Archive for Ascension Episcopal School

“Jury Duty”–An Easter Message

Posted in Articles & Essays with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following letter was sent to the students, faculty, staff, and administration of Ascension Episcopal School in Lafayette, Louisiana on Friday, May 5, 2017 in my capacity as school chaplain. It focuses on my recent service as a juror for the 15th Judicial District Court of the State of Louisiana and how my civic obligation reminded me of the message of the cross and significance of Christ’s resurrection for all of humanity. 

Dear Ascension Family,

Some of you may have noticed that I was absent from the school throughout much of the last two weeks. As our students and my faculty and administrative colleagues were returning to school from the Easter Break on April 24, I, on the other hand, was at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse reporting for jury duty. For eight days, I was one of 12 jurors for a civil case in the 15th Judicial District Court of the State of Louisiana. Not only was I selected for the jury, but was selected by my fellow jurors to serve as the foreman.

The experience of jury duty was both good and frustrating. Good in that it gave me a renewed appreciation for the law as the system by which justice should be impartial and objective, regardless of any form of human differentiation. When exercised rightly, both law and authority reflect freedom and the fact that all of us are created equal one with another. To have been able to perform my civic duty in the American legal process was, in many ways, an honor to do.

Yet, the inconvenience this obligation caused, particularly in my ministry to you all, was the source of much frustration. Because of jury duty, I missed several important events—the first school Eucharist after Easter, as well as the Senior chapel service, both at the Downtown Campus; the River Ranch Campus’s last Wednesday morning chapel for this academic year; and the Junior Ring Ceremony out at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus yesterday morning. Having had to miss these events not only was frustrating, but also made me feel sad and, at times, angry.

All of these feelings, in some way, brought me back to Jesus and the purpose of the cross. It is said that “freedom is not free.” The author of Hebrews proclaims that Jesus took on our humanity so that by His death He could destroy death, whereby we have been freed from the bondage of sin and death (Hebrews 2.14-15). Jesus’ death on the cross was for all of us, done so that we who now live through Him would no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again (2 Corinthians 5.15). The freedom we now have in Christ was not free; it came at a cost that we could not afford. From Christ’s death on the cross have we been declared ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, and free. And from Christ’s resurrection have we been given a new birth into a living hope, into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1.3-4).

My jury duty service helped remind me that Christ’s death on the cross showed just how unconditional God’s love is for all of us and how we are all now called to use our freedom to love and serve others in Christ’s Name. It has made the significance of Christ’s resurrection become meaningful to me in a whole new light. And now that I am back at my office, all of you, the Ascension family, have become even more special to me than you already were.

May Almighty God, who has redeemed us and made us His children through the resurrection of His Son our Lord, bestow upon you the riches of His blessing. Amen. Happy Easter!

Peace,

Father Montgomery+

“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

“Chandler the Reverse Theologian” (September 14, 2016: Holy Cross Day)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

The full text of the sermon below was preached at the Wednesday 6:00pm Healing Eucharist on September 14, 2016, being the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.  An abridged version was preached earlier that day at the bi-weekly campus Eucharist at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana.

Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the Cross that He might draw the whole world to Himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Reading: John 12.31-36a

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”—John 12.32[1]

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

One particular day a couple of weeks ago, after school had ended, I went out to catch a little bit of the football team’s practice, just wanting to see a little football and destress from all the doctoral papers, theology blog posts, and sermons that were still before me to complete.  While standing on the sidelines, some of the younger football players started asking me questions regarding what did and did not constitute a sin.  “Is this a sin?  Is that a sin?  If I did this, but not that, would that be a sin?”  And on, and on, and on, and on.  After about two minutes, Chandler Juneau, a current sophomore and one of the more theologically perceptive members of his class, chimed in, asking, “Father, did you sin before becoming a priest?”  Chandler’s question provided an excellent teaching opportunity.  “Yes,” I said.  “I did sin before becoming a priest.  I still am a sinner.  I am human, after all, just like everyone else and am not perfect.  But the Good News is that because of the Cross I am forgiven.  Because of Jesus, there is grace.  And thank God for grace!”

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, also known simply as Holy Cross Day.  It is one of the Church’s major feasts, its background being in the legend of the discovery of remnants of the True Cross, the very cross, according to Christian tradition, upon which Christ Himself was crucified, in 326 by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, during her pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The date for Holy Cross Day, September 14, marks the day in 335 that the True Cross was brought outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,[2] built over the discovery’s site and consecrated the day before, so that the Christian clergy and faithful could pray before and venerate it.  What we see in Holy Cross Day is the message of the Cross, the power of God to those being saved.[3]  What this day does is allow the Christian faithful an opportunity to commemorate Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross with a festal emphasis not appropriate for Good Friday.[4]

In asking about my sinful state before ordination, Chandler stepped into the role of what I would describe as a “reverse theologian,” in that he asked a spiritual question that could have been perceived as expecting an answer going totally against the norm, but, in actuality, was meant to bring out the actual truth.  That is because Chandler, I believe, accepts that same truth about himself as I do about my own self and all of us should, if we are totally honest.  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[5]  And reflecting on Chandler’s question in the days since has brought me back to the Cross and to Jesus, whose death on that Cross allows me the grace to stand before you as a priest of His Church.  And in being brought back to Jesus and the Cross, I have been reminded what Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, once said: “Simul justus et peccator,” “I am a sinner, yet I am justified.”  But not only is that true for me, it is true for every single one of us.  All are justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”[6]  That is the message of the Cross.  That is the Good News for all of us.

So today, as we look to the Cross, we are being reminded that we are forgiven.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, we are truly free—free from the shackles of sin and death!  Through the Cross, we are truly ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people.  There is nothing that can or will ever “be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[7]  Today, Holy Cross Day, is a day of celebration of Christ’s victory on the Cross and of the new life that we have in Him because of it.

This brings us to our final point, one that I want to be sure that all of you know: there is nothing that you can ever do that will make God love you any less!  Nothing, absolutely nothing at all!  The Cross is the testament to how much God really loves you and to the outer limits He will go to be in relationship with you.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”   That “all” includes YOU.

It is my hope that you will have faith to trust God’s love and come to Him.  May all of us be open to experiencing the goodness and love of the Lord together.

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] Known by Eastern Christians as the Church of the Resurrection.  This fourth century church contains within it, according to traditions dating from that time, the site of Jesus’ crucifixion at Calvary and the Empty Tomb.

[3] I Corinthians 1.18

[4] Pfatteicher, Philip H.  New Book of Festivals and Commemorations: A Proposed Common Calendar of Saints (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2008), 444.

[5] Romans 3.23

[6] Romans 3.24

[7] Romans 8.39

“Known and Unknown” (February 10, 2016: Ash Wednesday)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , on February 15, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached on February 10, 2016, Ash Wednesday, during the Ascension Episcopal School–Sugar Mill Pond Campus 2016 Mission Trip at the Chapel of Casa Christo Redenter in Aguas Buenos, Puerto Rico.

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that 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.

Readings: II Corinthians 5.20b-6.10; Psalm 103.8-14; Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21

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

Out of all the Priests that I have worked with, Father Andrew Mead, my mentor from my days in New York, has had the greatest impact. One of our most important conversations together occurred on an October evening while walking together to his Park Avenue apartment from Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue for a chili dinner. While we were walking, Father Mead asked, “Brandt, what do you feel God is calling you to do as a Priest?” I had it all planned out: “After graduation from seminary, I’m going to go back to Alabama, fulfill my required two years of service in [the Diocese of] Alabama, then go to graduate school, get a Ph.D. in American religious history, and teach in a seminary or college theology/religious studies department.” “That’s all well and good, Brandt,” Father Mead replied, “but what about the parish?” “I have nothing against parish ministry,” I said back, “but I fell called to be a Scholar-Priest.” “But even the great Scholar-Priests also served in parishes,” said Father Mead. “Parish ministry is important. It is important that you be on the frontlines with your fellow clergy. Don’t ever forget the frontlines.”

I mention this story because it goes right along with what Jesus is counseling us against in our readings and because for me at the time, it wasn’t about Jesus, but about me. I wanted to be one of the most well known Scholar-Priests and Anglican Church historians of my generation. I wanted notoriety and prestige. What Father Mead was telling me that October evening was that if you are going into this vocation with the mindset of becoming known, making it about yourself and not Jesus, then you have failed before you have began. Throughout that last year in New York before becoming ordained, Father Mead showed me what being a Priest of the Church really meant. It meant being with and among the people, doing the hard things, walking with the people not just during the good time but also during the hardest moments of their lives. Father Mead was a man who not only talked the talk but also walked the walk and because of his example, my priorities and perceptions of the ordained vocation changed for the better. Thanks to Father Mead, I am no longer content stationing myself solely in a lecture hall; I love parish ministry, being with all of you, and on the frontlines for Jesus.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them…” Jesus is saying to us today, Ash Wednesday. In our Gospel from Saint Matthew, Jesus is literally likening those who “look gloomy like the hypocrites” and “disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” to actors on a stage. In other words, these people are literally putting on a show, producing fiction, make-believe and it is getting them nowhere. They think that by doing good works alone, doing the things that one is “supposed to do,” all will be well. But it won’t. All won’t be well because their hearts are not in it. They are putting their hopes upon earthly treasures, things “where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.” In the end, all of the notoriety and prestige won’t mean anything and will be worthless. Their works, all for the sake of being noticed, will not save them.

Those of the way of Jesus do not worry about whether or not people notice them for their good works, not seeking to have attention drawn to them. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Those of the way of Jesus do works of mercy, say their prayers, and seek relationship with God and others out of the simple desire to be closer to Him and experience a foretaste of God’s Kingdom. Because their works come from the genuineness of their hearts, these are the ones whom Jesus says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” If everybody doesn’t know that you did something kind for someone else, it’s OK. If you never get recognized and rewarded for good deeds done, believe me, it’s OK. Everybody may not know, but God will know and that is all that matters. As long as God knows that your heart is in the right place, then that is all that is needed. Great will your treasure—eternal life with God—be in Heaven.

We know what Jesus says to be true because He Himself not only talked the talk but also walked the walk. “…Whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[1] [Hold up crucifix in front of congregation] Because this right here was not an act; definitely not make-believe. This right here was REAL scourging, REAL pain, REAL suffering. Jesus REALLY hung on a cross for the sake of all of us. This is how much He loves you. Through the cross, Jesus loved and served us by dying and saving us from sin, death, and eternal damnation.

As we begin today the season of Lent, we are being invited by God to draw closer to Him, putting things into the right perspective. The ashes that you will momentarily receive are not meant to show off how pious you are—that is not the point. Rather, they are meant to remind each and every one of us that this side of life is short and temporary and that all of us will return to the earth. The ashes remind us of our own human frailty and the need to depend on Jesus who is able to save, redeem, and heal us. How will you live your life? For yourself, seeking personal fame and glory, which won’t mean a thing in the end? Or for God, seeking after His righteousness, regardless of whether or not notoriety comes, which will mean everything in the end? “We are ambassadors for Christ,” Saint Paul says, “God making his appeal through us.”[2] Let us not be so consumed about ourselves but about others, just as Jesus did for us, becoming reconciled to them through the love and mercy of Almighty God.

I wish you all a blessed and holy Lent.

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

[1] Matthew 20.27-28 (English Standard Version)

[2] II Corinthians 5.20 (English Standard Version)

“Boasting In the Cross of Christ” (September 13, 2015; The Installation of Paul M. Quick as Head of Ascension Episcopal School, The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , on September 14, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Galatians 6.14[1]

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

During the course of my final year at my previous parish in Tuscaloosa, a couple of my campus ministry students and I took a trip to see the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, located 104 miles northeast in Hanceville, Alabama in Cullman County. While walking up one of the outside porticos, we came upon a tall crucifix affixed to the wall at its end. Although I had seen many other crucifixes before, the one that we saw that day was unlike any other. Whereas a majority of crucifixes show Christ hanging on the cross with a look of agony that is restrained and somewhat romanticized, this particular crucifix exhibited Christ in an agony that was not at all restrained, totally devoid of dignity, and in which the emotion made the worst kick in the gut that I had ever felt. Our Lord’s body was completely covered in scars, so much so that it looked like there was hardly any skin left on His body. Every part of His body, from head to toe, was covered with dripping blood. There were gapping wounds and pulsing veins. Looking at this crucifix, I said to my companions, “In all the times that I’ve thought about the crucifixion, I never imagined Jesus looking like this.” “How do we know that it wasn’t worse than this?” one companion responded.

Just a few minutes earlier, right up front, we heard Saint Paul say to the Galatians, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For us here in 2015, I doubt that we are shocked to hear such a thing, being that the cross has been the most well known and looked to symbol of Christianity since, at least, the second century AD. But for people during the years of AD 40-60, hearing Saint Paul say such a thing was more than likely quite shocking, primarily due to evoked real-time images similar to the description I just made of the representation of our Lord’s own crucifixion. In the Greco-Roman world, crucifixion was an execution method principally reserved for slaves, violent criminals, and political rebels.[2] It was capital punishment meant to degrade and show its victims as conquered enemies.

Yet in spite of the culture’s repulsion of the cross, Saint Paul says what he says, quite emphatically and with great seriousness. That is because for Saint Paul, Jesus Christ, the visible face of the invisible God, while hanging on an instrument meant to shame and convey weakness, took that same instrument and redeemed humanity back to God the Father, making it the instrument of our salvation and the sign of God’s ultimate defeat of sin and death. It was through the cross of Christ that “the ruler of this world”—Satan and his forces of evil—was driven out.[3] Saint Paul boasts in Christ’s cross because it gives him life, inspires him in his daily living, and he realizes that by it, Jesus has ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven him. The cross of Christ is the cross of victory, not defeat. All who have come to believe in Jesus through faith have been “baptized into his death…We have been buried with him by baptism into death” and “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father…we too…walk in newness of life.”[4] Because of the blood that was shed by Christ on the cross, He has spared us who walk in His light from the condemnation of sin.

So how appropriate it is that we, the Episcopal Church of the Ascension and School, gathered together to install, pray for, and give our support to our new Head of School, have as our focus this evening the cross, the symbol that unites us all together. We proclaim, “Ascension Episcopal School is committed to academic excellence in a Christian environment.” It is a mission greatly dependent on the cross, that victorious instrument from which come the governing principles of that Christian environment we seek to form our students within. The cross drives Ascension to be a place where its students, faculty, and administration are gentle, generous, truthful, and kind to one another, brave when facing adverse situations, and reevaluating the priorities of the heart. The primary avenue through which this takes place is corporate worship—the regular rhythm of daily chapel and frequent Eucharist—where the honing of such environment comes by way of an acknowledgment of God’s mercy, reflection on His Word, and regular reception of the Eucharistic sacrament. Through our focus on the cross, Ascension strives to be a school whose environment reflects the commandment that Jesus Himself has given us: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”[5] Because of the cross and what Jesus has done, Ascension is committed to forming its students to love all of their neighbors as they do themselves and have courage to go forth from Ascension and make positive differences in the power and Name of Jesus Christ.

“Now you are the body of Christ,” Saint Paul says, “and individually members of it.”[6] Although, as Saint Paul also says, “each of us was given grace according to the manner of Christ’s gift” and that “the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped…promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love,”[7] the driving force that is charged with keeping Ascension School focused on its mission of being an intentionally Christian school committed to academic excellence is the Head of School. In defining its general role and responsibilities, the National Association of Episcopal Schools states that the Head of School serves as an important spiritual leader, embracing, articulating, and advancing the school’s Episcopal identity.[8] Tonight, Paul M. Quick, our friend and brother in Christ, ceremonially takes on the role as Head of Ascension Episcopal School.

When his immediate predecessor’s resignation was announced and it was decided that Paul would assume the role of Head of School effective July 1, 2015, I noticed a general affirmation of the succession plan. Perhaps the reason why that was is due to the fact that the Rector and school board, faculty, staff, administration, and school parents saw within Paul a similar and seminal quality that was also possessed by the New Testament apostle of the same name. Just like Saint Paul, Paul Quick is not ashamed of the Gospel.[9] To be in any sort of meeting with him, either it be one-on-one, Administrative Operations and/or Administrative Support Team, all-campus continuing professional education, and so on, an incorporation of the Good News will find some way into it. That is because Paul wholeheartedly believes in the Good News. Just like Saint Paul, Paul Quick boasts in nothing greater than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It has given him life and inspires him to live his life daily for the Lord Jesus. Paul openly acknowledges himself as a ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven sinner, that God has done a marvelous work in his life, and that in all that he does, it is the Lord Jesus that orders his steps. Paul is a man who not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk, doing so as only in the best way he can, which has endeared him to the Church and School community as a man faithful to his word and an effective witness of the Gospel among us. It is by grace and our trust in the Holy Ghost that we are here tonight to affirm Paul, offering our prayers and support for him, and in which Paul himself enters into the office of Head of School, with all of us, together, engaging in the work of ministry.

Paul, my friend, my brother in Christ, everybody here tonight is here because they love you and they support you. There are many others who unfortunately could not be here, but love and support you just the same. I love you and support you and am glad to be a member of your team. As you prepare to ceremonially take on the responsibility of Head of School, a piece of advice that I would like to give you is this: continue to boast in nothing greater than the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Continue looking to the cross; continue looking to Jesus. By boasting in the cross, Jesus boasts in you and will walk with you during every step you take in this journey. By continuing your gaze upon Jesus, you will be a witness for Him to our students, being used as a vessel for His Good News, planting the seed to the truth that God does, indeed, love them. As Moses once said, “Be strong and bold; have no fear…because it is the LORD your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”[10] Know that as you prepare to enter this new chapter of your ministry, you enter with our love, sincere prayers, and support.

May our Lord Jesus Christ, by His grace, uphold you in the service he lays upon you.

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 Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Frank S. Matera. Galatians (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), p. 231.

[3] John 12.31

[4] Romans 6.3-4

[5] John 13.34

[6] I Corinthians 12.27

[7] Ephesians 4.7, 16

[8] “Headship.” National Association of Episcopal Schools. National Association of Episcopal Schools, accessed on September 12, 2015.

[9] Romans 1.16

[10] Deuteronomy 31.6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Mark 1.1

[3] Luke 1.13-17

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

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

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