Archive for Salvation

“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).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] All Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

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

[3] Revelation 1.8

[4] Colossians 1.15-20

[5] John 3.17

[6] II Corinthians 5.21

[7] Matthew 11.28-30

[8] Romans 1.16; I Corinthians 1.18

[9] Ephesians 4.15

[10] Matthew 24.44

[11] Matthew 6.19

[12] Joshua 24.15

“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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who is my neighbor?”—Luke 10.29[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[3] I Corinthians 9.16 (New International Version)

[4] Psalm 124.8

[5] Ephesians 3.20

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

[7] I John 2.1-2

[8] I Corinthians 13.13

[9] The Message Bible

[10] Genesis 1.27, 31

[11] Philippians 4.13

[12] John 1.11, 14

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

[14] Isaiah 53.5

[15] Matthew 28.20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown

Death and conception in mankind is one:

Or ‘twas in Him the same humility

That He would be a man and leave to be:

Or as creation He had made, as God,

With the last judgment but one period,

His imitating Spouse would join in one

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

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

Would busy a life, she all this day affords;

This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Luke 1.31

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

[3] Hebrews 2.10

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

[5] Genesis 3.15

[6] Isaiah 53.5

[7] Luke 1.31-33

[8] Isaiah 7.14

[9] Luke 1.38

[10] Luke 1.46-48

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

[12] Acts 4.12

[13] Isaiah 53.3

[14] Luke 18.32-33

[15] Romans 5.11

[16] I Corinthians 15.3-8

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

[18] John 1.8

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

“Time Is of the Essence” (January 7, 2014; Ascension Episcopal School–Sugar Mill Pond Campus, Youngsville, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , on January 8, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

For the Spring 2015 semester, during daily chapels at the Sugar Mill Pond Campus of Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville, Louisiana, there will be a special sermon series on the Gospel According to Saint Mark.  Below is the first of the several sermons i have been assigned to preach as part of the series.

“And a voice came from heaven, ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’”–Mark 1.11[1]

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

Yesterday, Mr. [Peter] Johnston introduced a new sermon series that we are undertaking on the Gospel of Saint Mark, which is commonly accepted as being the first written of the four canonical New Testament Gospels. He began with an exposition on the pivotal first verse: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[2] I regret that I was not able to be present for Mr. Johnston’s sermon, but have no doubts that it was very well done and an insightful start to what, I feel, will be a wonderful series. Today, we will pick up where Mr. Johnston left off with a consideration of Mark 1.2-11

With the addition of verse 1, verses 2-11 of Mark 1 composes what is this Gospel’s Prologue, from which is presented the preaching of John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. The Revised Standard Version begins verse 2 with the words “as it is written,” whereas the Good News Translation begins this same verse with different words: “It began.” With the combination of the Revised Standard Version’s translation of verse 1 as “the beginning of the Gospel…” with the Good News Translation’s beginning of verse 2 with the words “it began,” Mark sets up the Good News as being the start of a brand new age. The coming of Jesus was the beginning of this new age. Mark’s Gospel is very thorough, yet gets straight to the point, with its emphasis being more on what is happening than on what is being said (although what is being said is also important). For Mark, to use a term from American and British contract law, “time is of the essence.”

Mark proclaims the coming of this new age with the appearance of John the Baptist: “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way: the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” In the Gospel According to Saint Luke, an angel of the Lord says this about John in foretelling his birth to his father Zechariah: “…He will be filled with the Holy Spirit…He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before them in the spirit and power of Elijah…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”[3] So here we have Mark presenting John the Baptist as both a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and performing an important function for the people of Israel. He is Jesus’ forerunner, proclaiming that He, who will come after him, “is mightier than I” and “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” John’s water baptism is the visible sign of his calling of the people to repentance and preparation to receive Jesus and the Gospel that He will soon proclaim. The appearance of John the Baptist was a happening of the highest magnitude, for it signified that a new age in salvation history was very, very close at hand.

Jesus then appears in verse 9, having come “from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” The placement of verses 8 and 9 together is a transitional description of the differences between the kinds of baptism that one offers from the other. The appearance of Jesus occurs immediately after being told “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” in verse 8, with Him, likewise, submitting to John’s baptism “with water” in verse 9. As Jesus comes up from the water, Heaven opens up, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove, and, from Heaven, God says, “Thou art my beloved Son: with thee I am well pleased.”

What we see here are two things. First, we see the formal transition from the period of preparation to the age of salvation. With Jesus now having appeared and submitted Himself to John’s baptism, the way of the Lord has been prepared, His paths have been straightened, and the age of salvation has now come. By submitting to John’s baptism, Jesus takes on the form of a lowly penitent, passively receiving the sign of repentance on behalf of all God’s people. Jesus comes to John as the One willing to assume the brunt of the judgment from which a new Israel will emerge.[4] Second, in verses 9-11, we are given a picture of baptism as being “the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” The outward and visible sign is water, symbolizing one’s choice to renounce evil, repent of his/her sins, and turn to Jesus as his/her Lord and Savior. The inward and spiritual grace is union with God, being “sealed by the Holy Spirit…and marked as Christ’s own forever.”[5] Through our own baptism, God’s word to Jesus becomes His word to us: “You are my own dear son [/daughter], and I am pleased with you.”[6]

From today’s appointed text, Mark 1.2-11, we are put in the context of a particular time—the beginning of a new age in salvation history. John the Baptist prepares us for it. By His appearance, Jesus officially begins it. “The time is now,” Mark is saying. “The age of salvation has now come!” This is “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

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

[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] Mark 1.1

[3] Luke 1.13-17

[4] Lane, William L. The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 54.

[5] From the liturgy for Holy Baptism, The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of The Episcopal Church (New York, New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), p. 308.

[6] Mark 1.11 as translated in the Contemporary English Version®, Copyright © 1995 by the American Bible Society.