is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.

In our epistle lesson, the apostle Paul offers a blunt assessment of the human condition. He tells us that without Jesus we are dead people walking and children of God’s wrath because of our sins and our natural inclination to follow the ways of a world laboring under the control of Satan. The world Paul is talking about, of course, is the people and systems that are hostile to God’s good and original intentions for human beings to be his wise image-bearing creatures who reflect God’s glory out into the world and reflect the world’s praise and goodness back to its Creator. Like Adam and Eve, we are not much interested in being God’s wise stewards. We want instead to set ourselves up in God’s place so that we can run the show the way we want, taking matters into our own hands at every turn. The result is that God’s good world has gotten turned upside down and without God’s gracious intervention in our lives, the human condition is characterized by enmity, strife, quarreling, jealousy, fits of rage, dissensions, factions, sexual impurity and a whole host of other nasties (Galatians 5.19-21). As John reminds us in our gospel lesson, people love the darkness of their sin rather than the light of God’s healing love.

But John also tells us that God loves the world and because he does, God must inevitably judge it to rid it of all traces of evil. We see this entire dynamic played out in our OT lesson this morning. God had rescued his people Israel from their slavery in Egypt, bringing them through the Red Sea in a mighty act of deliverance. Now God’s people find themselves wandering in the desert and they start to grumble. This despite the fact that God had graciously provided for them and led them himself in the pillars of cloud and fire. In other words, there was little objective reason for God’s people to grumble or complain that God had abandoned them. But grumble they did. They became impatient with God’s travel plans and provisions for them. They couldn’t disabuse themselves of the notion that their timeline and travel route to the promised land were superior to God’s. They weren’t able to trust that God really did care for them, especially during this time of uncertainty in the wilderness. And so they quarreled with God through Moses. Some even wanted to return to their slavery in Egypt! Talk about short-sightedness! But of course we do the same when we become impatient with God when things aren’t happening fast enough to suit us or God apparently isn’t giving us the things we want. After all, we know better about our needs than God and expect him to cater to our every desire.

God’s response to his people’s grumbling was swift and terrible. He sent poisonous snakes among them and as a result, many died. As we hear this story, many of us our tempted to wonder if John wasn’t seriously delusional when he tells us that God loves the world. This is love? No thank you, God. I’ll pass. But this reaction fails to take into account the bigger picture and the reason why God called Israel into existence in the first place. It is precisely because God does love his good world gone bad that he called Israel to bring his healing love to the world. And of course the balm for all that ails us is to learn how to become faithful and obedient people who love God and trust his good will and judgment in our lives, and who act in accordance with God’s original plans for his image-bearing creatures that we just talked about. But you cannot teach others how to love and trust God and be obedient to his will if you are grumbling and acting like those God called you to help heal. And so when God’s people actively rebelled against God’s rule over them, they incurred God’s just wrath. Remember, if God really does love his world, he cannot countenance evil in it, especially from his own people.

But in addition to God’s wrath, God also showed his gracious love toward his people when they repented (at least temporarily) of their proud grumbling. When they acknowledged their sin to Moses, Moses prayed to God on behalf of his people, the same people who had been grumbling against Moses and his leadership, and God provided a means of protection from the serpents God had sent to afflict his people. God told Moses to make a serpent and put it on a pole so that whenever anyone was bitten, they could look upon the serpent and live. This is a deeply ambiguous command. Moses was to use the image of a serpent, that powerful biblical symbol of evil, as a means to rescue his people. We are not told how this worked, only that it did when God’s people showed enough faith and trust in God to obey his command.

If we understand this call to look in faith at this strange symbol that bears God’s love for his world and to trust his love and good will and purposes for us, even when we are in the midst of our darkest valley, we are ready to look at the cross of Jesus Christ because it is the ultimate symbol of God’s gracious love for us and his world. As our Lord told Nicodemus, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must Jesus be lifted up on the cross so that whoever believes in him might have eternal life, starting right now and extending into God’s new world.

Again, we note that Jesus did not offer an explanation of how this works or why. He simply tells us that it does. It is enough for us to know that once we were at death’s door through our own sin and disobedience but that in the cross of Jesus, God has provided us a remedy. And not just any remedy. The remedy, the only remedy. In other words, this passage is about a faith that grasps the God-given solution to the intractable problem of human sin and evil and so is healed by it. But unlike the Israelites who were only healed temporarily when they looked at that other pole, we who look upon the cross of Christ in faith are healed forever. This is why the cross stands as the eternal symbol of God’s great love for us.

And as Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson, God’s plan of rescue in and through the cross of Jesus is offered to us as a sheer act of grace by God the Father, precisely because God loves the world so much. When we put our whole hope and trust in Jesus, we get to share in both his life and death (cf. Romans 6.3-5). We are delivered from death by Christ’s death and made alive by virtue of our relationship with him. And we will be resurrected with him to share in his new life, thereby experiencing his love for in unimaginably new ways when God’s new world finally arrives in full.

This gracious love shown on the cross is a challenge to us all. It challenges our proud self-righteousness that deludes us into thinking we are worthy of God’s gracious offer of eternal life or that we don’t need to be rescued in the first place. And it challenges those of us who feel unlovable and who truly cannot believe God loves us that much to want to save us in the first place. But it is urgent that we come to grips with the cross because John confronts us here with making the ultimate choice: perish apart from God or receive the gift of eternal life offered to us in Jesus. There is no other way. And there is an urgency about making this choice because as John further reminds us, those who choose to look at the cross and walk away find themselves already condemned by their decision. When you reject the only God-given path that leads to life, faith in Jesus and his death and resurrection, what other result can there be?

That is why the season of Lent with its emphasis on confession and repentance of all that keeps us hostile toward and alienated from God is an especially appropriate time for us to focus on the cross. Doing so reminds us that God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to rescue us and restore us to a right relationship with him, even when we were his enemies! When we realize the great love and mercy God has for us and his desire for us to be healed, it can only melt our proud hard-heartedness and turn it into grateful humility for such a wondrous gift and love.

The cross also reminds us that God loves the entire world, not just those of us who belong to Jesus’ body, the Church. This means we are to imitate our Lord’s great love by embodying it to those around us, especially those who are hostile to the gospel. We do so because we have been rescued from our sin and death by the blood of Christ shed for us and desire to offer that same love to others with its power to heal. Of course, as John reminds us, many will reject that offer because they prefer to live in the darkness of their own sin. And if we truly love others as God loves us, we will find that rejection costly. But this is what it means for us to walk in the way of the cross as we follow the path our Lord Jesus took. Who or what situation in your life needs to be exposed to the costly love of God made known on the cross?

This desire to embody God’s great love in Jesus to others is precisely the reason why Paul stresses that Christ rescued us for good works. As the Israelites discovered when they wandered through the desert, it is hard for us to embody the love of Jesus, a self-giving love powerfully manifested on the cross, if we are acting just like those who need to be rescued. When others see us acting in ways that are contrary to God’s good will for us, they can never experience the reality of God’s love for them as it is typically made manifest—through God’s holy people. It is hard to show folks what it’s like to act as genuinely human beings and point them to the Great Physician to be healed when we are acting in sub-human or desperately sick ways, showing no signs of being willing to submit ourselves to the healing love of Jesus.

And so as we come to this midpoint in Lent, I encourage us all to stop and reflect on this tale of two poles. As Good Friday draws near, let us increasingly turn our gaze toward Calvary. Let us see our Lord dying there so that we might live and let this mysterious love of God thoroughly change us so that we not only rejoice in the incalculable gift we have been given, but also want to share it with others. We do both because we really do believe God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son into the world to save it and not condemn it, and we are thankful we have the gracious privilege of living out this Good News that is ours, 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.

Ross Douthat: The Case for Old Ideas

Spot on.

What I find most provoking, though, is Harari’s insistence that in dealing with these problems, “nothing that exists at present offers a solution,” and “old answers” are as “irrelevant” now as they were (allegedly) during the Industrial Revolution.

He means this as a critique of religious revivalists in particular: Not only the Islamic State’s seventh-century longings, but any movement that seeks answers to new challenges “in the Quran, in the Bible.” Such seeking, he argues, led to dead ends in the 19th century, when religious irruptions from the Middle East to China failed to “solve the problems of industrialization.” It was only when people “came up with new ideas, not from the Shariah, and not from the Bible, and not from some vision,” but from studying science and technology, that answers to the industrial age’s dislocations emerged.

This argument deserves highlighting because I think many smart people believe it. And if we’re going to confront even modest versions of the problems Harari sees looming, we need to recognize what his argument gets wrong.

New ideas, rooted in scientific understanding, did help bring societies through the turbulence of industrialization. But the reformers who made the biggest differences — the ones who worked in the slums and with the displaced, attacked cruelties and pushed for social reforms, rebuilt community after it melted into air — often blended innovations with very old moral and religious commitments.

When technological progress helped entrench slavery, the religious radicalism of abolitionists helped destroy it. When industrial development rent the fabric of everyday life, religious awakenings helped reknit it. When history’s arc bent toward eugenics, religious humanists helped keep the idea of equality alive.

Read and reflect on it all.

This Day in Maney Family History: Some Reflections

Speaking of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Augustine’s mentor, Augustine writes:

But I had no notion nor any experience to know what were his hopes, what struggles he had against the temptations of his distinguished position, what consolation in adversities, and the hidden aspect of his life—what was in his heart, what delicious joys came as he fed on and digested your [God’s] bread. He for his part did not know of my emotional crisis nor the abyss of danger threatening me. I could not put the questions I wanted to put to him as I wished to do.

—Confessions, 6.3.3

John F. ManeySeventy two years ago today, March 10, 1943, my dad was inducted into the U.S. Army in Van Wert, OH. He was 20 years old at the time. A week later on St. Patrick’s Day, he left on a train for Camp Perry up by Lake Erie to begin his basic training. I never asked him what he felt like the day he was inducted (or at least I do not recall asking him because I do not know how he felt). Neither did I ask him about his thoughts and feelings as he left for basic training a week later (or at least I do not remember us ever talking about that). As I reflected on this, I wondered why I didn’t ask him about these things when he was alive? I wondered what it is about me that stayed my hand so that I didn’t ask him the questions I would love to ask him about today but can no longer do so.

Then I read the above passage from Augustine and realized that perhaps my experience is not all that uncommon. To be sure, maturity helped me take a much deeper interest in my parents’ lives as I began to realize that they too were human, just like me, and had similar hopes, fears, dreams, and worries that I have. But even now, I think of a million questions I would like to ask them but never did. Why did I not think to ask them about these things when they were alive? It is both baffling to me and frustrating.

Why is it that often we do not realize what we have until it is gone or taken from us? I suspect one answer to this perplexing question is that it is a product of alienation that our sin and self-centeredness has caused, an alienation that often exists between God and us and between humans. I know that when I was a young man, I thought I had better things to do and think about other than my parents and their experiences. I simply didn’t realize how impoverishing that was.

So on this day, I am thankful for my dad’s service to his country. I am proud of what he did in Europe during World War II. I am thankful that God kept him safe during the war and gave him to me as a father. I am also thankful for the men and women of my dad’s generation. They truly did save the world from the unspeakable evil of Nazism and militarism.

Take time today and do two things. First, stop and give thanks to God for blessing us with the “Greatest Generation,” and for the sacrifices they made for this country. Second, if you have parents, grandparents, or other family members still living, take time to talk with them and get to know them better. Ask God to help you learn about their hopes and dreams, their fears and worries, and share yours with them. Doing so will help you appreciate God’s great gift of family and friends.

Thank you, young soldiers, and thank you, God, for blessing us with them.

Don’t Be a Moron

Sermon delivered on Lent 3B, Sunday, March 8, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Exodus 20.1-17; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 1.18-25; John 2.13-22.

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

As we continue our Lenten journey to the foot of the cross, I want us today to compare and contrast God’s Law as contained in the 10 Commandments with the cross of Jesus Christ to see what each means for us as God’s people. When I was a young man, I used to hate hearing the Ten Words (Commandments) of God because I thought God gave them to us to rain on our parade and stop us from having any fun. Being a typical red-blooded American male living in the midst of the burgeoning sexual revolution I wasn’t much interested in the 10 Words’ emphasis on sexual purity. No fun there. Being much smarter than my parents on a whole host of issues, I wasn’t particularly interested in listening to them either, let alone honoring them. After all, who wants to honor people who aren’t as smart as you? And the proscription against coveting someone’s slave or ox or donkey was simply more proof to me that these Words were outdated and irrelevant to someone who was as enlightened and smart and cool as I was. Some of you who know me today may be thinking to yourself not much has changed with him.

I tell you this because I think my attitude summarizes nicely the human condition and our inherent hostility toward living as God’s fully human image-bearing creatures. I thought I knew much better than God what makes me happy. I mistook the 10 Words as moralistic rules to be slavishly (or at least begrudgingly) followed to put forth an appearance of propriety. In other words, I totally missed the point of the 10 Words and God’s Law in general. I didn’t realize (or perhaps was never taught) that the 10 Words were part of God’s unfolding plan to rescue his sin-sick and fallen world and its peoples through Abraham and his descendants, culminating in Jesus. I didn’t pay much attention to the opening sentence in the 10 Words, which tells us how God set the stage for what was to follow by reminding his people Israel that it was God who had rescued them from their slavery in Egypt so that they could become the people God called them to be in the first place, to bring God’s blessings to a world that desperately needed to be healed. To gloss over that first sentence made me miss the point that what God did for his people Israel, God intends to do for us in Jesus: rescue us from our slavery to sin.

That’s why the first two Words are where and what they are. Israel was not to worship or even recognize any other gods but the one true and living God, the God who had delivered them from their slavery in Egypt and who was bringing them to the promised land so that they could get to work as his redeemed people to bring God’s healing to the world. That’s why there could be no idol-worship because all idols are human inventions and they pull us away from living as God originally created us to live. This was the essential problem at the Fall. Adam and Eve decided not to live as God’s image-bearing stewards to reflect his glory out into the world. Instead, they wanted to follow their own model for living, much like we still do today, and as a result, sin and evil entered the world and corrupted it.

So if God were going to call a people to help put the world to rights in the manner he always envisioned for humans, they had to do things differently than Adam and Eve (and almost everybody else ever since) had done. They had to learn how to be human beings again and this is what the 10 Words were designed to help them become. Just as God was holy and set apart from the world, so too did God’s people have to reflect his holiness. And to do this, they had to behave accordingly. They couldn’t be worshiping false gods because doing so would pervert and corrupt them into doing things that were not good for them or for the world around them. They couldn’t be following their selfish ambitions and programs because God was not selfish or ambitious. They couldn’t be greedy or covetous or sexually immoral because these things corrupt and dehumanize us to the very core of our existence. This was how the nations acted and it would result in their destruction.

And we get this at a gut level. Want to destroy a family (or a church family)? Have an affair. Want to ensure that conflict and hostility are part of your life? Then act consistently in ways that are selfish or proud or arrogant or covetous and you will certainly get what you want. Want to live by the sword? Then be prepared to die by the sword. But none of this reflects God’s holiness or goodness out into the world. It reflects our own sickness. And because God created us to be wise stewards over his world, when we are sick, the world around us is sick. So here we see God beginning to teach those he called to be his people how to think and act the part. God understood that we humans will become exactly what we worship and so he gave his people the Law to help them learn how to be holy so that God could use them to help rescue his world. Worshiping false gods or idols would send them down the same path as everyone else.

This is a far cry from seeing the 10 Words as rain for our parade given by an angry God bent on punishing us at every turn. Seen in its proper light the Law can help us learn to see the very heart and nature of God, the God who loves his world and its people, and who wants to set us free from our slavery to the sin that dehumanizes us and ultimately kills us. The psalmist gets this about the Law because this is exactly what he celebrates in our psalm today. The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The testimony of the Lord is good, making wise the simple. And what is the beginning of wisdom? A healthy and reverent fear of the Lord! This isn’t rain for our parade. It’s the spiritual oxygen we must breathe to have abundant life!

But of course a minute’s thought will make us realize that the Law can never rescue us because we are too badly broken and corrupted by the effect of sin and evil in our lives. Instead of seeing the Law as a good thing, we tend to see it at best as a necessary evil. This is why Paul would write in numerous places that the Law can’t give life and can only expose sin for what it is (e.g., Romans 3.20, 4.15; Galatians 2.16, 3.10-11). It can’t give life because none of us can keep the entire law. We are too badly broken. And when we are reminded of what it takes to be God’s holy or set apart people, it does nothing but frustrate and anger us. Look how much we struggle to keep our Lenten disciplines if we really are working on something that seriously impedes our relationship with God. Being the proud folks we are, we just know we can do better and are determined to pull ourselves up by our moral bootstraps to show God and others we are worthy of being in his company. This delusion, of course, ignores the reality of living in the presence of a holy God. God’s people learned this lesson when they arrived at Mount Sinai. When God descended on the mountain, the whole camp trembled in fear at his presence. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (or come into his presence), precisely because we are by nature unholy people and God is perfect in holiness (Hebrews 10.31; cf. Isaiah 6.5; Luke 5.8; Revelation 1.17). This is why the Law can never offer us Good News. If anything, it offers us nothing but bad news because it reminds us of who we are versus what God intends us to be and doesn’t give us a way to get from here to there.

But fear not, because the Law is not the last word in this business of our rescue from evil, sin, and death. Enter the cross. As Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, for those of us who are being saved, the cross represents the power of God to do the seemingly impossible for us. We ask how God can condemn our sin without condemning us. God’s word answers, “Through the cross.” As Paul would write elsewhere, on the cross God condemned our sin in the flesh by taking it on himself so that the righteous requirements of the Law would be fulfilled and we no longer have to fear God’s just condemnation. On the cross of Jesus, God reconciled us to himself and transferred us from the kingdom of darkness in which we all live to the kingdom of his beloved Son.

When we come to the foot of the cross in penitence and faith, we find real healing and true peace because as Paul tells us, the cross represents God’s wisdom and power needed to free us from the guilt and shame of our sin. By faith we perceive that God has done a terrible and costly thing on our behalf because he loves us and wants us to be healed so that we can embody and proclaim his great love to others around us, thus helping put God’s world to rights. God has saved our lives, but in a manner we never expected. We expect God to rescue us through mighty acts of power like he demonstrated at the Red Sea and Mount Sinai. But we never expected God to use the ultimate symbol of shame, defeat, and death to rescue us and give us life. Yet this is exactly what God has done for us and we have Jesus’ resurrection as proof that the testimony of God’s wisdom and power as demonstrated on the cross is true.

To a sin-sick world, of course, the cross is folly. Who ever heard of a rescue plan that puts suffering and sacrificial love at the forefront? Who ever heard of a rescue plan that uses an instrument of humiliation and shame to accomplish its purposes, especially when the person involved is God himself embodied as a human being? Does not compute! Certainly this would not have made sense to most Jews of Jesus’ day, precisely because the cross was an instrument of shame. Any good Jew knew that people who were hung on a pole were cursed by God, not blessed (Deuteronomy 21.23). Nor was dying as a criminal at the hands of hated foreigners akin to the Exodus or other mighty acts of power that the OT records. The cross certainly wasn’t the sign Jewish folks were looking for that would signal God had returned to fulfill his promise to rescue them from the hostile powers that oppressed them. Neither was Jesus’ resurrection a recognizable sign as our gospel lesson attests. Jesus’ opponents didn’t have a clue when he told them that if they destroyed the temple of his body, he would raise it up in three days. But for those of us who are being saved, the cross of Jesus is all the sign we need because it is the wisdom and power of God, seen in the light of the resurrection.

It is God’s wisdom and power because in Jesus’ death, God makes clear that it is only in and through his love and mercy that we are rescued from our sins and the ultimate evil of death. It is God’s power alone because as we have seen, none of us has the power within us to follow the Law and thus be rescued from our sin. This, of course, is an affront to a world that places a premium on power, pride, self-aggrandizement, and human knowledge. That is why the cross is foolishness to those who are not Jews. The focus is in the wrong place. It is on God and not us.

And we need to be clear about what Paul is saying here when he talks about foolishness. When we hear the word foolish, we tend to think of trivial things or being silly. But the word Paul uses, moria, from which the English word moron is derived, is much more than thinking silly thoughts. As our English word aptly suggests, it really is moronic to dismiss the cross because only in the cross can we find healing, forgiveness, peace, and life. Like I was in my younger days, so the world is too smart and sophisticated for its own good to believe in such love and grace made manifest in this way, sadly to its destruction.

This is why finding our way to the foot of the cross is so important during Lent because this is the season where we focus on developing the faith and humility in the power of the Spirit that will help us reject the false notion that the cross is foolishness, thereby learning how to be fully human and wise in our dealings with God and each other. The cross reminds us that God’s holiness is something we need to take seriously. But it also reminds us to take seriously God’s love for us and his call to us to be his holy people because that love is costly. And the way to do that is to learn to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus in his path of suffering love for the sake of the world. This means, in part, that we are to love and forgive our enemies. It means we are to bless and not curse them. It means we must abandon our proud self-righteousness, selfishness, and arrogance. It’s counterintuitive. Scandalous even. But if we really do want to live as fully human beings who enjoy the peace of God that comes from a firm knowledge we are loved and forgiven because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us, if we really do take seriously our call to live as God’s holy people, we must know that Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only way we will get there. So this Lenten season, don’t think like a moron. Instead, embrace the power and wisdom of God poured out for you on the cross and learn to walk in its way, because unlike a moron, you really do know that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, you have Good News, 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.

Ana Marie Cox: Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian

Lot’s of good stuff here to munch on.

1425302314481.cachedMy hesitancy to flaunt my faith has nothing to do with fear of judgment by non-believers. My mother was an angry, agnostic ex-Baptist; my father is a casual atheist. (I asked him once why he didn’t believe in God, and he replied easily, “Because He doesn’t exist.”)

I am not smart enough to argue with those that cling to disbelief. Centuries of philosophers have made better arguments than I could, and I am comfortable with just pointing in their direction if an acquaintance insists, “If there is a God, then why [insert atrocity]?” For me, belief didn’t come after I had the answer to that question. Belief came when I stopped needing the answer.

No, I’m nervous to come out as a Christian because I worry I’m not good enough of one. I’m not scared that non-believers will make me feel an outcast. I’m scared that Christians will.

Read it all.

Abraham and Peter: Contrasting Stories of Faith

Sermon delivered on Lent 2B, Sunday, March 1, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22.22-30; Romans 4.13-25; Mark 8.31-38.

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

During this young Lenten season we have looked at what we mean by Good News, the story of what God has done for us that has changed our world forever. We have seen that the gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News precisely because in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God has acted decisively to defeat evil, sin, and death and has launched the beginning of his promised new world, a world free from all vestiges of evil—this despite the formidable resistance of the dark powers and principalities and their human agents. But we have also seen that to really believe God has done this requires faith because while evil has been defeated and judged on the cross, it is not yet fully vanquished from God’s good creation. Neither is death vanquished despite the reality of the resurrection. It is this notion of having faith that I want us to explore briefly this morning. Specifically, what does faith have to do with us who try to observe a holy Lent?

In our OT lesson, we read the story of God renewing his covenant with Abram. This is the beginning of the gospel, of course, because it was through Abraham and his descendants, culminating with Jesus, that God promised to restore his good but corrupted world. As Paul tells us in our epistle lesson, God’s promise to Abraham that he and his descendants would inherit the world came through the righteousness of faith. But what did Paul mean by that?

It is easy for us to gloss over the story of God’s covenant with Abram and the latter’s faith if we are not careful. In Genesis 12.1-3 we see God making his covenant with Abram when Abram was 75 years old. God told Abram that he would make him into a great nation through which God would bless the entire world. Abram apparently believed God’s promise because he left his home country and traveled to Canaan as God commanded. But the years passed by and nothing happened. While Abram did indeed prosper as God promised, the promised offspring did not appear. And in Genesis 16.1-16 we learn that 14 long years had passed and the promise remained unfulfilled, so that Abram and Sarai took matters into their own hands. Sarai gave Abram her slave-girl, Hagar, and from that intercourse Ishmael was born. Problem is, Ishmael was not the promised offspring! 

So where’s the faith of Abram that Paul praises? On the one hand, we can really empathize with Abram. God promised him offspring and 14 years had passed. We want to dismiss this fact but the story forbids it. Think about it. Fourteen years had gone by! Think of the times you have waited for a promise to be fulfilled or when you are suffering. Fourteen days or even 14 minutes can seem like an eternity! In the meantime, Abram and Sarai were not getting any younger. He was 86 when Ishmael was born and she was 76, well past her child-bearing years. Who can blame them for what they did? But on the other hand, where is the trust, the faith in God, that Paul said Abraham had? Sounds more like myopic human behavior!

This brings us back to our OT lesson today. Another 11 years had passed and still no child that God promised Abram and Sarai. Abram was now 99 and Sarai was 89. Who in their right mind would ever dream of being able to have children at that age? But here is God again, promising Abram that he would be exceedingly numerous and that through his descendants (but not through Ishmael), Abram would inherit the entire world! And as if to seal the deal, God renamed both Abram and Sarai to better reflect that fact. It is almost as if God were making the conditions so crazy impossible that there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind who was responsible for making the promise come true when it happened.

Curiously the lectionary ends at verse 16 and we miss Abraham’s reaction to all this. Reading the next several verses gives us the answer, however. Abraham fell on his face and laughed (the author leaves us to wonder if Abraham was laughing in disbelief or because he finally realized God was going to deliver on his promises), asking himself if a child could be born to a man who was 100 and a woman who was 90. Again, who can blame Abraham for his response? After all, 25 years had passed since God first promised him offspring. Twenty-five years! That is a quarter of a century! Who could blame Abraham if he were to have told God to take his promise and shove it? Look here, God. I’ve been waiting on your promise for 25 years now. I’m 100 and my wife is 90. Given these metrics, there is no way you can deliver on your promise, dude. Now go away and stop bugging me. Sadly there are those today who react like this to perceived unfulfilled promises of God and/or unanswered prayer.

But Abraham didn’t do that. We know this because he proceeded to circumcise himself and all the males in his household as God commanded him to do. Despite his doubts and fears, despite the unbelievably long period of time that had passed (at least in human terms), Abraham still believed the promise of God. He had seen God’s blessing in his own life and through his life, God’s blessing of others, just as God had originally promised. As Paul tells us, hoping against hope, i.e., hoping against impossible odds, Abraham believed because he ultimately believed that God really is a God who calls things into existence that don’t exist and gives life to the dead. And God didn’t disappoint. God took two bodies that were good as dead, at least in terms of reproductive capacity, and brought forth new life, just as God promised. Whatever Abraham’s faith was or wasn’t in this story, as  Genesis 22.1-19 reminds us, Abraham’s faith in God had fully matured when God asked him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, the promised one.

Here is an example of faith on the ground we need to pay attention to because it smacks of the challenges we all face when it comes to putting our faith in God in the midst of a world that is good but still not devoid of evil. We dare not read stories like this with 20-20 hindsight and say to ourselves and others, “Oh well. That was Abraham and things were different for him. He was special.” Abraham may have been special in that he was called to be part of God’s Good News, but so are we! And he was no more immune to the uncertainties of life than we are. The saga of Isaac’s birth proves that without a doubt.

No, we are seeing the faith lived out that Paul praised. It is not a faith in this or that promise as much as it is an active and personal trust in God who does indeed call into existence things that do not exist and gives life to the dead, i.e., who does the impossible with no trouble at all (cf. Genesis 18.14). Just as Abraham looked at God’s promises and realized that God would give life where there was none, we Christians must look at Jesus’ death and resurrection and believe we are seeing God’s promise to rescue his broken and hurting world and us fulfilled, but in a way we didn’t expect or thought possible. After all, who ever heard of a rescue plan that involves God suffering and dying? Do you have this kind of faith, a faith that is rooted in the unshakable belief that God is indeed true to his word and who has done the impossible for us, even if you don’t fully understand it? I’m not talking about a blind faith. I’m talking about a faith that is based on the evidence of God’s active involvement in the life of his world and people.

Turning now to Peter, we see a stark contrast to Abraham. To be sure, one day Peter would have the faith of Abraham, but he certainly didn’t have it in today’s gospel lesson. Peter had gone from hero to goat in under 60 seconds. He had just confessed Jesus to be the promised Messiah, God’s anointed whom many in Israel hoped would usher in God’s kingdom and end their exile forever. And as Jesus reminded Peter, he hadn’t come by this realization on his own accord. It was revealed to him by the Father (Matthew 16.17). So far so good.

But now that the cat was out of the bag, Jesus began to teach his disciples something new and dark that they consistently struggled with and failed to understand. Jesus told them he was indeed the Messiah, but not the kind of Messiah they had in mind. He wasn’t coming as a mighty warrior to liberate God’s captive people and usher in the kingdom of God. Jesus was coming to rescue them (and through them the world) by suffering and dying for them. Human sin had alienated us from God and made a mess of his good world. So sin and the evil behind it had to be dealt with decisively, once and for all. And the only way to do this was to let the powers do their worst to Jesus, which they did by nailing him to a cross. But in doing so, the powers discovered they were the ones who were judged and condemned, along with our own sin, so that God could rescue us and his good world. This wasn’t exactly in anybody’s playbook and Peter reacted in a predictably strong way. He rebuked Jesus for his wrong-headed thinking, presumably out of love for Jesus and presumably because Peter felt the need to try to save Jesus from himself. Whoever heard of winning by losing? Everybody knows that is just crazy stupid! And besides, Jesus, if you really are the Messiah, I sure hope there will be a place of honor for me when you bring in the kingdom (wink, wink).

We get this at a visceral level because Peter’s reaction makes sense to us. The notion that God’s kingdom comes through the Messiah’s suffering and death (as well as our own) still isn’t in our playbook. Like Peter, we’d much rather rely on our human perspective rather than trying to see it (as best we can) from God’s perspective. But when we do, like Peter, we had better be prepared to hear the same response from Jesus that he heard: Get away from me, Satan! It wasn’t as if Peter had become satanically possessed or anything like that. Rather, the voice Jesus heard in Peter’s was the voice of Satan, who had tempted Jesus in the wilderness to shy away from the cross and choose a path to rescue Israel and the world that would surely fail because it did not come from God. You see, Peter did not have the faith of Abraham. He didn’t believe that God really is the God who calls into existence things that don’t exist and gives life to the dead. Peter was looking at things from a broken and limited human perspective and couldn’t (at that point) bring himself to trust the path God had chosen to rescue his world.

So what does this have to do with Lent with its emphasis on confession, repentance, and self-denial? Jesus tells us. He tells us he must suffer and die a horrible death so that God’s promise to rescue his world and us from evil, sin, and death will be accomplished. But there’s more. Jesus tells us that we too are part of the plan, that we too must follow him in his kingdom work of suffering and dying. He warns us that if we are not willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him, we cannot hope to inherit eternal life. Apparently our own self-denial, our own suffering for Jesus’ sake, our own proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection to a world fundamentally opposed to Jesus is also part of how Jesus’ victory on the cross gets implemented, strange and frightening as that might seem to us. This means that we have to take a cold, hard look at ourselves and work on putting to death all that is hostile toward God and his good purposes. And please, as we engage in this difficult work of dying and self-denial, do not mistake this as an invitation to self-loathing. We are made in God’s image and not everything in us needs to die. Hearing Jesus’ call to deny ourselves and take up our cross as a command to hate ourselves makes a mockery out of God’s words to us that we heard last week at Jesus’ baptism: You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased. We must always remember that we are indeed God’s beloved in Christ. Otherwise there would have been no cross. But there still is stuff in us that rightly needs to die.

This means, for example, that we have to leave behind our petty and pedantic ways. It means we have to stop acting like God owes us something (or anything for that matter) so that we throw a hissy-fit when things don’t go the way we want or expect. It means we have to stop thinking we are smarter than God. It means we have to stop being indifferent to the plight of the poor and needy or to any kind of injustice we encounter in our lives. It means we have to be willing to forgive others when there is absolutely no reason to do so. It means we have to love people enough to stop supporting lifestyles that will surely lead to their destruction, starting by looking at our own lifestyles. It means we must love people enough to boldly and fearlessly proclaim Jesus Christ crucified and risen to a skeptical and hostile world because we know that it is only in and through Jesus that folks can have any real hope at all, now and for the future.

And you know what? If we don’t really believe that in the death and resurrection of Jesus God has defeated evil, reconciled us to himself, and delivered us from death, there is no way we will engage in this extremely difficult work of dying to self and carrying our cross with the Spirit’s help. If we don’t really believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, we are still living in our sins and fears and don’t have any kind of real future hope because we have put our trust in a farce and a lie (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.12-19). This is what the enemies of the cross scream at us every day. This is what our common sense screams at us regularly! It’s all a lie! You can’t win by losing! The path to glory is not through suffering and death but by other means that we devise and which make sense to us. These voices scream at us because they don’t know (or are hostile to) the God who calls into existence things that do not exist and gives life to the dead.

But we do know this Lord, thanks be to God! And so we take time, especially during Lent, to imitate him and follow his path of suffering, self-denial, and death because we realize they are the path to our glory and the means by which our future is secured. This is not some kind of program of self-help or works-righteousness. It is about a firm hope and trust in the God who does crazy impossible things, at least from our perspective. It is about a firm hope in God to deliver on his promises, even when we do not fully understand all the hows and whys behind those promises. We can do this hard work because we know Jesus. We can do this work because we believe the gospel with its promise that Jesus is present with us right now in the power of the Spirit to help us become the people he calls us to be. Again, this is extremely hard work. But it is the most worthwhile and important work we will ever engage in because we know we are responding to God’s good love for us made known most powerfully in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, we do the work because we have the faith of Abraham, warts and all, not the faith of Peter when he confessed Jesus to be the Christ, and we believe that God will honor that faith, just like he did Abraham’s. It is a faith that is firmly rooted in the unshakable hope and trust that we really do have Good News, 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.