Friday, November 27, 2009

Stories and Hope: Sermon 1 Advent (29 Nov 2009)

Sermon: 1 Advent (29 November 2009)
(Jeremiah 33:14-16/Psalm 25:1-10/1 Thessalonians 3:9-13/Luke 21:25-36)
Stories and Hope

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

I believe that story has power to form people – more power than reason or will or fear or shame. It is not incidental that Scripture is, first and foremost, story. Yes, there is law and prophecy and theology, but these are always embedded in story and are always at the service of story. When the gospel is proclaimed it is not with the wisdom of philosophers or the logic of mathematicians, it is not with the arguments of lawyers or the methods of scientists; it is with the poetry and plot and character of story: the story of creation, fall, and redemption – of God our creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier. The story we hear, the story we believe, the story we live: this story makes all the difference in this world and in the world to come.

I think a lot about the stories we tell today, about the stories that form us as a people. These stories are not always explicit – rarely does anyone say, “Let me tell you a story.” – but they are always there and may be inferred from the behaviors and lifestyles they form. Does anyone else find it ironic that the day following Thanksgiving – a holyday set aside to reflect on our multitude of blessings – is Black Friday, the day which encourages and celebrates conspicuous consumption, as if the blessings for which we gave thanks some 12 hours earlier were not nearly sufficient? There is a story there that underlies that bizarre behavior – a story that tells us that we are primarily consumers, that our worth is measured by our buying power. We have been told that story in thousands of subtle and not so subtle ways until we accept is as true and act on it unthinkingly. I watched a bit of the American Music Association (AMA) Awards recently and took it as a commentary on modern youth culture. The blatant and often aberrant sexuality of the performances obscured any musical quality and told another story, that we are primarily sexual beings and that music and art have nothing to do with truth and beauty but are mere aphrodisiacs. Our country is at war on multiple fronts, and whatever you think about those engagements, there is a story that justifies them, a story that says our security depends on power and violence. I think a lot about the stories we tell today, about the stories that form us as a people, and I wonder.

I wonder what stories Israel told in Egypt: slave stories or covenant stories, bondage stories or deliverance stories? Did they tell of Noah, who alone was righteous in his generation, and who was delivered by God from the destruction of the world – delivered to bless all mankind with life and knowledge of God? Did they tell of Abram, elect of God: called to leave his father’s house, called into covenant with God Almighty, promised children as the stars of the heavens, given a land, and delivered time and again – from pharaoh, from Abimelech, from Chederlaomer? Did they tell of Abram’s line, of Isaac and Jacob, each of whom received the covenant in his turn and each of whom was delivered by God? Did they tell of Joseph: of his fall from beloved son to foreign slave, of his rise from powerless prisoner to the right hand of pharaoh – yet another tale of God’s covenant faithfulness and the deliverance of his elect? Did Israel in Egypt feed its children on the bread of slave stories or on the manna – though it lay in the future – of these stories of hope and deliverance, stories of their God who always comes in deliverance of his chosen? I wonder what stories Israel told in Egypt.

There will be other stories for Israel, told not in words but in deed of power, acts of deliverance: water turned to blood, frogs, gnats, boils, darkness, hail, and the terrible death of Egypt’s firstborn sons. There will be stories told not in words but in sacred symbol: blood on the doorposts and lintels, a lamb roasted whole and eaten while standing, unleavened bread. There will be stories told not in words but in awe and wonder: a pillar of cloud and fire, a sea parting for one people and closing in over another, a mountain quaking with the presence of God – with thunder and smoke and darkness, a tablet of stone become Law. There will be stories told not with pride, but with shame: a golden calf, fear of giants, wilderness wandering, disobedience and death. There will be stories told not in whispers, but with shouts of victory: Jericho, Ai (the second time), and city after city given into Israel’s hand by their God Almighty. There will be stories of priests and prophets: Eli and Samuel. There will be stories of the kingdom – At last! – and its great kings Saul, David, and Solomon. And there will be stories of civil war and secession: rival kings Rehoboam and Jereboam – and rival kingdoms Judah and Israel, and the nation rent asunder. There will be stories of idolatry in Israel and social decay in Judah. There will be stories of Assyria and Babylon and destruction and captivity and exile until Israel is no more and Judah is a memory.

I wonder what stories the Jews told in exile, what stories they told by the river Kebar in Babylon: exile stories or covenant stories, captivity stories or deliverance stories? Did they tell the story of Jeremiah the prophet, the story of his oracles?

14 ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah: 15 ‘ In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. 16 In those days Judah will be saved, And Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called:

This is a story worth telling, a story of hope for captives and exiles. It is a story of the once and future king. Long ago God had made covenant with his servant David, king of Israel.

‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “I took you from the sheepfold, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people, over Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you have gone, and have cut off all your enemies from before you, and have made you a great name, like the name of the great men who are on the earth. 10 Moreover I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; nor shall the sons of wickedness oppress them anymore, as previously, 11 since the time that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel, and have caused you to rest from all your enemies. Also the LORD tells you that He will make you a house.12 “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15 But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever”’” (2 Sam 7:8b-16, NKJV).

Israel’s hope in exile is this: that the story told by Jeremiah is true, that God will fulfill his covenant to David, that God will raise up a king – a Righteous Branch – from the lineage of David, that this king will judge the enemies of God’s people and vindicate the elect in righteousness, that Judah will be saved and Jerusalem restored, and that God – in the person of the righteous king – will reign over his people forever. This is Jeremiah’s story. This is the exiles’ story. And, this is our story.

We gather today to tell the story once again as we have year after year for two millennia. God fulfilled his covenant with David and his promise to Israel – and through Israel to the world. God raised up a Branch of Righteousness from the house of David and gave to him an everlasting kingdom over all the earth. And when this branch, Jesus of Nazareth, was cut down, God raised him up again and exalted him to God’s own right hand and gave him a name above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow – whether in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth – and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (cf Phil 2:9-11, NKJV). And this same Jesus who now reigns in heaven will one day bring his kingdom fully to earth – the holy city, New Jerusalem, descending from heaven to earth, adorned and gleaming like a bride prepared for her husband. And thus we shall be forever with the Lord.

Advent, we call this story: coming. It is a story that stands in the middle of time and looks in both directions: past to angel and maiden, to shepherds and magi, to stable and manger, and future to clouds and power, to great glory and redemption.

25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; 26 men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Lk 21:25-28, NKJV).

To those of us who live as exiles, as resident aliens in a land not our own, this story is good news; this is a story of hope. And so we watch and wait and pray to keep the hope alive. We watch and wait and pray that we may be found worthy to stand before our coming king (cf Lk 21:36, NKJV). We watch and wait and pray that the Lord may establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints (cf 1 Thess 3:13, NKJV). We fast in hope of the feast to come. We light candles in hope that we will see the light of Christ and that the light will shine forth through us into this dark world. We sing, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” in hope that our longing will soon be fulfilled. We tell the story in word and symbol and sacred action, in hope.

The world has its stories: money, sex, and power. It shouts them in every venue. But the stories are lies; the stories are without hope. Thanks be to God we have a different story: creation, fall, redemption. This story is true; this story is hope incarnate. This story is advent past and advent yet to come. And so we say in the cry of the early church: Marana tha! Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Let us pray.

Stir up thy power, O Lord, and come, that by thy protection we may be rescued from the dangers that beset us through our sins; and be a Redeemer to deliver us; Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Reflection: Elder Paisios and Prayer

Thanksgiving Homily: 25 November 2009

I start with a reflection by Elder Paisios (1924-1994) of the Holy Mountain, Athos.

I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.

I realized this when I was younger. When I was on Mount Sinai [at St. Catherine's Monastery], I lived in a place that had no water. I had to walk for two hours to get to a rock where water was leaking from its side. I placed the jug underneath and waited about an hour until it was filled up. The limited amount of water created in my soul various feelings:

Every day I was in agony: “I wonder, will the water be dripping from the rock?” I prayed to God to continue to make it drip. As I was walking towards the rock, I was anxious to see whether I would find some water and I prayed. When I could detect from far away the water glittering as the sun beams were falling on the rock, I glorified God. On my way back, I constantly thanked and glorified Him for the water He gave me. So, the small amount of water impelled me first, to constantly pray to God to make the rock drip and secondly, to thank and glorify Him, as He is the giver of all good things.

When I left Sinai, I went to the Scete of Iviron [on Mt. Athos], where there was no shortage of water. We had plenty of water, which was sometimes wasted, as it was left running for no reason. At some point, I felt that I had developed a different attitude inside my soul. I realized that during my stay at the Scete, I hadn’t said, not even once, “Glory to God.”

While the small amount of water became a reason for me to pray and glorify God, its abundance made me forget that water is indeed a gift from God and I should be grateful to Him. The same thing applies to material goods…

The same thing applies to everything. If we are found in a difficult situation, we must not be upset; instead we should realize this is God’s way to make us feel closer to Him and become aware that He is the grantor of everything in our lives.

This reflection by Elder Paisios pointedly captures the challenge facing many Western Christians this Thanksgiving holiday, and indeed, every day: How do we cultivate and maintain a thankful spirit in the midst of such prosperity? It is ironic, but it is generally true, I think: the more abundant the blessings, the less thankful the heart. I certainly stand convicted. Perhaps this is why neither our Lord nor his Apostles nor the saints nor the fathers have a positive word to say about the accumulation of wealth. It breeds arrogance and self-sufficiency and kills the spirit of humility and thankfulness. The rich young man who chose his wealth over his relationship with Jesus of Nazareth and the rich fool who tore down barns and built larger ones until the very day his soul was required of him are but two examples of souls wrecked by wealth. How have the modern purveyors of the prosperity gospel missed these stark warnings? How have I?

Listen again to Elder Paisios as he identifies three dangers of abundance.

I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.

In our abundance we forget God, we fail to appreciate his benevolence, and we grow oblivious to his presence. These are illnesses of the heart and soul. As safeguard against them, I offer – not I, but the church – three prayers this Thanksgiving Eve, prayers from the East and the West: A Collect for Grace[2], The General Thanksgiving[3], and a prayer to the Holy Spirit from the Trisagion Prayers[4].

The church bids us rise each dawn with A Collect for Grace, a prayer which calls us to remembrance of God.

A Collect for Grace

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have
brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your
mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome
by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of
your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This day, this dawn: it is a gift from God, yours only because God in his infinite mercy has said once again, “Let there be light.” And this breath that fills your lungs: it is a gift from God, yours only because God has once again bent low over you and breathed into you the breath of the Spirit. Surely, the everyday wonder of new creation calls you to remembrance of God. If you make it through the day – neither falling into sin nor being overcome by adversity, that, too, is a gift from God who once again shields you as a rock and fortress. Remember God as you rise, this prayer calls. Remember that, just as surely as life and breath come from God, so, too, does your purpose, your reason for being at all. And your purpose is to fulfill God’s purpose: to love him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Your purpose is to become a partaker of the divine nature: union with God, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. Your purpose this day and unto the ages of ages is to remember God. So says this prayer.

To remember – to truly remember and to remember truly – leads to thankfulness. And so the church offers us daily The General Thanksgiving.

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving‑kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

This prayer, offered morning and evening, moves through and beyond the “ordinary” blessings of this life – creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life (health, food, shelter, family, friends – all the blessing of our Thanksgiving celebrations) – to the blessing above all others: God’s immeasurable love for us in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, which is both God’s grace and our hope – our only hope – for glory. And, tellingly, the prayer recognizes our inability to be fully and properly thankful for that grace and hope, and asks God, himself, to make us aware of the depth of his blessings to us, to enable us to be truly thankful in heart and lips and lives and service. We are dependent upon God, it seems, not only for our lives, but for the ability to recognize that fact and to thank him for it. We are, after all, unworthy servants, as the prayer reminds us – but unworthy servants who are loved immeasurably.

Having been called by these prayers to remembrance and thanksgiving, the Trisagion Prayer calls us to dwell in God’s presence.

Trisagion Prayers (Prayer to the Holy Spirit)

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save, our souls, O Good One.

Fr. Stephen Freeman[5] attributes much of our failure to live as Christians to our construction of a two-storey universe in which God is in heaven – the upper storey – doing God-knows-what while we are on earth – the lower storey – busy managing our lives: providing food, clothing, and shelter for our families, getting ahead in business, worrying about our kids, and on and on. In his model, these two storeys meet – if at all – only when we leave this world (death) at which time we hope to make the transition to the upper storey. (Let us hope there is no basement.) Until that time, we live as functional atheists, largely ignoring God except for perfunctory religious observance or panicked prayer in time of personal tragedy or great need. We have created a worldview in which God is an unnecessary fixture.

And herein lies the importance and beauty of the Trisagion Prayer: it shatters our illusion that God is over there somewhere, distant and uninvolved. No: God is everywhere present, filling all things. “Where can I go from your presence?” the psalmist asks rhetorically. Nowhere, this prayer replies. Bidden or unbidden God is present and we live moment-by-moment in his presence. There is no second storey in the universe. This prayer is a practice of the presence of God, as Brother Lawrence might say, an invocation of the Holy Spirit that we might know the nearness of our God who is the Treasury of good things and the Giver of life.

Elder Paisios was right: abundance of material goods can take someone away from God. But these prayers – these prayers can draw us back again.


[1] Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. Copyright 1998 (1st English Edition). Holy Mountain, Greece. Quoted by Fr. Stephen Freeman at .
[2] The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the ChurchTogether with The Psalter or Psalms of David According to the use of The Episcopal Church (BCP 1979). Oxford University Press. New York.
[3] BCP
[4] Prayer Book. Holy Trinity Monastery. Jordanville, New York.
[5] Fr. Stephen is priest at St. Anne’s Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, TN, and author of the Glory To God for All Things blogsite,

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grace To You And Peace: 25 Pentecost (22 Nov 2009)

Sermon: 25 Pentecost (22 November 2009)
(2 Samuel 23:1-7/Psalm 132:1-12/Revelation 1:4b-8/John 18:33-37)
Grace To You And Peace

Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And blessed be His kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.

Charis humin kai eirēnē apo ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos: Grace to you and peace, from the one who is and the one who was and the one who is to come.

I write many letters of recommendation: admission to college, application for scholarships, acceptance to special academic programs. Rarely do I know who receives or reads or evaluates these letters. So, their salutations are necessarily vague and generic: “Dear Sir or Madam,” “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Members of the Selection Committee.” If not for sake of form, these salutations could be omitted entirely. There is no information, no content; they are merely formal devices to introduce to the body of the letter.

It is inconceivable then, should the Lord tarry and future generations of historians stumble across these letters, that they would spend even one moment on the salutations. To analyze them, to write doctoral theses on them, to invest with great meaning “Dear Sir or Madam,” is absurd. Fluff, filler, and form: that is what they are – no more, no less.

But leave it to our Lord to fill the empty, to sanctify the mundane: a manger, a jar of water, a cup of wine, a loaf of bread, a cross, a tomb. Leave it to his disciples to follow in this way. Charis humin kai eirēnē apo ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos: Grace to you and peace, from the one who is and the one who was and the one who is to come. This is the salutation of the Apocalypse; this is salutation as theology, form filled with meaning almost beyond human comprehension. Of all words penned by men – inspired by the Holy Spirit – these are among the most beautiful and most holy.

I have spoken the salutation to you in the original language, simply to emphasize that there is an original language other than English, and that we read a translation. Translation is a difficult job – to capture the nuances present in one language and to re-express them in another. And yet the Spirit works; God’s truth will out in any and all languages. It will be spoken by every tribe, in every language, with every tongue. Of course, not all translations are created equal. One modern paraphrase, which is often quite good and beautiful, falls far short in its opening of the Apocalypse salutation: “All the best to you” (MSG) it reads, a far cry from “Grace to you and peace,” more akin to “Howdy!” than to rich theology. Yes, “Grace to you and peace,” is far better, but better only if we grasp the depths of those words.

Charis: grace. We have all known gracious people. We have all been the recipients of grace: a kind word spoken when rebuke was warranted, forgiveness offered when retaliation was expected, love extended again and again to the prodigal. We have come to think of grace as unexpected, unmerited good favor, a sort of 11th hour, death row pardon. And it certainly is that. In fact, this understanding of grace has come to dominate Western Christianity, which views God as a righteous judge who graciously pardons condemned sinners for the sake of Christ who loves us and gave himself for us. But there is more to grace – much more – than this.

Grace lies at the very heart of salvation.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph 2:8-10, NKJV).

Grace is not primarily God’s favorable attitude toward us; grace is God’s transforming, recreating presence with us. It is by grace that we are made partakers of the divine nature as Peter makes clear in his salutation:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pe 1:2-4, NKJV).

The one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that salvation is more than forgiveness, more than a declaration of “not guilty.” Salvation is union with God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit[1]. For that, for the fullness of salvation, grace is required – not merely the good favor of God, but God himself present and active in our lives, his divine power giving us all things that pertain to life and godliness, making us partakers of the divine nature. Charis humin: grace to you.

This grace is received into our lives, is made effective in our lives, through life in the church; there is no grace and no salvation apart from the church. In the church we are plunged into grace in the waters of baptism; anointed with grace in the oil of chrismation; fed by grace in the Holy Mysteries of bread and wine, body and blood; called back to grace again and again in confession. In the church we are taught and we practice the ascetic life which energizes grace: prayer, fasting, charity, obedience, worship. In each of these sacraments, in each of these disciplines, we encounter more than God’s good favor; we encounter God himself: God with us, God in us. We become the sons and daughters of God and join in the life of the Trinity. This is grace, and I say with St. John the Theologian, Charis humin: grace to you.

But not grace only; peace, John quickly adds. Charis humin kai eirēnē: grace to you and peace. If grace is a mystery – and it is – so, too, is peace. We know so little of it: in the world, in our interpersonal relationships, in ourselves. And what we see of peace is so often counterfeit or, at best, a diminished form of peace that barely deserves the name. Two warring countries cease armed hostilities and we call that peace, though hatred smolders and poisons the next generation until war or terrorism erupts again. Tribes or clans – ethnic or social groups – live together in apparent harmony and we call that peace, though prejudice and resentment and violence lie just beneath the surface. A man leads a quiet and productive life and we call that peace, until, driven by the anxiety, turmoil, and rage inside, he opens fire on his colleagues. We know little of real peace, it seems.

He had spoken peace to them that night just three days ago, though they were not ready to receive it or even to understand his words.

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27, NKJV).

But how can they possibly know peace? It’s three days later and Jesus is dead, executed by Rome at the instigation of the Jewish authorities. It’s three days later and they sit behind locked doors in fear that crosses await them. It’s three days later, now the first day of the week…three days which have made a mockery of peace.

Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, [Eirēnē humin] “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20 20:19-22, NKJV).

Everything about this passage, everything about Jesus’ salutation of peace, speaks of resurrection and new creation. It is the first day of the week; the six days of old creation are over and Jesus’ Sabbath rest in the tomb is finished. It is time to rise, time to make all things new. Jesus breathes again: resurrection. Jesus breathes on his disciples – new creation – and how can we miss the Genesis allusion and the creation significance?

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being (Gen 2:7, NKJV).

What has all this to do with peace? Simply this: peace is the result of death and resurrection; peace is the result of new creation and the breath of the Spirit. To have peace we must die to the flesh and be born anew of the Spirit. To know peace we must die in the world and rise in the Kingdom of God. Jesus made all this clear in the Sermon on the Mount – too clear for comfort, really.

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Mt 6:25-34, NKJV).

When we put the Kingdom of God before food and drink, before clothing and shelter, before power and fame, before security and comfort, before our very lives, then and only then will we know peace. Make no mistake; this is death – a daily, hidden martyrdom of taking up the cross and following Jesus by denying the flesh and its passions and by walking in the Spirit. But what follows this death is resurrection, and new creation, and the breath of the Spirit, and Jesus saying, Eirēnē humin: Peace be with you. And this peace – this peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding – has power to renew the world. “Acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand souls around you shall be saved,” said St. Seraphim of Sarov (18th century).

“Grace to you and peace,” John writes, and I say, “Amen. May it be so.”

This salutation is not greeting only, but blessing also – blessing from ho ōn kai ho ēn kai ho erchomenos, from the one who is and the one who was and the one who is to come. All tenses of being – past, present, and future – are mentioned here, for our God, who is beyond time, is the source and ground of all being, the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the one in whom all things consist, the one without whom nothing has come into being that has come into being. This is the one who identified himself to Moses as the one who is, as “I AM.” This is the one who said to the Jewish authorities, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58, NKJV). This is the one promised to come as Advocate and Comforter, to make his dwelling in us and to make us partakers of the divine nature. This is blessing from our triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Grace to you and peace, from the one who is and the one who was and the one who is to come.

Receiving this salutation and blessing we are rightly moved with John to fall on our knees in doxology:

To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (Rev 1:5b-6, NKJV).

And so, beloved, let us receive God’s grace – the very presence of God with us – through the Holy Mysteries, through the ascetic life of the church, through obedience. Let us pursue Gods’ peace through the death of daily, hidden martyrdom, through taking up the cross of Christ, and through seeking first the Kingdom of God. Let us glory in our triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is and the one who was and the one who is to come. Amen.

[1] Fr. Stephen Freeman,

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sermon: 24 Pentecost (16 November 2009)

Sermon: 24 Pentecost (16 November 2009)
(1 Samuel 1:4-20/1Samuel 2:1-10/Hebrews 10:11-25/Mark 13:1-8)
Pandemics and Cures

Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And blessed be His kingdom, now and forever. Amen.

We haven’t heard much about AIDS lately, despite the sobering statistics: 33 million people infected worldwide, 2.3 million new cases each year, 2 million deaths annually – all this at the end of 2007.[1] Yet, AIDS was the “disease of the decade” in the 1980s; in the U. S. we lived with the fear of contracting the fatal disease through casual contact and with the specter of an AIDS pandemic. The media reported daily on new developments and new anxieties – but not so much anymore. What has changed? We learned that AIDS is not nearly as contagious as we feared. Normal behaviors are not particularly risky; for the most part, “old fashioned” morality is an adequate safeguard, though I understand the use of “morality” is subject to debate. We also grew tired of fear – at least of that particular fear. Long-term anxiety eventually numbs us and we need new fears to stir us – fears like mad cow disease, bird flu, West Nile virus, SARS, and now H1N1. When the latest threat of annihilation fails to terrorize us any longer, there will be a new one in the wings – until 2012, of course, when the world comes to an end, sort of the ultimate threat. And then there’s this: AIDS has become the scourge of the third world – Haiti, Sub-Saharan Africa – not of the first world. Cynically, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

But mainly, I suspect, AIDS is no longer forefront in the news and in our fears because it has become a disease you can live with – literally. With advances in treatment, with improved medication, AIDS is no longer unavoidably terminal in the short term. If you take the proper medication, if you alter your behavior, if you take good care of yourself, you can manage the disease and manage to live with it a good, long time. Of course, you still have the disease; there is treatment, but there is no cure. And cure is the ultimate goal – with AIDS and with all diseases. We want to go to the doctor and be given a pill or an injection – we’d even be willing to submit to surgery – and be cured, be disease-free. Imagine an AIDS patient being told by his doctor, “I have a new drug that won’t just treat you; it will cure you. It works from the inside out; it destroys the virus and creates within you a new immune system. Take this pill one time and you can stop all other treatment. The cure isn’t instantaneous, though; it takes time to achieve its full effect. And it takes your cooperation: get plenty of rest, eat right, exercise regularly, change any high-risk behaviors. Take the medicine, do these things, and you never need see me again. You will be cured completely.”

That is what an AIDS patient longs to hear. But the reality of taking scores of pills each day – day after day for as long as he lives – is a constant reminder that the medication is not a cure, but a treatment. It allows him to lead a relatively normal life – to be a member of a family and a community – yet being all the while infected with a life-threatening disease. The treatment is the reminder of his plight.

Fortunately, AIDS just didn’t materialize as a global pandemic, though it has devastated certain countries and regions. Frankly, I don’t fret over each new pandemic prophesy of doom any more. I’ve seen them come and go – sensationalized by the media – and the species is still here, while the one real pandemic – the terminal disease that affects all mankind, that makes all other threats pale by comparison – is largely ignored. We don’t like to mention it; the word spoken in public seems somehow out of place, somehow inappropriate: the real, global pandemic that threatens the entire species of man is sin.

Some today – perhaps many – deny the existence of sin in the biblical sense. I tend to agree with British author G. K. Chesterton, though, who maintained that original sin is the only objectively verifiable Christian doctrine. He wrote of trends in early 20th-century thought:

Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Rev. R. J. Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest skeptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and Man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.[2]

But we cannot deny the cat; we cannot deny sin, because we recognize the symptoms of the infection within ourselves. We somehow know – and that is another important discussion for another time – we somehow know that human life is meant to be expansive, outwardly-directed, lived in relationship with God and man and all of creation. And yet we also know ourselves alienated, cut off from these life-giving relationships, curved inward on ourselves: such selfishness, pride, arrogance – And who is immune? – are symptoms of sin. We want what we cannot, and should not, have: things, people, power. And we plot and strive to make them our own: greed, lust, and dominance as symptoms of sin. We judge harshly those with faults no greater than our own: hypocrisy. We plot revenge for minor insults and take pleasure in retaliation: violence. We shade the truth in our favor: lying. And on and on the symptoms mount – and we recognize them in ourselves – until the diagnosis is unavoidable: the entire human species is terminally infected with sin, the only truly global pandemic.

There are treatments for sin of course – each culture develops its own – treatments to manage the sin and to allow the individual and the culture to manage to live with the sin. Our modern Western culture is enlightened and rational, so our treatments cluster around the physical and social sciences: biology and psychology. We have managed to convince ourselves that sin can be medicated or analyzed out of existence with drugs and psychotherapy. I don’t want to be dismissive of these tools; they frequently do manage sin and allow the sinner to remain part of a family and a community, to function within “normal” boundaries of behavior. But the fact that we continue to take medication and continue to schedule follow-up appointments with the therapist testifies that sin has only been treated, not cured. These are constant reminders of our condition. If even these treatments prove ineffective, or if they are unavailable, there is always quarantine. Our prisons – we’ve emptied out most of the mental institutions, it seems – are full to overflowing with those who received no treatment or who were resistant to it.

Ancient Israel had its own treatment for sin – the Law and the sacrificial system – and its own spiritual physicians – the priests. These were not a cure. The sacrifices merely allowed the transgressor to re-establish a relationship with the community and with God, to be purified with respect to the law, and to avoid – at least temporarily – the more serious consequences of sin. But, the sacrifices could never cure the disease; they were not intended to. Rather, they were intended to point beyond themselves to something better yet to come. St. Paul writes:

1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. 11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins (Heb 10:1-4, 11, NKJV).

The Old Covenant, with its Law and sacrifices, is a shadow, a hint of better things to come; it is a treatment which looks forward to a cure, a cure which works from the inside out. Jeremiah prophesied of the cure to come, and St. Paul makes much of this prophesy in Hebrews.

31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer 31:31-34, NKJV).

Through Christ – through his ministry as both sacrifice (the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world) and high priest (after the order of Melchizedek) – Jeremiah’s new covenant has been instituted and the cure – not the treatment, but the cure – for sin has come. What was needed all along was not the blood of bulls and goats but a perfectly obedient, perfectly righteous man who would fulfill God’s purpose and become the representative for all men – the perfectly righteous man and only-begotten Son of God, Jesus.

5 Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
“ Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,

But a body You have prepared for Me.

6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin

You had no pleasure.

7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—

In the volume of the book it is written of Me—

To do Your will, O God.’”

8 Previously saying, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them ” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. 15 But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” 17 then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” 18 Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin
(Heb 10:5-18, NKJV).

To the Jewish Christians tempted to return to Judaism, this is the radical good news of faith in Jesus: all the limitations of Law and sacrifice are overcome through Christ and in Christ. The repetitive sacrifices of the Old Covenant only reminded the sinner of his condition. The once-for-all sacrifice of the New Covenant changes that condition and cures the root problem of sin. The priests of the Old Covenant stood and continually performed rites that could never take away sin. The priest of the New Covenant completed his work of forgiveness and sat down at the right hand of God. And, most remarkable of all, people who were banned from the Holy of Holies by the Old Covenant are now welcomed to come boldly into the very presence of God.

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10:19-25, NKJV).

The Old Covenant holds nothing like this: nothing like access to God the Father, nothing like full reconciliation and restoration, nothing like a cure for sin.

This is good news – really the best news, because if sin is cured then so, too, is death – good news not only for 1st century Jewish Christians but for 21st century Christians of all backgrounds, indeed for all Christians of all times and places. It is good news for the entire human species, good news of hope and life. But, the skeptic in me hedges a bit. If the sacrifice of Christ is a once-for-all offering that cures us of sin, then why do I still struggle so much with sin? Worse still, why do I struggle so little with sin but rather give in without putting up much of a fight? If I’m cured, why do I still seem so sick, so often?

The fault lies not with the cure, but with my lack of cooperation with the curative process. The full cure takes time, and it takes effort on my part. The redemptive sacrifice of Jesus is the heart of the cure – without it no cure is possible – but I must cooperate with the Great Physician for the cure to become effective and manifest in my life.

22 [L]et us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10:22-25, NKJV).

I must struggle to make my heart true, my conscience clean, and my body pure; only then can I draw near God in full assurance of faith. I must hold fast the faith, rejecting all lies and half-truths. I must embrace love and good works. And I must do so in the community of the faithful, around the Table of the Lord. This is the ascetical teaching of the church – the church’s therapeutic program – the discipline of healing that makes the cure effective and manifest. Jesus offers the cure, a cure that only he can provide. We can settle for mere treatment or even death, a decision only we can make. The consequences of that decision are vast.

26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:26-31, NKJV).

This is a dire warning, and I take no pleasure in it. But I dare not speak less than the truth. If we reject the sacrifice of Christ after we have come to a knowledge of the truth, there is no cure for us. The disease is terminal and we will die.

But I am convinced of better things for you. I share the same confidence in you that Paul expressed to the Hebrew Christians: “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb 10:39, NKJV). And so, I say:

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.

[1] World Health Organization report summarized at, accessed 11/9/09.
[2] G. K. Chesterton, quoted on, accessed 11/10/09.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


I realized that this is the essence of humility. There was complete absence of regard for the self in the way they lived. Either the work mattered or the person mattered. I had thought humility meant accepting that you did not amount to much, that you should always devalue yourself or your achievements when talking to other people. I had been influenced by the ethos of New College, at Oxford University, the essence of which is that you must never make your superiority to others apparent to them. This was essentially the English form of humility, which built the empire and realized, for a time, the prophecy that the meek would inherit the earth. But it was cant. Real humility, I learned from the nuns of Evangelismos, is not thinking yourself less than the dust. It is thinking of others so completely that you do not think about yourself at all (Peter France, A Place of Healing for the Soul: Patmos, Copyright 2002, Atlantic Monthly Press).
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11, NKJV).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Blessed Is He Who Reads and Those Who Hear: 23 Pentecost (8 Nov 2009)

1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, 2 who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near (Rev 1:1-3, NKJV).

On Sunday, 8 November 2009, the Service of the Word at Trinity Church will consist of a few, brief background remarks followed by a congregational reading of The Revelation of John. There is blessing promised in the reading and in the hearing.
The Great Thanksgiving in the Service of Holy Eucharist is drawn from the text of The Revelation.
The Great Thanksgiving

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come,
and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness,
the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood,
and has made us to be a kingdom and priests
to serve his God and Father –
to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God,
“who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise.
It is good and right to join with the living creatures around your throne,
Lord God, who day and night never stop saying:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come.

It is good and right to bow before you along with the twenty-four elders
who lay their crowns before your throne and say:
You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created and have their being.

We praise you Lord God and your only begotten Son, Jesus Christ:
the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,
the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
You are worthy, Lord Christ, because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased a people for God
from every language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on earth.

With many angels numbering thousands upon thousands,
and ten thousand times ten thousand, in a loud voice we sing:
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise! Amen.

Now, with every creature in heaven and on earth
and under the earth and on the sea
we sing your praises, O God who sits enthroned,
and your praises, Jesus Christ the Lamb:

To him who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and power forever. Amen.

Praise our God, all you his servants,
you who fear him, both small and great!
Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.

Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!
These are the true words of God.

(All gather at the Table.)

(The following words of institution are from St. Paul’s letter to the saints in Corinth.)

We give you thanks, O God, for what we have received from the Lord,
that true word which has been passed on to us:

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed,
took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you;
do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood;
do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, gracious Father,
we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup
in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning
against the body and blood of the Lord.
Therefore, we examine ourselves
before we eat of the bread and drink of the cup
that we may recognize the body of our Lord.

(Silence for self-examination)

We pray you, gracious God, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts
that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ
and his Blood of the New Covenant.
Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice,
that we may be acceptable through him,
being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ,
and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints,
we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation,
the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.

Through Christ, and with Christ, and in Christ,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honor are yours, almighty God,
forever and ever. Amen.

And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us,
we are bold to say,

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come,
thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

The Breaking of the Bread

Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia!

These are the gifts of God for the people of God.
Let us take them in remembrance that Christ died for us,
in celebration that he rose for us,
in proclamation that he will come again for us.
Feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.

Post-Communion Thanksgiving

Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ:
victory by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the testimony.
The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign for ever and ever.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everliving God,
we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food
of the most precious Body and Blood
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ;
and for assuring us in these holy mysteries
that we are living members of the Body of your Son,
and heirs of your eternal kingdom.
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Personal Reflection: On Confirmation

The Service of Holy Eucharist and Confirmation has ended. I linger about our small chapel afterwards to reflect on the profound mysteries enacted there moments ago – heaven striking earth like lightning on this spot, as Frederica Mathewes-Green writes – and I notice the autumn light filtering through the windows, diffused by the rising smoke of incense, playing off the bottle filled with Holy Chrism, the Oil of Gladness: God, dwelling in light inaccessible from before time and forever, condescending to enlighten the world through his Son our Lord Jesus Christ. How gracious is our God to take the stuff of earth – water and oil, bread and wine, sacred word and action – and reveal it as the stuff of heaven. How merciful is our Lord to take the stuff of earth – water and oil, bread and wine, sacred word and action – and reveal the heavenly mysteries of new creation, of sanctification, of immortality, of truth, of life. How wondrous that our God should work through the mouths and hands and lives of sinners – of whom I am chief – to proclaim the gospel of reconciliation and to administer the mysteries of grace.

It is my prayer that, before I die, I can truly pray the Nunc dimittis, The Song of Simeon.

Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.

This day is part of God’s ongoing answer to my prayer: a day when through this sinner’s hands, my daughter in the flesh – and another dear one who is a second daughter to me – became most truly my sisters in the faith. These eyes of mine have seen the Savior in the lives of these two. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy we have been born anew through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Mercy, indeed.