Archive for Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can’t show my face,

Can’t go anyplace,

People stop an’ stare,

It’s so hard to bear,

Everybody knows you left me,

It’s the talk of the town.[2]

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

+               +               +

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

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

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

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

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

The woman runs into town, excitedly telling everybody

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

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

+               +               +

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

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy

Like the wideness of the sea;

There’s a kindness in His justice

Which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader

Than the measures of the mind;

And the heart of the Eternal

Is most wonderfully kind.[6]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Ibid.

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

[5] Romans 5.2

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

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

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

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

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

Reading: Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus says

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] 1 John 4.18

[3] John 3.16

[4] John 15.10-11

[5] John 3.17

[6] Psalm 124.8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

+               +               +

In today’s Gospel

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

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

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

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

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

+               +               +

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Psalm 30.5

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

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

[6] Matthew 5.17

[7] Genesis 3.15

[8] John 1.1

[9] The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language

[10] 1 Timothy 1.15

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

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

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

[14] Ephesians 3.20

[15] John 8.12

“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]

+               +               +

 “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

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

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

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

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

Reading: John 12.31-36a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] I Corinthians 1.18

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

[5] Romans 3.23

[6] Romans 3.24

[7] Romans 8.39

December 29, 2013: The First Sunday after Christmas Day (Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Birmingham, Alabama)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on December 29, 2013 by montgomerybrandt

“…When the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”—Galatians 4.4-5[1]

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

During the past year and a half, I have been privileged to serve as the alumni advisor of the Lambda Chi Alpha chapter at the University of Montevallo.  As the chapter’s chief judicial officer, at several instances, I have had to advise its Executive Committee regarding the discipline of brothers unable to fulfill their responsibilities of membership as outlined in the Fraternity’s Constitution and Statutory Code.  Recently, I had a conversation with one of these disciplined brothers, part of which dealt with the reasons for the very existence of the Fraternity’s laws.  To my young brother, I said, “Laws are a system of regulation put in place geared toward the goal of maintaining the common good.  Therefore, Lambda Chi’s laws are in place in order that the very foundation and principles upon which the Fraternity was founded can be maintained.  They are in place to help guide us in being the best brothers that Lambda Chi calls us to be.”  My young brother said, “Brandt, I hear you.  But there are times in which the laws are too strict and don’t take into account a brother’s particular set of circumstances.  Therefore, if we say that we are a Brotherhood, we should be willing to sometimes overlook the laws so that the Brotherhood can be maintained, don’t you think?”

Unfortunately, due to the duties of my office, I was unable to subscribe to my young brother’s thought.  But I completely understood where he was coming from.  What he was saying was that the laws of Lambda Chi Alpha, though good in its intentions, failed in allowing for greater discretion in considering the circumstances that cause a brother to break the rules.  My young brother felt that, at times, the strictures were too impractical, which, in turn, did more to weaken the Brotherhood than strengthen it.  What he was calling for was less of a focus on the strictures of fraternal law and more of a focus on compassion for brothers at times of transgression.  What my young brother wanted was less law and more grace.

In today’s Epistle from Galatians, Paul states “that the law was our custodian until Christ came…”[2]  The word translated as “custodian” in the Revised Standard Version and “disciplinarian” in the New Revised Standard Version is the Greek word paidagogus.  In Paul’s time, the paidagogus was a household slave who led the young boy to school and supervised his conduct.  Though not himself a teacher, but rather more of a moral guide, the paidagogus was charged with protecting the youth from immoral influences.  It would be while under the paidagogus’s temporary care that the young boy’s freedom would be constrained and limited.[3]

So within the course of salvation history, Paul states that the Law was humanity’s paidagogus, put in place by God through Moses to be its guide for moral living.  In verse 19, he states that the Law “was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…”[4] Although the Law was given as a measure in which we might better love God and our neighbor, for, as Paul says, “…Love is the fulfilling of the law,”[5] humanity’s transgressions and the brokenness of the human condition made fulfillment of the Law impossible to achieve.  The Law gave to humanity the ability to recognize its sin, but did not have the power to redeem it from sin.  But just as the paidagogus’s role within the young boy’s life was temporary, so does Paul describe the role of the Law within the life of the human creation.  The Law ruled over humanity for only a specified period of time—from that of Moses until the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised offspring.  With Christ came faith to the earth.  Now that faith has come, humanity’s limitations under its paidagogus, the Law, are no more, for the time of salvation is now.

From the Bidding Prayer of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, we are admonished that it should “be…our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.”[6]  In this season of Christmastide, Paul’s words from Galatians are, again, a reminder to us that Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, has restored the dignity of the human creation and sets us free from the shackles of sin and death.  Today, we are reminded that the days of our confinement under the Law and of judgment are over.  No longer is our relationship with God distorted.  No longer does sin have dominion over us.  No longer do we have anything to fear.  The time of our salvation is now.  The time is now here in which Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, born of woman, born under the Law, redeems us from the constraints of the Law, restoring us, once again, to harmony with God the Father in Heaven.  “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace; as the Law was given through Moses, so grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ.”[7]

How fortunate we are that in Christ’s Incarnation we see God’s promise of action in, revelation to, and redemption of the world come to fruition.  In order for humanity to be saved and our minds fixed back upon Him, God becoming human was a necessary occurrence.  By becoming human, Jesus is, for us, the visible face of an invisible God.  He allows us the opportunity to know God in a way that was previously impossible.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.[8]  And by the offering of Himself as a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice on the cross at Calvary, the Incarnated Christ makes Himself known to us as the Liberator who frees us from the bondage of sin.  The Incarnation has freed us from the bondage of the Law and bestowed to us the gift of grace, freeing us to live unto God in the faith of Jesus Christ.

The Incarnation of Christ is, without a doubt, one of the three most significant events throughout all of human history (the other two being the Crucifixion and the Resurrection).  Through the Incarnation, God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.[9]  No longer are we confined under the Law.  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian.[10]  Through the newborn Jesus we will be granted forgiveness of our sins and be ransomed, healed, and restored people forever.

Alleluia!  Unto us a child is born: O come, let us adore Him.  Alleluia!


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

[2] Galatians 3.24

[3] Matera, Frank J.  Galatians (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2007), 136, 139.

[4] Galatians 3.19

[5] Romans 13.10

[6] From the Bidding Prayer of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, held at the Chapel of King’s College at Cambridge University on December 24, 2013.

[7] John 1.18 (Common English Bible)

[8] John 1.14

[9] Colossians 1.13-14

[10] Galatians 3.25 (Common English Bible)