Archive for July, 2016

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

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on July 30, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Psalm 118.23

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

Posted in Sermons with tags , , on July 24, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Romans 15.5-6

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

[5] Matthew 6.9

[6] Romans 8.38-39

[7] II Corinthians 6.18

[8] Romans 3.22b-23

[9] Acts 15.11

[10] I John 4.20-21

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

[12] Matthew 6.10

[13] I Thessalonians 5.16-18

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

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

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

[17] Matthew 6.9

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

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

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

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

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

“Who is my neighbor?”—Luke 10.29[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] I Corinthians 9.16 (New International Version)

[4] Psalm 124.8

[5] Ephesians 3.20

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

[7] I John 2.1-2

[8] I Corinthians 13.13

[9] The Message Bible

[10] Genesis 1.27, 31

[11] Philippians 4.13

[12] John 1.11, 14

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

[14] Isaiah 53.5

[15] Matthew 28.20

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