By Kevin Maney, who received his PhD from the University of Toledo in Curriculum and Instruction, majoring in educational technology and minoring in educational leadership. He completed his studies for a Diploma in Anglican Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, and did his coursework almost entirely online. He was ordained as a transitional deacon in the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) on February 9, 2008 and as a priest in CANA on May 1, 2008. He is now the rector of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church in Westerville, OH, a suburb of Columbus. St. Augustine’s is part of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes (ADGL) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
Sermon delivered on the second Sunday before Advent C, November 13, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Isaiah 65.17-25; 2 Thessalonians 3.6-13; Luke 21.5-19.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning we have our quarterly healing service and so I must keep my remarks short. Hopefully I will leave you wanting more rather than wondering why I preached so long. What do our lessons have to say about healing and what can we learn from them? This is what I want us to look at this morning.
In our OT lesson, we see God speaking through his prophet to lay out a bold and comprehensive promise to God’s people. God promises to heal all that is wrong in his sin-sick and evil-ravaged world, to bring about new creation, the new heavens and earth. Notice carefully what God is promising. God is not going to destroy his good corrupted creation and creatures. No, God is going to recreate and restore his creation to its original goodness. When God does this, notice what will happen. The haunting, hurting memories we all carry with us, and that diminish us, will be healed. We will simply not remember all the hurt and darkness in our personal and corporate lives and history. Peace will be restored. Chaos that was part of the old creation in Genesis will be done away with. Harmony and prosperity will reign. God will live directly with his people, and evil will be banished forever, even while the agents of evil mysteriously remain (the snake still is with us, but is consigned to powerlessness). It is a breathtaking vision and it reminds us in no uncertain terms that creation is important to God and God remains faithful to his created order, us included. Do you have that kind of comprehensive hope?
The language of new heavens and earth has no parallel in the OT. We must look to the NT to find a parallel vision that is as bold and comprehensive:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea [forces of chaos] was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev 21.1-4).
It is no coincidence that the Christian bible begins with creation in Genesis and ends with God’s good but corrupted creation being restored and healed in Revelation. This is what the entire biblical narrative in general, and the gospel specifically, are all about—the healing of the nations and with them all of creation (cf. Romans 8.19-23). Only God can bring about this transformation with its attendant and necessary healing, and this reminds us that we are not to put our ultimate hope and trust in human solutions to fully transform God’s world into a better place. It is simply not in our power to do so. This is not to say that we are to withdraw from the world and become irresponsible abusers of creation and its creatures while we wait to go to heaven. This would be not only thoroughly unbiblical but also the ultimate act of idolatry and rebellion on our part. Why? Because God created us in his image to be his wise stewards over his good creation and to reflect God’s glory and goodness out into creation while receiving creation’s praise and glory and reflecting it back to its Creator. Simply put, we were made to be actively and totally involved in God’s world as his image-bearers, but we are to do so on God’s terms, not ours.
And of course the promise of new creation is made possible by the love of God acting in and through Christ to defeat the power of evil and reconcile us to himself so that we canserve once again as God’s faithful image-bearers (cf. Ephesians 6.12; Colossians 2.13-15). God did this through the death and resurrection of Jesus and by blessing us with the gift of his Spirit who lives in us and who heals and transforms us into new creations (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17). This promise will not be consummated until Christ returns to finish the work he started.
So what do we do in the interim? Why have a healing service if it is only God who can thoroughly heal and transform us? Because this is what we are called to do as God’s faithful people and this is where our epistle and gospel lessons can help speak to us. The promise of new heavens and earth, of complete and transformative healing and new creation, reminds us that God is at work in us through Jesus in the power of the Spirit to heal and transform his world hijacked by human sin and the dark powers and principalities. Or to put it another way, as the NT writers unanimously proclaim, Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord, not the dark powers, not the rulers of the nations or the nations themselves. Jesus is Lord. It is one of the earliest Christian confessions of faith, and it is essential to our healing. Do you believe this? Do you really believe that Jesus is Lord and not Caesar (or Barack or Donald or [name your favorite leader])? If we are honest with ourselves, I suspect many of us pay lip service to this proclamation but don’t really believe it because of the brokenness and evil we see in our lives and God’s world.
And this is where we need to pay attention to Jesus and Paul. Our Lord reminds us that while he is removed from our sight, we will be faced with all kinds of difficulties and challenges: wars and rumors of wars. Persecution and division, et al. But we are not to fear. Why? Jesus doesn’t tell us here but in John’s gospel he does. He is risen and ascended and rules over God’s creation as Lord, and he is really present to us in the power of the Spirit who lives in us. So we are not to fear. Instead (and astonishingly enough), we are to see the difficulties in our lives as opportunities to witness to our faith that Jesus is Lord!
Likewise, Paul reminds that we are never to tire of doing good. Why? Because we are a resurrection people who worship and follow the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord and therefore we are called to live our lives in ways that witness to the truth that Jesus is Lord to an unbelieving and hostile world. So, for example, in the context of living life together as part of Christ’s family here at St. Augustine’s, we do our fair share as members of one family so as not to place undue and/or unfair burdens on other family members. We are to resist the temptation to let others do the work to make God’s love known to the world or to support this little parish. Doing so betrays a selfishness and an unbelieving attitude that Jesus really isn’t Lord. We are.
In closing, let me give you a specific example of how we can live our lives in ways that are consistent with the spirit of our epistle and gospel lessons so that we witness to the world that we are a resurrection (new creation) people who really believe Jesus is Lord and others are not. It seems to me that in the wake of Tuesday’s election there is great need of healing in this country. But what does the world do? It engages in acrimony, recrimination, and lawlessness. How can healing possibly occur in that environment? Not so with us here at St. Augustine’s. In the spirit of our NT lessons, and with the promise of new heavens and earth always in front of us, we are to remember first and foremost that Jesus is Lord and we are his people whom he has called to bring his healing to each other. That means we are to take the time to see if other family members are in need of healing. If we are Trump supporters, this means we don’t gloat or rub Clinton supporters’ noses in Trump’s victory. It means we listen to their complaints patiently and don’t attempt to debate them or tell them why they are wrong. Instead, we acknowledge their pain and offer them sympathy, just like we would want them to do for us if we were on the losing side. If we are Clinton supporters, we don’t run down Trump supporters and trash their candidate, or tell them why they’re wrong. We give Trump a chance to lead and we are gracious in defeat. But the critical point is that we check on each other and love and support each other and build each other up. We don’t let our differences become our lord and allow them to separate us. And just as importantly, we don’t trash our family members with whom we disagree to others, either inside or outside our parish family, running them down behind their backs. What kind of witness is that? If we conduct ourselves in ways that are patterned after Jesus, we proclaim to the world that Jesus is Lord and in the process, we find healing, both for ourselves and others. This, in a nutshell and in this particular context, my beloved, is one way we can proclaim the Good News and in the process find real healing, now and for all eternity. Why? Because in doing so we open ourselves up to the loving power of Jesus our Lord who rules and lives in and among us, and who alone has the power to heal. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.