Jonathan Puls is a draftsman, painter, and art historian. His work, representation paintings and drawings are based on the people and places that he knows well, he has been featured in a wide range of exhibitions. Puls serves as Associate Professor of Art at Biola University, and lives in Whittier with his wife and two daughters.
Taking up the theme of Epiphany as an unfolding, developmental process rather than an instantaneous revelation, he offers a meditation on two significant modern artists, Henry Ossawa Tanner and Jay DeFeo, who each arrived at unexpected destinations in life and art. Puls will also offer a reflection on his own life as a persistent viewer of works of art, and the revelations available to each of us through works of art if we have the commitment to search for them.
A Sermon for The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 21, 2018
The Epistle, Romans 12:16-21 – The Gospel, St. John 2:1-11
The Rt. Rev=d Stephen C. Scarlett
- The epiphany miracles in our lessons
In the lessons for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, the miracle of changing water into wine in the gospel is paired with an epistle that describes another miracle Jesus performs in us. By his work of grace, Jesus enables us to respond to evil with good. As Romans says,
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:19-21).
In both miracles Jesus is revealed as the Son of God who changes things. He changes water, the water of Old Testament purification, into the new wine of the kingdom of God. He changes angry, unforgiving people into his new people who can respond to evil with good. By changing water into wine, Jesus manifested or revealed his glory. When we learn to do good to those who hurt us and hate us, the glory of Jesus is revealed in us and through us.
- Our outward behavior is the result of our own experience of grace
We can only respond to evil with good because God responds to our evil with his good, and this experience of grace changes us. Romans says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The grace of the cross comes to us continually in the Sacrament even though we still have sin. As we partake of grace, we become agents of grace.
The opposite is also true. Someone who has not experienced grace from God will have difficulty acting with grace towards others. People who are complaining and critical towards others typically feel criticized and judged themselves. We pass along our own experience. Our outward behavior reflects our own interior experience.
Our anger, our desire to make others pay, doesn’t magically vanish the moment we come to faith. We are not always able to immediately forgive those who have hurt us. Sometimes we will forgive only to discover that the anger returns, and we must forgive again. We grow into the experience of grace. Our progress will be measured by an increasing interior experience of love and grace from God that leads to an increasing ability to love and forgive others. This growth in grace and love reveals that Christ is at work in us. We must be patient without ourselves in the process of growth.
III. We must face the truth about our anger
Forgiving others and acting in love does not mean denying or ignoring our anger. In fact, Jesus cannot change us until we are honest about our thoughts and feelings. Anger and vengefulness are symptoms of our inner wounds. Healing requires that we look beneath these surface emotions and ask, why? Why am I so angry? We will usually discover pain and injuries beneath our anger; something was done to us, or we experienced something painful that makes us angry at others—perhaps even angry at God. We must let God touch this deep interior pain if we want to be healed.
There is a reason we avoid this work. It is easier for me to blame you. My anger allows me to pretend that my unhappiness is your fault. You can be my scapegoat. This is as old as the first sin. Rather than looking within himself, Cain blamed his brother Abel and took his anger out on him (Gen. 4). Conversely, if I look within myself I must face the truth that I am the one who must change—or who must be changed by grace.
This does not mean that we are all as guilty as Cain, whose offering was rejected because he did the wrong thing. Sometimes we are victims of malice perpetrated by others—and it was not our fault. Our relatively innocent victimhood is a door through which Christ enters our lives. For he was the truly innocent victim. As 1 Peter says, he “bore our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). He took upon himself all the anger we feel for the wounds of our sin. As we unite our pain with his pain, our wounds are healed by his wounds; as Isaiah says, “by his stripes we are healed” (53:5). As we experience healing through the cross, we find the grace from God to say with him, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
- The rationale for responding to evil with good
Forgiveness is logical. To forgive is to give up our right of retribution. To refuse to forgive keeps us stuck in the timeless human cycle of injury and vengeance. When give up our right of retribution and commit the job of judgment to God, we refuse to let the evil of others determine our behavior. We set ourselves free from the tyranny of sin and anger. We allow our behavior to be determined by who we are in Christ, not by what others have done to us. We are free to do good no matter what anyone else does.
This keeps us from judgement. When we respond to evil with retribution, we invariably become subject to judgment ourselves. Our retribution is not always just. Our anger typically leads us into sin even we think it is righteous anger. It might begin as righteous anger, but it will become something else if we allow anger to have free reign. This is how the sins of the fathers are visited on the children. We respond to sin with sin and perpetuate the timeless cycle of sin, guilt, judgment, and death. Responded to evil with good breaks this cycle, and initiates a new pattern of grace, forgiveness, transformation, and life.
One point about forgiveness should be clarified. Nothing about forgiving others mitigates against the responsibility of governing authorities to administer justice for crimes. In Romans 13:4, we are told that the governing authorities are “God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). Nothing about forgiveness mitigates against the justice that God himself promises to execute. The epistle says, “Vengeance is mine says the Lord. I will repay.” Justice will be done. However, we are to focus on doing what is right and commit the task of judgment to God.
This is the final Sunday in the Epiphany season this year. Epiphany is about how Jesus is revealed. Today, Jesus is revealed as the Creator who changes water into wine and changes us from fallen, wounded, and angry people into new people who are being re-created in his image. Thus, as Romans says, “Repay no one evil for evil…. Do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21).
A Sermon for The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 14, 2018
The Epistle, Romans 12:6-16 – The Gospel, St. Mark 1:1-11
The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett
- The Baptism of Jesus and our baptism
The lessons for Epiphany 2 combine the baptism of Jesus with a discussion of spiritual gifts. The two themes are connected because the Holy Spirit who descended upon Jesus in his baptism is the same Spirit we receive in our baptisms. As we receive the gift of the Spirit, we receive gifts of the Spirit.
The baptism of Jesus reveals God as Trinity. The Father’s speaks; the Spirit descends as a dove; the Son stands in the water. Three persons who together are one God. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end Amen.” The western church is indebted to St. Augustine for its understanding of the Trinity as love. Augustine said that there is a lover, a beloved and love itself. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love that flows between them and out from them into the world in creative activity. God is love because he a loving relationship.
We know love because we are grafted into the Holy Trinity through our baptism. The Spirit descends upon us, and the Father adopts us as his beloved children. As Romans 8:15, “You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15).
- The source of our giftedness
When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, we also receive “gifts” if the Holy Spirit. When we receive the general gift of love from God (Romans 5:5) we also receive specific ways to love. As our epistle says:
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us… if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:6-8).
These gifts are rooted in the reality of the Holy Trinity and love. God is love, and God created the world with the motivation of love. The love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father naturally overflows into creative activity. Love cannot be contained by the lovers; Love leads to gifts because the lovers will want to share what they have.
We believe that God is complete in himself in his Trinitarian love. He did not have to create the world. He was not lonely. Rather, he created the world to share his love with it. However, there is a sense in which God had to create. For love must move beyond itself into loving activity. Love doesn’t strictly need the other; love is not a hole that must be filled. But love is a fullness that must be shared. It overflows. Love makes the creation necessary.
III. Our experience of God’s love.
Romans 5:5 says, that the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Our experience of prayer is an experience of Trinitarian love. God made us to share his love with us, and he loves that we exist.
This gift of love first comes to us in baptism. Sin separates us from God, but God so loved that world that he gave his Son to redeem it and renew it. When we turn from our sin and towards God, God adopts us as his children. He brings us out of our separation from God, which is death, and brings us back into union with him, into life. As Ephesians says,
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6).
In the Eucharist we renew the experience of our baptism. As we come to receive Christ again with repentance and faith, we experience again the forgiveness of our sins, and we are filled again with the Spirit. We are loved, not because of anything we have done, but because God is love, and he chooses to love us.
God’s love naturally flows out into creative activity. Likewise, our experience of God’s love will naturally result in a desire to give. All that we do in the Christian life is simply our feeble response of gratitude and love to the gratuitous gift of love from God. If we understand and experience the love of God, we will not need a sign-up sheet or a guilt laden appeal to get us to give. If we have been filled with God’s love, we will love.
- Our spiritual gifts
Your spiritual gifts are the natural form that love will take. Do you have a gift for understanding and proclaiming the will of God in particular situations? Do you have the gift of service, to do things for people without needing to be seen or recognized? Do you have the gift of teaching, of helping others see and know what you see and know? Do you have a gift for encouraging those—being a sign for them of God’s love? Do you have a gift of leadership that can bring a group together in unity to pursue a common goal in peace? Do you have the gift of giving so that you are able to provide resources that for the church and for those in need? Do you have the gift of being merciful to those in need?
Something is a gift when we can give to others, and they feel edified by it, and we do not need anything in return. Spiritual gifts are not a need to be needed. They are not what the church guilts you into doing. They are the ways that you can love others as God has loved you. Ministry will reflect God’s love if we each devote ourselves to serving in the areas of our giftedness—and if we learn to say no in areas where we have no gifts.
The use of our spiritual gifts is not limited to our time on the church property. We are the children of God who bear witness to God’s love wherever we are by the way we love and serve. “The ministry of the church” is the sum of all the things that each of us does for others, at home, at work, and at play because we are the children of God.
The key is always the motive. As 1 Corinthians says,
Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing (1 Cor. 13:2-3).
This is the reason that the proper exercise of our spiritual gifts depends upon the consistency of our prayer. Our ability to love depends upon our ongoing experience of love. We must continually return to the scene of baptism—which is the pattern for all prayer. We must hear again the voice of the Father claiming us as his children; we must experience again the descent of the dove and the grace of forgiveness and cleansing so that our hearts cry, “Abba Father.” Only after we taste the love that comes from God are we able to share that love with others. And once we have tasted the love that comes from God, we will be compelled to share his love with others. As St. John writes,
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 Jn. 4:10-11).