About Kevin Maney

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 of North America (ACNA).

How to be the Church with so Many Broken Vessels

Sermon delivered on Trinity 13A, Sunday, September 14, 2014, 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 14.19-31; Psalm 114.1-8; Romans 14.1-12; Matthew 18.21-35.

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

Last week we looked briefly at Jesus’ model for handling conflict within the Church and imposing discipline when necessary. It’s not for the faint of heart because it requires that we confront each other when we offend each other. That’s hard because we would much rather talk about the offender behind his/her back instead of dealing with the problem at hand. But confront the offender we must, as much for his sake as ours. Jesus also told us what to do in the case of an unrepentant offender. Cast the person out in the hope that he repents. But what do we do with a repentant offender? Jesus tells us what to do about that person too. Forgive him. Now in today’s lesson Peter asks our Lord about how often we should forgive one who offends us. After all, if we keep forgiving those who offend us, don’t we open up the door for continued offenses and/or abuse? Jesus’ answer to Peter is shocking to say the least and this is what I want us to look at this morning because in his answer, his body, the Church is defined.

At first blush, Jesus’ answer to Peter is pretty straightforward. He tells Peter and us that we can’t just forgive a limited number of times. There’s no limit to how often we must forgive! But if we listen carefully to the parable Jesus told Peter right after he said that, we, like Peter, will discover that Jesus’ answer is not at all about bean-counting, about how many times we must forgive someone who wrongs us. Instead, the parable makes us look at who and what we are. It shifts us from the safe and comfortable position as outsider and judge who must decide whether to forgive the offender to the very uncomfortable and vulnerable position of being the one who is judged, but who has received mercy beyond all possible deserving.

The parable itself is straightforward enough. One of the king’s slaves has amassed an enormous debt, owing his king over 10,000 talents. In Jesus’ day, a talent was worth about 6000 denarii and a laborer was paid a denarius a day. So to earn 10,000 talents a person would have had to work 60,000,000 days or approximately 193,000 years. Since this is even longer than most of my sermons it is safe to say that the picture Jesus wants us to see is a man who cannot possibly repay his debt to the king. For the slave to plead for the king to be patient and give him time to pay off his debt exemplifies the unrealistic thinking that often accompanies desperation. Simply put, without the king’s mercy, this slave was toast.

Thankfully for the slave, he did receive mercy from the king because the king forgave his  entire debt (Lord’s Prayer anyone?) unconditionally. But then Jesus shows us the breathtaking hardness of the human heart that prevents us from seeing that the needs, motives, and circumstances of others are fundamentally like our own. Instead, we tend to see ourselves as being different and superior to others and our own needs and circumstances as being somehow fundamentally more deserving than those of others so that we needn’t be merciful to them.

We see this illustrated in the parable when this slave who had his impossible debt forgiven turned around and refused to forgive a fellow slave who owed him money. Unlike the debt of 10,000 talents, this second slave only owed the first slave 100 denarii, or about four months work for a laborer, a debt that was easily manageable. But the first slave with the impossible debt to repay refused to forgive his fellow slave who owed him a much smaller debt and here we see the the fundamental ugliness of the human condition in all its awful glory.

When the king caught wind of the whole sordid affair, retribution was swift and terrible for the wicked slave, and it takes our breath away when we stop and think that Jesus himself was  suggesting there is everlasting torment for those who fail to forgive. The slave was handed over to be tortured until he paid his entire debt, i.e., for an eternity, because the debt was impossible to repay. As we look at this story and start to apply it to ourselves, we cannot help but become increasingly uncomfortable because all of us at one time or another have been the unforgiving slave. And this is the point of the parable. Jesus doesn’t want us to focus on forgiveness as something to be dispensed on demand. Seeing forgiveness like that essentially puts us in the position of being a judge over others while ignoring the fact that we need to forgive the smaller sins of others against us because God has forgiven the impossibly high debt of our own sins. The God who rescued his people from the evil and darkness of their slavery in Egypt in our OT lesson this morning is the same God who has rescued us from the evil and darkness of our slavery to sin by judging and condemning it (instead of us) on the cross of Jesus. So when we refuse to forgive others for the wrongs they do, like the wicked slave in Jesus’ parable, we are effectively bringing judgment on ourselves because no one is sinless and all desperately need the forgiveness of God if we wish to live in his presence. Those who don’t believe in the seriousness of sin will scoff at this. But if we believe Jesus is the embodiment of God and therefore authorized to speak for God, we’d best pay attention to what he’s telling us here in this parable.

It is only when we truly understand the enormity of our own sins in the eyes of God and how costly it was for him to forgive us on the cross that we will learn to develop the needed humility and wisdom to forgive others because we realize what a massive gift we have been given. This also helps us abandon all our delusional thinking that we can somehow earn favor in God’s eyes by how we act. To be sure, we are called to act in ways that are pleasing to God. But this is fundamentally different than trying to earn God’s forgiveness for the impossible debt of our sins.

Like the wicked slave, none of us deserve the King’s unconditional pardon. But it is ours by the grace of God if we have eyes to see and hearts and minds open to his Spirit so that we accept the gift offered us. This is why a rock-solid theology of the cross is so critical for our lives as Christians. If we do not understand the seriousness of our sins in God’s eyes and that we’ve been relieved of an impossible debt and burden, we will likely remain hard-hearted and unforgiving, not to mention guilt-ridden and anxious if we care at all about our relationship with God.

And this is where we turn to Paul in our epistle lesson because if you have followed this line of thinking, you will immediately recognize why Paul says what he does. Whenever we are dealing with things adiaphora, with things that are not essential to the faith, we are guilty of putting ourselves in unjust judgment over our brothers and sisters in Christ when we look down our noses at their beliefs and practices with which we do not agree. Paul is adamant that things must be different because our very existence is intricately and forever tied to the Lord because of what he has done to rescue us from evil, sin, and death. Only in God do we find life because only God is our Creator. We die because we have sinned. But we as Christians live because we believe that in Jesus God has overcome sin and death and promised us a new creation that will be free of evil, sin, and death. God has rescued us so that we can work toward building the kingdom on earth as in heaven, a kingdom whose foundation is established on the saving death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus, unbelievable and incomprehensible as that seems to us at times. But this is the same God who has always acted in unbelievable ways to rescue us from evil and death. Just ask the Israelites as they faced the Red Sea on one side of them and an impossibly strong enemy on the other. Or just ask the apostles after Easter.

And so Paul would have us act toward each other as people who are yoked to Christ and grateful in their knowledge that our impossibly high debt has been forgiven so that we in turn treat each other in a similar manner. This is the secret of being part of Christ’s Church with all of its broken vessels because we realize that we are one of those vessels, and so we learn to cut each other a lot of slack in non-essential things. And let’s be clear about this. Paul is talking about non-essential things like diet and other habits, not essentials of the faith. Think for example how he exhorted the Corinthian church to expel the man who was having sex with his step-mother (1 Corinthians 5.1-5). There was no live-and-let-live attitude there because sexual fidelity is not open for debate. But even then, Paul’s hope was that in punishing the offender, the offender would be brought to repentance so that he could be restored to the community of saints in Corinth and therefore to his relationship with Jesus who is Lord of both the living and the dead.

And think how radically different this lifestyle is from the world’s. How we treat each other within the Church is a powerful witness of our love of Jesus and the power of his Spirit working in us. Take, for example, Ray Rice, and the firestorm surrounding his actions. There are voices out there clamoring for his head with no hope of forgiveness and/or restoration. Nobody can condone the violence he committed. But shine the light of Jesus’ parable on this sad story. What if Rice were to repent? The world would still say to hell with him, there is no forgiveness for the evil he perpetrated against his then fiancee. And Rice did indeed perpetrate evil. But our Lord would remind us that those who are clamoring loudest for his condemnation with no hope of mercy are forgetting that they have an even greater basis for condemnation in God’s eyes because no one is sinless and they are unwilling to extend his love to others. And lest we get all self-righteous and say of Rice’s enemies that we are better than they are because we would forgive Rice if he repents, let us remember that we would be acting just like the wicked slave.

Or consider this radical act of forgiveness that was posted on Archbishop Cranmer’s blog:

Over 100 [Boko Haram] militants dressed in military uniforms swarmed the predominantly Christian village just as Sunday church services were beginning on June 1….After decimating the village and sending residents fleeing, Boko Haram returned two days later in a second series of attacks on several other villages in the Gwoza district. The back to back attacks left an estimated 200 people, including small children, dead. John Yakubu and his family were among those who fled across the border into neighboring Cameroon.

With his family facing starvation in the refugee camp, John decided to make a quick trip back to Attagara to retrieve some of his animals hoping he could sell them to support his family. Though it was dangerous, there seemed to be no other choice. At home, he decided to pick up some of the family’s other belong-ings, including the family Bible.

Boko Haram insurgents spotted him entering the house, and quickly captured him. “We know you’re John,” the militants said to him. “You must convert to Islam or else you will die a painful death.”

When John refused, the men tied him to a tree binding his arms and legs. The men hacked both of John’s hands with a heavy knife and mocked him. “Can you become a Muslim now?”

“You can kill my body, but not my soul,” John shouted in pain.

Using a machete as well as the knife, the men continued to torture John. They repeatedly cut into his feet and his back, stopping only to ask him if he would give up his faith in Christ and follow Allah. John refused. “We will show you,” they told him. The insurgents used an axe to cut so deeply into his knee that it reached the bone. His head was slashed with a knife.

Eventually, John lost consciousness. At some point, the terrorists left, and John was left bleeding and tied to the tree for three days before someone rescued him and he was taken to a hospital in a coma.

In the hospital, a [Voice of the Martyrs]  worker met John. When the worker asked John how he felt about his attackers, he replied, “I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing.” Please do read the whole blog post.

Cranmer remarks, “The words are liberating; they tell of an appalling horror over which love triumphs.” This is the kind of radical forgiveness Christ demands of us because this the kind of radical forgiveness extended to us on the cross. This is also how Christ uses us to help bring in the kingdom on earth as in heaven. It would be easy to react to this kind of hatred and violence by responding in kind. And in doing so the vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence will continue unabated. But when we are willing to forgive even the most vile acts as John did, we are making a statement that we believe there is a better way of doing things than the ways of the world. Of course, our belief in a sovereign God is an essential part of offering forgiveness because we never know how God will use the forgiveness we offer others to change hearts and the world, even the hearts of our most vicious enemies. And Scripture is adamant that God does do exactly that, even when it is not obvious to us. Are you capable of this kind of forgiveness?

As we have seen, this forgiveness business is hard work and I have only touched briefly on what real forgiveness entails. Given the hardness of our hearts and the extremely difficult nature of the acts of forgiving and accepting forgiveness, we certainly cannot do any of it on our own. But fear not. We do not have to learn to love and forgive on our own because we believe we have God’s Holy Spirit living in us to transform us to become like our crucified Lord so that we can learn to forgive and accept forgiveness. Who or what are you struggling with in terms of forgiveness? Whatever it is, bring it to God in prayer and come to our intercessions station to seek Christ’s power to heal and transform you so that you can forgive. To help you with this, consider that you have had the terrible burden of your own sins forgiven by Jesus the Son so that you are now fully reconciled to God the Father in the power of the Spirit. Give thanks for that because you know 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.

Fr. Ron Feister: Following Directions

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12A, Sunday, September 7, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 149.1-9; Romans 13.8-14; Matthew 18.15-20.

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

I must admit that I struggled long and hard to see how these readings that we have heard today are related to one another. It slowly came to me that they all deal with some type or aspect of God’s giving directions. Now there are all kinds of ways that we are familiar with in which we deal everyday with directions. To reflect on just a few. There are of course those that come in the form of Laws. Travel 35 miles per hour. Slow down in school zones. Pay your taxes.you get the picture. For God’s people we have a set of directions that fall within this category – we call them the 10 Commandments. Have no false gods, do not steal, honor you parents, do not covet. We are all familiar with these and the Church periodically reminds us should we happen to forget.

There are travel directions. Today many of us have GPS devices that talk to us giving specific directions when to turn or even change lanes. My particular GPS also has a feature that should I miss a turn or chose a different route will complain that I need to turn around and take the right course. Before GPS devices were so common and in some case where we choose to drive without them, it is said that some people, mostly men I am told, have a tendency to resist taking directions from others or to charge even when we are not sure of the direction that we should go.

We today have the Bible as a set of directions to help us travel though this life. Like following the directions of a map, it does require that we spend some time with it and that we become familiar with some of the tools that make the Scriptural map easier to understand. Unlike my GPS, it will not speak out loud to you if you chose not to follow the right direction, but if you open your heart you will still find it speaking to you and leading you back in the right direction.

As most of you know, I enjoy baking, which of necessity requires that you at least start with a recipe. A specific list of ingredients and at some order of their combining and baking. I must admit that there is probably not a recipe that I have used that I have not from time to time modified. Sometime with great success and sometimes, let us say, not such a great success. Recipes are also a form of direction which also tend to expand and change. A simple bread dough becomes a marvelous dessert roll. But both simple and the new version look back to the early direction or recipe.

Then there are the directions that come with assembling some item. It might be a piece of put together furniture, or a bike or a computer. The directions are to be followed if we want to successfully achieve our goal. Sadly some to these directions seem to be written in a form of English that is challenging to say the least. Again it this case some of us have been known to try to find our own way to do something. Often with interesting if not regrettable results.

In the first reading from Exodus, the Lord is seen as instructing, that is giving directions to Moses and Aaron on how to prepare for the Passover. The directions are detailed. There is to be a Lamb for each family or group of families. It is to be free of blemish. It is to be slaughtered at a specific time and specific way by the head of the household. Then the head of the household is to sprinkle the blood on the doorposts and beam on the top of the door. The Lamb is to be roasted and fully consumed and any remnants totally burned. The first Passover Meal was a singular even in which the Angel of Death passed over the households of God’s people sparing their first born; however, it is also a feast that is to be kept as a festival celebration as a continuing Ordinance – that last work meant that it was to be binding like a law on the people of Israel and it is a feast that although changed in detail like a recipe changed due to changes in circumstances, remains as a centerpiece of the Jewish religion.

The Passover feast served as a preparation for deliverance from oppression and death and looked forward to the development of a homeland for God’s people. It was seen as showing God’s nature as gracious, merciful and as one who provides deliverance for the oppressed. Jesus as He gathers with his disciples as the meal we call the Last Supper, a meal held within the Passover tradition, takes this recipe -this direction, and applies it to a new level. Jesus is the unblemished Lamb and also the head of the household, it is his Blood that will be shed over the door posts and head boards of the hearts of God’s people.

Through Jesus’ transformation of the Passover directions we are promised that God truly shows his compassion to His people and frees them from the oppression of sin. As we now celebrate this new Passover meal we do so at the direction of the One who invites us to share in His very Body and Blood. Like the direction to Moses that the people of Israel celebrate the Passover Feast for all times with the seriousness of a Law so Jesus directs us to celebrate his Passover gift of the Eucharist as a perpetual ordinance.

Turning now to the Gospel of Matthew we are given fairly detailed directions on how we should deal with difference and disputes within the Church community. We are directed to first initiate an individual, one on one effort at reconciling with the one with whom we feel has sinned against us, the one with whom we are in dispute and only after that fails we are to have two or three others go with us -these others are not there to gang-up on the person with whom we are in dispute but to act as mediators, arbitrators, witnesses or perhaps even as teachers to all who are in dispute. If this to fails to bring reconciliation or the correction of error, then the matter is to be set before the Church for guidance and correction.

Finally if the person is found to still be sinning then that person is to be treated as one outside of the Church community. For the continuing sinner, this could mean total expulsion from the community permanently or for a set time or simply denial of the sacraments. For the early Church, it was often understood, that what was needed was to treat that person as Jesus treated the Gentiles and tax collectors. Jesus would heal them, care for them, and continually invite them to be his disciples. Jesus would offer them a fresh start. Even though they were outside of God’s chosen people, Jesus would call them to be reconciled to the Father. So then we are called by the example of Jesus to heal, to care for, to pray for, those who sin against us and to encourage them to reconcile both to us and to our Heavenly Father. In giving these directions, on how to deal with such matters, it seems clear that Jesus knew and wanted that Church to expect that from time to time that there would be conflict, but He also wanted the Church to know that through the Spirit and in love that reconciliation is possible and necessary. It s in this way, the Church gives a witness to the whole of the world of how God desires to reconcile all of creation to Himself and to bring lasting peace.

Finally we turn our attention to the Epistle reading from Romans which starts out with those directions that we earlier described as being God’s laws – here again some are listed – you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet. Remember earlier when I talked about directions on how to assemble something. Businesses have become aware that most people want to get to the point, they want to start using the new item as soon as possible, so they have started placing simplified, short and direct instructions with their products that allow for immediate use. Paul now uses a similar approach. He points out that all of these Commandments can be summed up in the words “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”. In doing so, Paul is not referring to a physical neighbor or a person to whom we owe some duty or have some relationship, but rather we are to understand “Neighbor” as Jesus did in the story of the Good Samaritan as one whose has a need and one to whom we can give help. Paul is not devaluing the study of the Ten Commandments. As the full set of instructions for a product allow for it fuller use; the study of all Scripture and the Ten Commandments will give deeper and fuller guidance to the follower of Jesus, but here Paul wants to drive home the point that these Laws are not just some formal rule, but our based on an attitude of love and caring.

Paul also directs the members of the Church at Rome to be especially aware of certain practices which are harmful, not unlike the warning notice or directions on certain products – for example avoid drunkenness, quarreling and jealousy. Paul does not stop with the negatives, but encourages, directs, the Believers to put on the armor of Light and more specifically to put on Jesus. This expression means actually to become as Christ. To live in the World as Christ did – healing, encouraging, and reconciling.

God gives his direction to us in many different forms. Like many other types of directions we are free to follow them or ignore them at our own peril. Following them we may be assured that we will travel the path that leads to our Lord and his Peace.

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

Cranmer: They Don’t Know What They are Doing

This is a must read. As powerful and gripping as they come.

Nigeria Muslim attacks on ChristiansWith his family facing starvation in the refugee camp, John decided to make a quick trip back to Attagara to retrieve some of his animals hoping he could sell them to support his family. Though it was dangerous, there seemed to be no other choice. At home, he decided to pick up some of the family’s other belongings, including the family Bible.

Boko Haram insurgents spotted him entering the house, and quickly captured him. “We know you’re John,” the militants said to him. “You must convert to Islam or else you will die a painful death.”

When John refused, the men tied him to a tree binding his arms and legs. The men hacked both of John’s hands with a heavy knife and mocked him. “Can you become a Muslim now?”

“You can kill my body, but not my soul,” John shouted in pain.

Using a machete as well as the knife, the men continued to torture John. They repeatedly cut into his feet and his back, stopping only to ask him if he would give up his faith in Christ and follow Allah. John refused. “We will show you,” they told him. The insurgents used an axe to cut so deeply into his knee that it reached the bone. His head was slashed with a knife.

Eventually, John lost consciousness. At some point, the terrorists left, and John was left bleeding and tied to the tree for three days before someone rescued him and he was taken to a hospital in a coma.

In the hospital, a VOM worker met John. When the worker asked John how he felt about his attackers, he replied, “I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing.”

Read the whole blog entry.

St. Augustine’s Anglican Church: Changed by God to Make a Difference for God

Sermon delivered on Sunday, August 31, 2014 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church’s annual dedication festival.

If you would prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, strongly encouraged in this case and usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Chronicles 29.6-19; Psalm 122.1-9; Ephesians 2.19-22; Matthew 21.12-16.

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

Today we celebrate the founding of our parish. We’ve chosen today because while we officially launched on Easter Sunday, 2012, we transferred our dedication festival to the Sunday closest to August 28, the Feast Day of Augustine of Hippo, our patron saint. Given that our focus is on our parish, I want to remind us what we are all about.

I hope all of you know our mission statement is, “Changed by God to make a difference for God.” But what does that mean? What does that look like for us on the ground? To be changed by God means that first and foremost we realize the hopeless and bleak situation we as fallen human beings are in without God’s help. As David reminds us in our OT lesson this morning, left to our own devices we are aliens and transients before God who are utterly alienated and at war with God because of our unwillingness to act like his image-bearing human creatures. Instead we want to act like gods in our own right and as a result we cut ourselves off from our one and only Source of life. This means, of course, that death is our common destiny. Or as David observes, our days on earth are like a shadow and there is no hope because we are utterly and thoroughly infected with sin-sickness and there is no human remedy for it.

We don’t like to talk about this, in part, because in our human pride and arrogance we like to think we really aren’t part of the problem or that we have the ability to fix ourselves. But it is the consistent testimony of Scripture, confirmed by real life experience, that this kind of thinking is both delusional and a lie. Our sin-sickness and God’s awful judgment on it has brought all kinds of disaster to God’s good and beautiful creation as well as terrible suffering to humans and animals alike. This is why we can look around God’s world and see simultaneously breathtaking beauty in nature and human relationships and gut-wrenching ugliness in the same arenas. So being made ready to be changed by God means that we must be willing to call a spade a spade and acknowledge where the real problem lies—in us and our sin-sickness, not in God’s goodness or in his reaction to our sin-sickness, and this takes humility on our part.

When we have the God-given humility (and wisdom) to acknowledge that we are the problem and the good sense to listen to our restless hearts as they cry out for us to reconnect with God the Father who created us in his image to be faithful stewards of his good creation, this makes us ready to hear the Good News of God’s rescue plan in Jesus. And God in his mercy will grant our deepest desires to be restored to him.

This plan, of course, entailed God calling a people to be his own to offer God’s blessing and healing to the rest of his good world gone bad. This people came to be known as Israel and as God’s rescue plan unfolded, God revealed to us that the true Israel would be the ones who gave their ultimate loyalty and lives to the only true Israelite, Jesus of Nazareth, imitating him in their lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.

As Paul proclaims boldly in our epistle lesson, it is because of Jesus of Nazareth that we are no longer strangers and aliens before God as David had rightly observed. We no longer labor under that status because of the cross of Christ. As Paul and the other NT writers state elsewhere, on the cross God the Son brought healing and reconciliation between God the Father and his rebellious human creatures. In Jesus’ blood shed for us, God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son so that there is now no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus. This means that while we all must die a mortal death because we all still live under God’s curse, our final destiny is not death but life.

We know this to be true because we believe that God really did raise Jesus from the dead to conquer death and to give us a foretaste of our future as citizens in God’s promised new creation, the time when God will bring to completion his promises to us to heal and restore his good creation gone bad. Only then will we be fully healed, but O what a healing it will be! So the curse has been broken by God himself on the cross of Jesus (thus the promised new creation) and our future life living directly in God’s presence as God’s fully healed and redeemed creatures has been revealed to us in Jesus’ resurrection, at least in part.

This is the Good News that our restless hearts have been yearning for because without the cross, for God to break the power of evil and finally destroy it, God would have to destroy each one of us because each one of us has good and evil in us. The life-saving power of the cross is a radical act of love on God’s part as well as his free gift offered to us precisely because God loves each of us radically and wants us to share in his life. When we fully embrace this gift and appropriate it into our lives, we cannot help but be changed by it, and for the good. Without the cross we are ruined and without hope. With the cross we are healed and find our ultimate hope.

This is what Paul meant when he talked about Jesus being the cornerstone of the Church. Paul saw that our new life in Christ is meant to be lived together as a community of believers who live radically different lifestyles from the rest of the world. We are living stones, part of an organic church, and not a building. As both Paul and Jesus indicate in our epistle and gospel lessons, we don’t need to go to a Temple to find or worship God because we can find and worship God in Jesus and enjoy new life in him when we gather together as his people. And because we are called to live and work and have our being in Jesus, we are the new Israel, grafted into the old Israel as followers of Jesus the Messiah whom God will use to help heal and rescue his world. And here we turn our attention to what it means to make a difference for God.

As we have seen, we have been rescued from evil, sin, and death by Jesus’ costly act on the cross. But this begs the question: rescued for what? We are saved (healed) so that our Lord can use us to be his kingdom workers who build on the foundation of his rescue of us and God’s world in and through his death and resurrection. As our Lord made clear in many of his parables, the kingdom comes gradually and inconspicuously, at least until he returns in great power and glory to finish the work he started in his mortal days. Until then we are to learn how to imitate our Lord so that he can use us to help build his kingdom. We do that best when we are filled with his Spirit and equipped to embody his love to all, even our enemies, and to proclaim his gospel to all, whether they want to hear it or not. And we do this work together as Christ’s body, the Church, because God calls us to live our healed and redeemed lives together as his reconstituted family living under the authority of King Jesus our Lord and Savior.

To live our lives in this manner means we must be intimately familiar with the story of God’s rescue plan and to trust its authority as God’s word to us today. We can only do that if we learn how to read the book for what it tells us, not what we think it says or should say. For example, how many of you recognized that Jesus quoted Psalm 8.2 in our gospel lesson today? Psalm 8 is a classic Messianic psalm and in telling us Jesus quoted it, Matthew clearly wants us to see that Jesus is proclaiming he is indeed the promised Messiah, not that he is uttering some weird gobbledegook that we can safely ignore. We won’t pick that up in the text unless we first recognize the text to be from a specific psalm written for a specific purpose and understand that because many Jews actively expected God’s promised Messiah to appear they would have recognized this kind of use of the Scriptures by folks like Jesus as a way of identifying himself as the Messiah. Our understanding of this will also help us recognize as caca the claim made by some today that Jesus didn’t have any Messianic awareness or calling, which would change our understanding of him quite radically. As we learn to read the Bible like this, we will learn to better plumb the depths and richness of God’s word to us as well as appreciate the truth it proclaims, at least if my experience with reading the Bible is any indication. Don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating that we all must become Bible scholars. I am advocating, however, that we need to become biblically literate and actively engage God’s Word on a regular basis. That means we have to read and study the Bible regularly and together in small groups.

Becoming more biblically literate also makes us less vulnerable to false teachings because we learn to recognize the authoritative voices in Scripture, voices like the apostles. In our epistle lesson, Paul is not telling us that the Christian faith consists of a set of principles we need to memorize. Instead, he is reminding us that our faith revolves around developing a real and dynamic relationship with the risen Christ and we have to learn how to recognize his voice. We are helped in that by listening to the apostles, those who knew Jesus in the days when he walked on this earth and who witnessed both his death and resurrection. Paul is therefore reminding us that not everything taught about Jesus is true and there are certain core things every Christian must believe (like Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit to live in his people, both individually and corporately) so that our faith can grow and help sustain us as we work to imitate Jesus in our lives. If we don’t know these teachings, we can never know who is telling the truth or even if there is truth, a claim that many make regularly in our day. And if you don’t think this is important, think about how badly the Church has been damaged by many of its recent teachers who have abandoned the apostolic belief and testimony that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead and that God’s new creation is our awaited future.

This is what it means to be changed by God to make a difference for God. It means we must put our faith to work in the manner God intends for us. This means, of course, that each one of us in this parish needs to have a ministry, whether it is formally sponsored by our parish or not. We are called individually and as a congregation to proclaim boldly God’s rescue plan to the world and to embody the same love to others that God has shown us in Jesus. This is hard work and we can get discouraged quite quickly. But we take heart because we realize we are not doing the work by ourselves or in our own strength or power. We are doing the Lord’s work together and in his power. And because we know the life-giving and transforming power we embrace by faith, 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.

Tish Harrison Warren: The Wrong Kind of Christian

More PC run amok and shame on Vanderbilt. You may not give a fig about Christians being harassed off campuses. But sooner or later you will find yourself on the wrong side of PC and then you will give two figs. It is also highly ironic that places of “higher learning” where intellectual freedom and the open exchange and debate of ideas was once prized have become intellectual gulags for those who are on the wrong side of  town. Listen if you have ears. From Christianity Today online.

In writing, the new policy refers only to constitutionally protected classes (race, religion, sexual identity, and so on), but Vanderbilt publicly adopted an “all comers policy,” which meant that no student could be excluded from a leadership post on ideological grounds. College Republicans must allow Democrats to seek office; the environmental group had to welcome climate-change skeptics; and a leader of a religious group could not be dismissed if she renounced faith midyear. (The administration granted an exception to sororities and fraternities.)

Like most campus groups, InterVarsity welcomes anyone as a member. But it asks key student leaders—the executive council and small group leaders—to affirm its doctrinal statement, which outlines broad Christian orthodoxy and does not mention sexual conduct specifically. But the university saw belief statements themselves as suspect. Any belief—particularly those about the authority of Scripture or the church—could potentially constrain sexual activity or identity. So what began as a concern about sexuality and pluralism quickly became a conversation about whether robustly religious communities would be allowed on campus.

Read the whole sordid thing (and keep reminding yourself that Jesus is Lord as you do).

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Monica, Mother of Augustine of Hippo (387 AD)

Monica Mother of Augustine of HippoFaithful God,
who strengthened Monica, the mother of Augustine, with wisdom,
and through her patient endurance encouraged him
to seek after you:
give us the will to persist in prayer
that those who stray from you may be brought to faith
in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Devotional Resources for Yesterday’s Sermon on Prevailing Against the Gates of Hell

Yesterday I posted a sermon in which I argued that the only way to live with real hope and power in this current age was to keep in mind the promise of God’s new creation because only then will we be fully healed. Specifically, I argued that given the transitory nature of this life, our only real hope and remedy for the pain and heartaches of this world is to embrace our resurrection hope made possible by the blood of Christ shed for us. If you have not read the sermon, I encourage you to do so and to think it through.

Today I am posting some biblical resources that can help us in our suffering and sickness. In the sermon I stressed that while God desires all to be healed (as do we), at the same time we must acknowledge that God does not answer all our prayers for healing and that remains an enigma and mystery we must live with. But because God does not always answer our prayers for healing does not mean God is absent or does not love us. To the contrary, it is the consistent witness of both Scripture and the Church over time and culture that God can and does use our suffering to draw us closer to him to deepen our faith and dependence on his love and grace. These are not to be sneezed at.

In that spirit, below are some psalms that are perfect for the purpose of both crying out to God in our pain and fear and to ask God to draw us nearer to him so that we can find his love, strength, and comfort. In each of the psalms, substitute whatever is afflicting you for the mortal enemy to which the psalmist refers.

Make each of these psalms your ongoing prayer and return to them and other psalms of your choosing regularly. By God’s grace you will find that you are strengthened to meet the challenges at hand because God is stronger than anything that can afflict us.

PSALM 56

To the leader: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. Of David. A Miktam, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me;
    all day long foes oppress me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
    for many fight against me.
O Most High, when I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I am not afraid;
    what can flesh do to me?

All day long they seek to injure my cause;
    all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk,
    they watch my steps.
As they hoped to have my life,
    so repay them for their crime;
    in wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will retreat
    in the day when I call.
    This I know, that God is for me.
10 In God, whose word I praise,
    in the Lord, whose word I praise,
11 in God I trust; I am not afraid.
    What can a mere mortal do to me?

12 My vows to you I must perform, O God;
    I will render thank offerings to you.
13 For you have delivered my soul from death,
    and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

Psalm 57

Praise and Assurance under Persecution

To the leader: Do Not Destroy. Of David. A Miktam, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
    until the destroying storms pass by.
I cry to God Most High,
    to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me,
    he will put to shame those who trample on me.Selah
God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.

I lie down among lions
    that greedily devour human prey;
their teeth are spears and arrows,
    their tongues sharp swords.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
    Let your glory be over all the earth.

They set a net for my steps;
    my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my path,
    but they have fallen into it themselves.Selah
My heart is steadfast, O God,
    my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
    Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
    I will awake the dawn.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
    your faithfulness extends to the clouds.

11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
    Let your glory be over all the earth.

Psalm 61

Assurance of God’s Protection

To the leader: with stringed instruments. Of David.

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
    when my heart is faint.

Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me abide in your tent forever,
    find refuge under the shelter of your wings.Selah
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Prolong the life of the king;
    may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
    appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!

So I will always sing praises to your name,
    as I pay my vows day after day.

Psalm 62

Song of Trust in God Alone

To the leader: according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall never be shaken.

How long will you assail a person,
    will you batter your victim, all of you,
    as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence.
    They take pleasure in falsehood;
they bless with their mouths,
    but inwardly they curse.Selah

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.Selah

Those of low estate are but a breath,
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no confidence in extortion,
    and set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11 Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
12     and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.
For you repay to all
    according to their work.

Psalm 63

Comfort and Assurance in God’s Presence

A Psalm of David, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
    and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
    they shall be prey for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,
    for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

Dr. Scot McKnight: Wouldn’t it be cool?

Worth your read if you are interested in learning about the challenges of Bible translation.

How many ways can you understand that short statement? Is it referring to someone’s temperature as below average? Is it referring to someone’s attitude as aloof and impersonal? Is it referring to someone doing well under pressure? Is it referring to someone’s popularity? All of these are common understandings of the word “cool,” but only one would be the correct understanding in a specific situation. To determine which was correct, you would need to know something about the situation and the subject to determine the speaker’s intended meaning.

Bible translators face choices like this on a regular basis. As with many words in English, words in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek can have more than one meaning and only careful study of the context can determine the correct English word choice. The very common Hebrew word elohim can refer to the one true “God,” as in Genesis 1:1 and more than 2,300 other verses. But, it can also refer to pagan “gods,” as in Genesis 31:30 and more than 200 other verses. There is no built-in meaning to the Hebrew word elohim that is correct in every context.

Read it all.