One God, Three Loves – Trinity Sunday 2019

Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

John 16:12-15
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Sermon Text

Today we as the Church universal celebrate the Holy Trinity. The mysterious unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons in one being, one being made of one substance, true God of true God from eternity to eternity. The Trinity is something which is not often directly spoken about from the pulpit – except to say that it exists and that it is important. It is too easy a thing to get wrong, and oftentimes those of us standing behind the pulpit are afraid that in our hubris we will mislead rather than enlighten our congregations.

Believing in the triune God as we do, I hope that our time today will enlighten us all, and we will learn a little bit more about the God we love. That the Spirit is present among us in such a way that even when our discussion inevitably falls short in describing the way that God lives, works, and loves – it still will bear good fruit. Let us trust together, that this work of the Spirit will be evident in our time together.

Our discussion of the Trinity begins in the Gospel of John, the wordiest and most confusing of the gospels. Whenever John described Jesus, he was not afraid to do so as if the person reading fully understood what he meant. He throws around complex formulas of how God is one with Christ is one with the Spirit are all present with us and far away, as if it was so obvious that a child could understand what he meant.

In particular our passage for today tackles the way in which God relates through Jesus, and by extension, how we relate to God. God the Father, the capital L-O-R-D of the Old Testament is unknowable to us. The invisible Spirit described earlier in John, invisible to our eyes and worshipped without idols or images. That we know God at all is only through God’s mercy, through the giving of God’s Spirit to the prophets in the Old Testament, and to all of us now.

When we accept Christ into our life, we receive the Holy Spirit. Even the most unworthy among us is transformed in an instant into a temple of God. The work of Christ on the cross is more than enough to make us worthy of this reception, not because of anything we have done – but because of God’s intense love for us. The prophets of Old would have the spirit come upon them and leave them, but we are assured that while there may be times the Spirit leads us more directly, we always have the Holy Spirit working within us.

This Spirit was how Christ, incarnate in a limited human body, was able to commune with his Father in heaven. Praying in the desert, calling on the power of his triune existence to work wonders, all this was done in the power of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that the Holy Spirit is only a divine telephone, but that the Spirit is a person who bridges gaps. When Christ was on Earth, he was still near to God, because the Spirit inhabited him, the Spirit conceived him, the Spirit never left him until his work was completed on Golgotha.

God works completely together with Godself. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit never take turns out of step from one another. When the Spirit visited Mary, it did so with Christ and the Father. When Christ healed the sick, it was done with the Father and in the Spirit. When the Father declared, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.” Christ was not surprised, and the Spirit endorsed the messaged whole heartedly.

This is what is meant in today’s Scripture. Christ sends the Spirit to the disciples through the Pentecost event. The Spirit dwells in the Church, telling them all the instructions which originate from the Father and the Son. Christ is glorified through the Spirits revelation; The Father is glorified in the revelation of Christ and the teachings of the Spirit. The mutual relationship, the sharing of glory, all these things originate not only because one member of the Trinity supports the other, but because all three work for the mutual benefit of the other. God is three persons, but they are never divided.

Paul, in our other scripture, put things a bit more clearly – something which he was surprisingly good at. Paul describes we of the Church as having received Peace with the Father because of our faith in Christ. Whatever kept us away from, or at odds with, the Father is erased by the work of the Son. The Son, in suffering and dying, acted in solidarity with us, this transformed our suffering from a mindless thing we are put through, to something that potentially could unite us to God – not by design, but because God was willing to suffer beside us. Finally, all this was made possible because the Holy Spirit poured out love into our hearts. We would not know the work of God, we would not respond to the Gospel of Christ, if the Spirit did not first open up our hearts to that message.

The Spirit initiates our contact with God, because the Son died for our sins, to reconcile us to the Father. Are we confused enough? It is perfectly ok if we are. We are dealing with the infinite, the indescribable, and the utterly worshipped God of creation. We do not believe in a God that neatly fits into a box, or three boxes, or one triangular box with three spaces in it. We believe in a God that is bigger, more wonderful, and more magnificent than we can imagine.

Now, at this point the question necessarily arises. We have talked about theology, we have talked about how God works together at all times which, by the way, is called the communicatio idiomatum by those who like to make simple concepts a bit more complicated with Latin. Having established that such a thing exists though, we can now begin to translate the work of God into our lives with one another.

What stands out in how God interacts with each member of the Trinity is the way that they work together for the good of one another. The Father glorifies the Son glorifies the Spirit. The Father loves the Son loves the Spirit. We in the Church must too model this way of living together. Do we act together to benefit one another? Do we try to unite, not necessarily in opinion or in preference, but in mission and in love? That is what the Trinity, in its simplest understanding means for us – that we are to work together in love to love one another.

There is no fighting for supremacy in the Godhead. There is no arguing over who could do what job the best, but there is humility and there is a willingness to listen. The Spirit listens to the Father, the Son listens to the Spirit, the Father answers the Son, and so on and so on. When we work together, imagine if rather than fighting to be the hero of the mission, or to have work done our way, we listened and learned and loved.

There are two metaphors which, while not perfect, capture what the Divine work can look like in the Church. The first is that of a dance. I, when I was much smaller and a bit more energetic, was a dancer. The key to any piece was knowing that you were only as important as the role you were given. Among dancers of equal status, it did not matter if you took a back seat in one movement, because you would later become the centerpiece of another. The day for every dancer came in which they were under the spotlight, but each member was necessary to complete the dance.

The second imagery is perhaps more suitable for today, and that is one of a family. Specifically, a family in which the child is an adult and therefore on a fairly equal playing field with their parents. The Child defers to the experience and authority of the parent, the parent respects the autonomy of the child, but ideally the two work together – not one fighting to control the other, but so that the two are both happy in community with one another.

We of the church are given a difficult job. We are not only to love those who are easy to love – our family, our friends – but the most difficult people – coworkers, unpleasant neighbors, even the people we don’t like in the pew across the church. The family of the faithful is not the perfect unity of the trinity, even on its best day – but it is supposed to aspire toward it. The work of God in our life is the only thing that allows for it.

Christ sent the Spirit to dwell among us, we are filled with the Love of God. We can produce among one another the same Love that God has felt from before creation. The love that eternally begets the Son and sends forth the Spirit. The Love that was willing to die on Calvary and the Love that brought our savior back three days later. Do we love our neighbors? Do we love the poor? Do we love the sick? Do we love those who are different than us politically and culturally? Do we love those of other races and nationalities?

That God exists in community, not as three copies of the same person, but three distinct persons in one, means that we must love the distinct people around us. Especially those that are in the body of Christ which we call the Church. If we believe that we are literally subsumed somehow into Christ, then we cannot live in discord or in hate of one another. If we hate other Christians, if we let ourselves get caught up in worldly conflicts without substance, then we are not imitators of God, and we glorify only ourselves.

What we must aspire to, and what our discussion ends on today, is the love which God shows every day. Every day you wake up, regard it as the Son giving us life on Easter. Every time you pray, as the Spirit being poured upon you at Pentecost, and every time you show another person love, as the Father opening his arms the same way he did when you first believed. Only if we can resemble the community which God innately is, can we truly become a Church rooted in the work and the love of Christ. – Amen.

The Witnesses of the Ascension – Lectionary 06/02/2019

Luke 24:44-49

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Acts 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Sermon Text

Are we standing on a road looking up? When Jesus talked to the disciples outside of Bethany, he promised them the Spirit, he gave them a charge to be witnesses of the Gospel in al the world, and the moment he ascended… They stood there, looking up. How long would they have stood there? How long would they have waited for Christ to come back down and “restore the Kingdom.”?

There is a popular saying in the church today that we often become,“ So heavenly minded that we can do no earthly good.” The church has always had to balance the now and the later, the Kingdom of God that is and the Kingdom of God that will be. However, in saying that we are standing on the road outside of Bethany , I do not want us to be left for a moment thinking it is bad to be waiting for Christ. If we are honest with ourselves, we can see that in the same way we can be so heavenly minded we cease to do earthly good, we also can become so worldly in our understanding that we lose the power of the ascension.

When the angels at the end of our scripture speak to the disciples, the disciples are caught up in a moment of adoration, not in idleness. They have seen Jesus miraculously taken up to be with the Father, something so holy and mysterious has just happened so that they must praise God. Luke tells this story in such a way that the ascension is directly tied to worship, “They were continuously in the temple blessing God.”

No one will say that it is sinful to worship God, and I fear that we often in our discussion of what is worship of God what is work for the Kingdom of God create an unnecessary dichotomy. When we gather together in a church and praise God, then we are not doing any less a work of the kingdom than when we feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Ranking the work of the church so that one act is better than another is not helpful. However, again, we must acknowledge that we are called to serve others, not simply to sing hymns in churches locked off to the rest of the world.

The work of the church is not just in one act, nor is one act of the church above another. What we must understand is that the church is not called to simply, “work” we are called to “witness.” To witness is the biblical sense is not just to see something, or even to report that you have seen it, but to take that information and do something with it. A biblical witness says, “This is what God has done in my life, and this is what I have done in response to that work of God.

To be a witness is not to take the work out of God’s hands, but to continue on in participating with God in God’s work in your life. It is not a testimony to a single work of God, but the eternal ongoing work of the risen Christ. To bring it directly to the scripture, it is not just watching Christ ascend, but it is worshiping the same Christ in the temple. Not just worshipping the Christ who is present at the supper, but in waiting for the Spirit to come on Pentecost.

To be a witness we must be in the temple praising God, we must be in the places we live and work testifying what God has done, but we must also follow the lead of God’s spirit beyond our words. It is fine to preach, and it good to pray, but a love that does not follow forward in righteous action will naturally burn away. In much the same way that a friend who you only ever talk about doing something with will become less and less close of a friend, a God who you only ever talk about doing work with will become a part of your life only in the past tense.

We can praise God for what God has done, we can pray that God will act in the future, but what are we doing in the now? Are we looking up to heaven expecting Christ to come back this moment – ignoring the instructions we were left with, or are we staring at the dirt thinking about what “we” have to do so that “we” can save the world? There is danger in both, and the challenge of the Christian life is to find a way to open ourselves to worshipping and praising God for what God has, is, and will be doing as well as participating in that work through our witnessing of Christ in the world. To witness Christ, we must first see Christ.

The acts of Christ are the visible works of the invisible God. When we see Christ praying in the desert, we see God’s ability to communicate and bless Godself. When we see Jesus reading the gospel in the temple, we see God’s self-revelation to us. In Christ’s ministry to the least of these, we see God’s work constantly opening the doors of the Church to more and more people.

We are meant to become more like Christ, and more like God Therefore, when we witness God, we must follow through and act in the same way. We must go and pray to God, not only when people can see, but as a personal show of love and faith to God. We must proclaim God’s work in our lives in our congregations and out into the world. We must go into the world, we must reach out to people we never thought to before and proclaim God’s work – not as people who are trying to defend God or strong arm people into faith – but as witnesses of a risen God who has done wonders in our life.

What comes out of authentic witness? We can look to any number of the Saints that have gone before us, but today let us think on the life of Stephen, the first person to witness to the coming of Christ’s kingdom through their death. It is because of people like Stephen that we today have the word, “martyr” itself a word taken directly from the Greek for “witness,” (ματυς)

Stephen came into the Church sometime after Pentecost. He was a Greek-speaking Christian, likely a Hellenistic Jew before his conversion. Stephen enters into the Biblical narrative during a dispute between the Greek and Hebrew widows. The Hebrew widows, whether by accident or design, were being overlooked in the distribution of food. The disciples were called in to weigh in on the matter, and their final decision was to appoint several workers to make sure that food was given to who it was owed without any preference to one race or another.

The Disciples understood something better than we ever could, namely that Christ’s work cannot be completed across diverse peoples unless diverse people are involved. The leaders of the church were made aware of the problems with Greek and Hebrew Christians and the ways that Greek women were being denied basic supplies, and they immediately got Greek Christians involved in the distribution of goods. Seldom can you properly do ministry for people well, but you will rarely do ministry with people poorly.

Stephen worked in the distribution of food for a time, preaching and doing wonders while he did so. We are told of Stephen’s work in preaching and miracles after we are told about his work in food ministry. Moreover, we are told that it was the sharing of goods which caused the church to grow, not the preaching or miracles alone, although the two are not easily separated.

Stephen’s preaching is what finally got him placed before the Sanhedrin. Working miracles among the people made him unpopular with the ruling class. When miracles are made the property of all people, and not just the religious elite – there will be those who push back against it. However, like any person who truly does good work in the Kingdom, when Stephen was put before the Sanhedrin, they could not find any legitimate claim against him. He is, after all, described as having, “A face like an angel.”

Stephen would later be killed for his works. The world rejects the work of God, especially when it crosses social boundaries. His death was the death of an innocent, someone who only did what the lord required. However, it was a life that showed us what it was to be a witness of Christ to the end. He did the work of the church, testified the truth of God, worshipped God in all fullness, and stood his ground even to the point of death. He witnessed Christ in resembling Christ directly from beginning to end.

The work of the church is the work of witnessing. We as a gathered people must go forward and do the complete work of our witness. Ministering to the least of these, proclaiming Christ fully alive and arisen, and testifying to the work of Christ within our lives. God is, at every step, the author of our lives, we are only the willing characters walking along that path. When we take a step, we must be confident God will catch are foot when it comes back down. We will not slip if we stay to that path, whether we suffer or face all manner of hardships, we can prevail.

Are we looking up, standing on the roads outside of Bethany? We are not. Are we counting pebbles that will erode away to nothing? We are not doing this either. We are a church testifying the work of God in the world. We are that work given motion. Let us keep our heart in heaven, our eyes toward our neighbor, and our hands constantly to the work which God has given us. – Amen.

 

A God of Scandal – The Feast of the Annunciation 2019

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Sermon Text

Did you know the feast of the Annunciation was during Lent? I did not.  Where else would you put it though, except nine months before Christmas? This is also, according to some traditions, the original date of good Friday. The idea being that a good man could only die on the date he was conceived, which is one of many contributing factors to Christmas being on the twenty-fifth.

I start with this aside to the timing of the Annunciation because we often place the story of the Annunciation in a similar category to Christmas, that is to call it an offshoot of older pagan myths that Christians adopted, so the argument goes, to integrate into wider pagan society. What if though, they were not just leitmotifs? What if the Annunciation was not a copy paste edit job, but a unique event in history? I’m speaking of a God who is willing to enter into history and subvert our expectations of what God will do.

God calls upon a poor girl, likely a teenager, and tells her that she is to give birth to a king. God, unlike the Zeus or Poseidon, does not achieve this through sexual violence but by a work of the Spirit. God, rather than conceiving within Mary a king who will conquer gives her a king who will die. God came down in the Annunciation and worked compassion and opened the Godhead to human suffering. Nothing about this was an imitation game, but at every turn was a sign of a God who loved us, a God who was willing to upset the status quo for the inauguration of the Kingdom.

That Mary responds to this, a terrifying but astounding mission with such willingness is daunting. This, by all accounts, little girl stands up to a community that would have her stoned as an adulteress. She has to face her fiancée and tell him that she is pregnant, but don’t worry it’s God’s kid no one else’s. She has to face doubt, she has to give herself to years and years of venomous looks and conspiratorial neighbors whispering every time she crosses the yard. She does not know there will be a flight to Egypt, for all she knows she will raise this child with everyone looking to her as a slut and her child as a bastard.

These terms stand out to us because of their evil. To call Mary a slut or Jesus a bastard makes us flinch, we’ve cleaned up the story so that we do not have to think about how all this looked. Yet, when we look out at mother’s raising children alone, no husband, how quick are we to throw these and much more disgusting language around. The single mother is irresponsible, the child is seen as an object of pity or a scarlet let, and no one takes a moment to extend love to either. Or, if someone is willing to love them, do they do so halfheartedly and with a holy pretention to them?

God chose to come into this world in scandal, and the lesson to us was that no matter what the circumstances of someone’s birth – their mother and themselves ought to be seen as blessed. The face of Christ is seen in the faces of the least of these, every one of the least of these.

Rather than looking upon this uncertain and terrifying future with dread, Mary shows us why she will be called, “Blessed among women,” she praises God that she takes part in this scandal of incarnation. Oh, Mary, did you know? Sure seems like she did…

Mary counts this child and all the struggles that will come with it, as a joy. God, she says, “has looked in favor on his humble servant… Has done great things for me.” She recalls all the gifts of God with this new one, the gift of becoming the mother of God. Mary, in proclaiming this work of God then begins to elaborate on how God has and continues to work throughout history. As usual, the presentation of God is not exactly what we might think at first.

God is first described as merciful to all covenant people. We need only look in the Psalms to see the way that God has showered mercy again and again, with every struggle we ever face God is willing to stand beside us in grief and lift us up in exalted healing. Now, with the birth of Christ, there is a new beginning, one in which mercy will spread out across all the world, and God will be able to reconcile all things to Godself.

She calls God strong and describes God as using this strength to dethrone kings and crush the proud. Pharaoh’s army was scattered, Nebuchadnezzar lived like a beast, David and Solomon even faced God’s wrath for their abuses of power. We do not always see how God tears down Babel from day to day, and we need to look no further than our world today to see a great many in power are committing a great number of evils. The promise of God being born lowly is that God knows what it is to suffer under oppression, and God will not forget on judgment day what evils have been committed by the powerful.

She says that God feeds the poor and starves the hungry. We know when God is active in a community because of how much scarcity there is in the area. Where money is hoarded among elites or even wrapped up in the consumer practices of the middle class while people starve, God is not working God’s fullest work. God would have us all give up our pet comforts to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but we have made God out to be a friend of the rich. Luke, from which this prayer comes, makes it clear to any reader that God has no interest in propping the rich up, but has ever interest in clearing them out.

She then closes with a final appeal to the covenant. That from Abraham to today God has been working for the good of God’s people. The Annunciation and Jesus’ ministry is not new work, but a continuation of what God has been doing all along. Jesus’ entry into life was among the poor, among the oppressed, and among the people of Israel. God has always been working among the poor, the oppressed, among God’s people. What makes the incarnation amazing is that God not only enters into human suffering but that God redefines God’s people in the incarnation.

Now, the promises which were forever a part of Israel are all our inheritances. Those who hold onto faith are gifted as Mary was gifted, as Miriam was gifted, as Sarah, and Hagar and Rebekah were gifted. The glory of God is not for the rich, not for the powerful, not for people born in proper circumstances, but for all people and especially for the oppressed. God makes clear throughout scripture, but especially in this moment, that those who side with power will ultimately fail. The Magnificat glorifies God as a savior, and as Jesus as the ultimate sign of this salvation. Let us make sure at all times that we side with God in all matters, that when the kingdom comes we are not among those who will be scattered. – amen.

Repent for Lent – Ash Wednesday 2019

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near- a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come. Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.

Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD, your God?  Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”

Sermon Text

Christianity must contain eschatology. That is to say, Christianity is a religion that is meaningful because it has an ending. The resurrection of the Christ allows us to see forward to our eventual resurrection. The purification of our souls through Christ’s redeeming blood is our salvation, and the sign and seal of that salvation is Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We cannot simply live in the peace of Christ dying for our sins, without the challenge and promise of his resurrection.

We do not enter into a season of happiness now. We enter into a season of quiet, a season of contemplation. Now is the time where the Church all over the world should commit itself to setting things right. Lent, the preparation for Easter, is a long stay in the tomb with the crucified Christ. Here we look inward at the reality of our brokenness, the sin-sick souls that we have no hope of healing on our own. Now is the time of weeping, now is the time of deep and penitential  prayer, now is the time to make ourselves aware of our bonds so that when Easter finally comes, we can leave them in the grace – folded up, set at the foot of the slab where we had laid ourselves down in our sin.

Christianity is given meaning in its ending, a time where we know Christ will return and right all wrongs. This the promise that we will be vindicated, that God will wipe all tears away, and that all will be as it was meant to. However, it is also a time when we must own up to all the wrongs we did. If we believe in Christ then we are indeed saved from our sin, but that does not mean that there is no recounting of them. The redeemed, though they stand free from damnation are nonetheless put to judgment, no one is spared the walk up to the Master, to be told to go either to the left or to the right.

We all have done wrong, otherwise, the cross was in vain. We all sin, or else we are lying to ourselves. If we decide that we, being washed in the blood, now have no need to repent – to change our ways, then we are mistaken. While I have no doubt that Christ is sufficient to save anyone who believes in him, I also believe that Paul is correct in saying that this can be a salvation, “But from the flames.” In which, all that we have built up in this life is burnt away and we enter heaven empty-handed. Yes, we inherit the fullness of God, but there is something in the teachings of Christ and of Paul which suggests that the Kingdom does have levels of benefit for certain peoples.

Does this mean that heaven is a meritocracy in which only the holiest find joy? Of course not! However, it does mean that we can enjoy the full benefits of heaven in the now and the hereafter if we are only willing to, “build up our treasures in heaven.” This is not a statement to make the poor feel like their poverty is a blessing, that they should grin and bear the here and now, but instead a strong statement against those who hoard wealth. Those of us who have too much, who benefit from the ability to be at rest, who surround ourselves with trinkets and gadgets, constantly upgrading them and wasting money on our stomachs rather than on our neighbors.

Jesus goes further in today’s scripture that there is something wasteful about the way in which we usually go about doing good. That’s right, there is wastefulness even in the way that we do good. The examples presented are not meant to strike at the hearts of the elite only, although if we are honest Jesus had the most problems with those at the top of the proverbial latter. No, these were trespasses that anyone could commit, not just the rich and powerful. The sins of the heart which are common to all people are here laid out for us.

Do you give to the poor? Not just to the church, though tithing is important, do you give to the poor? The people who are by the side of the road, panhandlers and window washers. Do you see them and have pity on them, do you see them and give good things to them? I would hope so, but the reality is that many of us do not. Still more, when we do give to the poor, we find ourselves telling others about it as soon as possible. It is not satisfactory enough that we have completed Christ’s command, “give to whoever asks of you what they ask of you,” but we must also have glory for it. How many posts do we make about “paying it forward” on Facebook, or how many stories do we share in which someone tells of the good they’ve done for someone.

There is an entire culture around what some call, “Inspiration Porn.” While this may seem like a strong title I think that it is fitting, it takes the good actions of humanity and commodifies it. We are able to take in good feelings just by reading someone recounting what they did to help someone else. This is not to say all sharing is bad, and certainly elevating others who do good is a noble pursuit. What I am saying is that we should not be wrapped up in our own self-promotion, or encourage others who want to show the world how holy they are. You can share the article that was written about you, you can tell people the organization you work with and what they do, but be careful that you do no chase after feeling good for being good.

In the same way, praying should not be something we do for show. Jesus is not, as some have interpreted, saying that all public prayer is wrong. What he is saying is that, much like with giving, if you go out of your way to pray in such a way that people will see you and think, “Dang… That’s one holy person.” Then you are in the wrong.

How many times do we, because we don’t want to look bad, raise our hands during a worship song? How many times do we look extra contrite during a sermon lest someone look at us and thinks we’re not engaged? Jesus wants your prayer to be authentic, you worship to be really about you, God, and the community you’re in. He goes so far to say that if you are gonna be caught up in the pressure of public prayer, you would do better to pray alone. We all can get pressured into religious expressions we are not feeling, but Jesus is telling us to be authentic.

Not feeling like singing a praise song? Stand up, join in with the community, but do not feel bad if you frown your way through “Marching to Zion.” If a sermon is not touching you, do not nod your head or shout amen just to look engaged. Worship is communal, so yes we should strive to be on the same page as much as possible, but if have to choose between being authentic and looking like you have it all together – then pick authenticity.

The final point Jesus makes, and what I will use as the launching point for our Lenten sermons going ahead, is that when we fast we should not do it in a way that’s obvious to the public. Not only this, but Jesus says that you should look better when you fast than when you’re eating. Take that extra step to look presentable, not just because it helps keeps your piety private, but because you are doing a good thing. You are taking steps toward God. By willfully holding off from food, you are allowing God to speak to you in new ways. If I’m going to be seeing an old friend, I try to look a little more presentable, and I’m usually happy about that meeting. So, do not look sad when you fast or you’ve given something up for God, be happy. It means you get to meet God in new ways.

We are entering into Lent. We are facing up to what we have done wrong. We should not engage these forty days with pomp and circumstance. No, today begins a period of time when we inhabit our death. “Dust we are, and to dust we shall return.” What is born from that dust, what is born out like a phoenix shaking off the ashes of its parent, that is for God to work within us. We should be contrite, we should not broadcast our contrition to the world. We should seek to repair relationships, we should not tell that to people so that they congratulate us. We should pray more, but not so that people think better of us. We should review what we have, and give more, but not so that we seem like more generous people.

We should repent for Lent. Forget what you will, “give up” in terms of chocolate or sugar or whatever it may be. Still do this to train yourself in discipline, but focus more on your soul. “Rend your heart, not your clothes.” Be kinder, own up to what you have down wrong, ask forgiveness and give it freely. Lent is a season of prayer, of fasting, and above all else of returning to God. As we sit in the ashes of our sin, the garden that we have burned, we look toward the restoration of all things Christ has promised us. So let us commit ourselves to the works of God, not so that others will know we are good, but that we may turn to God and find blessings where once there was desolation. That in all our conduct we make it obvious, that God is good. – Amen

“God was One of Us” – The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord 2019

Hebrews 2:10-18

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
And again,
“I will put my trust in him.”
And again,
“Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”

            Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

            And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Sermon Text

Christ, in order to bring about our salvation, became just like us. Doesn’t that just sound a little wrong? When we think about ourselves, and we think about Jesus, we will typically put a bit of a crowbar between us – separating out he, the incarnate word of God, and we the people who are lucky enough to have heard his name. Still, Christ – though still fully God – did become fully human. How does that work? I don’t think we can really know – much like the trinity where 1+1+1=1, here 1+1=1. The fullness of God, and the fullness of a human person were able to coexist in one body, and continue to do so to this day.

That’s something that’s easy to forget I think. Christ, as we’re told in the Gospels, rose bodily into heaven. This means that at the right hand of God is not just a spiritual being, not just some invisible conception of divinity – but a human being, perfected in death and resurrection – but a human being nonetheless. What a wonderful truth, that beside God, before God at all times, is a reminder of what a human being can be – the perfection of Christ is a physical proof, and a seal to the promise which God offers us in the Gospel of Matthew – “be thou perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect.” Because, it can be said, God only commands what is possible, as such this commandment, to be perfect and the reality of Christ’s resurrection show us that it is really possible for us to be perfected, but only through the action of God.

We are told, in our readings, that Christ saved humanity through becoming one of us. We are told in our Gospel that Christ and his mother did indeed do everything a human being needed to do after being born. Jesus, as the first born of the family – was dedicated at the temple, and an offering made to God in accordance with the Law. It was not just any offering though, it was the offering that only the poorest of people were allowed to make – two small birds.

Christ had a choice, in taking on human flesh he could have been born a prince. Grown up to be king and ruled over the entire world as a physical ruler. Or perhaps been born among merchants, and sent word of his greatness on ships and with caravans. No such decision was made though, Christ was given to Mary – a faithful woman as poor as could be – the wife of tradesmen. The two lived destitute in a backwater village, in a region surrounded on all sides by Gentiles. Jesus chose not just to be human, but to be like the poorest and most marginalized he could be.

Christ would then go on to live a hard life. While being apprenticed to his father Christ seems to have been taken under the wing of his Cousin John. Though we can never be sure, it is likely through working with John that people became to regard Jesus as a Rabbi – a teacher of the Law. Tradition holds that Christ then waited for some years, and after the death of Joseph he began his ministry – first by being baptized by John, and then by being tempted.

We are told that Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to face the devil – and while that is a talk much more suited for Lent, it shows once again that Christ was not immune to temptation – he still engaged with it, the difference being that he was the only person to never give into it. The ministry of Christ was then completely itinerate, he never stopped anywhere for more than a few days. The blisters his feet must have had, the sunburn and the cracked skin that must have covered his face. There is a reason that when the early Christians read in Isaiah, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” They immediately thought of Jesus.

And what should befall this servant of God, after three years of painful travels, of preaching, of working miracles? A humiliating death on a cross. Surrounded by criminals, mocked and beaten by soldiers. Jesus was so weak when they crucified him, he barely lasted a few hours. In fact, if you read the passion stories, it sounds like he nearly died on the way up the hill. The God of the Universe, the eternal Word who jumpstarted all of creation, finished up a hard life by dying a horrible death.

His mother too, who had followed him all his life, stood by him as he died. “A sword pierced her soul.” The minute that the soldier stabbed Jesus’ lifeless corpse, proving to everyone there that he had died. Think for a moment of Mary, who loved her son more than life, like any mother would. She watched him grow, she cherished every moment with him the scripture says, and even when she didn’t understand – she still was among the disciples who followed him. Now though, she’s lost her baby – her first, miraculous child now lies cold in a nearby tomb. No wonder she woke up early the next day, to try and give him some dignity in his death.

The tomb was empty though, and after a few weeks of teaching his disciples, Christ was brought up into heaven. There he sits, perfect. Looking down on each of us, hearing our prayers, and relating to us when we tell him our problems. It would be one thing if we were told by scripture that Christ suffered in a way we can’t even imagine. In some ways sure he did, in much the same way that you and I, though we may have been hurt similarly – never really have ever gone through the same thing. I lost my grandfather when I was young, maybe you did too – but that loss is unique, as unique as our grandfathers were, as unique as we are. Still though, when Scripture talks about Christ suffering, it’s said in a way that reminds us that Christ knows what we’ve been through.

“Christ, I’m sick, I need to be healed or at least to know I’m taken care of.” A God who was never sick could never know, but Christ did. A God who never feared death could never strengthen those who faced it now, but Christ was in agony in Gethsemane, and he hears us when we cry even now. He suffered not to be above us in how he suffered, but to be with us when we suffer.

Likewise, as Christ is raised up and brought before God – we too are lifted into the company of the Father. Christ, in suffering our suffering let us enter into his life as much as he entered into ours. As Christ descended into our flesh, so we are allowed to be resurrected with Christ. The death of Christ would not be sufficient for us to enter into our rest, unless Christ also rose from the dead. There is no miracle in someone dying, but there is promise and miracle and life in the resurrection of a person. In rising in a perfected physical form, Christ assured we could do the same.

Now we are granted the gift of a divine representative before God. We are told that Christ is not just ruling in heaven and doing nothing. Instead Christ is constantly praying for us, praying with us. When we suffer Christ is able to turn to his Father and say, “See, they suffer as I did. Remember how you wanted to save me when I suffered? How ready you were to send angels to defend me? Do the same for them, give them the help that I surrendered to you.” We have an advocate, a high priest as Hebrews explains, that knows what it’s like to suffer, to die, to weep, to laugh. If God was ever unsure what it was to be human, Christ’s wonderful incarnation and resurrection assured he would know every detail of our lives.

Christ, by entering into our flesh and blood, allows us to become siblings with himself. We are therefore heirs of the resurrection. We are given all the rights, all the gifts, which a child of God are afforded. What are those gifts? What rights do we have? The gifts are all the goodness which grows within us – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are given a spirit of discernment, not a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self control.

What are our rights? Well, one could say that we are made co-rulers with Christ. Indeed, we are. However, insofar as we live on this earth we are called to follow Christ in giving up this singular right, we are to be subservient to all people. Giving to whoever asks, serving whoever needs help, and always putting others before ourselves. However, when the world to come arrives, we will be rulers in the Holy City, treated as princes and princesses, royal children in all benefits. In the meantime, we are given a power which surpasses all worldly powers. Namely, the power of unhindered prayer.

We, the church, in heaven and on Earth are given the ability through Christ to boldly approach God. We do not approach God as if we are enemies of God, we are not walking on egg shells when we pray. We are obedient, yes. We work out our salvation, “with fear and trembling,” yes. But at the end of it all God tells us to move forward and to be bold in worship and bold in intercession. “Praise God from whom all blessing flows.” And “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy.” Are both bold statements, and the unique blessing of Christ’s priesthood allows for us to pray unceasingly, to ask that we may receive.

With Christ in Heaven, who understands what it is to live. With the confidence of Children and Heirs of Promise. With the fullness of our future role as priests and rulers in the Kingdom. With the Boldness of those who fearlessly ask God for whatever needs they have. Let us go forward and worship, this day and always, our God who was willing to become one of us. Let us, through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, enter in fully into the Kingdom. Amen.