The Ultimate Fulfillment of Abraham’s Promises

In the name of the F, S, and HS.

We begin our look at Jesus this morning with Abraham. A lot has happened since last week with Adam. There was a murder, a bunch of births, corruption, a flood, the rebirth of the world and a rainbow, an attempted coup, and then we have the birth of Abram. Through all this corruption and death, the people of the world forgot God. This was actually forced on humanity, because they were trying to seize that which, at this point, they had no claim.

In the episode of the Tower of Babel, we find humanity attempting to make a city of their own, a tower that allowed them access to heaven, and they were trying to create a name for themselves that was distinct from God. It is important to point out here, that the word for name in Hebrew is “shem.” The very next passage, the one right before our passage today is the descendants of Shem—the creation of the Semite people—the people of a name. And this leads us to Abram and the reintroducing of God to his people.

Today we have the call of Abram—later Abraham—and the making of promises that will later be turned into official oaths made by God to Abraham in his covenant. Covenants are the way in which God slowly reveals more about himself to his people. This covenant promises Abraham three things, God will give him, 1) an heir which will turn into a great nation, 2) land, and 3) blessing.

God is establishing a people by which he can reveal himself to the rest of creation. He is going to use the “people with a name” to show the rest of the world that this is the name by which they should seek to be known. Abraham and his eventual nation are to be an example and that example is going to be the entry point of all humanity. “In you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”

So as history progresses we should expect to see these things slowly played out. Slowly, because it wouldn’t be a promise if it was immediately given realized, that would be called a gift. It is slowly played out in the course of history, but this only shows us that God has taken an interest in humanity—specifically the descendants of Abraham.

The heir is the first promise to be realized. This necessarily had to be fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime; he had to have a son for a nation to be born. So at the tender young age of 100 (he lived to be 175), he becomes a father by Sarai, a father to the heir of the promise.

The next promise is fulfilled many years later under Joshua, when the Israelite people finally take possession of the Promised Land. It should have happened under Moses, but the people rebelled and then they were forced to wonder the wilderness for 40 years—a little time-out for bad behavior. But it is nonetheless fulfilled in due time and they do indeed inhabit the land and become a great nation.

The third promise is a bit tricky so we will come to that a bit later. But here we have the mighty Israelite people—now a kingdom, and a kingdom to which other nations look to for guidance and as a model. During Solomon’s reign, rulers of foreign nations would come from far and wide to pay tribute to him and to seek his great wisdom. But this is where the Israelites jump the shark.

Solomon’s reign, for all its glory, ends up in the removal of the blessing of God upon the Davidic monarchy and the kingdom of Israel and they fracture into two kingdoms, north and south. And eventually this Northern Kingdom is overtaken by the Assyrians and taken off into exile—never to be heard from again.

Next the Southern Kingdom is defeated and sent off into its own exile—this time by the Babylonians. They get to come back under the Medo-Persians, but they are not ruling it. This was followed by the Greeks who even desecrated the Temple, which was followed by the Romans. And this brings us to the time of Jesus.

Just a quick recap: by the time of Jesus, the Jews had lost the Promised Land, one of the three promises of God to Abraham in an everlasting covenant. The great nation that was promised through the heir was now little more than a piece of real estate that larger empires would inhabit on their way to attack other empires. The blessing that was promised never really came about. Right when they had the opportunity in Solomon to establish this, he fumbled the hand off and the other side recovered the ball. So God’s promises for his everlasting covenant, by the time of Jesus, stand at 0 for 3—an impressive stat for an all-powerful, all-knowing God. It seems as though this everlasting covenant is a complete bust.

But that is the beauty of an everlasting covenant—it goes on forever. It actually was not properly fulfilled until the birth of Jesus. Jesus, as Matthew points out in his genealogy, is “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” thus making him an heir of Abraham. That whole heir thing was a little fuzzy in Abraham’s day, being that he had two sons Ishmael—the firstborn—and Isaac—the heir.

As we all know, there is still fighting today as to who was the heir. But the ultimate fulfillment of the promise is when it is firmly established and cannot be taken away. So this promise of an heir through which every family on earth would be blessed was not realized until Jesus was born. So Jesus is also the Second Isaac.

Jesus also comes to provide us with the real Promised Land—heaven. Israel the plot of land is good, but it is imperfect—it has proved to be an unattainable promise. It is not even today fully held by any one group, so, as with Jesus Christ being the ultimate realization of the heir, the ultimate realization of the Promised Land must be heaven. Once in heaven, it cannot be taken away—not by the will of the person—for in heaven one can no longer sin—nor can it be taken away by force—since Satan has been beaten once for all time. Only heaven can be the ultimate realization of the promise of an everlasting covenant with Abraham.

And finally all nations were to be blessed by Israel. The ultimate goal of this blessing was their inclusion into the promises of Abraham—into his covenant. God favored Abraham to reintroduce himself to humanity and to allow them to attain the name which they were so adamant to attain by themselves in the story of the Tower of Babel. This was fulfilled by the inclusion of the Gentiles, which began in the ministry of Jesus and became official in the ministry of Paul. The ultimate realization of this will also be fulfilled in Jesus as all of creation that wishes to will be included into heaven.

To sum up: Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the promises made to Abram today in our OT lesson. He is the ultimate realization of the promised heir. He gives access to the ultimate realization of the Promised Land. And he is the way in which the ultimate realization of the blessing of every family on earth in their incorporation into the body of Christ.

The depth of which God loves us is that he is the ultimate keeper of his promises. He does not forget when he promises something, rather he is steadfast in his remembrance and faithful to see them to their ultimate fulfillment. More on this next week.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.


Funeral Sermon for Sam Cotten

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Why is death so scary? It is the great unknown. It confronts every one of our beliefs about our ultimate destiny and whether or not there is a God. No one can escape death. No matter how well-off a person is in life, no matter how well liked, no matter how good a citizen a person is, death cannot be eluded forever. We can try with all sorts of medical advances to try to cheat it, but in the end, it claims us all. Wherever we try to hide in our life-long game of hide-and-seek, death will eventually find our nook and call us out.

This is the unfortunate result of our relation to Adam and his sin, but we were not created to die. This is why it is always sad when someone dies, because there is something inside of us that knows that this is not the way it should be. So we tell ourselves platitudes: “Oh he’s in a better place”; and “at least he is no longer suffering.” But these are just empty expressions to make the absence of a loved one easier for to handle.

Even Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. This is not the way it was supposed to be. It is indeed sad that we are parted from Sam.

Since marrying my wife, I had always known of Sam. And then when I was interviewing to be the Rector here at St. Paul’s, I learned recently that he called to advocate for my being here. And then when I finally met him, I believe we became fast friends. I always had to make sure that I had time to talk when I came by to see him because I knew that I could easily be holed up at his house and miss anything that came after because I was enjoying myself so much. And then when I came time for communion, each time he would well up because he missed being able to receive it every week. I will miss that greatly.

Jesus used the death of his friend Lazarus as a sign for us that pointed to something greater. Yes Jesus was sad at the death of his friend and he indeed sympathized with Martha as she lamented that Jesus was not present to prevent the death of her brother. However, with the raising of Lazarus, Jesus shows in reality what he tells Martha in this passage today, that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and though Lazarus died, yet shall he live, because Jesus has the power over death.

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus triumphed over death. The place that was seemingly the darkest place know to Adam and his descendants, now has the new light of Christ shining in it. Death is not a place in which Christ has not been—a place where he is not. Jesus so united himself with humanity that since we are brought into him through our Baptism, he can now take us through death to where he is. Death no longer has the last laugh, for those who believe in Christ and follow in his ways are freed from death’s grasp as soon as they are touched.

Jesus dies to shine a light on death and provide a path of light out of the dark pit. And since he has died and has risen to life again, he has so united himself to us that he is the first fruits of our resurrection. He is the proof that death has been defeated and now no longer has its sting. Death is now the means by which we may put on the imperishable.

Now as a result of Jesus’ death upon the cross, we are restored to the way we were initially created to be—with God, united and never to be part again from him nor those who are with him.

So yes, it is indeed sad that Sam has died, but for those in Christ, it is but a temporary parting, and one that will never happen again—thanks be to God. And Sam has the opportunity to truly live in Christ forever and that is something that can truly put our sadness at his absence to rest eternally.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen

Adam and the New Adam

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Who is Jesus? One of the many answers to this question is he is the man who came to right all wrongs. In order to properly inform this answer however, we need to start way before Jesus the man. To properly understand who know Jesus, we must begin all the way at the beginning and understand who Adam was, because if Jesus came to right all wrongs, it is natural to begin at the beginning of the story with the first wrong and work our way up.

When God created Adam, he created him with 3 aspects specific to him that he was to pass down to his progeny. Adam was 1) God’s son; 2) he was a priest; and 3) he was a king. He was God’s son formed of the earth in God’s image and likeness. He was a priest in that he was to commune with God in his Sabbath rest. He was a king in that he was charged with the care and upkeep of the land.

At the very beginning of the Bible, we read: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void…” The first three days of creation deal with God creating form for the earth: time, space, and life. The next three deal with God filling the void for each area by filling each with inhabitants and then placing rulers over them. The sun and moon were placed over the time aspect “to rule over the day and over the night.” Then birds and fish were brought forth “to rule” over the sky and the water or the space or not earth. Finally, the terrestrial life was created and man was placed over that, thus completing the six days of creation. Then God rested on the seventh day and hallowed it.
I had always pictured this as God working up to this point, and then finally wiping his brow and saying, “Man am I bushed. I need to lie down.” Maybe I was reading myself into this too much, because God didn’t need a relief from his fatigue (he is all powerful after all), rather, he rested as an example for us to follow, and to show us that there is more after the creation of the world.

In fact, as Scott Hahn is very fond of pointing out, creating a covenant—swearing an oath—is, in the Hebrew, literally “sevening” oneself to another. So on the seventh day, God is creating a covenant with his creation that it is called beyond the six days of creation to this seventh day of rest. It was Adam’s role as priest to direct all under his rule (the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the livestock and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth) as well as anyone who comes after him to this seventh day of rest.

One might ask, if we were meant for this seventh day, why bother with the first six at all? If we are called to be with God in heaven, why are we here on earth? The 6 days are a proving ground for man. He is given a job and told to use the talents given by God to accomplish it. Why? Because we could not truly be at home in heaven unless we chose to be there. When God made the decision to create us and for us to reside with him, God first had to create a place away from him so that we could choose to be with him. If we were to be truly happy with God, we had to choose to be with him because he gave us free will. Had he simply placed us there with him, some would consider that a prison with no way out, because with the ability to choose yes, there has to be the ability to choose no as well. We need to be here so that we are not held there against our will—any place—even heaven—becomes a prison as soon as we do not want to be there and cannot leave.

In addition to directing creation to God, Adam has a further role as king. He is placed in the Garden and told to work it and to keep it. To keep it also means to guard it—to keep things out that do not need to be in it. This is rather confusing because if God was created everything and placed it in there, from whom was he supposed to guard it? Our OT lesson tells us. Adam was supposed to guard the Garden from Satan—from the deceiver, he who would cause us to choose wrong over right.

Adam failed in this role. He allowed this corrupting influence to enter into the Garden and sway the judgment of Eve. This is why the Bible has the serpent confront Eve, because, not only was it Adam’s job to keep the serpent out, once he was in, it was his job to protect Eve from the serpent’s wiles. Adam fails in his job as protector by not uttering a single word against the serpent. He offers no defense but sits by and watches as his bride is corrupted and he, in turn, is corrupted by her. In doing this, he has failed both jobs, he has not protected his charge, but in eating the apple, he chooses the 6th day (creation) over the 7th (rest).

In failing to do these two jobs, Adam is now unable to fulfill his first aspect as well. He was to pass on the image and likeness of God on to his progeny. But as a result to his decision, the image of God is marred by sin. God removes his life from Adam so that he no longer has the ability to pass it down. When the Bible speaks of the image and likeness of God, it means 1) Intellect – the ability to know about things and understand them; 2) Free Will – the ability to freely choose between two actions; 3) Self-Determination of destiny; and 4) Possession of a spiritual and immortal soul.

As a result of his actions, the image is now corrupted by sin. Now he passes on an impaired intellect as we cannot truly know and understand things because our focus is on the creation not the spiritual aspect as well because Adam lost his spiritual aspect. He passes on an impaired free will, because now we are not free to choose, we are weighed toward sin and so not truly free. We can no longer self-determine our destiny, because our ultimate destiny is to be with God and we cannot get there without his help. And finally, Adam died spiritually that day and so he cannot pass that on either.

As a result of Adam’s epic failure, things look pretty bleak. How is humanity to be restored if the one person who was to pass all the things necessary can no longer do so? Paul clues us in as to how this will be remedied. If “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin,” then it should also be true that “if one man’s trespass, death reigned…much more will those who receive grace and the free gift of righteousness of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Paul says that if one man was able to mess it up so badly by his disobedience, it would also hold that if one man were perfectly obedient, then the whole thing could again be righted.

But that ship had sailed, Man was no longer able to pass on the complete image and likeness of God, only a soiled one. But if God, who, as originator of the image and likeness, could somehow unite himself to humanity, then it would again be possible to pass this on. So, as John says, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The perfect image of God—Jesus Christ—so united himself with humanity that he was fully one of us, born of the Virgin Mary his Mother. Now there is one man on earth who still can pass on the perfect image and likeness of God, and he must be obedient where his predecessor as man failed.

Jesus, then, is the New Adam—the Second Adam—by whom all things are restored. We see him today, in our Gospel lesson, encountering the Serpent—Satan—and defending “the Garden” against him. In all the attempts of Satan to tempt Jesus into choosing dominion on the 6th day over the rest of the 7th, Jesus always defends and points toward man’s ultimate goal—the 7th. He performs the role as priest-king perfectly, defending the realm against intruders and directing others to God.

The problem is that it would take more than this one act of fidelity to be able to undo the previous infidelity of Adam. Now the current ruler has taken up shop and gotten quite comfortable in his new digs. While it would have been simple for Adam to defend against one influence, Pandora’s Box had been opened and now it will be infinitely harder to accomplish the task. Jesus had to spend a lifetime perfectly obedient to all the laws in order to restore man to God.

We will explore more later, but for now we know that the depth of which God loves us is that though we utterly failed in our role as priest-king, God did not leave us there, but sent his only begotten Son to provide us with the perfect example and the perfect image of himself that the perfect image and likeness may again be restored to us. But how this is accomplished needs to be fleshed out in another sermon…next week.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

To Wipe or Not To Wipe

In the name of the F, S, and HS.

I got a text from my Father-in-law this morning “Based on the scripture this morning, I’m wondering if we are supposed to remove the ashes from our foreheads? Given the Lord says not to stand on the street corners but to pray in secret, are we supposed to show we are Christians to the world?”

He brings up the common Ash Wednesday dilemma: to wipe or not to wipe. Jesus states pretty plainly that we are not to do such things right? Well…Jesus is not necessarily talking about this. He is referring to people who are only making this public claim to show people how pious they are—or at least want us to believe they are.

So the question each person must ask is: “Why am I doing this?” Is it to gain notoriety and have people say look at that person who is so pious? Jesus would tell you then to wipe it off until the ashes penetrate to your heart. Is it as a reminder of where you came from and where you are to return? Jesus would tell you to keep those if you wish because it does not hinder his progress. In both cases, ours today and the situation which Jesus addresses, his comments are directed at revealing true penance.

True penance is directed solely toward the person offended—God in this case. And as such, the ashes need to do more than mess up the outside image of your forehead—they need to open the gateway to your soul to reveal your relationship with God—a sinner in need of redemption.

After this is established, the ashes on the forehead become a conversation piece—like a piece of art on a wall. We have to admit, we look silly with ashes on our heads, but we can use that to advance the cause of Christ. We can use the cross of Christ as a tool for evangelism.

In this way it is similar to a cross used as jewelry. Is it there to remind you of what Christ had to go through for you? Wear it inside. Is it a public declaration that you are a Christian and all questions may be directed your way because you are in the business of making new Christians? Wear it outside because it is now a tool.

The same applies here. If it is between you and God, wipe it off. If it is a tool, wear it proudly and seek to use it. Just remember, if you wear it, you cannot hide the fact that you are a Christian any longer. You must remember that every action from here on out defines Christianity for someone.

Choose wisely—but remember: an outward smudge must reflect a penitent heart.

In the name if the F, S, and HS. Amen.

I Have Seen the Light, Preaching No Longer Equates to Vegetables in My Book

In the name of the F, S, and S. Amen.

I was scroll through Facebook the other day when I ran across post by the Pope that really grabbed me. In this post Pope Francis was counseling his bishops about preaching. “In preaching the Gospel, Bishops should be appealing rather than censorious, upholding church teaching not in order to measure how far the world falls short of the truth it contains, but to fascinate the world, enchant it with the beauty of love, seduce it by offering the freedom of the Gospel.”

These are beautiful words that appeal to me. They strike a chord in my soul. They do this because this is my ultimate goal when preaching, yet it is often an unfulfilled goal. I must admit, preaching has never been my favorite aspect of being a priest. I know plenty of people, even our own denomination, where this is one of the main reasons they were drawn to ministry, but for me this has always been simply one of the more unsavory aspects.

I was asked by the Commission on Ministry repeated times when I wanted to be a priest—the answer: I felt called to sacramental ministry. Up until this comment by the Pope, telling people why they should do the things Christ tells us has always felt rather mundane to me. I find really cool aspect of the faith, which truly fascinates me, but then the conclusion I normally come up with is “because its freaking awesome, that’s why.”

I think my frustration as a preacher is that this does not seem like a satisfactory conclusion to me, but from what the Pope says, this is actually the conclusion I should reach. This strikes a chord because it gives validation to my outlook on the faith—because it’s awesome (both in the 80’s slang aspect of being very impressive, and in the dictionary use of the word: that which is worthy of awe). Had I known this as an aspect of being a priest, I would have gravitated more toward it, rather than seeing it as a place for corny jokes and semi-relevant movie scenes in order to keep people from falling asleep during my weekly mandatory soliloquy.

This is an aspect I can fall in love with similar to the sacramental nature of the priesthood which drew me here in the first place. I fell in love with the tangibility of the priesthood in the sacraments, the aspect that allows us to experience the truth that each sacrament offers. Each Sunday I get to hold the Body and Blood of the King of kings and Lord of lords in my hand and we all get to take him into our bodies in a most intimate and life-animating way.

Each time I go to confession, the tangibility of my sins is present before me, I have written them down and am forced to confront them, but they are then forgiven just as tangibly as the priest traces a cross over me and says “I absolve you of all your sins in the name of the F, S, and HS.” No matter which side of the confessional I am on, whether priest or penitent, I am awestruck by the fact that God allows us to experience his forgiveness of sin in a real way—without which forces this forgiveness to be limited to head-knowledge and subject to doubt.

Each time I anoint a sick person, I am hit with the scent of oil olive which fills the room, replacing the stench of sickness with the aroma of healing. I then feel the coolness of the oil as I trace the sign of the cross, retracing the seal of baptism and entry into the family of God, on the head of each sick person. I am reminded of this each time I recite the God’s promise to the sick person from the letter of James written on the oil-stained pages of my book: “Is any man sick? Let him come to the presbyters of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”

These are the ways God makes himself present to us, a way in which we two are able to experience each other—He a God longing to be in communion with his creation, and we longing to be reconciled to our Creator. And the Pope’s direction has caused a new light to shine on the sermon as an avenue to be able to enflesh every aspect of the faith in a way that excites me as well.

Previously, I regarded the sermon as something akin to vegetables as a child, something which I was forced to endure, so I would hold my nose and chomp it down as quickly as possible. I fear that this approach has left a distaste in both our mouths. But I have been clued in to the fact that vegetables do not have to be disgusting. Vegetables, when properly prepared, can be just as savory as the rest of the meal.

I have a new outlook on sermons, an outlook in which you should be excited, because I will make it my goal to woo you into a deeper love of the Faith and how a deeper knowledge of the Faith deepens our knowledge of the love that God has for us. My goal each week is for you to be able to walk out of here certain and even sometimes surprised by how the Faith informs us of God’s love for us.

Now I must admit, it will not always be warm and squishy because love isn’t always sunshine and puppies. Sometimes love is reminding us that God loves us too much to keep on as we are. That his love is a love that requires us to change for the better, because he refuses to leave us where we are, rather he calls us to be where he is.

This is actually a good place to start. God wants more from us than we are currently giving. I want us to ponder this statement for Lent. God wants more from us than we are currently giving him. In an effort to shine a light on the depths to which he goes for us, I plan to spend Lent showing us his love for us. My hope is to show us how God proved his love for us by giving his all that we may be with him always. When we are finished and once again we celebrate his triumph over the grave in his resurrection from the dead, we can begin to answer the question: “In what way or ways is God calling me to give him more?”

And hopefully, with the shackles of the mundane thrown off, I will be able to fascinate you, to enchant you, and even to seduce you, with the awesomeness of the Faith once delivered to the Apostles. A Faith that requires all of us because it required all of him. A Faith that is terrifying and a Faith that is freeing. A Faith that requires your death that it may give you true life. More to come.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.