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Ascension Day—Sunday, May 17, 2015. Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” Psalm 47:8

On occasion I like to try and get away for a personal retreat at Mount Savior Monastery in Pine City, New York. Nestled away in the hills the brothers of Mount Savior follow the Benedictine rule of prayer and work. One of the things that has struck me in my time with the brothers is the monastic virtue of obedience, especially as it is related to the abbot. As superior of the monastery all of the other monks subject themselves in obedience to this man who stands in the place of Christ, as St. Benedict said, and obey him “as if the order came from God himself.”

Likewise, two weeks ago when I was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Colin he asked myself and my fellow ordinands: “Will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?” To which we all made our vow in the affirmative.

I want to preach this morning on the good of obedience and how the gift and virtue of Christlike obedience might serve to make us one and thus enable us to faithfully bear the gospel into the world. There is a classic text on this from the early 20th century called Christ the Ideal of the Monk.[1] In it the author describes this virtue of obedience, or mutual subjection, in terms of becoming like Christ. The monk is to follow in the footsteps of Christ himself whose “whole existence is summed up in love for the Father.” And what form does Christ’s love of the Father take? “The form of subjection [obedience]: Lo, I have come to do your will.”

The monk is obedient because Christ is obedient. Remember, for example, how moments before he was arrested Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” And then immediately Jesus submits himself to those who have come to arrest him and a little bit later to Pilate and to the religious leaders who would have him killed. Jesus’ love for and obedience to the Father took the form of submission to and obedience to others, deeply trusting the Father, even unto death.

For the monk, it is this exercise of mutual subjection that joins him to Christ in this way. Here then is the point—obedient submission is a figure of Christ. It reveals the gospel in some way.

Today we celebrate the ascension of the risen Jesus. Moments ago we heard the very last words of Luke’s account of the gospel: “Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” This is curious, is it not? Why must Christ ascend? Was the resurrection not enough? Well, we get a glimpse of the answer in Ephesians. God the Father, writes Paul, “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

The ascension reminds us that the heart of the gospel is not simply that—contrary to all reasonable expectations—Jesus came back to life after being dead for a few days. But that in doing so he defeated that last great enemy, death, and thus God the Father raised him up, seated him at his right hand, and placed all things under his authority. Paul uses no uncertain terms here: “He has put all things in submission under his feet.” Jesus is Lord over all things. This is not just a personal opinion, for Paul this corresponds to the reality of what God has done in Christ Jesus—the gospel.

The gospel is the truest thing in the world and the sole reason for the Church’s existence is to proclaim and embody this gospel—that God, to use Paul’s language, has adopted us into His family making us sons and daughters, inheritors with all the saints of his glorious riches. That God has given us His very life. And that all of this has happened in Jesus Christ who was obedient to the Father’s will and has now been raised up to have dominion over all things.

Thus, Christianity begins not with what we must do but with what God has done in His Son Jesus Christ. Christianity is the religion of grace. Rejoice! Be glad! This is what the word gospel means, after all—joyful news; glad tidings. This is why the disciples upon witnessing the ascension of their friend and Lord, Jesus, are filled with great joy (Luke 24:52). Hear again the words of the Psalmist: “Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth,” (Psalm 47:1-2).

“And [God the Father] has put all things in submission under [Jesus’] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Jesus has authority over the whole world, yet this authority and rule begins in the Church from whence he is working to draw all people to himself. That is why the centre of Paul’s prayer for the church is that we will come to realize that the immeasurably great power of God which raised Jesus from the dead is available to us who believe and is in fact at work in us (Ephesians 2:17-19). How different would our life at St. Cuthbert’s be if we daily sought to walk and pray in this power? Where do you see this power at work already? Where might we see it moving forward?

The Church, then, is a community of folks, dampened by the waters of baptism, who are learning what it means to say that Jesus is Lord. We are a people who are living into the kingdom of God. And this life, our common life, has a shape to it.

Let us return now to the monastic virtue of obedience. The monk is obedient to the abbot because Christ lived a life of obedient submission himself and because the abbot is as Christ to the monk. In light of our salvation then, Paul argues that our life of obedient mutual submission is precisely how we faithfully embody the gospel in a broken and divided world. Being the church isn’t about being nicer people, it isn’t even about making the world a better place, it is about becoming like Christ by living lives of obedient submission as he did. As Paul writes towards the end of this same letter: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (5:21). We obey Christ, and are made like Christ, as we submit to one another. So then, our common life of obedient submission, one to another, is a figure of the gospel itself—it reveals something of Christ himself and the way in which God has given Himself to us in Christ. Oh that we daily would open our lives up to his reordering, and there find joy, hope, and true freedom.

But this is a hard thing and if you’re anything like me you don’t like the sound of this. Is this really what we’ve gotten ourselves into? Does my love for Christ really demand that I subject myself to you? Indeed, this is the shape of Christian duty, because as I have said in a few different ways already, mutual subjection offers us the means of our conformance to Christ. A conformance that is given especially when we suffer the burdens of these relations unjustly. Jesus suffered patiently and our submission one to another provides fertile ground for us to suffer patiently as well and in-so-doing to be conformed to Christ by joyfully sharing in his suffering. For faith discovers Christ hidden beneath the imperfections and weaknesses of the human creature, to whom we offer ourselves in self-giving love.

This is why division in the church is so tragic, because our refusal to humbly, gently, and patiently bear with one another in love, distorts the unity of the gospel—“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all,” (Eph 4:1-6). Division obscures the truth of the gospel itself.

And so this is our challenge and, I believe, our hope here on Ascension Day. That the world has forever changed in Christ Jesus—all things have been subject to him, and he rules over all. So then, “Sleeper, awake!” writes Paul. “Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you,” (Ephesians 5:14). And again elsewhere he writes, “When [Jesus] ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people,” (Ephesians 4:7-8). Wake up! Christ is risen—he lives! Christ is ascended to the right hand of the Father—he rules over all! May the light of Christ shine upon us, may the Spirit of God awaken us to this new reality, and may we live into the kingdom of God as we submit one to another, that we may be one. For he has given us grace to do so. Come, and let us together find true freedom in submission to Christ Jesus who is head over all things for the church, and who blesses us and sends us out for the good of the world. Amen.

[1] For a more in-depth engagement with this work by Dom Columba Marmion see the chapter titled ‘Bad Bishops’ in Ephraim Radner’s, Hope Among the Fragments.

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This sermon was preach at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood.

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A Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter (Year C)

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

John 10.19-30

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand,” (10.27-28).

I speak to you in the name of the Living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

As most of you surely know a few weeks ago we began our journey through the scriptures together as a church. We’ve committed to the task of daily reading the Bible and then coming together on Thursday evenings to prayerfully discuss what we have read that week. These evenings have already been quite fruitful! We have begun by reading through the gospels with a keen eye on the question, “Who is Jesus?” Indeed, in addition to reading the gospels we are watching parts of a DVD series that deals with the different ways in which Jesus is and has been presented and understood.

In our gospel reading today this same sort of question is up in the air: “Who is Jesus?” Is he the Messiah? If so, why does he not just make it plain. Jesus’ response is somewhat cryptic: I have told you and you have seen the works that I have done which testify to who I am, but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. It is as if Jesus says, “My teaching is easily understood in itself, and it is you who are to blame, because you malignantly resist God,” (Calvin). Immediately prior to our gospel reading we see that the Jews are divided over Jesus (yet again), over his words and his works. Some say that he is possessed by a demon, either that or out of his mind! Others respond to Jesus differently: He is not demon possessed. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind (Jesus had just healed a blind man)?

Can you discern the voice of the shepherd? How might you do so? “My sheep hear my voice.” Jesus’ use of the word is in the plural: “My sheep”, that is my flock, “hear my voice”. It is important that we gather together like this, because when Jesus, the Good Shepherd, speaks he speaks to his people. The gospel is personal, it confronts each and every one of us; but it is never private, it confronts each and every one of us. As the Church we exist because of what God has done in Jesus, and what God has done in Jesus we exist to proclaim. We gather, week in and week out, to hear this proclamation in Word and Sacrament. Yet, it is not adherence to the Church that this proclamation demands but adherence to the living Jesus himself as known and confessed and proclaimed by the Church, the whole Church today and throughout time. See, this is the nature of Christian faith. It is apostolic, that is to say, it is passed on. We receive it as a gift and we likewise pass it on to others. And this is done according to the scriptures. This is to say that we can’t simply figure any of this out on our own. Left to our own devices we may have any number of answers to the question, “Who is Jesus?” But we’re not left to our own devices. The Good Shepherd enters into the sheepfold and gathers his sheep together when he calls them by name. This community of sheep, that’s us, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and receive the faith that has been passed on from the apostles as apparent in the scriptures.

This Jesus whom we know and confess and proclaim, we know and confess and proclaim because he knows us: “I know them,” says Jesus (10.27). “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,” (10.14b-15a). Indeed, that we may know God, we must first be known by Him,” (Calvin). To be sure, no one is entirely unknown by God, but to be known in this way is to become part of his family. Therefore, when Christ says, “I know mine,” he means, “I will receive them and give them a permanent mystical relationship with myself,” (Cyril of Alexandria). It might be said that inasmuch as he has become man, Jesus has made all human beings his relatives, since all are members of the same race. We are all united to Christ in a mystical relationship because of his incarnation (Cyril). As Gregory of Nyssa put it, “For the one lamb that you took up is the entire human race, which you raised on your shoulders.” By virtue of Christ’s taking on human flesh, our entire humanity, every last bit of it, is taken up into and represented by Christ’s own humanity. This is not simply a proclamation of something done to us, as if we were inactive and possibly unwilling participants. It is a proclamation of something that God wants to do in us and as such it beckons a response from us upon hearing his voice.

What then should our response to such a confrontation be? Submission to and faith in the one whose proclamation it is, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. An openness to the voice that proclaims repentance and forgiveness of sins. As we open ourselves first and foremost to be confronted by the living Jesus through the words of scripture may we learn from the scriptures and from our brothers and sisters in Christ, how we might think and speak and act as those who are indeed confronted by Him. That is to say, we are gathered together to be confronted by Jesus in the scriptures, so that, looking back into the scriptures with the risen Jesus in view we learn from these scriptures and from submission to one another how to be the sort of folks who, when confronted by Jesus, can hear his voice and obediently follow him. Simply put, this means that we just do not know how to read or hear the scriptures by ourselves, let alone how to follow this Jesus. We learn these things as we submit to one another and together submit to the proclamation of the gospel that has been entrusted to the church. This is why as we read the scriptures for ourselves, as part of our parish wide bible study, we come together in order that we might discern the risen and living Jesus in the scriptures and in our midst. We need one another to discern and hear the voice of the Shepherd.

The passage of John prior to our gospel reading today deals more specifically with the character and nature of this Good Shepherd, though these themes are drawn out in our passage as well. I have already mentioned the fact that the shepherd enters the sheepfold and gathers together his sheep by his voice, by speaking their name. John says this of the Good Shepherd: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice,” (10.3b-4). Upon gathering his sheep together the Good Shepherd, that is Jesus, leads them on out of the sheepfold and they follow him. This is by no means a safe journey, but the Good Shepherd leads us: “In this world [Christ’s flock] are, so to speak, in the middle of a forest among innumerable robbers; and what is more, are not only unarmed and exposed as prey, but know that the cause of death lies within themselves, so that they can only walk safely when relying on the protection of God. In short, our salvation is certain because it is in the hand of God. Our faith is weak, and we are given to wavering; but God has taken us in His hand and is powerful enough to scatter with a breath all the efforts of our enemies,” (Calvin).

Where does he lead his sheep? Hear the words of the 23rd Psalm which we sang together this morning: “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul…I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” That is to say, in an exodus of sorts, he leads his sheep from death to life: “And who has gone before the sheep to the place where they are to follow him but he who rising from the dead, dies no more,” (Augustine). The Good Shepherd who leads his sheep himself appears as a sheep, namely, as the Lamb robed in white, the Lamb upon the throne, the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb in whose blood we are most thoroughly washed and made new. And he won’t simply rest with delivering the present sheep from danger, he is going to enlarge the flock considerably by bringing in a whole lot of very different sheep (Gentiles, presumably most of us are included in that bunch). God’s call to Israel is for the sake of the whole world. The “other sheep” are that great company, from every nation under heaven, that God intends to save and to save through Jesus (Rev 7.9ff). And to his sheep the Shepherd gives life, his very own life, the life which he shares with the Father, thereby showing that he is life. What is this life? S. Augustine calls it, “faith that works by love.” The life which Jesus Christ the Living God, the Good Shepherd, gives to his sheep is a life of love for others that is propelled by faith because it is the very life of Jesus, who lovingly and willingly lays down his life for his sheep (10.11) because they are his own (10.14).

And these sheep will never perish: “No one will snatch them out of my hand,” (10.28b). I remember when Charlotte was first learning to walk. Unbalanced and clumsy as she was, she gripped on to my hand as tightly as she could and would not let go. Little did she know, that while she thought she was gripping onto me, I was the whole time holding on to her. Her grasp was contained within my grasp of her. In a similar fashion, whatever sort of faith we have in Christ Jesus, whatever sort of grasp we have on him as desperate or as imperfect or as anxiety riddled as it may be, as we hear his voice and follow him we are most assuredly within his hand, and because Jesus and the Father are one, that is, united in divine love, the power of the living God sustains us and keeps us.

Let us pray along with Gregory of Nyssa: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, “Show me then the place of pasture, make known to me the waters of rest, lead me out to the good grass, call me by name that I, your sheep, may listen to your voice and may your call be the gift of eternal life.” Amen.

A sermon for the fourth Sunday of Easter

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Acts 4:5-12

 

“When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7).

 

Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Open my mouth, that I may proclaim your Word

Open our eyes and ears, that we may see and hear you

Open our hearts and minds, that we may joyfully receive you.

Amen.

 

How did you get here this morning? I do not mean did you walk or did you drive? I am not interested in what route you chose in order to avoid traffic or to get a coffee on the way. I mean, how did you end up here, at St. Matthew’s on a rather chilly Sunday morning in April? How did it come about that you are part of this particular community? Well, I would hazard a guess that most if not all of us are here because we have some sort of faith in the risen Jesus. But how did that happen? I’m sure that for every person here there is a unique answer to that question. Yet, what all of our stories likely have in common is that we ended up coming to the place where we express some sort of faith in the risen Christ in large part because of somebody else. This just seems to be how people generally come to faith in Christ. Typically, the gospel does not simply drop out of the sky into our laps. Rather, it comes to us through our neighbour. I remember when I was seventeen years old and was sent off to a Christian camp for the week. I was thrilled at the chance to spend a week away with friends. I was less thrilled to find out the day before that none of them were going anymore and less thrilled all the more when my parents forced me to go anyway. What could have been a terribly lonely week turned out to be life altering in large part due to a persistent camp counsellor and friend who towards the end of the week must have sensed what God was doing in my life and asked me if I would like to pray with him. To be sure, that moment when I glimpsed what God had done for me in Christ Jesus and surrendered to him, was an act of God. Yet, it was an act of God that required my saying yes to a neighbour whom God chose to use in the power of the Holy Spirit. The point is this, God has bestowed upon the Christian community the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the power of the risen Jesus Christ, so that we can participate in God’s redeeming work in and for the world.

Our reading from the fourth chapter of Acts began with the words: “The next day…” (4:5), which of course begs the important question, “What happened yesterday?” Well, yesterday a crippled beggar was healed. Peter and John were on their way up to the temple as was their daily practice when said crippled beggar, whom Luke makes sure to tell us was lame from birth and had to be carried to the place where he would beg, asked Peter and John for alms. To cut to the chase, Peter has nothing to give the man besides everything: “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk,” says Peter. Not only did the man stand up and walk, but he entered the temple with them leaping about and praising God (3:8). Of course, this all drew the attention of the crowds, the man was lame from birth, after all. All sorts of people gathered around, amazed and filled with wonder (3:9-10), they were “utterly astonished” (3:11) says Luke. Peter turns to the crowd and asks, “Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” (3:12). Peter is clear, this man was not healed because of them. Rather, it is by faith in the name of Jesus that this man is healed. The Jesus who was dead but is now alive, that is. Luke then notes that as Peter and John were saying all of this to the crowd the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them and they were, to quote Luke, “much annoyed” (4:2). Peter and John are arrested by these religious leaders and thrown in prison for the night and thus we arrive at the beginning of this mornings reading.

The next day the leaders reassemble and with Peter and John standing in their midst they inquire, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (4:7). Indeed, “power” is an important theme for Luke in both of his books. The birth of Jesus comes about by the power of the Most High (Lk 1:35). Jesus’ ministry begins in the power of the Spirit (Lk 4:14). This same power is characteristic of Jesus’ ministry as he casts out unclean spirits (Lk 4:36), heals the sick (Lk 5:17), and enters Jerusalem on the way to the cross (Lk 19:37). Further, this power is characteristic of Christ’s return and the redemption of the world (Lk 21:26-27). Yes, this power is characteristic of Jesus’ own person (Lk 22:69) which cannot be separated from his work. Luke tells us that people wanted simply to touch Jesus, for power would on occasion come out from him and heal all those who touched him (Lk 6:19; 8:46). Luke continues on to tell us that Jesus gives this very same power and authority to his disciples (Lk 9:1), “and then he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal,” (Lk 9:2). Included in this power bestowed upon the disciples by Jesus is authority over “all the power of the enemy,” (Lk 10:19). Luke finally ends his gospel with Jesus telling the disciples that they are his witnesses and that when the Holy Spirit comes upon them they will be “clothed with power from on high,” (Lk 24:48-49). And here’s the point, that in Acts the very same power that was characteristic of Jesus in Luke’s gospel account becomes characteristic of the Christian community in order that “you will be my witnesses,” (3:12; 4:33; 6:8; 19:11).

So then, when the leaders drag Peter and John before them and demand an answer to the question, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Peter’s answer can not possibly be, “By our own power, of course!” Remember, the day before Peter had already denied this possibility when the crowds were amazed as if it were they who had healed the crippled man. Two things in particular strike me about Peter’s response to the religious leaders. First, Luke makes sure to tell us that Peter’s answer was possible only because he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (4:8). Second, Peter’s answer is premised on, or rather his answer is the reality that Jesus is not dead but is, in fact, risen, living, and reigning. To be sure, these two things are intimately connected (the risen and ascended Christ and the infilling of the Holy Spirit). In John’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you,” (16:7). And again, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…and he will declare to you the things that are to come,” (16:13). In our reading this morning from the epistle of John we read that the good shepherd who laid his life down for his sheep, “abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us,” (3:24). In other words, where the Spirit is there the risen Christ is also. Thus, Peter responds to his interrogators saying, “this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” (4:10). The phrase “the name of Jesus Christ” is Luke’s expression for the presence of Christ. Indeed it was Christ who healed the crippled man, and Christ is present with his community because, as Peter says, this Jesus Christ is the one “whom you crucified, [but] whom God raised from the dead,” (4:10). The leaders whom Peter addresses are the builders who rejected the stone which has now become the cornerstone, the one who by virtue of his death and resurrection we see all things in their proper light and whose presence with us by his Spirit enables us to be the sort of community which bears witness to this risen, living, and reigning Lord. The point not to be missed here is that it was the alive-and-well Jesus who healed the crippled man. Yet, Peter and John had a role to play in it all. Someone had to utter the words. Someone had to reach out their hand to the man and raise him up (3:7). The thrilling bit of it all is that you and I together are invited to actually do something. However, this something which we do is not something we could do by our own power or ability. Rather, the something which we do is to participate in what the risen Christ is currently doing. Just like Peter and John then, we today are invited to participate in the ongoing ministry of the risen Jesus Christ of Nazareth which he accomplishes in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We must on the one hand affirm that Jesus is not only risen and living but has ascended to the right hand of God the Father where he has authority over all things. And then, on the other hand, we must affirm that this very same exalted Christ is present with his community on earth and sustains them by his Spirit. Indeed, it is the very exalted Christ in whom, as Luke will later write, “we live and move and have our being,” (17:28). In fact, Jesus Christ is so present and so identifies himself with his community that to reject and persecute the church is to reject and persecute Jesus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Jesus asks (9:4). Through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus is present to his community and Jesus’ ministry continues on in his servants, but it is his ministry. And this ministry is nothing less than the redemption and reconciliation of all things to God. As Peter says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved,” (4:12). The Venerable Bede commenting on this verse says, “For there is no redemption of human captivity [to sinfulness] except in the blood of him who gave himself as a redemption for all.” Christ’s saving work in and for the world finds it’s locus in the community of the Spirit of truth, where real human beings are reconciled one to another as they are reconciled to God in Christ. This is why, for example, to hold onto bitterness and unforgiveness is not only to reject one’s brother or sister but it is to reject Jesus himself and the power of the Holy Spirit which he has given us.

Elsewhere in the New Testament the Holy Spirit is spoken of as a pledge or a downpayment, a first-fruit. The gift of the Spirit to believers is a foretaste of the reality that is to come for the whole wide world. This gift empowers people and forms a community of truth which bear in their own life together God’s saving work in and for the world. Because Christ is present with us by the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the risen Christ is given to the community which the Spirit forms so that this community can point away from themselves and towards the risen and reigning Jesus. The healing of the crippled man in the name of Jesus of Nazareth is evidence of this. Notice how Luke passes from the particular to the more general, from the healing of a crippled beggar to the healing of the world. This miraculous sign of healing is meant to direct our attention towards the ultimate act of healing which God accomplished in Christ Jesus. In the same sort of way any acts of healing that occur in the community of St. Matthew’s Riverdale, be they the healing of some physical illness or the reconciliation and healing of a once broken relationship, are signposts that point to the reality of what God has done in Christ and the fact that this work of God in Christ has once-for-all changed the reality of the cosmos as we know it and is indeed bursting through into our present experience of the world in such a way as to point onwards toward the culmination of all things in Christ. The healing of this man reveals Christ as the only Author of Life. Amid the various blessings of God we must take note of this, that He is the source of salvation. This one man’s physical cure is a picture of the salvation which is offered to all in Christ.

This is, of course, all a revelation of the pure grace of God. In Christ Jesus we see the fullness of God. Jesus is the unveiling, the revelation of who God really is. Thus, we cannot know God nor be saved from the powers of sin and death apart from what God has done in Christ. Because human creatures cannot ascend to heaven to attain God, says Calvin, “It is necessary that God should not only invite us to Himself but should reach out his hand and offer salvation to us so that we may enjoy it.” Peter says that this is what God has done in Christ, who came down to earth to bring salvation with him. And this very power, the power of the risen, living, and reigning Lord who has reconciled all things to God is bestowed upon the community of believers that they might participate in this ministry of reconciliation and in so doing bear witness to Christ Jesus in the midst of a watching world. Friends, may we see that this is indeed true of St. Matthew’s right here in Riverdale. Amen.