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

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

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

Gospel: Luke 18.1-8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Sociologist (1868-1963)

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

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

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

Three Saints and the Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Micah 6.8

[4] Ephesians 6.12

[5] Ephesians 6.14-15a

[6] Galatians 3.28

[7] Amos 5.24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Therefore, like Augustine

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

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

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Explaining the Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus says

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

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

Now on to the significance of today’s Gospel.

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The Significance of Today’s Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Special Session

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid.

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

[5] Matthew 5.10, Matthew 11.28-30

[6] John 4.14

[7] Ephesians 4.8-9

[8] Isaiah 53.4-5

[9] The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Alabama

[10] John 1.5

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s It Gonna Be?” (February 12, 2017: The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany–Septuagesima)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached on February 12, 2017, being the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany (Septuagesima), at the 10:30am principal Eucharist at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Montevallo, Alabama.

Collect: O God, the strength of all who put their trust in You: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without You, give us the help of Your grace, that in keeping Your commandments we may please You both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Deuteronomy 30.15-20; Psalm 119.1-8; 1 Corinthians 3.1-9; Matthew 5.21-37

“Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”—Matthew 5.37[1]

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

 I would like to express my appreciation to your Priest-in-Charge for his invitation to preach the Gospel and concelebrate the Eucharist with him here at Saint Andrew’s this post—College Night Sunday.  While I always relish the opportunity to come back to Montevallo, this current visit has been particularly meaningful on two fronts.  First, this year’s Homecoming marked my 10th anniversary as a graduate of the University and brought back wonderful memories from when I myself had the honor of presiding over College Night as Student Government Association president.  It was also during my years at Montevallo that I attended Sunday services here at Saint Andrew’s and had the privilege of residing in the previous Canterbury House, which helped establish the bonds of affection that I share with many of you here.

Second, this visit has provided an opportunity for me to serve with your Priest-in-Charge—one of my first parishioners at Canterbury Chapel in Tuscaloosa when I was first ordained 4½ years ago—for the first time as an ordained colleague.  I have great respect for him and Colleen and pray that their ministry among you, to use the words of the University’s alma mater, will be “years…rich and fruitful.”[2]

This weekend has been a time during which many things have come “full circle.”  It has brought to mind the words of the Psalmist, “Ecce quam bonum et quam iucundum habitare fratres in unum” (“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity”).[3]

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 “What’s it gonna be: life and good or death and evil?”: that is the question today’s lessons present us.  We are being entreated to

Obey the commandments of the LORD…by loving the LORD your God, walking in His ways, and observing His commandments, decrees, and ordinances…Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.[4]

We are urged to choose God because He Himself is life and good.  “Hope in the LORD,” says the Psalmist, “for with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is great power to redeem.”[5] 

The law, which comes from God, reflects His goodness.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes…The ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.[6]

The law furthermore points us to Christ, God’s Word in the flesh.  “The law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.”[7]  And Christ came “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”[8]  Here, too, we see a full-circle effect: God’s law, Jesus Christ, and life and goodness bound together.  They are meant to make life rich, full, and productive—as God intended.[9]

Though the law is good because it comes from God, it is also hard because of the same reason.  Saint Paul, in his letter to the Romans, talks about the struggle

I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members…So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.[10]

And Jesus, in today’s Gospel, does not let up.  Instead of toning things down, He ratchets things up.  “You have heard in the past, ‘Do not commit murder.’  But now I tell you: do not be angry.  You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But now I tell you: do not lust.  You have also heard in the past, ‘Do not break your promise.’  But now I tell you: do not swear at all.”  What we get today is Jesus not meek and mild, but heavy hitting.  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law,” Jesus said.[11]  He was not kidding!

If Jesus’ words come across as extreme and severe, then you are right.  Today’s Gospel is a real pounding, Jesus bringing down the hammer again and again and again.  It’s as if Jesus is attacking us with merciless mandates.  It makes you think, “If this is the way it is going to be, then why am I still here? Why should I stick around?  Jesus, you are killing me here!  It is just too hard!”

But think about it, though.  Consider, again, what Jesus is saying.  “Do not be angry.  Do not lust.  Do not swear.”  If all of that were to actually be practiced, how lovely would it be?  How lovely would it be if communities like Montevallo, Alabama, Lafayette, Louisiana, and all others became places whose people were all seriously committed to reconciliation?  There would not be the need for “fronts”: “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we always pray.  How lovely would it be if it was more so?

Louis Armstrong, one of the most pivotal and influential figures of American jazz, in 1966, recorded the now universally known hit song “What a Wonderful World.”  While introducing the song at a concert in 1970, he said this

Some of you young folks been saying to me, “Hey Pops, what you mean, ‘What a wonderful world?’  How about all them wars all over the place?  You call them wonderful?  And how about hunger and pollution?  That ain’t so wonderful, either.”

Well, how about listening to old Pops for a minute.  Seems to me, it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doing to it.  And all I’m saying is, see, what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.  Love, baby, love.  That’s the secret, yeah.  If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems.  And then this world would be better.  That’s wha’ ol’ Pops keeps saying.

This is what Jesus is inviting us into.  With Jesus today imploring us to not be angry, lustful, and swear, we are being invited into life and good, not evil and certain death.  We “have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with His blood.”[12]  That is the Good News we are today being given.

The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we’ll view Him and His mandates not as harsh, extreme, or inconceivable, but beautiful, inviting, and life-giving.  The more we see Jesus’ mandates for what they truly are, the more our desire will be to strive to live them out.  In Jesus’ mandates is “the truth, and the truth will make you free.”[13]  In Jesus Christ is life and He Himself is the Light of all people.[14]  For me, I cannot have it any other way.  Give me Jesus!

“What if I fail?” you may ask.  I’ll let the Good News speak for itself.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.[15]

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.[16]

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.[17]

If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.[18]

Have no fear!  “With the LORD there is steadfast love, and with Him is great power to redeem.”[19]  That truly is good news!

So, what’s it gonna be: life and good or death and evil?  Choose life that you may live.  Choose Jesus!  That is the best victory anybody can ever receive.

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] Virginia Powell Figh and Lucy Lynn Underwood, Alma Mater of the University of Montevallo (Montevallo, Alabama)

[3] Psalm 132.1 (133.1) (Latin Vulgate)

[4] Deuteronomy 30.16, 19

[5] Psalm 130.7

[6] Psalm 19.7-8, 9b

[7] Galatians 3.24

[8] John 10.10b

[9] Footnote on Deuteronomy 30.20, The NIV Study Bible (Zondervan, 2011), 299.

[10] Romans 7.21-23, 25b

[11] Matthew 5.17

[12] 1 Peter 1.2

[13] John 8.32

[14] John 1.4

[15] Matthew 11.28

[16] John 3.16

[17] 1 Timothy 1.15

[18] 1 John 2.1-2

[19] Psalm 130.7

“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)

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is my neighbor?”—Luke 10.29[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] I Corinthians 9.16 (New International Version)

[4] Psalm 124.8

[5] Ephesians 3.20

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

[7] I John 2.1-2

[8] I Corinthians 13.13

[9] The Message Bible

[10] Genesis 1.27, 31

[11] Philippians 4.13

[12] John 1.11, 14

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

[14] Isaiah 53.5

[15] Matthew 28.20

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

“Death and Conception As One” (March 25, 2016: Good Friday)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached during the Good Friday Liturgy on March 25, 2016 at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10.16-25; John 18.1-19.42

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

Today is March 25, another regular day in the quickly passing civil year. Yet liturgically, it is a day on which something rare and very special occurs, having happened only five times in the last 106 years and not to occur again for another 141. What I am specifically referring to is the fact that although today’s primary purpose is to commemorate our Lord’s crucifixion and death at Calvary—known as Good Friday—this major holy day this year occurs on what normally would be the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the commemoration of the archangel Gabriel’s announcement to the Blessed Virgin Mary that “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,” Jesus Christ, God’s Incarnate Word.[1] So what we see liturgically conveyed through the occurrence of Good Friday on Annunciation Day[2] is the full circle of Christ’s appointed purpose: to be, for a time, “made lower than the angels…crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”[3] To put it more simply, through this liturgical rarity, we see through Christ’s death the purpose for His life.

John Donne, the most preeminent figure of English metaphysical poetry, wrote of this rare occurrence’s significance upon its happening 408 years ago:

This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown

Death and conception in mankind is one:

Or ‘twas in Him the same humility

That He would be a man and leave to be:

Or as creation He had made, as God,

With the last judgment but one period,

His imitating Spouse would join in one

Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:

Or as though the last of His pains, deeds, or words,

Would busy a life, she all this day affords;

This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,

And in my life retail it every day.[4]

Expressed through Donne’s poetry is a real conflict of emotions. The death of Christ reflects the purpose of His conception and His conception that of His death. In this there is joy, but also grief. The grief over our Lord’s death is inflamed by the joy of His coming, with that joy, in turn, foreshadowing the grief that is to come. But not only do we see this emotional conflict in the words of Donne, but also in those of Sacred Scripture. From Sacred Scripture, we come to understand this conflict as being very much necessary, for without the joy of the Annunciation we could not face the grief of Good Friday and without recognizing our grief that Jesus is (for the moment) dead, we cannot fully appreciate the archangel’s message of God’s gifting of Himself in the Person of Jesus. In order that we may fully appreciate the salvation that is offered to us this day by God through Christ, we need to recognize and accept the necessity of this conflict.

We encounter this emotional conflict in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him…” This, in turn, harkens back to God’s judgment upon the serpent in Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”[5] From both Isaiah and God Himself we see the conflict between the joy of Christ’s conception and the grief of His death. There is joy in the fact that despite our sin and us grieving the heart of God, God still loves and wills to save us. Salvation is coming and God, out of His great mercy, will not leave His people helpless.

The grief we face, though, is that to the One through whom our salvation will come and reconciliation with God made complete will come a violent, barbaric, and torturous death. He, Jesus, will be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon Him will be the chastisement that will bring us peace, and with His wounds we will be healed.[6] From Isaiah we hear the grim truth that in order for God’s creation to be redeemed and once again have life in Him, Jesus, whom He will send as the Redeemer, must be crushed. Through the crushing of Jesus, because He will both be from God and will be God, the atonement for sin will be made satisfactory. Through the grief of Christ’s death on the cross will come the joy of redemption and everlasting life.

It is this very emotional conflict that forms the foundation for the Annunciation. From the archangel’s message comes great joy that foreshadows the grief that we today confront. “Behold,” Gabriel says to Mary,

You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[7]

The Blessed Virgin accepts the role of theotokos, “God-bearer,” out of the joy she feels that the One who will be her restoration and that of all the peoples of the earth back to God the Father is finally coming. She remembered the prophet’s words: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”[8] “Let it be”[9] her obedience leads her to say. The fact that God willed her to be the bearer of the world’s Salvation makes her heart leap for joy

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.[10]

Not only for Mary but also for us, the Annunciation reconfirms the truth of God’s love; that He will seek after us at all costs. “Praise we the Lord this day, this day so long foretold, whose promise shone with cheering ray on waiting saints of old.”[11]

The Annunciation’s hidden sadness is, perhaps, best expressed through a late 19th century William Holman Hunt painting titled “The Shadow of Death.” In this painting, Jesus, not yet having commenced His public ministry, has just finished cutting wood in a carpentry shop and is taking a stretch break. The shadow of the young Christ’s outstretched arms fall on a wooden tool spar behind Him, creating a “shadow of death,” foreshadowing His future crucifixion. Gazing up at the shadow is Mary, shielding her eyes from the image with her right arm with the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh in a box beside her.

Although joy is the dominant expression in the Annunciation story, surely, in the back of Mary’s mind, there was grief over what was to come to Her son. Salvation will come through no one else apart from her Son; there will be no other name under heaven given among men by which salvation will be granted.[12] But it will come at such a high cost, one that can never be repaid. Mary’s Son Jesus will be despised, rejected, acquainted with grief, and given no esteem.[13] He will be mocked, shamefully treated, and spit upon. He will be flogged; He will be killed.[14] The Virgin Mother will feel the emotional horror that any loving parent would feel in seeing their child abused to no end, yet will not be able to do anything to stop it. How strong and courageous blessed Mary is, for by joyfully accepting the vocation of being the Mother of God’s Incarnate Word, she also willingly takes on the grief that will come in seeing her Son rebuked, afflicted, and killed.

And here we are—on a day where Christ’s death and conception meet, one feast literally pointing to the other. A mother, from whom, the archangel proclaimed, would come into the world its Light and Salvation, weeps in agony over her Son’s death. Jesus, the Savior of the world, hanging dead on the cross, has done that which the archangel proclaimed to a young Jewish virgin woman three decades earlier. There is grief in this day, but there is also joy. There is grief in that our Lord is dead. Savagely He has been taken from us. The powers of darkness have crushed Him. He was despised, mocked, rejected, flogged, and killed when He did not deserve to be. For and because of us, Jesus, our Friend, our Mentor, and our Lord is gone.

But there is actual joy that can be found in this. How is that even remotely possible? Let us, again, remember the words of the archangel Gabriel: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Again: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”   How can there be no end to Jesus’ kingdom if He is dead? Is there something else to come? Yes, there is! God said that Jesus’ kingdom would never end; it will be forever. We can take heart in this because God, time and time again, has proven Himself true and to be truthful. So with God being the crucial factor in all of this, there must be something else coming that will, in some way, keep Christ’s kingdom going. Let us then rejoice and be glad, for through Christ’s death on the cross, reconciliation with God has come.[15] Jesus’ death has ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven us back to His Father and our Father. Christ has died, but it is not the end.

For my final point, I would like to honor the Rector’s request to specifically address our young confirmands as they prepare to make their public profession of faith during our Bishop’s upcoming visit on the Third Sunday after Pentecost. My young friends, despite the fact that our Lord Jesus has just died, Christians refer to this day as good. Jesus has just experienced the most graphic form of violence, degradation, suffering, and humiliation, but it all was also good. It is good in that though it appears that the forces of darkness have won, it is actually Jesus who has won. By dying, Jesus has forever destroyed death. Death has not stopped Him, for as Saint Paul proclaims

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time…Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.[16]

So I repeat to you my earlier statement—Christ has died, but it is not the end. He will rise in triumph and death’s power will forever be defeated. That is why it is Good Friday. By His death Jesus has destroyed death and through His rising to life again will win for us everlasting life.[17]

Anglican theologian Paul Zahl once said that you cannot get to the resurrection without first experiencing the darkness. This is what Jesus shows us through His Passion. By willingly confronting the darkness, Jesus rose victorious against it. Jesus, the Light, “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”[18] Good Friday reminds us to hold fast to Jesus in faith. No matter what darkness we may be going or will go through in this life, Jesus can and will help us through it because He Himself felt and overcame it. If Jesus can go through what He went through and come out as good as He did in the end, surely, through His mercy and help, we can confront our own darkness and get to the light. So, as the old hymn says, when the storms of life are raging, stand by Jesus. He will know your experience and walk with you as He is walking with you now in your journey of faith.

On today, March 25, 2016, we hear of glad tidings of great joy, seeing it fulfilled in a barbaric, yet majestic sight. We hear of Christ coming and see Him hanging dead. “He shall come, He is gone.”[19] The Christ who came to die will rise and never die again. Grief and death are here for the moment; weeping will only endure for the night. But joy and everlasting life are hastily approaching!

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: Come let us adore Him. Amen.

[1] Luke 1.31

[2] According to rules stipulated in the current edition of The Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, because the Solemnity of the Annunciation, a major feast of our Lord, is on a fixed day that this year occurs during Holy Week, it is to be transferred to the week following the Second Sunday of Easter. Therefore, for 2016, the Solemnity of the Annunciation will be commemorated on Monday, April 4.

[3] Hebrews 2.10

[4] John Donne, “Upon the Annunciation and the Passion Falling Upon One Day” (1608).

[5] Genesis 3.15

[6] Isaiah 53.5

[7] Luke 1.31-33

[8] Isaiah 7.14

[9] Luke 1.38

[10] Luke 1.46-48

[11] Anonymous, Hymns for the Festival and Saints’ Days of the Church of England (1846).

[12] Acts 4.12

[13] Isaiah 53.3

[14] Luke 18.32-33

[15] Romans 5.11

[16] I Corinthians 15.3-8

[17] Eucharistic Proper Preface for Easter, The Book of Common Prayer (1979).

[18] John 1.8

[19] Donne, “Upon the Annunciation and the Passion Falling Upon One Day.”