“My Lord and My God!” (December 21, 2016: Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle)

The following sermon was preached at the 6:00pm Healing Eucharist on December 21, 2016, being the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: Everliving God, who strengthened Your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in Your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in Your sight; through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Reading: John 20.24-29

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”—John 20.29[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Directly above the High Altar at New York City’s Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue is a sculptural depiction of today’s Gospel.  In it are representations of each essential character: the Apostles to whom Jesus appeared on Easter, Thomas, and Jesus Himself.  All of the Apostles, except Thomas, are fully visible, five on both the right and left sides.  In the center is Thomas, somewhat seen, yet partially hidden in the dark, kneeling before the risen Christ.  What makes this depiction so emotional is seeing the right hand of the partially hidden Thomas extended out and raised up in clear view toward the fully visible risen Christ.  It is an artistic rendering of Thomas’s elation: “My Lord and my God!”

There are two other times, apart from today’s Gospel, all from that of Saint John, that we specifically hear from Saint Thomas.  First, when Jesus announces to the Apostles His intent to go back to Bethany to resurrect His friend Lazarus, whereas the majority say, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” it is Thomas who says, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him,” signaling a high level of courageous devotion.[2]  Next, during the Last Supper, when Jesus says that He is going away, Thomas objects, saying, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”[3]  But it is today’s Gospel for which Thomas is most well-known, for doubting his fellow Apostles’ claim to having seen Jesus in fullness of body and divinity raised from death, only to believe them upon seeing Jesus risen with his very own eyes.

Thomas’s moniker, “Doubting Thomas,” is, in my view, quite unfortunate, in that he has oftentimes been unfairly criticized for expressing a genuine human emotion, as if in his doubt he was denying Jesus’ very existence.  It was not Jesus Himself who Thomas was doubting, but rather his fellow Apostles’ intense insistence to having seen Jesus, dead just three days earlier, again in clear sight, raised and alive.  “Thomas was not with them when Jesus [first] came.  So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’”  To question such a breach of natural law, seeing a man once dead again completely alive, begs some understanding, especially considering Thomas’s absence from the Apostles that first Easter Day.

What is Thomas’s response?  Until I have seen in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand into His side, I will not believe.”[4]  It is that first word, “until,” that is crucial and conveys much.  Though he doubts his fellow Apostles’ assertion, Thomas is also open to the possibility that it may actually be true.  For three years, Thomas walked with Jesus, saw Him perform marvelous miracles, conveying hope in the midst of despair, and loved Him.  Thomas is grieving that the Teacher he loved so much was taken away, killed, and, in his mind, is gone forever.  Yet his openness to the possible truth of the Apostles’ witness signifies the yearning Thomas still has for Jesus, a small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, they are right and all is not lost.

It is in that glimmer of hope in the midst of doubt that Jesus comes to Thomas.  “Put your finger here, and see My hands,” Jesus says, “and put out your hand, and place it in My side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Caravaggio’s early 17th century painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas has the Apostle graphically inserting his index finger into the gaping wound on Jesus’ side.  Yet today’s Gospel does not say that Thomas actually does this.  From the way that it reads, for Thomas, just the sight of Jesus Himself is enough: “My Lord and my God!”  What Jesus next says not only proved pivotal for Thomas in that current moment, but for all others yet to come: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Going back to that sculptural depiction above the High Altar at Saint Thomas Church, New York, I cannot help thinking that the sculptor[5], in the representation of the parish’s patron, was making a particular artistic point.  It is as if the partially hidden Thomas, with only his right hand extended out and raised up in clear view to the risen Christ, not only represents himself, but all people who hope in the midst of doubt.  It recognizes doubt as a legitimate human emotion that all of us have suffered (or will suffer) at one point or another, that it is nothing for which we should feel ashamed.  The risen Christ, in clear view for all to see, communicates the Gospel truth, that in our seeking of and openness to receiving the Truth, Jesus comes.  And when Jesus comes, we become changed, a new creation; the old passes away, the new enters in.[6]  Saint Thomas’s song becomes our own song: “My Lord and my God!”

With December 21 every year being Saint Thomas’s feast day, you will notice that it occurs during the latter days of Advent, four days before the celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas.  To celebrate this feast during this time helps reinforce the message and hope conveyed in Advent

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.  And His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.  He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.”[7]

Because of Saint Thomas, we can have courage to hold fast to our hope. He helps confirm that we have no reason to fear.  He helps to show that the Word of God is, indeed, true.  Jesus Christ is coming, coming to save you and to save me.  “Do not disbelieve, but believe…Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2] John 11.1-16

[3] John 14:1-7

[4] The New Community Bible, copyright © 2008 by the Bombay Saint Paul Society.

[5] Lee Oscar Lawrie (1877-1963), one of America’s foremost architectural sculptors of the first half of the 20th century.

[6] 2 Corinthians 5.17

[7] Isaiah 11.2-4.

“Jesus Christ: Died, Risen, Coming Again” (November 27, 2016: First Sunday of Advent–Year A)

This sermon was preached at the 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist on November 27, 2016, being the First Sunday of Advent, and the fourth anniversary of my ordination as a Priest, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which Thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 2.1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.36-44

“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.”—Matthew 24.44[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Happy New Year!  We have, once again, come to Advent, the first season of the Christian liturgical year.  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival” or “approach.”  The Advent season has a twofold purpose: first, to be a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to humanity is remembered,[2] and second, by remembrance of the first, to prepare us for His Second Coming, when “He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.”[3]  In Advent is first seen the Mystery of Faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

We see the Mystery of Faith first illustrated in Scripture, particularly in the 20th chapter of Saint John’s Gospel.  “Doubting” Saint Thomas, the one absent from Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to His Apostles, says, “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.”   A week passes and Jesus appears again to His Apostles, including Thomas: “Peace be unto you.”  Thomas sees the risen Christ and no longer doubts: “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus says to Thomas, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”[4]

What Jesus says, Saint Thomas helps Him illustrate and confirm: The Son of Man IS coming again in power and kingly glory.  In one sense, we see this already having been fulfilled, for Jesus, by revealing Himself to Thomas, showed Himself as having died, risen in fullness of Body and Divinity, and come back.  But, in another sense, there is still waiting, for the Good News of Christ “shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.”[5]  For all of us here on Earth still waiting, Saint John gives this assurance, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.  And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”[6]

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”  As my mentor Priest, Father Andrew Mead, said in a recent email, “Time is short and eternity is long, pressing in upon us at any moment.  Today could be my last day on this earth, so I both need and want to hear the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.”[7]  The Good News that we are today being given is that Jesus, Earth’s Redeemer, is near.  “For He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth.”[8]  Jesus, our King and Savior, is drawing nigh!

Father Mead is right: today could be anyone’s last day on Earth.  Death can strike at any moment.  “Then two shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”  But even for them, those whom Death has already taken, will Jesus come.  “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.”[9] 

But what about the meantime?  Exactly how are we supposed to “keep awake”?  By doing the things that Jesus commands.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…And…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”[10]  How do we do that?  “Let us walk honestly, as in the day,” Saint Paul says, “not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”[11]   

And why should we follow Jesus?  Because of what He did on the cross: He died for our sins!  Jesus, for every single one of us, died the most horrific death imaginable in order that we may be freed from sin.  And He took up His life again, triumphantly rising from the grave on the third day, so that through Him we may experience the joys of eternal life.  Therefore, we owe Jesus both our allegiance and obedience, for to put on Christ is to be able to withstand Satan’s wiles.[12]   

To be saved by Jesus is to be changed in the most positive of ways.  Our hearts become drawn to Him, our minds guided by Him, and our wills controlled by Him, all towards good things.  Because of Jesus, our new self yearns to be His vessel for the purpose of His greater glory, that we may show forth God’s love to our neighbor.  “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”[13] 

That is the mercy we have been granted in this meantime.  In being told to “keep awake,” not only does Jesus tell us that He will soon come again, but that He has also granted us the mercy of time.  We have been given the chance to conform our lives to God’s will, to love others as Christ loves us, and to do the things He would have us do.  As we live into and do those things, our salvation in Christ becomes even more meaningful.  Christian discipleship becomes a part of the very air we breathe.  And at the end, when Christ comes again, eternity in the Kingdom of God will be our reward.  “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”[14] 

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.  Therefore be ye…ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.”  Both a warning and a sign of God’s love and mercy for us all.  May we all be ready for that Great Day when Jesus comes again.  “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!”[15]

Our King and Savior draweth nigh: O come, let us adore Him!  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Authorized (King James) Version.

[2] Pope Paul VI, “Approval of the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the New General Roman Calendar (February 14, 1969), ¶39.

[3] Nicene Creed.

[4] John 20.24-29

[5] Matthew 24.14

[6] I John 3.2-3

[7] Andrew C. Mead, email message to friends, family members, and clergy associates, November 11, 2016.

[8] Psalm 96.13

[9] I Thessalonians 4.14-15

[10] Matthew 22.37, 39

[11] Romans 13.13-14

[12] Ephesians 6.11

[13] John 15.10-11

[14] Revelation 21.4

[15] Revelation 22.20 (New Revised Standard Version)

“Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” (November 20, 2016: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe–Year C)

This sermon was preached at the 8:30am, 11:00am, and 6:00pm services on November 20, 2016, being the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.  

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in Your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under His most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23.43[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Today, for Western Christians, is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, known within Anglicanism as Christ the King Sunday, and serves as the concluding Sunday in the Western Christian liturgical calendar.  It is of Roman Catholic origin, established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and came into observance within Protestantism during the late 20th century.

When Pius XI established this feast ninety-one years ago, secularism was on the rise, causing a number of Christians to doubt Christ’s authority, even His very existence.  And though much of the world has changed, much of it has remained the same, with secularism posing just as much a threat to Christian allegiance, perhaps more so now than ever.  Hence, we have the purpose for this day: to remind the faithful, as the liturgical year concludes, that Jesus Christ, at all times, must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.  As the late pontiff himself said, “The faithful…by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal.”[2]  That ideal is none other than Jesus Christ Himself, who is “the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”[3]

In his letter to the Colossians, Saint Paul summarizes in wonderful prose Christ’s Kingship

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in Heaven and on Earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through and for Him…He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead…For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on Earth or in Heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.[4]

Hence, to conclude the liturgical year, today’s Gospel brings us back to Calvary, to the sight of our Lord being crucified.  “And the people stood by, watching…the leaders scoffed at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah of God, His chosen One!”  Between Jesus are two criminals, one defiant, the other penitent.  “Are you not the Messiah?” the defiant criminal says.  “Save yourself and us!”  The penitent criminal rebukes back, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve…but this man has done nothing wrong.”  To Jesus, the penitent criminal pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Hear what our Lord says: of the crowd, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”; to the penitent criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

By being brought back to Calvary, we are reminded of the Good News, that Jesus Christ, this Man hanging on the cross, is none other than Almighty God in human flesh come to save us.  He is the One whom “God did not send…into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”[5]   Jesus is the God-Man whose love was first conveyed to the world through its very creation and by sacrificing Himself reconciled it all, once separated and enslaved by sin, back to Himself.  We end this liturgical year being reminded that the cross was what it was all about, for in the cross was shown the extent of God’s love for all people throughout all time, past, present, and yet to come.

Therefore, from the cross, Jesus Christ, giving Himself up to death so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly,” reigns as King.  He transformed what was an instrument of shame into the throne of grace, offering to His people the gift of His redemption.  That is why the cross is our symbol.  Because of Jesus, our great and glorious King, death has been conquered and the victory won.  Only He could accomplish such a mission.  “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”[6] 

So, for the sake of being perfectly clear, Jesus is King because Jesus is God, and because Jesus is God, only He and He alone is capable of redeeming all things.  His power is not harsh, exploitive, or fascist; it is kind, loving, welcoming, and redemptive.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[7]  That is the power of our Savior and King Jesus Christ, for from Him becomes imparted upon all who believe God’s power of salvation.[8]

Therefore, our desire should be in nothing and no one else except Jesus Christ.  Despite our sin, Christ our King proved His love for us by laying down His very life to save us.  He knew the cost of what it would take and willingly paid it.  Christ is the King who has saved and freed His people.

Now we, in turn, are being extended the chance to submit to Jesus’ most gracious rule, living as His ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people.  As we walk with Christ in faith, we experience more and more a truly liberated life.  “To grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ”[9] is a lifetime’s journey.  But at the end, to die in the Lord makes it worth it, for then we will dwell with Christ our King in His great Paradise.

We end this liturgical year with Jesus, dying on a cross, promising not only to the penitent criminal, but to all penitent people, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Next Sunday, we begin another liturgical year looking for this same Jesus, raised back to life on the third day, in His Kingly glory, to come again: “Therefore, you…must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”[10]  This begs the question, to which will you submit?  Will you submit to Christ, whose Word and saving power have been proven true, or to the ways of the world, “where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal?”[11]  I hope that all of us answers, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”[12]

The Lord has shown forth His glory: O come, let us adore Him!  Amen.

[1] All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Pope Pius XI, Quas primas (1925), ¶33.

[3] Revelation 1.8

[4] Colossians 1.15-20

[5] John 3.17

[6] II Corinthians 5.21

[7] Matthew 11.28-30

[8] Romans 1.16; I Corinthians 1.18

[9] Ephesians 4.15

[10] Matthew 24.44

[11] Matthew 6.19

[12] Joshua 24.15

“Chandler the Reverse Theologian” (September 14, 2016: Holy Cross Day)

The full text of the sermon below was preached at the Wednesday 6:00pm Healing Eucharist on September 14, 2016, being the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.  An abridged version was preached earlier that day at the bi-weekly campus Eucharist at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana.

Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the Cross that He might draw the whole world to Himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Reading: John 12.31-36a

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”—John 12.32[1]

 In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

One particular day a couple of weeks ago, after school had ended, I went out to catch a little bit of the football team’s practice, just wanting to see a little football and destress from all the doctoral papers, theology blog posts, and sermons that were still before me to complete.  While standing on the sidelines, some of the younger football players started asking me questions regarding what did and did not constitute a sin.  “Is this a sin?  Is that a sin?  If I did this, but not that, would that be a sin?”  And on, and on, and on, and on.  After about two minutes, Chandler Juneau, a current sophomore and one of the more theologically perceptive members of his class, chimed in, asking, “Father, did you sin before becoming a priest?”  Chandler’s question provided an excellent teaching opportunity.  “Yes,” I said.  “I did sin before becoming a priest.  I still am a sinner.  I am human, after all, just like everyone else and am not perfect.  But the Good News is that because of the Cross I am forgiven.  Because of Jesus, there is grace.  And thank God for grace!”

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, also known simply as Holy Cross Day.  It is one of the Church’s major feasts, its background being in the legend of the discovery of remnants of the True Cross, the very cross, according to Christian tradition, upon which Christ Himself was crucified, in 326 by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, during her pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The date for Holy Cross Day, September 14, marks the day in 335 that the True Cross was brought outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,[2] built over the discovery’s site and consecrated the day before, so that the Christian clergy and faithful could pray before and venerate it.  What we see in Holy Cross Day is the message of the Cross, the power of God to those being saved.[3]  What this day does is allow the Christian faithful an opportunity to commemorate Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross with a festal emphasis not appropriate for Good Friday.[4]

In asking about my sinful state before ordination, Chandler stepped into the role of what I would describe as a “reverse theologian,” in that he asked a spiritual question that could have been perceived as expecting an answer going totally against the norm, but, in actuality, was meant to bring out the actual truth.  That is because Chandler, I believe, accepts that same truth about himself as I do about my own self and all of us should, if we are totally honest.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[5]  And reflecting on Chandler’s question in the days since has brought me back to the Cross and to Jesus, whose death on that Cross allows me the grace to stand before you as a priest of His Church.  And in being brought back to Jesus and the Cross, I have been reminded what Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, once said: “Simul justus et peccator,” “I am a sinner, yet I am justified.”  But not only is that true for me, it is true for every single one of us.  All are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”[6]  That is the message of the Cross.  That is the Good News for all of us.

So today, as we look to the Cross, we are being reminded that we are forgiven.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, we are truly free—free from the shackles of sin and death!  Through the Cross, we are truly ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people.  There is nothing that can or will ever “be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[7]  Today, Holy Cross Day, is a day of celebration of Christ’s victory on the Cross and of the new life that we have in Him because of it.

This brings us to our final point, one that I want to be sure that all of you know: there is nothing that you can ever do that will make God love you any less!  Nothing, absolutely nothing at all!  The Cross is the testament to how much God really loves you and to the outer limits He will go to be in relationship with you.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”   That “all” includes YOU.

It is my hope that you will have faith to trust God’s love and come to Him.  May all of us be open to experiencing the goodness and love of the Lord together.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.         

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from The Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV ®, copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™

[2] Known by Eastern Christians as the Church of the Resurrection.  This fourth century church contains within it, according to traditions dating from that time, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary and the Empty Tomb.

[3] I Corinthians 1.18

[4] Pfatteicher, Philip H.  New Book of Festivals and Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2008), 444.

[5] Romans 3.23

[6] Romans 3.24

[7] Romans 8.39

“Perfect Harmony” (September 4, 2016: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost–Proper 18C)

This sermon was preached on September 4, 2016 at the 8:30am Rite II, 11:00am Rite II, and 6:00pm Rite I Eucharists at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in You with all our hearts; for, as You always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so You never forsake those who make their boast of Your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings: Jeremiah 18.1-11; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-17; Philemon 1.1-21; Luke 14.25-33

“I appeal to you for my child Onesimus…If you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.”—Philemon 1.10, 17[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

The date: November 11, 1936; the place: The Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City.  It was on that date and at that place that two white jazz musicians from Chicago, Benny Goodman, a clarinet player and the undisputed “King of Swing,” and Gene Krupa, an energetic and innovative drummer, appeared on a stage with two black musicians, Lionel Hampton, a vibraphonist also from Chicago, and Teddy Wilson, a piano player from Austin, Texas, for the first time as the Benny Goodman Quartet.  It was, for American jazz, total integration for the first time.  As recounted by Lionel Hampton in 1982, Goodman was later asked why he hired Hampton and Wilson to be in his band, to which Goodman replied, “You know one thing?  It takes the black keys and the white keys both to make perfect harmony.”[2]  Goodman did not see color in Hampton and Wilson, but rather musical colleagues and equals.  Wilson remained with Goodman until 1939 and Hampton until 1940, with them both launching out on their own and having successful music careers for the rest of their lives.

Saint Paul’s Letter to Philemon, today’s second lesson, is a book that we hear from only once every three years in the Sunday lectionary cycle.  As I was preparing today’s sermon, there were some commentaries I read that questioned Paul’s intent regarding his letter and labeled his language as being vague and not explicit.  On the contrary, I believe that Paul was both very clear and explicit regarding his expectations of Philemon concerning Onesimus and to prove that, a careful walk through of the text is needed.  Today’s sermon will, to the fullest extent, be an exegetical sermon.  But most importantly, as all sermons should do, will be highlighted and proclaimed the Good News.

Although the letter does not give the specific circumstances, Onesimus, a fugitive slave from Colossae, came into contact with Paul during the latter’s imprisonment in Rome.  It is speculated that Onesimus committed some sort of offence against his master, Philemon, back in Colossae and fled to Rome in an effort to avoid detection.  Paul and Onesimus made contact with each other and, in the process, Onesimus became a Christian.  Onesimus grew in faith and, as implied by Paul, became very helpful to him in spreading the Gospel.  Paul did not see Onesimus as a fugitive slave, but, rather, as one of God’s fellow workers, part of God’s field, God’s building.[3]

Philemon was a wealthy Christian from Colossae.  During Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus, about 100 miles away, from AD 52-55, Philemon heard the Gospel and was saved.  He began serving the cause of Christ in the Colossian community, opening his home to a group of Christians to meet and worship regularly.[4]  Already, we see two things in common between Philemon and Onesimus: 1) they both came to faith in Jesus Christ through Paul’s preaching and ministry, and 2) became very helpful to Paul in the sharing of the Gospel.  Just as he did Onesimus, Paul saw Philemon as a “beloved fellow worker.”  There was more that united Philemon and Onesimus than there was that divided them.

Although Paul wished that Onesimus could have stayed with him in Rome, he knew that Onesimus had to return to Colossae and face up to Philemon.  Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”[5]  Although slavery in New Testament times was not the same as what we think of in the historic American context, there was still a penalty for runaway slaves, if recaptured, to be flogged, or even killed.[6]  Paul knew the risk of sending Onesimus back to Philemon, but he also could not ignore Jesus’ directive for reconciliation.  He hoped that Philemon, being a Christian, would also be mindful of this directive and do what was right upon Onesimus’s return.  Hence the letter that we heard read several minutes ago.

Paul says to Philemon, “Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”  As ‘an apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father,”[7] Paul could have directly ordered Philemon to free Onesimus.  But he chose loving persuasion over coercive pressure.  Loving persuasion is what the Gospel does; it is what Jesus does.  Jesus does not force Himself upon us.  He wants our love for Him to be free of coercion.  When we say yes to Jesus and voluntarily submit to His will, we become changed from the inside out.  By appealing to Philemon in love, Paul hoped that his words would move Philemon to make a free-willed decision to extend mercy and forgiveness to the slave that wronged him.  And though it is clear that Philemon was the primary addressee, by also including as addressees “Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house,” this made clear Paul’s intent for the letter to be read aloud in front of others, perhaps another “tactic” of appealing to Philemon to do the right thing.

But where Paul’s expectations of Philemon become, in my opinion, clear and direct is at verse 17: “If you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.”  Paul put his personal relationship with Philemon right on the line in pleading for Onesimus.  Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, once said

What Christ has done with God the Father, that Saint Paul does also for Onesimus with Philemon.  For Christ emptied Himself of his rights and overcame the Father with love and humility, so that the Father had to put away his wrath and rights, and receive us in favor for the sake of Christ, who so earnestly advocates our cause and so heartily takes our part.  For we are all his Onesimus’s if we believe.[8]

And there is where we see the Good News.  Just like Onesimus, we all were once held captive—captive to sin and death.  Then Jesus came, sacrificing Himself for us, freeing us from our captivity.  Because of Jesus, we are free—free from the shackles of sin and death!  We are ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people!  Perfect Love lifted us out of our bondage.

What Paul said to the Galatians is true: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[9]  He pleaded with Philemon to accept Onesimus back “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother,” recognizing his status as a new creation in Jesus and, thus, as His complete equal.  Likewise, we are all called to accept and recognize each other as equal one to another, because the sacrifice of Christ on the cross says that we are.

So what about Philemon and Onesimus?  Did Philemon accept him back?  Was Onesimus truly repentant of his offense?  Did Philemon forgive Onesimus?  Was all well there at the end?  Unfortunately, we do not know, but it is my hope that all was well.  I hope that Philemon took Paul’s counsel seriously and did the right thing.  I hope that the time that he and Onesimus spent apart—perhaps by God’s Providence—helped both of them to grow more mature in Christ to which Onesimus was repentant of his offense and asked for forgiveness, with Philemon accepting his apology, forgiving Onesimus, and freeing him from his bondage.  We do not know what happened between them, but we can only hope for the best.

This brings us to our closing point back to 1936 to that first Benny Goodman Quartet performance.  Benny Goodman refused to recognized racial segregation.  What he saw in Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson were two musicians just as skilled as he was and, together, they worked toward the same purpose and goal: making great music.  Seeing them on the stage at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel represented the goodness of God’s Kingdom: no distinctions, no divisions, complete equality and cooperation with each other.  What a blessed and beautiful sight it must have been to behold.  May all the world get to such a place with the help of Jesus.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.   

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2] 1964MBrooks.  “A Tribute to Benny Goodman 1982.”  Recorded December 25, 1982.  YouTube video, 17:44.  Posted November 22, 2011.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6c7uOrKKzKo.

[3] I Corinthians 3.9

[4] “Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Philemon,” The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008), 2353.

[5] Matthew 5.23-24

[6] “Exposition of Philemon,” The Interpreter’s Bible (Volume XI: Philippians; Colossians; Thessalonians; Timothy, Titus; Philemon; Hebrews) (New York, New York: Abingdon Press, 1955), 561.

[7] Galatians 1.1

[8] “Luther on Philemon,” The Lutheran Study Bible (Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 2094.

[9] Galatians 3.28

 

“Jazz for Brooks” (July 31, 2016: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 13C)

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 31, 2016 at the 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy succor, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 107.1-9, 43; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21

“The things you have prepared, whose will they be?”—Luke 12.20[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Among my most prized possessions, currently in my office out at our parochial high school in Youngsville, is a Crosley CR44 Record Console along with over 100 LP jazz records from the 1940s-1960s.  Included in this collection are many of the greats of jazz: Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Harry James, Stan Kenton, Art Van Damme, Illinois Jacquet, and several others.  A couple of weeks ago, Coach Heath Whittington, one of my faculty colleagues, mentioned to me that his son, Brooks, who will be a sophomore at the high school this coming academic year, has become a big fan of Frank Sinatra and, at times, has coveted my LPs and record console while passing by my office.  Brooks intends to soon procure a record player so that he can begin collecting his own LP records.

Now those of you that know me well know how much my LP records mean to me.  The collection that I have is a combination of gifts, eBay purchases, and years of lucky finds in record stores, me being proud of the many original records I have.  But as much as I value my collection, I also felt moved to help Brooks start his own collection.  So from my own collection, with Coach Whittington’s permission, I gifted Brooks my best Sinatra album, Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!, released by Capitol Records in 1961.  With musical arrangements by Nelson Riddle, each chart having a bright medium to up jazz tempo, it is considered an all-star of Sinatra albums.  “Zing! went the strings of my heart”[2] upon seeing the joyful look on Brooks’ face when receiving his first LP jazz record.  I am glad that I was able to share with him something that was special to me towards his own appreciation of America’s original art form.  It simply felt to be the right thing to do.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in a parable, calls a rich man whose land produced a surplus of crops a fool.  He was foolish in that in direct contradiction to what Jesus today says, his life became ruled by the abundance of his possessions.  He tears down his old small barns and constructs new larger ones so that he can lounge back and enjoy the excess crops all for himself.  Because of this, the rich man interpreted “more” as needing to hoard and felt that “I, me, and mine” mattered more than anybody else.[3]  The rich man embodies the very thing that Jesus counsels us against, “Beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

My own story was not told with the intent of “tooting my own horn,” but, rather, to help illustrate the Holy Spirit’s power to move one’s heart to share a portion of the abundance that God has blessed them to have with others.  The author of Hebrews reminds us of our call to “not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”[4]   Just as God has been generous in giving to us His grace, our giving to others should be an extension of the Good News made known to us in Jesus.  Because to give generously is to recognize our common humanity with each other and, through that common humanity, experience God’s presence among us.

Although there is nothing wrong with being wealthy and/or saving up resources for ourselves for the future, the possession of abundant wealth should also be balanced with a love for God and a concern for our neighbors.  As the Chronicler reminds us, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”[5]  All that we are privileged to have is because of God’s love for us and being that all are equal in His Kingdom, we should be willing to share a portion of that which He has blessed us to have in this life with others.  Cheerful giving signifies a heart and mind focused on God’s Kingdom, whereby when we die and our worldly possessions pass away, we may be received into God’s eternal habitation.

And it is of that eternal goal—the Kingdom of God—that we see the deeper spiritual dimension of today’s Gospel.  “The point,” Saint Paul says, “is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”[6]  To give cheerfully is to invest in God’s Kingdom. And though (and thanks be to God!) our works do not save us, but, rather, the grace of the Lord Jesus, it is the work that we do in accordance with our abilities—contributing to worthy causes, volunteering time to serve and help others, giving to those in need, and helping with other worthwhile efforts—that helps secure our place in Heaven.  Our giving should be an expression of our joy for God having saved us through the death, resurrection, and ascension of His Son Jesus.  God has given us the gift of grace; we should want to give God thanks by willingly giving portions of our time, talent, and treasure to others, for we will reap bountifully of the spiritual abundance in the life to come.  As Jesus tells us, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”[7]  So Saint James is right: ‘Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[8]

Some of us may be financially wealthy.  Others of us may not be.  Regardless of who is and is not wealthy, Jesus, through the Parable of the Rich Fool, today calls on all of us to reflect carefully on this: Are our desires and standards for what is enough driven by a determination to store up treasures for our own pleasure, or by our understanding of God’s blessings and our true purpose in life?[9]  Hopefully, our reflections will stir us toward the latter conclusion.  So whatever place it is that you currently are in your life, whatever it is that you have an abundance of—time, talent, or treasure, one, two, or all—do not hoard it all to yourself.  Whatever and however you give, may it be to God’s glory, for all of us, wealthy or not, will become rich in His most blessed Kingdom.  God will bless you and make you a blessing to others with your giving.[10]

I, myself, do not have a lot of money and, although I do tithe to Ascension, wish that I could tithe more than I already do.  But God has also blessed me with the privilege of keeping to my musical talents by accruing a treasure trove of LP jazz records that I can enjoy listening to for more years to come.  And to have been able to give to young Brooks from what God has blessed me to have a record of his most admired jazz singer, helping him start his own record collection, was a great joy for me.  It was in that moment that I sensed the Holy Spirit’s presence.  My only hope is that Brooks, as he lives His life for Christ, will, one day, pay me back by “paying it forward,” so that he, in his giving, can be blessed by God for blessing someone else.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, Copyright ã 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” is a popular jazz standard written by Broadway musicians Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn that was first introduced in the 1934 Broadway revue Thumbs Up!  Frank Sinatra recorded it for another 1961 album, Ring-a-Ding-Ding!, his first under the Reprise Record label.

[3] Theological Perspective on Luke 12.13-21, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C, Volume 3—Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16)) (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 310.

[4] Hebrews 13.16

[5] Jeremiah 29.14

[6] II Corinthians 9.6-7

[7] Matthew 25.40

[8] James 2.17

[9] Theological Perspective on Luke 12.13-21, Feasting on the Word (Year C, Volume 3), 314.

[10] Genesis 12.2

“John & Katy” (July 30, 2016: Celebration and Blessing of the Marriage of Katherine M. Craven and John M. Campbell)

This sermon was preached at the Celebration and Blessing of the Marriage of Katherine McCrory Craven and John Mark Campbell on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 11:00am at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana

Readings: Song of Solomon 2.10-13, 8.6-7; I John 4.7-16; John 15.9-12

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.”—I John 4.11-12[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

November 7, 2015 was both a noteworthy and memorable day.  It was the evening of the annual Ascension Episcopal School Parent Teacher Organization Auction, the most prominent event (save Graduation) in the life of our school.  What made last year’s PTO Auction especially noteworthy was that it was also the evening of the annual Alabama-LSU football game, a fact acknowledged through the condition that if the PTO Auction was to occur on that specific evening, a television had to be on site for those (including yours truly) wishing to view the game.  But what also made it particularly memorable was when Katy Lee, one of Ascension’s well established faculty members, arrived at the auction with a brand new member of the faculty named John Campbell.  I, as well as several others, could not help taking particular notice of this and that their being together appeared to be more than just as friends.

Toward the latter part of the evening, as the Alabama Crimson Tide was defeating the LSU Tigers by a score of 30 to 16, Katy, John, and I were standing in front of the television, Katy and I pleased with the end result, with John, unfortunately, not so much.  While standing there together, Katy brings up the obvious, “I’m here with John.”  “Yes, I kind of noticed that,” I replied.  I could hear a bit of concern in her voice, probably from wondering what the school Priest and/or others were thinking about her going out with the new guy.  She was explaining to me how the two of them together came about, to which I replied, “As far I’m concerned, you two are reasonable adults.  If y’all feel that this is something y’all want to try out, then y’all should.  I don’t have a problem with it and don’t think anybody else will, either.”  And I was right; nobody else saw anything wrong with John and Katy being together.  Not only did our colleagues and students not see anything wrong with their relationship, but John and Katy wound up becoming THE “It” couple of Ascension.  Things obviously worked out, for here we all are, John and Katy’s family, friends, and Ascension colleagues, celebrating with them their soon-to-be new life together as husband and wife.

November 7, 2015 was John and Katy’s “Ascension debut” as a couple.  But God was laying the foundation for that day, this moment, and their future life together before then.  According to John, it was soon after the last academic year’s beginning that he heard Katy talking with some of our other Ascension colleagues about her personal theology, much of which matched his own theology.  It was hearing that conversation that made John think to himself, “I need to talk with her more.”  And from that initial thought, God began something with John and Katy that the rest of us could not yet see, but would be revealed to us in His good time.

During the days leading up to that noteworthy PTO auction, John and Katy came to know something more about each other that we at Ascension already knew about them individually, that they both possessed deeply caring natures.  And from the time of that PTO auction leading up to now, their caring natures brought forth an unconditional love for each other.  Through their unconditional love for each other, John and Katy have experienced God’s unconditional love for them in a most profound way.  In seeing them together, we can see God and His love abiding and perfected in them.  It is God’s unconditional love for John and Katy and their deep love for God and unconditional love for each other that will be their foundation until their separation by man’s mortal enemy, Death.

Ascension has played a large part in John and Katy’s relationship.  We have seen their love for each other throughout this last year become like “a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.”[2]  In having received support from us, their colleagues, students, and the larger Ascension family, John and Katy, as husband and wife, now have the privilege of witnessing to us what the Church professes about marriage: a signifier of the mystical union between Christ and His Church.  We heard earlier from Saint John’s first epistle,

The love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through Him…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

God today calls John and Katy to be witnesses together of the Gospel: loving and being faithful to each other throughout the good and bad times, either as rich or poor spouses, just as Christ loves and is faithful to each one of us; and forgiving each other when they both hurt each other, just as Christ forgives all of us when we sin against Him.  To use the words of the Psalmist, this day, the day of John and Katy’s marriage, “is the Lord’s doing [and] it is marvelous in our eyes”[3] and we pray that in seeing their love for each other, we, their fellow Christian pilgrims, will come to better understand Christ’s unconditional love for us.

John and Katy, know how much we love you and are rejoicing with you this happy morning.  May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with His favor look upon you and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace; that you may so live faithfully together in this life, that in the world to come you may have life everlasting.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, Copyright ã 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 430.

[3] Psalm 118.23

“On the Importance of Prayer” (July 24, 2016: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 12C)

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 24, 2016 at both the 10:00am principal Eucharist and 6:00pm evening Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Hosea 1.2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2.6-15 (16-19); Luke 11.1-13

Voice recording link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5kv384poold20e9/20160724-101356.m4a?dl=0

“Lord, teach us to pray…”—Luke 11.1[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, teaches His disciples about prayer, telling of its importance communally, our need to do it persistently, and of its efficaciousness through God’s beneficent action.  As the task of proclaiming the Good News to you, the Christian faithful, falls upon me this morning, I have struggled mightily in coming up with something to say to you about prayer.  Perhaps the reason why that has been is because just like you, I, myself, still have many questions about prayer.  What should I say?  Am I praying enough?  Should I pray more extemporaneously instead of always out of the Prayer Book?  To use the words of New Way Ministries founder Lawrence Crabb, when it comes to prayer, I am “a self-confessed and ecstatic first grader in God’s school who is just now learning the alphabet.”[2]  But one thing I do know to be sure is that God is good and that in our prayers to Him can be felt and received the Good News.  So the good news is that there is Good News.

What the disciples today receive from Jesus and what has been passed down to us is the Pater Noster, the “Our Father,” most familiarly known throughout the world as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  It is the most well-known of all Christian prayers.  For us Anglican Christians, whether it be the Daily Office, the Holy Eucharist, a baptism, a wedding, or a funeral, it is the Lord’s Prayer that is prayed more than all other prayers in just about every single Prayer Book liturgy.  Save for Jesus Himself, the Lord’s Prayer is the instrument of unity for all Christians everywhere.  It is in this prayer that Jesus taught that we see the plea of Saint Paul, “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3]

The disciples’ request to Jesus “Lord, teach us to pray….”  is akin to something we all have: a desire for God, a longing for an experience of Him who is holy.  The Prayer Book defines Christian prayer as a “response to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”[4]  The disciples’ request was their response to all that they had seen the Blessed Trinity doing, which was marvelous in their eyes.  It is the Father’s love made known to us through Jesus in the Holy Spirit’s power in the here and now that brings all of us together week after week.  With Angels and Archangels and with all the company of Heaven we laud and magnify God’s most glorious Name.  Jesus saw their yearning and sees ours and gives to those who ask Him.

He begins with an address: “Father, hallowed be your name.”  Saint Matthew, in his Gospel’s version, adds an additional, yet highly important word: “OUR Father…”[5] In addressing God as “Our Father,” Jesus brings all of humanity together to the Trinity itself.  It is an acknowledgment of the reality that has been achieved through Christ, that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, 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.”[6]   We have been made God’s sons and daughters through Jesus.[7]   We address God “our Father” as ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people and, as His people, He hears us.

But furthermore, in bringing all of humanity together to the Trinity, Jesus institutes a situation whereby we must recognize our connection through Him with one another.  “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.”  Praying these words recognizes that “there is no distinction…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[8]  We are connected together in that all of us have been forgiven, saved, and made one body through the grace of the Lord Jesus.[9]  As Saint John says, “If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen…He who loves God should love his brother also.”[10]  So in praying to God, we are to come to Him prepared “to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by [us] to others; and also…ready to forgive those who have offended [us], in order that [we ourselves] may be forgiven.”[11]

It is for these things, communion with God, receiving from Him our daily sustenance, and the forgiveness of our sins, that Jesus says that our prayers should be persistent.  God yearns to be with us and in communing with Him we receive a foretaste of His kingdom: “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[12]  Praying persistently also keeps us mindful of the sin that dwells within us, the temptation we face to repay evil for evil, and our constant need for God’s help: “And lead us not into temptation.”  “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”[13] 

And when we pray, not only does God always hear, but He also always answers.  “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”   This does not mean that God will give us everything we want.  Rather, it means that God will provide for our needs in accordance with His will, sustaining us in ways infinitely better than what we ourselves originally conceived.  To pray is to walk humbly with God, recognizing that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves[14], acknowledging Him to know what is best for us.  As Jesus Himself said, “Not my will but yours be done.”[15]

But the best thing of all—and here is where we see the Good News—is that in the Lord’s Prayer can be found grace.  Perhaps it has been awhile since you last prayed.  Maybe you feel that your prayers are not good enough.  You may be thinking that because of things you have done and/or left undone in the past that God will not hear your prayers.  To all of you, I say this, “Every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”[16]  That includes you!

Do not worry about how long ago your last prayer was or that God will not hear you.  In the words of Richard Rohr, “God does not love you because you are good.  God loves you because God is good!”  So have no fear!  Take that leap of faith!  Come to God in prayer with the assurance that He has, indeed, ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven you.

Where do I begin?  What should I say?  “Pray then like this, Jesus says: “Our Father who art in heaven…”[17]  From there, you cannot go wrong.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, Copyright ã 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Lawrence Crabb, The Papa Prayer: The Prayer You’ve Never Prayed (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 3.

[3] Romans 15.5-6

[4] “An Outline of the Faith Commonly Called the Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979) (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 856.

[5] Matthew 6.9

[6] Romans 8.38-39

[7] II Corinthians 6.18

[8] Romans 3.22b-23

[9] Acts 15.11

[10] I John 4.20-21

[11] “An Exhortation,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 316.

[12] Matthew 6.10

[13] I Thessalonians 5.16-18

[14] Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 218.

[15] Luke 22.42 (New American Bible—Revised Edition)

[16] Romans 10.13 (cf. Joel 3.5, Acts 2.21)

[17] Matthew 6.9

“The Summary of the Law” (July 10, 2016: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost–Proper 10C)

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 10, 2016 at both the 10:00am principal Eucharist and 6:00pm evening Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings: Amos 7.1-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1.1-14; Luke 10.25-37

“Who is my neighbor?”—Luke 10.29[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

I would like to begin this morning’s sermon with a particular point of humility, for I will be doing something that goes against a personal preaching standard: I will be incorporating civil affairs into a sermon.  With recent events that have been happening in our country, specifically the shooting deaths of Philando Castille in Minneapolis, Alton Sterling just across the Atchafalaya in Baton Rouge, and Dallas police officers Brent Thompson, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens and the wounding of seven others,[2] I felt the times warranting a rare breaking of my own rule.  And I would not be doing so if I did not feel the Gospel having something to say to us regarding these recent happenings.  So I approach the pulpit this morning with a degree of nervousness higher than I normally have and great emotional vulnerability.  But I do so with one chief aim: to proclaim the Gospel and “woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!”[3]  May I be a conduit for what the Holy Spirit is saying to us this morning.

I begin with humility as a testament for our need to be honest, about where we are emotionally, what is affecting us, and how we are in need of help.  “Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.”[4]  God’s help comes to us in the Person of Jesus, who does for us more than we could ever do for ourselves, more than we could ever ask or imagine.[5]  Today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, not only tells us how we should treat others, but also a story about Jesus and of His love for all of us.  His is a love that has the power to transform hearts and minds; it is a love that is very much needed in times like these.

A lawyer confronts Jesus with a test: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He, of course, already knows the answer to his own question: “You shall the love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  It is the summary of all the law.  “Do this,” Jesus says, “and you will live.”

“But because he wanted to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”  With this question, the lawyer seeks Jesus’ confirmation that his limited view of who his neighbors are fulfills the law, therefore securing him his inheritance of eternal life.  But what the lawyer does not realize is that he cannot justify himself.  No one can justify themselves.  Justification cannot be obtained based on a mentality of love for some, but not for others.  It cannot be based on prejudices, stereotypes, and misplaced motives, which, if we are totally honest with ourselves, we all have or have had in some form or fashion and have been a major part of our country’s recent domestic struggles.  All of us are sinners and in need of justification.  But we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.[6]

As today’s epistle from Colossians reminds us, only Jesus, the beloved Son of God, can justify.  “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.  He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.”[7]  Because Jesus’ love is the only love that is completely unconditional, only He can justify us.  And it is out of love for the lawyer, and for us, that Jesus describes who a neighbor really is.

To hear the Parable of the Good Samaritan and be reminded of what it means to be neighbors to one another in the wake of massive violence is both timely and important for us all to consider.  Both the Priest and the Levite pass the beaten traveler, not because of hypocrisy or that they are bad people, but because the law forbids them too.  They keep to the laws of ceremony and social convention.  But the Samaritan, the Jews’ mortal enemy, hated and despised by them, thought by them to be utterly devoid of any good, foregoes ceremonial and social law in favor of love.  “Faith, hope, love remain…but the greatest of these is love.”[8] 

What we see in this parable are three good men, but only one who puts his faith to radical action.  The Samaritan does not allow social dictates and ethnic prejudice to preclude him from doing what is right.  It is the Samaritan, the “outsider,” not the Jew, the “insider,” that gives forth a powerful witness: love conquers hate.  “Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” asks Jesus.  “The one who treated him kindly,” says the Jewish lawyer.  “Go,”[9] says Jesus.  Go and do as the Samaritan, the outsider, the one you hate, did.”

How unfortunate it is that in many places of our country, violence, fueled by the prejudices of some and the rage over oppression by others, still keeps one from being a true neighbor to the other.  But as today’s Gospel tells us, it does not have to be that way.  Just like the Samaritan, we too have the choice to either let social divisions prevail or confront negative circumstances with love.  “God created mankind in His image…and found it very good.”[10]  The ability to do good is within us.  We have the strength for everything through Christ who empowers us.[11]

And it is here that we see in the parable the story of Jesus and His love for us.  All of us are the traveler walking down the road.  On the way, we fall in with sin, which strips and beats us and leaves us for dead.  Bishops, Priests, and Deacons passing by cannot help us.  But the One like the Samaritan, Jesus, the Outsider not accepted by His own people, the only One who can save, comes: “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us…full of grace and truth.”[12]  Jesus takes pity, comes, and cares for us: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”[13]  He provides for our care in that He Himself “was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity.  He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by His wounds we were healed.”[14]  We are justified, we are saved by Jesus.  And when He leaves, the Holy Spirit, like the innkeeper, cares for us.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us still, even now: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”[15]

Because of Jesus having saved us and given us authority to instruct others in the ways He has taught, we have the power to say no to the hatred, bigotry, and racial injustice that still prevails in our land.  The Bishop of Dallas says rightly

“This much is clear…Christians [of all races] of all denominations, are called to stand together…We who do so are already one body in Jesus Christ, in spite of all the fault lines in our society.  May the Holy Spirit guide us all in  discerning the shape of our common witness…May He protect all exposed to danger in their work.”[16]

May it be so.  May we all be saved and transformed by the love of Jesus.  May we all have the courage to love in the power of the Spirit and be neighbors to one another.  Let the hatred and violence stop!

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from The New American Bible (Revised Edition), Copyright ã 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers.

[2] Although mention of their deaths were made during the preaching of this sermon at the 10:00am principal Eucharist, the names of these five officers killed in the line of duty were not individually called out.  At the suggestion of the Rev. Dr. Duane Peterson, their individual names have been added and were each called out at the 6:00pm evening Eucharist.

[3] I Corinthians 9.16 (New International Version)

[4] Psalm 124.8

[5] Ephesians 3.20

[6] Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 218.

[7] I John 2.1-2

[8] I Corinthians 13.13

[9] The Message Bible

[10] Genesis 1.27, 31

[11] Philippians 4.13

[12] John 1.11, 14

[13] “Holy Baptism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 308.

[14] Isaiah 53.5

[15] Matthew 28.20

[16] The Rt. Rev. George Sumner, “American Tragedy: A Word From the Bishop,” Episcopal Diocese of Dallas (July 7, 2016).

“Love for Orlando” (June 13, 2016: Monday of the Fourth Week after Pentecost–Proper 6C)

This sermon was preached in the Chapel of the Apostles at the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee during the Noonday Eucharist for the Advanced Degrees Program on Monday, June 13, 2016.

Collect: Keep, O Lord, Your household the Church in Your steadfast faith and love, that through Your grace we may proclaim Your truth with boldness, and minister Your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings: I Kings 21.1-16; Psalm 5.1-6; Matthew 5.38-42

“Offer no resistance to one who is evil.”—Matthew 5.39[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 All of us have surely heard by now of the terrible news coming out of Orlando, where, at around 2:00am yesterday morning at the Pulse Club, 29-year-old Omar Mateen opened fire, killing 50 innocent people and injuring 53 more, bringing about the worst domestic terror attack in American history, second only to 9/11.  It was a heartbreaking day for our country.  To quote the President

“As Americans, we grieve the brutal murder—a horrific massacre—of dozens of innocent people…We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city…This was an act of terror and an act of hate.  And as Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.”[2]

Although events such as these, especially when they directly affect us, make us grieve and feel outrage—all reasonably legitimate feelings to have—it is important that we keep tabs on our reactions.  The people killed in Orlando were people’s sons, daughters, siblings, parents, and close friends savagely taken away from them for no legitimate reason.  It is perfectly reasonable to see how those left behind could harbor deep anger and resentment for their loved ones’ killer, wanting to really “show” him how much hurt he has caused.  But if we are not too careful, then our grief and outrage could themselves turn into acts of hate and violence.  And what good would that do?  We would be responding to hate with more hate.  Instead of working to make things better, we would be aiding in making things worse.

This is why Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are both well timed and important for us to consider.  Jesus says to us

“Offer no resistance to one who is evil.  When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”

And although we did not hear this, Jesus says further on in Matthew 5

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for He makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”[3]

Instead of repaying violence with violence, Jesus commands that we repay violence with love.  He commands us not to hate our enemies, but to actually love and pray for them.  I can only imagine the perplexity of emotion for our Orlando brothers and sisters being told this, that they are to love Mr. Mateen, the gunman that took their loved ones, their friends away from them and pray for him.  This is extremely hard to do.  None of us, nor anybody we know or even heard of, can keep these commands perfectly.  No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to love perfectly as Jesus does.

But that does not mean that we should not, at least, try.  As Louis Armstrong once said, “What a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give [love] a chance.”  Jesus is the reason that we should give love a chance.  Why that is is because the life and love that Jesus lived and gave was perfect and the grace He offers is available to me, to you, to everyone else, and yes, even to Omar Mateen.  Because of who Jesus is and what He has done, LOVE has won!  RESURRECTION has won!  GOOD, not evil, has won!  Jesus is the real deal.  He has proven Himself to be the One who we can completely trust.  Let us go with Him!  By submitting ourselves to the will of Jesus, the more our thoughts, words, and actions will, through time, turn from hate and violence to love and forgiveness.  The less tempted we will become to repay violence with violence.  The better able we will be to show love to, sincerely pray for, and offer forgiveness to our offender.  Because of Jesus, we can say with confidence to our grieving friends in Orlando, as well as to Mr. Mateen, “LOVE wins!  RESURRECTION wins!  GOOD, not evil, wins!”

Again, though, in the midst of much emotional pain and anguish, this is extremely hard to do.  Jesus knows how hard it is for us and, because of grace, does not hold our imperfection against us

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”[4]

Jesus says to us, “I know that you are trying.  Don’t give up!  Try again!”  Imagine how extremely better things could be “if only [all of us gave love] a chance.  Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with all of us.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New American Bible (Revised Edition), Copyright ã2012 by HarperCollins Publishers.

[2] “President Obama on the Tragic Shooting in Orlando,” The White House (www.whitehouse.gov), accessed June 12, 2016.

[3] Matthew 5.44-45

[4] Romans 8.1 (NRSV)