Archive for January, 2015

“Time Is of the Essence” (January 7, 2014; Ascension Episcopal School–Sugar Mill Pond Campus, Youngsville, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , on January 8, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

For the Spring 2015 semester, during daily chapels at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana, there will be a special sermon series on the Gospel According to Saint Mark.  Below is the first of the several sermons i have been assigned to preach as part of the series.

“And a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’”–Mark 1.11[1]

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

Yesterday, Mr. [Peter] Johnston introduced a new sermon series that we are undertaking on the Gospel of Saint Mark, which is commonly accepted as being the first written of the four canonical New Testament Gospels. He began with an exposition on the pivotal first verse: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[2] I regret that I was not able to be present for Mr. Johnston’s sermon, but have no doubts that it was very well done and an insightful start to what, I feel, will be a wonderful series. Today, we will pick up where Mr. Johnston left off with a consideration of Mark 1.2-11

With the addition of verse 1, verses 2-11 of Mark 1 composes what is this Gospel’s Prologue, from which is presented the preaching of John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. The Revised Standard Version begins verse 2 with the words “as it is written,” whereas the Good News Translation begins this same verse with different words: “It began.” With the combination of the Revised Standard Version’s translation of verse 1 as “the beginning of the Gospel…” with the Good News Translation’s beginning of verse 2 with the words “it began,” Mark sets up the Good News as being the start of a brand new age. The coming of Jesus was the beginning of this new age. Mark’s Gospel is very thorough, yet gets straight to the point, with its emphasis being more on what is happening than on what is being said (although what is being said is also important). For Mark, to use a term from American and British contract law, “time is of the essence.”

Mark proclaims the coming of this new age with the appearance of John the Baptist: “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way: the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” In the Gospel According to Saint Luke, an angel of the Lord says this about John in foretelling his birth to his father Zechariah: “…He will be filled with the Holy Spirit…He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before them in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”[3] So here we have Mark presenting John the Baptist as both a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and performing an important function for the people of Israel. He is Jesus’ forerunner, proclaiming that He, who will come after him, “is mightier than I” and “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John’s water baptism is the visible sign of his calling of the people to repentance and preparation to receive Jesus and the Gospel that He will soon proclaim. The appearance of John the Baptist was a happening of the highest magnitude, for it signified that a new age in salvation history was very, very close at hand.

Jesus then appears in verse 9, having come “from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” The placement of verses 8 and 9 together is a transitional description of the differences between the kinds of baptism that one offers from the other. The appearance of Jesus occurs immediately after being told “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” in verse 8, with Him, likewise, submitting to John’s baptism “with water” in verse 9. As Jesus comes up from the water, Heaven opens up, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove, and, from Heaven, God says, “Thou art my beloved Son: with thee I am well pleased.”

What we see here are two things. First, we see the formal transition from the period of preparation to the age of salvation. With Jesus now having appeared and submitted Himself to John’s baptism, the way of the Lord has been prepared, His paths have been straightened, and the age of salvation has now come. By submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus takes on the form of a lowly penitent, passively receiving the sign of repentance on behalf of all God’s people. Jesus comes to John as the One willing to assume the brunt of the judgment from which a new Israel will emerge.[4] Second, in verses 9-11, we are given a picture of baptism as being “the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” The outward and visible sign is water, symbolizing one’s choice to renounce evil, repent of his/her sins, and turn to Jesus as his/her Lord and Savior. The inward and spiritual grace is union with God, being “sealed by the Holy Spirit…and marked as Christ’s own forever.”[5] Through our own baptism, God’s word to Jesus becomes His word to us: “You are my own dear son [/daughter], and I am pleased with you.”[6]

From today’s appointed text, Mark 1.2-11, we are put in the context of a particular time—the beginning of a new age in salvation history. John the Baptist prepares us for it. By His appearance, Jesus officially begins it. “The time is now,” Mark is saying. “The age of salvation has now come!” This is “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

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

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952; New Testament Section, First Edition, Copyright 1946; Second Edition © 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Mark 1.1

[3] Luke 1.13-17

[4] Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 54.

[5] From the liturgy for Holy Baptism, The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York, New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), p. 308.

[6] Mark 1.11 as translated in the Contemporary English Version®, Copyright © 1995 by the American Bible Society.

 

“Dr. Lattimore’s Epiphany” (January 4, 2015: The Second Sunday after Christmas Day–Year B; The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , on January 4, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

“Where is he who is born King of the Jews?”–Matthew 2.2[1]

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

On one of the bookshelves in my school office are translations of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the New Testament Epistles, and the Revelation to John done by the late Richmond Lattimore, given to me by Father [Andrew C.] Mead, my New York mentor, upon his retirement as Rector of Saint Thomas (Fifth Avenue). From 1935-1971, Dr. Lattimore was a faculty member in the Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies Department at Bryn Mawr College, situated four miles west of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was regarded as one the most prominent Greek scholars of his time. It is said that his translations of both the Iliad and the Odyssey are the best that have ever been done. There is a story about Dr. Lattimore that I once heard Father Mead tell that has since stuck with me. It is a moving story that, I feel, both testifies to the power of sacred Scripture and gives us an insight into today’s appointed Gospel.

The story takes place in the early 1980s when Father Mead was the Rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, a Philadelphia suburb located alongside the historic Pennsylvania Main Line. Father Mead recalled seeing Dr. Lattimore at church with his wife, Alice, on Sunday mornings, but that when it came time to receive Communion, he never accompanied her to the Altar rail. It seems that in regards to the long made claims of the Christian faith, Dr. Lattimore had significant doubts. But it was also around this time in which Dr. Lattimore’s translations of the New Testament had become complete and were either in the process of being published or had not long been published. It was evident that this particular project had a profound impact upon the distinguished scholar.

Getting to the specific event itself, Dr. Lattimore was in his mid 80s and recovering from an illness at a Philadelphia hospital. Father Mead came to visit him and although he knew that Dr. Lattimore did not receive Communion at church, he asked if he could bring Communion there to him at the hospital. Dr. Lattimore said, “I would love to receive Communion, but I can’t.” As it turns out, not only did Dr. Lattimore once have significant doubts regarding Christianity’s claims, but he also had never baptized. After getting a positive response to becoming baptized, Father Mead talked with Dr. Lattimore about when and where he would like for the service to take place, with a public baptism during the Great Vigil of Easter being the ultimate decision.

But there was still a lingering question that Father Mead could not constrain himself from asking. “Dr. Lattimore, I thought you had reservations about the Christian faith and the Church.” “I did,” said the elderly scholar. “But you don’t any longer?” asked Father Mead. “No, not any longer,” said Dr. Lattimore. Father Mead then had to know, “Please then may I ask you, when did they go away?” After a short passage of time, with an endearing smile, Dr. Lattimore said, “Somewhere in Saint Luke.”[2]

From Dr. Lattimore’s experience, we can see why Scripture is referred to as the “Good News.” I can only imagine Dr. Lattimore sitting in a pew at Rosemont’s Church of the Good Shepherd Sunday after Sunday observing the liturgy, listening to the sermon, and watching everyone else partake of our Lord’s Body and Blood, while, at the same time, dealing with the doubt that existed within him. Although he was hearing the Good News being proclaimed every Sunday, his reservations must have finally gotten to him, which led him, as a Greek scholar, to translate the New Testament, seeing, for himself, if there was any truth to what he was being told. For Dr. Lattimore, it was at a certain point while translating Saint Luke’s Gospel that the claims of Christianity became fully true for him. The feeling must have been the same as John Wesley’s experience at Aldersgate: “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”[3] By translating the New Testament, Dr. Lattimore experienced God’s love for him in a most moving and powerful way, in a way that convinced him that the claims made by the Gospel were, indeed, true. By responding positively to Father Mead’s offer of becoming baptized, Dr. Lattimore conveyed his desire to formally join with others in living out these words of the Apostle Paul: “Therefore…be steadfast, and preserve the traditions you were taught by us whether by word of mouth or by letter.”[4]

In today’s Gospel, Wise Men from the East have come to Jerusalem in search for the Child Jesus, “he who is born King of the Jews.” Contrary to tradition, we do not know if there were exactly three Wise Men, for the text does not say this. The traditional numbering of the Wise Men as three comes from the gifts that were presented to the newborn King: gold, representative of His Kingship, frankincense, signifying Jesus’ divinity, and myrrh, which foreshadows the preparation of His body for burial after His death at Calvary. Furthermore, in the actual Greek, they are described as magoi, from which comes the Latin word magi, hence why we hear today’s Gospel sometimes called “the Coming of the Magi.” In some Biblical translations, magoi is rendered in English as “astrologers,” describing them as wise men excellently skilled in the study of celestial objects. This particular translation inserts within the story a more personal dimension for these Eastern travelers, providing further context for God’s use of a star to guide them to His human manifestation. “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright; westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to thy perfect light!”[5]

My point in mentioning these details is to bring forth a couple of other points. First, just like Dr. Lattimore, these Wise Men were on a journey, searching for the Truth. To the anxious and insecure Herod, we hear referenced these words from the prophet Micah: “You also, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means the least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you will come a leader who will be a shepherd of my people, Israel.”[6] The fact that this very prophecy was recalled in regards to reports that Herod received regarding the Wise Men’s search leads to the conclusion that the Wise Men, too, knew Micah’s prophecy. They knew what had been foretold about Jesus. But not only did they know the prophecies, they believed them. It was their belief in what had been foretold that sustained them in their waiting for the sign to appear. Then the sign came—“his star in the East.” How glorious the sighting of it must have been. All that they had studied and believed was actually coming true. But the sight of the star was not enough for them. They had to see if it was all really true. So they got on the move and followed the star to the infant Jesus, not to study, not for just simple confirmation, but to worship.

Second, through today’s Gospel, we see God’s willingness to manifest Himself through the means of what we are.   The Wise Men were skilled astronomers, hence God’s use of a star to herald to them the news that the long awaited Messiah had come and guide them to the place where Jesus lay. Dr. Lattimore was a Greek scholar and it was through his translating of the New Testament in which God was able to reach out and forever change him, making him a new creature in Christ Jesus, driving away his old life of doubt and making firm his new life of faith.[7] “There are varieties of gifts; but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, and the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, and the same God, who activates them all among all.”[8] Using words from one particular commentary I consulted for this sermon, “God is determined to be found, and will use any and all measures, even tomfoolery…to reach out to people who are open.”[9]

Thirdly, and most importantly, from the Wise Men meeting and worshipping the infant Jesus comes the Good News for all of us. The reason why this meeting is Good News can be found in the very first verse of today’s Gospel: “Behold, wise men from the east…”[10] These Eastern travelers that have come to Bethlehem to worship he who is born King of the Jews are Gentiles! At least 28 times throughout the Old Testament is found variations of a promise made by God to the Hebrew people: “I will take you for my people, and I will be your God.”[11] But from the prophet Isaiah, we hear this: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” From Jesus Himself, we hear this: “And [when] I am lifted aloft from the earth, will draw all to myself.”[12] And in regards to the ministry of Saint Paul, Jesus says to Ananias, “Go on, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the [Gentiles] and the Kings and sons of Israel…”[13] So from this scene, we get God’s Good News that His salvation, made manifest in Jesus, will be offered to all people. The death that Jesus will die at Calvary, His resurrection from death three days afterwards, and His ascension, with fullness of body and divinity, into Heaven will be done for all people, Jew and Gentile. Hence why this scene is representative of all of our respective Christian journeys. It is the Epiphany, the manifestation of God as human in the Person of Jesus, an event orchestrated by God to include all of us. Although each of us has come or is coming to Christ by our own respective ways, the common trait that unites us all is that God, by His grace, has offered to every single one of us the opportunity to come.

Will Thompson offers us these words:

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling

Calling for you and for me;

See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,

Watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home,

You who are weary come home;

Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,

Calling, O sinner, come home.[14]

Through the witness of the Wise Men, Jesus is calling. Through the witness of all the saints who have gone before, Jesus is calling. The Gospel is true. God’s salvation is being offered to all of us. “The love of God was revealed among us…that God sent his only-begotten son into the world so that we might live through him.”[15] Do you believe Him? Will you heed His call? Will you come to Jesus?

The Lord has shown forth His glory: Come let us adore Him. Amen.

[1] New Testament Scripture quotations are from The Four Gospels and the Revelation (London, England: Hutchinson of London, 1980) and Acts and Letters of the Apostles (New York, New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1982), both translated from the Greek by Richmond Lattimore. Old Testament Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] From “Traversing Afar,” a sermon preached by Father Andrew C. Mead as the XII Priest and Rector of Saint Thomas Church in the City and County of New York on January 16, 2005, published in Catechesis: A Collection of Sermons for the Christian Year (New York, New York: Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, 2014), pp. 94-97.

[3] The Works of John Wesley: Third Edition–Complete and Unabridged (Volumes 1-2: Journals from October 14, 1735 to November 29, 1745) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 1998), pg. 103.

[4] II Corinthians 2.15

[5] From the hymn “We Three Kings,” words and music by John Henry Hopkins (1820-1891).

[6] Cf. Micah 5.2

[7] II Corinthians 5.17

[8] I Corinthians 12.4-6

[9] From James C. Howell’s “Theological Perspective” commentary on Matthew 2.1-12, found in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Year B, Volume I) (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pg. 214.

[10] Revised Standard Version

[11] Exodus 6.7

[12] John 12.32

[13] Acts 9.15

[14] “Softly and Tenderly,” words and music by Will L. Thompson (1847-1909).

[15] I John 4.9