Archive for Jesus

“Jury Duty”–An Easter Message

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

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

Dear Ascension Family,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace,

Father Montgomery+

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

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

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

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

Reading: Matthew 6.1-6, 16-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus says

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] 1 John 4.18

[3] John 3.16

[4] John 15.10-11

[5] John 3.17

[6] Psalm 124.8

“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

“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] 1964MBrooks.  “A Tribute to Benny Goodman 1982.”  Recorded December 25, 1982.  YouTube video, 17:44.  Posted November 22, 2011.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6c7uOrKKzKo.

[3] I Corinthians 3.9

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

[5] Matthew 5.23-24

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

[7] Galatians 1.1

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

[9] Galatians 3.28

 

“Jazz for Brooks” (July 31, 2016: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost-Proper 13C)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , on August 1, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 31, 2016 at the 6:00pm Rite I Eucharist at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Collect: O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy succor, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Hosea 11.1-11; Psalm 107.1-9, 43; Colossians 3.1-11; Luke 12.13-21

“The things you have prepared, whose will they be?”—Luke 12.20[1]

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

Among my most prized possessions, currently in my office out at our parochial high school in Youngsville, is a Crosley CR44 Record Console along with over 100 LP jazz records from the 1940s-1960s.  Included in this collection are many of the greats of jazz: Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Harry James, Stan Kenton, Art Van Damme, Illinois Jacquet, and several others.  A couple of weeks ago, Coach Heath Whittington, one of my faculty colleagues, mentioned to me that his son, Brooks, who will be a sophomore at the high school this coming academic year, has become a big fan of Frank Sinatra and, at times, has coveted my LPs and record console while passing by my office.  Brooks intends to soon procure a record player so that he can begin collecting his own LP records.

Now those of you that know me well know how much my LP records mean to me.  The collection that I have is a combination of gifts, eBay purchases, and years of lucky finds in record stores, me being proud of the many original records I have.  But as much as I value my collection, I also felt moved to help Brooks start his own collection.  So from my own collection, with Coach Whittington’s permission, I gifted Brooks my best Sinatra album, Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!, released by Capitol Records in 1961.  With musical arrangements by Nelson Riddle, each chart having a bright medium to up jazz tempo, it is considered an all-star of Sinatra albums.  “Zing! went the strings of my heart”[2] upon seeing the joyful look on Brooks’ face when receiving his first LP jazz record.  I am glad that I was able to share with him something that was special to me towards his own appreciation of America’s original art form.  It simply felt to be the right thing to do.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in a parable, calls a rich man whose land produced a surplus of crops a fool.  He was foolish in that in direct contradiction to what Jesus today says, his life became ruled by the abundance of his possessions.  He tears down his old small barns and constructs new larger ones so that he can lounge back and enjoy the excess crops all for himself.  Because of this, the rich man interpreted “more” as needing to hoard and felt that “I, me, and mine” mattered more than anybody else.[3]  The rich man embodies the very thing that Jesus counsels us against, “Beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

My own story was not told with the intent of “tooting my own horn,” but, rather, to help illustrate the Holy Spirit’s power to move one’s heart to share a portion of the abundance that God has blessed them to have with others.  The author of Hebrews reminds us of our call to “not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”[4]   Just as God has been generous in giving to us His grace, our giving to others should be an extension of the Good News made known to us in Jesus.  Because to give generously is to recognize our common humanity with each other and, through that common humanity, experience God’s presence among us.

Although there is nothing wrong with being wealthy and/or saving up resources for ourselves for the future, the possession of abundant wealth should also be balanced with a love for God and a concern for our neighbors.  As the Chronicler reminds us, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”[5]  All that we are privileged to have is because of God’s love for us and being that all are equal in His Kingdom, we should be willing to share a portion of that which He has blessed us to have in this life with others.  Cheerful giving signifies a heart and mind focused on God’s Kingdom, whereby when we die and our worldly possessions pass away, we may be received into God’s eternal habitation.

And it is of that eternal goal—the Kingdom of God—that we see the deeper spiritual dimension of today’s Gospel.  “The point,” Saint Paul says, “is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”[6]  To give cheerfully is to invest in God’s Kingdom. And though (and thanks be to God!) our works do not save us, but, rather, the grace of the Lord Jesus, it is the work that we do in accordance with our abilities—contributing to worthy causes, volunteering time to serve and help others, giving to those in need, and helping with other worthwhile efforts—that helps secure our place in Heaven.  Our giving should be an expression of our joy for God having saved us through the death, resurrection, and ascension of His Son Jesus.  God has given us the gift of grace; we should want to give God thanks by willingly giving portions of our time, talent, and treasure to others, for we will reap bountifully of the spiritual abundance in the life to come.  As Jesus tells us, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”[7]  So Saint James is right: ‘Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”[8]

Some of us may be financially wealthy.  Others of us may not be.  Regardless of who is and is not wealthy, Jesus, through the Parable of the Rich Fool, today calls on all of us to reflect carefully on this: Are our desires and standards for what is enough driven by a determination to store up treasures for our own pleasure, or by our understanding of God’s blessings and our true purpose in life?[9]  Hopefully, our reflections will stir us toward the latter conclusion.  So whatever place it is that you currently are in your life, whatever it is that you have an abundance of—time, talent, or treasure, one, two, or all—do not hoard it all to yourself.  Whatever and however you give, may it be to God’s glory, for all of us, wealthy or not, will become rich in His most blessed Kingdom.  God will bless you and make you a blessing to others with your giving.[10]

I, myself, do not have a lot of money and, although I do tithe to Ascension, wish that I could tithe more than I already do.  But God has also blessed me with the privilege of keeping to my musical talents by accruing a treasure trove of LP jazz records that I can enjoy listening to for more years to come.  And to have been able to give to young Brooks from what God has blessed me to have a record of his most admired jazz singer, helping him start his own record collection, was a great joy for me.  It was in that moment that I sensed the Holy Spirit’s presence.  My only hope is that Brooks, as he lives His life for Christ, will, one day, pay me back by “paying it forward,” so that he, in his giving, can be blessed by God for blessing someone else.

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 Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, Copyright ã 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” is a popular jazz standard written by Broadway musicians Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn that was first introduced in the 1934 Broadway revue Thumbs Up!  Frank Sinatra recorded it for another 1961 album, Ring-a-Ding-Ding!, his first under the Reprise Record label.

[3] Theological Perspective on Luke 12.13-21, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C, Volume 3—Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16)) (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 310.

[4] Hebrews 13.16

[5] Jeremiah 29.14

[6] II Corinthians 9.6-7

[7] Matthew 25.40

[8] James 2.17

[9] Theological Perspective on Luke 12.13-21, Feasting on the Word (Year C, Volume 3), 314.

[10] Genesis 12.2

“John & Katy” (July 30, 2016: Celebration and Blessing of the Marriage of Katherine M. Craven and John M. Campbell)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on July 30, 2016 by montgomerybrandt

This sermon was preached at the Celebration and Blessing of the Marriage of Katherine McCrory Craven and John Mark Campbell on Saturday, July 30, 2016 at 11:00am at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana

Readings: Song of Solomon 2.10-13, 8.6-7; I John 4.7-16; John 15.9-12

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.”—I John 4.11-12[1]

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

November 7, 2015 was both a noteworthy and memorable day.  It was the evening of the annual Ascension Episcopal School Parent Teacher Organization Auction, the most prominent event (save Graduation) in the life of our school.  What made last year’s PTO Auction especially noteworthy was that it was also the evening of the annual Alabama-LSU football game, a fact acknowledged through the condition that if the PTO Auction was to occur on that specific evening, a television had to be on site for those (including yours truly) wishing to view the game.  But what also made it particularly memorable was when Katy Lee, one of Ascension’s well established faculty members, arrived at the auction with a brand new member of the faculty named John Campbell.  I, as well as several others, could not help taking particular notice of this and that their being together appeared to be more than just as friends.

Toward the latter part of the evening, as the Alabama Crimson Tide was defeating the LSU Tigers by a score of 30 to 16, Katy, John, and I were standing in front of the television, Katy and I pleased with the end result, with John, unfortunately, not so much.  While standing there together, Katy brings up the obvious, “I’m here with John.”  “Yes, I kind of noticed that,” I replied.  I could hear a bit of concern in her voice, probably from wondering what the school Priest and/or others were thinking about her going out with the new guy.  She was explaining to me how the two of them together came about, to which I replied, “As far I’m concerned, you two are reasonable adults.  If y’all feel that this is something y’all want to try out, then y’all should.  I don’t have a problem with it and don’t think anybody else will, either.”  And I was right; nobody else saw anything wrong with John and Katy being together.  Not only did our colleagues and students not see anything wrong with their relationship, but John and Katy wound up becoming THE “It” couple of Ascension.  Things obviously worked out, for here we all are, John and Katy’s family, friends, and Ascension colleagues, celebrating with them their soon-to-be new life together as husband and wife.

November 7, 2015 was John and Katy’s “Ascension debut” as a couple.  But God was laying the foundation for that day, this moment, and their future life together before then.  According to John, it was soon after the last academic year’s beginning that he heard Katy talking with some of our other Ascension colleagues about her personal theology, much of which matched his own theology.  It was hearing that conversation that made John think to himself, “I need to talk with her more.”  And from that initial thought, God began something with John and Katy that the rest of us could not yet see, but would be revealed to us in His good time.

During the days leading up to that noteworthy PTO auction, John and Katy came to know something more about each other that we at Ascension already knew about them individually, that they both possessed deeply caring natures.  And from the time of that PTO auction leading up to now, their caring natures brought forth an unconditional love for each other.  Through their unconditional love for each other, John and Katy have experienced God’s unconditional love for them in a most profound way.  In seeing them together, we can see God and His love abiding and perfected in them.  It is God’s unconditional love for John and Katy and their deep love for God and unconditional love for each other that will be their foundation until their separation by man’s mortal enemy, Death.

Ascension has played a large part in John and Katy’s relationship.  We have seen their love for each other throughout this last year become like “a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.”[2]  In having received support from us, their colleagues, students, and the larger Ascension family, John and Katy, as husband and wife, now have the privilege of witnessing to us what the Church professes about marriage: a signifier of the mystical union between Christ and His Church.  We heard earlier from Saint John’s first epistle,

The love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, so that we might live through Him…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

God today calls John and Katy to be witnesses together of the Gospel: loving and being faithful to each other throughout the good and bad times, either as rich or poor spouses, just as Christ loves and is faithful to each one of us; and forgiving each other when they both hurt each other, just as Christ forgives all of us when we sin against Him.  To use the words of the Psalmist, this day, the day of John and Katy’s marriage, “is the Lord’s doing [and] it is marvelous in our eyes”[3] and we pray that in seeing their love for each other, we, their fellow Christian pilgrims, will come to better understand Christ’s unconditional love for us.

John and Katy, know how much we love you and are rejoicing with you this happy morning.  May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with His favor look upon you and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace; that you may so live faithfully together in this life, that in the world to come you may have life everlasting.

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 Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition, Copyright ã 1965, 1966 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage,” The Book of Common Prayer (1979), 430.

[3] Psalm 118.23