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 of 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).

The Power of God

Sermon delivered on Trinity 8B, Sunday, July 26, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 11.1-25; Psalm 14.1-7; Ephesians 3.14-21; John 6.1-21.

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

What are we to make of the apparent contrast of themes in our readings this morning? On the one hand the psalmist tells us that God looks down from heaven to see if there are any who seek him and finds no one because all are corrupt and their deeds reflect this stark and depressing reality. We get a real-life example of what this looks like in the sordid tale of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba and its aftermath. On the other hand we read Paul’s soaring prayer with its emphasis on goodness and power that accompanies his astonishing claim made earlier that it is through the Church, through you and me, that God will make his wisdom known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (Ephesians 3.10). Do you feel up to that task? So what are we to think and believe? Is Paul’s prayer to live a godly life simply naive and unrealistic in the face of the human condition? This is what I want us to look at this morning.

The sad tale of David and Bathsheba is pretty straightforward and doesn’t need much explanation. The writer makes it clear that David wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He should have been on the front fighting with his men. Instead, he was at home in Jerusalem taking it easy. We aren’t told why David wasn’t with his men, only that he wasn’t, and that got him into big trouble. Here we see the pragmatic wisdom behind James’ warning in action:

One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved (James 1.14-16).

Now we might expect a man of lesser character to act as David did when he saw a beautiful naked woman. But this is David we are talking about, the man after God’s own heart, and as we watch David commit adultery and then ultimately resort to murder to cover his tracks, we are shocked. The first question we want to ask is what kind of heart does God have if David does this?

The answer to that question is not that God has an adulterous and murderous heart. David, despite his great sin in this sordid affair and his penchant for shedding blood as a warrior, was a man after God’s own heart because he never turned to other gods or worshiped them. Despite his many flaws, David remained faithful to his God, although certainly not perfectly. Instead, the writer invites us to focus on the human condition. As the psalmist observed in our lesson, no one is immune from sin, not even God’s anointed king, the man after God’s own heart, and we see that being played out in this story. We have already noted that David was not where he was supposed to be and at least for the moment had too much time on his hands, time that he used for sinful purposes. We also note that nowhere did David stop and ask God to help him resist that alluring temptation. Perhaps David had become proud or was deceiving himself, thinking that because he was God’s anointed, God would not find out or give him a free pass. But as we shall see next week, David could not have been more wrong. Sin always has its consequences. Hence, one of the things the writer surely wants us to see is that anytime we rely solely on our own strength or cleverness or devices, we are setting ourselves up for a fall. If this can happen to the Lord’s anointed, it can happen to anyone. This is why we are never to put our whole hope and trust in human leaders because all have gone astray (Romans 3.23).

And a moment’s thought about our own experience confirms the wisdom of all this. We may not be adulterers and murderers like David was, but every one of us has our own skeletons in the closet, the deep dark secrets we are terrified that others might find out about, which will expose our own serious flaws and less than perfect character. How often have we resolved to live a life pleasing to the Lord, only to end up confessing our failures, almost on a daily basis? For those of us who truly desire to have a deep and faithful relationship with God, this can become very distressing and discouraging. How can we ever hope to love God with all our being and our neighbors as ourselves when we get it wrong so often? And if that is the case, can God really love and forgive us? After all, isn’t the road to hell paved with good intentions and fatally flawed execution? The words of the psalmist continue to haunt us: there is no one who does good in God’s eyes, not even one. How can we possibly have a future and a hope?

Paul and the rest of the NT writers have the answer for us: the love of God made known supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. There is no sin and no amount of sin that cannot be overcome and forgiven because of Jesus’ blood shed for us. If it weren’t for the love of God made known on the cross, none of us would ever dare to have any real hope about a present or future life with God because we are all dead in our sins and so thoroughly infected we cannot possibly hope to drag ourselves up by our own bootstraps. But we do have hope, precisely because of the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us. That is why Paul could boldly tell the Romans there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus because in Jesus, God has condemned our sin in the flesh and taken it on himself so that we no longer need to fear God’s righteous wrath or condemnation (Romans 8.1-4).

This is more than just mere platitude, folks. If you do not really believe this, you will never have any hope of having Paul’s prayer for you come alive in your life because the whole prayer is predicated on us accepting God’s real love for us and his real forgiveness of our sins, irrespective of what they are. If we still worship an angry God whom we think is nothing more than a bean counter who gives us a bunch of rules we cannot possibly hope to follow on our own so that he can beat us up, we are not worshiping the God of the Bible and should therefore not be surprised when our prayers for help to this false god go unanswered. For us to live in the power of God, we must first understand that while we are sinners, we are forgiven sinners, bought with the price of the Son’s own dear blood and greatly loved by the Father.

This is a gift from God, freely offered to one and all, and by God’s grace we can know we are loved and forgiven. This is not our own doing. If we are to really know the breadth, length, height, and depth of God, that knowledge must come from God. It cannot be manufactured by us, any more than we can manufacture knowledge about our loved ones’ love for us without them making their love known to us. And once we truly believe we are forgiven and loved by God, we open ourselves to the power of God so that we do not have to be defeated in our living the way David was or the way we are when we try to live a faithful life by our own strength.

Paul tells us how to tap that power. First, we must truly desire to have the power of God working in our lives. God never forces himself on us. True love cannot do that to the beloved. But all too often we are like our own St. Augustine, who, desiring to leave behind his old life of sexual promiscuity, prayed to the Lord for chastity, but just not right then. Augustine wasn’t quite ready at that time to give up sex for his Lord and was at least honest enough to pray that. So while Paul’s prayer is all about the power of God in our lives, it is based on the presupposition that we desire to have God at work in our lives. In other words, we must be willing to put in our sweat equity.

Once we are willing to do that, Paul tells us that if we ever hope to fulfill the task of the Church to make known God’s wisdom to the powers and authorities, we must ask God to equip us for the task. To do that, we must be firmly united with Christ in and through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. This is the Christ who meets us where we are and uses what we present to him to feed us and others, just like he used the bread and fishes to feed the five thousand. This happens most tangibly at communion when we come to the table to feed on our Lord’s body and blood and find our strength renewed. This is the same Christ who walked on the stormy sea, the very symbol of evil and darkness, and overcame it. Without Christ in us, we have no chance or hope of ever being his people. But as Paul’s prayer reminds us, to have Christ live in us, we simply have to ask and expect it to happen. I suspect many Christians who live in this country really don’t believe this. We’ve bought into the alternative story line that things like feeding the five thousand or walking on water or Jesus living in his people are just fairy tales and myth. They can’t possibly happen. So we might say the words Paul tells us to say—strengthen my inner being with power by your Spirit by connecting me with the Lord Jesus—but we don’t really believe anything will happen. We are not used to seeing signs and wonders and so we secretly (and sometimes openly) scoff at such requests. And I can promise you, if this is the case, you will not be disappointed. You will get exactly what you have asked for—nothing.

This is why so many churches limp along, powerless and rudderless. They don’t really believe in the power of God. They have never experienced it in their individual or collective lives the way many of us do here at St. Augustine’s. Just ask Dr. Falor sometime about the Spirit’s power, or think of the times in your life where you surprised yourself in the way you handled an extremely difficult thing. The same Jesus who overcame the stormy sea, who walks with us through the darkest valley, and conquered even death itself, is available to us right now as his body at St. Augustine’s. All we have to do is ask for his help and power and believe that he loves us enough and is powerful enough to grant us our requests that are according to his good will and purposes for us as a parish because he has commissioned us to bring his healing love to our neck of the woods, and it will be ours. Do you believe this? Really believe this?

Please don’t misunderstand. I do not suggest any of this is automatic, quick, or easy. We are profoundly broken people who are also subjected to the influence of the dark powers and principalities. But we are made stronger through adversity and Jesus’ death and resurrection stand as God’s eternal testimony that the power of God’s love made known to us in Jesus Christ is stronger than any adversity or foe we face. To be sure, none of us will be sin-free until we lose our mortal bodies (cf. Romans 6.7). But we are assured that we can be more than conquerors through him who loved us because neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.37-39), thanks be to God! Simply put, if you want the power of God to live in you to make you a new creation to bear good fruit for the kingdom, you simply have to ask and believe God todo this for you because he loves you and wants you to be the fully human being he created you to be.

I close with a story I hope illustrates and summarizes what I have been talking about.

We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.

“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’

“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at self-control nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.

“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’

“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’

“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’

“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.

“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.

“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”

The Way of a Pilgrim

Notice first how Christ used human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his Gospel. Notice the monk’s persistence and the faith he had in the transformative power of the Gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.

Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the Gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered in his quarters to read it.

Finally, mark how understanding occurred—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas) through our persistent reading of his word (i.e., though our sweat equity). Nothing sexy or spectacular here, just the power of the Spirit at work changing lives. Paul tells us the same about the power and efficacy of prayer in his own prayer for us today. Ask. Persist. Believe it will be yours (cf. Matthew 7.7-11; Luke 18.1-8). Paul knew it was true because he practiced it and as a result knew first-hand the transformative power of Jesus in his life. That same power is available to us right now so that we too can be changed by God to make a difference for God, thus helping to fulfill Paul’s prayer and God’s will for Christ’s body the Church. And that, folks, is not only an awesome privilege, it is Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Amen.

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

Fr. Ric Bowser: Sheep and Shepherds

Sermon delivered on Trinity 7B, Sunday, July 19, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 7.1-14a; Psalm 89.20-37; Ephesians 2.11-22; Mark 6.30-34, 53-56.

Why the need for shepherds? Why the biblical emphasis on sheep? It’s more than just the biblical writers living in agrarian times! Listen to what Fr. Bowser has to say and see what you think.

There is no text for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to podcast of the sermon.

 

Costly Discipleship

Sermon delivered on Trinity 6B, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 6.1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24.1-10; Ephesians 1.3-14; Mark 6.14-29.

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

Have you ever been confronted by an issue or event in your life that either caused you to walk away from your faith or seriously question it? Have you ever been afraid to speak about your faith to others or apply it to public affairs for fear of how others might react toward you? In our gospel lesson we see that biblical faithfulness can be terribly costly and this is what I want us to look at this morning. What can we learn from the sad story of John the Baptizer’s death?

Mark spends more time describing this event than any other gospel writer, and so we need to ask why that is. What does Mark want us to learn from this unseemly story? It has all the needed elements to grab our attention: royalty, sex, booze, and religion. Mark tells us that Herod Antipas had John arrested after he called Herod out about his extramarital affair with his brother’s wife, Herodias, whom Herod would ultimately marry. People who commit adultery often rationalize away their behavior and the inevitable consequences that result from it, and Herod doesn’t seem to be an exception. But even Herod’s toadies knew better than to call him on his behavior. Doing so would have probably landed them in prison or worse. But that didn’t stop John, the fiery preacher who called people to repentance and who had announced the coming of the promised Messiah.

For Herod and Herodias, this was more than just a moral embarrassment. John’s denunciation of their illicit marriage had political ramifications as well. Herod, who had  aspirations to be Israel’s new king and deliverer, could not really have someone like the Baptizer calling him out on his adultery. After all, how could Israel’s promised Messiah be involved with illicit sex? That certainly wouldn’t play well with the general population and so Herod moved to silence his famous critic, and here we see Mark inviting us to compare Jesus with Herod. Which of the two had better credentials and cred with the people? In one corner we have Herod, who rules because he happened to be born into the right family and who had just married his own brother’s wife. Not much Messiah-like character there. In the other corner, Mark invites us to look at Jesus in this “sandwich” story of the Baptizer’s death. Mark has just reported mighty acts of power demonstrated by Jesus and his disciples. People were healed of all kinds of diseases, a dead girl was brought back to life, and evil spirits were cast out of folks. And immediately following today’s story, Mark will report Jesus feeding the five thousand, walking on water, and performing even more healings. All of these mighty acts of power were tangible signs that the kingdom of God was indeed powerfully present in Jesus and his followers, and this is why Mark reports on all these events. He wants us to see Jesus is the real deal while Herod is not.

But Mark wants us to see something else in this story, and it is precisely that biblical faithfulness can cost a person his or her life. John was probably aware of the political ramifications that accompanied his denunciation of Herod’s marriage to Herodias. But there was clearly a moral concern underlying John’s calling out Herod. We know this because John told Herod it was not lawful for him to marry his brother’s wife. The law to which John is referring is of course the Law of Moses, which derived part of its authority from the creation narratives (Genesis 1.27-28, 2.18-24; cf. Mark 10.2-12; Matthew 19.3-9). That’s why the Lord commanded us to honor our father and mother (male and female in an exclusive, life-long relationship) and to stay away from adultery (Exodus 20.12,14,17). John was being faithful to God’s original creative intention for men and women and Mark wants us to see that doing so can literally cost us our lives. Evil does not like to be confronted by God’s goodness. No wonder Jesus would tell his followers to stop and count the cost before deciding to follow him (Luke 14.25-33)!

Herod, like many of us, apparently had a love-hate relationship with the prophet and his God. In a wonderfully realistic story, Mark reports that while Herod imprisoned John, Herod liked to hear John speak, even though John perplexed him, and that Herod protected John, even when his wife wanted to see him dead. Was there something in John’s message of repentance that struck a chord with Herod? Did he know in his heart of hearts that John was right and that God should not be mocked nor should we try to deceive him? We aren’t told. What we are told is how Herod’s lack of character led to the Baptizer’s death. In a moment of apparent drunken titillation over the dancing of Herodias’ daughter, Herod promised the girl virtually anything she wanted, and at her mother’s prompting she told him she wanted John’s head. To save John’s life, Herod would have had to display moral character and courage that he simply did not possess. So Herod took the easy way out. He gave Herodias what she wanted. Like his cousin Jesus, who would also later die for his faithfulness, John met an unseemly end, all because he remained faithful to God’s word in the midst of a sin-sick world. But as we will see in a moment, it is to the glory of God that along with you and me, Jesus came to rescue even bad guys like Herod, Herodias, and Pilate, as well as all the bad guys who live in our world today.

Now before we look at some possible applications in our lives from this story, let us not get all uppity about Herod and pat ourselves smugly on the back, saying that we would never have acted like that. Because the fact is, we all act without integrity on occasion, even if a life isn’t literally at stake. Now is not the time for self-righteousness, but self-examination. And let us also resist the temptation to say that the bad guy wins again and gets away scot-free. Indeed, the bad guy won in this instance. John paid for his faithfulness with his life and his disciples showed remarkable courage and faithfulness in coming to take John’s body away for burial. They could have ended up just like their master! But there is more to this story than Mark reports. We know from extra-biblical sources that within a decade after this incident, Herod would find himself defeated militarily by his enemies and exiled to Gaul (France) by the Roman Emperor Claudius Caligula where he and Herodias would spend the rest of their lives as political outcasts. It seems that God will indeed not be mocked and we need to remember this the next time we hear about a bad guy apparently getting away with murder.

So what can we learn from this sad story? Where’s the good news? As with the entire narrative of Scripture (and that’s why we must read the entire narrative!), we have to see the story in its proper context and look to see how the bigger story of God’s rescue of his sin-sick and unjust world plays itself out. Since we are still living out the story of God’s rescue plan in Jesus Christ, the first lesson we can learn is a hard one to hear. God’s call to us and his claim on our lives can be quite costly. While none of us is in immediate danger of being killed for our faith, we are living in an age where things can get quite uncomfortable for us. For example, if we want to remain faithful to the biblical teaching about marriage as opposed to the redefinition of marriage as a result of judicial fiat, we can expect to be looked at increasingly as freaks and there are folks out there who will be delighted to tell us that. I know. I experienced that kind of abuse when I was taking a class at Bexley Hall Seminary of all places, and I can tell you it is not much fun to be mocked and ridiculed in front of people. But if we hold to the biblical notion that marriage is the God-given vehicle by which our species is propagated, our society is ordered, and God’s good creation is ruled, as opposed to a human right, we had better be prepared to face our share of scorn and hatred. But why would any of us subject ourselves to this kind of abuse over the faith once delivered to the saints that we hold?

The answer comes from Paul in our epistle lesson. This passage is so rich in content that it should be one of our regular go-to passages whenever we are walking through the dark valleys of our lives. Are we tempted to believe in a deist god who basically functions as an absentee landlord who really doesn’t care all that much about his creation and us? No such thing, counters Paul! We worship a God who has called us from before the world was created and who is actively involved in our lives. About this time I suspect Fr. Bowser is starting to squirm nervously in his seat, wondering if I am going to get all Calvin on him and the rest of you. Relax Father. God’s election is for a different sermon. We’ve got bigger fish to fry here.

The point Paul is making is all about God’s sovereignty over his world and involvement in our lives. It is God who initiates, who became a human to bear our sins and die for us so that we might live. It is God who loves us first and invites us to respond to his great love by turning from ourselves back to him so that he can heal and transform us bit by bit, inch by inch, day by day. It is God who has a plan to heal and transform his entire creation and who invites us to be an integral part of that work. This is what our passage today is all about and this truly is Good News. It reminds us that contrary to what the world wants us to think, God is not absent or uncaring. To be sure, God’s ways can be quite mysterious and vexing to us. But we are not to lose heart because he has given us himself in Jesus so that evil, sin, and death are overthrown if not yet fully vanquished, and new creation is launched. We are therefore invited to live as people who have that hope. Evil may win some battles, but it has lost the war. Jesus is alive and rules over his cosmos, and we are invited to his eternal party. This all happened because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we are given God’s very Spirit, the Holy Spirit, as a guarantee of this promise. The word Paul uses to describe this guarantee is a technical term equivalent to earnest money we put down when we decide to buy a property.

Why is this important? Because this is our guaranteed future and hope, and this hope is what sustains us when we walk through the dark valleys that test our faithfulness. It also informs us how we are to live in ways that are consistent with God’s will for us, and that will produce the greatest good and happiness for us and those around us. As resurrection people, we should never be without hope or fundamentally pessimistic. In Christ, God has overcome the world and all that is hostile to God, and we are invited to be part of that victory, starting right now.

So how does that work? Returning to the issue of marriage, as Christians who believe Scripture is God’s true word to us as played out in the story of creation, fall, and redemption, what is our response to be to the recent SCOTUS ruling? First, while we can rightly lament the decision, we are not to lose hope or heart. As Herod and Herodias found out, God will not be mocked and since we believe God is intimately involved in his world and our lives, we should not fall into despair. When we are mocked and considered freaks and haters and [fill in your favorite insult], we are to remember we are Jesus’ people and so we are to return their curses with blessings and forgiveness, precisely because Jesus is Lord and the victory is won.

Second, since we are called to be part of God’s eternal party in Jesus, we are to carefully examine our own lives to see where our faith serves as Christ’s beacon of light and where it falls short. We are to repent of the latter and continue to practice the former because as Paul reminds us today, this will result in the praise of God’s glory. This might not always be self-evident to us, but we need to relax because we are not God and God really is in charge as Paul proclaims. Accordingly, we are to take up our cross daily and follow our Lord faithfully, trusting in God’s faithfulness to us, even in death, as manifested most powerfully in Jesus,.

Third, and related to this last point, if we are married, we are to work hard at making our marriages a shining example for the world to see and celebrate. If we view marriage as basically a disposable commodity to be discarded when our needs are no longer being met, we are being as unfaithful to God’s intention for marriage as any SCOTUS justice, and the light of Christ shining through our marriage is extinguished. I speak sadly from experience about this. Being twice divorced, I am still dealing with the fallout and carnage of my own sinful behavior that essentially pushed God and his intentions for family aside to meet my own perceived needs. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t deal in some way with the consequences of my misguided thinking about marriage and divorce, and I suspect I am not the only one who suffers from this. To be sure, I am forgiven and God has blessed me with a wonderful wife with whom I am passionately in love, and who loves me likewise. But the consequences remain. One of the reasons I behaved as I did is because no one ever took the time to really impress on me the sanctity of marriage and the devastating consequences of trying to play by my own rules rather than God’s when it comes to marriage and family. I get it now. Back then, not so much.

The good news for St. Augie’s is that I see a good and wholesome witness to the God-given blessing of faithful marriage. Think, for example, of the Bowsers and Falors who are approaching 50 years of marriage, or how Tim remained faithful to his wife during her long battle with Alzheimer’s, or how Monroe cares for Judy during this difficult time. Think too how we’ve rallied around these folks to let them know we love them and remind them that they are not walking through the valley alone. Here is the power of Christ’s light shining in the midst of darkness! Contrast those examples with spouses who abandon their spouse when the going gets tough or exploit them for their own selfish gain. Not much to celebrate there.

We can also celebrate the sanctity of God-given marriage by publicly renewing our vows during worship because Christian marriage is always lived out within the life of the Church. I know I want to do that with Dondra next year on our 15th anniversary (unless I’ve killed her first, then maybe not). Simply tell us you would like to do this and we will roll out the red carpet for you and celebrate your love publicly and with joy for all the world to see. Never underestimate how God can and does use these small acts of faithfulness to help bring in the kingdom.

Last, behind every issue like marriage is a human being with real needs, fears, hopes, desires, and dreams. We must always remember to embody Christ’s love for all, even when we have to call some to repentance. Here we can learn from our gospel lesson. If you are like me, when we hear folks like John denouncing adultery, we sometimes think this means that John called Herod a miserable rotten sinner who was going straight to hell. But the text does not warrant that interpretation. Mark simply reports that John told Herod what he was doing was wrong. Like Jesus, John rarely made it personal, except to the egregiously self-righteous. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Herod still wanted to hear John after he arrested him.

The point is this. The sexual revolution will continue to produce new casualties and we as Christians must be prepared to minister to them so they too have a safe haven. Most of us are not called to be prophets, although we all can speak prophetically at times. This means that we cannot and should not focus on denouncing things and people. Instead, we are to take our cue from Jesus, who called sinners to repentance by meeting them where they were and inviting them to follow him. We can’t fix folks and their problems. What we can do is to introduce them to the Guy who can, but that won’t likely happen if we are busy telling people they are dirty rotten people who are going to hell, etc. That’s simply not our job. Our job is to embody the love of Christ for all folks, to live our lives in a manner that will offer a compelling and positive reason why folks would want to get to know Jesus. Certainly, we cannot bless what God does not bless. But this does not give us license to reject folks out of hand.

Yet despite the Bible’s clear-cut teaching about marriage and sex, being faithful to God’s word continues to perplex us in the current climate, in part because of our fuzzy thinking about what constitutes love. Jesus and John understood that real love always acts in the best interest of the beloved, even when their love was rejected, and they acted accordingly. When someone can tell us how supporting something that contradicts God’s original design for men and women is a loving thing to do for people instead of being harmful to them, we too should hop on the sexual revolution bandwagon. But of course that case cannot be made so we won’t.

Instead, if we love folks, we are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and show them God’s good intentions for his human creatures by the lives we live, muddled and sloppy as that can be at times, and then to walk with them if they are willing to commit them-selves to really knowing and loving Jesus in ways that are consistent with the historic under-standing and consensus of the Church. When the Church starts doing that, I promise the world will take notice. Some will consequently want to destroy us as Herodias wanted to destroy John when he called her on her sin, and this is where our faithfulness will be severely tested. But others will join us by God’s grace because they see a better way of living, and it is the latter group we must attend to and support, while standing firm against the former.

I do not pretend this is going to be easy work or even straightforward. It will be extremely hard and complex work that will tax us and our faith. But if we are going to be Jesus’ followers who deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him so that he can use us to help build on his foundational kingdom work, it is work we must be willing to do. If we can remember the great praise and promises of God contained in today’s epistle lesson so that we remember we are resurrection people whom God uses despite our warts to manifest his great love for his world, if we remember that God has invited us to be part of his great eternal party that consists of new life and new creation, if we remember God is present with us always, even when we are too blind to see, we can do this work and remain faithful to his word because we know we 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.

Ed Stetzer: Membership Matters: 3 Reasons for Church Membership

See what you think.

The word “member” in the Bible is more closely related to the medical word “member” than it is to the common cultural term. As an example, some of you who are reading may have lost a finger or toe in an accident. On that unfortunate day, you were dismembered. That’s the actual technical terminology. A member of your body was separated from the body. That is a tragic thing.

Yet today in Western culture, being separated from the body of believers is not tragic. It’s almost normal. It is almost understood that Christians and churches should be separated. Lone Ranger Christians are common.

Why then do we have membership? Because regardless of how the culture sees it or Christians misunderstand it, membership is not simply an opportunity to say, I’m a part of a club, but rather a scriptural expression of covenant connectedness to a church.

There are three things that help us understand why church membership is biblical and important.

1. Membership Reflects What the Church Is.

First, membership is a reflection of the organic community already existing in the body. Paul says we are a body. Can one part say to the other, “I’m not part of you”? No, it is already a part. But too often we live as if we are separated.

As a matter of fact, too many churches or Christian gatherings look like piles of dismembered body parts, not a body knit together as God’s agent, his body, his kingdom, at work in the world. To reject the value of membership is to deny what God has already established in fact.

Read it all.

Fr. Philip Sang: The Power of God at Work

Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 5B, July 5, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 5.1-5, 9-10, Psalm 123.1-5; 2 Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark 6.1-13.

May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you oh Lord  our Rock and our redeemer.

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

Building on last week’s readings, this week’s Old and New Testament texts offer an opportunity to think about leadership and the way God calls and works through specific individuals. In the OT text and the Gospel reading, we have a “Tale of Two Crowds,” the people who accept David as their king, and the folks in Nazareth who couldn’t take Jesus seriously as a great spiritual leader.

The OT reading may suggest that David was the overwhelming, unquestioned choice of all the people, in the North and the South, and his rise to the throne may seem like a straight line from the time of his anointing by Samuel many years before. That would be a misunderstanding caused by taking small pieces of the larger story of the Bible instead of the whole passage.

In fact, the context of today’s OT reading, the story has not been a pretty one, and blood has been shed repeatedly along the way. There has been division, betrayal, war, and not everyone agrees that there should even be a king over all Israel. In the end, David is acknowledged as God’s choice and is remembered as having led Israel effectively even while Saul was still alive. Perhaps the last line is the most important one, where David grows “greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts was with him.” Whatever path brought David to power, and whatever mistakes he would make as king, it is the power of God that gave him charisma, intelligence, and grace, and made him the enduring symbol of Israel’s deep hope in every generation.

On the other hand, the power of God at work in Jesus, in the Gospel reading, is not something the people of his hometown of Nazareth could wrap their minds around. He’s just returned from a road trip, a fairly successful tour in the area surrounding his hometown, and they’ve undoubtedly heard about the spectacular things he’s been doing. That sort of news travels fast. We wonder, however, if word of the healings and the demons driven out and the life of a little girl restored traveled better than the Word that Jesus preached. Of course, everyone wants to see miracles, but does everyone want to hear about the life-changing but perhaps unsettling good news that those miracles illustrate and announce?

Jesus was a paradox to the people in his time.

His live style, his birth, his death was a paradoxical statement of how God’s power would be manifested on this earth. Jesus himself appeared “weak to many of his contemporaries. They were expecting a kind of Superman. They anticipated spectacular signs and unmistakable evidence of his divinity. They saw only a carpenter’s son, a local boy, a prophet without honor. Yet all the power of God came to expression in that “weakness”.

The weakness of God proved mightier than the strength of men. .

Jesus didn’t fit the image people had of the Messiah. They expected a mighty king after the fashion of king David. A man who would lead a mighty army, a man who would make this small nation of Israel strong and powerful. They expected a man who would throw out the Romans, who would show them mighty signs from God as Moses did.

But they got a babe born in a stable, a carpenter’s son who for approximately 30 years didn’t even make a stir among the people. When Jesus did finally go about his ministry, he walked, he lived with outcasts, he ate with sinners, he made enemies of the priests and the rulers.

He had a band of only twelve men who were uneducated fisherman, or tax collectors, or religious radicals. He didn’t say anything to the Romans but talked to the house of Israel. He didn’t do great at signs, he healed people, he forgave sins, he calmed the sea.

He talked about the love the Father had for his children, and he said he was the Son of God. Jesus died because he didn’t fit the expectation or did not have the value system the people of Israel expected. Jesus came as a servant to men. He came to show that God didn’t want men of superhuman ability, but he wanted men who would believe in God’s power for their lives. He showed that god wanted people who would live in this paradox. He showed that when you are weak, believing in God and not self, then you are really strong.

Jesus lived the ultimate paradox.

For as Paul says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Jesus lived this truth and Paul understood it and wrote to the church to follow it. God’s grace is all we need in live to get by. Being the people of the cross, the Grace that was given by the paradox of the cross, for out of death came life.

Conclusion

I want to finish with a true story that illustrates the overall application of my sermon today.

The story is told of a 10-year-old boy who decided to study Judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.
The boy began lessons with an old Japanese Judo master.
The boy was doing well, but he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move.
“Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”
“This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the Sensei replied.
Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.
Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament.
Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches.
The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy used his one move to win the match.
Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.
This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced.
For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched.
Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the Sensei intervened.
“No,” the Sensei insisted, “Let him continue. I assure you, the boy will be fine.”
Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: He dropped his guard.
Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him.
The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.
On the way home, the boy and Sensei reviewed every move in each and every match.
Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.
“Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?”
The Sensei answered, “You won for two reasons.
“First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of Judo.”
“And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left wrist, and you, obviously, don’t have a left wrist.”

As hard as it might be for us to understand, here is one of the most important spiritual lessons God can teach us…
1. Our greatest weakness can turn out to be our greatest strength.
2. Our greatest loss can turn out to be our greatest gain.
3. Our greatest suffering can turn out to be our greatest blessing.

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

Abraham Lincoln on the 4th of July and the Declaration of Independence

lincoln19In the 1850s, Abraham Lincoln’s rhetoric was suffused with a profound sense of loss. He considered it shameful national backsliding that a new affirmative defense of slavery had arisen in the South. At the time of the Founding our nation had merely tolerated slavery; now, it was an institution actively celebrated in part of the country.

In a letter in 1855 despairing of ending slavery, Lincoln wrote to the Kentuckian George Robertson that “the fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day–/for burning fire-crackers/!!!”

At around this time, Lincoln fastened on the Declaration of Independence as “his political chart and inspiration,” in the words of his White House secretary John G. Nicolay.

He made it the guidepost by which the country could return to its lost ideals. His example shows the enduring vitality and the endless potential for renewal that is inherent in the Declaration.

Some good stuff here. See what you think.

A Prayer for Independence Day 2015

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today in History

From here:

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims imagesthe independence of the United States of America from Great Britain and its king. The declaration came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually encourage France’s intervention on behalf of the Patriots.

Read it all and give thanks to God for this country of ours.

The Gospel’s Power Seen in a Story

We sat down to table and the officer began his story: “I have served in the army ever since I was quite young. I knew my duties and was a favorite of my superiors as a conscientious officer. But I was young, as were also my friends, and unhappily I started drinking. It went from bad to worse until drinking became an illness. When I did not drink, I was a good officer, but when I would start drinking, then I would have to go to bed for six weeks. My superiors were patient with me for a long time, but finally, for rudeness to the commanding officer while I was drunk, they reduced my rank to private and transferred me to a garrison for three years. They threatened me with more severe punishment if I would not improve and give up drinking. In this unfortunate condition all my efforts at self-control were of no avail and I could not stay sober for any length of time. Then I heard that I was to be sent to the guardhouse and I was beside myself with anguish.

“One day I was sitting in the barracks deep in thought. A monk came in to beg alms for the church. Those who had money gave what they could. When he approached me he asked, ‘Why are you so downcast?’ We started talking and I told him the cause of my grief. The monk sympathized with my situation and said, ‘My brother was once in a similar position, and I will tell you how he was cured. His spiritual father gave him a copy of the Gospels and strongly urged him to read a chapter whenever he wanted to take a drink. If the desire for a drink did not leave him after he read one chapter he was encouraged to read another and if necessary still another. My brother followed this advice, and after some time he lost all desire for alcoholic beverages. It is now fifteen years since he has touched a drop of alcohol. Why don’t you do the same, and you will discover how beneficial the reading of the Gospels can be. I have a copy at home and will gladly bring it to you.’

“I wasn’t very open to this idea so I objected, ‘How can your Gospels help when neither my efforts at selfcontrol nor medical aid could keep me sober?’ I spoke in this way because I never read the Gospels.

“‘Give it a chance,’ continued the monk reassuringly, ‘and you will find it very helpful.’

“The next day he brought me this copy of the Gospels. I opened it, browsed through it, and said, ‘I will not take it, for I cannot understand it; I am not accustomed to reading Church Slavonic.’

“The monk did not give up but continued to encourage me and explained that God’s special power is present in the Gospel through his words. He went on, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later. One holy man says that “even when you don’t understand the word of God, the demons do, and they tremble”; and the passion for drink is without a doubt their work. And St. John Chrysostom in speaking about the power of the word of God says that the very room where the Gospel is kept has the power to ward off the spirits of darkness and thwart their intrigues.’

“I do not recall what I gave the monk when I took the copy of the Gospels from him, but I placed the book in my trunk with my other belongings and forgot about it. Some time later a strong desire to have a drink took hold of me and I opened the trunk to get some money and run to the tavern. But I saw the copy of the Gospels before I got to the money and I remembered clearly what the monk had told me. I opened the book and read the first chapter of Matthew without understanding anything. Again I remembered the monk’s words, ‘At the beginning be concerned only with reading it diligently; understanding will come later.’ So I read another chapter and found it a bit more comprehensible. Shortly after I began reading the third chapter, the curfew bell rang and it was no longer possible for me to leave the barracks.

“In the morning my first thought was to get a drink, but then I decided to read another chapter to see what would happen. I read it and did not go. Again I wanted a drink, but I started reading and I felt better. This gave me courage, and with every temptation for a drink I began reading a chapter from the Gospels. The more I read, the easier it became, and when I finally finished reading all four Gospels the compulsion for drink had disappeared completely; I was repelled by the very thought of it. It is now twenty years since I stopped drinking alcoholic beverages.

“Everyone was surprised at the change that took place in me, and after three years I was reinstated as an officer and then climbed up the ranks until I was made a commanding officer. Later I married a fine woman; we have saved some money, which we now share with the poor. Now I have a grown son who is a fine lad and he also is an officer in the army.”

—The Way of a Pilgrim

What a wonderful story of the multifaceted ways in which Christ works in our lives! Notice first how Christ uses human agency (the monk) to introduce the young soldier to his Gospel. Notice the monk’s persistence and the faith he has in the transformative power of the Gospel in people’s lives, a faith based, in part, on past experience.

Next, pay attention to how Christ used circumstance instead of understanding to stay the young soldier’s hand from drinking. He read the Gospel without understanding it, but was prevented from going on a drinking binge because he had lingered in his quarters to read it.

Finally, mark how understanding occurs—through persistent reading. Ask anyone who reads the Bible regularly and systematically and you will hear this same answer. God grants understanding to humble minds willing to submit to his word (as opposed to trying to make his word submit to their agendas) through our persistent reading of his word. God doesn’t beat us over the head to make us learn (usually). Instead he uses ordinary people and circumstances along with our own efforts to speak to and transform us. That may not be sexy enough for some of us but it is much more effective over the long haul

If you are struggling with your faith, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this story and its lessons. Here is indeed balm for your soul!