Archive for February, 2015

“Sibling Rivalry” (February 25, 2015; Ascension Episcopal School–Sugar Mill Pond Campus, Youngsville, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons on February 26, 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 fourth of the several sermons I have been assigned to preach as part of the series.

“…If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”—Mark 9.35[1]

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

When I was either six or seven, I remember traveling with my father, stepmother, and some of my half/stepsiblings on a family vacation to my father’s hometown of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. It was while driving through (I think) West Virginia in the family’s red Chevrolet Astro van in which my youngest stepsister, two years older than me, and I starting arguing about something. Although I do not remember what it was that we were arguing about, what I do remember is that I got so upset with my stepsister that I called her a not-so-pleasant term. Immediately upon hearing this, my father shouted out, “BRANDT! What did you just say?” I was silent, fearing that corporal punishment was about to come. “HUH?” my father said, with me still silent as a stone and remaining so for the remainder of that day’s journey.

When we later arrived at my Aunt Norma and Uncle Harold’s house in Beaver Falls, I remember my father and I, for a brief moment, looking at each other. During this moment, I remember thinking, “This is it. I’m about to get it,” bracing myself for what was about to come. But my father, while looking at me, probably picked up, from the mixed expression of guilt and terror on my face, that I realized my error and got the assurance that I would never call my stepsister (or anybody else, for that matter) the term that I did ever again. As the moment ended, my father left and went to another part of the house. It was a gift of grace that I was thankful to receive.

Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus asking the Apostles a question: “What were you discussing on the way?” Jesus asked this question because while He and the Apostles were making their way toward Capernaum, the Apostles were talking with each other about who amongst them was the greatest. Through their silence, the Apostles convey their embarrassment about the situation. Despite their silence, Jesus knows exactly what it was the Apostles were discussing and uses the situation as a teachable moment. He offers two specific lessons: “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” and “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

The major issue at the forefront is the question of precedence and rank and Jesus addresses it in two ways. First, He challenges the day’s perception of what it meant to be great by stating that the one who serves is the one who is first. What we hear Jesus say in verse 35 is a reaffirmation of something that He previously said in chapter 8: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”[2] To the Philippians, Saint Paul says, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”[3] Jesus, the human form of God, willingly took on the role of a servant and through His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, served all. Because of His offering Himself in service to all, humanity’s redemption and reconciliation with God the Father was achieved. Therefore, because of what Christ has done, those who profess themselves to be Jesus’ followers are called to be servants of all in accordance with His example. This is how it is to be for the Apostles. Through His teaching, Jesus instructs the Apostles that if they each want to be the first and greatest, then they are to love and serve their neighbor, putting away their selfish ambition and need for recognition. Love of and service to neighbor is the mark of true greatness.

Jesus illustrates his first point by taking a small child and putting him in the midst of the Apostles. The child represents the call that Jesus makes to the Apostles and to all who follow Him to give of themselves to those that are the least among them, who have the low statuses of society. The followers of Jesus are not to be pretentious or self-involved. Whoever loves and serves others, Jesus says, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me. All who love and serve their neighbor in obedience to Christ’s will experience the richness of fellowship with both God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ.

In our own day, we have seen and continue to see the negative effects caused by others’ need for glory and laudable recognition. Everyday, either on the internet, local and inter/national news channels, or in local and inter/national newspapers, there seems to always be, at least, one story highlighting a circumstance brought about by the personal ego and need for high status, privilege, and power of someone or a group of people, determined to get ahead at whatever costs necessary. Although these actions temporarily benefit him/her/those doing them, they end up hurting significantly more people throughout the process. This is what we hear from today’s epistle from Saint James: For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”[4] This is what the constant fixation on precedence and rank leads to—a total disregard for the feelings, concerns, and needs of others. It leads to ill will, anger, and the potentiality of causing harm, either emotionally, physically, or both.

This is why Jesus is insistent about true greatness being achieved through sincere love and service to others. In his first epistle, Saint John the Apostles says, “…He who loves God should also love his brother also.”[5] Jesus Himself says in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”[6] As Christians, our actions carry a significant weight within the world. When we love and serve our neighbor, we love and serve God. “God is love, Saint John declares, “and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” [7]

Once again, what we have just heard through sacred Scripture reflects well the first line of our school’s mission statement: “Ascension Episcopal School is committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment.” All of us here, in this place, have the opportunity to do and live into those things that Christ commands and to be the people that He calls us to be. We have an opportunity to be examples of Christian love and service, doing our part to transform the world through the power of the Gospel. All of us have an opportunity and the chance to make a difference. Will you heed Jesus’ call? Will you love and serve others because of Jesus’ love for you? May the Lord, who gives us the opportunity and will to do these things, give us the grace and power to perform them. Amen.

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

[2] Mark 8.34-35

[3] Philippians 2.4-8

[4] James 3.16

[5] I John 4.21

[6] Matthew 25.40

[7] I John 4.16

“The Collar” (January 21, 2015; Ascension Episcopal School–Sugar Mill Pond Campus, Youngsville, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons on February 26, 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 second of the several sermons I have been assigned to preach as part of the series.

“Then Jesus went up on a hill and called some men to come to him.”—Mark 3.13[1]

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

As the last semester was approaching its end, one of your classmates in one of the Credo courses made a remark about me wearing my collar almost every day, saying, “It’s intimidating.” The reason why I wear my collar is threefold: 1) it is a visible symbol of the sacred office I hold within the Church; 2) for the wider world, it is a visible representation of my Christian witness, through which I show that “I am not ashamed of the Good News, because it is the power God uses to save everyone who believes”;[2] and 3) for me, personally, this collar constantly reminds me that it is not about me, but about Jesus and that it is His Gospel that I have been called to preach. At my ordination as a Deacon, I made a public promise “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.”[3] In my vocation as a Priest, I am called “to love and serve the people among whom [I] work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.”[4] That is why I wear this collar. It reminds me of all that I have promised God and the People of His Church to do.

In today’s installment of our series on Saint Mark’s Gospel, we hear about Jesus’ calling of the Twelve Apostles and His description of who His true family is: “Those who do the things God wants.” But like we have done with several other series installments, in order for us to see the complete context of today’s installment, we must first go back and see what it is that comes before it. In the preceding pericope, Mark reports that “a large crowd from Galilee followed [Jesus]. Also many people from Judea, from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from the lands across the Jordan River, and from the area of Tyre and Sidon.”[5] From this description, we get a picture of the large crowd following Jesus encompassing a wide variety of people from Israel and its surrounding areas. Surely within this crowd were young people, old people, strong people, weak people, rich people, and poor people. For us, this large crowd on the mountain is an archetype of the Church, “the community of the New Testament, the People of God, the pillar and ground of truth.”[6] The crowd represents the mission that Christ came to fulfill—to free us from the power of sin, thereby restoring us to unity with God and each other.[7]

The description of the large crowd in verses 7 and 8 provides the contextual understanding for Jesus’ response to the people’s statement that “your mother and brothers are waiting for you outside.” Jesus says, “My true brother and sister and mother are those who do the things God wants.” All of us here, in this place, are children of God. When we surrender ourselves to God’s will, being completely obedient to Him, we become part of Jesus’ family. To do God’s will, which makes us part of Jesus’ family, binds all of us, His people, together into a fellowship that permits us to know Jesus and He us in a more deep, relational way.

We are all called to obey the will of God. We are the Church, the united community of Jesus in the world. What we are all called to do is to “go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have told you.”[8] But how is the Church equipped to carry out its mission? Our answer comes through Jesus’ calling of the Twelve Apostles. “He wanted these [Twelve] to be with him, and he wanted to send them to other places to preach.” Through the Twelve Apostles, we see the call that Jesus places upon some to engage in the work of equipping the larger Christian community for its missionary work. The Apostles were chosen to accompany Christ, to participate in His mission, and to receive a share in His authority as they, in turn, were sent out to preach and heal in His Name.[9] We see the continuance of the Apostles’ ministry today in the form of the ordained ministry, with Bishops as the direct inheritors of the Apostles’ ministry, called to build up the Church and guard its faith, unity, and discipline; Priests called to assist the Bishops in overseeing the Church’s work, pastoring the people, proclaiming the Gospel, administering the Sacraments, and blessing and declaring pardon to God’s people; and Deacons called to assist the Bishops and Priests in proclaiming God’s Word and administering the Sacraments to those on the fringes of society—the poor, the sick, the friendless, and the needy. All of us are called to follow Jesus; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are called by Jesus to be the Church’s visible examples of engaging in active Christian discipleship and to equip the Church in doing so.

So we learn two things through today’s Mark installment. First, the Church is the family of Jesus on Earth, composed of every single person who calls upon and is baptized in His Name and does God’s will. Second, from within His family, Jesus calls some to a special ministry for the benefit of the greater number, so that all can be equipped in the work of restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Him.[10] This collar is a symbol of the promise I made to serve you, the young people, teachers, and administrators that I have been called to work amongst. As I seek to continue encouraging you to be the best that God knows each of you can be, I ask that you keep me, your chaplain and servant, in your prayers.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Century Version®, Copyright ©1987, 1988 by Word Publishing.

[2] Romans 1.16

[3] “The Ordination of a Deacon,” 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: Oxford University Press, 1979), 543.

[4] “The Ordination of a Priest,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 531.

[5] Mark 3.7-8

[6] “An Outline of the Faith Commonly Called the Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 854.

[7] Ibid., 849, 855.

[8] Matthew 28.19-20

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York, New York: Doubleday, 1995), ¶551.

[10] “An Outline of the Faith Commonly Called the Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 855.

“Faith in Jesus, The Word of God” (January 26, 2015; Ascension Episcopal School–Sugar Mill Pond Campus, Youngsville, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons on February 26, 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 is a special sermon series on the Gospel According to Saint Mark.  Below is the third of the several sermons I have been assigned to preach as part of the series.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”—Mark 4.40[1]

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

This past Friday, for his senior chapel talk, Parker Guillot spoke on Mark 4.30-34, the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to that of the mustard seed’s growth, that “when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”[2] God’s Word, spoken through and manifested in the Person of Jesus, is the mustard seed, itself. When God’s Word is received and planted within the hearts of those who believe, it becomes, like the mustard seed, “the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches…” When this happens, the Kingdom of God becomes more real and felt both by and among God’s people on Earth. As Jesus Himself taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[3]

From last week’s series installment describing faith in God’s Word being “like a grain of mustard seed,”[4] we see an immediate illustration by way of today’s Mark series installment, the story of Jesus calming a storm on the sea. In the story, Jesus and His disciples are in a boat on the sea. “The waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.” The disciples are terrified. Jesus was in the boat’s stern sleeping. Fearing for their lives, they wake Jesus up, frantically shouting, “Do you not care that if we perish?” Jesus wakes up and immediately calms the storm: “Peace! Be still!” He then says to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” The disciples are bewildered and amazed at what they have just seen, wondering who this Person is in front of them, being that Nature itself obeys His word.

Two things are being conveyed to us. First, the fact that the storm immediately subdues at Jesus’ command conveys that He is more than just a regular human being. In addition to His humanity, this story puts forth the truth of Jesus’ divinity. To both the disciples and us, Jesus is shown to be God in human flesh. He is the personal, living God who intervenes in the experience of men with a revelation of his power and His will.[5] As God, Jesus has dominion over the forces of nature, proven through His words “Peace! Be still!” to the wind and sea. Jesus’ words reflect back to what we hear in both Genesis and the Gospel According to Saint John: “And God said, ‘Let there be…’ And it was so”[6] and “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”[7] Being that Jesus created the wind and the sea, it makes sense that He has the power to control them. This story connects with the mustard seed parable in that it shows the power of Jesus’ words and how they can subdue any sort of storm that may rage.

Second, Jesus’ questioning of the disciples connects with what He said in the preceding pericope about the mustard seed growing up, in that it shows that even though Jesus, God’s Word, was there with them, the disciples still lacked in faith, unable to realize that all would be well. With the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the disciples were clued in to the revelation that the Kingdom of God had come near in the Person of Jesus, but, because of their terror of the wind and sea, they were blind to this realization. This is why Jesus chastises them: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” The disciples had no need to fear, for Jesus, God Himself, was with them. The fact of their misunderstanding is evident by way of their aweing question: “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” For us, this conveys the truth that is the Word of God. When the Word of God is planted in us, it grows and becomes strong and firm. As God’s Word continually grows within us, so does our faith, which gives us the courage to trust that whatever life throws at us, there is no power on Earth that will be able to defeat us.

When I was in seminary in New York City, completing my second year and going into my third year, I experienced the most trying period of my life in regards to my faith. I was a person of particular theological convictions, whereas the majority of my classmates held to theological convictions that were very much different from my own. This caused me to feel like I was an outsider, wonder why I wanted to be a Priest, and even caused me to not want to attend daily chapel for a time. It was during my third and final year, doing my field education work at Saint Thomas Church (Fifth Avenue), one of The Episcopal Church’s great Anglo-Catholic parishes, in which my crisis of faith began to subside. Sitting in a pew, Sunday after Sunday, near the high altar behind the parish’s famous Choir of Men and Boys, hearing the sermons preached from the great pulpit, full of surety and conviction in the truth of God’s Word, brought me back to my faith and THE FAITH. Saint Thomas Church (Fifth Avenue) became more than a field education site to me; it became an extension of my family. The parishioners’ witnessing to the Christian faith drew me out of my deep desert space and I will forever be grateful for the role they played in bringing me back to my faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.

From today’s series installment, the Good News that we are given is that the Word of God is true and has the power to subdue the storms that rage in our lives. Although it may seem that the storms of life are crashing in on us and that there is no hope to be found, there is hope and His name is Jesus. That is how community can be important. Through prayer, support, and love, our community can help us get through those tough times, assuring us that there is still hope and that all shall be well. Here is how we, Ascension Episcopal School, manifest our faith in the Word and Kingdom of God: “Ascension Episcopal School is committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment.” May we be people of faith, firmly rooted in the Word—Jesus Christ.

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

[2] Mark 4.32

[3] Matthew 6.10

[4] Mark 4.31

[5] Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 176.

[6] Genesis 1.1-2.3

[7] John 1.2-3