"We Preach Christ Crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." - 1 Cor. 1:23, 24
Trinity Season, 2021
Second Sunday after Trinity, 2021
Text: St. Luke 14:12-24
The Very Rev. Jerry Kistler
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church
“Who Should We Invite to Dinner?”
John Blanchard stood up from the bench, straightened his Army uniform, and studied the crowd of people making their way through Grand Central Station. He looked for the girl whose heart he knew, but whose face he didn’t, the girl with the rose.
His interest in her had begun thirteen months before in a Florida library. Taking a book off the shelf he found himself intrigued, not with the words of the book, but with the notes penciled in the margin. The soft handwriting reflected a thoughtful soul and insightful mind. In the front of the book, he discovered the previous owner’s name, Miss Hollis Maynell.
With time and effort he located her address. She lived in New York City. He wrote her a letter introducing himself and inviting her to correspond. The next day he was shipped overseas for service in World War II. During the next year and one month the two grew to know each other through the mail. Each letter was a seed falling on a fertile heart. A romance was budding.
Blanchard requested a photograph, but she refused. She felt that if he really cared, it wouldn’t matter what she looked like.
When the day finally came for him to return from Europe, they scheduled their first meeting-7:00 p.m. at the Grand Central Station in New York. “You’ll recognize me,” she wrote, “by the red rose I’ll be wearing on my lapel.”
Blanchard himself tells the story. “A young woman was coming toward me, her figure long and slim. Her blonde hair lay back in curls from her delicate ears; her eyes were blue as flowers. Her lips and chin had a gentle firmness, and in her pale green suit she was like springtime come alive. I started toward her, entirely forgetting to notice that she was not wearing a rose. As I moved, a small, provocative smile curved her lips. “Going my way, sailor?” she murmured.
“Almost uncontrollably I made one step closer to her, and then I saw Hollis Maynell.
She was standing almost directly behind the girl. A woman well past 40, she had graying hair tucked under a worn hat. She was more than plump, her thick-ankled feet thrust into low-heeled shoes. The girl in the green suit was walking quickly away. I felt as though I was split in two, so keen was my desire to follow her, and yet so deep was my longing for the woman whose spirit had truly companioned me and upheld my own.
“And there she stood. Her pale, plump face was gentle and sensible, her gray eyes had a warm and kindly twinkle. I did not hesitate. My finger gripped the small worn blue leather copy of the book that was to identify me to her. This would not be love, but it would be something precious, something perhaps even better than love, a friendship for which I had been and must ever be grateful.
“I squared my shoulders and saluted and held out the book to the woman, even though while I spoke I felt choked by the bitterness of my disappointment. “I’m Lieutenant John Blanchard, and you must be Miss Maynell. I am so glad you could meet me; may I take you to dinner?”
The woman’s face broadened into a tolerant smile. “I don’t know what this is all about, son, “she answered, “but the young lady in the green suit who just went by, she begged me to wear this rose on my coat. And she said if you were to ask me out to dinner, I should go and tell you that she is waiting for you in a big restaurant across the street. She said it was some kind of a test!”
The Greek Poet was right,” Tell me who you love and I will tell you who you are!”
So who do you love? Well, who would you invite to dinner?
In the Gospel lesson for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity we’ve heard that very familiar parable of Jesus, the Parable of the Great Supper, from St. Luke’s Gospel. You know the story.
A certain man gave a great supper and invited man. But when the time came for the invited guests to come to the banquet hall and take their seats, they all began with one consent to make excuses why they couldn’t come. And you remember the excuses. They were all pretty lame. The first man said he’d just bought a piece of ground, and he needed to go and see it. Well, who buys a piece of real estate without seeing it first? The second guy said he’d just bought a team of oxen and he needed to go and test them. Put it in the modern vernacular: would you buy a tractor without knowing if it works first? The third guy says he’d just married a wife, and therefore he could not come. Well, that one might be understandable. But how long can the honeymoon go? After a while I think at least the wife might rather go to the party. But these are their excuses, and all of them show how low the supper is on their relative scale of values.
So the master of the house, hearing these lame excuses and becoming justifiably angry, told his servant to go out into the streets and lanes of the city and to bring in the poor, the maimed, the truly lame, and the blind, to the supper. And the servant said, “It’s done as you’ve asked, but there’s still room.” And so the master said, “Go then into the highways and hedges—out to the sticks, in other words—and compel them to come in. For I want my house to be full. But I tell you the truth: none of those people I first invited will partake of my supper.”
Well, that’s the parable, and you know it well. But what you probably don’t know quite as well are the words of Jesus that immediately precede the parable, and give color and light to the parable, and help us understand what Jesus is really saying.
Remember that Jesus Himself had been invited to a supper. It was in the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, and everyone who was anyone was there. Only the best people had been invited, and Jesus noticed how they were all jockeying for position to get the best seats, judging between themselves where each of them ranked in the scale of honor, and some of them squabbling as to just exactly where they fit in that scale. And so after giving a little bit of a rebuke to the guests for this behavior, Jesus then turned to the host and offered these few words of “gentle” counsel, but they’re words I think we need to hear this morning, as well. He said,
“When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Lk. 14:12-14).
So now, I want to ask you: do you think these words of Jesus were just His polite advice to the host on developing better social graces? Jesus didn’t come to give polite advice on developing better social graces. He came teaching and preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. His basic message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” He said that from the time of John the Baptist until now [His time] the kingdom of heaven was breaking through and forcefully advancing, and that forceful or determined were taking hold of it (Mt. 11:12). Everything Jesus said had some application to the kingdom of God. He didn’t come to fine-tune the Pharisees legalistic system; He came to blow it up completely, and to tell them that they were missing the boat with regard to the long-awaited kingdom—the very thing they said they were longing for, but about which everything in their lives told a different story.
So when Jesus tells a parable, He’s explaining some aspect of the Kingdom: “The kingdom of God is like so and so.” In this case, He’s saying that the kingdom of God is like a man who gave a great supper, or a great banquet, and invited many. But so often what Jesus is really doing in the parables is explaining Himself—how He as the Messiah fits into the kingdom; how He is the One who is bringing in the kingdom. And I think that is true of these words that immediately precede this parable as well.
Because, again, what does He say? He says, “When you give a dinner or a supper, don’t ask you friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid.” Well, isn’t that exactly what He did? When He came at last to open up the great feast, the Messianic banquet so long awaited, when He came preaching and teaching the gospel of the kingdom, who did He go to? Who did He invite to supper? Was it His friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors? No, because every one of them rejected Him. Think about it. When Jesus preached the gospel in His home town of Nazareth, how did His friends and neighbors respond? They were offended at Him. They said, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother named Mary? And don’t we know His sisters and brothers?” In other words, this is no one special. This is just the kid we all grew up with. Who does He think He is?” And when He got up one Sabbath day and said He was the One who was fulfilling the ancient prophecies, they were so offended that they actually tried to throw Him off a cliff. No, it wasn’t His friends and neighbors.
What about His brothers? The Scriptures tell us that not even they believed in Him. The only one of His relatives that followed Him was His mother, and what we can tell from her interchange with Him as a twelve-year-old boy in the temple, and later at the wedding at Cana, was that she didn’t have Him very well figured out either. So later on when someone came to Him and said, “Your mother and your brothers are outside wanting to talk to you, He responded, “Who is My mother and who are my brothers?” And He stretched out His hand and pointed towards His disciples, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
It wasn’t His brothers, or His other relatives, or rich neighbors that He invited. Who was it? It was the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. He went to people like the poor widow with the dead son, the cripple at the pool of Bethesda, the Samaritan leper, old blind Bartimaeus, the woman caught in adultery, the thief on the cross. He out went seeking the one lost sheep out of the one-hundred. His heart longed for His prodigal children. He went to prostitutes and tax-collectors, the least and the lowest, the outcasts of society, and He opened up His feast to them, and they came and had table-fellowship with Him.
Do you remember the complaint the Pharisees had against Jesus? It was that He welcomed sinners and ate with them. I think the whole gospel is summed up in that complaint. Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them. Isn’t that what He does here today? You see, He didn’t welcome just anybody. He didn’t welcome the righteous, or those who thought they were righteous—the self-righteous, the works righteous—because they didn’t have any need of Him. Nor did He welcome those who were tolerant of unrighteousness. He welcomed sinners, people who knew they were sinners, people who were grieved with the fact they were sinners, people who were tied and bound with the chains of their sins and came to Him to be loosed, people who knew they were not respectable members of the religious establishment, people who didn’t have anything, spiritually speaking, to pay Him back with; people who had to receive His grace as just that: grace, not reward for their good behavior or right standing. These were the kinds of people who flocked to Jesus, because these were the kinds of people Jesus welcomed. And He ate with them. He invited them to His table in His kingdom, and they became partakers—partakers of Him and of what He came to do for them. Do you see?
The question is: are those the people that we’re seeking to invite to supper? Are those the people we want to come and fill our house and sit down with us here at God’s table in His kingdom? For this is the Feast of God. This is the Lamb’s High Feast. This is the Messianic Banquet. It is our participation even now in the feast of heaven. So who do we want to invite to dinner?
I know how we all think, secretly, deep down inside, and sometimes even out-loud: “Boy, if we could just get those people to come to church. If we could just get that guy with all the money, or that woman with all the connections. I mean, they really have something to offer. They could really help us do great things. They could really help out the budget.”
But Jesus says to us, in effect, today: “Why are you seeking those people? Number one, if you get them, you might only be receiving an earthly reward. They might not be the people that truly provide the means of receiving a heavenly reward. They might not be the people that truly build the church, truly build the kingdom, which is only by ministering the grace and mercy and forgiveness of Christ to sinful, broken people. And secondly,” Jesus tells us in His parable, “they’re probably not the ones who will even respond to your invitation. Why? I mean have you ever wondered why the people in the parable gave such lame excuses for not coming to the feast? I think Jesus’ saying here helps us understand why. I think it’s because the rich are always getting invitations, and so they’re also very practiced at turning down invitations. And they turn down invitations because they know that they get invitations because people want something from them. They want their valuable time and influence and money. And so they get really good at turning down invitations. Even when the invitation of the gospel comes to them, so often their first instinct is to turn it down, because they’ve been trained to resist the sense of feeling obligated to give something in return. They don’t want to feel obligated. They don’t want to have to give something up to get what we’re offering in the gospel. And, yes, it does ask you to give something up. It asks you to give up your whole life.
But the poor—and I’m talking about the spiritually poor here, as well as the fiscally poor—they don’t have a life to lose. That’s why it’s so easy to give it up. They don’t have anything to offer in return as payment for God’s grace, that’s why they can receive it as grace. So Jesus says, “Why don’t you go after them? They’re the ones who might actually respond favorably to your invitation.”
You know, last week in our Gospel we heard about the rich man and Lazarus. The question for us today is: are we missing the Lazaruses that God has laid at our doorsteps? Are we stepping right over them because we have our eyes are so focused on the rich guy and everything he has to offer, and are we putting all our efforts into getting him to come to supper?
Do we want our house to be full, even if that means we go out and scrounge around for the “least desirable” people in Montrose, or will we be content to have only the “right” people to partially fill our house? Jesus said,
“When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” +
Pentecost Sunday, 2021
Texts: Joel 1:21-32; Acts 2:1-11
The Very Rev. Jerry D. Kistler
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church
“Do You Have the Spirit?”
I have said many times before that Christ has ascended into heaven to receive from the Father the gift of the Holy Spirit, which He has now poured down upon His Church, in order that through her He might to continue His mission in the world, but with even greater power and greater results. It’s an undeniable fact. It’s a part of our confession of faith. But I need to ask you a question this morning, because I’m not sure we all know the answer. Do you have the Holy Spirit? Have you, as an individual, received the gift of the Holy Spirit so that Christ may continue His mission through you? And if you have, how do you know?
In about the Sixth Century B.C., the prophet Joel prophesied about our times when he said,
“And it shall come to pass afterward [or “in the last days, says God”]
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
And also on My menservants and on My maidservants,
I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2: 28-29).
Now what the prophet was saying was this: that whereas in the Old Covenant only a few, select people had received the gift of the Holy Spirit to prophesy and to proclaim the Word of Lord, when the New Covenant came all of God’s people would be partakers of the Spirit, and the gift of prophecy would be common to men and women, young and old, in the Church. Moses himself, the greatest prophet of the Old Testament age, yearned for this reality when, after the Lord took of the Spirit that was upon Him and placed it upon the seventy elders of Israel, and they all prophesied (although, the text says, they never did so again)…Moses said, “Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!”
Well, here we are in the New Covenant Age, the age that was in a very real sense fully inaugurated on the day that we celebrate today—the Day of Pentecost. For on the Day of Pentecost the Lord did pour out His Spirit upon all His people—upon all those who believed in Him—with the sound of a rushing wind and with tongues of fire. And they all began to prophesy and speak with other tongues and to proclaim the wonderful works of God, just as Jesus had promised: “You shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
And Peter explains to the people who are confused about what’s going on... he says, “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel.” The words of the prophet are fulfilled. The New Covenant Age has been inaugurated, and the evidence of this is that all God’s people have been made prophets just as Joel prophesied, and just as Moses wished those many years ago. Here it is. The Church has been founded, and all of God’s people in common have received the Spirit, and as result are prophesying and speaking in tongues, as you now see and hear.
That’s what Peter proclaims, isn’t it? So then the obvious questions is: if the Spirit of God has been poured out in common upon all of God’s people, don’t you prophesy? Don’t you receive revelations from God in dreams and visions, and can’t you proclaim the wonderful works of God in other tongues? And if you can’t, well then maybe you’re just not one of God’s true people. Maybe you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Have you ever considered that?
Well, hold on just a second. The apostle Paul, who was himself a prophet (Act 13:1), wrote to the Christians at Corinth and said,
“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.”
And then he asks a series of rhetorical questions. “Are all apostles?” What’s the implied answer? No. “Are all prophets?” Again, the implied answer? No! “Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues?” To all these questions the implied answer is No.
You see, the Spirit of God doesn’t give everyone the same gifts, not even the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues. But how does that jive with what the prophet Joel said? Well, Joel did say that the Spirit of God would be poured out on all, and he said that would be manifested by the gift of prophesy being common in the Church. But he didn’t say that each and every person would prophesy. And, by the way, he doesn’t say anything about tongues.
You see, the Holy Spirit set apart and equipped some people to be apostles and prophets for the laying of the foundation of the Church. But once the foundation is laid, you don’t keep laying it. It’s time for another group of people with all sorts of differing gifts and talents to build upon that foundation. That’s where you and I come into the picture. We’re not called to be apostles and prophets to continue to lay the foundation of the Church; we’re called to use our Holy Spirit-given gifts to build up the Church on that foundation.
But that assumes that you’ve actually received the gifting of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t it? If you can’t manifest these miraculous external signs like prophesy and speaking in tongues, how do you know you have the Spirit? Have you in fact been baptized with the Holy Spirit, and is there some sign, some tangible evidence, that you can hold onto to assure yourself that, yes, in fact, you have received that gift?
Well, there is a wonderful, and extremely important pattern that we see in the Book of Acts, that ought to give us a great deal of assurance in this matter. Whenever God does something new, which He’s never done before, like pouring out His Spirit upon all of His people—which Jesus Himself calls the baptism of the Holy Spirit—He does so immediately, that is, without any sort of human agency, and with all sorts of accompanying signs and wonders, to show, to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this is actually of Him and not of Man. This is His new work in redemptive history, and not any sort of human movement.
So on the Day of Pentecost, when He initially pours out His Spirit onto those one-hundred-and-twenty believers gathered together in single place, He does so with the sound of a mighty, rushing wind, and with tongues of fire, and without any human agency whatsoever, to show that this is His work. But after that initial out-pouring of the Spirit, things are very different. God does not repeat that initial Pentecost event; He works in a different way, and that is through human-agency—through the ministry of His Church. So, for instance, when the Gospel goes to Samaria, and people there become believers in Christ and are baptized, it’s only when the apostles Peter and John go up and lay their hands on them that they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This is the pattern we see over and over in the Book of Acts, so that even when the Apostle Paul is converted—Saul at that point—there’s no new immediate out-pouring of the Holy Spirit even upon him. But it’s only when the prophet Ananias lays his hands upon Him that Paul receives the gift of the Spirit, and then immediately begins his ministry.
Now when Cornelius the Gentile is converted, there is an immediate out-pouring of the Spirit upon him and his house-hold, but that again is because this was a brand-new work of God. No Gentile to this point had ever been made a full and equal member of God’s people. And you remember that there was some question as to whether this was even possible. But this ended the argument, so to speak. God proved that the inclusion of the Gentile was His decision, His plan, not anybody else’s. Nobody could argue that the Apostle Peter was just venturing out on his own by including the Gentiles into the Church, because God worked immediately. But after this, once again God chooses to work through the agency of His Church. So when Paul went and baptized the Gentile believers in Ephesus, afterward he laid his hands upon them, and the Holy Spirit came upon them.
So my question for you is: how did you receive, or how should you expect to receive, the gift of the Holy Spirit? Through the laying on of hands! That is what Confirmation is about. Confirmation is not just about confirming, or taking on for yourself, the vows your parents and godparents made for you in your baptism, which is what Sean and Katie and Brittany and Justin and Haley did for Sebastian this morning. It is that, but it’s much more than that. It is about receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit for the work of ministry. Through the laying on of the hands of the bishop, who is in succession from the apostles, you have or will receive a gift—a supernatural endowment of the Holy Spirit to enable you to be one of those builders upon the foundation; to enable you contribute to the sum total of the work of the Church; to contribute some valuable ministry that God has specially equipped just you to do.
You do have the Holy Spirit. You do have a special, supernatural gifting. And the sign that you can hold onto to know this is true is your Confirmation—the laying on of hands.
But we ought to hear the words of St. Paul to his beloved disciple Timothy at this point. In 2 Tim 1:6 Paul says, “I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” “Stir it up,” say St. Paul. The word in the Greek is very picturesque. It means to stoke the embers of a dying fire so it comes to life again. “Stir up your gift, so it doesn’t fizzle out,” is essentially what Paul is saying. “Fan it into flame,” is how the ESV translates it.
So how do you stir up the gift that is in you through the laying on of hands? How do you fan it into flame? Well, there’s really only one way. You’ve got to use it. You’ve got to put it to work. You’ve got to exercise it, or just like your calves and triceps, it will atrophy and become useless.
We don’t all need to be prophets. We don’t all need to be apostles, or evangelists, or pastors or teachers. But we do all need to be ministers of the gifts and graces that are in us through the laying on of hands. May we do it to the glory of Christ and to the building up of His Church. +
Ascension Day, 2021
The Very Rev. Jerry D. Kistler
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church
“Ascension: The Completion of Good Friday”
Not many Christians today know what to do with the Ascension. For many, it just represents the time that Jesus went away, and that hardly seems like something to celebrate.
For others, who because of their theology that Jesus has not yet begun to reign over heaven and earth but is waiting for His Father to allow Him to return so He can begin to reign, they miss what the Ascension teaches us about Christ’s enthronement at the right hand of the Father and how great a thing that is to celebrate.
Still others miss what the Ascension teaches about how Christ is more present in the world now than He ever could have been if He had not ascended, and that is by His Spirit whom He sent into the Church that we might be His body, that we might be His Presence, His continued incarnation in the world. 2.2 or 2.3 billion Christians all over the globe, and the few of us gathered here this evening, is how He now fills the world with Himself. “[God] put all things under His feet,” writes St. Paul in Ephesians, “and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:22, 23). We are the fullness of Him who fills all in all. And this too is something the Ascension teaches us to celebrate.
So, I suppose if we took a survey of modern American Christians and asked them which of the holy days of the Christian year was the greatest of all, most would either be confused by the question, or would choose, without much reflection, between the two best known holy days: Christmas and Easter. But I want to challenge that choice tonight. I want to suggest to you that tonight, the feast of the Ascension of our Lord, is the greatest of all Christian holy days. And I say that not in anyway to diminish the significance of either Christmas or Easter. I say that because it is the Ascension that establishes the eternal significance of both Christmas and Easter, and of all great saving events of Christ’s life.
But tonight I’d like to focus in on just one truth that defines and shows the importance of the Ascension, and that is the Ascension as the completion of Good Friday. We could also speak about the Ascension as the culmination of Easter and the goal of Pentecost. But tonight I’d like us to consider just this one facet of the Ascension: that the Ascension as the completion of Good Friday.
And what I mean by that is that the Ascension of Christ into heaven is, in a very significant sense, the completion of His sacrificial work, the completion of the offering of Himself to the Father on our behalf. Maybe you’ve never thought of it in those terms? Most haven’t. But let me explain what I mean.
In Luke chapter 24 verse 51, which we read this evening, Luke writes that while Jesus blessed His disciples He was parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. The word translated as “carried up” is a very important Greek word. It’s the word anaphero. Why is that word so important? you ask. It is so important because in the Greek translation of the Old Testament—the Septuagint (which was the Bible of the early Church)—the word anaphero, ninety percent of the time it is used, directly refers to the offering of the burnt sacrifices. As a matter of fact, it is most often translated as “to offer up.” In the Septuagint it is actually a technical term that means “to lift up” or “to cause the burnt sacrifice to ascend” to God. And you can picture in your minds the sweet-smelling smoke billowing upwards towards the heavens.
I’ll give you just one very significant illustration of this. It comes from the eighth chapter of the book of Genesis, where we find Noah finally exiting the ark after the waters of the flood had abated. The very first thing Noah does is to build an altar. And the Scripture says that Noah took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered (anaphero-d) burnt offerings on the altar. Then, as the smoke ascended, it says that the Lord smelled the soothing aroma; the sacrifice pleased Him, and, consequently, God made a new covenant with the earth: He said, “Never again will I curse the ground for man’s sake, although the thoughts of man’s heart are evil from his youth.” By the soothing smell of the sacrifice, God’s wrath was turned away. He was propitiated as the result of offering up, the ascension in the form of the smoke, of the burnt sacrifices into His presence.
Now you can see from this example that there are two facets of a burnt sacrifice. There is the slaying of the victim, and then there is the presentation of the victim to God through the ascending smoke. And in that dual action—the slaying and then the presentation—God is propitiated; His wrath is turned away.
You see, on Good Friday Christ was slain to become the one perfect sacrifice for our sins. But it was on Ascension that He was lifted up (anaphero-d) into heaven to present Himself to His Father as that slain victim. St. John says that, in his visions of heaven, he turned and saw, standing on the throne of heaven, the lamb as it had been slain—Christ our Passover Lamb who stands eternally before the Father, pleading our cause, and as the one who covers our sins with His blood. Christ fulfills the dual action of the offering of a burnt sacrifice: He is slain upon the altar of the cross, and then He is carried up—anaphero— to present Himself, to present His one sacrifice, to the Father on our behalf. And, you see, it’s on that basis—on the basis of that two-fold act of offering himself—that we now say that Christ is the propitiation of our sins. That’s what John writes, and that what we hear every time we celebrate the Holy Communion. He is the propitiation of our sins. He perpetually and eternally turns away wrath of God, because, you see, He has become the ascended sacrifice.
St. Paul says that Christ loved us and gave himself for us “to be an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling aroma.” Christ has become our whole burnt offering, and He has caused His sacrifice to rise up to God by ascending into heaven to stand before God as the Lamb who having been slain.
This is also a theme in the book of Hebrews. The author writes in chapter 8, “Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore, it is necessary that this One [Christ] also have something to offer” (Heb. 8:1-3). You see, He continues to offer the sacrifice of Himself. Not that He continues to die. But even in the wounds that He still bears, He eternally presents His sacrifice to the Father, on the basis of which the wrath of God is eternally turned away from us.
This is the meaning of Ascension, or at least one part of the meaning of Ascension. And this is why I say that the feast of the Ascension is the greatest of all Christian holy days. Without it, Good Friday isn’t good. Without it, Easter hasn’t been consummated, and Pentecost is yet an unfulfilled promise. So tonight really is the night. This is the great day of our salvation.
May the Lord bless us as we, in this very short season, meditate upon the eternal significance our Lord’s Ascension for the life and the hope of the world. +
Fifth Sunday after Easter/Rogation Sunday, 2021
Text: Ez. 34:25-31
The Very Rev. Jerry D. Kistler
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church
“The True Prosperity Gospel”
“I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing.”
So does God desire your prosperity? Does God want you to be healthy and wealthy, happy and whole? Are the blessings God desires to pour down upon you that you might look better, feel more confident about yourself, and reach your maximum potential?
The passage that I just read from—from Ezekiel 34, which we heard more fully as our Old Testament Lesson this morning—is a favorite of preachers of the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.” A generation ago we called it the “health and wealth” gospel, or “name it and claim it,” or even “blab it and grab it.” Basically, if you have faith enough, and if you’re obedient enough, God promises to bless you with miraculous and immediate health and wealth.
But by and large, gone are the days of televangelists in white suits with big silvery hair on gaudy rococo TV sets, thanks be to God! But a new form of prosperity preaching has taken its place. As one writer I read this week describes it: in contrast to the kind of hard prosperity preaching of the 1980s, it’s a softer, subtler version.
“Whereas hard prosperity preaching invites followers to name it and claim it,” he says, “soft prosperity preachers inspire the upwardly mobile to reach for their dreams. In the former, good health and a strong portfolio prove God’s tangible salvation; in the latter preachers proclaim a religion of therapeutic solutions” (David Schrock, “A Softer Prosperity Gospel: More Common than You Think,” 9marks.org).
In an ecclesiastical climate where once a person is “saved” that’s it, there’s really nothing more to the Christian life than waiting to go to heaven, or waiting for the “Rapture,” this softer, subtler form of prosperity preaching says there’s really nothing more for you to do than focus on getting God’s blessing on your life now—getting God’s blessing on your marriage and your family; getting God’s blessing on your business and on your golf game. By assuming salvation, the new prosperity gospel tries to fill the vacuum of purpose in the Christian life by leading us to focus on things like getting out of debt by applying good “Christian” financial planning techniques, getting into shape through “Christian” diet and exercise programs, and achieving your best self through “Christian” self-improvement therapies. And so, for example, Joel Osteen’s book is entitled, Your Best Life Now; Seven Steps to Living at Your Full Potential.
As Michael Horton has written, “It’s basically what the sixteenth century German monk turned church reformer Martin Luther called the ‘theology of glory’: How can I climb the ladder and attain the glory here and now that God has actually promised for us after a life of suffering?”
You see, the purveyors of prosperity love to proclaim—and claim—the very tangible promises of the Old Testament, the very tangible promise we find, for example, in 28th chapter of book of Deuteronomy.
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that…all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you…Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out” (vv. 1-6).
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? And the prosperity preachers appeal to such passages and say, “You see, if you just obey God, if you just keep His rules, if you just follow His principles for leading a successful life, you can have your best life now. You can have God’s blessing on every aspect of your life: you can prosper in your business; you can prosper in your church; your wife can prosper in producing a bunch of kids (if that’s really what you think prospering is!); you can have a happy, healthy family; you can get God’s blessing on your 401k and on your golf-game.
There’s just one problem: only one Man has ever obeyed God enough to merit all these blessings—and you are not He! Only Jesus Christ has every kept God’s commandments to the degree that God requires, that is perfectly, so as to receive all of the promises of God. Nobody before Him was ever able to do it; the Israelites failed miserably and never received the blessings of the covenant, but received the cursings instead. And you think you’re going to be able to keep God’s rules so well that He thinks you deserve His blessings?
Only Jesus, by His perfect obedience, was able to earn for us the blessings of God. And not only that, but by His cross He took away the curse from us that we actual deserve. As the author of the paper that I read this week—David Schrock is his name—said, “…prosperity preachers speak often about what you can do to experience God’s favor, but they rush past the cross, missing the fact that every spiritual gift has been secured for the believer by Jesus, who gives us his Spirit as the preeminent blessing.”
So I return to my original question: Does God desire your prosperity? Does God want you to be healthy and wealthy, happy and whole? Absolutely! God wants to give you blessings in Christ that you can’t even imagine. God wants to give you such blessings that are beyond what you can even desire at this point. Your desires are too weak in your mortal state to even want what He wants to give you. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him,” says St. Paul (1 Cor. 2:9).
But there’s a definite sequence of events that’s reflected in our reading as to how we get there, and when we get there. When God promises to make a covenant of peace with us—that’s the New Covenant of which Christ is the mediator—He promises to deal first with our enemies. “…they shall know that I am the Lord, when I have broken the bands of their yoke and delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them.” (Ez. 34:27b).
In the covenant of peace that God has established with us through His Son, what were our four great enemies that Christ defeated? You remember: sin, death, hell, and the devil. And you see it’s by His defeat of those enemies that Christ has earned for us all of the “showers of blessing” that come down upon us in their season. Health and wholeness—no more death, no more sorrow, or crying, or pain; not just the healing of this body, but the resurrection of our bodies. Wealth. There will be treasures in heaven, Jesus says, that do not fail, where thieves cannot break in and steal, and where moth and rust cannot destroy. Even prosperity in business. Jesus will say to those who served Him faithfully, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” And then there will be the food. The kingdom of heaven is described as an eternal banquet, where no dieting is ever required. But the greatest blessing of all will be God Himself—His permanent and unveiled presence with us for all eternity.
All of these blessings come to us through Christ’s defeat of our enemies. But they do come to us “in their season.”
Do you remember the story of the paralytic man whom his friends lowered down through the roof because they were desperate to bring him to Jesus? What did they want for their friend? They wanted a healing. They wanted him to be able to walk again. They wanted his restoration now. But Jesus didn’t quite oblige them. Jesus didn’t just deal with the symptoms; He went right to the heart of the problem: He forgave the man his sins. He delayed the man’s healing in order cure him of his real problem. And, you see, just as it was for the paralytic, so it is for us. There’s a delay between Christ’s defeat of our enemies and our receiving of the fullness of the blessings God has actually promised to us in the Gospel. That delay is what we call the theology of the cross. That delay is what we call walking with Jesus now in his humility and suffering so that we might one day walk with Him in glory.
You see, the theology of the cross precedes the theology of glory. We will be glorified together with Him, says Paul, “if indeed we suffer with Him (Rom. 8:17). “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me,” say our Lord (Mk. 8:34). “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mt. 19:29). We live now in that delay time.
But in that delay, which we call the theology of the cross, Christ has showered us with one amazing blessing that gives us hope that we will one day receive in full Technicolor reality all of the promises of God. That blessing from heaven which has been poured down upon us now is the Holy Spirit. And it’s amazing what the Scriptures say about how the Holy Spirit functions in relation to the promises of God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “For all the promises of God in [Christ] are Yes, and Him Amen…who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 1:20, 22). The Holy Spirit is the guarantee. The word means a deposit or a down payment that is part of the total and is a warrantee or a surety that it will be paid in full. So again Paul says in Ephesians, having believed in Christ “you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:14).
The possession has been purchased. All of the blessings of God have been bought for us by Christ’s obedient life and death. And now in this delay time, as we bear His cross, we live in hope by the Spirit of God who lives within us that all of those showers of blessing that have been promised to us in the gospel will be poured out upon us in full in their right season, in the season that God has appointed for them to be poured out.
You see, in the end the so-called Prosperity Gospel isn’t enough of a prosperity gospel. In merely promising you your best life now, it doesn’t promise you enough. The true gospel promises so much more. It promises you Christ. And in Him it promises you the cross—it promises you suffering in this life. But in Him also it promises you glory beyond your imagination in its time.
All the promise of God in Christ are Yes and Amen…in their time.+
Fourth Sunday after Easter, 2021
Text: Job 19:21-27a
The Very Rev. Jerry D. Kistler
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church
Resurrection: The Christian’s Great Hope
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.
What is your greatest hope as a Christian? What are you looking to as the ultimate fulfillment of your salvation?
It’s Eastertide, and in this bright, jubilant season we rejoice in the glory or our Lord’s bodily resurrection from the tomb. The tomb is still empty, and we rejoice. But we don’t rejoice in the Lord’s resurrection as merely a past event—something that truly happened, but is now disconnected from us by 2000 years. No, the Scriptures teach us that if Christ was raised bodily from the tomb, so will we, who believe in Him be raised bodily from our tombs at the last great day. This was a central element in the apostolic preaching of the gospel. It is an article of our creed. And it is this very doctrine—the belief in the resurrection of the body—that is to be the Christian’s great hope. It’s what we ought to be looking ahead to and longing for, along with the new heavens and the new earth—the total redemption of creation—as the zenith of our salvation: that which Christ purposed all along to accomplish by His death, resurrection, and ascension.
But many Christians today don’t believe this any longer. If they don’t outright reject it, they’ve never been taught it, or they’ve been taught a kind of gnostic version of it.
I’ll never forget when I said in Bible study one evening that the ultimate goal of our salvation is not that we go to heaven, the eyebrows of a woman sitting there in the pews shot up in shocked disbelief at what I’d just said. She was visiting with us from a less than orthodox church here in town, and she had only ever been taught, or had only picked up from the popular Christian viewpoint out there, that when we die, that’s where we go: to heaven. Nothing more beyond that. That we live out our eternal lives as spirits in the spiritual kingdom of heaven with God and the angels and all the other spirits who have gone before us. No concept of a resurrection. It’s the popular viewpoint of just about every movie ever made about life after death. It will be a completely spiritual, that is, non-physical, existence.
Now many other Christians, if they do have a concept of the resurrection at the last day—meaning the resurrection of believers in Christ—think of it as a spiritual resurrection. In other words, that the bodies we will be raised with will be non-physical bodies. I remember again a conversation I had with someone in my own family who said that Jesus’ resurrection was unique in that it was a resurrection of His physical body. Our resurrection will be spiritual. In other words, our bodies, when they get buried in the earth, will stay there, and somehow, when Christ returns, God will give us new, non-physical, spiritual bodies, whatever those could possibly be.
This idea has become so popular in fact that when Anglican bishop and theologian N. T. Wright published a book back in 2008 called Surprised by Hope, in which he set forth the historic Christian hope of the resurrection of our bodies, ABC news—which should never be your go-to for orthodox Christian teaching—ran an interesting report on it. And they said that Wright’s idea that “God will literally remake our physical bodies” was a “radical departure from traditional belief.” What an extraordinary statement! As author Robin Philips wrote in response, “Though the Apostles’ Creed professes belief in ‘the resurrection of the body’, and though the Nicene Creed contains the statement, ‘We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’, this doctrine is now assumed to be not just a departure from traditional Christian belief, but a radical departure from it” (“Raised as Spiritual Body,” Christian World Journal, May 7, 2012).
Just as another example of this idea, biochemical researcher Brian Innes observed in his book Death and the Afterlife, “current orthodox Christianity no longer holds to the belief in physical resurrection, preferring the concept of the eternal existence of the soul, although some creeds still cling to the old ideas.”
I would say that “current orthodox Christianity” is another way of saying “old, heretical Christianity,” because this preference for “the eternal existence of the soul” verses the resurrection of the body seeps into Christianity from Plato and pagan Greek philosophy, not from the Holy Scriptures or the belief of the Church for 2000 years.
Remember, the Platonic view of the universe was essentially dualistic, in which the spiritual is good and the physical is evil. Salvation for the Greeks, and especially for the later Gnostics was about escaping the body, escaping our connection with this evil physical world, and becoming pure, disembodied spirits. We’re still dealing with this stuff.
But this is the complete opposite of Hebrew, Biblical Christianity. We forget sometimes that Christianity is a Hebrew religion, not a Greek religion. Or, over two-thousand years, so much of the Church has remade Christianity into a Greek religion. I like to say we’ve “Greek-ified” Christianity.
No. Who made the body? God. And God doesn’t make evil stuff. He didn’t make us spirits trapped in evil bodies. He made a union of spirit and body. He made us embodied spirits. And at the end of the day, He said that it was “very good.” He didn’t say it was the best He could do at the time; eventually He’d get rid of those nasty bodies. No, He declared that His creation of us a unity of the spiritual and the physical was very good.
And redemption is not the undoing of creation. Redemption is the perfection of creation. God’s purpose all along was to save us—to save our whole persons, spirit and body—from the ruinous effects of sin. You see, it’s because of sin that we die and our spirits are separated from our bodies. Sin is the cause of that separation, not God. Death is the wages of sin, Paul says. And death is the unnatural—the anti-creational—separation of the body and the spirit, such that our bodies are reclaimed by the ground from which they were made—“earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
What happens to our spirits? Well, the Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that for those of us who have been joined to Christ “to be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord.” That means that our spirits do go to heaven when we die. But Paul describes this not as our final state, but as a kind of intermediate state. As a matter of fact, he describes it as the time that our spirits will be naked—unclothed from our bodies.
Now, some of you here today might think it sounds like a great thing to be frolicking around naked for all eternity, but most of us think that sounds like a pretty strange idea—including the Apostle Paul. He says—and his language is very picturesque; you have to understand what he’s saying—he says, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent is destroyed”—what is he talking about? He’s talking about the death of our bodies— “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” He’s talking about our resurrection bodies. “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.” Notice, he’s saying that our desire in not that our spirits would be unclothed—naked—but to clothed with a new body that is given to us from God. “For we who are in this tent [this body] groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.”
You see, the hope of the Christian isn’t that when we die we just go to heaven, and that’s it. That would be to live in a state of spiritual nakedness forever. It’s that this mortal body would instantly transformed into an immortal body, like Christ’s own resurrected body. Essentially what Paul is saying is that we all wish we’d never have to die at all, and that we could move right from this mortal life, with our mortal bodies, into the immortal life, with our resurrected bodies. Isn’t that what we’d all like, for ourselves and for our loved ones? Unfortunately, except for those lucky ones who are alive at the coming of the Lord, we will not get to experience that instant translation from mortality to immortality, but we will die, and our spirits will go to be with the Lord, and our bodies will be committed to the ground. But here’s what we say in the Prayer Book. Our bodies will be committed to the ground,
“…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”
The Prayer Book is not making this stuff up; it’s just quoting from the Scriptures—two passages: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Philippians 3:20-21. The first says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” The second says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”
We’re not looking for the immortality of the soul; we’re looking for the resurrection of the body, and its reunion with the soul—the further clothing of the soul—for all eternity.
Jesus Christ is spoken of in the Scriptures as “the firstfruits” of the resurrection. That’s what we’re celebrating here in Eastertide—that Jesus was raised physically from the grave. “He is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” We are not celebrating merely that Christ’s spirit went to heaven. So here’s the question: do you suppose there’s only going to be one Person in heaven who has body—Jesus Christ—and the rest of us will just be disembodied phantoms? No! Firstfruits implies later fruits, —the resurrection of all those who are Christ’s at His coming. That’s what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15:
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (vv. 20-23).
The problem comes when Paul speaks of the kind of body our resurrected bodies will be. In 1 Corinthians 15:44 he speaks of two sorts of bodies: the one we have now, and the one we’ll have in the future. The one he calls a “natural body”—Greek psuchikos—and the other he calls a “spiritual body”—Greek pneumatikos. Now I think N.T. Wright is really helpful here, although not simple. So rouse yourself from drowsiness, and put on your thinking caps. Actually, it’s really not that hard. He says, “Unfortunately, many translations get [Paul] radically wrong at this point, leading to the widespread supposition that for Paul the new body would be a spiritual body in the sense of a nonmaterial body, a body that in Jesus’s case wouldn’t have left an empty tomb behind it....”
He says the really important point is to recognize that
“Greek adjectives ending in –ikos, describe not the material out of which things are made but the power or energy that animates them. It is the different between asking, on the one hand, ‘Is this a wooden ship or an iron ship?’ (the material from which it is made) and asking, on the other, ‘Is this a steamship or a sailing ship?’ (the energy that powers it). Paul is talking about the present body, which is animated by the normal human psyché (the life force we all possess here and now, which gets us through the present life but is ultimately powerless against illness, injury, decay, and death), and the future body, which is animated by God’s pneuma [His Spirit], God’s breath of new life, the energizing power of God’s new creation.”
Do you get the point? When Paul says we will have a “spiritual body” he is not talking about what it will be made of—spiritual, non-physical stuff—but about the power which gives it life—the Holy Spirit of God.
We’re looking for the resurrection of our bodies as our greatest hope, as that, which along with the new heavens and the new earth, will bring our redemption to its ultimate consummation. Don’t hope for less, folks. Don’t long for something less than God would give you. He intends to redeem your whole person, not just a part of you. And He has given you His Spirit as the guarantee that He will in fact do it. This is our Easter hope.
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God. +