Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Trinity V- Holy Fear

In the gospel for Trinity V from St. Luke 5, Simon Peter reacts to Jesus' miracle of the great catch with fear. His fear is two-sided. Peter recognizes his own sinfulness before Jesus. Peter also recognizes the overwhelming power of God at work in Jesus. Such fear is both a natural reaction and a religious virtue.
Unfortunately, many well-intentioned modern Christians do not see the value of such fear. In several different Bible studies over the years, I have had pious church-goers argue against the value of holy fear. They claim that fear is just a hold-over from what they view as primitive Old Testament religion. They maintain that believers should always function at higher levels with values such as love, mercy, hope, confidence, peace, etc.

Such claims are based on high ideals, but they are not the whole truth. Although Christians know to look beyond Old Testament law, the Hebrew Scriptures still contain the same basic message as the New Testament. The fear of the Lord is still the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Psalm 111:10). As a human being, even the Messiah has an appropriate spirit of fear of the LORD (Isaiah 11:2). The fear of the Lord is one of the seven traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit. Such fear is reverence and awe, but it is more basic than some polite reverence or aesthetic awe. It is the natural and primal reaction of the fallen and finite human being before the righteous and infinite God.

Thus, Peter is right to have a holy fear of divine power at work in Jesus. And so should we. Holy fear is not the whole story. Hopefully, in our spiritual journey, we move into other reactions such as faith, hope and love. Yet, if an element of fear is not present in us, then we do not truly appreciate our own frailty and propensity toward sin or God's almighty and infinite holiness.

Friday, June 29, 2018

St. Peter the Apostle- June 29

The Apostle Peter is an important figure in Christian history and an interesting personality. Much has been said and written about him over the centuries, often in the course of theological and jurisdictional disputes between the church of Rome and other parts of the Church. Although this post will not go into all the issues, a key passage is the Gospel from St. Matthew 16: 13-19. Here Simon Peter confesses his faith that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. Because of this faith, our Lord calls Peter the rock of the Church, the new community of faith. Peter is the first minister of the church, but similar commissions will soon be given to other Apostles. Furthermore, despite his important confession, Peter is far from infallible, even in matters of faith. Within a few verses of his confession of faith, St. Matthew points out that Peter resists Christ's teachings about the way of the cross and serves the cause of Satan.

So let us honor St. Peter, his faith, his leadership, his service, his courage (most of the time) and his eventual martyrdom. However, let us not make the mistake of thinking that he or any other mere human being can be infallible for even a short period. May we have the grace to follow his good points and to avoid his errors.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Trinity III- Christian Individualism

One can hear all sorts of things about the individual human being. Some people stress the individual in all areas of life. Some others react by down-playing the importance of the individual; they may stress the human group- family, community, society, nation, humanity. Depending on the circumstances, both emphases can be appropriate.

However, in light of today's Gospel from the beginning of St. Luke 15, let us think a bit about the spiritual value of the human individual. One lost sheep is important enough to leave the rest of the flock to find. One soul that repents leads to heavenly rejoicing. This passage points to a general teaching of Scripture: the supreme human value of the individual soul and its relationship to God. This is the basis of any true Christian individualism. While this value may have an impact in all areas of human life, Christian individualism is not about philosophy, politics, economics, psychology, or societal building blocks. True individualism is spiritual; it is about God the Father reaching out in grace through Christ and the Holy Spirit to save individual souls.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Trinity II- Excuses

It has been a while since I commented on this Sunday's Gospel ( As I looked over the readings this week, I was truck by the theme of excuses. Lately, I have been noticing how often I hear excuses on all sorts of subjects. Maybe that is partly because I am a clergyman. People often seem to feel the need to make excuses to religious leaders- maybe seeking some sort of "absolution lite."  We also seem to live in an age of excuses. People make all sorts of excuses, great and small. They always seem to have extenuating circumstances for every major or minor failing.

Such human behavior seems to have been around since the Garden of Eden, and we certainly see it in our Gospel from St. Luke 14:16ff. Using the comparison of an ordinary feast, our Lord points to God's gracious invitation and the human tendency to make excuses. Such excuses really harm the one making the excuse, not the divine host. God asks for our fellowship. If we turn from His grace, we deprive ourselves. He may be offended, but He can always find other guests who will be grateful.

Weekly and daily, God invites us to spend time with Him. He asks us to read His Word and pray, publicly and privately. He offers to feed us in the Lord's Supper. And He hopes that we will accept His hospitality and fellowship with other guests. So any hesitations or excuses should be few and based on very serious circumstances. Rather than looking for excuses, let us accept the grace that God offers.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Trinity I- "Love, Love, Love"

Trinity I             I John 4:7- 21             3 June 2018
  Sermon Notes by the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.

Many human beings over the millennia have talked and sung about love. Especially since the late 1960's, popular culture has included a lot of talking and singing about love. A characteristic example is John Lennon's “All You Need is Love”. And the churches have been influenced by this popular culture. Of course, Christians have always spoken of love, but much of the talk in recent decades, even in the church, is far from Christian ideals. In contrast to such popular nonsense about love, this morning, let us spend a few minutes thinking about some New Testament views of love.

We begin by highlighting the beginning verses of our Epistle from I John 4:7-11, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

In this passage, the Greek term used for “love” is agape'. In Christian Greek, this love became clearly distinct from eros, “desire” and philos, “brotherly love.” This kind of love has its source in God; it is an attribute of the divine nature. “God is love.” Divine Love is creative and unselfish.
Such love, agape', is not some naive and syrupy sentiment. Love is not weak. It does not tolerate evil. It is powerful and holy or righteous. It is not selfish but it reaches out to care for the universe and created beings. According to divine wisdom, God's love may be applied in differing ways according to the circumstances. It may lift up the humble and bring down the proud. Love may strengthen the faint-hearted and punish the sinful. Divine love means that God is concerned about the true well-being of the one loved. He cares about our souls and works for our salvation, even in the worst worldly circumstances.

The clearest indications that human beings have about divine love cannot be separated from the life and saving work of Jesus Christ. As He Himself told us in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The ultimate goal of love is salvation and eternal fellowship with God. We see this in Jesus. He helped the poor and weak, and He rebuked the rich and proud. He chastised the self-righteous, and He forgave penitent sinners. He blessed those with even a trace of child-like faith in Him and His Father. And He gave Himself over to suffering and death for all who would turn to Him in faith.

Divine love is always there, and God's creatures benefit from it before they are even aware. The only condition attached to love is to accept it in faith. And once accepted, divine love should have results in our human lives. “..If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Although our particular expressions of love need wisdom, guidance and concrete expressions, true love does not start with us. It starts with God, especially in Christ, and asks us to respond. Because God first loves us, we love Him in response, and like Him, we love His creation and His creatures.

Like His love, our love should be powerful, committed, and unselfish. Unlike God, we remain fallen and fallible. Sometimes, we do not love as we should. And even when we do love, we don't always do so with strength or wisdom. We may love naively or inappropriately. We may not be tolerant enough, or we may be too tolerant of the wrong things. St Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we should speak “the truth in love.” We have trouble keeping love and truth together in the best ways. When we speak the truth, we may not be very loving. And when we try to be loving, we may hesitate to speak the truth. Love can be expressed through Christian courtesy, but there is a difference between being superficially polite and being loving. True love is more concerned about the long-term and eternal well-being of others than about their temporary and temporal comfort.

Therefore, let us heed Scriptural teachings about love. Let us avoid straying to the right or to the left. We must not avoid the danger of true divine love, and we must not substitute some cheap political or sentimental nonsense. If we must be foolish in loving, let it not be some artificial worldly propaganda from the movies or political activists of any kind. Rather if we are foolish, let it be the foolishness of the cross of Christ, the perfect love of God.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trinity Sunday 2018

Sermon Notes for Trinity Sunday    John 3:1-16    May 27 2018   
by the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.

For over a thousand years, western Christians have emphasized the doctrine of the Holy Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost. This is fitting because the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost completes the steps of revelation of God in Three Persons.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not developed in detail in one place in Scripture, but it is supported by many passages. The Gospel from John 3 is a traditional one for this Sunday, and it deals with the Trinity as our Lord discusses Baptism and the new birth. This goes along with the commission to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28: 19.  The Trinitarian emphasis continued in the Christian Church as Scriptural teachings about God were summarized in baptismal creeds such as the Latin Apostles’ Creed and the Greek creed which developed into the Nicene Creed.
Although a great mystery and although the history of and doctrinal discussions about the Trinity can be complicated, the basic concern of the doctrine is really simple: The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about God and His love and grace, about His redeeming purposes. So most of us can best appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity by looking at its application to Christian life and devotion. Today, let us briefly consider the Trinity in the context of three familiar areas of Christian experience.

First, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is related to Christian morality. God the Father has created human beings with a basic capacity to learn to distinguish right and wrong. God the Son came into this world and revealed to human beings in the clearest way the divine moral will for our lives. Jesus the Christ has given us both clear teachings and perfect examples to guide us in our moral choices. By His death and resurrection, God the Son, Jesus Christ, has freed us from eternal slavery to sin and death and offered us His grace for new life. And God the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings us the love, the grace and the truth of the Father and of the Son. The Spirit gives us grace, wisdom and guidance in making moral choices. And when we do stumble, the Spirit also helps us repent and seek renewal.

Secondly, we can appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of Christian prayer. Although Scripture and devotional history contain examples of prayers addressed to all three divine persons, most of our prayers, including the prayer Christ taught us, are addressed directly to God the Father as creator and ruler of the universe. We offer these prayers to the Father through the Son, in Jesus’ name or for Christ’s sake. In other words, we ask God the Son, who has lived as one of us, to pray with us and for us. We dare to approach the Father’s throne of grace because His Son is our Savior, and because the Son still intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. We offer our prayers by the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit. The divine Spirit at work in our hearts, minds, and souls motivates and inspires us to pray. If we are open to Him, and sometimes even when we are not very open, the Holy Spirit guides our thoughts and words. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:26, the Spirit even helps us utter wordless prayers when we are too tired, sick or overwhelmed to know how to pray.

Thirdly, we can relate the doctrine of the Trinity to the Bible. God the Father, creator and ruler of the universe, transcends human understanding, but He has chosen to reveal Himself to His creatures. Although our Creator has provided some hints about Himself in nature and in human consciousness and conscience, the essential points of God’s self-disclosure are in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible points out God’s power expressed in the creation of the universe and of human beings. The Bible points to the rebellion and fall of human beings and of some angels. The Bible also shows the Father’s loving desire and plan to redeem fallen humanity. Although Holy Scripture is the Word of God in written form, in a more basic and essential way, God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the incarnate and eternal Word (John 1). In Genesis 1, it is the Word of God that is the means of creation. Through His living and spoken Word, God called the people of the Old Testament and spoke to and through patriarchs and prophets. In the New Testament, the obvious center of Gospels and Epistles is the living Word, Jesus. In all the messages of the apostles, the spoken and written words are meant to reveal Christ. We are to respect the written letters and words, but our basic faith is Christ the Eternal Word who is the living center of Scripture..
And we can’t consider the Bible without the role of God the Holy Spirit. The moving of God’s Spirit led patriarchs, prophets, wise men, scribes and apostles of Israel and the Church to pass on the oral and written words that contain the divine Word. The Holy Spirit also worked among believers to distinguish the truly sacred writings from other religious documents. And the Spirit has worked over the centuries to preserve and spread the canon of Scripture. The Spirit still works to help us to understand and apply the divine meaning of Scripture to our faith and to our lives.

In summary, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the great mystery which summarizes the teachings of the Christian Faith. This doctrine is rooted in the Bible, and summarized in the ancient creeds. The Trinity has been a topic for theological analysis and doctrinal discussion. Yet, as with other mysteries of Christian faith, the doctrine of the Trinity is asking for something more than merely an intellectual or mental response. This mystery is asking us for the response of living faith. To have a true appreciation of the Trinity, we need to experience it in Christian life and devotion- in contexts such as Christian morality, Christian prayer, and a faithful approach to Holy Scripture.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost and Preaching the Gospel

The traditional BCP lesson appointed for the Epistle on Pentecost is from Acts 2:1- 11. It concludes, "we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God." What are these Galilean Apostles proclaiming? Although inspired by the Holy Spirit, and although Peter cites Isaiah about pouring out the Spirit, the core message is not about the Holy Spirit; the heart of the proclamation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A few verses later, Peter makes this clear. In Acts 2: 22-24, he preaches, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it." This is the heart of the Gospel, the Christ-centered core of the Christian proclamation.

The proclamation in Acts is consistent with the Prayer Book Gospel for last Sunday. In St. John 15:26, Christ tells the Apostles, "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." The whole point about Pentecost is not about the mechanics of inspiration. And although we honor the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new way, Pentecost is not about the Spirit alone. The point is that the Holy Spirit testifies about and for the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Truth enables Christ's followers to be faithful witnesses to and proclaimers of the Gospel of salvation. How the Spirit came and the variety of gifts bestowed are of interest, but the main issue is that the presence of the Holy Spirit brings faith in and witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ, the divine Word, God the Son.