“We have sinned” — sin, slavery, and individualism.

…that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.  Romans 6:6

What does it mean to be enslaved to something?

In a week filled with talk of racial injustice, of the long-term effects of oppression and calls to re-evaluate how we understand our history, it’s important that we step back from hot-button commentaries on statues or Aunt Jemima pancake syrup and think for a moment on the bigger issues that are under the surface.  This is important not because of politics – really, I think the last thing we need is a politically-motivated church; it’s important because our job, you and me together, is to be Christ’s voice of hope and forgiveness and mercy right here, close to home.  How can any of us offer hope, or reach out in mercy, or even attempt to guide our children’s understanding of the world around them, if our understanding is built on nothing more than the talking heads on TV, and whatever article happens to have the most likes, shares, or angry faces online.

Big problems require big solutions.  And in a world set on quick and easy solutions, we’re not going to find any lasting answers unless we step back and think before we speak, or comment, or like and share.

Slaves to Sin?

Freedom from oppression is one of the key themes of God’s work from Genesis to Revelation.  And, as much as it may make us uncomfortable, slavery is a key idea in St. Paul’s message of the Gospel; the language is familiar: we are slaves to sin. And this message really has two goals: that we would understand the world’s predicament, and, from there, we would understand the sort of freedom offered to us by Jesus.

But if we step back from the noise of current events, we’ll find one of our issues, even for preachers and clergy, is that we love to talk before we’ve listened.  The Apostle Paul says we were slaves to sin.  But before we can make any sense of that, we have to first stop and make sure we understand what is really meant by those key words: sin, and slaves.

Sin: it’s bigger than you.

We live in a world that is entirely built around the individual: my hopes, my dreams, my freedom, my work, my earnings, my responsibility, my rights.  And, as we’ve built this world all about me, we’ve come to define sin the same way: the individual things I’ve done and choices I’ve made that have directly hurt someone else.  It’s a definition of sin that protects me: I can sleep easy at night because I haven’t murdered anyone, I haven’t actually had an affair with anyone, so it’s all good.  I don’t need a saviour today; I have nothing to confess, because I haven’t purposefully hurt another individual today.

But that’s not what scripture means by sin.  That’s an awful individualistic lie.

I wish sin was defined that way, because it lets us off the hook; but it isn’t.  We made that up.

“Sins” aren’t boxes, individual actions, to avoid checking off the list each day.  Sin is an archery term.  It means “missing the mark”.  It’s not about individual things done or left undone; sin isn’t even just about things done on purpose, or things done by yourself.  Sin is what God calls anything that isn’t a bullseye.  This isn’t horseshoes and it isn’t hand grenades: almost living a perfect life is sin.  That’s why scripture can say “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.  The hasn’t been and there will not be a day I can pat myself on the back and say “I don’t need a saviour today”; there has not been and there will not be a day when I – my decisions, my choices, and the unintended consequences of my actions or my silence in the world around me – haven’t fallen short of the glory of God. 

We are enslaved by sin.

And, lest we slip back into our individualistic view of the world, this “missing the mark” isn’t just about me.  We do not sing “O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the Alex.”  …or the Kristina, or the Ruth, or the Theo.  We did not sing this morning “the sacrificial Lamb who saves the ‘me’ from sin”.

We’re not just talking about the individual things you or I did on purpose to hurt someone else. We’re not even talking about the sins of a group of individuals. 

Sin, falling short of the target, is not just individual, but corporate; God sees sin when our relationships, our politics, our laws, our marketplace, our investments, our pension plans fall short of the glory of God, fall short of God’s will for how we will live in the Kingdom of God.

Sin is – pardon my use of a word you’ve heard in the news – systemic.

A network, a system of which you or I might be the tiniest of insignificant parts, but which, in spite of the progress made, in spite of the work being done, in spite of choosing only the necessary evils that do the least harm, nevertheless misses the bullseye.  Nevertheless it’s sinful: it falls short of the glory of God. 

We have to put aside the old progressive lie that we can pat ourselves on the back as a society, because there has not been and there will not be a day when the Lamb did not have to be slain for the sins of our world. 

We have to acknowledge – foundationally – that, short of the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, our individual and corporate efforts will never be good enough to pay the price of a world that not only falls short, but isn’t even aiming at the target that is the Kingdom of God.

And this is hard for those on all sides of the current debates to hear: but if the sins aren’t just individual, purposeful actions, then the solutions can’t be personal empowerment.  If the focus on me and my rights is part of the problem, then more individuals fighting for more individual rights can never be part of any ultimate or lasting solution.

There will never be a day that me or you haven’t fallen short, and no amount of rights or empowerment can change that.  But that doesn’t take us off the hook.  Rather, that is the hook: we have to follow Jesus.  Every day, every day, I have to acknowledge where I’ve fallen short, and more than that, I have to look at the world around me and acknowledge where we have fallen short. 

Not to talk our way out of it, not to congratulate ourselves for doing better than yesterday, but to look around, acknowledge the mess, and say all we can say: “Lord, have mercy”, and “Lord, let me take up my cross and follow you.”… and then do it.

And that’s where things change: so many of the voices we hear today would either have us excuse ourselves (“I’m not a racist; I’ve always treated people fairly”) or else attempt to carry the entire weight of the world on our own shoulders.

Like an addict in recovery, we cannot escape this system by ourselves; we need a higher power.  The weight of the world would crush us; but if we die to self, die to sin, and cling to Christ’s death and resurrection, we’re not released from the burden, but we find that, sharing our load with him and one another, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light.

Enslaved to sin.

You were slaves to sin, Paul writes.  And if there’s one thing our modern, individualistic minds get wrong about slavery, it’s how all-encompassing it is.

We want to believe that we can make good choices, clean up our act, and be masters of our own destiny.  But that’s this world’s biggest lie.  That would be true, we could make our own bed to lie in, if we were free. But we’re not.

No, it’s not fair. Slavery isn’t fair.

In Genesis, Abraham has two sons.  One born to a free woman, one born to a slave.  One born with an inheritance, and a land, and a name.  The other born of despair and regret, born indebted to another, with no hope to ever inherit, own, or lay claim to anything in the world around him.

Which of those boys are responsible for how they were born?  Neither.

But here’s the uncomfortable truth that St. Paul wants us to hear: In spite of what we tell ourselves or what the world tells us, none of us is that first boy.  All of us are born enslaved to a world of sin.  All of us are born into a system of corporate consequences built up and compounded by every missing of the mark.

And the slave can clean up their master’s house as much as they want, they can give their life to the cleaning up of that house, but as long as they’re enslaved, it can never be theirs, they can never pass it to their children, their work can’t last. We are born enslaved in this world of sin.

Christ came and paid the ransom for the sins of the world.  Christ paid to emancipate you and me from the slavery to the system of sin we were born in to.

But, once we’re free,  once we’re made free in Jesus, then we are responsible for our own decisions, and not just the things we do on purpose, but for all the ways we take part in the system we ourselves were freed from: we find ourselves called to repent, day in and day out, not just for things we’ve done, but for all the ways we’ve dishonoured that ransom paid; for all the ways we’ve been happy to remain slaves, sweeping the floors and polishing the furniture in the household of sin.  Once we learn to accept that we are sinners in need of a saviour, then we no longer need to cling to the worldly structures around us.  Once my identity is rooted in Christ, I can call it like it is, speak the painful truth, and reach out in mercy with the good news that we all need to surrender, lay down our arms, admit our failings, accept the ransom that was paid in exchange for our pride, and then simply follow with the humility of one dependent on the free gift of God.

Difficult Words

Stepping back from the news headlines, these words from scripture are uncomfortable.  They’re difficult because they go against the arguments on all sides; they’re difficult because they confront the lies of individualism, rights, and personal freedom that our world has built upon.

Our task is to confess our faults and humbly follow Christ.

We don’t need to yell, we don’t need to shout, we don’t need to put up signs.  But we do need to be faithful: to first learn the truth of the Gospel, to accept that all of us fall short every day, and then speak that Gospel truth to a world that is confused and divided.  We need to stop before every comment, before every good post that we share, and ask the question: “is this telling the truth that every day, each and every one of us has fallen short of the glory of God, or does it let someone off the hook, or let us pat ourselves on the back as though we don’t need a saviour?”

Because if it isn’t the truth, it’s a lie.  If we’re not for the truth, then we’re against it, and we’ve allowed ourselves to be enslaved by sin.

“Jesus said, “do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword… and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 

Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worth of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

What can we say?
Lord have mercy.  Let me take up my cross and follow you.  Amen.

Boast in your Hope.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2.

To say that this has been a rough couple of months might be the understatement of the decade.  Our country, our world changed overnight as the virus travelled around the globe, and all the routines, everything we considered “normal” was suddenly replaced by new terms we had never even heard before: social distancing, and self-isolation.

Then, in the weeks that followed, we began to see the economic impacts, as hard-working, self-supporting families turned to food banks, and hard decisions had to be made by people all around us; decisions whose effects will continue to ripple for months and years to come as we recover.

And with that, came the many less visible effects that have spread through every community, as isolation breeds depression, and people who had cleaned up and turned away from a life dependant on a bottle or a puff or a pill bought on the street were tempted to throw all that away to occupy their idle hands.

Many of us have also seen, or at least heard of, the effects of isolation for those whose homes are not happy places, as support structures – and ways to blow off steam – were taken away, and here in Canada, domestic violence help-lines have seen a 300% increase in calls,[1] and that’s not to mention the normal, everyday grief and frustration that slowly simmers into anger as so many simply feel powerless as this invisible virus changes everything we’ve worked and hoped for, and everything from graduations and birthdays to mourning and supporting one another in times of need has changed.

And if that wasn’t enough, anyone who turns on the news knows the pain and deep division that’s coming to the surface now as racial tensions rise, and it seems day after day, even very close to home, video after video emerges to show just how depraved we can be in the way we treat one another.

It’s enough to make you throw your hands up in despair.  No wonder the world around us is anxious.

…But then we turn to scripture.  Hard as it is, we don’t turn to God’s Word to hear what we want to hear, but to hear what God is saying through the Church.  And today, with all that’s happening in our world, what is God saying?  “We have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ… and we boast in the hope of sharing in the glory of God.”

Boast in your hope.

Now I must say I’ve read this verse hundreds of times, but never before has that phrase jumped out like it did this week.

One of the marks of a Christian – one who has been forgiven, who has been made right in the eyes of God by believing and following Jesus – is that you boast in your hope.

Think about it: this is totally upside down from the world’s perspective.  According to the world, we should boast in what we have, in what we’ve done.  In the world, in the workplace, that’s how boasting works: people boast pridefully as they try to prove to others just how good they are.  “I’ve done this, I’ve accomplished that; I built this from the ground up; look at my home, look at my car, look at my kids: one’s a teacher, one’s an engineer.”

But, for those following Jesus, that’s not the way.  We boast in our hope; and hope, in a biblical sense, isn’t positive thoughts or wishful thinking.  Hope, in scripture, is nothing short of the confident expectation that God will keep his promises.

When the world is swirling around us, when everywhere you look is nothing but bad news, those whose lives are built on themselves, on the work they have done, on their own accomplishments, are thrown into anxiety and despair.  There’s not much to boast about when businesses are closed, bank accounts are draining, and you’re being asked the hard but serious questions about whether the opportunities you’ve been given and your success would have looked different based on the colour of your parents’ skin.

But, if we want to live as followers of Christ, we’re not to build our identity or our value or our worth in wealth or possessions or positions, we’re not to put our trust in the work of our own hands.  The message of the cross is nothing short of radical surrender.  The invitation of Jesus is to finally admit that we can’t do it on our own, that we can’t rely on ourselves, because, I can’t hope in my own future if I’m powerless to change the world around me, and the outcome of that, as we’re seeing every day, is anger, frustration, and despair.

Whether we work a trade like Sts. James and John, or work in an office like St. Matthew, or are among the ruling elite like Paul, or work with our hands and care for our families like Tabitha, all the world’s ambitions, hopes, and plans are worthless… all the world’s training in positive thinking and personal empowerment come crashing down when we learn, in times like these, that I really can’t control anything outside of myself, and no amount of worrying can add even a single hour to my life.

But the message of the cross is to surrender; to admit defeat; to stop playing the life-long games of trying to get ahead, and finally acknowledge my life is in God’s hands, I can’t do this on my own, I can’t see the path ahead… so Lord, let me follow you.

And when we finally bring ourselves to give up, everything changes.

My circumstances in this moment no longer matter.  My identity, my value, my worth, isn’t found in the things I have done.  Paul says I can even boast in my suffering.

Now, who in their right mind boasts in suffering… unless we have full confidence that even being the least of the sons and daughters of God is still better than all the praise or boasting that this world can offer.

It’s that confidence, that sure and certain hope, that the uncertainty, the frustration, the worry, the anger, the fear of today – even the loss of every thing that I have – cannot change my value or my worth as one who has been made right in the eyes of God by surrendering, by giving up the lead, and simply following the One who knows the way because he’s walked it before: Jesus knows poverty, he knows hunger, he knows ridicule and shame, he knows doubt, and he knows what it is to triumph over the sin of this world and to live not for yourself, but as a member of a body knit together by love, sacrifice, and a sure and certain hope in the One who holds the future.

Boast in your hope.

In spite of what’s happening around us, boast in the knowledge that tomorrow, and the day after that, and the days and weeks and years to come are in God’s hands; boast in the fact that your value isn’t in what you have or what you do, but in who you are in the eyes of God.

And does that mean all your anxiety goes away?  Does that mean you never worry?  Does that mean you won’t have days like I had on Friday morning when you are so darn frustrated that you’re ready to throw things out the window and snap at the next person unlucky enough to cross your path?

No.  Not at all.  That’ll still happen. 

But that anxiety, that frustration, even that pain now carries no weight, because we know who holds tomorrow, and we know where our true worth is found.

And when we snap, or when we find out we were wrong, there’s no longer any need to be ashamed and get defensive.  We can own it, and surrender once more, knowing that every time we’re out of line, the answer isn’t forging ahead, but to fall back and follow  the Good Shepherd.

A Mission:

This is how we’re to live in difficult times.  And, the harvest is plentiful – let’s not kid around, we don’t have to look very far to find someone who is anxious, depressed, frustrated, worried, angry, or fearful.

If we can learn to boast in our hope, even just a little, then two things happen:

We become the labourers in that harvest, like Jesus said.  And, as we learn that confident hope, by God’s grace we find what we can never find for ourselves: that anxiety, that stress is replaced by a peace that passes understanding – a perfect peace that really makes no sense in the eyes of the world.

And yes, sometimes that hope sounds ridiculous.  Who can blame Sarah for laughing anymore than we would laugh if someone said one of our dear 80-year-old ladies would bear a child.  But that’s our task right now: to grin in the face of the impossible and say “God’s got this, I’m not going to worry about it; He’ll work it out, I’ll trust in Him, and follow where He leads, one day at a time”.

That’s hope to boast about.  It sounds simple… simple enough that you and me, normal, everyday followers of Jesus, can start living that way today.

So let’s do it – because if there’s one thing the world needs now, it’s hope that the God who loves us will lead us, that his grace is sufficient, and that no matter what we face, he offers his peace; all we have to do is surrender and follow where he leads.

To God be the glory, now and forevermore.  Amen.


[1] https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/advocates-scramble-to-help-domestic-abuse-victims-as-calls-skyrocket-during-covid-19-1.4923109

Relationship: Three in One

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… so God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

Every time we gather, we profess our faith in the Trinity, God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We see the Trinity at work in scripture, and by faith, confess that we were created by the Father, redeemed by Jesus Christ, and are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

But let me admit – if your head hurts when you stop to think about how all that works, you’re in good company.  Every analogy, every sermon illustration fails to accurately describe the eternal majesty of God, at least in part because, in this broken and fallen world, we can’t even imagine what it would be like for even two – let alone three people to be perfectly united, without pride, without fighting and holding grudges, without manipulation, and without wanting to hoard the power or opportunity for themselves.

At the end of the day, we can’t even imagine that perfect unity of perfect love, absolute trust, and complete understanding, because, no matter how hard we try, it is so very different from our own experience of relationships.

But, right there, is perhaps the most important thing we can say or learn about the Trinity: God, in his very essence, is not only eternal, all-powerful, and all-knowing; God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is perfect relationship.[1]

The Importance of Relationship

God is perfect relationship.  And that’s incredibly important not just because it tells us about God, but because it tells us something about ourselves.

At Creation, God said “Let us make humankind in our image”.  It’s no accident that the scriptures use the plural there: the Trinity are active together in creation, the Father, the Creator as the source of life; Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word which spoke all things into being, and the Holy Spirit, the breath of God who swept over the chaos of the universe, and breathed the spark of life into our nostrils.

God, who is perfect relationship, created us to share that image and likeness.  God Created us to share in His own ability to create, and to think, and to have control over and responsibility for the earth he created.  And God, whose very essence is united in the perfect relationship of the Trinity, made us to reflect that likeness as well: we were created for relationships, to be in relationship with God and with each other.

Have you ever stopped to think why it is that we crave relationships?

Even in this broken and fallen world, where even something as pure as love gets twisted as it is bumped and bruised, we all crave relationships; we all crave to be heard, to be understood; we all crave to be noticed and cared for; and we all crave to have someone or something else depend on us, even if we don’t know how to express it.

To be created in the image of God is to be created for relationship.  We were created with the intention that we would freely choose to accept God’s love, and to perfectly love, trust, and obey Him in return.  But, of course, you know how it went: we just couldn’t bring ourselves to believe that the boundaries God put in place were truly for our benefit, we wouldn’t trust that God’s simple invitation to trust and obey was truly the best thing for us.

And so began the rest of human history.  Relationships were replaced by pride and power.  Our fellow men and women, our families, our siblings, even our own spouses are no longer those to be trusted and loved as people perfectly united; no, instead each person becomes an way for us to exert power or to be oppressed, as relationships are no longer a gift for us to experience the joy of God’s unity, as I become the centre of my universe, and my rights – not my responsibilities – become the law by which all others must live.

Lessons from the Trinity

As Christians, at baptism, we’re called to repent of the ways that the world uses relationships.  We’re to put off oppression and injustice, to renounce evil, and to live as brothers and sisters united as one body with Christ as the head.

But, if you’re like me, there’s times you’re not good at that.  As much as I want to be like Christ, even the most faithful among us have been formed by a world built not on unity, but on protecting and building up ourselves.  More than we’d like to admit it, in place of honest conversation, we’ve become skilled at manipulation; in place of offering ourselves freely to those we love, we’ve become masters at ensuring others need us, as we pat ourselves on the back.  In place of the vulnerability that comes with trust, we shield ourselves with sarcasm or a public persona, and when we don’t feel noticed, we allow ourselves to boil over so others will react and give us our way.

We’re wired for relationship from creation, yet so much that is wrong with our world comes from relationships gone wrong, right back to that original sin, where we just couldn’t trust that God knew best.

In this fallen world, with scarred, bruised, and broken people, relationships are hard.  But as Christians, we can begin to put things right if we look to God as our example.

Satisfaction

There’s one simple thing that separates the relationship of the Trinity from human relationships; one simple thing that keeps our minds from even imagining the unity between the Father, Son, and Spirit: satisfaction.

The Eternal, Unchanging God is eternally satisfied.  The Father is satisfied in the Son and the Spirit.  The Father’s self-worth, the Father’s self-esteem, the Father’s future hope and joy doesn’t depend on the Son going to university and getting a good job; the Father’s happiness isn’t dependent on the newness of their car or the size of their house; the Son isn’t trying to prove his worth or earn the Spirit’s trust; the Son doesn’t wait for extravagant gifts to prove the Father’s love; neither feels any jealousy or competition that almighty love and power is shared with the Holy Spirit.  All are satisfied knowing that they are united in love, expressed in trust and sacrifice. [2]

If there’s only one thing we learn from the mystery of the Holy Trinity, it’s this: we were created for relationships, but we’re doing it wrong.

Relationships aren’t about me; what they do for me, how they make me feel; how they build me up.  Relationships are about what we become, together.

If I come to a relationship, any relationship, looking to increase my value or my self-worth, if I come looking to gain power or to exert control over another, if I look at another, even if a parent looks at a child as a way to increase my pride, to increase my image, to give me hope for the future, then those relationships can never have any satisfaction.  Those are relationships built on yearning, longing for something we don’t have, jealous of what isn’t ours – even if we don’t realize it.

There can be no satisfaction in a relationship built on wanting what another has, or hoping that a friendship or a relationship or a marriage will make you appear better.

No, the Father and the Son and the Spirit are united because neither is jealous of the other, neither views the other as a source of pride to build themselves up.  They are bound together in perfect love, each aware of themselves, yet each aware that they’re fully and equally part of a relationship bigger than themselves, each offering themselves to the others, not for what they offer to be hoarded by one, but to be united in their offering, and satisfied in perfect peace.

If we want to understand the height and length and width and depth of the love of God, we have to start with our own relationships.

How many of my relationships, or even my day-to-day interactions, are built on longing for something better for myself, instead of being satisfied to offer myself as I am?  How many of our disappointments or fights aren’t because of our concern for another, but because their decision means myplans or the image I want to project can’t pan out the way I wanted, the way I hoped and longed for.

Even in our relationship with God, how many of us come simply acknowledging that He’s God, so I’m not; that he’s powerful, but I’m weak; that he’s righteous, but I’ve sinned, and come not yearning for a taste of God’s power or healing or to make my life more like I hoped it would be, but just to be satisfied, to be still and know that He is God, seeking only the forgiveness of our sins, and the gift of faith to trust simply in his goodness and follow, rather than yearning for a future we cannot see.

 The overflowing love of the Trinity brought this world into being, and brought us here today.  This week, consider your relationships with God and with each other.  Are we content to be still and be satisfied, to offer love freely without expectation of reward, or are we longing, hoping for others to build us up and feed our pride?  May God give us his grace to love Him and love our neighbours as Christ loved us, who, while we were still sinners, gave himself up that we could share in his unity and peace of a relationship with Him.  To God be the Glory now and forever more.  Amen.


[1] The theological idea here is perichoresis, a concept fleshed out from its scriptural basis most notably by the Cappadocian Fathers and accepted as a core teaching of Christianity in the Nicene Creed as adopted at the First Council of Constantinople (381).

[2] Theologically speaking, “without passions”.  See T.F. Torrance’s The Christian Doctrine of God, or, from a Reformed perspective, the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Endless, free power: flip the switch!

“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

On this Day of Pentecost, we don’t just remember that strange and awesome day long ago when the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus.  No, today, as the followers of Jesus, we don’t just remember, but celebrate that Jesus has kept his promise; that Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit of truth and power that we, ordinary people going about our business, could be used as part of God’s plan.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that talking about the Holy Spirit is unfamiliar, perhaps even uncomfortable ground for a lot of us.  We understand our loving Father, who created us and loved us so much that he would send his Son to save us.  We understand our Lord Jesus Christ, who shared our pains and struggles, who overcame the grave, and is preparing a place for us until he comes again in glory.  But my bet is that most of us have a much foggier view of the Holy Spirit.  And, if we’re being honest – and church is the perfect place for honesty – some of us probably know people who speak about the Spirit in such dramatic and, frankly, strange ways that our reaction is a lot like the crowd in our lesson from Acts: this sounds crazy!  Remember, Pentecost is the day our Lord’s apostles were acting so unexpectedly that they were accused of being drunk at nine in the morning, so let me tell you that it’s okay if it takes us, too, a bit of time to figure out what the Holy Spirit is doing.

The Power of God.

As people grounded in the scriptures, the first thing for us to remember is that, while God is definitely doing something new at Pentecost, this is not the first time we see the Holy Spirit at work: He is eternal, and has been active since the very beginning.

It was the Spirit of God that breathed as a rushing wind over the waters of creation, driving away chaos and bringing order to the created world.  The Holy Spirit is that breath of God that was breathed into humankind at creation, giving our souls the ability to think and to reason, empowering us to interact with the living God, and giving us the potential to share in his eternal life.[1]

And, when our disobedience and the effects of sin in our lives, when that messiness and disorder meant our bodies could no longer be temples of the Holy Spirit as we were driven from God’s presence, it was then that God sent his Spirit to his appointed prophets, priests, and kings to guide his people in the way they should go; it was the Holy Spirit at work in those leaders who urged people to repent, and who invited ordinary people to participate, to play a role in God’s great plan to save and restore our fallen world.

In short, the Holy Spirit is the Power and Presence of God at work in the world.  God works by the Holy Spirit; throughout the scriptures, the example used time and time again is the wind: we can’t see it, we can’t see where it comes from or where it goes, but we know it’s there – we see it’s effects, whether a gentle, cooling breeze or a mighty hurricane, and though we can’t see it, or capture it, or put it in a box, we can feel the Holy Spirit when it blows over us.

And the good news of Pentecost, the wonder of Pentecost, is that, now that the problem of our sin has been fixed by the offering of Christ upon the Cross; now that the separation between us and God has been fixed by Christ’s ascension into Heaven, God the Holy Spirit is no longer reserved for God’s chosen leaders.  Now that those problems are fixed, the Holy Spirit can now dwell within every one of us who has been forgiven and made new in the work of Jesus on the Cross.  Pentecost is a first step towards putting things back as God intended.  Like the breath breathed into our nostrils at creation, Christ breathed that breath of God on his disciples, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit”.  And he did so with a reason: the work of God is no longer just for prophets, priests, and kings.  There’s work to be done; there are sins to be forgiven; there are deep, hurtful lies that must be confronted with truth; there are disciples to be made: and, “as the Father has sent me”, Jesus said, “now I send you”.[2]

…And, just like that, the temple of God is no longer a stone building on a mountain surrounded by guards and thick walls, waiting to be found by those who come in.

Just like that, the temple of God, the dwelling place of the Presence and Power of God is in you.  Not a temple waiting for people to come in, but millions of temples, temples with feet, and hands, and voices to bring that presence of God into every corner of the world.

Is the Holy Spirit in me?

Every one of us who calls Jesus our Lord has the opportunity to become the dwelling place of the Power of the Spirit of God.  In baptism – in that action of being included in Jesus’ work on the cross, and being made new – our God, who is faithful, wires us in to this ‘power grid’, this network, this invisible body joined together throughout the world.

But then the question remains: if we’re connected up, why do so many faithful members of the Church not feel this power of God, or at least see it’s effects like wind blowing through our lives?

Where is the power of God in our lives?  It’s a good question; but if we’re having a problem with power, then perhaps we should look to the Power Corporation for our answer…

An Analogy

Imagine: you move into a house, a house built to be a home.  A house that was well designed, where the architect and master builder have planned for there to be lights to light up every dark corner, all the comforts we crave – heat in winter and air conditioning in summer, and outlets exactly where we need them.

You’ve been given a perfectly designed house.  But all the light fixtures on the ceiling and all the outlets on the walls aren’t going to help you unless that house is connected to the power grid.

It’s in baptism that connection is made.  And, unlike the Power Corp., every time someone asks to be wired up, every time someone asks to be joined in, that work is done on time, and it’s done right.

But this is where even faithful church people get lost.  God wires us in.  Just like that, we have unlimited, endless power – more than we could ever need – right there, ready to flow in.  The Power Corporation connects you up; but it’s not their job to go it each room every evening and flick on the lights… that part’s on you.

We’re connected to – we have access to – endless power.  But whether or not we receive it is up to us.  Though the house was built to have this energy flowing through it, we’re free to leave it turned off.  If we want, in spite of unlimited, endless, and completely free power at our fingertips, we can say, “no thanks, it’s okay, I’ll manage on my own”, as we wander about in the shadows with an old flashlight, stubbing our toes and tripping over things instead of turning on the light.[3]

A lot of us live that way.  Though we’ve been wired up, though we were built to be empowered by God, for any number of reasons we say “I’ll manage”, and stay in the dark.

But God wants us to take advantage of the opportunity he’s given us.  And as he has always called and nudged his chosen people to follow his Will, God still gives us nudges to let the Spirit’s power work through us.

Now, some people claim great and miraculous things done through them by the Spirit.  I can say that I’ve never experienced something like the dramatic events of Pentecost.  But, I have felt the Breath of God; for me, sometimes it’s like the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, and that’s the nudge inviting me to ‘turn on the switch’ and let the Power of God work through me: sometimes it’s that urge out of the blue to pick up the phone and call someone, only to find that they’re in need of someone to talk to; sometimes it’s that desire to do something completely out of the ordinary that ends up giving a glimmer of hope to someone feeling lost.[4]

Yes, faith like a mustard seed could move a mountain; but our work isn’t to move mountains.  As the Father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends us to share in his work of seeking out, raising up, and drawing in those who are lost.

God’s Presence is not bound up in a stone temple; you are a temple of the Holy Spirit.

So this week – and I’m sure there will be an opportunity this week – when you feel that little nudge, that nudge, go out on a limb: this time, flip the switch.  Say, “okay, God”, and let him work through you.  You probably won’t move a mountain, there probably won’t be a flame like fire on your head, but I guarantee: even the smallest action led by the Holy Spirit can accomplish more than we could ever ask or imagine, and usually more than we’ll ever know.  To God be the glory.  Amen.


[1] I follow Cyril of Alexandria’s Commentary on John here.  A great summary is available here.

[2] John 20:19-23

[3] I remember this analogy being worked out by Fr. Darrell Critch and Richard Donnan when the youth of the parish (myself one of them) were hanging out casually discussing Baptismal Regeneration at the rector’s apartment one Sunday evening around 2005.  Yes, that happened.

[4] Compare “turning on the switch” to the various times the apostles and first deacons were “filled with the holy spirit” in the first 8 chapters of Acts.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is not a one-time occurrence, but the faithful are “filled” for the God-given task at hand.  I’m not suggesting we can control when God wills work through us, only that we must cooperate rather than being ‘possessed’ in any way.  Admittedly, this is where the analogy breaks down: we can turn on lights when we like, but we cannot say “the Holy Spirit will work through me Tuesday at 7, come and bring a friend.”

What good is a resurrected body? Why Easter needs the Ascension.

In my Father’s house are many rooms… And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:2-3

Today we celebrate one of the most central teachings of our faith; an idea equal with the messages of Christmas and Easter, and one that we confess every time a faithful follower of Jesus says the Creed: Jesus ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; and from there He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

In the official teachings of the Church – found in those essential beliefs laid out in the Prayer Book for us to read, learn, and share with the world around us – a lot hinges on the Ascension.  Yet, this major celebration and its message became largely ignored; not least because it was one of those celebrations, like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday that traditionally fell in the middle of the week on a Thursday, the 40th day after Easter, and as busy work schedules took over, it was lost in the mix.

The problem, though, is that Jesus’ ascension into heaven is absolutely central to understanding our faith.  No kidding: skipping Ascension is as if we decided that Christmas just didn’t matter anymore, or if we decided to skip preaching about Easter for a couple generations. 

Seriously: Christmas tells us that Jesus, God’s Son, was born and raised to share our humanity; Easter tells us that Jesus experienced death in a human body, and did what we couldn’t do for ourselves – conquering the grave, and making human flesh incorruptible, making it able to last forever.  And the Ascension tells us how that matters for you and me.

Think about it: Every time we gather to worship, we confess Christ’s resurrection.  But how does Jesus coming out of a tomb long ago and far away have any impact on your physical body?  If the resurrection isn’t just about spiritual thoughts and warm, happy feelings about a fuzzy afterlife – and it isn’t! – then how, exactly, does his body, raised to new life, have any impact on what happens to you, so that you and I no longer fear the grave?

These are essential questions that make your faith make sense… and, it’s the Ascension, the return of Jesus to the right hand of the Father, that holds it all together.

The Plan:

We all believe, one way or another, that God the Father created us so that we could share in the overflowing life and love of the Trinity: a relationship so profound that it creates and invites the creation to join in their endless life of joy.

And, we all believe, one way or another, that for love to be real, it has to be freely given and freely chosen; so God invited us to love him and become infused with his eternal life and the fire of eternal love, knowing full well that giving us that option to love him freely includes the possibility that we could reject that offer instead.  As humankind decided to trust itself and seek our own glory, we went the way of all things that trust in themselves: we found darkness and the grave, as the spark of life given at our creation became something that grows cold and flickers out, like a candle left unattended that hollows out the middle until the very flame that gave it purpose causes it to collapse and snuff itself out under the weight of the heavy walls it has built.

But, God, knowing that darkness and the grave was our choice to make, built a solution into the system.  This is the message of Christmas: God’s plan was to build a bridge, a ladder even. If Creator and creation, God and humankind, are separated by a chasm, by the steep walls built as our flame burned inward rather than sharing light with the world, then the solution could only be one who was fully God and fully man: one who could enter the deepest, godless pits of despair built by humanity, and yet, being God, had within himself the very flame and source of life that cannot be extinguished, even when the heavy walls of the grave collapsed in.

And that is the message of Easter: as those heavy, waxy walls of darkness and the grave closed in, they found not a weak, flickering flame as they always had before; they found a mighty, blazing torch, unending life itself, and the more the walls of death closed in, the more they were consumed and melted away.

Jesus rose from the grave, blasting a hole in the gates of death, and emerged from the tomb with our flesh, but now as it was meant to be when that choice was first given: our flesh no longer attempting to be self-sufficient inside the walls we have built; our flesh transformed into forever flesh, connected intimately to the source of life itself, now able to accept the invitation to share in that everlasting relationship of the God who created us for eternal life in an everlasting creation; an eternity without pain or grief, without tears and sadness, without wars or disease, where the lion and the lamb can lie together with satisfied appetites because they’re connected to the source of all that is.

So Jesus rose, but what impact can that have on me?

Well, that’s where the Ascension comes in. 

As we see even in Jesus, there’s not much use for “forever flesh” in a world that is still full of death and decay.  And, truly, in spite of our attempts to put off aging – expensive creams and gallons of hair dye – there comes a point when we must admit: who would want to live forever in a world based on self-isolation behind walls of greed?

Yes, we absolutely believe that God will restore creation; that, in his time – and it’s not for us to concern ourselves with the time or date – the time of God inviting the flickering flames of human life will one day come to an end, and whether it’s the opposite of a big bang as scientists speculate, or some other spectacular mystery as prophets have attempted to put into words, there comes a time when time stops – and then all is made new, but this time, without the possibility of the universal pain and regret: this time of making choices (and the painful consequences of making them) has ended.

Christ the Forerunner

And so, 40 days after Easter, Christ, showing us the first glimpses of what humanity will be like when the deadly walls we’ve built no longer have dominion over us, then takes that glorified, forever flesh out of a decaying world.  He returns to the right hand of the Father, to that original life-giving relationship of the Trinity, but, bringing our flesh, he has a mission:  “do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in me”, he says.  “My Father’s house has many dwelling places… and if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that where I am, you may be also.”  And, he adds, “you know the way to the place where I am going”.[1]

He, having brought our humanity into the presence of God, is preparing a place for us to be with him until that final day – guest rooms where we may wait in the palace of the King; not our eternal resting place, but where we will rest in peace and be satisfied until that time when all is made new, when our forever flesh finds a home in the kingdom that shall last forever.

And we know the way: when the walls of death close in, there’s the well-trodden path of stubbornly holding out until the weight of our own choices leads to destruction; or, knowing where to look, we see the way, the truth, and the life: Jesus reaching out and leading us through the hole that he blasted; a steep and narrow path, one that requires full reliance on the one who has walked it before, but one that leads to a peaceful rest, to the words “well done” being spoken over us as the door swings open, and the Father sees not the flickering flame of a weary life, but hears the Son saying “this is my brother; this is my sister, who now shares my flesh and blood”, as the Spirit clothes us and ushers us into the feast.

Think about it, every time you say the Creed.  He ascended into heaven: not to leave us, but to blaze a path and prepare a place for us.  And, even now, he’s at the Father’s right hand, waiting; and when I die, when you die, he reaches out, leads us in, presents us as his friends, and leads us to our rest, as we, too, await his coming in glory, that day when finally, clothed in his righteousness alone, our forever flesh meets our forever home, standing faultless before his throne.

To God be the Glory.  Amen.


[1] John 14:1-4

Repressed Questions and an Unknown God.

Our Father… Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Fort Smith, as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Today we come to the end of our walk through First Peter, a journey that has highlighted how we ought to live if we take seriously what it means to be members of God’s family. 

It’s God’s explicit desire that anyone bold enough to call Him their Father would bring that heavenly lifestyle to bear in the world around us; that he would empower us to make our own town – here and now – a little more like heaven as we, his sons and daughters by adoption, serve him in thought, word, and deed.

And that’s nothing easy: it requires us to be willing to undergo a total change, for those perishable, even rotten parts of our human nature to be transformed into the image and likeness of the Risen Christ.  We have to be willing to live as Jesus; willing to give up our pride, to give up our own best interests, to give up revenge or proving ourselves right: living instead so that all we’re known for are the good works and mercy shown at our hands. 

And, as we heard last week, this is not an individual project.  Living into the new life of Christ, carrying out God’s will here as in heaven, is not something that you or I can do by our own effort.  The Good News is that we don’t have to pretend to be strong and mighty. We can be ourselves: we can be small, we can be vulnerable, we don’t have to worry about leaving a legacy, because our strength and our worth isn’t in our small selves; our strength comes from being cemented together and grounded firmly on the foundation that cannot be moved: Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone.

With all that in mind, today, we see why it is that God wants us to live this way; we come to see the master plan – what it is that God intends to do with us, members of his family willing to live as he intends.

Good Intentions: An Altar in Athens

This plan is nothing new – in fact, it looks a lot like what we read in Acts.[1]

It’s a wonderful scene: St. Paul, having journeyed to the great, ancient city of Athens, notices how enlightened the people are, with everyone concerned with religion, politics, and philosophy. 

But then he notices something that strikes him: these modern, open-minded, educated people have, alongside their traditional religion, their temples, their synagogues, and their university debate halls, something most curious: a temple to unknown gods.

In the name of being progressive, of embracing the best bits of ideas brought from all over, the ancient myths of the heroes and gods of Greece had become a hodge-podge, a cafeteria-style religion where you choose what suits your taste, where you choose to take bits and pieces of whatever teachers happen to resonate with you, but are left knowing that your choices may or not be the “right” ones.  So, just in case, you hedge your bets: you throw in a little offering to the unknown gods just in case it turns out you were wrong.[2]

Paul, arriving in Athens, found a highly developed, modern, peaceful, democratic society with a fatal flaw: in the name of sophistication, in the name of open-mindedness, they had given up any sort of coherent, wholistic, logical system of belief and had instead developed nothing more than a choose-your-own-adventure set of superstitions. 

This modern society, in the name of progress, accidentally went backwards: they had a common language to discuss science, politics, and the economy, but lost the ability to discuss the things that, deep down, matter so much more to each of us: the questions of life and love, the nature of thought and emotions, and the questions of why we’re here, and what shall become of us hereafter.

That was the issue facing the Church 1900 years ago: their world had become a hodge-podge of well-intentioned religious superstitions that, added together, made little sense at all.

And Peter, writing to the Church living in that secular society, tells us simply: “do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be ready to give anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in you – but do so with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear…”[3]

Do not fear what they fear. 

Yes, at it’s root, all superstition is grounded in fear.  Now, it might not be heart-pounding terror – and that’s part of the problem.  When we’re terrified, shaken to the core, people – more often than not – are able to identify the cause, and do something about it.  No, superstition comes from that sort of weak, but constant anxiety, the sort of deep unsettledness that causes even the most brilliant minds to retreat and avoid the very things they want most.

You see, altars to an unknown god are no first-century problem.

With the best of intentions, we’ve built a society where each of us has to build our own altars.  In the name of enlightenment, in the name of progress, we’ve unhinged and unanchored religious ideas from any sense of logic and reason, and we’ve created such a hodge-podge of beliefs that those within the same family can no longer even encourage or build each other up, because no two people agree on what they hold to be true.

And, when push comes to shove, we resort to nothing more than superstition.

In terms of science, in terms of medicine, in terms of technology, we live in the most advanced time the world has ever seen.  Literacy is at an all-time high, and all the world’s information is a few clicks away on the phone in your pocket.

But, we’re anxious.  Deep down, our world is searching for answers.  For all our knowledge, we’re less able than ever to answer any of the big questions.  What’s the purpose of family?  Why do we have this desire for love and relationships?  What is the purpose of life?  What is the value in life?  What is the ‘common good’, and why would we seek it?  Why is life worth living if I’m not feeling happy?  What’s the point?

For every simple, scientific, mechanical question we’ve answered about the world around us, we’ve been asked to ignore the deeper questions that allow us to ground our life on a firm foundation.

If love is just a chemical reaction in the brain, then why does it hurt so much when a loved one is lost?

If memory is just electrons in brain tissue, then why can we be moved to tears by a favourite song, or even a familiar smell?

If the purpose of our species is self-preservation, then why would so many doctors, nurses, police officers, soldiers, social workers, and volunteers put their lives at risk every day for the sake of the weakest and least profitable among us?

If the purpose of life is survival of the fittest, then why is true joy found in the service and company of others?

Repressing the Deep Questions

We, like them, in the name of being enlightened, in the name of progress, have given up the very logic and reason that allows us to answer even a child’s most basic questions – let alone our own.

Our friends and neighbours, and sadly even some in the church, have such a mish-mash of beliefs that, when we need stability the most, we find ourselves adrift in a sea of foggy, half-hearted superstition on even the most basic matters.

I think friends with a young family who suddenly lost a pet.  Their little girl wanted to know what happened to their beloved kitty after she died.

Having nothing but a mixed plate of cafeteria religions, and having been trained like most in our society to bury these deep, anxiety-causing questions in the deepest part of our being, the mom did as she’d been taught: she did a quick Google search. 

She found a convenient option: she told her little girl about a rainbow bridge reaching into the sky, where pets are happy forever.

The girl’s father, when the girl went to him separately, went another direction: he went to a cheap, easy mis-interpretation of Buddhism and said that their cat was already re-born as another kitten to make another family happy.

Confusing for the child, but all well and good, and the anxieties and deep questions buried deep under the surface once again… until a few years later when the grandmother dies. 

“Where’s Nan?”

At moments like these those deep, repressed questions rush to the surface, and the anxiety becomes so overwhelming that so many in our society no longer even have the language to voice the reality of their grief.  So little of the language of the deep questions of life has been passed on, that it takes a trained counsellor just to fish the questions out, let alone begin the search for answers.

“Where’s Nan?” the very bright 12-year-old asks.

Obviously she didn’t walk over a rainbow bridge to be with Fluffy.  Is she reborn already into a new baby to make another family happy?

A well-meaning aunt steps in and offers the religion of The Lion King movie: “she’s gone to be among the stars, and every time you look up, she’s there looking down.”

“…but”, says the bright girl, “the stars are balls of hydrogen gas lightyears away… that doesn’t make sense.”

…and she’s right.  It doesn’t.

Neither leg to stand on.

All around us are well-meaning temples to an unknown god.  All around us are people who’ve been led to believe that the most enlightened thing they can do is to simply abandon the deep questions; bury them, and focus instead on the far easier questions of what is found through a telescope and under a microscope.

But we see the effects even now: a society that has no language to discuss the common good; a society that has no language, no venue to discuss the value of human life relative to the security of our economies.  Societies that have no way to discuss that my freedoms – and my retirement portfolio – depend on other people being willing to do work that I’m not willing to do, under conditions that I would no accept.

And the hidden effects are even worse, precisely because we cannot speak of them: people stressed, deeply anxious because they do want to get back to normal, and they are willing to take some calculated risks, but they aren’t willing to endanger anybody else… and we have no shared language to discuss what is right.

The Bold, Gentle Task

This is nothing new – in fact, it’s very old.

And our task is the same as those first Christians: we’re to proclaim the truth.

And it isn’t good enough to offer just a bit of truth.  That’s the problem we’re in. 

God didn’t send Jesus to offer us a smattering of happy thoughts and good advice. 

He has revealed, in his Word and by the Holy Spirit, a coherent system of belief and practice: a life of faith that is at once logical – that is, word-based – and reasonable – engaging our gifts of reason and thought.

He has given us the Spirit of Truth[4], to see and know the way, the truth, and the life laid out before us, as a lamp for our feet and a light to our path. 

And if we’re doing God’s will, here and now, as we will in heaven, then our task, like Paul in Athens, is to come alongside those who have caught glimpses, shadows, and reflections of that light, and gently and respectfully take them from the warmed-over smattering of leftover cafeteria-style ideas and invite them instead to a feast – to a banquet table overflowing with the finest food and the richest wine, and which offers the language to ask those deepest questions, and the opportunity to find rest, as the never-ending meal is digested over a lifetime with patience and faithfulness… and we become what we eat.

With gentleness and respect, your work is to give an answer to those muttering deep questions at the altars of unknown gods.

But for that to happen, you yourself need to be confident in the truth.  For us to do God’s will together, you need to know what we believe.  You and I need to throw out the half-hearted leftovers, and know why it was Jesus came as one of us, why he had to die, why bad things happen to good people; to know that prayer works, and to have experienced that God still heals; to know that all that we have comes from God, that strength comes in humble service, and that true life is only found in admitting defeat, asking for mercy, and allowing yourself to become part of the Body of Christ.

Then, and only then, will we fulfil our pledge that God’s will would be done… in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven.


[1] Acts 17:22-31

[2] Archeological evidence points to temples and altars to “foreign and unknown gods”, and refences in Greek literature point to sacrifices “to nameless gods” or “to the appropriate god”, essentially prayers addressed to whom it may concern.

[3] 1 Peter 3:14-16

[4] See John 14:17

As useless as a box of rocks…

A sermon on cement and sticking together.

1 Peter 2:2-10.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven.  Amen.

As we continue through the letter of Peter to the Church on this Mothers’ Day, we’re given a glimpse of the vision that God has for His spiritual family, not just our earthly parents and siblings, but the family, the household of faith, made up of everyone who sincerely calls God “Our Father”.  It’s a family in which all of us are adopted by faith, a family in which each adopted brother and sister is equally dependant on God’s mercy – fully dependent on the goodness and willingness of God to welcome us in, in spite of whatever we’ve done.  A family that, like any other, is called to honour our parents – to bring honour and glory to God our Father as we live together as his people in the world.

So far in our walk through 1st Peter, we’ve heard that our Father’s will is that we would live on earth as we will in Heaven.  We’ve heard that, “thy will be done” isn’t wishful thinking or a desperate prayer, but is an instruction for the Church: God’s will isn’t a mystery; He tells us how we ought to live, and our job is to do it; and in doing so, we bring His will to bear in the world around us, as we strive to be holy, as God is holy.

And then, last week, we heard the clear call of how we ought to live in the sight of the world.  Regardless of our opinions, our preferences, our politics, as members together of God’s family, we’re to live so that, when the world wants to insult us, they have nothing to go on – nothing to say except to name our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.

Just imagine what our world would be like, if every time someone drove by this building dedicated and consecrated to the glory of God, if every time someone met a member of this church, if every time someone saw “St. John’s Anglican Church” on Facebook, all they could say was “wow…”, and “see how they love one another”, and then, even if they don’t know it, they’re giving God the glory for the works done through us, His hands, feet, and voice. 

Those have been great instructions these past two weeks for what we should do.

But today, rather than focusing on what we do, St. Peter digs in and casts a vision for what we should be.  He’s laying a foundation for who we are, as we are built together in the household of faith.

Peter writes: Come to Christ, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

A living stone. 

We’re to be living stones.

Now, right off the bat, this is a weird sort of phrase.  I mean, really, if you had to pick a word to describe a rock, I’m guessing “living” is the exact opposite of what you’d say.

I mean, yes, it could be a compliment if you say someone is ‘a rock’.

But, a “living stone”?  It’s a weird phrase.  Honestly, we’re more likely to think of someone as being “stone deaf”, or, if we’re being honest, I’ll admit there have been times – not my proudest moments – when I’ve thought someone was about as useless as a box of rocks. 

What does that mean, living stones?

What if we looked at this phrase this way: living stones are stones that have life.  Living stones are stones that have purpose.  And, like all things that are alive, living stones are connected, even dependant on one another to sustain that life.

We, being built up on Christ, who is the cornerstone, are no longer mere stones scattered across the ground, lifeless, but are joined together into something with purpose, to build a house that can be filled with life, and warmth, and joy.

Yes, God’s vision for us who become members of his family is that those scattered and loose stones, as numerous as the sand of the sea, are gathered together and built into something with purpose.

And, if we stop to think about it, that’s really remarkable news.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel pretty insignificant.  It happens to all of us, but sometimes we get “low minded”, all we can focus on is how small we are.

And, while we’re being honest, I think many of us have times when we feel about as useless as a box of rocks.  One of the effects of this pandemic is that, for a lot of us, people who woke up every morning with a routine, with things to do; people who were involved in their communities, visiting those who can’t get out and about; people who were involved in church and many groups in our communities now have moments when we just feel useless, like we just don’t know what we should be doing. 

And, of course, left to our own devices, one of the great temptations in the world around us is to get weighed down by those feelings, to dwell on our own smallness, and, sadly, many then begin to question their own worth – they feel as insignificant as a piece of crushed stone spread on the ground.

But here’s the good news that Peter is bringing to the Church:

Because we’ve been made part of God’s Family, Our Father wants to build us together into something with purpose, a household full of life.

Yes, sometimes we feel as insignificant as a piece of gravel, and yes, in the grand scheme of human history, each of us alone is pretty small.  But, in the hands of a master builder, building on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord, even the smallest stone becomes part of something much bigger.

And the glory comes not in what the stones are by themselves, but in what they are made together.

Think about it: if you wanted to build a mighty fortress; if you wanted to build a temple for the presence of God; if you wanted to build a heavenly kingdom, little pieces of crushed stone is hardly what comes to mind as your building material. 

But what happens if, once the foundation is firmly laid, those crushed stones are bound together, and moulded – formed – as they come to follow the pattern laid for them. 

You take those tiny stones, mix them together until they are bound to one another with cement, pour them into the mould to matches the plan of the builder, and suddenly those stones are no longer weak, small, or insignificant.  No, being cemented together, those stones can reach to amazing heights; they become a structure that can withstand waves and storms; a fortress that can withstand any attack; they can even become the grand palace of the King, with dwelling places prepared for all the King’s sons and daughters.

That insignificant piece of gravel, when infused with purpose, and bound together with love, and strengthened from within by the power of the Holy Spirit, is built into a great spiritual house that, because of it’s firm foundation, can withstand whatever comes its way.

Those insignificant stones, strewn along the ground and trampled under foot, become together something much larger – something not trampled down; no, suddenly we’re joined with Christ, the stone that must be noticed, a stumbling block, that will trip up those who are walking down the path of life without a lamp. We become stones infused with life and purpose, bound together in love and built into a dwelling place fit for no less than the very presence of God Himself, as the Church – all of us cemented together – becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit, and all for the sake of the world around us.

Built into something great.

This is the message to the Church. 

If we say God is “our Father”, we must mean it; and, as with our earthly parents, we honour our father by doing his will.

And, by grace, God takes each of us – tiny as we are – and gives us life and purpose, not that we should stand alone or in a heap of gravel, but that we should be bound together, the greatest and the least, the first and the last, the strong and the weak all built up together into a spiritual house, a home filled with the light and life of God Himself; a house built high on a hill, shining it’s light out into the darkness, inviting all who would see it to follow the way, the truth, and the life, and being made new with the life of God, we find our purpose, we find our calling, not in who we were, not in what we’ve done, but in who we have become as members, joined together as the Body of Christ, living not for our own glory, but to the glory of God.

But, Peter says, even in this great building project, we have a part to play.

Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…”  We have to be willing to be built up, to be incorporated into what the Lord is doing in our midst.

To do that we have to be holy, as God our Father is holy. 

…to do that, we must work to do his will… in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven.  Amen.

In the world for the sake of the world.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done – in Fort Smith – as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Last week we looked at those first lines of the Lord’s Prayer, reflecting on what it means to pray that God’s will would be done here and now, not just “on earth”, but in our midst, as we are called to be Christ’s body in the world.

It’s not as though God’s will for how our world should be is a total mystery.  Yes, while there are many things that are beyond what we can ask or even imagine, God’s will for how he would have us live is no mystery at all: St. Peter summarized it all so well as we read last week: “as He who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct, because it is written: be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16).

The lessons assigned by the Church for the next couple of weeks take us through the rest of Peter’s letter, where he writes to teach Christians what “be holy” means.  It’s one thing to talk about holiness, about living as citizens of the Kingdom of God, doing His will right here in Fort Smith just as it is done in heaven.  But, let’s not pretend that this is an easy, or even a straight-forward task.

Comfortable as we are in our own communities, with friends and neighbours that we have come to know and love over the years, and many of us with vital roles to play as, by God’s grace, we’ve left our mark on the lives of those around us, leaving the world a little bit of a better place, it’s still no accident that scripture refers to us as foreigners, aliens, and even exiles in the world.   It’s not so much that we’re not at home in the world. Rather, as citizens of God’s Kingdom by baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves as dual citizens. 

We’re called to be holy – to live as we will in the Kingdom of Heaven – while we find ourselves in a world that, deep down, is anything but holy.  In a real way, if we’re living as God expects – if we’re striving for holiness, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to hit the target and hear that “well done, my good and faithful servant – then we find ourselves sharing that real tension shared by immigrants who find themselves in a foreign land.

Dual Citizens & Culture Shock

If you ask someone who has done any on-the-ground international travelling – not tourist resorts, but being out-and-about in the streets of a foreign land – they would tell you that it takes a little while to get your bearings.  Yes, the food is different and the language is different, but it goes much deeper than that: the culture, the expectations that people share for how they interact, how they show respect, how they live their lives, are very different too. 

And, it’s one thing to be a visitor, but to move in and live and contribute to the community as a foreigner is, universally, a difficult task.  Beyond learning the language and customs and expectations of your new home, you also have the difficult questions of figuring out how much of your own culture you want to retain. 

On the day you move in, do you stake your home country’s flag in the centre of your lawn?  Do you wear the clothes of your home country, or do you try to blend in?  Do you keep on celebrating the holidays of your homeland, do you give them up for Canada Day and Remembrance Day, or do you combine the holidays of your new and old countries together as best you can? 

And, of course, those are the easy questions. When the time comes to raise a family, do you teach them the expectations of respect and manners as they were in your homeland, or do you teach them to blend in with the expectations here.

These are very real questions.

And, St. Peter teaches us, if we’re serious about what it means to be a Christian, then these are the questions we face as well.  “Beloved”, he writes after declaring that we are a holy nation set apart to proclaim the light of God’s truth in the darkness of the world, “I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims… to conduct yourselves honourably among the non-believers, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may glorify God by your good works which they observe.”  (1 Peter 2:11-12).

Finally – this is where we see this lofty idea of ‘holiness’ put into real, everyday practice.

Your job, my job; as a member of Christ’s Body, and as a member of this church, is to live in such a way that, when somebody wants to throw insults or slander us, they have no words; to live so that, when somebody speaks about us, all they have to go on are the good works that we have done in God’s name. 

Imagine that – imagine if we, each of us as individual members, lived lives like that.  Imagine if, every time someone drove by and noticed the church, every time someone saw “St. John’s Anglican Church” in the Facebook community group, every time a neighbour saw you – a member of the Church, the only words on their lips, all the evidence in our lives, pointed to God’s good works.  No matter how different their beliefs, no matter how different their priorities or the way they live their lives, imagine if we all lived such that they were speechless, except to list off the good works that they observe, and then, without even knowing it, they’re glorifying God for the work He’s done at our hands.

That would be holiness.  Just imagine.

A poor track record…

Unfortunately, though, churches don’t have the best track record.  Yes, sin and pride are part of the problem, but too often, it comes down to how we’ve chosen to live as dual citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven and the world around us, how we’ve chosen to live as foreigners and exiles on pilgrimage in the world.

Some Christians live as those who fly the flag of the foreign Kingdom proudly, as those who stick out as not belonging in the world, having nothing to do with the sinful world around them.  Unfortunately, the same thing happens for Christians who live that way as happens in many immigrant communities – they become cut off from the wider culture, and they only hang out amongst themselves. Not that it’s a bad thing to be proud of your identity, but if Christians are supposed to be on a mission to draw in those around us, and give no evidence except our good works, then Christians who cut themselves off from the world are going to have a hard time carrying out that mission.

And, on the other hand, there are those who have assimilated so well into the world around them, that it’s impossible to tell that they are citizens of the Kingdom of God.  This is the temptation that many churches have faced since the 1700s, especially us Anglicans.  If the Church has no different message than the world, then the mission also fails. There’s no point inviting someone in to something that looks exactly like the world around it, and, in the eyes of those outside, produces none of that fruit of good works that leaves them speechless.

No, we’re to live as those on a mission.  We’re in the world, for the sake of the world.

Now, that’s not always easy. 

Is it Persecution, or are we jerks?

As we read this morning, Peter warns the Church in every age that there will be suffering – something we already know from the lips of Jesus himself. 

But, even in the early Church, it seems people were quick to claim they were suffering for righteousness, when really they were just getting what they deserved; they were quick to say they were being persecuted, when really they were just being jerks.

“It is commendable”, Peter writes, “if you endure suffering for the sake of conscience toward God”. Yes, certainly. If we suffer for doing good, we are to follow Christ’s example. If someone robs from you, if someone slanders you, you don’t seek revenge.  No, you live your life so that the only thing people can say about you is about your good works that glorify your Father in Heaven.  As St. Paul says in Romans, even if your worst enemy is hungry or thirsty, go give him food and drink, so in the end even your enemy can’t say anything bad against you. (Romans 12:20, cf. Proverbs 25:21-22). When the world around us causes us to suffer for the sake of conscience, to suffer for what is right, then we trust fully in our Good Shepherd, and follow boldly, knowing that even the valley of the shadow of death if not a place to fear if we’re following where he guides.

But are we being persecuted when we’ve brought suffering on ourselves?  No, not at all.  “For what credit is it if, when you are punished for your faults, you take it patiently?” 

No, as dual-citizens, we’re to submit to those with authority over us, even when our leaders make decisions that anger and upset us – and certainly, this time in our history highlights that, no matter where you are on issues of the economy and public health and gun control, everyone’s got an opinion on what our leaders are doing.  Of course, it’s our duty to participate in politics – but, we are to do so while submitting to authority.  Why?  So that, no matter what, when people see us Citizens of the Kingdom of God, they are speechless except to give God glory for the good works done through us.

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15).

This is where Christians have so often shot ourselves in the foot.

Turn on the American news today, and what do you see?  People claiming – in the name of  Christ – to be persecuted by public health orders to stay home; Christians making headlines as pastors are ticketed and fined for endangering the lives of the vulnerable, many of whom don’t even have access to proper healthcare. 

Just imagine.

If we were serious – if we were serious about being holy as God is holy, if we were serious about God’s will being done on earth as it is in Heaven – then, if the world wanted to find a story about Christians, there would be nothing to report except God’s good works: churches reaching out to communities; churches delivering necessities; churches partnering with governments and shelters and community organizations to meet people’s needs; churches finding new and creative ways to reach out to seniors and those who are isolated, so that even at a time like this, we bear one another’s burdens and spread God’s light in the world around us.

Thy will be done. 

Just imagine what our church – just imagine what our community – would be like if, every single time someone drove or walked past this building, every time they saw the church posting on Facebook, every time they saw our posters in the stores, if every time they saw you, as a member of the Church, the only words they could find to say would be to praise God for his good works done through us.

That can happen.  God can do it.  And it would change this church forever as God drew people in to the light of his Word.  That’s God’s will.  And, for his will to be done in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven, we need to be willing… to be holy, as He is holy.

Thy will be done… in Fort Smith, as it is in Heaven.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

How often do we stop to think about what those words mean?

For so many of us, the Lord’s Prayer was one of the first things we learned as children (and for good reason, too: they’re the very words that our Lord gave us in his lesson on prayer!).  Those words are a part of every worship gathering of our churches, when we raise our voices as one to claim God as Our Father because we have been adopted as sons and daughters in baptism.  They’re comforting words – words we can turn to, words Jesus gave us, for every situation, and especially those times when we just can’t find the words to say.

But how often do we stop to think about what those words mean?

Over the next few weeks, our Sunday readings bring us through St. Peter’s first epistle, a letter in which he instructs Christians on how we should live in the world around us.  Far from simply calling us to “be good” and “do unto others…”, what we find there is much more profound; a much higher calling.  We’re called not just be ‘good’.  No, we’re to be holy.  Why?  Well, precisely because we are those who call God our Father; every time we say those words we are boldly claiming that we – you and me – have been made members of that royal family, and if God is our Father, than we are claiming to be nothing short of heirs of the eternal kingdom of God.  A kingdom built not on kindness and good manners, but holiness; “holy”, meaning that which is set apart from worldly use.

For St. Peter, and for the Church reading God’s Word in this season of Resurrection, this is where our faith comes down to brass tacks, this is where the rubber meets the road. If we say Christ is risen, if we say we’re sons and daughters of God, if we say Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us until his kingdom is revealed, then we have to put our money where our mouth is and live as those who are holy, as those preparing for that future glory as we learn by imitation to follow in our Lord’s steps.

Living as Citizens of the Kingdom

First and foremost, we must realize that, for all the good things in the world around us: for the beauty of the earth; for family, friends, and neighbours; for all the progress we have made in the past centuries towards a society built on freedom and justice, as proud as we should be for the ways that we help each other out, carry each other’s burdens, and make the world a little bit better by our efforts, we must realize that human effort will never be good enough to make the world as it ought to be; as we said on Easter Day, if there was any other way to restore our relationship with God and one another, then the Death and Resurrection of Jesus is completely unnecessary.  But there is no other way for that which is perishable – for bodies that cripple and wrinkle and seize up, and for minds that store up guilt, shame, and regret – to be re-made for eternal life.  No human effort can do that.

As we said last week, with doubting Thomas reaching into our Lord’s side, as we said at our Bible Class on Tuesday, the Gospel writers go to great lengths to make the point that Jesus rose in his body, that this is no spiritual experience or philosophy, but that Christ is the first fruits of a new crop; a crop that is imperishable.

And that’s important.  No amount of happy thoughts, positivity, or wishful thinking can turn that which is perishable into something non-perishable. 

A Food Bank analogy…

And, to be clear, this isn’t a lofty religious idea.  Here’s an example a bit more down-to-earth:

I can be the most generous person alive, the most giving; I can want with all my mind to make the world around me a better place… but, very practically, no amount of positive thinking makes bananas or fresh, ripe tomatoes good gifts for the food bank.  No amount of good will or generosity or positive thinking can change the perishable into non-perishable. 

No, what it takes is a complete change. 

Take a tomato, for example.

Tomatoes are great.  They’re versatile.  They’re full of great nutrients.  But, they’re perishable.  They bruise, then they rot, then they decay. 

And in spite of how great they are when they’re fresh, not only is a tomato a bad food bank gift… it’s actually harmful.  It rots, it spreads that decay to whatever is around it, and then it spawns mold that spreads.

If only there were a way to make tomatoes imperishable…

What’s required is for the very nature of the thing to change.  And, as a start, for the tomato to last, the first thing that happens is that it is cut down; it dies.  But in that dying, as the tomato is buried in the darkness of a pot and meets the source of heat and energy, the fresh tomato is transformed, and suddenly, put into a can, you have one of the best non-perishable foods you can buy: suddenly, that tomato is made into something that can last, not just a week in your fridge, but it is something that can be stored until, at the right time, it shares health and life with those around it.

And, of course, we don’t want to push our tomato analogy too far, but for us mortal, perishable people to share eternity, it requires us to be changed, to be made imperishable, a process which begins as we share in the death and resurrection of Jesus in baptism.

But that process doesn’t end there.  That process requires us to be set apart, to be holy. 

Now, holiness is an idea that often gets skewed.  It seems every few generations someone starts a new “holiness movement”, which, all too often, turns into a competition to see how good you are at keeping a law: whether it’s being a teetotaler, or in the old days, not dancing or chewing tobacco, or, perhaps in our own day, when it becomes about mindfulness and healthy living – none of which are bad, in and of themselves.

But, when Peter writes of holiness, he has a bigger idea in mind.

For Peter, holiness is about living here and now as those who know will share in the eternal life of God.  Or, as we read today, do not be conformed to the ways of the perishing world, but be set apart.  We’ve been picked up out of the spreading rot and decay of the perishable world, and washed clean, and are now called to live as the sons and daughters we are.

So Peter tells us, “live in reverent fear during this time of exile”.  Not fear as in being afraid, but the reverent fear of respecting the one in authority and knowing that actions have consequences; the reverent fear of longing to hear “well done, my good and faithful servant”.

St. Peter tells the Church to live now as we will live in Heaven.

Big Ideas

…thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in Fort Smith as it is in Heaven.

In those familiar words, given to us my Jesus, we’re taught two big, bold ideas right in that one line. 

Thy Kingdom come.  The Kingdom of God isn’t here – yet.  But, with Jesus, we’re to long for that day when our faith will be sight.  Our faith is not in some far-off land of bliss, but as the Bible teaches, our faith is that God will restore that which has been broken, and those who trust in Him will share his imperishable life in a world where rot and rust and decay are done away, where sighing and tears are no more. 

That’s what we pray God will do.

But, bigger yet, we pray that, in the meantime, thy will be done, here, as it is in glory. 

That God’s will would be done here, where we are.

Of course, if God is who we believe him to be, we don’t have to wonder about his will as it is in Heaven: he’s revealed it for us in scripture, in great detail, about what the world will be like when his gracious, loving will, rather than our selfish wills are in charge. 

But, think about it: if he’s our Father, if we’re the heirs to his Kingdom, and our Lord taught us to pray that God’s will – the way of life in the Kingdom – would be found here and now, then what are we asking for? 

Are we asking for God to do something?

Or, are we really asking for God to assist us as we live as sons and daughters, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, even while we’re here, right now.  God’s will is being done in Heaven… for Our Father’s will to be done here, we’re asking for us to have the grace to be willing to live as those being prepared for eternity, and to live that way starting now.

Over the next 4 weeks, our lessons being us to explore this idea: how does St. Peter envision us being holy, as those already on the path to eternal life through baptism and the life of faith.  How do we let God’s will be done on earth, in a world where we’re subject to governments and employers, in a world whose economy and priorities doesn’t share God’s values, and in an age where it can cost us dearly when those Kingdom values don’t line up with whatever ideas are trending in our world this week.

Thy will be done… right here, as it is in heaven.

Well, what’s the first step? 
Be holy, as Our Father is holy.  Amen.

Who needs a Resurrection?

By God’s great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.

As our Easter celebration continues through the 50 days of the Easter Season, today’s lessons give us an opportunity to reflect once more on what it means that our Lord – the Son of God who shared a human body just like ours – would rise from the dead, something, admittedly, very unlike how we have come to expect bodies to act.

After all, even the Lord’s closest companions, those who heard his teachings and saw his mighty works throughout his earthly ministry were shocked on that first Easter day.  Now, they had heard him speak first hand about his death and his promise to rise again; they had heard him speak about the temple – the dwelling place of God on earth – being destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days; they had heard him speak of the deliverance that comes for those who die to self and rise again in the waters of baptism… but even they, conditioned by every other human death ever experienced, walked sorrowing to the tomb to mourn, expecting a lifeless body in a sealed tomb.

And today, of course, we heard that gruesome, even embarrassing account of St. Thomas, that great missionary who took the Gospel East to India, who died for his faith in the Summer of the year 72, who was so shocked at the reports of his 10 closest friends that he demanded to reach out and stick his hand into the gaping wound in Jesus’ side before he would believe that the Son of God had risen from the grave. 

No, even for Jesus’ closest disciples, 1st century Jews who believed that bodies would one day be raised to new life, the empty tomb and the resurrected Lord were far from what their human experience would have led them to expect.

After all, if all the millions of bodies, all the billions who have died in human history stay dead, then what are the chances?  Why should this one body be any different? 

A Resurrected Body: Slim Odds.

Unless, of course, that’s the point.

Researchers tell us that, since about 50,000 BC, there have been 108 billion humans.[1]  If any one of those could have overcome that original sin, that original pride which caused us to miss the mark and land in the dust of the grave rather than in eternity sharing God’s endless life, then none of the events of Holy Week would have been necessary.  If there was any other way that we could overcome the grave, then the willing sacrifice of an innocent son is nothing short of horrific.  Or, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, if any other religion offers a solution to death and the grave; if any other philosophy or moral code can actually work, then a loving Father accepting the sacrifice of an innocent Son in order to adopt the guilty as sons and daughters is a horrific thought… that is, unless this 1 was different; unless we believe what we say and sing: that he only could unlock the gate and let us in.

Yes, when we stop to think about it – as we should from time to time – the glory, the Good News that we proclaim in Easter is that something unique happened in that body in which our flesh was joined to God.

Yes, the odds of a body being resurrected are 108 billion to 1. 

But, if we’re true to scripture read through the lenses of faithful tradition and God-given reason, that’s the point: Jesus is the first-fruits of something new; a new creation, the first new shoot springing up from that old stump, onto which we will be grafted if we choose to follow him.  1 in a billion or 1 in a hundred billion is all you need if that one is a new solution, a model, a prototype of what is to come.

And, at the same time, if 108 billion to 1 sound like slim odds for Easter, it’s worth remembering the faith that even modern science asks us to accept.  Secular scientists using the Drake equation tell us that the chances of intelligent life evolving on earth are about 40 trillion to 1, yet none of us doubt that we’re here, in spite of those far slimmer odds.   

No, bodies don’t usually rise from the dead, but it only takes one to chart a new course.  It only takes one tiny spark to ignite a wildfire, and in spite of the destruction a fire brings, it’s new life that springs on the other side.

What does it matter?

Jesus’ resurrection – his body not just resuscitated, but transformed and prepared for eternity – matters precisely because our faith proclaims that he is the firstfruits of a new crop: a branch onto which we have been grafted, joining our flesh to God’s endless life.

It matters, in short, because as we read this morning, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead is our living hope. Our faith is not in good wishes for a better tomorrow, our faith is not that we can make ourselves better people and do some good in the world; our faith is that we have been made heirs to an inheritance, that we will receive life that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading – a life being kept, stored up with God until it is ready to be revealed at the last.[2]

For too long, churches have avoided the topic of resurrection precisely because of the slim odds.  The resurrection of a body isn’t something we see.  And certainly even the Gospels record quite candidly the astonishment of even the most faithful followers.

But if we leave out the resurrection, if we leave out that unique example of Christ as the prototype of God’s future plans, then we’re left without an answer for the hope that is in us, and perhaps even more importantly, we’re left without anything coherent to say about what happens when we die.

For many faithful churchgoers, we’ve come to a point where the most we can say about the death of even the most faithful Christian is, “well, they’re in a better place”.

But the Resurrection tells us that our faith isn’t about disembodied bliss enjoyed in the clouds; in fact, in spite of some of the familiar revival songs of the 1900s and the sentimental poems of sympathy cards, the Bible and even the Creeds are quite clear that Heaven is not our goal.  We don’t follow Jesus so we can “go to Heaven” when we die.

Rather, as Holy Week and Easter remind us, Jesus promises that those who ask for mercy will wait with him in Paradise, will wait in the many lodging places made ready in the Father’s house until that time when death and the grave are finally defeated, and as one generation passes to the next, we receive our inheritance of resurrected life as we, made like Christ, share in his reign over the new Creation, just as we were intended to have dominion over this world before we turned on God and each other.  

We believe in the resurrection of the body – that, as a totally unique event, Jesus returned from the grave with a body unlike any other – a body that bears the marks of suffering, the marks of obedience that make us who we are, but a body that does not tire, does not grow weary, that does not fight against our appetites or our will, and that is made like Him. 

In Easter we proclaim that, though we wear out, though we break down, though accidents and diseases happen, we do not fear the grave because we’ve seen the prototype, we’ve seen the revised plans for what we will be on the other side.

Or, as we read: “though you have not seen him, you love him; even though you do not see Jesus now, you believe in him and rejoice … for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls”.[3]

Souls created to inhabit bodies; bodies that are re-formed, purified, and strengthened as iron refined in a fire,[4] made ready not to play harps on the clouds, but to live, love, and serve in the perfect City of God, the New Jerusalem that is to come.  Bodies no longer of dust, but clothed with immortality, over which the grave has no power,[5] as the gates that were powerless against the Lord of Life are unable to hold those who share in that risen life by God’s mercy and grace.

Yes, the apostles would agree, resurrection is shocking!  But every great revolution starts somewhere, and every world-changing creation seems downright impossible at the start.

But, in spite of the odds, let’s be clear.  This is our faith: Christ rose, so we will rise;  Christ rose in his body, so we will rise in our bodies; Christ’s flesh, born of a woman, was clothed with immortality, as our feeble bodies will be remade imperishable; and in the meantime, the jaws of death being broken, he has prepared for us a place to wait, longing for that day[6] when we will reign with him as sons and daughters of the King.

This is our faith.

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen.

The Lord is Risen Indeed.  Alleluia.


[1] https://www.prb.org/howmanypeoplehaveeverlivedonearth/

[2] 1 Peter 1:3-5

[3] 1 Peter 3:8-9

[4] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 18:18

[5] 1 Cor 15:50-54

[6] That is, we can at least say that the martyrs await with longing rather than patiently or without a sense of time; there are differences of opinion as to whether martyros here refers to only those who died, or all “witnesses” whose blood was ultimately shed as the result of sin.