Monday, April 26, 2010

Sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter (Feast of St. Mark)
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
March 25, 2010

In September of 1992, Forbes magazine ran an article by Peggy Noonan entitled “You’d cry too if it happened to you.” I would not have stumbled upon this article were it not for Christian Apologist Ravi Zacharias who excerpted a few paragraphs from the piece in talk he was giving. It struck me the first time I heard it, and it continues to do so every time I re-read it. I offer Ms. Newnan’s words to you as I begin.

"We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: “She’s going to have a baby.”
The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.
But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.
The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (“We disapprove”) and the particular (Let’s go help her”). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between “official” disapproval and “unofficial” succor. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.
Message to society: What you applaud, you encourage. And: Watch out what you celebrate."

Why do I mention this article?

This was written in 1992, recounting a story from 1971 or 1972. Spring forward to just the other morning as I was perusing the headlines, this jumped out at me, “Tiger Woods’ and Jesse James’ alleged mistresses to star in reality TV show.” I realize that the reality TV junket has gotten pretty big of late, but this show “aims to "catch celebrity cheaters with their pants down" and is the brainchild of Bobby Goldstein, the man behind the original reality show "Cheaters," where non-famous people spy on their partners to uncover proof of infidelity.”

Folks, we’ve got a serious problem here!

I realize that most of us sitting here this morning abhor stories like these, and the fact of the matter is, we the church, we as the Body of Christ, had better have something to say about this.

In many cases there are times that we should be outspoken, visible witnesses to the societal atrocities that are an affront to God, Jesus Christ, and the Gospel. There are times when we are called to march or protest or write columns or papers to help make our point known, or if nothing else, let others know that there are still people out there that think this kind of thing isn’t okay! After all, even our Lord did as much when he cleansed the Temple of the money changers, declaring that they had turned His Father’s House into a den of thieves. We must work with the gifts that God has given to each of us to say and do those things that the situation demands.

However, there is always another strategy that any of us can employ no matter where we find ourselves.

As the old adage goes, we can kill them with kindness.

As St. Paul reminds the Christians in Rome the Proverb, “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”

In many ways, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount had this type of teaching in mind. After he concludes the Beatitudes, he immediately goes on to speak about Salt and Light. “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”

In borrowing from Ravi Zacharias at the beginning of this sermon, I will paraphrase some of his words here when he asked the most relevant question, “How do we present the sweet savour of Christ to a world that either doesn’t want to hear it, or rejects any claim that there is any such thing as absolute truth?”
How do we present the message of the Gospel to a society who thinks it has no need to repent from anything, and in many cases resent religion in any form whatsoever as backward, outdated, outmoded, and stifling?

Former Bishop of South Carolina, C. FitzSimons Allison puts it this way in reference to a quotation from C. S. Lewis’ essay “God in the Dock:”

"What was true in Lewis’s day, the middle of the last century, is even truer in post-modernity. We who live in the modern (and post-modern) times have traded our role with God’s role. God is no longer the judge of us but we of him. We have abrogated to ourselves the attributes of deity and given to God the responsibility to justify himself, repent, change, or disappear as irrelevant….At no time in the history of either Christian or pagan religions has a people shown such hubris toward God or to the gods."

As much as we’d like to believe that Fitz has it wrong, we know in our hearts that
he’s hit the nail squarely on the head. He’s diagnosed the human predicament perfectly, and we are left with the most difficult of questions for us as Christians – what do we do now?

As I mentioned before we have two courses of action that must be employed, and our calling is to be in fervent prayer as to which strategy to employ when.
There are times when vocal and sometimes confrontational action is necessary and justified. Even then, it must be done in a spirit of charity.
However, most of the time our lives will be spent quietly going about our business, and simply doing the things that God has called us to do. Even then, we must remember the words that have been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel every day, and only when necessary use words.”

To me that is the most effective way to win converts, and help people see the glory that is the Grace of God. Christianity isn’t a straightjacket approach to life, but rather it is the freedom to live within the bounds that God has given to us. How could two teams play a football game, or soccer game if there were no sidelines. There would be no freedom at all, only chaos and confusion. God’s laws, the Creeds of the church, the teachings of the Church Fathers are all avenues which help us live within the bounds of the Christian Faith, and to do so freely. Jesus promised us that he came to bring life and to do so abundantly. This is the message of hope that we have for our hurting and broken world. May Almighty God continue to give us the words, the actions, and the tools share this most wonderful gift.
Sermon for the Second Sunday after Easter
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
April 18, 2010

This morning’s Gospel provides one of the most visible and widely recognized images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In my mind, it’s also the easiest of Jesus’ I AM statements to grasp and imagine.

Throughout John’s Gospel, numerology plays an important role in how John tells his story of Jesus’ life. The book has often been broken down into two halves – the Book of Signs and the Book of Glory. These two halves can touch on the humanity and divinity of Jesus. The book covers the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry are recounted by three Passover accounts, with the third culminating in the Last Supper and our Lord’s Passion. In John, Jesus makes three trips from Galilee to Jerusalem – thus we have a Trinitarian structure with the three trips to Jerusalem and three Passover dinners.

There are also two times when the number seven appears.

First, instead of miracles, John speaks of the signs of Jesus in his ministry.

Changing water into wine
Three different healing miracles
Feeding of the 5,000
Walking on water
Raising of Lazarus

The first half of John’s Gospel centers around these seven signs. The seven signs are accompanied by seven great I AM statements.

I AM the Bread of Life
I AM the Resurrection and the Life
I AM the True Vine
I AM the Light of the World
I AM the Door to the sheepfold
I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life
I AM the Good Shepherd

The first six are a little more difficult to get our heads around, but Jesus’ statement about being the Good Shepherd is a bit easier to grasp. Even though sheep herding isn’t too abundant here in Colquitt County, we’ve probably all seen a Discovery Channel special that shows the sheepherders in Ireland, or Australia, or some other country. We’ve heard the Old Testament stories of Joseph’s brothers as keepers of the Jacob’s flock; the story of David tending the sheep when Samuel came to Jesse to anoint one of his sons as the new King of Israel. It’s not too hard to visualize Jesus as a Shepherd, and I’m sure you’ve all seen the stained glass windows with Jesus and a small little lamb about his shoulders.

What are the attributes of a shepherd?

The great Anglican priest and preacher, The Rev. Dr. John Stott speaks of four attributes of a shepherd.

First, a shepherd is someone who feeds and nourishes his flock

One thing to know first about sheep and shepherding is that sheep are led; they are not driven like cattle.

The shepherd goes ahead of his flock, and they follow him faithfully to pasture.

A good shepherd is not going to lead them unnecessarily, but rather, toward green pastures where they can be fed and nourished. They can drink of the waters of comfort.
Jesus the Good Shepherd feeds his sheep, you and me, with his own Body and Blood.

I am the Bread of Life
Give us this day our daily bread
The water that I shall give will become a spring, welling up into eternal life
That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood

Jesus our good shepherd feed us and nourishes us to the point that our cup runneth over with His grace and love

There is no end the bounteous goodness that God provides, so much that the disciples gathered twelve baskets full and everyone had their fill

Second, a shepherd guides

As I mentioned before, sheep require a guide, not a ranch hand

If one attempts to herd sheep, they simply huddle up in a big mass, and go nowhere.

If one attempts to guide a flock of sheep, they will willingly go wherever the familiar voice of their shepherd leads

Jesus says that the sheep of his flock will not follow a stranger

The sheep of the Good Shepherd will be guided along the paths of righteousness

We as sheep of Jesus’ flock will never be led anywhere by the Good Shepherd that is not for our benefit

Only a false shepherd will led us into places which result in death, despair, and destruction.

Our Good Shepherd leads us to the place of ultimate joy – He leads us to the Father

No one reaches the Father except by following the Good Shepherd, and trusting Him wherever he leads and guides

Third, a shepherd is a guardian

In order to protect a flock, the shepherd would build a make-shift pen with one entrance in or out

Any other way is a mark of deception and evil

The true shepherd and guardian of his flock would lay down at the entrance, and anything desiring to come in would have to go through him first

If an animal came to attack the flock, he would defend his own with his life if necessary

Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends

Jesus did just that

He laid down his life willingly in order that we might live

No one took it from him, but he willingly gave it up

His guardianship as the Good Shepherd is that He is the guardian of our souls

Jesus gave thanks to God before he died and said, “While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition…”

He loved his own who were in the world, and he loved them until the end

Finally, a shepherd heals those who are hurt

We as sheep are going to wander and stray

Thieves and robbers are going to enter the sheepfold not by the door, but by climbing over the walls

We are going to be hurt at times by those who love us the most

Being a member of Christ’s flock never, ever exempted us from pain, or suffering, or trials, or temptations, or illness.

Christ as the Good Shepherd has healed us, and will continue to heal us

The great suffering servant song in the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah speaks with unequivocal clarity regarding the power of Jesus to be the healing Shepherd

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

A shepherd feeds, guides, guards, and heals

What makes Jesus the Good Shepherd is the fact that he is the only perfect sheep

He shunned not the Virgin’s Womb, but rather became Man, and walked as a sheep amongst the sheep

There was one glorious difference

He is the only true sheep without blemish

He is the very Paschal Lamb, who willingly took it all upon his shoulders in order that we might live

He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world

He is the one who feeds us, guides us, guards us, and heals us

Listen to His voice and allow Him to heal all that is hurting – His words will bring comfort and peace

Follow him – for He will guide us and guard us every step along the way

And if we are truly willing to follow the Good Shepherd when he leads us into green pastures and guides through those valleys of the shadow of death, we will most surely…

Dwell in the House of the Lord forever.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sermon for the First Sunday after Easter
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
April 11, 2010

As I mentioned last weekend, this morning has been traditionally known as Low Sunday. No, that name doesn’t come by looking at the Parish Register of Services comparing attendance from last Sunday to today. Rather, it’s yet another marker of time that our Church Kalendar makes use of. We are closing the Octave or eight day celebration of Easter, and this is the eighth day following our Church’s highest Feast day.

In ancient times, converts to Christianity would have gone through a lengthy process of catechesis and instruction in the Christian Faith, culminating in their baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter. Following their baptism, they would have received a white garment symbolizing the fact that they had been mystically washed and were now a new person cleansed from the stain of Original Sin, and now clothed in the sinless, righteousness of Jesus Christ. This new garment was an outward sign of the grace that was inwardly working within each new believer that they might become sanctified and strive to be holy, as our Lord was holy. On this Low Sunday, they would have taken off their white garments for the final time. As St. Augustine said, “The Feast of this day is the end of the paschal solemnity, and therefore it is today that the Newly-Baptized put off their white garments. But though they lay aside the outward mark of washing, namely, their white raiment, the inward mark of that washing remaineth in their souls unto eternity.”

We too, who renewed our Baptismal Vows at the Easter Vigil celebrated and recollected that inward mark that we received at our individual baptisms, that we might be reminded again whose we are, and in whose name we serve.

One of the most important things to remember about today, Low Sunday, the Sunday in White, the First Sunday after Easter, or whatever name we give, that this is when the Christian faith is lived out and is given eyes, and ears, and feet, and hands, and mouths.

Our lives as Christians are lived outside of the high feast times from Easter Sunday through today

If we think about Peter, James and John when they were with Jesus on the mount at His Transfiguration, they wanted to live on the mountaintop forever, and setup three little shrines, and bask in the glory that they beheld

Jesus had something else in mind, he required that they go back down from the mountain into the valley and out into the highways and bi-ways

It is here that one truly lives out and shares the Gospel

After Jesus’ death, all of the Gospels begin to come to a rapid close. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have only one chapter containing the resurrection appearances prior to the brief Ascension accounts in Mark and Luke. John’s Gospel has two chapters devoted to the resurrection, but it, like Matthew, is silent regarding the Ascension.

However, in these brief accounts following our Lord’s Resurrection, we see Jesus confront three of life’s rawest, and most real emotions.

First, Jesus confronts the emotion of grief

In the section of John’s Gospel which immediately precedes what we heard a few minutes ago, we hear of Mary Magdalene’s return to the tomb, and she looks inside in utter disbelief, and with a sense of grief that has completely overcome her

Not only has she lost her Lord and Teacher in the sense of his death, but also now, she can’t even grieve his loss by being able to perform the sacred rites of final preparations of the body

I know for some when you have lost a parent, or grandparent, or sibling, there was that time that you wanted to spend with the body before the casket lid was closed for the final time

For many, this is a critical part of the grief process

It is beginning to be able to say goodbye, and begin the healing that is a part of letting go

For Mary, she has been robbed of this opportunity

After her encounter with two angels, she sees someone that she thinks is the gardener, and as she asked the angels, she asks this person where Jesus’ body was

She is crying out in grief

And this person says to her one word, and turns her grief into joy


He calls her by name

The Word of God speaks a word, and transformation has begun

Just as in the beginning of Creation, a Word is spoken, and transformation begins

Mary has her own Transfiguration experience with Jesus in the sense that Jesus tells her that she can’t simply cling to him there in the garden, because her life had to be lived outside the garden walls

She had to spread the News, that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that she had been called by name to proclaim that truth to the world

Second, Jesus confronts the emotion of fear as we heard in our passage today.

Jesus’ disciples were all gathered together that first Easter evening, and were clearly caught in the grips of fear

We are told that they were behind locked doors terrified that they were next, and that the Jewish authorities were coming after them because of their association with Jesus

They certainly had good reason to be afraid because Jesus had just told them four days earlier that they would in fact drink the same cup he drank from, and they would be despised, hated, and persecuted because of who they were and the Man that they followed

Fear is one of those strange emotions that strike us in different ways

For some, fear is a motivator, and allows us to do extraordinary things

For others, it curls us up into a ball in the corner, and we pray that no one is around to see it

In either extreme, there is something noticeably absent when we are caught up in the midst of fear

That one thing is peace

That is why Jesus tells the disciples twice within this encounter “Peace be with you”

He gives them His peace to wash over their fears and calm their spirits

They, like we, have hard work to do as His disciples, and it cannot be done within the grip of fear

It is accomplished only through His peace which surpasses all human understanding

Thirdly, Jesus confronts the emotion of doubt which we hear in the section that immediately follows our passage this morning.

Poor Thomas!

In one verse of Scripture, one of Jesus’ chosen Apostles gives rise to a term that we all know and use – a Doubting Thomas

Forget the fact that it is Thomas who tells his fellow disciples that they too should go with Jesus to die with Lazarus when Jesus tells them that they are going to Bethany

Forget the fact that during Jesus’ farewell discourse, it is Thomas who asks of Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

To which Jesus replies, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the father, but by me.”

Instead, we always remember Thomas in light of our Gospel this morning:

“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe”

If we blame Thomas for anything, we cannot blame him for being real

He is being asked to believe the most extraordinary thing imaginable, and he has a sense of doubt

Even though he had witnessed three years’ of testimony that would clearly point to the fact that this is not at all beyond the realm of possibility, he remains human

He still tries to get his human comprehension around divine revelation

He wants physical evidence, of a supernatural event

And what does Jesus do?

He says to Thomas, come and touch my hands, look at the nail prints in my feet, place your hand in my side

Don’t let your doubts stand in the way of your belief

You know it to be true, and yet, your humanity is clouding your ability to see my divinity

You’ve actually seen and now believe

Blessed are the ones who are going to come after you who haven’t seen and yet still believe

Blessed are the ones who hear from your own lips, that you actually touched the risen Jesus, and you know that he is in fact the Your Lord and Your God

Blessed are you and I who come to God’s Holy Altar in faith to experience His Real Presence in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood

Blessed are you and I when we believe in our hearts, and then our eyes are opened to see Jesus’ presence in each other

Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe

May we who have not seen and yet believe, bear witness to the One who died and rose again, so that others might also believe in the Son of God. That they too might know and call upon the very God who gave his life so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. That they too might come within the saving embrace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom we ascribe all might, majesty, dominion, and power, both now and ever more.
Sermon for Easter Sunday
St. John’s Church
April 4, 2010

This morning I must admit that I have not written a sermon. I hope that none of your hearts leapt for joy when I said that, but I must let you know that these brief words that I am about to share are not mine, but are the words of one of the most Godly men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting – The Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi, Primate of the Anglican Church of Uganda. I met His Grace once while in seminary, and again at a gathering in Tallahassee when I was at All Saints’, and both times I knew that I was in the presence of a special individual. I’m sure you can relate and can think of similar people in your life who moved you in such a special and profound way. Someone posted the link to the Archbishop’s Easter message from 2006 on a blog site a few weeks ago, and as soon as I read it, I knew I had to share it with you this morning because it succinctly states the miracle of this day, and does so with clarity and profundity.

I realize that some of what he says does not apply to us here in America or Moultrie, GA for that matter. However, I’ve included it so that you can see how he applies the Easter message to all who might have the opportunity to hear it, and how the Christian message is relevant to every aspect of our lives.

When we are told the water tank for the Archbishop’s Palace is empty (which it often is!), we say, “That is not good.” When my wife, Mama Phoebe, discovers that the food store is empty, we say, “That is not good.” When my driver tells me that the fuel tank in my vehicle is empty, I say, “That is not good.” If you are like me, most of our associations with the word ‘empty’ are negative. We think, “empty is bad, and full is good.” Yet, Easter challenges that assumption, because it is an empty cross and an empty tomb that are central to our faith. The resurrec¬tion from the dead of Jesus Christ sets him apart from all other human beings throughout history and especially all other religious teachers. Buddha is dead. Confucius is dead. Mohammed is dead. Jesus and Jesus alone has returned from the grave, never to die again. Jesus is alive today! Empty is good! Death is the most destructive force in the world and no one else in the whole world except Jesus has overcome death by rising from the dead! That means that those who are “in Christ” can also overcome death and all the other destructive forces at work in the world today. In Christ, we can have victory over negative attitudes, over self-destructive behaviours and habits, over hurtful experiences, over damaging relationships, and over devastating circumstances. Empty is good! We are not powerless to deal with these issues in our lives! Jesus has conquered death; He is victorious. And, through Him, we too can be conquerors and victorious. • Are you struggling with anger? Through Jesus, you can conquer anger and be victorious! • Are you struggling with alcohol? Through Jesus, you can conquer alcohol and be victorious! • Are you struggling with lust? Through Jesus, you can conquer lust and be victorious! • Are you struggling with envy or jealousy? Through Jesus, you can conquer envy and jealousy and be victorious! • Are you struggling with feeling inferior to others? Through Jesus, you can conquer inferiority and be victorious! • Are you struggling with fear? Through Jesus, you can conquer fear and be victorious! • Are you struggling with pride and arrogance? Through Jesus, you can conquer pride and arrogance and be victorious! The empty cross and the empty tomb are good! Jesus “is not here; he is risen!” (Luke 24.6) As a country we struggle with resolving regional conflicts, especially in the north and northeast. But, through Jesus, we can be victorious over conflict and be the inheritors of peace. I call upon the LRA to stop shedding innocent blood. Lay down your guns and come back home to peaceful living and build a unified Uganda. I call upon cattle raiders to lay down your weapons and let Jesus turn your “swords into plowshares.” (Micah 4.3) Through Jesus, together we can all be victorious. As a country we struggle because our children die prematurely from easily preventable diseases. But, through Jesus, we can be victorious over premature death. I call upon all families to build and use pit latrines or toilets, to boil all drinking water, and to observe good principles of personal hygiene and community sanitation. Through Jesus, we can be victorious! As a country we struggle with changing weather patterns, which cause drought and lead to untold human suffering and pain. But, through Jesus, we can be victorious. I call upon every village and community to start planting trees and to pray daily for rain to replenish our lakes and our land. Through Jesus, we can be victorious! As a country we struggle with debilitating diseases like HIV/AIDS, high blood pressure, and diabetes. But, through Jesus, we can be victorious. I call upon every man, woman and child in Uganda to abstain from sex before marriage and to be faithful to one partner in marriage. I urge every cook in every family to prepare low-fat, low-salt, and low-sugar meals with lots of vegetables and fruits. Through Jesus, we can be victorious! As a country we struggle with low self-esteem. But, through Jesus, we can be victorious. I call upon every Ugandan to open your eyes, your mind, and your heart to see the wealth of natural resources God has given to Uganda – fertile soil, natural beauty, lakes, mountains, plains, temperate climate, minerals, and hospitable and hard-working people. We have been given much, and Jesus said, “To whom much has been given, much will be required.” Through Jesus, we will be victorious! We send greetings to the President of Uganda, H.E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, both new and returning Members of Parliament, all other newly elected officials, and all the people of God in Uganda. I wish you all a joyful Easter full of personal and national victory through Jesus. The cross is empty and the tomb is empty. Why? Because Jesus has conquered sin and death and been found victorious. Through Jesus, we, too, can conquer our personal and national struggles and be found victorious! Empty is good. Happy Easter!
Sermon for Good Friday
St. John’s Church
April 2, 2010

One of the many questions that I have been asked over the years revolves around this particular day. More than once someone has asked me – Why is this day called Good Friday?

In a quotation attributed to Gregory of Nazianzus here is what he said about today. “It's Good Friday. The best of all Fridays. Who was Jesus?, Part I He began His ministry by being hungry, yet He is the Bread of Life. Jesus ended His earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet He is the Living Water. Jesus was weary, yet He is our rest. Jesus paid tribute, yet He is the King.”
He went on to further say, “Jesus was accused of having a demon, yet He cast out demons. Jesus wept, yet He wipes away our tears. Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet He redeemed the world. Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd. Jesus died, yet by His death He destroyed the power of death.”

The fact that we are members of a liturgical church means that the sights and images that surround us in our worship send very strong signals and carry with them very important messages. When we look around the sanctuary this afternoon, “goodness” would not be a term that would readily come to mind when we look around the church or listen to what is proclaimed throughout this liturgy. I believe that “darkness” would be a more apt descriptor of what we experience, see, and hear. The ministers enter and depart in silence, wearing only black cassock. The images from last night when everything in the sanctuary was removed are still fresh in our memories, and today nothing appears in the chancel but one lone altar cross, draped in black fabric. The sounds of the beautiful organ are replaced with stark silence and utter emptiness. It’s easy to see why someone might question why today is called Good Friday.

I think it’s good for each of us to consider the answer to that terribly important question – Why is today called Good Friday?

Toward the end of Jesus’ ministry, a rich man comes up to him and asks the following question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ answer in reply sounds terribly condescending, but cuts to the heart of the matter. He replies not with a simple answer, but with another question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Matthew’s account of this story is slightly different where the man says to Jesus, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus’ response in turn, “What do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”

In all three accounts of this story, one theme resonates throughout – we can do nothing, God is the only one who can.

If we want to begin to know and understand why we call today Good Friday, I think Jesus’ answer to the rich man is a place to start.

Jesus masterfully tried to deflect the man’s focus from himself toward God. He wanted to know what he could do to be counted as righteous before God. Jesus’ words are almost shocking – He could do nothing at all. At the end of the Prayer of Consecration are those familiar words, “not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences.” How often do we lose focus on what those words really mean? It’s way too easy to slip into the false sense of security that our good deeds, or our lack of doing the really bad ones, will earn us favor or merit with God. Far too often the temptation to compare ourselves with others, to see how we measure up.

Far too often our focus is in the wrong direction. It’s seemingly about us when it should be about God.

Good Friday is all about the Goodness of God. It’s the story of a Creator who made everything, who declared that it was good, who intended to spend His nights and days in a relationship with His creation in perfect peace and harmony. He intended to walk in the cool of the day with those who he had made. Instead, the thought was planted into the heads of our first parents that we needed to turn our focus from the goodness of God inward toward the goodness and the supposed self-sufficiency of ourselves. Ever since that day we struggle with that same temptation.

Everything about this day points to the Father through the Son. Jesus’ words from the cross do that in glorious majesty. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” “Woman, behold thy son. Behold thy mother.” “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” “It is finished.”

Even at the very end, Jesus gave us the example to follow. His total focus and direction was turned toward God. It was turned toward God because He alone is the source of all that is good. As strange as it sounds the only way to life is through our death – our constant dying to sin, to newness of life through our Lord’s example. The cross we venerate and contemplate this day is the only path to an empty tomb on Easter morn.

“Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die! Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I! Was it for crimes that I had done, he groaned upon the tree! Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree! Thus might I hide my face, while His dear cross appears; dissove my heart in thakfulness, and melt mine eyes in tears.”
Sermon for Maundy Thursday
St. John’s Church
April 1, 2010

I’m not sure how many of you have ever attended a Pesach Seder, or know what happens at a Seder, but one of the striking events of the dinner is one of the questions that the youngest child of the family asks to the patriarch. He asks him, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The answer is always given in the present tense, “This is the night that our forefathers were delivered from bondage of slavery in Egypt.” This is the night. It’s not this was the night, but rather it’s mentioned in the present tense, and it’s done so for a reason. For the Jews, the Passover isn’t simply remembering something from a nostalgic perspective, and think, oh that’s nice to remember. No, it’s something far more important. It’s their story, right then, right now. It’s their story to embrace and hold onto. It’s the story that never gets old being told, and is the being told anew each and every year.

For us tonight, what makes this night different from all other nights?

It’s different because on this night our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples, that took on new meaning. It was a Passover like they had never seen or experienced before. Certainly the unleavened bread, and the wine that they shared together carried in themselves the Passover story of the Jews. Jesus didn’t have to really say anything, and the symbols spoke for themselves. They were again part of the Exodus story; part of God’s plan of salvation to lead his people from bondage of sin into the Land of Promise. Everything that was promised to the Patriarchs and Prophets, they were celebrating once again with Jesus. However, this night was different – noticeably different. In place of the words which normally accompany a Passover meal, Jesus took the bread, he broke it, he gave it to his disciples, and said to them that “THIS WAS HIS BODY.”

After supper he took the cup of wine, shared it with them, and told them, “THIS IS MY BLOOD.” He then told them something else, he told them to go and do this in remembrance of Him.

One of the critical components of the Eucharist service is what is known as the anamnesis. This word means quite literally, “Loss of forgetfulness.” Obviously the opposite is amnesia which is the loss of memory. But anamnesis is the recollection and calling to mind the events of the past, bringing them into the present so that they might have future implications. When we say in the Eucharistic canon, “recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension we offer you these gifts,” we are recalling Christ’s once and for all sacrifice for our sins in the present with the sure and certain hope that the Resurrection awaits us. The canon also has two other points of anamnesis when the celebrant says, “and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again.” Finally, when we hear Jesus’ word’s of institution, he concludes both times, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

We are not simply coming to partake of a small wafer of bread or take a small sip of wine. We are coming to meet the very Word of God who spoke all creation into being, and stepped out of eternity and entered into time and space so that we might be reunited with him. That is why when this service concludes with the stripping of the altar and our beautiful sanctuary is laid bare, we process the Blessed Sacrament in solemn fashion to the altar of repose with those haunting words of our Lord to St. Peter, “couldest not thou watch one hour?” I’m ashamed to admit that Jesus says to me, can you not even give me 5 minutes, let alone 1 hour!

From the start of the service tonight, if I were to ask you what makes this night different from any other, your answer might only be what time we started! However, if I ask that same question at the end, I believe your answers will be quite telling.

What makes this night different from any other night?

Wait and see.

Wait and see.
Sermon for Lent V
St. John’s Church
March 21, 2010

When all else fails in an argument, resort to name calling! Doesn’t it seem like in the midst of an argument or debate that whenever one side feels like they have been defeated and have nowhere else to run they lob a hand grenade into the discussion, stop debate, and begin attacking from another front. One need only read the newspaper, or an internet article, or watch a journalist on television, and I can almost guarantee there will be some type of labeling in the story. I challenge you to find a news report where at least the term liberal or conservative (or something of the like) isn’t present somewhere. And, if you really want to change the direction of the debate, call your opposition a racist. That for me is the tell tale sign that you’ve actually backed your opponent into a corner, and he doesn’t want to admit that he was wrong, misinformed, or misguided – or even worse, that he’s so obtuse he wouldn’t admit the truth if his life depended on it! For some reason the labels are necessary to tell the story.

The same situation occurs in the church. As we here at St. John’s and I personally have held a strong line on the Biblical interpretation of Scripture pertaining to human sexuality and the unpleasant issue that continues to confront our Church, our opponents and detractors throw derogatory phrases in our direction that we are homophobic, fundamentalist, narrow-minded, hypocrites. They’ve ceased debating the issue, and have resorted to ad hominem attacks of character. Of course, I’m sure that I’ve resorted to the same tactics on occasion, but it doesn’t change the fact that name calling doesn’t solidify one’s case, and actually proves that you’ve lost the ability to have a grounded argument in fact.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus faced that exact same name calling by his detractors because they were either unwilling or unable to set aside their view of what the Messiah was supposed to be, and what He was supposed to look like. Therefore, they used two terms readily available to them to sling in Jesus’ direction. They called him a Samaritan and accused him of being demon possessed. It appears that the issue of demons and spiritual warfare is back among us again. To reiterate what I said two weeks ago, we must use this time of Lent to raise our awareness that our enemy Satan is alive and continues to do his bidding among us every day of our lives; that we must be in fervent prayer so that we might be defended from those enemies that intend to do damage to both body and soul. We will confront these attacks every day, and this side of eternity will never escape the devil’s slings and arrows.

Of course the slanderous attacks coming Jesus’ way continue to bounce off of Him as has happened all throughout His ministry. He doesn’t even acknowledge that they have called him a Samaritan, and He makes a simple rebuff at being called demon possessed. The enemy will try any avenue available to prohibit the spread of the Gospel, and our constant fight and battle is to persevere and remain steadfast in our bold proclamation of the Truth. After all, it is only the Truth that will ultimately set us free, and that freedom is found in one place alone – Jesus Christ our Lord. Just a few verses earlier we hear the Lord make that very proclamation himself, that those who abide in His words are truly His disciples, and they will know the truth and it will set them free.

The crowd of Jews doesn’t seem to like Jesus’ answers very well, and then their true colors shine forth when they confront him when he declares that those who keep His commandments would never die. They say to him in reply, “Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?”
The crowds have totally missed the point here, because of what they are dwelling upon. Three times they mention the “deadness” of their forefathers. There’s no way to know if this interaction occurred at the same time as the exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees when they ask him about the woman married to seven brothers, and whose wife would she be at the resurrection.

Quick side note that I can expand upon when that Gospel lesson comes up – why exactly did the Sadducees ask Jesus about this woman and the resurrection if they didn’t believe in the resurrection anyway? End of side note

Jesus replies to this group and tells them that they don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. Know, you want to talk about your forceful statements – Jesus is telling one of the priestly groups of His day that they don’t know their Scriptures. That’s the equivalent of telling the Pope he doesn’t know very much about Roman Catholicism. He tells them they’ve gotten it all wrong, but he goes on to tell them why. He says to them, “But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
He is not the God of the dead but of the living! On Easter Sunday morning we’re going to hear words with that exact same message. When the women come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away, two men in dazzling garments say to they, “why do you seek the living among the dead?”

Jesus confronts the Jews in this morning’s Gospel with that exact same message – why do you keep dwelling upon death – for Jesus came to bring life, and to bring it abundantly. They have turned the ultimate message of hope into a message of despair, and Jesus is going to blow away the remainder of their incorrect teaching with the pinnacle I AM statement when he declares to the crowds, “before Abraham was, I AM.” Please note, Jesus doesn’t say before Abraham was, I was. What he has done in just a few words is take all of the divinity of God upon himself. Actually, he makes the ultimate declaration of his identity by using those two Greek words – egw eimi. When he does so, he takes the sacred Name of God and personifies it. He adopts it as His own, when in actuality, it was his from the very beginning.

When Moses encounters the burning bush and speaks to God in the bush and asks, “whom shall I say has sent me?” the voice replies saying, “Tell them that I AM sent you.” When Jesus tells the people that before Abraham was, I AM, the crowd of Jews know full well what he’s just done. They don’t have a clue what it ultimately means, but they sure know that Jesus has committed an unpardonable sin, and they are going to exact judgment on the spot. However, the Scripture says that Jesus hid himself, went out of the Temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.
Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes that they are like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside and yet on the inside were full of dead men’s bones. Not only does Jesus accuse the Pharisees of being full of dead men’s bones, John mentions that Jesus departs from the Temple, and I’m sure that there is the implication here that the Temple was full of dead men’s bones as well.
And so, we come to yet another one of those poignant questions of the Bible in our lesson this morning. For me, this question is almost as profound as Pilate’s question to Jesus when he is questioning him and asks him, What is truth? The Jews ask Jesus in our passage today, “whom makest thou thyself?” in other words, they say to him, who do you make yourself out to be? The fundamental difference here is that they are attempting to make Jesus a creature, when in fact they are talking to the Creator! This is a question of identity, and they have started at the wrong place. Since they’re coming to the table with incorrect assumptions from the beginning, they are naturally going to end up at the wrong destination.
They approach their questions from the standpoint of the dead, and they are questioning the very source of life itself. They want to know what Jesus’ life has to do with their dead ancestors, and Jesus is telling them that they are in essence disgracing their history and heritage by missing the point that God from the very beginning is the God of life, and not death. Even in the midst of the Fall, the seeds of redemption were sewn when God says to Eve that even though there would always be enmity between the seed of Man and the seed of Satan that in the end the seed of Man would bruise or crush the head of Evil and Death. Those forces would forever nip at our heels, and part of our time this Lent is to come to grips with that fact. We are called upon to examine those places in our lives where Satan comes each and every day to bruise us in any fashion he can. We are called to fervent prayer to cry out to God for mercy and help that He aid us in crushing those temptations, sinful desires, evil habits, cruel thoughts, and all other wiles and crafts of the Devil. This is critical in the keeping of a holy Lent.

This morning is Passion Sunday in which we continue to draw to a more narrow focus what lies ahead for us these remaining two weeks of Lent. Our focus should direct us to the cross – the place where death was defeated once and for all; where hung for us the God not of the dead but of the living; who hung upon that hard wood so that he might taste death on our behalf so that we might come into that loving and living embrace of Almighty God our Heavenly Father for all eternity.
Sermon for Lent IV
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
March 14, 2009

One of the great joys of preaching on a text such as the Gospel for this morning is that one can explore the differences between the accounts of the story. With the major exception being the Passion, there are not a too many places where all four Evangelists record the same story, but the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 is one of those occasions.

The rarity of this is quite significant because prior to the triumphal entry, there are really only three times that all four Gospels relay the same story. First, all speak of the ministry of John the Baptist and have some recording of Jesus’ baptism by John. Second, all four make record of St. Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Finally, all four record the feeding of the 5,000 as we heard just a few moments ago. I don’t think we should push this significance too far, but there is clearly a special importance since in this case all four Gospels record this story in a similar fashion.

Today is one of those rare times where I’m not planning on expending upon the story and speaking about details contained in one of the other three accounts. Rather, I’m going to address something that I find most interesting and unique that I find in St. John’s account.

There are a number of instances when reading the Scriptures that a particular sentence, phrase, detail leaves you puzzled, and almost begging the question, “Why did the author include that?” In this morning’s Gospel lesson, I wondered about the phrase, “Now there was much grass in the place.” Most of the time I would probably glance right over something as seemingly insignificant as John’s detail about the terrain. A phrase that appears out of place like noting that it was sunny outside, the flowers smelled nice, or the birds were singing a lovely tune. However, I believe there is more here than meets the eye.

Certainly, I believe that the comment is a description of the area where the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 would take place. John is trying to paint a mental picture that there is in fact enough room for a mass of people to assemble and sit down as the story explains.

However, if we dig a little deeper I believe there is something else behind those brief words. One of the great I AM statements in John’s gospel speaks about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. One of the attributes of Jesus the Good Shepherd is that he leads his sheep out and goes before them leading them as the 23rd Psalm says, “beside the waters of comfort…[to] feed in green pasture[s].” The people who were following Jesus that day were being fed by the words that he spoke to them, and would then be filled physically as well. Of course the physical need for food was merely temporal, but the words that Jesus spoke were true bread and met their spiritual needs, which of course are the things eternal. They were in just the right place to receive this nourishment because the Good Shepherd had led them to a field with much grass. The environment was perfect, and I believe that John is conveying that detail when he mentions that there is much grass in the place.

As we sit here this morning, we too are in a place with much grass. A place where we were led by the Good Shepherd to receive nourishment in the form of Christ’s Body and Blood. Like the feeding of the 5,000, what seems like a woefully insignificant thing, the receiving of a small wafer of bread and a sip of wine is transformed into the most significant thing we can ever do. As St. Paul told the Corinthian church, “For as often as we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

With the most remarkable of twists, and through God’s divine Providence, the Good Shepherd who leads us into green pastures where there is much grass, becomes the true Lamb, which was slain so that we might taste death no more. It is not grass that we are to feed upon, but Christ Himself.

When we gather together to celebrate the Holy Communion, we come to another miraculous feeding. No, we are not seeking to multiply loaves and fishes on the altar. Rather, we pray that God, through the Holy Spirit, might transform the gifts of bread and wine into the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. That He might so change that which seems so small, into something that surpasses everything we could ever imagine. That we through faith might worthily receive the greatest gift that has ever been given. And, that as we offer our selves, our souls, and bodies as a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice we seek God’s nourishment that we might be forever changed, and transformed.

Part of our life-long journey is the process of sanctification or being made holy. We bear God’s image and we were created in His likeness. Receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is a critical component of our sanctification as we strive to live out the last line of the Prayer of Humble Access in which we pray that we may evermore dwell in Christ as He does in us.

Jesus told his disciples as He ascended to the Father that He would be with them always. He made that promise to us as well. Behold there is much grass in this place and the Good Shepherd has led to a pasture where he has promised to be truly present.