Fr. Ric Bowser: Water and New Creation

Sermon delivered on Easter 5C, Sunday, April 24, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

There is no written text for today’s sermon (but it is nice to know that science is finally catching up to religion!). To listen to the audio podcast of it, click here.

Lectionary texts: Acts 11.1-18; Psalm 148.1-14; Revelation 21.1-6; John 13.31-35.

A Very Early Account of Why Christians Suffer Persecution

Below is a reading from a very early source—early 2nd century (the letter was written around 124AD). Not much has changed over the years, no?

Pay attention to several things. First, what would explain the Christians’ willingness to suffer? Mass delusion simply doesn’t cut it as an answer. Second, how would you explain Christians using their suffering as a badge of honor? Again, mass masochism doesn’t work. So what’s the power behind it all? Last, Notice how their faith gives them meaning and purpose of living, even under duress. Would that we tap into that kind of power today because it is still available to us!

The short answer to the above questions is of course Jesus Christ, raised from the dead and ascended into heaven where he rules over the cosmos and who is actively involved with his people and available to them in the power of the Spirit. The critics scoff and mock. But their mocking and scoffing are symptoms of closed minds and hard hearts. They will surely not have the last laugh. Check it out and see what you think.

iuChristians are indistinguishable from others either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of human beings. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Christians love all people, but all people persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the World, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the lofty and divinely appointed function of Christians, from which they are not permitted to excuse themselves.

Letter to Diognetus [c. 124]

Fr. Philip Sang: World Full of Love and Genuine Harmony for the Created Order

Sermon delivered on Easter 4C, Sunday, April 17, 2016 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH

There is no audio podcast of today’s sermon. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Lectionary texts: Acts 9.36-43; Psalm 23.1-6; Revelation 7.9-17; John 10.22-30.

From what we read from Revelation, it’s an image of the coming Kingdom – Heaven, the Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem. Call it what you will, it is an image of the final dawning of the new age – the climaxing of human history, and, strangely, it seems quite appropriate to be talking about it today.

The end of the world is becoming an increasingly popular topic of discussion amongst people from around the world.

It wasn’t long ago that people who went around saying, “the end is nigh” were seen as eccentric, if not downright stupid. Nowadays it doesn’t seem so stupid to say that,
It’s interesting, that if you speak about the Kingdom of God in modern Israel, you’ll find that people there today, like the people of first century Israel, seem to think about it entirely in terms of victory over their enemies, where­as In our culture, conversely, when we speak of Heaven and of the spiritual world, we tend to think almost exclusively in terms of our hopes for our own personal immortality!

Some commentators have suggested that there is indeed an obsession with immortality amongst today’s generation. We believe in ourselves so much that we think ‘we are such a wonderful generation; it is not possible that persons such as us could die’

My interest is in whether this contemporary quest for immortality has anything to do with the depiction of the Kingdom of God, given in today’s Bible reading.

Listen again…

After these things I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues, stand­ing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands; and they cry with a great voice, saying, Salvation unto our God who sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels were stand­ing round about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever.

What do we see when we look at this image? Victory? Immortality? I see first and foremost community.

I see an enormous community, drawn together from every nation – a great multitude that is extraordinarily comprehensive both in terms of its size and its variety. Everybody is represented there – an incredible variety of tribes and peoples and languages. ‘Red and yellow, black and white – all are precious in His sight’, and they’re all there, and they’re all one, in true unity with each other, and in true fellowship with their creator. Indeed, they are in worship. They stand around the throne, singing, Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb!”

This is a Biblical image of the world to come, and it stands there alongside other great visions of the future drawn from the Scriptures:

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together …They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11)

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Micah 4)

And here the same note is struck again in Revelation Chapter 7:

o They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their
shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of
life, and God will wipe away every tear from their
eyes.” (Revelation 7)

I believe that every society since the beginning of time has dreamt of a world that is full of love and where people live in genuine harmony with one another and with the rest of the created order. We dream of it, but the longer we live and the more we see, the less likely it appears that the world we live in is ever going to naturally evolve towards that end.

“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.””

This passage in Revelation came to light at a time when the church was dealing with a lot of pain and death through persecution, and when indeed every victory that they did win over evil only ever seemed to reveal another layer of evil behind it. And so God gave His people this image of the heavenly community, where those who were violated are now clean again – dressed in white, and joining together in joyful chorus, and they drink ‘from the springs of the water of life’ and ‘every tear is wiped away’

parallel Acts 9:36-43

Is there a hope of personal immortality in this image? Sure! We’re all built in to that great Heavenly scene. Here as elsewhere there is a recognition of the fact that God is more powerful than death, just as He is more powerful than all the forces of evil. As St Paul wrote,

“I am convinced that 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, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)

Is there a sense of triumphing over one’s enemies in this image? Sure! So long as we recognise that the enemies of God are ultimately not to be identified with any one ethnic or cultural group, any more than the people of God can be so narrowly defined. The enemy that is defeated in this picture is that great beast who rages against the people of God in every age.

What do we see in this image? I guess we can see all sorts of things, but the most central elements in this image surely are community, worship and healing – where the old wounds are bound up and the tears are wiped away, where we don’t study war no more because the earth is as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Let me conclude by simply reading this passage to you once again:

And there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching
heat;for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will
be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs
of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear
from their eyes.”

A Very Early Account of Ancient Christian Worship

One of our earliest accounts of how the second and third generation of Christians worshiped. How does it compare with how your congregation worships?

iuNo one may share the eucharist with us unless they believe that what we teach is true, unless they are washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of sins, and unless they live in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a human being of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilate for their nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: “Do this in memory of me. This is my body.” In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: “This is my blood.” The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or in the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us urging everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks as well as possible, and the people give their assent by saying: “Amen.” The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, the president takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

Justin, Martyr at Rome (ca. 167), First Apology, 66-67.

The Easter Effect

Sermon delivered on Easter 3C, Sunday, April 10, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 9.1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5.11-15; John 21.1-19.

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

The past two weeks we have looked carefully at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. We have seen that when God raised Jesus from the dead it signaled the turning point in history. No longer is sin and death our inevitable fate, at least for those of us who are God’s people in Jesus. We have seen that God’s good but sin-corrupted creation and its creatures matter to God and that they had better matter to us as well. We know this because in Jesus’ resurrection we are given a glimpse of God’s promised new world, where life reigns, not death, a world devoid of all suffering and evil, thanks be to God. Then last week we saw that we as God’s people have work to do, work empowered by the Holy Spirit himself. The resurrection never was meant to be about a private religious experience, designed to make us feel all warm and fuzzy about ourselves and our relationship with God. It has always been about God the Father healing and transforming the world by breaking the power of evil in and through the death and resurrection of his Son. Today, we are given a third look at Jesus’ resurrection, this time with an invitation to see what desired effect it should have on us, and this is what I want us to look at this morning.

In one way or another, all our lessons today point to the fact that everything is different as a result of Easter. We begin with John the Elder’s vision of the heavenly throne room in our epistle lesson. It is important for us to understand that this isn’t some vision of the future, but of the current reality in heaven. And what can we learn from John’s vision? First, that there is a reason for the joyful worship we are witnessing. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, has overcome the dark powers and destroyed their dominion over God’s creation and us. Not yet fully to be sure. That will have to wait until Jesus’ return. But the message is clear: Countless multitudes worship Jesus and celebrate his victory over the forces of evil won on the cross. And of course, Jesus’ resurrection announced that death, the ultimate evil, has been destroyed. That is why they worship Jesus the Lamb. And here is where we are confronted with a startling paradox. Jesus, the Lion of Judah, the strength of Judah, accomplished his victory over evil by his obedience to God’s will in and through his suffering and death (cf. Philippians 2.5-11). Jesus’ victory over evil was accomplished ostensibly through weakness, not conventional power as we all expected God to act. Jesus is the Passover Lamb sacrificed for us. This is Exodus language, folks, reminding us that in Jesus’ death we are delivered from our slavery to sin and death, thanks be to God! That is why Jesus is worshiped as God. That is why there is celebration in heaven right now. The victory, while not yet consummated, is won by the blood of the Lamb shed for us (and this is why it is so important to know God’s story contained in the Bible, our story, so that we recognize and learn the lessons its symbolic language wants to teach us).

This is the God the multitudes are worshiping in heaven. Is this the God you worship? Do you share the unequivocal belief of the multitudes that Jesus has conquered the dark powers and reigns over God’s vast creation? If you do, it must change you, and for the better. You realize that even in your own weakness, in your own insignificance, at least as the world defines both, Jesus is using you to help advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven. It means, for example, the next time you pray for that person you despise or pray for a seemingly hopeless situation, you can have confidence that Jesus is using your faithfulness in ways you can’t possibly see or understand to advance his kingdom. When you really believe that, I mean really believe that, you will discover a great power unleashed in your life, the power of God made known in suffering love. But it is a power made possible only in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And if you do not believe this, you can count on limping along through life, trying to use the conventional means of power to get what you want. Good luck with that; you’re gonna need it. This is the first Easter Effect we see in our lessons. We discover we have an indefatigable hope and joy as we follow the ways of Jesus to bring healing to his broken and sad world.

We turn next to the powerful story in our gospel lesson to see another dimension of the Easter Effect—prerequisite forgiveness. As we listen to John’s story we are somewhat perplexed by the setting because we remember that last week Jesus imparted the Spirit to his disciples and commissioned them for new work. So why are they back in Galilee and out fishing? Were they discouraged and lost? Were they waiting for further marching orders? We aren’t told. John simply tells us that Jesus appeared to his disciples again. As with Mary at the tomb, the disciples do not initially recognize their risen Lord. This  reminds us again that the resurrection will change us, this time physically. To be sure, there was continuity. The disciples knew it was Jesus, but no one dared ask him for sure. In telling us this, John reminds us again (and did you catch that this happens yet again at the dawn of a new day?) that there are things about the resurrection body we simply don’t understand. So don’t let their inability to initially recognize their risen Lord confuse or discourage you. Instead, rejoice that God’s got something in store for us in the New Creation that will simply blow our minds because it is so fantastic!

After feeding the apostles (how did Jesus get this food?), John turns our attention to some unfinished business between Peter and his Lord. Peter had brashly shot off his mouth, proclaiming his undying loyalty to his Lord, only to end up denying Jesus three times by a charcoal fire and weeping bitterly afterwards over doing so (John 13.36-38, 18.15-18, 25-27; Matthew 26.75). Each of us understands this background better than we’d like to admit because we have all been there and done that, each in our own way. But now here is the risen Jesus, again by a charcoal fire. Perfect. He asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. Three, the number for completeness, and the exact number of times Peter had denied his Lord.

Do you recognize the beauty in this story? Jesus is doing the hard but necessary work to restore Peter so that Peter can get on with the work Jesus calls him to do. Notice carefully that Jesus does not say to Peter, “There, there. It’s all right. Let’s sing Kumbaya together.” No, Jesus tells him to get to work! Here is a love and forgiveness that is bound to choke up even the hardest person if we grasp what Jesus is doing. He is healing a memory of Peter that absolutely had to be healed. Imagine the guilt and failure Peter felt. He’d run his mouth and then stuck his foot squarely in it by his failure of character. He had denied the man he loved, the most wonderful man he had ever known, and there was no chance to reboot. But now unbelievably there was! Jesus doesn’t browbeat his chastened disciple. He gently restores him. Once again, there’s no glitz or excitement or outright show of power. Instead, Jesus cuts right to the chase and in doing so, equips Peter to be his shepherd on his behalf. Imagine that. Imagine the release Peter must have felt. His Lord, the man he had denied, was now entrusting him for some critically important work on his behalf and for the sake of his fledgling church. On one level Peter was eminently unqualified to do the work. But Peter had found the power of forgiveness and a healed memory that transcended whatever was in him that would disqualify him to do the work.

One of the things that must occur in the New Creation is that our memories must be healed of all their hurt and rancor and whatever else that weighs us down. Otherwise, there would still be evil in the New Creation, and we are promised there will be none of that at all. Here we see another preview of coming attractions in the healing of our memories and the forgiveness of our sins, again made possible because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us and because Jesus is now Lord. This is another reason why everything is different as a result of Easter!

Have you found the healing love and forgiveness that our Lord offers to each of us? It is offered freely to everyone! If not, there is no way you can possibly do the work Jesus calls you to do, whatever that is, because your guilt will cripple you and prevent you from offering and embodying Jesus’ healing love and forgiveness to others. You will not be able to forgive your enemies as Jesus has forgiven you if you have not embraced his tender love and mercy for you and let him heal your memories. Again this is all made possible because of the blood of the Lamb shed for us and because Jesus is alive and reigns over all God’s creation, making his healing love and forgiveness available to you right now and on a continuous basis. And he calls each of us to do something about it in response, to embody and share that love and forgiveness to others. As we have seen, every time we do so, we have confidence that Jesus is using our efforts, messy and broken as they (and we) can be at times, to advance his kingdom on earth as in heaven. But we cannot possibly forgive and retain sins without first repenting and accepting the love and forgiveness of God made known to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is the essential story of Paul in our NT lesson. Here is Paul, who breathed threats and murder against God’s people, forgiven and healed by our Lord Jesus in his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. At first it doesn’t look that way, but that is what’s  going on. It was such a landmark event that Luke reports it three separate times in Acts! And in Paul we see the Easter Effect in spades. He is forgiven and healed so that he can suffer much for Jesus’ people, the Church. We are not called to do the scope of Paul’s work, but we are called to imitate Paul in our own work on behalf of God’s people and the world.

So where are you in these stories? Wherever you are, remember why we are being told these stories. Jesus is Lord and because of his death and resurrection we are a people with a future and a hope, a people who are empowered to do the work our Lord calls us to do. We won’t always see results that we hope for or desire. But it’s not our job to bring in the kingdom. That’s Jesus’ job. Our job, thanks be to God, is to continue Jesus’ work, despite being the messy and broken creatures we are. So let’s get busy, my beloved, and continue the work Jesus calls us to do. Let’s also find time to celebrate the fact that Jesus is risen and we are his new creations, despite who we can sometimes be. Remember, all work and no play makes Jesus’ people dull because we forget why we do what we do when we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. So let us always remember and celebrate the fact that we have Good News, now and for all eternity, precisely because we worship and adore our crucified and risen Lord. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Fr. Dwight Longenecker: The Pope’s Exhortation—A Parish Priest’s Perspective

I don’t agree with a lot of this man’s thinking and consider him a bit bombastic about the Catholic Church at times. But he is spot on about this, especially in the scenarios he presents. See what you think.

In the wake of yesterday’s publication of Amoris Laetitia allow me to weigh in with a parish priest’s perspective. In the midst of a busy day in the parish I didn’t actually have time to read the exhortation. Neither did I have time last night or this morning. However, I have read some of the online commentary, and I have read the paragraphs deemed controversial and I will read the whole thing over the weekend.

Am I allowed, therefore, to be just a teeny bit annoyed at all the armchair experts, Facebook moral theologians and Monday morning priests who have felt it their moral duty and obligation to go online just as soon as possible to point out the Holy Father’s errors and correct the successor of Peter?

What strikes me about this document is that it is first and foremost a pastoral exhortation. While it fully affirms the traditional teaching of the church regarding marriage it also makes a valiant attempt to deal with the messiness of real life. With respect to all the dear laypeople, the armchair experts, the theoreticians, amateur theologians and experts in church law–it is we priests who actually deal with the real life situations of ordinary people. We’re the ones who have to help them match up their lives with the teachings of the church.

It was Jesus who knelt in the dust with the woman taken in adultery. It was the scribes and Pharisees who stood at a distance accusing her of breaking the law. His response to them and his response to her, it seems to me, is exactly what Amoris Laetitia is all about. I just wonder why the Holy Father didn’t simply refer all of us to that text and say. “There it is. Read it and weep.” Instead he took the trouble as a loving Father in God to lay out for the clergy and faithful some principles in helping to navigate the perfect storm that is modern marriage.

Read it all.

Whom to Obey?

Sermon delivered on Easter 2C, Sunday, April 3, 2016, 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: Acts 5.27-32; Psalm 150.1-6; Revelation 1.4-8; John 20.19-31.

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

Last week we looked at why the Resurrection of Jesus signaled the turning point in history. We saw that in our Lord’s death and resurrection, God dealt decisively with our sin that alienates us from him and each other, and the death it causes. We also saw that God dealt a decisive blow to the evil that seems to run rampant in our world, unlikely as that appears to us at times. No longer is death our inevitable destiny, but rather new life, new creation. In dealing with our sins on the cross and raising Jesus from the dead, God demonstrated to us that we and his creation matter, and that he is good to his promise that one day he will restore fully his good but sin-corrupted and evil-despoiled creation and creatures. Today, I want us to continue to explore what that means for us as Jesus’ body, the Church.

In our gospel lesson this morning, John continues to flesh out the ramifications of his new creation theology that he introduced last week. For a second time he tells us that it is the first day of the new week, the eighth day, the beginning of God’s promised new creation. The disciples are still in hiding because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, a clear sign that Jesus’ resurrection was not yet their new reality. And here John gives us another glimpse of what the new creation looks like. Jesus suddenly appears to them behind locked doors and they are apparently terrified. To calm them down, Jesus tells them, “Peace be with you,” one logical outworking of his cry on the cross, “It is finished!”. Because of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection, the disciples and all who are in Jesus now have peace with God. As our NT lesson makes clear, this peace doesn’t mean there will not be trouble in the lives of Jesus’ followers, but rather we will have the peace of God, the peace that passes all understanding, to help sustain and comfort us in the difficult work our Lord calls us to do. More about that in a moment.

As we saw last week, we notice that the risen Lord has a physical body. Despite the fact that he suddenly appears to his disciples behind locked doors, they can hear his voice and touch him. To allay their fears and prove he is not a ghost or some imposter, our Lord shows them his wounds from the cross. John is once again reminding us that in the new creation there is both continuity from our mortal life (Jesus still bears his wounds) and discontinuity (Jesus’ body is able to do things that our mortal bodies cannot). Seeing and realizing that it was their Lord, the disciples are overjoyed, just as Jesus told them they would be (John 16.20). The reality of their risen Lord had finally taken hold. Why wouldn’t they be overjoyed to see him?

But John wants us to see that Jesus’ resurrection is much more than having personal joy, important as that is. The resurrection is not primarily about bolstering a private religion or personal spiritual experience. No, it testifies to the truth about God and his power to heal and redeem his world. As Peter told the Jewish authorities in our NT lesson, they had to testify to the historical truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection because both were the manifestation and culmination of God’s eternal plan to heal and restore his good creation hijacked by human sin and the dark powers behind our sin. This was the point of John telling us about Thomas. If nothing else, Thomas was a realist and he knew that dead people didn’t come alive again. He had to see for himself before he could believe such a fantastic story. Whistling through the graveyard about Jesus simply wouldn’t do. His faith had to be grounded in historical reality.

John tells us further that this is why he chose these signs to share with us, that we too might believe and have confidence that our faith is grounded, not in delusional or wishful thinking, but in historical reality. Jesus really did die and Jesus really was raised to life by God the Father. History was forever changed as a result and God’s new creation had begun. And as John the Elder reminds us in our epistle lesson, God is not finished with us yet. God has not only acted decisively on our behalf in the past, but continues to act on our behalf in the present, in the crucified and risen Christ through the power of the Spirit, and will bring to completion his saving work when our Lord returns in great power and glory. All this reminds us necessarily that our faith in Christ is not based on a pipe dream and that we have a real future and a hope.

It is critical that we understand this because as all our lessons testify today, we have work to do. God did not raise Jesus from the dead so that he could retire to a sunny beach to sip margaritas all day while working on his eternal tan. No, our Lord is not only risen and alive, but ascended into heaven where he rules over the cosmos until all his enemies are defeated. This means that the worldly rulers are not really the ones in control. Neither are the dark powers. Sure, it seems to us and our limited perspective that this is often the case. But as our lessons, along with the rest of the NT, emphatically testify, looks in this case are deceiving. Jesus is alive and rules over the cosmos. We can’t currently see him sitting at God’s right hand, NT language meaning that Jesus is Lord and King, but we can believe this precisely because his death and resurrection really happened in human history. So what does that mean for us?

Again, it means we have work to do. The resurrection doesn’t give us license to sit around and act snotty, gloating over the fact that we are saved while others are not. As we have seen, it is not an invitation to a private religion or spirituality where we commune with our risen Lord while we withdraw from the world and its affairs. No, as John reminds us, Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate reminder to us that God is at work healing and restoring his creation to its original goodness and beyond. And even more shockingly, he calls us to be part of that healing work! Jesus tells us this himself. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” This is the point behind the resurrection.

We hear these words from Jesus and we want to say back to him, “Are you crazy, Jesus? Only God can forgive sins. I am not qualified to do that. And to retain sins? No way, dude! Who would even dare consider doing that?” So what is going on here? What does our Lord mean by this? First, it means that God is consistent with us. Recall that God created us in his image to be wise stewards over his good creation and reflect God’s glory out into it. So this call for us to continue Jesus’ healing and saving work should not surprise us. We’ve been called to do that all along. We just didn’t know how to do it (or refused to do so). In telling us that we as the Church have been empowered to forgive sins, Jesus is reminding us that we do so under his authority and ultimately under God’s authority. Just as God became human to die for our sins and break the power of evil over his good creation, so now Jesus gives us the authority to announce repentance for the forgiveness of sins to the world, just as the apostles did in our NT lesson. Notice this got them in big trouble with the ruling authorities. But notice too that even those who were responsible for Jesus’ death could find healing and forgiveness if they chose to believe in the risen Lord and accept the forgiveness that is available to all in his Name. There is nothing we have done that can’t be forgiven, thanks be to God! And this is our primary task as Jesus’ followers, to announce in his Name that repentance leads to forgiveness of sins.

But we are also called to warn the world that refusal to take sin seriously, the refusal to put its hope and trust in the crucified and risen Lord, will inevitably lead to death. We are not to pronounce this out of some kind of haughty self-righteousness because we too are in desperate need of Jesus’ forgiveness and healing. We respond to Jesus’ call because we love people and want them to find the healing and forgiveness in Jesus that we have found. How ironic it is that we have been kowtowed into silence by our culture in the name of “tolerance.” How remaining silent on an issue that is literally a matter of life and death represents tolerance and love has never been adequately explained. There is only one Name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4.13) and that Name is Jesus the Messiah, our crucified, risen, and ascended Lord. This is why we must be clear about our faith and regain our voice and boldness because no other religion offers the hope and promise that the Christian faith offers.

But who among us is up for this task? Again, John’s brilliance as a theologian shines through. He tells us that before Jesus gives us this command to represent him in the world, a task for which none of us is qualified, our Lord breathed on the apostles and imparted the Spirit to them. John uses the same verb that the writer of Genesis 2.7 used when describing how the Lord breathed life into Adam. Here John reminds us that we are not doing Jesus’ work on our own. We do it under his authority and in the power of the Spirit. When we receive the Spirit, we are slowly and often messily changed into new creations so that we can do the work Jesus commissions us to do as his body. And let’s be clear, we are to do this work together primarily. We do so, confident that the risen and ascended Lord whom we love, worship, and obey, will use our imperfect efforts to help in the process of bringing in the kingdom on earth as in heaven. So whom will you choose to obey? Our risen Lord or the pseudo leaders and the powers behind them that tell us to obey is crazy? Do we want peace and real power or chaos and madness?

This is our challenge as God’s people at St. Augustine’s, especially during the 50 days of Easter. How do we announce forgiveness of sins to others (and to ourselves, when needed)? How do we retain the sins of others? There are many ways, but consider these two possibilities. First, this work starts in-house, by how we treat each other. The world is paying attention to this and our commission starts right here. I think overall, we are being faithful to this aspect of Jesus’ commission to us. We do indeed treat each other as the forgiven people in Christ that we are.

Second, this gets back to my charge to ,you last week. How will we party during this Eastertide that can announce forgiveness and retention of sins? The former is easier than the latter because we all rightly shy away from being self-righteous and proud moralizers. Finding ways to celebrate our healing and forgiveness can provide the appropriate gateways to talk about the deadly consequences of sin as well. When we make our joy in Christ manifestly self-evident, it gives us a way to talk about the reality of evil, sin, and death, and how God has chosen to deal with it all. So let us not shy away from our work. Let us remember that though this call is difficult and will be met with resistance, we do not engage in it on our own. We do so in the power of the Spirt and under the authority of Jesus our Lord. So let us be bold in our work because we really do know that we have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Kostenberger and Taylor: April 3, AD33

It certainly is plausible. See what you think.

In our new book, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived, we assume but do not argue for a precise date of Jesus’s crucifixion. Virtually all scholars believe, for various reasons, that Jesus was crucified in the spring of either a.d. 30 or a.d. 33, with the majority opting for the former. (The evidence from astronomy narrows the possibilities to a.d. 27, 30, 33, or 34). However, we want to set forth our case for the date of Friday, April 3, a.d. 33 as the exact day that Christ died for our sins.

To be clear, the Bible does not explicitly specify the precise date of Jesus’s crucifixion and it is not an essential salvation truth. But that does not make it unknowable or unimportant. Because Christianity is a historical religion and the events of Christ’s life did take place in human history alongside other known events, it is helpful to locate Jesus’s death—as precisely as the available evidence allows—within the larger context of human history.

Read it all.

The Resurrection: History’s Turning Point

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday C, March 27, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; John 20.1-18.

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

Today is Easter Sunday, the day when we as God’s people in Jesus celebrate his mighty resurrection from the dead. It is quite simply the turning point in history. But why? Sadly in the last 50-100 years, the Church has done a terrible job in teaching its people about the resurrection so that there are all kinds of screwy ideas about it. I suspect many, if pressed, could not articulate what the gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ really is, and as a result we are left impoverished as God’s family in Jesus. So today I want to remind us why Easter matters, not only to us as Christians, but to the whole world, and why it is the turning point in history.

Paul gives us the reason in our epistle lesson. Alluding to the strange and haunting story in Genesis 3.1-19 that we read at the Easter Vigil of how human sin and rebellion thoroughly corrupted God’s good and beautiful creation, opening the door for evil to enter God’s good world and bringing death to us as God’s image-bearing creatures, Paul tells us what we already know all too well. We live in a corrupted world beset by sin and evil, which leads inevitably to our death. To be sure, most of us find pockets of happiness when life seems good. But then disaster strikes, whether in our personal lives or in our world, and we are reminded otherwise. Without some dramatic intervention on our behalf, sin and corruption of all kinds is our lot and death is our destiny. How do you like this joyous Easter sermon so far? Pretty uplifting, isn’t it?

Enter the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. As Paul further reminds us, when God raised Jesus from the dead, the final Great Reversal has begun. Death is no longer our destiny. Yes, barring the return of our Lord Jesus in our lifetime, we will all die. But we will not remain dead forever. Like our Lord Jesus, those of us who are united to him in baptism and faith are destined for new bodies patterned after his (cf. Romans 6.3-5). More about that in a moment. Elsewhere Paul and the other NT writers talk about how on the cross, God dealt with our sins and destroyed evil (see, e.g., Romans 8.1-3; Colossians 1.18-23, 2.15). But without Jesus’ resurrection, they could not have made such bold, audacious claims.

So let’s be clear about the Christian Good News here. News, of course, is about something that has happened, either for good or ill, and as a result everything changes. The news of the terror attacks on Brussels, for example, means that for those directly involved (and those of us indirectly involved), everything is different. Loved ones have been murdered. Our sense of security is diminished. This is news, bad news. The Good News about which Paul and the other NT writers speak is the resurrection. Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, the dark powers and principalities had apparently usurped control of God’s good world from God and were ruling over it, corrupting it and us, and causing massive suffering and misery, mysterious and enigmatic as that is. Sin and death were the order of the day. Since we all have sinned, and since sin leads to death (Romans 3.23, 6.16), this was our awful fate.

But now because of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, everything is different. And here we need to pay close attention to what Paul tells us because it helps us establish appropriate expectations about what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through the resurrection of Jesus. Paul tells us there is a proper order to God regaining control over his good creation and redeeming it and us. First came the resurrection of Jesus. And let’s be clear about what resurrection is. Resurrection means bodily resurrection. It refers to the transformation of our mortal bodies so that they share some of the properties of our old mortal bodies but also have totally new ones. For example, the risen Jesus was able to eat and drink with his disciples. They saw the wounds he bore on the cross. They were able to touch him and hear him, just like we are able to do with other living people. But there was a difference about Jesus’ resurrected body. He was able to appear and disappear at will. Initially his risen body was in a form such that the first eyewitnesses were not always able to recognize him. He was able to pass through solid objects such as walls and closed doors, none of which our mortal bodies can do (cf. Luke 24.36-43; John 20.19-20). More importantly, as the NT writers make clear, Jesus’ resurrected body was no longer subject to decay or death (see, e.g., Romans 6.9). Contrast this, for example, to Lazarus’ body after Jesus resuscitated him from the dead. Lazarus would eventually die again. Jesus never will. As Paul and John both tell us, each in his own way, Jesus remains alive and reigns over God’s creation until he returns again to finish the work of new creation that he started with his death and resurrection. This is the first step in God’s unexpected and startling plan to rescue his world and us from evil, sin, and death: Jesus is the first (or as Pauls says, the first fruits) to be raised from the dead.

And those of us who are baptized into Christ and have faith in him, will one day experience the same destiny as our Lord at the general resurrection of the dead. Before that, we will all die and go immediately to rest with our Lord Jesus (cf. Luke 23.43; Philippians 1.23). In other words, we will survive our bodily death. But this is not our resurrection. Our resurrection will come only when Christ returns and God raises and transforms our mortal bodies. Only then, as Paul reminds us, will death be defeated. This is why we need to be clear in our thinking about what resurrection really is all about. It doesn’t refer to life after death. Even our loved ones who have died in the Lord are still dead. They are no longer with us. We cannot see or hear or touch them. They are dead, albeit resting with their Lord in heaven. But when the Lord returns, those of us who are united to Christ will have our mortal, decayed bodies raised to new life and we will receive new bodies patterned after Jesus’ body, never to die again, never to be afflicted again, thanks be to God! Amen? As Bishop Tom Wright says, resurrection refers to life after life after death. Our new bodies will be part of God’s new creation in which evil, sin, and death are vanquished forever and we are restored to our original purpose of being God’s faithful image-bearing stewards over his new creation, just like God originally intended for us.

This is why Paul says we are most to be pitied if there is no resurrection of the dead. If that’s true, then Christ was not raised and we will therefore not be raised. To live this mortal life without the hope of new embodied life in God’s new creation forever makes us pitiable people indeed. It means we are living a lie and a delusion. It means we are suffering needlessly for a dead guy who in no way rules over this world. It means we are trying to put to death our sinful nature when we should be trying to grab all the gusto we can because tomorrow we will be dead and gone. This is why Jesus’ death and resurrection are Good News. God has intervened decisively in his good but corrupted creation to break the power of evil, sin, and death, and to bring about new life, new creation that is forever good, beautiful, and uncorrupted. If you cannot find meaning and purpose for living in this hope and promise, I frankly don’t know of anything that will ever give you meaning and purpose for living. This is why the resurrection is the turning point of history and this is why we as Christians must be clear in our thinking about it so that we can embrace it and let it fill our lives with meaning, purpose, and joy.

John tells us essentially the same thing in his gospel if we have ears to hear and minds to grasp his brilliant and sophisticated theology. Recall how John begins his gospel—In the beginning… This, of course, is patterned after the creation narratives found in Genesis 1. How do they start? In the beginning, God… And in John’s gospel we hear something very similar—In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. Fast forward to the crucifixion narrative we heard on Good Friday. Jesus is on the cross and his final words are, “It is finished!” (John 19.30). But what was finished? John tells us in his chronology and overarching narrative. In Jesus’ death God has dealt with our sins and the evil that has corrupted his world. Evil, sin, and death have been dealt a decisive blow in Jesus’ death on the cross and God has reclaimed control over his creation, unlikely as that appears at times, all because of Jesus’ saving and healing death on the cross.

John goes on to tell us that Jesus was then laid in a newly-hewn tomb. And on what day did that happen? The sixth day, the day before the Sabbath rest or seventh day. Just like God rested from his work on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2.1-3), Jesus rested from his redemptive work on the Sabbath. Now in today’s gospel lesson, John makes it a point to tell us that the story continues early in the morning on the first day of the week, the eighth day, the day when God’s new creation bursts forth with the raising of Jesus from the dead. Note the same motifs we have just talked about. Mary comes to the tomb to anoint her Lord’s dead body. She doesn’t come there expecting to find Jesus alive. She comes there to take care of the dead. That is why she is so perplexed about finding an empty tomb. In all likelihood it meant that Jesus’ body had been victimized by grave robbers, not that he was raised from the dead. Peter and the beloved disciple are just as perplexed in finding the empty tomb with its grave clothes neatly folded. John tells us the beloved disciple believed, but not what he believed. Surely it wasn’t that Jesus was raised from the dead. Otherwise why would they have returned home?

Notice too that Mary does not recognize our Lord when he first appears to her. She assumes he is the gardener, and here we see John’s brilliance shine forth again. Think back to the first gardeners of God’s original creation. Adam and Eve took care of paradise before their sin got them expelled. Here Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener, but in one sense she is quite correct. Here is Jesus, the new gardener and person responsible for the beginning of God’s new creation in which human beings will once again be able to live and care for paradise. This is hardly simplistic theology, my beloved. Notice too, that the story John tells us does not make much sense without our knowledge and understanding of the larger story of God’s creation, the devastating impact of human sin on it, and God’s subsequent plan to heal and redeem it and us through the family of Abraham and his ultimate descendant, Jesus the Messiah. And like Paul, John too alludes to the fact that Jesus will ascend to the Father to assume his rightful rule as Lord over all God’s creation. In telling Mary not to hold onto him, Jesus seems to be telling her that from now on, she will have to get used to interacting with him in a different way than which she was accustomed because he will no longer be physically present to her after he has ascended into heaven. But please do notice that she was able to touch him. This is resurrection.

So what should we take away from all this? Several things, but I mention three here. First, on a personal level our Lord’s resurrection reminds us that we and our loved ones who have died in Christ have a future and a hope. Our destiny is not death or a disembodied eternity, but rather new embodied life with new and meaningful work to do as God’s faithful stewards. It means that one day we will be able to embrace our loved ones again, to hear their voice, and feel their touch. It means restored health and vitality and endless goodness and beauty. I can’t speak for you, but that future is much more appealing to me than some Platonic, disembodied spiritual existence where we float on clouds and play harps for all eternity. Boring.

Second, on a broader scale, the resurrection of Jesus means that creation matters to God. We matter to God. We know this because he has come to us in the person of Jesus to heal and redeem his world and us, and has given us a glimpse of his new world in Jesus’ resurrected body. This means that creation and people had better matter to us as well. It simply won’t do to be lousy stewards of God’s good creation for the sake of our own personal aggrandizement. It simply won’t do to ignore human suffering and need when we are in the position to do something about it. Easter reminds us that creation and God’s creatures matter to God and they’d better matter to us as well as God’s image-bearing creatures.

Last, Easter issues a clarion call to us to learn to live like the truly human beings God created us to be. That means we must learn to live like Jesus lived. As we have seen, the final redemption of the world has begun with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it is not yet consummated. That will come only when Jesus returns. So what to do in the meantime? Sit around and act snotty while we contemplate our navels? Hardly. No, our Lord calls us as his family to embody his healing love and presence in the world, which means we must take seriously his command to us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. To be sure, we are people with a real future and a hope, a future and a hope grounded in history, and it is critical that we understand this. We are not talking wishful thinking. We are talking history. We have Good News. Jesus’ death and resurrection really happened so we have a real future and a hope. But we still live in a world where evil is not yet dead and sin still remains. As we live our lives faithfully to Jesus, this means that we will run into suffering and opposition for his name’s sake, just the way he did. But we dare not lose hope or courage or our joy, precisely because we are people of hope. We are a resurrection people and we must live accordingly to bring the healing love of God to the world around us and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. We are living on this side of the turning point of history. God has reestablished his rule in and through Jesus. We sang it in our hymn, This is My Father’s World.

That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world, why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King, let the heavens ring!
God reigns, let the earth be glad!

What an appropriate hymn to sing on Easter Sunday!

So let us resolve to put to death in the power of the Spirit all that is within us that corrupts and dehumanizes us. This is not an easy thing to do and we are promised that we will suffer as a result of our new way of living because it reminds the world that its ways are corrupt and evil, and the world will try to whack us because of that. But think of it this way. Remember that our trials and tribulations for the Lord’s sake remind us that we are preparing to live in God’s new world when it comes in full, with it’s promise of new bodily life and perfect truth and beauty, where suffering, sorrow, and death are no more. May we therefore resolve to embrace our Easter hope and live faithfully to Christ, precisely because we are resurrection people who have Good News to share with God’s hurting and suffering world. To be sure, our faithfulness will not always bear immediate or even tangible results. That’s where faith comes in. But we are promised that to pattern our lives after our crucified and risen Lord ensures that resurrection is our future, not death. Let that hope sustain us as we attempt to live faithfully to our Lord.

In closing, this is why we must celebrate and party like it is the eschaton (end times) during these next 50 days of Easter and this is my charge to you this morning. What are ways we can celebrate God’s victory over evil, sin, and death and announce to the world that God’s new creation has been launched? How can we be signs of God’s new creation with an unmistakable and infectious joy? Most of us did Lent pretty well and that is to be commended. But this is Eastertide, the 50 days where we celebrate the beginning of God’s new world and our part in it, both now and in the future! How can we let other people in on the Good News so that they might stop and ask us why we do what we do and why we are so doggone happy in doing it. Whatever that looks like—and we need to have an ongoing conversation about this—let us do it with joy, hope, faith, and power, the power of people who have been healed and redeemed and called to be with Jesus in this world and the new world to come. During this Eastertide, therefore, let us live and work and speak as people who know unmistakably that we have Good News, not only for our sake but also for the sake of the world, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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