Category Archives: Church Calendar

Testimonies for Epiphany: Mentoring Pastors in the Philippines and Beyond – Herman Moldez

17 January 2015

Dear All Saints Church,

At the start of this year God has spoken to me on Isaiah 43:19, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” What is there to expect in a wasteland? It is not a place to see the work of the Lord. But God has spoken that it is in the desert that God will let the streams of his presence be seen. I  need to patiently look for the new thing that He will do. Pray for the discipline of noticing God’s work in the dry places of mentoring.

The Peer Mentoring Group among the pastors (almost 5,000 meet every month) continues on. I have written a study material based on Leaders Covenant of MentorLink International. Pray that I may finish the last three lessons soon. MentorLink is considering sharing this resource with the international fellowship of MentorLink.

This year, I have another opportunity to develop spiritual mentoring among the 500 staff of International Care Ministries. One area is to integrate spiritual direction in guiding them to live and lead like Jesus. Pray that I will be able to find pastors who will work with me to come alongside these staff–to listen, deepen their insight in the Word of God, be present, and pray with them. I am also writing a weekly resource used for spiritual mentoring conversation. Pray for freshness of heart and insights from the Holy Spirit to let the resources speak to the heart.

In relation to the Philippine Council Evangelical Churches, I am now designated as Mentor At-large in our work with the pastors. Pray that in each of the 14 regions our leaders will be faithful in mentoring their fellow pastors. Pastors are busy. It requires commitment to continue in their mentoring one another.

Often times I wonder: what is the impact of my mentoring ministry? After each mentoring seminar event, participants move on to return to their own ministry. It is like scattering seed and trusting God to let it grow. How wonderful it is when some of them come back to me and share what has happened.

I met Felicidad last Thursday, and she shared: “For 40 years I was do, do, do in my ministry. But since I have been involved in peer mentoring relationships and reading your material, the Lord rebuked me. I spend more time now in being with the Lord and listening with people to guide them to follow Jesus.” Mentoring is like a stream that waters her dry spirit.

I am praying to return to Vietnam again. One of my mentees has been seeking my help to guide him in another training event as he rebuilds new work among the younger leaders. As the Lord provides, I hope to visit them in October 2015 and develop new mentoring training for their new leaders.

Thank you very much for your partnership.

Herman Moldez

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Testimonies for Epiphany: Whoever welcomes a child in My name welcomes Me – Pam Uhlenberg

Some of you may already know our story. Peter and I have been married 50 years and we have 14 children and 18 grandchildren. Of those 18 grandchildren, we have ended up rearing 8 of them. The first four came to us one at a time as a 2, 3, 4, and 5 year old. They are now 19, 17, 16 and 14. Only the 16 year old still lives with us. Five and a half years ago, we took a 10 week old grandchild who still lives with us full time. His three older siblings, 10, 9, and 8, live with us during each school week and return to their mom on the weekend. All four of them were recently baptized at All Saints. Why have we done this? What are we trying to prove, is a question we have been asked. Here is my answer:

Even before we were married, Peter and I dreamed of a large family and of adopted children. Back in those days, grandchildren were not on our minds! We both wanted to welcome into our family children who had no one to belong to. Matthew 18:5 was a special verse to us where Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name, welcomes Me.” Because Peter was working on a PhD at UC Berkeley, we were married for 5 years before we had our two birth sons 18 months apart. When they were 5 and 6, we were ready to “follow our dream” to adopt. We intentionally decided not to use our resources for a bigger house, a better car or a large saving account. We felt they were better used to welcome “hard to place” children into our home and believed that God would give us the children that He knew were right for our family.

We didn’t start knowing how far God would take us on this “adoption adventure”. We knew that we could add two more children and have plenty to provide for their needs. So we adopted two biracial daughters one at a time a year apart. Not long after we had our second daughter, and our fourth child, we went to Seoul, Korea for a Sabbatical year since Peter was a Professor at UNC. Little did we know what lay ahead for us! There were so many orphans there that we could not ignore the urge from God and the desire in our hearts to welcome more children into our family even though we were not sure how things would work out financially if we did. So we returned to Chapel Hill one year later with a Korean/American son and daughter. And so the story went as God led us down the adoption road, one child at a time until the total was 13 adopted children.

One of our sweet little boys went to heaven as a two year old but the other 12 are now adults. Our youngest is 25 and our first birth son is 45.

Each adoption has a story of its own, but I have been given 5 minutes to tell the whole story! The story is not all beautiful by the world’s standards, but God has always provided for us. We have not always had plenty of money to care for our children and God has used many fellow believers along the way to step in and provide what we did not have. After our 7th adoption (or 9 children) good friends set up a foundation so that others could make tax deductible contributions to our needs. At one point, in another church, a small group of 6 couples, who were medical and graduate students, stepped in and took us on as a “project”; coming to our house almost daily to help with folding diapers, fixing dinner and washing dishes, as well as babysitting and anything else we needed. At that point, we had three in diapers at the same time and one of them was a special needs daughter with cerebral palsy and brain damage. We ended up with three special needs children who will forever be dependent upon us or someone.

We started out cautiously, wanting “normal, healthy, bright” children who were “hard to place” because of their ethnic background. God grew us into being open to special needs children, a 16 year old and an open adoption. As our children grew to be adolescents, we realized that we were in the position of needing to parent children with emotional and behavioral disorders. One of our adopted sons started committing crimes at age 11. He will be released this June at age 35 from a 10 year prison term. One of our daughters struggled with bulimia, anorexia and suicidal threats during her very stormy adolescence. To this day, she struggles with emotions that can easily go out of control. One of our children struggles with alcoholism and another with depression and substance abuse.

There was a time years ago, when several children were struggling at the same time and Peter and I had to go on a retreat for a weekend to sort out how we were going to continue parenting so many children with so many problems. Up to that point, we used to say “at least the Lord only gives us one problem at time”. But at that time, one had recently been arrested, one was in a psychiatric ward at Duke and one kept running away from home! The Enemy was screaming at me especially, “whatever made you think you could do this”? I’ll never forget that weekend. I left feeling that I didn’t have the strength to return home! Ever! We spent that weekend talking through, with each other and the Lord, why we had ever thought we could “do this “and, by the end of the weekend, we were both filled with awe over how poor our memories were, especially mine, and how adequate God was! With each adoption, we had been confident that we were doing just what God wanted us to do and that He would provide for our needs. Somehow, in the midst of the stress of our children’s crisis filled lives, we had forgotten that. We returned to Chapel Hill with a renewed sense of God’s working in our lives and a much better perspective on our circumstances. With that better perspective, we came to understand that our job was to faithfully care for our children and the rest was God’s job. How crucial it was for us to remember that! In one weekend, God took us from despair and discouragement to confidence in Him and the gift of His peace.

All through the 45 years that Peter and I have been parents, we have sought to share our faith with our children. It’s easy to do that with young children who are excited to follow in our footsteps. Family times, Bible stories, Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, sharing our testimony about when we became Christians, praying with them, have all been part of their lives growing up. As our children grew into teens trying to figure out who they were and how they fit in this world, following our faith has not always been so appealing. Some have stepped back in their search for identity and then returned when they have children of their own. We do not have a family full of children who have chosen to be preachers and missionaries, but we do have children who know they are loved and who are very aware that their parents are fully committed to living for God. We have children who believe God is real and who know the story of what Jesus has done for them. The rest we have to leave to our prayers for them and to the Holy Spirit working in their hearts.

Clearly, our path is not one that God leads every believer to walk, but God has some path for each of us that takes faith and trust and sacrifice and a desire to join with Him in bringing about His purposes in this world. Peter and I have learned that when we choose to follow His lead, no matter how bumpy or messy the path, He will provide for us every step of the way.

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Testimonies for Epiphany: Christ with us in the ordinary, through our stories and in our homes – Katie Straight

When Thomas invited me to share about how I seek to represent “Christ with us” in the everyday—in our home and to my neighbors, my first response was, “Me?! Why me?”  I am broken. Not just in an external cosmetic sense, which is to say I may/may not have showered…since the boys were born…and nothing coming out of our house will ever be Pinterest-worthy (with the exception perhaps of the delicious meals that Justin creates).  I mean I am broken below the surface.  I am wounded and scarred and frightened and struggling to reconcile the facts of this life with the God-man we call All Powerful, Healer, Father.  I often feel more as though I am surviving than thriving, resting somewhere between the courageous foolishness and foolish courage that marks our faith on our best and worst of days—believing in what is unseen when the seen, the reality around us, feels a precariously placed, teetering glass bulb at best, a shattered vessel at worst.

I lost my big brother nine years ago…he died of accidental trauma to the head at the age of 32—it shook me in ways no words can capture.  Since then we have buried my grandfather, then my dad, my grandmother, and my uncle.  In the midst of these losses, Justin and I fell in love and got married…we left the house that he built and moved to the Dominican Republic to work for a Christian microfinance org.  Though we bristled at being called such, we became professional missionaries in the sense that our culture likes to define it.  We sought to spend ourselves on behalf of the “poor” by offering opportunities to escape extreme poverty through business creation. And in the midst of it, we learned more about our own poverty than we knew how to manage.

Besides the externals—we were nearly washed away in a Haitian river, I survived an accidental lethal overdose of malaria medicine that had me in a Dominican hospital for three nights not knowing if I was going to live, and if so, at what diminished capacity—besides these external stresses, God was also revealing to us that our internal brokenness, our stubborn desire to do life on our own terms, our unwillingness to walk through past pain, our inability to receive and thus also show His grace to others, was killing us. The frail foundation of our marriage crumbled around us and we were forced to pull the emergency chord and come home to the US to seek good counsel and a strong community to come around us. We fought for our marriage and we continue to fight for our marriage, holding onto God’s promises and His power when we ourselves were and are too weak.

With each loss, wound, and disappointment I have wrestled with the truth that God is all loving and yet not afraid of pain—I have screamed, wept, cursed, demanded explanations, and, much more rarely, on my best of days, rested in the promise that all our tears will one day be wiped away and all things, ALL THINGS will be redeemed.  I have begged Jesus to show himself as healer of my wounds and choked back tears whenever the praise song, “Blessed be the Lord” asks my heart to say, “on the road marked with suffering, when there’s pain in the offering, blessed be the Lord.” I am a cracked vessel, no doubt.

Why do I share this with you when I’ve been invited to share practical, ordinary ways to manifest the spirit of Epiphany, the God with us, Jesus in flesh?  Because Jesus came to the broken and the thirsty and allowed himself to be broken and thirsty for us.  “I thirst,” he said on the cross.  “I thirst.  I know what it is to thirst.”  And I know of no other way to share Christ than to first be honest about my brokenness and my need for Him.  I cannot invite anyone to drink the Living Water without admitting that I am desperate for it too. I cannot say, “Come, YOU need this water.  Oh no, I’m good.” No, I need to lap it up in my hands, water splashing down my face and neck, and say, “Come! Drink with me! I am thirsty and you are thirsty!”  …and that only happens when I’m willing to be honest and transparent with my life and my story—which is really God’s story isn’t it?  His power at work in my, in our, weaknesses?

Because you also are broken.  Forgive me for being brash enough to say this when many of you I don’t know personally, but I am confident of this. You also are broken.  You are wounded and you carry scars that may or may not be visible to the naked eye…disappointments, losses, physical and emotional pains, fear, loneliness—evidence of a life lived on this side of the here and not yet.  You thirst for living water and the food that will not spoil.  And it is our meeting one another, broken and thirsty, at the foot of the cross that unites us into community if we are to be one at all, isn’t it?

I do not believe we have a voice at all until we are willing to voice this.  Not only to ourselves…but to our neighbors too.  We must be willing to be seen as we are, scars and uncertainties exposed alongside the glory of God at work in us.

And it is through this being seen that our neighbors begin to allow us to see them, to love them by truly seeing them, by recognizing their pain and validating it as something that our Father sees and cares about.  “Comfort, comfort my people,” He tells us through Isaiah 40. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and tell her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sin.”” Our call first is to honor the pain. And then to share a vision for redemption—not through ourselves but through Him who is our living water.

To be honest, this season of my life has been the most challenging by way of feeling as though I am in any way, shape or form expressing “Christ with us.”  In the past, however misguided my assumptions, I could lean heavily on my work as my ministry…whether working internationally in development or working locally at Jobs for Life, my professional investments have provided me a comfortable and concrete “outlet” for my “good works,” a way to safely share the love of Christ as occupation…with deliverables and goals, neat and tidy—and rather invulnerable.

Now, as a full-time stay-at-home mom to our twin boys, I don’t have a list of works that make me feel like a good Christian.  If anything, I feel pretty beat up at the end of long days of seeing all too clearly my own shortcomings.  There is nothing like two crying babies to reveal the depths of ones own depravity. But His promise is that He is in me and works through my weaknesses…in the ordinary as much as the fantastic.

So I find that now I have to listen harder and lean into the Spirit more to hear how he wants to order my day…To take time in the morning while the boys sleep to be with my Father and sit with his Word and pray that His love is what the boys (and Justin) will experience through me.  And to apologize to them, though perhaps they do not understand it, when it is my sin that rears its head more readily.  To be open and willing to sit with our neighbors when they pop over unannounced…to say yes to the invitation to walk, or come over for a glass of wine when all my introverted mind wants to do is shut down and all my body wants to do is sleep.  To be intentional about trying to live in an open home, where neighbors and friends feel welcome—to hold it loosely—God’s house for us to share, just as our stories are God’s for us to share.

And so it is too with hosting neighborhood pizza nights or Thankspigging, our annual come-as-you-are and bring something to share party for neighbors, friends, and total strangers.  We provide the “beer, wine and swine” we like to say, you bring something to share.  At the heart of it is God’s command in Deut 14 for the Israelites to take their tithes and use them to have a big party in thanksgiving to God.  To actually trust him enough as a good and loving Father to throw a party in his honor to say thanks, to dance, to get to know some new neighbors and share some real joy with them.  Because our Father likes parties and our Jesus is the Master of the Feast.  It’s so simple and so imperfect, but people come, a contribution in hand—deviled eggs or blueberry pie—and we all together make it a party and meet new people and forge friendships and maybe even forget the burdens we carry for a few hours of celebration and thankfulness. And I do believe that Christ is there with us.

As He is here with us now and in the most mundane of days, in the most inglorious of tasks, in our homes and neighborhoods—Because His spirit is always alive in us, testifying on our behalf…not despite our brokenness and thirst, but through it.  Thank God.  By his grace, we are invited as a church to be to willing to share our stories, admit our thirst and believe that God can use us exactly as we are, exactly where we are.

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Testimonies for Epiphany: Refugee Settlement in Durham – Joe Adelman

Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ in the flesh.  Aren’t you glad that we do this epiphany thing together? We manifest the body of Christ together as we each make small decisions to serve others rather than ourselves.  It is so easy to go through a day and mindlessly serve ourselves. I have done that without effort for more days than I care to admit.  But in John chapter 4 we read that “Jesus had to pass through Samaria.”  This is a strange phrase loaded with intentionality.   Later it all makes sense when we read of his service to the Samaritan woman at the well.  Likewise, Thomas encouraged us last week to make conscious decisions to serve others and so live into our collective lives as the manifestation of Christ’s body.

Teri and I were first introduced to the needs of refugees in our community in 2010 when a couple who were volunteering with World Relief were moving away and encouraged us to take over their role as helpers for Saw Min and his family, refugees from Myanmar.  We stopped by Saw’s apartment in Oak Creek Village and after a few awkward meetings we slowly began to understand Saw’s broken English enough to assist his family with some of their practical needs.  We set up a TV and antenna so they could learn English and access children’s programs on UNC-TV.  We had them enrolled in English classes and we walked with them through a frightening medical emergency.  Over time a very comfortable relationship developed where Saw and his family could relax and visit with us or call us for advice when they did not understand something.  It was humbling to see how much this family had endured (persecution in their homeland, mistreatment and imprisonment in their country of refuge, and the birth of their only child in prison while Mom was on a starvation diet).  Yet they persevered and soon both held jobs at odd hours so one was always home with their child.

This past fall we were reminded once again of the needs of refugees and immigrants through Paul Watkins’ spiritual formations class: “Welcoming The Stranger: Discovering God’s Heart for Immigrants.”  Paul guided us through countless scriptures in every part of the Bible that declare God’s concern for the immigrants in our midst.

This class caused me to reconnect with World Relief Durham last month where I learned of their continuing need for volunteers in their mission to resettle and empower refugees in our community.  I agreed to work within All Saints to build Good Neighbor Teams.  These teams consist of 4 to 12 people (these could be individuals, families, or small groups) who commit to support the resettlement of a single refugee or refugee family.  They acquire the necessary items to furnish an apartment and then set up that apartment and purchase a week’s supply of food, often on short notice.  They greet the newcomers at the airport and transport them to their apartment and assist them with settling in.  They visit the newcomers once per week and assist with one or more resettlement tasks such as practicing language skills, acquiring medical care, or searching for employment.  The State Department provides a small stipend that supports a refugee family for about 90 days so the need for volunteers is great.

Refugees are a diverse group.  Teri and I taught English to an elderly lady from Napal who had never handled a writing instrument.  We also taught highly educated refugees from Egypt and Iraq who had to work menial jobs because their degrees were not recognized in the United States.

One neat aspect of this opportunity is that, as Christ’s body, the Good Neighbor Team works together to build relationships and empower a terribly vulnerable segment of our society.  No single person needs to do it all.  Everyone can contribute from their own unique talents and within their own available time.

During this epiphany season I encourage you to consider if this is one of those intentional decisions that would help you, your family, or your small group live into being the beautiful manifestation of Christ’s body.

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Lent at All Saints Church

–a reflection by Interim Rector Rev Thomas Kortus–
Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves to Jesus and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, we are invited to imitate Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. When we enter into the traditional spiritual disciplines of Lent, Easter becomes a genuine personal experience of the resurrection.
Lent is an opportunity live into the Spirit’s words in Hebrews 12:…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus... It is a season in which we seek to enter more deeply into repentance and to fix our lives more firmly on Jesus. Lent keeps the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ central. Christianity is not a self-help religion. We are never good enough to merit our salvation, and Lent reminds us that it is only by the grace of God that we are rescued from sin and death.
I pray that you will enter into Lent this year by joining us for regular Sunday morning worship and by taking advantage of these intentional lenten activities. I particularly commend the Servant Songs of Isaiah Bible Study on Wednesday nights and the Morning Prayer Eucharist services. Prayer and Scripture study and meditation are foundational to our lives in Christ and particularly during the Lenten season. Ash Wednesday (next week!) is also a powerful and intentional way to begin this important season. Call the church office of you have any questions about these activities (919-908-9187).
Ash Wednesday Services  March 5 7:30 a.m. & 6 p.m. 
    Five Oaks SDA Church  /4124 Farrington Road, Durham
   Nursery for ages 0-3 provided at 6 p.m. service
Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist throughout Lent 
   Tuesdays and Fridays 7:30 – 8:10 a.m.  / March 7 –April 11
   All Saints Church Upper Room  / 3622 Lyckan Pkwy, Suite 5006, Durham
Lenten Bible Study: Wednesdays 6-7:15 p.m. throughout Lent 
   Five Oaks SDA Church
Join us weekly as we study the Servant Songs of Isaiah together as a church family. Brian Maiers, Bishop Steve Breedlove, Dr. Jennie Grillo, Rev. Brad Acton, and Dr. Ross Wagner will be teaching and leading our discussions. Sign up for dinner at church or by email ( the Sunday before you attend ($5 per parson or $12 a family) or bring your own. Dinner begins at 5:30. Nursery and Young Elementary program available upon request. Contact the church office for more information.
As We Forgive Movie Screening  March 23  7:00 p.m.
   Five Oaks SDA Church
As We Forgive is a short documentary film that explores how Rwanda has recovered from genocide through the work of reconciliation. The event will also be an opportunity to learn more about Rwanda and hear how God is calling Brandon, Emily and Elsa Walsh to serve him there as Ambassadors to the Gasabo Diocese. For more information contact Brandon Walsh (
Information about our Holy Week services will be announced soon.

The days of Holy Week–Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter–are packed with meaning and significance central to the Christian faith. Lent is a season of preparation and of intentionally dwelling on the great passion of Jesus Christ. On Ash Wednesday (March 5), which marks the beginning of Lent, we will come forward, kneel, and receive the imposition of ashes upon our brows as we hear these words: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.” This is the message that sets the tone for Lent. Dust and ashes symbolize two themes at the heart of Lent: our creaturely mortality and our moral culpability. We are finite and sinful people. So we humble ourselves before the eternal God who created us and who redeemed us, our only source of life and righteousness.

Lent is a “bright sadness” (Schmemann, Great Lent). During Lent we become more aware of our sinfulness and need for God, but we also remember that we are redeemed by Jesus’ death on the cross and receive forgiveness and eternal life through it. Lent is sobering, but it ends in Easter!

We Focus on Jesus 

During Lent we focus on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness where he battled with the devil. We are given the opportunity to renew our baptismal vows to renounce Satan and all evil powers and sinful desires, to trust in the grace of Christ as our Savior, and to follow him as our Lord.

We also focus on the passion of Jesus. Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. He intentionally and willingly walked toward crucifixion and death to redeem the world to God the Father. So we focus on self-denial, dying to ourselves and pivoting from self-gratification.


“There is no Lent without fasting. Christian fasting is the voluntary denial of something for a specific time for a spiritual purpose” (Schmemann, Great Lent). It is a restriction that creates space for God. Fasting from food helps us to know more vividly that Jesus is the true source of our sustenance and being, but many people choose to fast from other things as well to create space for God.

We set aside times to quiet ourselves in the presence of God in order to take an honest look at ourselves and to cultivate a closer union with God. In prayer we gain a greater awareness of our inner disposition, external behaviors, hearts, and habits. Some choose to meditate on the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes. Reading the Daily Office Lectionary also leads us to prayerful reflection before God.

Giving of ourselves sacrificially over and beyond our tithe is a form of self-denial that loosens our bonds to the flesh and the pleasures and vices of the world. Consider how you might give more of yourself this Lent.

The more we can enter into Jesus’ sufferings and death in that final week, the more we will know both our own great sin and need for God’s great goodness and love. Reading and meditating on scripture during Lent enables us to know Christ and share in his sufferings, becoming more like him in his death so as to share in the power of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10).

If you have questions about how you can enter into these traditional Lenten disciplines, please contact one of our clergy:
Thomas Kortus 919.619.5007 /
Brad Acton 205.873.2257 /
Julie Cate Kelly  919.402.7244 /
Kent Hinkson 919.452.4642 /

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Collect for Holy Thursday

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

last supper icon

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Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an
instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life:
Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly
suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior
Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Georges Rouault -Crucifixion

Georges Rouault -Crucifixion

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Collect for Monday of Holy Week

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.


Jean Marchand Woodcut - LAYING JESUS IN THE TOMB

Jean Marchand Woodcut – LAYING JESUS IN THE TOMB

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A mediation from St. Augustine looking towards Holy Week

Man’s maker was made man . . . that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey, that Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.

St. Augustine, Sermons 191.1

icon cross Central Plaque of a Cross, ca. 1185–1195

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The Most Important Lenten Discipline

Donnie McDaniel preached this morning at our Wednesday morning Eucharist service. Here is his sermon! A great reminder this Lent.

Romans 5:6-11  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.  10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Art Lent 5 B

In preparation for preaching this morning, I was faced with the task of deciding which of these three passages that I would preach, and any of them would make for a wonderful homily, but as a preacher by trade and calling, I would not be worth my salt if I did not preach from Paul’s letter to the Romans when given the opportunity; thus, that is where we will spend our brief time together this morning. Romans, after all, has played a major role in the theology of Western Christianity, the branch of the faith in which we stand as Anglicans. It was a passage in Romans that led to the conversion of St. Augustine. It was the book of Romans that Martin Luther, the 16th century Reformer, urged all Christians to memorize. In the early 20th century it was Karl Barth’s commentary called Der Romerbrief that exploded on the playground of liberal, Protestant theology, and even today the great minds of the Christian faith continue to mine the depths of St. Paul’s masterpiece, so this morning we will be in good company.

Specifically, this morning we will be spending our time in Romans 5.6-11 where I hope we will pick up the most important Lenten practice—preaching the gospel to ourselves. A few short weeks ago, many of us were here on Ash Wednesday, and we began the great journey of Lent, a six week period of deep introspection where we take a long look at our own sins and what it cost Christ to effect such a great reconciliation between God and humanity. During Lent, many of us have chosen to follow the Great Tradition and restrict our diets. We willingly choose to go without so that we can remember more clearly what Christ has done on our behalf, but even in this season, when we are supposed to be focused on Christ, it is easy for us to look again at our own practices. Knowing the sinful bent of the human heart, the Ash Wednesday liturgy is carefully formed around a gospel text that warns us against engaging in religious practices, such as fasting, that draw attention to ourselves. And one of the best ways we can avoid this tendency is to remind ourselves of what God has done for us, and that is what we will do today as we look at the two sides of the gospel; the present assurance that we have in Christ, and the future hope that we have in him as well. So, let’s take a look at Romans 5.6-11 and see what Paul has for us this morning.

Paul, in verse nine is building upon our justification before God, an idea that he introduces back in verse one of the present chapter. The justification that we have in Christ is the declaration of our right standing with God via our participation in the life and death of Jesus Christ, who completed the work that God had prepared for him from the foundation of world. Now please note the tense that Paul uses to describe this Justification, he says we have been justified. This is something that is already accomplished. I call this the present assurance that we have in Christ. Those who have placed their faith in the finished work of Jesus the Messiah already enjoy the truth that they belong to the family of God, that is the verdict that you and I can expect from God at the final judgment, has been applied to us already. Paul then goes on to tell us that this justification arrived at God’s appointed time; this means that Jesus’ ministry including his death, resurrection, and ascension happened at the just the right moment in time. Despite how Rousseau and the rest of the Enlightenment thinkers would like to tell the story, the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus constitute the climax of history. God moved to restore his creation at exactly the right time, and this was done while we were still weak and sinful.

The fact that God justified humanity while we were weak and sinful is beautiful truth. Paul himself says here that, “God proves his love for us that while we were sinners Christ died for us.” What St. Paul is conveying to us is that humanity, individually and corporately, has done nothing to earn this justified status before God. It is entirely a free gift of grace from a loving God who stepped into the theater of history to enact a redemption that provides justification to humanity, but also, as Paul goes on to teach us in Romans 8, provides salvation to all of creation itself. This is the first half of the gospel that we should be preaching to ourselves. We should constantly tell ourselves that while we were weak and sinful, Jesus willingly gave his life that we could have the right standing with God. I know that this explains my situation when God found me. I was 17 years old, and had grown up in private Christian school. I knew all about God, but I did not know God, and there is a real difference. However, God in a display of his love for me saved me from a terrible car accident. He placed me in the life of his son and gave me purpose. I stand justified before the throne of God. I tell myself that story often, and I encourage you to relive your stories as well.

Building upon the present assurance of justification that we currently have before God, Paul goes on teach us about our future hope. Verse 9 says, “Much more surely then, now that we have been justified in his blood, will we be saved from the wrath of God.” St. Paul presents our future hope as an absolute guarantee, because compared to our justification before God, which was accomplished when we were still weak and sinful; our salvation from the coming wrath of God is a small feat on the part of God. Paul is here employing an ancient rabbinic rhetorical device of arguing from the greater to the lesser (a minori ad maius). This explains the way in which Paul describes this future hope in verse ten; God reconciled us to himself in Christ while we were still enemies. He did not wait for us to clean ourselves up and come to him; his action toward us was not predicated upon any acts of penance on our part. Rather, he took the initiative and reconciled us to himself through the death of Jesus. We can know without a doubt that our future destiny and status before God is secure in our participation in the death and life of Jesus Christ.

In fact, Paul goes to great lengths to emphasize the importance of our participation in Christ. He uses the same preposition (in) in reference to the death of Jesus and the resurrection life of Christ. We are justified in the present and saved in the future by our mystical union with Christ, often conveyed in Paul by the phrase “in Christ.” Our participation in Christ, if we follow the logic of Paul, extends to the key aspects of Christ’s work. In the very next chapter of Romans Paul gives an exposition that our baptism is one of the points where we participate in the death of Christ on the cross and rise with him on Easter morning. Therefore, when God looks down on his justified and saved saints, he sees none other than his own dearly beloved Son with whom he is well pleased.

Now that we have looked at our present assurance and our future hope, we should be in a position where we can preach this gospel to ourselves through the rest of Lent. As we remember what Christ has done for us, we can also remember that via our belief in his completed work, we participate in the life of Christ. He lives in us and we in him, just like the various Eucharistic prayers in the liturgy remind us each time we gather for worship. It is in this gospel that we will find the power necessary to complete our Lenten vows. We can wash our face in the waters of this gospel and anoint our heads with the oil of this good news. If we tell ourselves daily that we are justified in Christ, and that we will be saved from the wrath of God, no one will ever be aware of our secret fasting as we will be consuming that bread that others cannot understand. This is the message that we need to preach to ourselves, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”

As we are preaching this message to our audience of one, our views of Lent can also be transformed. We will no longer be focused on our sacrifices or our acts of penance, as if anything that you or I could do would ever place God in our debt. Rather, we will be reminded that while we were sinners Christ died for us and that this act has reconciled us completely to God in the present and secured our standing before him in the future. As I was thinking about how this gospel could change our perceptions of Lent, I came across these words from the Very Reverend Robert Munday, Dean Emeritus of Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He writes, “We would do well to remember the purposes for which Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness. He had no sins for which he needed to atone. We have no sins for which we are capable of atoning. If we could, what he did for us—what he had to do for us—would not be necessary. So Lent is really much more about what God adds to our lives as we spend intentional, focused time with him than what we give up, because the Gospel is always about what God has done for us, not about what we do for him.”

That last line, the Gospel is always about what God has done for us, not about what we do for him, sums up the discussion very well. If we preach God’s good news to ourselves during the rest of Lent, we may find that our lives are transformed. This proclamation to the self may just be the jumpstart that each of us needs to start engaging our neighbors and our co-workers with the message of God’s reconciling love in Jesus Christ. We may find ourselves all the more capable of inviting that friend that we know is lost to church for Easter services, we will have to wait and see what God does as we preach to ourselves the rest of Lent, but we can rest assured that his word will not return to him void.



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Filed under Discipleship, Evangelism, Lent, Preaching, The Holy Spirit