Feeding the Five Thousand

(Year B, Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 11, 2018; Gospel Reading from John 6:1-15)

“Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.  Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.”
– John 6:10-11 (ESV)

Giovanni Lanfranco, Miracle of the Bread and Fish (ca 1620-1623)

The miracle recorded in this Gospel reading is the only one aside from the Resurrection that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts.  This is notable, since the Apostle John in the rest of his Gospel seems almost to take great pains to not mention miracles worked by Jesus that are recounted in any of the other three canonical Gospel accounts.  In fact, the only other one that is written about outside of John (in Matthew and Mark) is Jesus walking on water.

Why is this?  A reader of John’s Gospel will note pretty quickly that it is very different in style from the other three Gospels.  Whereas Matthew and Luke start off with accounts of the nativity, and Mark jumps straight into Jesus’ ministry, John talks about the Incarnation, explicitly saying that Jesus “was with God and was God.”  Matthew, Mark, and Luke recount Jesus’ parables in an effort to communicate the hidden wisdom God intended to reveal to those whose eyes and ears and heart were opened; John’s Gospel contains seven “I am” statements, intended to get Jewish readers to recall the name of God told to Moses: “I AM THAT I AM.”  Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke are focused on Jesus’ actions and what he did and what he said, John is intent on what it means.

So why is it that John records this miracle when he leaves out most of the others?  In John’s Gospel, all miraculous works are signposts to reveal the hidden truth about who Jesus is as not just a prophet, but as the Word of God Himself.  In contrast, miracles in the other three Gospels reveal in general terms the authority and power given to Jesus to do wondrous things (again, the difference between “what happened” in the synoptics, and “what it means” in John).  For John to record a miracle meant that it had significance in revealing the Messianic character of Jesus.  In my thoughts, these may have been the miracles that John himself, when looking back on his time as Jesus’ disciple and then Apostle, was most impacted by in coming to his conclusions about and faith in Jesus as the Son of God.

The revelation of what the feeding of the five thousand means in terms of Jesus’ messianic character actually comes later in chapter 6, after the end of the reading.  One of the seven “I am” statements recorded in John is “I am the bread of life” and is said after the crowds who had been fed come looking for Jesus and asking – somewhat surprisingly – for a sign so that they would believe his teachings.  They seemed to think that receiving bread from a prophet was just something that disciples of a prophet were supposed to expect, citing their fathers’ receipt of manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4, 15).  Jesus reveals to them that he is something greater than manna – not the miraculous provision of food, but he himself is the true bread.

In all of the accounts of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the Gospel writers use language that make it clear that the multitude didn’t just get a subsistence portion – Matthew says “they were filled,” John says they ate “as much as they wanted.”  The miracles in John’s Gospel seem to serve the same purpose as the parables of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  Just as what was a meager portion was turned into an abundance, the man who was described as “meek and lowly of heart” is in reality the Word of God that sustains and gives life and meaning to the Creation.  Additionally, this miracle, I think, is a prefiguring of the Eucharistic feast.  As mentioned above, this miracle leads to a teaching moment where Jesus reveals that he is the Bread of Life.  The imperfect (meaning, incomplete, not fully realized) miracle of manna was made complete not by a bigger banquet of choice foods, but by the Bread of Life being given freely to any who believe in Him.

Aside from the theological import, this miracle shows us the depth of God’s care for His Creation.  In Matthew’s account, it says that Jesus had compassion on the multitude, and that was his motive for feeding them from the loaves and fishes.  The story of God’s actions on behalf of His people is steeped in accounts of His Providence (which itself is rooted in God’s quality of being Gracious).  This provision is presented in one of two basic ways – either by removing a need or an obstacle or by fulfilling a need, sometimes beyond what was needed in a way that forces the recipient to goggle and renders the recipient speechless at what has been given.  When either of these are accomplished by means that defy possibility, you have a miracle.

I encourage you to think about the multitude this week as you face your individual daily trials and obstacles and needs.  Think about what it would be like to be just one in a sea of people and starting to all get hungry.  Remember that even though they were in a remote, barren place, Jesus not only was able to feed them, he wanted to feed them.  This is the God we serve and love and worship: one who is not just powerful but is also loving and compassionate.

Grace and peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Take Up Your Cross

But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”  And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

– Mark 8:33-35 (ESV)

“21 New Martyrs of Libya”, Tony Rezk, 2015


What does it mean to “deny [yourself], take up your cross, and follow [Jesus]”?

On February 12, 2015, the world was first made aware of a great evil done by enemies of the Church.  Twenty-one men, twenty of whom were Coptic Christians, and one man who was a literal moment-of-death convert to the Faith, were tortured and beheaded by persecutors purporting to be the vanguard of an apocalyptic and anti-Christian state.  These men were in Libya doing construction work – 20 Egyptian Copts, and one non-believer from Chad.  They were kidnapped by masked men and were brought to a Libyan shoreline.  One by one they were asked if they were Christians, and then given the chance to renounce this claim, to instead follow a different religion, which they refused.  The strength of the Copts’ faith – to die as professed and confessing Christ-followers rather than live as turncoats – caused the 21st man to acclaim “their God is my God” when the enemy made the offer to him, and so die with those who were ethnically and philosophically different from him.  The icon of their martyrdom is in the bulletin this week, and I encourage you to take it home with you to remember the sacrifice of your brothers in the Faith.

This is a modern example of what Jesus means when he says that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and gospel’s will find it.”

I fervently pray that none of us is faced with torture and painful execution at the hands of enemies of the Cross.  It is my preference to die a Holy death without violence and fully and totally prepared in my faith.  However, I feel that it is very important that we understand and fully realize that it is exactly this that Jesus means when he requires his followers to “take up their cross.”  We must, whenever and however it is required, cling to the confession of our faith in Jesus as the bedrock of our very existence, so that in the day of trial, persecution, or even martyrdom we may boldly proclaim “Jesus is my Savior and my God.”

I will freely confess that this Gospel reading is one of the passages that has given me the most trouble in my faith.  Because I don’t want to “take up my cross.”  I don’t, at my core, want to suffer, want to face hardship, want to even be inconvenienced on account of my confession that Jesus is my Lord.  I think this is somewhat our nature as humans – we are very good at survival, so to willfully accept and pursue a course that is counter to that fills us with dread and reluctance.  Sure, there are thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies – but, being realistic, these are seen as outside the norm, and doesn’t it take a sort of special dedication (or mental derangement) to find pleasure in placing one in harm’s way?  The vast majority of humans seek to keep living instead of flirt with death.

This is what makes the faith of martyrs so intense – the martyr’s sacrifice is either undeniably holy or obscenely absurd, depending on who is looking at it.  To the one whose eyes and heart have been opened, the Spirit of God can be seen in the faith of someone who is not afraid to die for the witness of the Cross.  To the hopeless and adrift, someone who willingly rejects a path to survival is at best a morbid and deluded person to be pitied, and at worst a deranged person to be feared.

The word “martyr” comes from the Greek word “martys” which means “witness.”  A martyr bears the ultimate witness to their beliefs – and the history of the Church is filled with accounts of people who became believers as a result of the faith of the martyrs, just like the 21st man on that Libyan shore, who came to belief as his friends and colleagues were killed around him and as he himself faced painful death.  This man’s eyes and heart were opened.   We have every reason to believe, based on the witness and promises of scripture, that his faithful death was not in vain; that he has won a martyr’s crown with the 20 who were Christians for most if not all of their lives.

The Gospel is a message of two sacrifices: the first is the sacrifice of Jesus, which is the perfect propitiation for our sins, eliminating the need for any other sacrifices of flesh and blood; the second is the “living sacrifice” that St. Paul refers to in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans.  All disciples of Jesus are called to give themselves up to serve the Kingdom of Heaven and witness about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If this seems like a difficult calling, don’t feel you are alone – it very much is.  This is why the Church has an annual period of overtly sacrificial living embedded in the liturgical calendar.

Lent is a season of self-denial.  It is commonly seen as a season of preparation for the coming feast of Easter, when we celebrate the Resurrected Lamb of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is true that you cannot truly appreciate the joys of Easter without the somberness of Lent – just as we cannot truly appreciate the joys of the coming Kingdom without the hardships and sacrifices of this life.  Lent is a training ground in the midst of relative joys and pleasures, an opportunity to voluntarily give up luxury and take up discipline of our souls, minds, and bodies.  This way, when – not if – the world comes against us and we face hardship, persecution, or even martyrdom, we are prepared.

As our vicar noted last week, this is not a preparation based on our natural hardiness, or on our strength of will – that is stoicism and is devoid of hope and promise.  No, just as “success” in fasting is found in prayerful acknowledgment that our natural hardiness or our strength of will is insufficient to give any meaning to our self-denial, the preparation we undergo teaches us to call on Jesus in the midst of all hardships – whether it is temporary or terminal.

Not all of us will be called to be martyred in the flesh, and again I pray that we will all live holy lives and die holy deaths, fully prepared in our faith and untouched by violence.  For the remainder of my sermon, I will focus on the general calling of self-denial which does not require facing violence and death, which is what I expect most of us to face in our everyday lives.

While not all Christians are called to face imminent death for their beliefs, all Christians are called to give up passions, sinfulness, unfruitful desires, as well as pleasures that do not edify the soul, or are outright contrary to God’s stated will in Scripture.  This in and of itself can be a witness, especially when someone comes to Christ from a life that was devoid of this self-denial.  The person who enjoyed riches, and after coming to Christ donated practically all he had to a Gospel ministry bears witness that what used to be the most important thing to them is truly secondary to the message of Christ.  Similarly, the person who was mired in drugs and unsavory habits who, after coming to Christ, reaches out to minister to similarly afflicted people bears witness that the anchor around their neck that no one could remove has been lifted from the depths by the strength of the King of Glory.

I struggle with intemperance – with food, with drink, with entertainment, with nearly anything that could be called on its own enjoyable or innocently pleasing.  I am at my most un-Christlike when I feel that I haven’t gotten my “share” of something, which generally means if I’m not sick of it yet.  This has led to mental and physical struggles with health; dissatisfaction in the gifts that God has given me; friction with my wife, with friends, with roommates, nearly everyone who interrupts my ultimate aim of personal satisfaction.  Diets on their own work very temporarily; trying to strongarm my attitude to be more “content” fails after the first minor setback; resolving to be a better husband/friend/roommate/brother/son/coworker/etc only gets me so far as the next time whoever it is opposes me.

I have only found satisfaction in the denial that Jesus preaches.  It wasn’t until I took up Lenten observance that I saw the first glimmers of hope that whatever hole it is in me that food, strong drink, television, and video games couldn’t fill could be overcome, or stoppered up, or provided with something that would actually and completely satisfy rather than just frustrate my soul with its pale imitation of what was previously denied to it.  Because I am like Peter – I place more emphasis on the things of man and therefore I miss the things of God.  I believe that I am getting better, but if so it isn’t because of anything that I do, but the Spirit which fills what my self-denial leaves behind.

I encourage all of you to use this Lent as a training ground.  Last week, our vicar alluded to “fasts” of things that Christians shouldn’t be doing to begin with; I want to expand on that and encourage you that if there are things in your life that meet that charge, Lent is the perfect time to start working against them.  Don’t put them off as a fast to be taken up again at the end of Lent, but certainly use the season of self-denial to begin to train yourself that the goodness of Our God is greater than whatever momentary pleasure or benefit you are confronted with.  Even if Easter comes and you still occasionally find yourself doing whatever it is that you identify as needing to permanently give up, the fact that the Spirit has illuminated the thing, and has moved you to better behavior is victory on its own.  With continued prayer and fasting, you will be delivered from the thing you struggle against.

I also ask for and encourage your prayers for our brothers and sisters around the world, who face persecution and martyrdom daily.  There are many organizations who spread their stories and work to provide at least some measure of material relief.  One that I personally have investigated and commend to you is Voice of the Martyrs.  In remembering the persecuted Church, remember also to pray for your own continued and increasing faith and trust in the Lord so that in the day of trial you would “endure to the end.”

Grace and peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Transfiguration

(Year B, Last Sunday of Epiphany [Transfiguration], February 11, 2018; Epistle reading 2 Peter 1:13-21)

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” – 2 Peter 1:16-18 (ESV)

Transfiguration of Jesus, Carl Bloch (1834-1890)

This Sunday is the day that the Church commemorates the event which fully revealed to the apostles the true nature of Jesus – that he is not “just” a man nor “only” divine.  The true nature, the true Glory of Jesus Christ, is that truth which orthodox Christians weekly pronounce in the recitation of the Nicene Creed – “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of One being with the Father.”  The Gospel reading today is from Mark’s account of the event, but in reading the lectionary for this Sunday, I felt more pull to focus on Peter’s first-hand account of the Transfiguration, and especially the emphasis he places on having been an eyewitness to this event, which is on par with the miracles of the Incarnation and the Resurrection themselves.

Why is it important that Peter makes a first-hand affirmation of the Transfiguration account in this letter?  In all three of the synoptic Gospel accounts, Peter is named along with James and John as being present at the Transfiguration.  If it had just been a feature of the Gospel narrative, absent any personal confirmation, the critics of the Gospel account could point to this as myth-making, as many false teachers apparently were in the first century, and many skeptical “Christians” continue to do today.  But Peter affirms without equivocation that the Transfiguration happened, that he and the others were physically present on the “holy mountain,” as Peter calls it.

Peter says that he, James, and John were witnesses to Jesus’ “majesty.”  We know from the Gospel accounts, and from other epistles, that Jesus’ everyday visage was not “majestic.”  Precious little is written about his physical appearance, but he is described as meek, lowly of heart, and having no place to lay his head.  His quality of majesty was one that was revealed on the mountain, meaning that it was not evident in the everyday conditions the disciples and apostles would have known Jesus.  From the Gospel accounts, we also know that this quality was hidden again after the Transfiguration, that the permanent appearance of His majesty was held off until after Jesus was raised from the dead (Mark 9:9).

The word “glory” is used in all of the Transfiguration accounts, and Peter uses it in the sense of God giving glory to Jesus.  In preparing this reflection, I did research to see if there are any other places where God gives glory to any human.  The closest I could find is in the Law where God promises that the people of Israel will have the highest fame, honor, and esteem of all the nations that he made (Deuteronomy 26:19).  So, for God to give glory to Jesus is extraordinary – God treated the patriarchs, prophets, and select kings as friends; but of all humanity, only Jesus was given “glory.”  Again, from the Gospel accounts, we know that this was a temporary revelation of an eternal glory, which would be fully and permanently revealed after the Resurrection.

The Transfiguration is chock-full of teachings on the nature of Jesus, the trinity, and the glorified life.  It would take little effort to write pages about any one of these topics.  However, what stands in my mind most while reflecting on the Transfiguration event itself, and Peter’s account of it in particular, is the parallel it has to Moses’ multiple interactions with God Almighty on holy mountains.  First, when the Angel of the Lord appeared out of the burning bush on Mount Horeb; then when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to hear the Law; when he stood on the rock as the Lord’s “glory passed by”; and finally when Moses went up on the mountain so that God could show him the Promised Land, after which time Moses died.  The Transfiguration has that feel to it – a momentous occasion showing the people of God through those chosen to witness to them the plans and promises God has for them.

But what most strikes me is that where Moses was told he could not see God’s glory and live (Exodus 33:20), Peter, James, and John all saw Jesus glorified and lived and bore witness to the event for many years after.  The promise that God would dwell with man, and that we would be able to witness His Glory without fear of death and destruction was given substance on the Holy Mountain when Christ’s visage, for a brief time, was transfigured to show the divine truth of His Being.

As we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, ask yourself how you approach the accounts of great works and miracles in the Bible.  Do you take them at their word, or do you internally gloss over them and tacitly dismiss them as “myth-making”?  As someone who has at times straddled the fence between the two stances, I encourage you to pray for deeper faith even in things that are hard to believe.  Meditate on what the Transfiguration accounts tell us about the person of Jesus, and the Good News that he sent Peter, James, and John – along with the other Apostles and disciples – out to share with all the world.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Fishers of Men

(Year B, 3rd Sunday of Epiphany, January 21, 2018; Gospel Reading from Mark 1:14-20)

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. – Mark 1:17-18 (ESV)


Jesus with Fishermen

What does it mean to be “fishers of men”?  This passage is typically used in sermons on evangelism, and the importance of preaching the Gospel to all nations.  There are two features of the reading that I want to focus on in this reflection:  first, using the occupation of being a fisher rather than, say, a carpenter (Jesus could have easily found craftsmen after his earthly father’s trade and called them to be “builders on the Foundation” or something similar); second, the immediacy and totality of the disciples’ answer to the call.

The Galilean seaside, where Jesus grew up, would have hosted many who claimed the occupation of fisherman.  To many today in an almost post-scarcity world, to be a fisherman is to be a sportsman, and the focus is on claiming the largest, the strongest, the best fighter of the denizens in the pond.  This is almost the exact opposite of what the fisherman who is a tradesman is after – rather than biggest, strongest, meanest, the tradesman is concerned with quantity above all else.  Because for the tradesman, this isn’t about bragging rights.  Who cares if I net the meanest fish in the pond if my net and the rest of the haul are ruined with its thrashing?  Who cares if I can boast in my prowess at landing a monster fish if there’s not enough for sale to fund my misadventure?

Here, I think, is one of the first clues why the Author chose fishers to be Jesus’ first disciples.  They would understand the logic and strategy of the divine mission.  Whereas a carpenter would be preoccupied with the quality of their work (not a bad goal in and of itself, but still potentially a stumbling block to pride), a fisherman would understand that the goal was not to net the best followers for Christ, but as many as possible – and God would concern Himself with their quality.

Another reason for the call of fishermen is that it is the fulfillment of prophecy.

In Jeremiah 16:15-21, the prophet relates the words of God to say that He will send fishers and hunters after His people, to catch them and hunt them from “every mountain, every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.”  There is good reason to believe that Jesus calling his first disciples from Galilean fishermen is a fulfillment of this prophecy.  Beyond the literality of Jeremiah foretelling divinely appointed fishers and Jesus literally calling fishers to be “fishers of men,” Jeremiah 16 foretells an in-gathering of wanderers (vv. 15-16); God demanding recompense for iniquity (vv. 17-18); and calling Gentiles (“the nations”) to acclaim the Lord (vv. 19-21).   Does this sound familiar?

To me, the choice of fishermen as the first disciples is an interesting detail, but the real message of the passage, the one that has immediate resonance with us, comes in their response – immediate and decisive.  There were no negotiations, no longer conversations, simply Jesus issuing his call, and the fishers leaving everything – home, livelihood, even family – to follow him, not knowing with any kind of certainty what would come of doing so.  This is the kind of obedience we are to have – immediate and decisive.  When given the choice between following the call of Jesus and anything else, the true disciple chooses the call of Jesus.

To be clear, where the cares of the world do not interfere with following that call, there is no charge to neglect or scorn them.  However, we must ever be on guard that we do not place those cares in a de-facto place of primacy, only following Jesus at the convenience of our situation.  This is why there is no contradiction in Paul exhorting the Church to obey those in authority and the Apostles disobeying the authoritative call to stop preaching in the Name of Jesus: the understanding is that insofar as the authority is in step with the Authority of God it is to be obeyed.  Yet when the authorities require what is alien or even abhorrent to God, the Christian chooses to be out of step with the earthly authority, in order to be in-step with the Authority in Heaven.

This week, pray for readiness and willingness to obey the call of Christ without question, trusting in His Goodness to be your rest, your certainty, and your peace.  Seek to be like first century fishers, more concerned about casting a wide net for Christ-followers, and not on landing the most desirable, most liked, most impressive.  As you pray for your obedience, and your personal evangelistic mission, pray also for world missions, that missionaries would be bolstered by the Spirit of God.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.

“And Such Were Some of You.”

This Reflection was preached as a homily on 14 January 2018.

(Year B, Second Sunday of Epiphany, January 14, 2018; Epistle Reading 1 Corinthians 6:9-20)

“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
– 1 Corinthians 6:9b-11 (ESV)

Paul of Tarsus

A litany of the things that will keep you out of the Kingdom may seem like a lectionary reading more suited to either Advent or Lent:  in Advent to highlight the nature and character of the final judgement, in Lent to highlight the penitential heart we must have as we approach the Great Feast of Easter.  Why is it here in our lectionary for the Second Sunday of Epiphany?  Why am I preaching on it instead of either Samuel or Nathanael being called to God’s service, or instead of the revelations in store for those that choose to follow Jesus?  Why am I focusing today on Paul’s rebuke of misbehaving churchmen and women in Corinth?

The season after Epiphany is characterized in the lectionary by stories of, chiefly, the apostles “getting it” about who Jesus is – from Nathanael proclaiming Jesus as Son of God, to Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the Christ (remembered in the Church Calendar this coming Thursday), the nature of the season is that of having a “lightbulb” moment.  So again, why am I focusing on a litany of sins, and one that explicitly includes an item which makes the world hiss and spit and rage at us for our “intolerance”?

Like many of you probably do, I have friends and acquaintances that deal with same-sex attraction, and have chosen to either let it define their lives and identities or have chosen to let God do that instead and despite what their flesh desires.  I have friends that feel that Paul is saying here that God doesn’t love them because he enumerates their sin in these verses.  And I confess that when my primary concern was a misguided stab at flawed apologetics, I found all manner of ways to try and soften what Paul says here to be more appealing to these friends.  None of the arguments held up, and I am thankful to say now that the truth of the Scriptural witness is firm in my heart.

Here is our Epiphany moment – “And such were some of you.”  While verses 9-10 list all the people that will not be able to enter the Kingdom, verse 11 reveals to us that it is only by the grace of Jesus and the work of Sanctification continuing in His people that there are any who are able to enter, if we who profess His Name truly repent and rely solely on the mercy of Our Lord.

This list also helps to forge kinship with all believers of every sinful heritage, as well as call us to have greater empathy for those who have not yet found their adoption away from the lineage of struggle.  I have never struggled with homosexual desire, but in my past, I have been a drunkard.  I have never committed adultery, but I have been greedy.  In listing out these sins, Paul does not identify some hidden hatefulness in God, rather he presents us with a means of diagnosing our diseased personalities – the disease is unrighteousness, and these are its symptoms.

It is easy for us who sit in church day to day and week to week to become detached and shocked at the depravity of the world around us, and to find some special affront in a particular deviancy of the day, which surely must disqualify such and such a person from ever receiving mercy, no matter how many confessions they make or how sorry they profess to be.  But the world has been depraved since Adam and Eve first set foot out of the garden.  Sin and unrighteousness have never been new in the post-Fall world.  The depravities of Sodom and Corinth were not alien to each other, and neither are the depravities of Corinth and your hometown.  There is no depravity in the human heart that is so bad that the heart cannot be saved – there are only hearts that are so full of depravity that they have no room for the Spirit that would save them.

Paul in this passage of his letter to the Corinthian church also reminds us that not only were these depravities not alien to the world, they were also endemic in the churchmen and women of that city, before they heard and accepted the Gospel, having their sins washed away in the waters of baptism.  Similarly, sin and unrighteousness have not been alien to us – but like the Corinthian churchgoers, we who have faithfully repented and cast our hope on the Name of Jesus Christ have been washed, sanctified, and justified in that same Name and the Spirit of Our God.

You have heard it said that “Love Wins,” and the saying is true enough.  But it is not the romantic or erotic love that wins, it is the agape love that sent Christ to earth to be born of the Virgin Mary, to teach the gospel of repentance from sins, to willingly be arrested, mocked, beaten and shamed, and finally to be hung from a tree and cursed for our sake.  It is the agape love that on the third day restored him not only to bodily life but also to divine glory.  It is the agape love that continually calls us to repentance and obedience.  It is the agape love that gently reminds us in our moments of pride that we, too, have been guilty of sin and unrighteousness and that apart from this agape love we will likewise be barred from entry into the blessed Kingdom.

This week, I encourage you to love one another.  Love those outside the Church.  Praise God for being made clean, for being set free from the bondage of sin, and pray for those still in chains.  Witness the gospel by your love of one another as well as outsiders.  As the season of Lent approaches, I additionally encourage you to examine your hearts.  If you have never confessed your sins, this is a practice that – while seemingly daunting – provides comfort and freedom to the Christian soul.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.