Tenth Sunday After Trinity

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

 

There is very little we know for certain about the details of the life of St. Bartholomew, yet this is not an uncommon phenomenon. For many of the Apostles, the particulars of their personalities, work, and ministries on either side of Christ’s Ascension have not been recorded or are a matter of lore. For St. Bartholomew and for many of his colleagues we know mainly this: that when Jesus spoke to them and said, “Follow me,” they showed us what it looks like to say yes and follow Him. 

 

In its Greek origin, the term “martyr” means “witness.” We commonly associate the word with the event of someone dying for the sake of faithfulness to a person or an ideology. In the news as of late, we have heard profound and startling accounts of our brothers and sisters overseas who have remained faithful to Christ even to the death. As Christians we believe that our lives are lived under the sign of the cross, that we are shaped by the pattern established by Christ in which we live, work, suffer, and die in Him that we might rise again to the joy of the resurrected world with Him. Martyrs are witnesses, they testify to the reality of the Kingdom of God through their lives in the world. Those martyrs who die for this testimony establish an especially robust sign of this conviction. Even more so did St. Bartholomew, whose eyewitness knowledge and certainty of the legitimacy of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension led him to die for what he knew to be true. The Christian idea of martyrdom, though, is so robust that it moves outward from the point of death to assume the whole of life. All Christians are called to live out a type of martyrdom in their daily lives, one characterized by self-denial and discipline, by renunciation and simplicity, and by putting to death the temptations to sin as they come to us. This is not to suggest that there is not a difference between the common acts of self-denial to which we are all called and the experience of our brothers and sisters who even in this century are being put to the sword for their faith. Neither should we fall into the bad habit of persecution-mongering, where we unnaturally seek out persecution from others to gratify some inordinate desire. Martyrdom is not about being a hero, and it is not about indulging in self-pity.  At its core, martyrdom is about life, the life of the world to come, a life so good and beautiful that it is worth using everything within our grasp, even the gifts of our bodies and mortal lives to attain it.

 

A life shaped by martyrdom is difficult to live, though, because it testifies to the order of God’s Kingdom in an often disordered world. This is the heart of the problem in our Gospel lesson. St. Luke records a quarrel among the Apostles over who will be the greatest in the kingdom they thought Jesus was about to bring about by conquering the Romans. It is a struggle common to us all. How many times do we consider how we rank among our peers in our jobs or in school, or perhaps even among the people sitting on either side of us at Church? By what rubric do we judge our relative superiority or inferiority? It’s probably not that different from the Apostles. We often judge ourselves and others by some measure of success arising from quantities of goods or accolades, in Church by perceived piety or volume of ministries. Yet our Lord gives us a very different rubric in his admonition to the Apostles: “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve…I am among you as he that serveth.” Greatness in the Kingdom of God is attained only through service and humility. Power is granted only to those whose lives are shaped habitually by the love for God and for one another. To live in the way of Christ is to follow Him in humility and simplicity on the path to resurrection and glory.

 

The Anglican poet T.S. Eliot wrote that “the only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility; humility is endless.” Humility is the proper recognition of ourselves before God and among others. In other words, it is the honest acknowledgment of what we are. The virtue of humility is at the heart of martyrdom. It teaches us to esteem God so appropriately that we recognize how much all things pale in comparison to Him. It teaches us to see others in both strength and weakness as those stamped with the image of God and thus possessing dignity and lovability. Humility leads us to an assessment of our relative weakness to follow after Christ and to live in His way, and leads us to rely on His power, His gifts, and His Church. When we do this, we will see what was seen among the Apostles in Acts: life lived of one accord and signs of the Kingdom in our midst. This is martyrdom: the Kingdom in our midst as a testimony of the Kingdom to come.

 

The relative historical obscurity of the life of St. Bartholomew reminds us that the recording of our deeds so as to be heroically remembered is not the point. The details are known to God, and precious in His sight is the death of His saints. For us, there is a lifetime to live in the love of God and neighbor through the exercise of humility. In so doing we testify to the Kingdom, we make ready our martyrdom. At some point, all of us will have to make a final offering of our lives. For some of us, it may be through the extreme circumstances of persecution. For the rest of us it will be through the daily habit of conversation and communion with God so that we may, by His grace, make a good end. The witness of the martyrs calls us back to the exhortation at the heart of all Christian life: “be a saint—what else is there?”

 

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Amen.

 

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Fifth Sunday After Trinity – Sermon

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

 

“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”

 

St. Luke’s account of the miraculous catch of fish is a parable about beginnings. Christ stands over the Sea of Galilee, which has yielded nothing to the belabored fisherman, and at His word calls forth from the empty water an abundance of sea life so full that the fisherman can hardly draw it back to the shore. So too, at an earlier time, Christ, the Word of God, stood over the face of the formless and vacant depths and through Him arose the whole Creation. The God who brought forth all life now brings forth a new life for St. Peter. 

 

God’s work is a pattern of bringing forth order out of chaos, abundance from emptiness, life from death. In the Kingdom of God, the small things are reflections of the big things. Even so, to see God’s grand drama brought forth in particular moments is often a difficult task. Sometimes we see ourselves like the fishermen, laboring in apparent futility and without a sense that what we are doing is of any profit. Too often, though, we are tempted to stop at this point and to summarize our life circumstances as a toiling in darkness without reward. Yet this is only half the story. The Gospel reveals to us that sometimes it is this very crisis of heart, this temptation to despair, that proves to be that from which God brings about a new thing. 

 

God is Creator. We should not be surprised to find Him, then, where we suspect there is nothing, for He is the one who creates out of nothing. In such a way, it can be that our near-despair becomes the very place in which we find Him. We need this larger context of God as Creator and Redeemer of all things as we approach the particulars of life because God’s calling for us in such places is always to trust Him. This type of trust is not blind, though, rather it is predicated on the reality of who God is and how He works. St. Peter had to trust the Lord in this way, and act upon that trust by letting down the nets. We see in his moment of decision three crucial aspects of faith: recognition, profession, and action. St. Peter recognizes Jesus with a rabbinical title, acknowledging Him as a teacher and possessor of the knowledge of God. While this is, of course, an incomplete picture of who Christ is, it is yet enough to form the beginnings of trust. St. Peter then professes this recognition through a rudimentary statement of belief: “nevertheless, at thy word, I will let down the nets.” It is as though he said, “this is the situation, and it is a bad one, but even so, if you say so, I will obey.” This disposition toward belief is fulfilled in action as Peter and his partners set back out on the water and let down their nets again, and meet with great success. This is the heart of faith: a recognition that manifests as trust in both word and deed.

 

We would be mistaken to think, though, that the whole point of faith is merely the satisfaction of our temporal needs. Some have used the miraculous catch of fish to support the idea that if I believe in God, He will give me whatever I want. Moreover, since fishing was a means of financial gain, the story has been used to validate the notion that God’s purpose for us centers on financial comfort and economic prosperity. This is a misreading of the Gospel. If we take into account the whole story, we see that Christ performs this sign to inspire St. Peter and the others to follow Him so that He might make them “fishers of men.” Christ uses the present circumstances as the means by which to draw them closer to Him. It worked, and the fisherman abandoned what would have been a very lucrative haul of fish on the shore to rot. They saw the real point of their sudden prosperity and followed. By their example, we can see the paradoxical truth about temporal objects: the things of this world are good and useful to us so long as they do not become ends in themselves. As we grow in the life of faith, we become able to see better and better this total reality of things as they are and the good they serve here and now, but also their purpose in the context of God’s plan to bring us and all things into union with Himself.

 

This is all well and good, in theory. Like St. Peter, though, we have to experience faith in practice, will all of its ups and downs, if we are to grow in it. The Epistle lesson makes this very point. We get to see in his writings the man of faith that St. Peter became after his tentative beginnings. The message of the epistle is this: no matter what is happening around you, keep your sight on what is true and act on it. These were no small words at a time when the world, especially for Christians, was a very dangerous place: full of persecution and suffering. At the same time, St. Peter is using his own experience to teach us. The same man who struggled so many times with faith, who fell away, who denied Christ, and who was restored again, now exhorts us that in times when darkness and chaos seem to prevail, nevertheless, we are to hear the words of God and believe. 

 

Regardless of the scale, the trials we face call us back to that early moment in the boat with St. Peter, toiling in apparent futility. Out of our hardships, and yes, even in the bumps and scrapes of ordinary life, Christ stands over the face of the waters and calls us by grace into the new thing He is working. God is always creating, always making things new. The Redemption of God is at hand in every moment: it works in us and through us to the world around us if we will but look to Christ, hear His words, trust, and obey. 

 

“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Amen.

Download this sermon.

Fifth Sunday After Trinity – Sermon

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

 

“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”

 

St. Luke’s account of the miraculous catch of fish is a parable about beginnings. Christ stands over the Sea of Galilee, which has yielded nothing to the belabored fisherman, and at His word calls forth from the empty water an abundance of sea life so full that the fisherman can hardly draw it back to the shore. So too, at an earlier time, Christ, the Word of God, stood over the face of the formless and vacant depths and through Him arose the whole Creation. The God who brought forth all life now brings forth a new life for St. Peter. 

 

God’s work is a pattern of bringing forth order out of chaos, abundance from emptiness, life from death. In the Kingdom of God, the small things are reflections of the big things. Even so, to see God’s grand drama brought forth in particular moments is often a difficult task. Sometimes we see ourselves like the fishermen, laboring in apparent futility and without a sense that what we are doing is of any profit. Too often, though, we are tempted to stop at this point and to summarize our life circumstances as a toiling in darkness without reward. Yet this is only half the story. The Gospel reveals to us that sometimes it is this very crisis of heart, this temptation to despair, that proves to be that from which God brings about a new thing. 

 

God is Creator. We should not be surprised to find Him, then, where we suspect there is nothing, for He is the one who creates out of nothing. In such a way, it can be that our near-despair becomes the very place in which we find Him. We need this larger context of God as Creator and Redeemer of all things as we approach the particulars of life because God’s calling for us in such places is always to trust Him. This type of trust is not blind, though, rather it is predicated on the reality of who God is and how He works. St. Peter had to trust the Lord in this way, and act upon that trust by letting down the nets. We see in his moment of decision three crucial aspects of faith: recognition, profession, and action. St. Peter recognizes Jesus with a rabbinical title, acknowledging Him as a teacher and possessor of the knowledge of God. While this is, of course, an incomplete picture of who Christ is, it is yet enough to form the beginnings of trust. St. Peter then professes this recognition through a rudimentary statement of belief: “nevertheless, at thy word, I will let down the nets.” It is as though he said, “this is the situation, and it is a bad one, but even so, if you say so, I will obey.” This disposition toward belief is fulfilled in action as Peter and his partners set back out on the water and let down their nets again, and meet with great success. This is the heart of faith: a recognition that manifests as trust in both word and deed.

 

We would be mistaken to think, though, that the whole point of faith is merely the satisfaction of our temporal needs. Some have used the miraculous catch of fish to support the idea that if I believe in God, He will give me whatever I want. Moreover, since fishing was a means of financial gain, the story has been used to validate the notion that God’s purpose for us centers on financial comfort and economic prosperity. This is a misreading of the Gospel. If we take into account the whole story, we see that Christ performs this sign to inspire St. Peter and the others to follow Him so that He might make them “fishers of men.” Christ uses the present circumstances as the means by which to draw them closer to Him. It worked, and the fisherman abandoned what would have been a very lucrative haul of fish on the shore to rot. They saw the real point of their sudden prosperity and followed. By their example, we can see the paradoxical truth about temporal objects: the things of this world are good and useful to us so long as they do not become ends in themselves. As we grow in the life of faith, we become able to see better and better this total reality of things as they are and the good they serve here and now, but also their purpose in the context of God’s plan to bring us and all things into union with Himself.

 

This is all well and good, in theory. Like St. Peter, though, we have to experience faith in practice, will all of its ups and downs, if we are to grow in it. The Epistle lesson makes this very point. We get to see in his writings the man of faith that St. Peter became after his tentative beginnings. The message of the epistle is this: no matter what is happening around you, keep your sight on what is true and act on it. These were no small words at a time when the world, especially for Christians, was a very dangerous place: full of persecution and suffering. At the same time, St. Peter is using his own experience to teach us. The same man who struggled so many times with faith, who fell away, who denied Christ, and who was restored again, now exhorts us that in times when darkness and chaos seem to prevail, nevertheless, we are to hear the words of God and believe. 

 

Regardless of the scale, the trials we face call us back to that early moment in the boat with St. Peter, toiling in apparent futility. Out of our hardships, and yes, even in the bumps and scrapes of ordinary life, Christ stands over the face of the waters and calls us by grace into the new thing He is working. God is always creating, always making things new. The Redemption of God is at hand in every moment: it works in us and through us to the world around us if we will but look to Christ, hear His words, trust, and obey. 

 

“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”

 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Amen.

Download this sermon.

Third Sunday in Lent 2014 – Sermon

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent: 2014

By Hayden A. Butler

 

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Amen.

 

The Gospel lessons for the first three Sundays of Lent follow a thematic progression in their depictions of our Lord’s victory over the demonic forces of the world. The First Sunday recounted the temptation in the wilderness. The Second Sunday featured the exorcism of the Canaanite woman’s daughter. Today the Gospel portrays the moment when Christ drives out the mute demon and is subsequently confronted by the Pharisees and the people. Common to all of these accounts is the recurring theme of the deliverance of God’s people.

 

The positioning of our Lord in the narrative connects this moment of his ministry with the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. In Exodus, there is a showdown between Moses and Aaron and the sorcerers of Pharaoh’s court. With each wonder that God works through his servants, the sorcerers provide a demonic imitation of it. At one point, though, the magicians are no longer able to replicate the signs of God. Consequently they identify the wonders of Moses and Aaron as having been accomplished through the ‘finger of God.’ In the context of this showdown, the failure of the sorcerer’s to replicate the wonder signifies the superiority of the God of Moses over Egyptian deities.  In our Gospel lesson, Christ drives out the demon, fulfills the type established in Exodus, and again demonstrates His power over the Devil and his minions. This is a lesson we have been learning for the past several weeks. The power behind the signs that Christ performs is the same power that worked through Moses and Aaron, for He too works the sign by the ‘finger of God.’ The Pharisees, however, blasphemously charge our Lord with employing demonic powers. In the parallel between the Exodus narrative and the Gospel lesson, these accusers fail to see what even Pharaoh’s sorcerers eventually acknowledged. Christ does not allow this misrepresentation to stand for a moment. He asserts that this sign is not the result of some diabolical civil war. Instead, it is a manifestation of the same war that has been taking place since the time of Moses: that between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world. God’s deliverance is ever the mark of His incontestable power and victory over Satan. Just as the signs that accompanied Moses and Aaron were a signal that God was delivering His people out of bondage, so too do the repeated victories of Christ over the demonic forces signify that God again is delivering His people.

 

We understand our Lord’s parable of the strong man in this sense. Christ has shattered the power of the devil and now the Kingdom of God is advancing. The vain attempt to conflate the campaign of the Kingdom with the vain resistance of the devil and his forces is not only absurd but of a most pronounced blasphemy. The standers-by in the lesson, too, are implicated in this failure. They who have just witnessed a sign of Christ’s divine power audaciously request to see yet another sign. It is a form of presumptuousness. The only proper response in this case is to acknowledge the Lord as the one who works the wonders of God. The Gospel Lesson also reveals that there is no compromise position to be held between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world. Ultimately, we must declare our allegiance to one or to the other. To stand with Christ is to stand in the Kingdom of God. This allegiance admits of no double-mindedness. The demand placed on us is one of singular loyalty. This is a war. We must choose a side.

 

Alongside this imagery of conquest stands the Epistle lesson, which clarifies for us what manner of life is expected of a member of the Kingdom. We are to be as children; we are to be as citizens. As we grow in the love of God as children, we will naturally wish to imitate the Father who loves us. As we attain to our status as citizens we will exercise our identity with the allegiances and behaviors rightly pertaining to it. True belief obliges action. Our actions are seen to be the fruit of our belief. The austerity of Lent gives focus to the quality of this fruit, which also r For some of us, three weeks into the fast we might find that our fruit is growing inconstantly, reflecting the possibility of our divided attention or commitment to keep faith toward the disciplines. Perhaps the fruit that began to grow has ceased through lack of nourishment from prayer and community. Perhaps there is no fruit at all. On the other hand, perhaps the fruit of faith is progressing apace but is being threatened externally by temptations to lose heart or to give up. Whatever the quality of our fruit, there is a core of comfort that runs through the Epistle that reminds us that the source of life that gives rise to all belief and its corresponding action is the grace of God, which cannot be defeated. With this sure hope, St. Paul exhorts all who hear his words to participate and to persevere.   

 

To this end, the Epistle focuses through its various analogies on being aware of the reality of our present time and on acting accordingly. Are we not God’s children? Then let us act like it and love our heavenly Father by following the example of his perfect Son. Are we not the light of God in the world? Then let us not shade that light through sin, lest we fail to illuminate the darkness or worse, fail to stand apart from it. Are we not soldiers of the Kingdom, who swore an oath to fight under the banner of Christ until the end? Then let us put away those slovenly habits of sin and distraction and indulgence, for we have a mission to complete. Let those of us who have been faithful to keep the fast continue in faith—so too let us who have fallen in the fight stand up and move forward.  Is not the day of the Lord at hand? Has not the Kingdom been announced and demonstrated in the triumph of Christ over the enemy? Is the light of God Himself shining on us, and are we still abed hitting the snooze button? Then let us rise up, that such light might illuminate our way.

 

In all of these we see the two-fold nature of our Lenten battle. We do not see the battle of Lent as one of mere purgation. Rather, it is about clearing space that something greater might find its place. In the war against the world, the flesh, and the devil, our part in the struggle cannot be reduced to the mere absence of sin. If, by the grace of God, we clear out the junk from our lives and proverbially sweep the floors of our souls, then we have made ready the room for God to dwell. If we do not allow goodness to enter in, though, then we only have a spiritual vacuum. It is not enough that we simply do not sin—rather, we must also cultivate virtue. The Greek verbiage of the Epistle strongly implies that this is a habitual action rather than a one-time moment. Put another way, we might see the spiritual life as a daily declaration of allegiance to the Kingdom of God, a daily waking to our place in God’s family, and that by means of both we daily renew our vow as imitators of Christ, which in turn makes us both conquerors with Him and co-heirs with Him as fellow faithful children of God. The liturgy trains us toward this movement of soul every week. The Word of God comes to us and in response we confess and repent and receive absolution. In doing so we experience regularly the victory of Christ over the devil and we are made whole again. Such wholeness in turn becomes our new pattern of life. Our Lord does not leave us as an empty space, though, but rather makes us the place in which He is pleased to live.

 

On this the third Sunday of our Lenten journey, we are faced with the fact that the wilderness stronghold of Satan has been invaded, defeated and despoiled. In light of such a victory, let us welcome our Liberator at the gate when He arrives, that He may dwell with us, and we with Him.

 

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Amen.

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