Archive for Discipleship

“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

“Jesus Christ: Died, Risen, Coming Again” (November 27, 2016: First Sunday of Advent–Year A)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , on November 28, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached at the 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist on November 27, 2016, being the First Sunday of Advent, and the fourth anniversary of my ordination as a Priest, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which Thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through Him who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 2.1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13.11-14; Matthew 24.36-44

“Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.”—Matthew 24.44[1]

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

Happy New Year!  We have, once again, come to Advent, the first season of the Christian liturgical year.  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin adventus, meaning “arrival” or “approach.”  The Advent season has a twofold purpose: first, to be a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to humanity is remembered,[2] and second, by remembrance of the first, to prepare us for His Second Coming, when “He shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.”[3]  In Advent is first seen the Mystery of Faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

We see the Mystery of Faith first illustrated in Scripture, particularly in the 20th chapter of Saint John’s Gospel.  “Doubting” Saint Thomas, the one absent from Jesus’ first post-resurrection appearance to His Apostles, says, “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.”   A week passes and Jesus appears again to His Apostles, including Thomas: “Peace be unto you.”  Thomas sees the risen Christ and no longer doubts: “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus says to Thomas, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”[4]

What Jesus says, Saint Thomas helps Him illustrate and confirm: The Son of Man IS coming again in power and kingly glory.  In one sense, we see this already having been fulfilled, for Jesus, by revealing Himself to Thomas, showed Himself as having died, risen in fullness of Body and Divinity, and come back.  But, in another sense, there is still waiting, for the Good News of Christ “shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations.”[5]  For all of us here on Earth still waiting, Saint John gives this assurance, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.  And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.”[6]

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.”  As my mentor Priest, Father Andrew Mead, said in a recent email, “Time is short and eternity is long, pressing in upon us at any moment.  Today could be my last day on this earth, so I both need and want to hear the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.”[7]  The Good News that we are today being given is that Jesus, Earth’s Redeemer, is near.  “For He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth.”[8]  Jesus, our King and Savior, is drawing nigh!

Father Mead is right: today could be anyone’s last day on Earth.  Death can strike at any moment.  “Then two shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.  Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.”  But even for them, those whom Death has already taken, will Jesus come.  “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.”[9] 

But what about the meantime?  Exactly how are we supposed to “keep awake”?  By doing the things that Jesus commands.  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…And…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”[10]  How do we do that?  “Let us walk honestly, as in the day,” Saint Paul says, “not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.  But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.”[11]   

And why should we follow Jesus?  Because of what He did on the cross: He died for our sins!  Jesus, for every single one of us, died the most horrific death imaginable in order that we may be freed from sin.  And He took up His life again, triumphantly rising from the grave on the third day, so that through Him we may experience the joys of eternal life.  Therefore, we owe Jesus both our allegiance and obedience, for to put on Christ is to be able to withstand Satan’s wiles.[12]   

To be saved by Jesus is to be changed in the most positive of ways.  Our hearts become drawn to Him, our minds guided by Him, and our wills controlled by Him, all towards good things.  Because of Jesus, our new self yearns to be His vessel for the purpose of His greater glory, that we may show forth God’s love to our neighbor.  “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”[13] 

That is the mercy we have been granted in this meantime.  In being told to “keep awake,” not only does Jesus tell us that He will soon come again, but that He has also granted us the mercy of time.  We have been given the chance to conform our lives to God’s will, to love others as Christ loves us, and to do the things He would have us do.  As we live into and do those things, our salvation in Christ becomes even more meaningful.  Christian discipleship becomes a part of the very air we breathe.  And at the end, when Christ comes again, eternity in the Kingdom of God will be our reward.  “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”[14] 

“Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.  Therefore be ye…ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.”  Both a warning and a sign of God’s love and mercy for us all.  May we all be ready for that Great Day when Jesus comes again.  “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus!”[15]

Our King and Savior draweth nigh: O come, let us adore Him!  Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Authorized (King James) Version.

[2] Pope Paul VI, “Approval of the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the New General Roman Calendar (February 14, 1969), ¶39.

[3] Nicene Creed.

[4] John 20.24-29

[5] Matthew 24.14

[6] I John 3.2-3

[7] Andrew C. Mead, email message to friends, family members, and clergy associates, November 11, 2016.

[8] Psalm 96.13

[9] I Thessalonians 4.14-15

[10] Matthew 22.37, 39

[11] Romans 13.13-14

[12] Ephesians 6.11

[13] John 15.10-11

[14] Revelation 21.4

[15] Revelation 22.20 (New Revised Standard Version)

“Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” (November 20, 2016: Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe–Year C)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on November 21, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached at the 8:30am, 11:00am, and 6:00pm services on November 20, 2016, being the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.  

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in Your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under His most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1.11-20; Luke 23.33-43

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23.43[1]

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

Today, for Western Christians, is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, known within Anglicanism as Christ the King Sunday, and serves as the concluding Sunday in the Western Christian liturgical calendar.  It is of Roman Catholic origin, established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and came into observance within Protestantism during the late 20th century.

When Pius XI established this feast ninety-one years ago, secularism was on the rise, causing a number of Christians to doubt Christ’s authority, even His very existence.  And though much of the world has changed, much of it has remained the same, with secularism posing just as much a threat to Christian allegiance, perhaps more so now than ever.  Hence, we have the purpose for this day: to remind the faithful, as the liturgical year concludes, that Jesus Christ, at all times, must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.  As the late pontiff himself said, “The faithful…by meditating upon these truths, will gain much strength and courage, enabling them to form their lives after the true Christian ideal.”[2]  That ideal is none other than Jesus Christ Himself, who is “the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”[3]

In his letter to the Colossians, Saint Paul summarizes in wonderful prose Christ’s Kingship

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in Heaven and on Earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through and for Him…He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead…For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on Earth or in Heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.[4]

Hence, to conclude the liturgical year, today’s Gospel brings us back to Calvary, to the sight of our Lord being crucified.  “And the people stood by, watching…the leaders scoffed at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah of God, His chosen One!”  Between Jesus are two criminals, one defiant, the other penitent.  “Are you not the Messiah?” the defiant criminal says.  “Save yourself and us!”  The penitent criminal rebukes back, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  We indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve…but this man has done nothing wrong.”  To Jesus, the penitent criminal pleads, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Hear what our Lord says: of the crowd, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”; to the penitent criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” 

By being brought back to Calvary, we are reminded of the Good News, that Jesus Christ, this Man hanging on the cross, is none other than Almighty God in human flesh come to save us.  He is the One whom “God did not send…into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”[5]   Jesus is the God-Man whose love was first conveyed to the world through its very creation and by sacrificing Himself reconciled it all, once separated and enslaved by sin, back to Himself.  We end this liturgical year being reminded that the cross was what it was all about, for in the cross was shown the extent of God’s love for all people throughout all time, past, present, and yet to come.

Therefore, from the cross, Jesus Christ, giving Himself up to death so that we “may have life, and have it abundantly,” reigns as King.  He transformed what was an instrument of shame into the throne of grace, offering to His people the gift of His redemption.  That is why the cross is our symbol.  Because of Jesus, our great and glorious King, death has been conquered and the victory won.  Only He could accomplish such a mission.  “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”[6] 

So, for the sake of being perfectly clear, Jesus is King because Jesus is God, and because Jesus is God, only He and He alone is capable of redeeming all things.  His power is not harsh, exploitive, or fascist; it is kind, loving, welcoming, and redemptive.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[7]  That is the power of our Savior and King Jesus Christ, for from Him becomes imparted upon all who believe God’s power of salvation.[8]

Therefore, our desire should be in nothing and no one else except Jesus Christ.  Despite our sin, Christ our King proved His love for us by laying down His very life to save us.  He knew the cost of what it would take and willingly paid it.  Christ is the King who has saved and freed His people.

Now we, in turn, are being extended the chance to submit to Jesus’ most gracious rule, living as His ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people.  As we walk with Christ in faith, we experience more and more a truly liberated life.  “To grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ”[9] is a lifetime’s journey.  But at the end, to die in the Lord makes it worth it, for then we will dwell with Christ our King in His great Paradise.

We end this liturgical year with Jesus, dying on a cross, promising not only to the penitent criminal, but to all penitent people, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Next Sunday, we begin another liturgical year looking for this same Jesus, raised back to life on the third day, in His Kingly glory, to come again: “Therefore, you…must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”[10]  This begs the question, to which will you submit?  Will you submit to Christ, whose Word and saving power have been proven true, or to the ways of the world, “where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal?”[11]  I hope that all of us answers, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”[12]

The Lord has shown forth His glory: O come, let us adore Him!  Amen.

[1] 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] Pope Pius XI, Quas primas (1925), ¶33.

[3] Revelation 1.8

[4] Colossians 1.15-20

[5] John 3.17

[6] II Corinthians 5.21

[7] Matthew 11.28-30

[8] Romans 1.16; I Corinthians 1.18

[9] Ephesians 4.15

[10] Matthew 24.44

[11] Matthew 6.19

[12] Joshua 24.15

“The Beatitudes, Anglicanism, and Christian Unity” (January 20, 2016: Wednesday after the Second Sunday after the Epiphany)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , on January 20, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached on January 20, 2016, the Wednesday after the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana.

Collect: “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.”

Readings: I Corinthians 1.18-31; Matthew 5.1-12

“His disciples came to him”—Matthew 5.1[1]

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

       Last year, during the school’s Mardi Gras break, I experienced the great opportunity of traveling to the Holy Land, to walk the very land, sail the very waters, and see some of the very things that our Lord Himself once did. For the first five days, my fellow pilgrims and I stayed in a hotel managed by a group of Roman Catholic nuns atop the Mount of the Beatitudes, the mountain that today’s Gospel mentions. In the mornings before breakfast, I stood out on the balcony of the Church of the Beatitudes, located in the center of the hotel grounds, saying my prayers and imagining today’s Gospel. I imagined the crowds being composed of people from all walks of life from every surrounding region coming to see the One whose “fame spread throughout all Syria,” whose “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” they had heard of.[2] I imagined the crowds being large, filling the mountainous space to capacity and Jesus teaching them all the ways of the Kingdom. In my imagination, what I saw was a foreshadowing of the Church, the Body of Christ brought together by God’s Word, founded by His words and actions, that will be perfected in the glory of Heaven as the assembly of all the redeemed of the earth.[3] It was a thought that gave illustration to what Jesus says to us,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.[4]

It is in an inviting spirit of love, gentleness, and humility that Jesus delivers the Beatitudes. Through them, we are called to live lives that reflect God’s character, lives that are merciful, loving, and compassionate. They are demands through which God calls us to reflect His character to and before others, for as Saint John says, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”[5] They are demands which are exceedingly high: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[6]

       The reality of the situation, though, is that the Beatitudes’ demands are so high that there is no way possible that any of us can fulfill them perfectly. Only Jesus, the Giver of the Beatitudes, can do so. What we see in the Beatitudes are demands meant not to draw us away from God, but, rather, to draw us closer to Him, helping us recognize our need for God’s grace in our quest to live righteous lives: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”[7] Not only are they meant to draw us closer to God, they are also meant to draw us closer to each other, for as Jesus says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”[8] So through the Beatitudes God issues an invitation into a holy fellowship, of which His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ is the Head, through whose death, resurrection, and ascension we have all been united and made equal one to another.

Within the Beatitudes is God’s call to us to seek after righteousness and love and seek relationship with our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Every human person created in the image of God, which He has declared to be “very good.” But how can we love those with whom we disagree? How can we seek reconciliation with someone or a group of people that has hurt us emotionally? Last week, the Primates of the worldwide Anglican Communion—the presiding bishops and archbishops of 38 Christian churches in historic relationship with the English Archbishop of Canterbury—saw themselves faced answering similar questions. At the end of their meeting, it was announced that the majority of the Primates voted to put in place specific boundaries regarding The Episcopal Church’s involvement within the Anglican Communion for a three-year period, due to it changing the definition of marriage in its canons, an act that represented “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of [the Anglican Communion] on the doctrine of marriage.”[9] Despite the decision of The Episcopal Church and the hurt that it has caused the majority of its sister Anglican churches, the Primates said in their collective statement,

It is our unanimous desire to walk together…We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury…to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognizing the extent of our commonality, and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.[10]

       Despite the hurt that has been caused and felt by both sides, the most important witness to come out of all of this is the Anglican Communion Primates’ unanimous desire to walk together. They intentionally chose relationship over separation. I am one who theologically disagrees with The Episcopal Church’s decision and recognize that my opinion is in the minority. But with The Episcopal Church’s majority having expressed to me and all others who share my opinion their value and reliability “on [our] commitment to The Episcopal Church…” and that although ours is a minority voice, we “are an indispensable part of who we are as…The Episcopal Church,”[11] I have decided to take the Primates’ example by resolving to continue my walk as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ together with my fellow Episcopalians. I have intentionally chosen continued relationship with them instead of separation.

The reason the Primates did and I do this is because just like those in today’s Gospel, we all see each other as Christian disciples from all walks of life from every corner of the world, seeking after Him whose salvation can be found in no one else and only under whose Name can one be saved.[12] We recognize each other as members of the same Body, Christ’s Body, the Church, taking into account the words of Saint Paul, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”[13] Through the decision to walk together instead of apart, the Anglican Communion Primates with The Episcopal Church, and The Episcopal Church with me all recognize each other as having the same goal—seeking after Jesus, seeking to live by the standards that He gives in today’s Gospel. Though there exist significant disagreements between us about how to do so, in obedience of our Lord’s command that we all be one, we have committed ourselves to remaining and seeking after Jesus together.

In His speaking to us the Beatitudes, Jesus invites us all “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”[14] The Beatitudes are Jesus’ invitation for us to experience peace, His peace, “the peace…which surpasses all understanding.”[15] Although it is not easy and we oftentimes fall short (and thanks be to God for His merciful grace when we do), by striving to live out the Beatitudes, we experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God on Earth and of the blessed peace that awaits us all there. Just imagine that if more people in the world took Jesus’ words more seriously, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and…you shall love your neighbor as yourself,”[16] how much of a better place it would be.

May we, together, be more diligent in our striving to live the ways that Jesus commands, keeping in mind this prayer for unity and peace:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life. [17]

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 ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2] Matthew 4.23-24

[3] “I Believe In the Holy Catholic Church,” Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York, New York: Doubleday, 1994), 223.

[4] Matthew 11.28-29

[5] I John 4.21

[6] Matthew 5.48

[7] Matthew 6.12

[8] Matthew 25.40

[9] Addendum A of “Walking Together in the Service of God in the World” (http://www.primates2016.org/articles/2016/01/15/communique-primates/), Accessed January 20, 2016. At its 78th General Convention, held during the summer of 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah, The Episcopal Church passed Resolution A036, amending Canon I.18.2(b), “That both parties understand that Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong,” with Canon I.18.2, “The couple shall notify the Member of the Clergy of their intent to marry at least thirty days prior to the solemnization; Provided that if one of the parties is a member of the Congregation of the Member of the Clergy, or both parties can furnish satisfactory evidence of the need for shortening the time, this requirement can be waived by weighty cause; in which case the Member of the Clergy shall immediately report this action in writing to the Bishop.” With the General Convention’s replacement of “a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman” with “the/both parties,” the traditional definition of marriage as was previously upheld by The Episcopal Church became changed, allowing for the solemnization of marriages of couples of the same sex. It was this action which prompted the majority of the Anglican Communion Primates to put in place the boundaries restricting for three years The Episcopal Church’s involvement within the life and work of the Communion that they did.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, “Communion Across Boundaries” (http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/07/02/mind-of-the-house-of-bishops-statement-communion-across-difference/), Accessed January 19, 2016.

[12] Acts 4.12

[13] I Corinthians 12.21

[14] Ephesians 4.1-3

[15] Philippians 4.7

[16] Matthew 22.37-39

[17] “The Peace Prayer,” as read by the Honorable John A. Boehner in his resignation announcement as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Congressman for the 8th Congressional District of Ohio on September 25, 2015.