Archive for Freedom

“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+

“Perfect Harmony” (September 4, 2016: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost–Proper 18C)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached on September 4, 2016 at the 8:30am Rite II, 11:00am Rite II, and 6:00pm Rite I Eucharists at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in You with all our hearts; for, as You always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so You never forsake those who make their boast of Your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings: Jeremiah 18.1-11; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-17; Philemon 1.1-21; Luke 14.25-33

“I appeal to you for my child Onesimus…If you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.”—Philemon 1.10, 17[1]

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

The date: November 11, 1936; the place: The Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City.  It was on that date and at that place that two white jazz musicians from Chicago, Benny Goodman, a clarinet player and the undisputed “King of Swing,” and Gene Krupa, an energetic and innovative drummer, appeared on a stage with two black musicians, Lionel Hampton, a vibraphonist also from Chicago, and Teddy Wilson, a piano player from Austin, Texas, for the first time as the Benny Goodman Quartet.  It was, for American jazz, total integration for the first time.  As recounted by Lionel Hampton in 1982, Goodman was later asked why he hired Hampton and Wilson to be in his band, to which Goodman replied, “You know one thing?  It takes the black keys and the white keys both to make perfect harmony.”[2]  Goodman did not see color in Hampton and Wilson, but rather musical colleagues and equals.  Wilson remained with Goodman until 1939 and Hampton until 1940, with them both launching out on their own and having successful music careers for the rest of their lives.

Saint Paul’s Letter to Philemon, today’s second lesson, is a book that we hear from only once every three years in the Sunday lectionary cycle.  As I was preparing today’s sermon, there were some commentaries I read that questioned Paul’s intent regarding his letter and labeled his language as being vague and not explicit.  On the contrary, I believe that Paul was both very clear and explicit regarding his expectations of Philemon concerning Onesimus and to prove that, a careful walk through of the text is needed.  Today’s sermon will, to the fullest extent, be an exegetical sermon.  But most importantly, as all sermons should do, will be highlighted and proclaimed the Good News.

Although the letter does not give the specific circumstances, Onesimus, a fugitive slave from Colossae, came into contact with Paul during the latter’s imprisonment in Rome.  It is speculated that Onesimus committed some sort of offence against his master, Philemon, back in Colossae and fled to Rome in an effort to avoid detection.  Paul and Onesimus made contact with each other and, in the process, Onesimus became a Christian.  Onesimus grew in faith and, as implied by Paul, became very helpful to him in spreading the Gospel.  Paul did not see Onesimus as a fugitive slave, but, rather, as one of God’s fellow workers, part of God’s field, God’s building.[3]

Philemon was a wealthy Christian from Colossae.  During Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus, about 100 miles away, from AD 52-55, Philemon heard the Gospel and was saved.  He began serving the cause of Christ in the Colossian community, opening his home to a group of Christians to meet and worship regularly.[4]  Already, we see two things in common between Philemon and Onesimus: 1) they both came to faith in Jesus Christ through Paul’s preaching and ministry, and 2) became very helpful to Paul in the sharing of the Gospel.  Just as he did Onesimus, Paul saw Philemon as a “beloved fellow worker.”  There was more that united Philemon and Onesimus than there was that divided them.

Although Paul wished that Onesimus could have stayed with him in Rome, he knew that Onesimus had to return to Colossae and face up to Philemon.  Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”[5]  Although slavery in New Testament times was not the same as what we think of in the historic American context, there was still a penalty for runaway slaves, if recaptured, to be flogged, or even killed.[6]  Paul knew the risk of sending Onesimus back to Philemon, but he also could not ignore Jesus’ directive for reconciliation.  He hoped that Philemon, being a Christian, would also be mindful of this directive and do what was right upon Onesimus’s return.  Hence the letter that we heard read several minutes ago.

Paul says to Philemon, “Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.”  As ‘an apostle, not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father,”[7] Paul could have directly ordered Philemon to free Onesimus.  But he chose loving persuasion over coercive pressure.  Loving persuasion is what the Gospel does; it is what Jesus does.  Jesus does not force Himself upon us.  He wants our love for Him to be free of coercion.  When we say yes to Jesus and voluntarily submit to His will, we become changed from the inside out.  By appealing to Philemon in love, Paul hoped that his words would move Philemon to make a free-willed decision to extend mercy and forgiveness to the slave that wronged him.  And though it is clear that Philemon was the primary addressee, by also including as addressees “Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house,” this made clear Paul’s intent for the letter to be read aloud in front of others, perhaps another “tactic” of appealing to Philemon to do the right thing.

But where Paul’s expectations of Philemon become, in my opinion, clear and direct is at verse 17: “If you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.”  Paul put his personal relationship with Philemon right on the line in pleading for Onesimus.  Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, once said

What Christ has done with God the Father, that Saint Paul does also for Onesimus with Philemon.  For Christ emptied Himself of his rights and overcame the Father with love and humility, so that the Father had to put away his wrath and rights, and receive us in favor for the sake of Christ, who so earnestly advocates our cause and so heartily takes our part.  For we are all his Onesimus’s if we believe.[8]

And there is where we see the Good News.  Just like Onesimus, we all were once held captive—captive to sin and death.  Then Jesus came, sacrificing Himself for us, freeing us from our captivity.  Because of Jesus, we are free—free from the shackles of sin and death!  We are ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven people!  Perfect Love lifted us out of our bondage.

What Paul said to the Galatians is true: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[9]  He pleaded with Philemon to accept Onesimus back “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother,” recognizing his status as a new creation in Jesus and, thus, as His complete equal.  Likewise, we are all called to accept and recognize each other as equal one to another, because the sacrifice of Christ on the cross says that we are.

So what about Philemon and Onesimus?  Did Philemon accept him back?  Was Onesimus truly repentant of his offense?  Did Philemon forgive Onesimus?  Was all well there at the end?  Unfortunately, we do not know, but it is my hope that all was well.  I hope that Philemon took Paul’s counsel seriously and did the right thing.  I hope that the time that he and Onesimus spent apart—perhaps by God’s Providence—helped both of them to grow more mature in Christ to which Onesimus was repentant of his offense and asked for forgiveness, with Philemon accepting his apology, forgiving Onesimus, and freeing him from his bondage.  We do not know what happened between them, but we can only hope for the best.

This brings us to our closing point back to 1936 to that first Benny Goodman Quartet performance.  Benny Goodman refused to recognized racial segregation.  What he saw in Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson were two musicians just as skilled as he was and, together, they worked toward the same purpose and goal: making great music.  Seeing them on the stage at New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel represented the goodness of God’s Kingdom: no distinctions, no divisions, complete equality and cooperation with each other.  What a blessed and beautiful sight it must have been to behold.  May all the world get to such a place with the help of Jesus.

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] 1964MBrooks.  “A Tribute to Benny Goodman 1982.”  Recorded December 25, 1982.  YouTube video, 17:44.  Posted November 22, 2011.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6c7uOrKKzKo.

[3] I Corinthians 3.9

[4] “Introduction to the Letter of Paul to Philemon,” The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2008), 2353.

[5] Matthew 5.23-24

[6] “Exposition of Philemon,” The Interpreter’s Bible (Volume XI: Philippians; Colossians; Thessalonians; Timothy, Titus; Philemon; Hebrews) (New York, New York: Abingdon Press, 1955), 561.

[7] Galatians 1.1

[8] “Luther on Philemon,” The Lutheran Study Bible (Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 2094.

[9] Galatians 3.28