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“Samuel D. Ferguson, George F. Bragg, and W.E.B. DuBois” (August 2, 2017: Wednesday after Pentecost VIII–Proper 12A)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached at the weekly Healing Eucharist of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on Wednesday, August 2, 2017 at 6:00pm.

Gospel: Luke 18.1-8

“And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.”—Luke 18.7-8[1]

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

A Great Cloud of Witnesses[2] puts forth this week three significant figures, all racial minorities, from our Church’s past: Samuel David Ferguson, George Freeman Bragg, Jr., and William Edward Burghardt DuBois. Considering all three of these individuals’ importance in the history of both our Church and the world, I have elected to briefly highlight all of them in a combined commemoration. I am glad that we are tonight remembering these individuals, for their lives and work exemplify God’s command “to act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”[3]

Samuel David Ferguson, Missionary Bishop for West Africa (1842-1916)

Samuel David Ferguson was the Fourth Bishop of Cape Palmas (later the Missionary District of Liberia) from June 24, 1885 until his death on August 2, 1916. In addition to being Liberia’s first black bishop, Ferguson was The Episcopal Church’s first bishop of color to be afforded full seat and voice in the House of Bishops, a privilege that the Church’s very first (and, until Ferguson, only) black bishop, First Bishop of Haiti James Theodore Holly, had been denied.

In conjunction with his episcopal ministry, Ferguson’s primary emphasis was in education. He helped start several schools throughout Liberia, the most notable being Cuttington College (now University), which today continues as Liberia’s oldest private, coeducational four-year degree-granting institution.

In the face of much discrimination from the Church’s racial majority, Ferguson modeled dignity and tenacity as one of equal stature, advancing his goal of establishing a strong spiritual and educational foundation for the transformation of Liberia’s people.

George Freeman Bragg, Jr., Priest (1863-1940)

Born to slaves of a North Carolina Episcopal family in 1863, George Freeman Bragg, Jr. was The Episcopal Church’s first major black historian. His books A History of the Afro-American Group of The Episcopal Church and Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were seminal in the preservation of the early history of the black Episcopal presence.

In addition to serving for 35 years as secretary of the Conference of Church Workers Among the Colored People (now the Union of Black Episcopalians), from 1891 until his death in 1940 (a 49-year tenure that included the last year of the 1789, all those of the 1892, and the first 12 years of the 1928 Prayer Books), Bragg was the rector of Saint James Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland, The Episcopal Church’s oldest black Episcopal parish south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Throughout his 53 years of ordained ministry, Bragg “fathered” in the ministry over twenty priestly vocations.

Bragg is remembered as a tireless advocate for black Episcopalians’ inclusion in The Episcopal Church’s larger life, challenging their exclusion from its full mission and ministry.

William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Sociologist (1868-1963)

The most well-known of tonight’s commemorations, William Edward Burghardt DuBois was one of the most powerful advocates for black civil rights during the first half of the 20th century. Born into a Congregationalist family in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1868, DuBois became an Episcopalian in his adult life, remembering fondly memories of attending the Episcopal Church with his grandparents as a young boy.

His seminal book The Souls of Black Folk (1903) was the first significant challenge to the long-held perception that blacks were spiritually and morally inferior beings and became an authoritative text on black American identity. DuBois was a founder of the “Niagara Movement,” a movement committed to civil justice and opposing discrimination, from which was established the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

DuBois was a Christian who believed in his faith being the vehicle through which justice and peace represented the highest ethical standards for humanity. He died on the eve of the March on Washington on August 27, 1963.

Three Saints and the Word

Earlier, we heard Jesus telling His disciples the Parable of the Persistent Widow. In this parable, a judge, “who neither feared God nor cared what people thought,” is being constantly hounded by a widow for “justice against my adversary” and refuses to relent until she is granted her request. Becoming increasingly irritated by the widow, the judge grants her justice just to shut her up, “that she won’t eventually come and attack me!” Jesus says

“Will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

In their own times, Ferguson, Bragg, and DuBois all faced circumstances similar to that of the Persistent Widow. With their ministries altogether spanning from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, times of blatant racial oppression, Ferguson, Bragg, and DuBois’s struggle, reminiscent of Paul’s words from Ephesians, was “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world”[4] who deemed them and the people of their race undeserving of full and equal rights within both the Church and their local contexts.

But, like the Persistent Widow, they all stood their ground. They stood firm “with the belt of truth buckled around [their] waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with…feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace.”[5] And because of their persistence and faith in a God in whose eyes they were always equal, the people of their race now experience the progressive fruits of their labors.

What Ferguson, Bragg, and DuBois remind all of us, people of all races, of in this current age is the reality that in God’s Kingdom, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[6] All of us are called to be like the Persistent Widow, demanding justice for all of God’s people against any adversary, not relenting until “justice roll[s] on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.”[7] We have come a long way, yet we still have a long way to go.

For us to get to that place to where we all should be, we should all actively live that which we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

The question Jesus asked the disciples, He also asks us: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” May the examples of Samuel David Ferguson, George Freeman Bragg, Jr., and W.E.B. DuBois inspire us to say, “Yes!”

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

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

[2] An optional calendar of commemorations authorized by The Episcopal Church’s 2015 General Convention for devotional and/or catechetical use.

[3] Micah 6.8

[4] Ephesians 6.12

[5] Ephesians 6.14-15a

[6] Galatians 3.28

[7] Amos 5.24

“Anamnesis” (April 13, 2017: Maundy Thursday)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached on April 13, 2017, being Maundy Thursday, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Readings: Exodus 12.1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35 

Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before He suffered, instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”–1 Corinthians 11.26[1]

“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”—John 13.15

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

 I was talking with a colleague at the school earlier this week, during which the subject of Holy Week came up, with me noting how busy a time it is for us clergy types. In response, my colleague, somewhat kidding, but also serious, asked, “Why do we have to go through all that? We already know how it ends. Isn’t that enough?”

Yes, we already do know the end. And while we are thankful for that end, in recalling the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday year after year, we do that which the Lord tonight commands: “Do this in memory of Me.” Enacting those events from long, long ago reminds us of “the love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.”[2]

Three crucial events occurred on this night. The first was Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present of His unique sacrifice in the Church’s liturgy.[3] It is the Church’s principal act of worship, through which, as Saint Paul tonight proclaims, in our partaking of the Bread and drinking the Cup, we proclaim Jesus’ death until His Second Coming.

Next (and what immediately follows in tonight’s liturgy), Jesus “began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with a towel.” In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus, God in human flesh, humbled Himself and became like a slave, displaying pure humility and service. It was an illusion to the sacrificial death He would soon endure on the cross. In Jesus’ washing of feet is found the summary of the Christian duty

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall [also] love your neighbor as yourself.[4]

And lastly, represented in the Stripping of the Altar after Communion, was Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus “was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.”[5] It is in His agony that we see Jesus at His most human. Make no doubt about it: Jesus was really afraid; He knew what was coming. He could have commanded the entire Heavenly company to whisk Him away to safety. Instead, Jesus chose His Father’s will: “Not my will but Yours be done.”[6] He knew that He had a purpose to fulfill, to be the “expiation for our sins…for those of the whole world.”[7]

But, again, why do we have to go through all this? The answer comes from one word—anamnesis. Meaning “reminiscence,” anamnesis is a word that originates from Plato’s philosophical thought, describing the remembrance of things from a supposed previous existence.[8] In Christian theology, it refers to the memorial character of the Eucharist, as well as the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. It is through anamnesis that we enter fully into the Paschal Mystery, the ceremonies of the liturgy actively bringing into our time elements of those things done in the past.[9]

Anamnesis is the word that is used in the Greek text of Jesus’ commandment, “Do this in memory of Me.” Through His mandate, Jesus is saying to us, “Do these things to make Me present.” His mandate speaks to His relational nature, how He yearns to gather His people together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.[10] That’s the heart of what Jesus commands. We are to go through these things in that Jesus may dwell in us and we in Him.

Tonight’s ceremonies render all human concepts of time irrelevant. We are, in a mysterious way, experiencing these ceremonies as if they are actually happening in real time. Through anamnesis, we become fully present with Christ in these events. We see first-hand how “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”[11]

Of the Eucharist, Jesus says

“This is My body that is for you. This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this…in remembrance of Me.

“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me.”[12]

In the Eucharistic Prayer, we ask God

“To send Your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and His Blood of the new Covenant. Unite us to Your Son in His sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through Him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”[13]

All of this connects us in real time to Christ. Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist connects us all, one with another, both with those in the here and now and from ages past.

In the Washing of Feet, we see the unconditional love of the One who stooped down to do an act that not even the lowliest Jewish servant performed. Jesus did this because He loves us. Jesus said

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.[14]

In return, “whoever claims to abide in Him ought to live [just] as He lived.”[15] Jesus says to us tonight, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” This is what Jesus calls us to do for one another.

We have an obligation to obey Jesus’ commandment. This obligation comes from the fact that “the word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.”[16] It brings to light the reality that in Christ, all of us, regardless of any form of difference, are no better than anybody else. It forms our hearts in being more gentle, generous, truthful, and kind towards one another. And whenever we fail in doing what Jesus commands, because of what happens at the end, there will be no need to fear. Because of grace, we can repent, learn from our mistake, and be given another chance. “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.”[17]

 So, let us “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God.”[18] In the Church’s liturgy, may we make Jesus present, right here, right now. Let us do what Jesus commands: “Do this in memory of Me.”

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 © 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers.

[2] 1 John 3.1

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Doubleday, 1994), ¶1362.

[4] Matthew 22.37, 39

[5] Luke 22.44

[6] Luke 22.42

[7] 1 John 2.2

[8] R. E. Allen. “Anamnesis in Plato’s Meno and Phaedo.” The Review of Metaphysics (Volume 13, Number 1, September 1959).

[9] Ernest R. Falardeau. A Holy and Living Sacrifice: The Eucharist in Christian Perspective (The Order of Saint Benedict, Inc., 1996), p. 27.

[10] John 13.34

[11] Romans 5.8

[12] I Corinthians 11.24-25; John 6.54-57

[13] The Holy Eucharist—Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer B, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 368.

[14] Mark 10.43b-44

[15] 1 John 2.6

[16] Psalm 33.4 (New International Version)

[17] 1 John 2.1b

[18] Ephesians 5.1-2

“Once Blind, Now Seeing” (March 26, 2017: The Fourth Sunday in Lent: Laetare)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached at the 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 26, 2017, being the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare).

Collect: Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that He may live in us, and we in Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: I Samuel 16.1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41

“He was born blind so that’s God’s power might be displayed in curing him.”—John 9.3[1]

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

Like last Sunday, we have just heard a substantially long Gospel lesson, this time of Jesus healing a man born blind from John 9. While doing my study for tonight’s sermon, I stumbled upon this quote from Saint Augustine of Hippo

“We have just read the long lesson of the man born blind, whom the Lord Jesus restored to the light; but were we to attempt handling the whole of it, and considering, according to our ability, each passage in a way proportionate to its worth, the day would be insufficient.”[2]

Therefore, like Augustine

“I ask and warn your Charity not to require any words…on those passages whose meaning is manifest; for it would be too protracted to linger at each.”[3]

We will consider the mysteries of today’s Gospel in two ways: 1) broadly explaining the Gospel’s actions, then 2) it’s significance.

+               +               +

Explaining the Action

Jesus and His disciples pass by a man blind from birth. Seeing him starts a theological discussion amongst the disciples: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind?” As it unfortunately still is in many places, there was the view in Biblical times that to suffer from any sort of disease and/or handicap was a sign of God’s condemnation for a past act that either they or an ancestor did that greatly displeased Him. This kind of theology radically distorts God’s nature and not only is it dangerous, but greatly heretical.

Jesus, of course, provides the right answer: “It is not that this man or his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in curing him.” Jesus directly challenges the time’s prevailing view. He spits on the ground, makes a paste, spreads it on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the Siloam Pool. This all happens on the Sabbath, the appointed day for abstinence from all work, a fact that does not sit well with the Pharisees. The blind man does as instructed and returns as one who sees.

The neighborhood is shocked. Some believe, while others simply can’t fathom it. The man confirms his identity: “The man once blind who used to sit and beg—that’s me!” He told them about Jesus and what all He told the man to do. “Where is He?” the neighbors ask. “I don’t know,” the man says.

The man’s neighbors escort him to the Pharisees. They want answers and want them now. The disciples’ question becomes their question: “Who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind?” Only now there are some added questions: “How is it that a man that was born blind can now, all of a sudden, see?! If this is somehow God’s doing, what exactly does this mean?”

The man, again, tells his story. His parents confirm “that he is our son, and that he was born blind.” Then they throw him under the bus, afraid to acknowledge any connection with Jesus: “Ask him; he is of age; he will speak for himself.”  The Jews were banning from the synagogue those acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, for they labeled Him a sinful man for having healed on the Sabbath once before, thus, in their view, not properly observing it. To their charge, Jesus said, “My Father has never yet ceased His work, and I am working too. Therefore the Son of Man is sovereign even over the Sabbath.”[4] 

 The Pharisees’ interrogation becomes increasingly abusive: “Speak the truth before God. We know that this fellow is a sinner.” But the man, for the third time, relays the same story, his testimony becoming a profession of faith regarding the One who healed him. “Who are you to give us lessons, born and bred in sin as you are.” Because of the audacious challenge of their perceptions and refusal to believe that which has clearly been shown them, the Pharisees expel the man from the synagogue.

Jesus says

“How blest are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of the right; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; and I will give you relief. Bend your necks to my yoke, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble-hearted; and your souls will find relief. For my yoke is good to bear, my load is light.”[5] 

The man once blind meets Christ again, seeing the visible face of the invisible God. He believes in the Son of Man, who takes Him into Himself. The man’s faith has made him well.

Now on to the significance of today’s Gospel.

+               +               +

The Significance of Today’s Gospel

 The significance of today’s Gospel is found in Christ’s answer to the disciples: “He was born blind so that God’s power might be displayed in curing him.”

As a school chaplain and teacher, one of the questions I am often asked is, “How can a loving, yet omnipotent God permit evil, sickness, and suffering in the world?” I do not claim my answer to be THE right answer, but my answer always acknowledges the reality of human nature. Blindness, diseases, and all other ailments and handicaps and natural death are a result of the simple fact that we are broken human beings.

Yet God does not allow such things to have the final say. Remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman last Sunday

“Whoever drinks the water that I shall give him will never suffer thirst anymore. The water that I shall give him will be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life.”[6]

Jesus, in healing the man born blind, proves that he, too, as well as others who suffer, are included in that “whoever.” Jesus challenges our preconceived notions with the fact that physical conditions, diseases, and suffering do not come as God’s punishment. God is not a God who has His arms crossed looking down on us condescendingly, ready to zap us at any moment. Rather, God offers us relief with the fact that even through those who are suffering, His truth and good purposes come through.

There is another crucial point to remember. I remember my former bishop once saying, “We all have some sort of handicap. It’s just that for some people the handicap is just a little more noticeable.” We, too, are not perfect, not just “them.” All of us, at some point, were spiritually blind. Saint Paul makes note of this quite well in tonight’s Epistle

“For though you were once all darkness, now as Christians you are light. Live like men who are at home in daylight, for where light is, there all goodness springs up, all justice and truth.”[7]

Yet Christ, out of His grace, delivered us from our spiritual blindness into His light. Christ’s love lifted us up when nothing else could. Like the man once blind, in being healed of our own spiritual blindness, God’s power is being displayed through us.

We know all this to be true. We know it to be true because of Christ Himself

“Yet on Himself He bore our sufferings, our torments he endured, while we counted Him smitten by God, struck down by disease and misery; but He was pierced for our transgressions, tortured for our iniquities; the chastisement He bore is health for us and by His scourging we are healed.”[8]

And being that it all worked out for Christ, it does for all of us, too. I conclude this point, and this sermon, with a story.

+               +               +

Special Session

For one week during four summers in my former diocese[9], I served as one of several chaplains for Special Session, a summer camp experience for people with mental and/or physical disabilities. It was started 20+ years ago by the now diocesan bishop to provide a space of unconditional love and acceptance for people who, throughout much of the year, were hardly given such treatment. To be a part of this special time whereby the Good News of Christ was conveyed as including them, too, was both joyous to see and humbling, as a Priest of the Church to help proclaim.

The crown jewel of Special Session was the Thursday evening talent show. Every camper performed a talent, having their chance in the spotlight. Some of the talents perform were, for you and me, normal rudimentary things, like how to make a bed and how to tie a shoe. There would be classic acts, like singing songs, playing musical instruments, and dancing. There would also be some very special acts, like skating around on stage and singing a specially composed song called “Christmas In the Hospital Is Not Christmas At All.” No matter what the talent was, however rudimentary or extravagant, the exclaim of the audience brought forth from those campers the light of God’s glory that for so long had been covered. The smiles on their faces made it all worthwhile. Jesus was in the midst of it all.

Jesus, the Light of the world, “shines on in the dark, and the darkness has never mastered [Him].” [10] Amen to that!

The Lord hath manifested forth His glory; O come, let us adore Him! Amen.

[1] All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New English Bible, copyright © 1961, 1970 by the Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press.

[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo. Tractates on the Gospel of John, 44 ¶1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] John 5.17; Mark 2.28 (cf. Matthew 12.8, Luke 6.5)

[5] Matthew 5.10, Matthew 11.28-30

[6] John 4.14

[7] Ephesians 4.8-9

[8] Isaiah 53.4-5

[9] The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama

[10] John 1.5

 

“Hail Mary!” (March 25, 2017: The Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached during the 2017 Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana Christian League of Episcopal Youth (CLEY) Conference Eucharist at the Chapel of the Holy Family at Camp Hardtner Episcopal Camp and Conference Center in Pollack, Louisiana on March 25, 2017, being the Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Collect: Pour Your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of Your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by His cross and passion be brought to the glory of His resurrection; who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 7.10-14; Psalm 40.5-11; Hebrews 10.4-10; Luke 1.26-38

“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.'”–Luke 1.38 (NRSV)

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

Originally, the plan was for us to celebrate the eve of the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare) by keeping the Sunday propers appointed by the lectionary. But after waking up this morning and seeing that it was the Solemnity of the Annunciation on my calendar, the original plan was instantly scrapped, the hunt for white vestments was successful, and a completely new sermon was written. So, how providential it is that our weekend together includes this important Lenten festal celebration!

We all know the story well. The archangel Gabriel appears to young Mary and tells her that she will give birth to Jesus, who “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High…He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Wondering how this could happen, being that she hasn’t done anything with anybody, Mary is told that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Assured of the angel’s word, Mary says yes to God’s will: “Let it be with me according to your word.”

Throughout our time together, with our theme being “The Gospel According to the Simpsons,” we have explored three principle topics: skepticism, prayer, and how good always wins in the end. In tonight’s Gospel, we see all three of these. Mary is, at first, skeptical, because what Gabriel proclaims to her defies all sorts of natural law. Yet, all with all the Hebrew people, Mary prayed for the Messiah to one day come and believed God to be truthful in His promise. And it was from her faith in God’s promise that her “yes” helped bring into the world the Ultimate Good that always wins in the end. And not only would Christ come to ransom Israel, but ALL the world, including you and me!

One of the greatest things about the Annunciation is that it occurs during Lent. In Lent, this day serves as an important reminder of the fact that redemption is coming and all will be well in the end. In the Annunciation is seen the foreshadowing of Easter. So, we are, once again, being reminded: Have no fear!

Another important aspect about the Annunciation is that it shows us that having faith in the irrational can lead to something that is gloriously splendid and rational. The fact that the God of the universe loved us so much that He would come down to us in the Person of Jesus, subject Himself to great suffering and a horrendous death all for our sake, and defeat death so that we, all broken sinners, could be redeemed and have everlasting life with Him baffles the mind. But yet, it makes God all the more interesting and alluring. And the more God draws us in, the more true we see Him to be. The mystery that is God’s love is a most glorious mystery.

And, perhaps, among the chief purposes of Annunciation Day is that it teaches us about Christian discipleship. At the heart of the Annunciation is the response of Mary to Gabriel: “Let it be.” In saying yes to God’s will, Mary reminds us that it is not about us, that we are not the one’s who are in control. Our Lady teaches us to trust the Lord’s will, that the plans He has for us are better than what we could have ever conceived for ourselves. Mary trusted God; she believed what others would say was impossible. In the Annunciation, Mary becomes the epitome of Christian discipleship. Because of her “yes,” all generations call her blessed.

It is my hope that all of us will have the courage to say “yes” to God’s love and will for our lives just like Mary. In doing so, the Holy Spirit will come upon us and the power of the Most High will overshadow us. To say “yes” to God is to be made holy in His sight. Like Mary, we will become full of grace and Jesus’ presence will be ever with us. Let us allow God to transform us with His love. Let us, like Mary, show the world that Jesus is love and in Him can be found peace and salvation forevermore.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

“It’s the Talk of the Town” (March 19, 2017: The Third Sunday in Lent)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on March 27, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached at the 8:30am, 11:00am, and 6:00pm Eucharists at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on March 19, 2017, being the Third Sunday in Lent.

Readings: Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5.1-11; John 4.5-42

Collect: Almighty God, You know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

“We know that this is in truth the Savior of the world.”—John 4.42[1]

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

There is an old song that was sung by the likes of Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Julie London, and many other popular singers back in the day that starts out like this

I can’t show my face,

Can’t go anyplace,

People stop an’ stare,

It’s so hard to bear,

Everybody knows you left me,

It’s the talk of the town.[2]

The singer has been shamed. Their significant other has walked out on them, being fodder for neighborhood gossip. Because of this, for the singer, going out in public has become a personal burden. The staring, murmurs, and sneers from their friends has become too much. “How can [I] face them? What can [I] say?” they ask.[3]

+               +               +

It is under similar circumstances that we meet the woman at Jacob’s Well in the Samaritan town of Sychar. To the locals, she is “that woman.” She has no husband, is currently living with a man that is not her husband, and has been married five times before. She draws water from Jacob’s Well during the noonday hour, in the extreme heat of the day, instead of during the early morning or evening hours, all to avoid the staring and sneering from the other community women. She is an outcast in her own town. In many aspects, she is truly alone.

Jesus is passing through Sychar on His way to Galilee. Tired from the journey, he sits down by the well. Christ’s humanity is clearly communicated: “Give me a drink.” Jesus’ request shocks the woman, because, back then, Jews and Samaritans did not share anything with each other. Although similar in many ways to Jewish religion, Samaritan religion was deemed utterly repugnant by the Jews, viewing it as nothing more than defective Judaism mixed with heathen elements. So, in addition to her “complicated” background, the woman at the well has two more social strikes against her. One, to the Jews, she is an unclean Samaritan, a heathen half-breed Jew left over from the Assyrian conquest centuries before in Israel’s Northern Kingdom. And two, she is a woman, for whom a man to be seen talking with alone was unusual. Yet, despite all the ethnic, religious, gender, and ceremonial proscriptions, Jesus speaks with her and seeks her help. He meets her as a fellow sufferer.[4]

Despite His own suffering, Jesus’ attention is on this woman’s need.

If only you knew what God gives, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water…Whoever drinks the water that I shall give…will never suffer thirst any more. That water that I shall give…will be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life.

“Sir, give me that water, and then I shall not be thirsty…,” replies the woman. Jesus draws this shunned woman out and awakens her faith. The living water He gives her will justify her “through faith…and peace…through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have been allowed to enter the sphere of God’s grace, where we now stand.”[5] Though she does not know that it is happening, the Holy Spirit is bringing this Samaritan woman closer to the Lord. Jesus, who knew everything about her, instead of judging her, draws her in to Himself. In this she hears and experiences the Good News that is Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

The woman runs into town, excitedly telling everybody

“Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” Many Samaritans…became believers because of what they heard from [Jesus] lips. They told the woman, “We know that this is in truth the Savior of the world.”

Never will this woman’s life ever be the same. It is Jesus who is now the talk of the town!

+               +               +

Like the Samaritan woman at the well, we are all sinners. But as she helps remind us this morning

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy

Like the wideness of the sea;

There’s a kindness in His justice

Which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader

Than the measures of the mind;

And the heart of the Eternal

Is most wonderfully kind.[6]

Jesus knows everything there is to know about every single one of us. Yet, He still wishes to give us the Good News

“The time approaches, indeed it is already here, when those who are real worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. Such are the worshippers whom the Father wants. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” Yes, Jesus is a prophet, but He is also much more. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God! He is the Messiah who thirsts for our faith. He wants to give us living water.

Though we do not know what exactly happens to the Samaritan woman in the days following today’s Gospel, I have a feeling that her life became much better than it previously was. But we do know what happens to Christ.  To His disciples, Jesus says

“I have food to eat of which you know nothing…It is meat and drink for me to do the will of Him who sent me until I have finished His work.”

This Jesus will die on the cross, rise from and defeat death, and ascend to the Father’s right hand, all for us sinners. He will not pass judgment, but offer grace and redemption. “We know that this is in truth the Savior of the world.”

 Not only is Jesus now the talk of the town, but of the whole world. Come to Jesus and drink from Him, the living Well of life.

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

[1] All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New English Bible, copyright © 1961, 1970 by the Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press.

[2] “It’s the Talk of the Town” (1933), music by Jerry Livingston, lyrics by Al J. Neiburg and Marty Symes.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Living Water,” The Living Church (March 12, 2017), p. 35.

[5] Romans 5.2

[6] “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” written by F. W. Faber (1814-1863).

“I Need Help” (March 1, 2017: Ash Wednesday)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , on March 10, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached on March 1, 2017, being Ash Wednesday, during the 2017 Ascension Episcopal School Mardi Gras Mission Trip at the Centro Diocesano Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe in Alajuela Province, San Carlos, Costa Rica.

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, You hate nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Reading: Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people…”—Matthew 6.1[1]

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

Ten years ago on New Year’s Day, one of my older brothers died from an unexpected heart attack in his Jackson, Mississippi apartment. He was only 37 years old. I remember it being one day coming back from the funeral home, my family and I having just privately viewed him, that I was riding back to my father and step-mother’s house with my eldest sister and a family friend when the topic of conversation turned to me. How I came to be the subject of conversation I cannot remember, but what I do remember is the conversation dealing with my father and I’s previous estrangement and how I, in my sister’s view, was still suffering emotionally because of it. “You really should be talking to somebody, Brandt,” my sister said. But I shrugged it off, thinking to myself, “She’s just overreacting. I’m fine.”

Three years later, in June, I was doing my required hospital chaplaincy for my ordination process at Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. There was one patient I remember seeing who was an elderly gentleman suffering from both PTSD and renal failure and had recently attempted to commit suicide. I spoke with the gentleman’s wife, who told me that it was not his first attempt at suicide. After hearing the gentleman tell his story, I immediately tried to set him straight. “Why do you feel that you are a burden to your wife? Your wife doesn’t feel that you are a burden to her. She wouldn’t be showing the amount of devotion to your care if she felt that way.” I thought that I had helped, until my clinical pastoral education supervisor, upon me recalling this interaction in a written verbatim, wrote, “An over/under visit. Are you open/honest in your relationships?”

The more that summer progressed, the more it was discussed that the exchange between the terminally ill gentleman and others like it went back to my need to always have the answers, to always be right. In other words, to make up for the void that I felt my father created when we were estranged for seven years. Instead of talking it out with somebody who could help me through it, I was taking out my sadness and anger on other people. My sister was right. I needed to talk to somebody; I needed help. Realizing and accepting this fact was a life-changing moment.

“I’m fine. I don’t need help” can be one of the most damaging things one can say. There are times that we think we have it all figured out, altogether, and don’t need any help from anybody whatsoever. But what about when something goes wrong? What if we can’t figure it out? What happens when we realize that everything is not as together as we thought? What then?

The season of Lent is meant to help us with two things. First, it is meant to help us realize that, contrary to what we may think, we are not perfect and in need of help. It helps us realize that everything is not about us and when we try to make it that way, we open up the possibility of our actions being received opposite from what we intended, even being harmful and hurtful to others. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven.”

Thus the second purpose for Lent: it turns our focus away from ourselves, who are not perfect, to God our Father in Heaven, who is perfect. The constant theme of Sacred Scripture is the assertion that God, despite our sins and imperfections, again and again and again and again comes to us, wanting to be in relationship with us. “Perfect love casts our fear,” Saint John says.[2] In no better way has God’s perfection and love been proven absolutely true than by Jesus Christ, God Incarnate dwelling with us.

For God so love the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.[3]

Jesus says

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.[4]

One more important thing about Lent: it is meant to emphasize and reinforce God’s grace. By turning our focus away from ourselves and onto God, we find Him, His ways, and the things He commands to be life-giving and refreshing. God did not send Jesus  “into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”[5] Grace, love, and everlasting life are the things that God wants us to receive from Him this Lenten season.

Let us be mindful of where our help really comes. “Our help is in the Name of the LORD, who made Heaven and Earth.”[6]

My sister was right: I needed help. Jesus has helped me and He changed my life for the better forever.

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

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

[2] 1 John 4.18

[3] John 3.16

[4] John 15.10-11

[5] John 3.17

[6] Psalm 124.8

“On Gesimas, the Transfiguration, and Grace” (February 26, 2017: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Quinquagesima)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was originally prepared to be preached at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on Sunday, February 26, 2017, being the Last Sunday after the Epiphany: Quinquagesima. As a result of human imperfection and misreading the clergy preaching rota, I ended up not preaching the sermon that follows. I offer it in the spirit of putting forth what I would have said had I, indeed, been the day’s preacher.

Readings: Exodus 24.12-18; Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1.16-21; Matthew 17.1-9

Collect: O God, who before the passion of Your only begotten Son revealed His glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of His countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into His likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

“And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.’’”—Matthew 17.9[1]

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

 In the pre-1979 Prayer Book days, today, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and the two preceding were known as the “Gesima” Sundays, today being “Quinquagesima,” meaning “about 50 days,” the previous being “Sexagesima,” “about 60 days,” and the one before that “Septuagesima,” “about 70 days.”  Their purpose was two-fold.  First, functioning as a transition period from the Epiphany season and beginning the countdown to Easter, the Gesimas put the faithful on notice: Lent is coming!  As today is the last of the Gesimas, Lent begins this Wednesday.

Second, the Gesimas, by way of the lectionary, were a corporate catechesis on God’s grace.  They examined grace from specific perspectives: grace undeserved, grace passively received, and grace not easily understood.[2]  With Lent being a penitential season, the Gesimas were a reassurance to the faithful that there is grace and that it was coming.  “For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”[3] 

 There have been some joyous events these last few weeks—the birth of Jesus, His naming and circumcision, the first Gentiles to find Him, and His baptism.  But a change is coming, one already present amid the joy.[4]

 

+               +               +

In today’s Gospel

Three of them saw that glory.  Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain.  His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes.  Sunlight poured from His face.  His clothes were filled with light.  Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with Him.[5]

The Transfiguration of Christ is nothing short of amazing.  Jesus’ humanity and divinity were on full display.  What Peter, James, and John were witnessing on that high mountain was the glory of the Holy Trinity: God the Father’s voice, God the Son’s face, and God the Holy Ghost in the light.  “The disciples…fell on their faces and were terrified.”  I would be, too.

In one single moment, Jesus’ entire past, present, and future came together.  Moses and Elijah, representing the Old Testament Prophets and the Law, reflected Jesus’ past.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets,” Jesus said.  “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”[6]  But Jesus’ past extends further back beyond Elijah and Moses.  “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” God said to the serpent in Genesis, “between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”[7]  And even further back than that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[8]  Jesus Christ is the Word that is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Within Jesus’ past was also His future.  “Moses and Elijah…were in deep conversation with Him.”[9]  They are talking about His Passion, all that Jesus must suffer and endure in Jerusalem.  In this is also our future.  “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[10]

For Jesus, His suffering on the cross was no matter of force, but a voluntary and willing submission to His Father’s will.  The Transfiguration reveals Jesus, who is without sin, choosing to suffer for the redemption of sinners.[11]  “And a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’”  God makes it pretty clear: Jesus is in charge and we, who are sinful, are to do everything that He, who is sinless, says.

+               +               +

“And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here.  If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’”  Peter’s wanting to stay on the mountaintop is understandable.  What he, James, and John saw there was the glory of God in its complete fullness.  To use the words of the late great Johnny Mercer, it was “just too marvelous, too marvelous for words.”  Peter wanted this mountaintop experience to last and never change.  But, alas, that could not be.  They had to descend from the mountain.  “And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son is raised from the dead.’”

That is where we see God’s grace, coming, yet already present.  The grace of God is an energetic force that cannot be contained in a tent, or a box, or in any other particular place.  What Peter, James, John, all the other Apostles, and all of us will soon see is that the fullness of God’s grace will come through sacrifice.  Jesus looks through death to the certainty of the resurrection.  His resurrection from death will be His (and our) ultimate triumph.[12]  We cannot experience the joy of the resurrection without first going through the darkness of Christ’s crucifixion.[13]  When we do, God’s glory will “do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”[14]

So on this final Sunday before Lent, the Good News we see in the Transfiguration, in Christ’s dazzling white light, is that there is grace and it is coming.  “I am the light of the world,” Jesus says.  “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[15]  “Rise, and have no fear.’  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”  Jesus Christ is the Savior of all.  By His cross and precious blood He will redeem us and bring to us grace and life forever.

Alleluia!  Grace is coming!  Alleluia!  Grace is here!

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

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

[2] “Lent & the ‘Gesima’ Season” (http://www.historiclectionary.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/GesimaInsert.pdf).  Web.  February 14, 2017.

[3] Psalm 30.5

[4] Paul T. McCain.  “What’s a Gesima?  The Church Prepares for Lent.” First Things.  Institute on Religion and Public Life, January 31, 2010.  Web.  February 15, 2017.

[5] The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (NavPress, 2005).

[6] Matthew 5.17

[7] Genesis 3.15

[8] John 1.1

[9] The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language

[10] 1 Timothy 1.15

[11] Norval Geldenhuys.  Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 281.

[12] Leon Morris.  The Gospel According to Matthew (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), 442.

[13] Stan G. Duncan.  If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now: Life and Faith and a Journey Home (Lulu Enterprises, 2006), x.

[14] Ephesians 3.20

[15] John 8.12