Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Resurrection of Our Lord (Easter 1A) - April 16, 2017 (John 20:1-18)


"Peter and John running to the tomb" (Eugene Burnand, 1898)

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

On one evening a couple of years ago, Pastor Joseph and I went out for a beer after a long Wednesday at work. We drove down to Scott’s Addition to one of those breweries there, and I parked the car along the curb. It was already dark, and things were kind of winding down. As I stepped onto the sidewalk and shut my door, I looked into the window of the brewery to see if it was actually still open, and to my surprise, I saw what looked to be my Lord.

I turned around to Joseph, who was a little bit behind me, and said, “It looks like they’re still open. But Jesus is in there.” Thinking that I must be making some silly theological comment about the fact that Jesus liked to hang out where the people were, Joseph just chuckled and said, “I know. Jesus is everywhere!” So I peered into the window again, craning my neck, as Joseph came around the corner of the car. I knew my eyes weren’t lying: there was a guy dressed up like Jesus in the brewery. I had no idea what the guy was doing, but it was clearly the man from Nazareth.

Again, I said to Joseph, “No, really. Jesus in in the bar.” So we opened the door and walked up into the brewery, and sure enough, there was a guy wearing a crown of thorns, and a white tunic with a scarlet robe draped over it, with sandals on his feet. It appeared that he was leading the people of the brewery in a game or some group activity. Joseph about fell down the stairs when we saw him. But you should have seen the color that Jesus turned when he saw what looked like two priests, in their collars, coming toward him! He did look like a ghost!

Several minutes later, after he finished his game-leading duties, he immediately stripped off his crown and costume and sheepishly came over to where we were sitting to apologize to us. Imagine his surprise when we insisted he put his costume back on so we could have our photo taken with him. We had seen the Lord!

All in all, that experience reminds me of what is happening as the disciples first come to the tomb on the second morning after Jesus’ death. We have Mary Magdalene and the disciples, all reaching the tomb at different times, peering inside, seeing different things, peering into the tomb again, coming to different conclusions, ending up in different locations, and being surprised with what they learn. And the first Easter message is not “Christ is risen!” or “Death has been defeated!” but “I have seen the Lord.”

John the gospel-writer does not tell us why Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. It could have been to anoint his body with spices, but it could have just as easily been because she just wanted to be near him, the man who had inspired her and given her hope. She travels back and forth that morning, shocked and dismayed that Jesus’ tomb has not just been tampered with, but that they may have a garden-variety case of tomb-robbing on their hands. After that Peter and the anonymous other disciple take off, almost in some kind of race. But then, strangely, the one who gets there first—who parks the car along the curb and steps onto the sidewalk first—stops and just looks inside. His buddy Peter, still rounding the corner, barrels right on in there, wondering what is going on. Then they’re both in there. They take turns understanding, on their own level, why the linen wrappings were rolled up without a body. Only one of them believes what’s happened, but then neither of them fully understand. They return home, as if nothing is really strange there.

(Cerezo Berado)
It’s Mary who is left to put the pieces together, but it all comes very slowly for her too, and only through the blur of her tears and sorrow. Distraught, she even carries on a conversation with Jesus at one point, thinking he’s the gardener.

That the resurrection of Christ begins with such confusion and lack of clarity probably perplexes us on some level. The strange sequence of events, the wide range of differing reactions, are not exactly what we might expect from the first account of someone rising from the dead. After all, we are more accustomed with the news of death and terror coming this way. In broken-apart bits and puzzling pieces the bad news comes out—whether it’s from the doctor over the phone, or worse yet, the coroner, despite their best intentions to keep it straightforward, or whether it’s through the media as we filter (often on our own) fact from fiction.

It was ten years ago this day, for example, when people of this nation and even moreso of this congregation were beginning to hear the horrific news out of Blacksburg and not knowing what was real and what was false. Details were difficult to come by no matter how long we stared at the news. Everyone was wondering and guessing: How many were injured or dead? How many shooters? And, sadly, who was to blame for such an evil?

Yes, it is as precious life is shattered and enters its tomb that we often encounter confusion and fear, grief and despair, not when it bursts back from it. Interestingly, though, not one of the gospel accounts of Jesus resurrection has a witness at the tomb as he comes out of it. Instead, we hear bits and pieces like today, first this person’s account, then that person’s understanding. Some might find this to be evidence that the resurrection of Christ stands on shaky historical footing, but for me and others, it only amplifies its truthfulness. These are humans without agendas encountering something totally unprecedented and left with nothing but their real, human emotions and doubt to figure it all out.

Furthermore, it is not Jesus’ closest disciples, the men he hand-picked to learn his new way of embodying God’s law and love, who get a handle on this miracle and marshal this message to its first hearers. It is Mary Magdalene, who stands by the tomb in her grief, who is too timid or maybe too respectful to go inside it like they did, who first begins to understand what God has done. It is Mary Magdalene, whose honest response of sorrow honors all our grief at what death has done to us. All those who have ever stood at a graveside weeping, who have struggled to carry on like normal after the death of a loved one, who have felt so isolated by grief are there with Mary, seemingly alone.

Loneliness and despair is not how Mary’s story ends. Easter puts a twist ending on all the grief we bear, all the sorrow we carry with us through this life. As she stands there she is approached by the very Lord himself, and she only recognizes him when he says her name. She doesn’t piece together a theological mystery. She doesn’t recall the prophecies in the Scripture. She doesn’t dazzle anyone with her grasp on the Apostles’ Creed. She simply hears him speak her name…and she knows Jesus has returned. She knows God has triumphed over death and the grave. She hears and knows the best news, the Mother of all Balms.

Easter is God’s appearing first not to the disciples who run the fastest, or who believe the quickest, but to the ones who are weeping, questioning, stuck in their confusion. Easter is God’s surprise that we never know exactly where we might bump into the Lord next, but it’s probably best to look around the dark corners of life. The earliest Christians, in fact, built their first churches not on city squares or in the middle of some beautiful flower-bedecked valley, but basically underground, right next to the tombs and burial chambers of their loved ones. They worshiped the Lord right in the presence in the places where they had wept. They were prepared to greet the Lord, to see those bones rise up in the new creation God was bringing forth in his Son Jesus Christ.

This is what Mary’s first Easter message, “I have seen the Lord,” has done to people. It provides the courage to look death in the eye, to peer into the open tomb, to gather at the drillfield at Virginia Tech where today they will speak the names of the 32 who died because we have faith Christ is out and about. The transformation from pain and grief to joy may not be so quick for all of us, but the joy will come. Christ is risen, and we have faith that those who have cried, those who have died, will some day hear him call their name.

The other evening, as we were getting ready for worship on Maundy Thursday, a young man in our choir was complaining that he didn’t feel well. He had a headache and felt yucky and was wondering whether it might be better for him to go home and get in bed. His mother lovingly urged him to do what felt best, but suggested he might start feeling better in a few minutes and go on with the worship service. His younger sister, however, who was to be receiving her first Holy Communion that night, felt selfless compassion for him and said,  “Just go on home if you feel bad. It’s OK to miss worship. You already know how the story ends.”

Yes, now we do. We know how the story ends. Mary has seen the Lord. So, Joseph, you, me, all of us: you never know where we might bump into him again.





Thanks be to God!


The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday - April 13, 2017 (Exodus 12:1-14, John 13:1-17, 31b-35)



“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: this month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you” (Exodus 12:1-2)



It must take a lot to start time over. It must take an event so big, so significant, so meaningful to begin an entirely new and different calendar.

I know that each year in about July, our office administrator, Hanne, orders new daily planners for all the staff. It’s a little strange and yet invigorating to be thinking about what might happen past January of the next year when we’re still in the middle of the current one, to look ahead and see all of those blank white squares advancing into the future, ready for action, but that’s not even what’s happening here for the people of Israel. God isn’t just ordering them next year’s daily planner. God is marking a brand new set of months for them. This is a new beginning of time itself, like they’re starting over at zero.

And it was new in both of the ways people counted time back then—the movement of the moon and the movement of the sun. The sun was the way yearly time was marked and the moon, with its easily discernible phases each night, was how monthly time was marked. Therefore this moment they find themselves in is not just the beginning of a new month, but a whole new year. Everything, therefore, is starting anew. All that came before is a different era, and this is the moment that begins it all.

It is certainly is significant, by all accounts. They are being set free from a life of slavery in Egypt. They are being released from a life as no people at all, a life at the bottom of society, which is all that they had every known. God has heard their cry and, in his grace, God is going to make a way for them to live a new life. God is going to give them a name and a home and restore them to their proper place as his holy people, shining in the world. From now on, no matter how many new daily planners they buy, the progress of time will be marked from this point, the moment they were freed.

unleavened bread, a Passover staple
And each year when the anniversary of this event is remembered, the people of God and their descendants will gather like they did that first time when they were commanded by Moses and Aaron. They will slaughter a lamb like they did back then and they will eat bread made without any yeast because there was no time for it to rise. They will remember how they ate with their traveling clothes on and sandals on their feet because they were in a hurry. Time was starting over. Is was the Passover of the Lord. In fact, Rabbi Gamaliel, a teacher of great authority who was alive at the time of Jesus, is reported to have said about celebrating the Passover, “In every generation a man must so regard himself as if he himself came forth out of Egypt.”[1]

This was the meal that Jesus gathered his disciples for on his last evening. We have come to call it the Last Supper, his last time with his disciples for teaching and sharing fellowship. Even Jesus was certainly aware that time for him was winding down. And tonight, once we celebrate this supper, we will conclude with the stripping of the altar, a powerful ritual that certainly feels like a bitter end.

"The Last Supper" (El Greco, 1568)
To some degree, all of this is true, all of these “lasts.” Jesus is about to hand over his life and there is an air of finality hanging in around tonight. However, it is important to remember that this was still mainly a meal about beginnings, about time starting over again, about countless blank white squares laid out into the future before the people of God.

On some level, that’s what would have been going through the disciples’ minds as they sat around that table with Jesus. They would have been thinking about the bread baked quickly, the blood spread over the door. And they would have been thinking about those sandaled feet, ready to run out the door and into that new freedom.

So when in the middle of all this Jesus gets up and begins washing feet, they realize something profound must be going on. Those are feet that should be dirty—and that’s OK! They are supposed to be ready to travel! As he takes those feet in his hands, maybe even untying the sandals, Jesus slows them down, and prepares them for a new kind of freedom, a new kind of life. In washing their feet that evening during the Passover celebration, Jesus gives his disciples a new vision for what following God will entail and a bold new definition for what freedom in his name will look like. It will entail acts of humility and servanthood in ways that build up community. It will look like stooping down at the feet of others, tending with kindness and care to the lowlier, more neglected aspects of their lives. And perhaps the part that shocks us most: those who normally have authority and who are in positions of control and expertise take on thankless tasks of love.

So, in the middle of a meal that is all about remembering who they are Jesus sets this lesson about how they relate to each other will be their true identifying marker. In the midst of an event that is about new beginnings, Jesus hands them a new commandment. And in the middle of a celebration that is based on people from the very bottom of society finally being lifted up, Jesus goes from the place of authority down to the floor.

What he’s doing is starting time over. He’s giving them a brand new beginning. And he’s going to do it by offering his body and shedding his own blood.

This is the meal that he shares with his disciples, the meal that Christ shares with us tonight. It may be his last Supper, but for us it is a time to start anew, just as it is every time we eat of his body and drink of his blood. He makes it his end so that we can have new beginnings. Each time we share this meal, each time we digest his words, we know his forgiveness for us. We are set free, we begin anew, as if time starts over for our soul, for our feet, for our life. We get a new calendar, full of blank squares to live. But because it is also a time for us to remember our identity as servants of the Servant Lord, it means we don’t just run out into the world, filling those blank squares with whatever we want. We now have a freedom to serve others, to love one another like Christ has loved us.

As you know, the world will always present us with plenty of opportunities to practice this new covenant and live this new freedom these days. It seems like the stakes are being raised these days, though. Many of you may have heard of the bombings in Coptic Churches in Egypt this past weekend as worshippers were gathered for Palm Sunday. Terrorists made their way into the congregation and detonated bombs while the Christians were worshipping. Nearly 50 died and many more were wounded in what would be their last worship service on earth. I’ve read that several of the congregations in middle Egypt, where there are higher percentages of Christians amidst the predominantly Muslim population, are still going to gather for Easter services this weekend, but they are scaling them back out of respect for the dead.

Mar Girgis (St. George) Coptic Church in Tanta, Egypt,
site of one of the Palm Sunday 2017 bombings
I’m sure it must be unbelievably difficult to know how to forge ahead in the wake of such despicable tragedy and evil. I do not purport to be an expert in it. I think it would be easy to give into hatred and anger and violence, or, better yet, apathy and denial of that Christian identity. Yet the Copts are coming out in droves to show their love and support for each other, surely a strong witness of this new commandment Jesus gives. In a sermon called, “A Message to Those Who Killed us,” delivered earlier this week, one Coptic priest, Father Boules George, took the opportunity to preach directly to those who carried out the bombings and to those who might be planning more. Instead of anger or despair, he preached thanksgiving and love. He says at one point to the murderers, “thanks for refilling our churches for us.” Normally on the Monday of Holy week the attendance is very low, but this week they were there by the thousands. He says every nook and cranny of the churches were filled with worshippers. People they’ve begged for years to come to church were there. He also preached about love. He says at one point, “I want to explain to you about our Christ. I want to tell you about how wonderful He is.”[2]

As I read the sermon I realized these must be words from someone who has shared supper with a Lord who has set him free. It is the witness of someone with washed feet—washed and sandaled—cleansed, ready to go out into the world and live this new beginning of love. Since the first time this meal was celebrated with Jesus, the enemies of God have circled around with crosses, spears, and suicide bombing jackets with the intent to intimidate and eradicate his followers. However, all those different enemies have come and gone, appearing and then eventually disappearing into the shadows of history without ever altering our message.

That is life in our new calendar. The community of this meal and its Host remains, growing, beating with the heartbeat of forgiveness, through all eras of time—through countless blank, open squares of countless calendars. Today, he beckons you and me…and Samuel, and Krista and Clare and Patrick and Fiona…again to take the bread and the cup, to begin again the journey of freedom and service.

With broken body and blood that is shed, he wants to explain to you about himself.

Taste and see how wonderful he is.

 
icon of Jesus washing feet

Amen.





The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.



[1] The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Robert Louis Wilken. Yale University Press, 2003. P 34

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Fifth Sunday in Lent - April 2, 2017 (John 1:1-45)



One of the lessons our seminary worship and music professor, Dr. Hawkins, hammered into our brains in class was the importance of being ready to receive a funeral procession as it arrived at the church on the day of a funeral. Dr. Hawkins was not ordained, and he understood deeply that the sight of the pastor at the front of the church to a grieving family making their way into the sanctuary with the casket of their loved one was an important gesture of pastoral care. Perhaps because he wasn’t ordained is why he understood this so deeply. He had always been on the receiving end of things like this. It’s why he wanted us, budding young pastors, to take this seriously. When death was involved, when real grief was involved, we needed to be on point. We needed to bring our A-game. If at all possible, he thought, we shouldn’t just be standing at the door of the church, but already in our vestments. The sight of the pastor dressed and ready to face death and people’s brokenness, to Dr. Hawkins’, at least, communicated comfort, communicated compassion right from the outset.

it's sunny here, but in my mind it is rainy
And so every time he brought this up, which seemed like every class session, I imagined myself the only place I could—standing in robes at the tippy-top of the front stairs at my home congregation, in the rain, as a long, slow procession of black cars with their headlights on pulled up to the church. There I was, in the right spot at the right time, filling my utmost role as a pastor and someone who was called to speak life into death. It wasn’t until I became a pastor when I realized death and funerals are almost never that choreographed. There is often no procession arriving from the funeral home, people don’t always come through the front door of the church, and nowadays, especially, the time frame for when viewings occur and when all the family arrive is so fluid. It’s almost impossible to know exactly when a worship leader is supposed to be where.

In any case, Dr. Hawkins would have been extremely displeased with Jesus in this morning’s gospel lesson, which tells the last and most dramatic story of Jesus’ ministry before he heads into Jerusalem to die. I mean, talk about not having a clue! Lazarus gets gravely ill, then he dies, then they have a funeral and a procession, and then place him in the tomb, and Jesus is nowhere to be found for any of it! He’s not in Bethany, where Lazarus and his sister’s live, even though he’s told to go there. He’s not at the tomb to be a presence of compassion and caring     for the grief-stricken. He’s certainly not in his holy vestments, standing at the top of the staircase in the rain ready to speak hope into the darkness of death. There’s even a point in the story when it sounds like Jesus dilly-dallies a bit. Maybe it’s because he fears for his life as he travels into Judea but he waits two days longer before he starts on his way.

Martha’s and Mary’s searing question to Jesus highlights his absence. She speaks for all of us—doesn’t she?—who have ever found ourselves shocked by sudden loss, who have found ourselves stunned by the cruel timing of death, or the unexpected hospitalization, or the scary diagnosis, and wondering how it all might have gone differently. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The Raising of Lazarus (Giotto, 14th century)
And just look at the scene by Lazarus’ tomb when he does finally arrive: things are out of control!! A whole crowd has gathered, and they’re following Martha and Mary around, weeping as they go. Even Jesus himself seems to get caught up in the emotions of the day. First, we’re told two different times that he becomes disturbed and moved, and then we’re told that he, too, starts to cry. It makes you wonder: perhaps this all could have been prevented—if not Lazarus’ death, then at least the sobbing and open weeping—if Jesus had just made good timing his priority, or if he had been more concerned about communicating his compassion.

The raising of Lazarus, which is what this event is often called, isn’t primarily about Jesus’ timing and preparedness to deal with human tragedy. It’s not about the magical effect brought about by being in the right time and the right place. In fact, it sounds as if Jesus casual approach to Bethany is part of his plan. It’s like he’s late to the scene just so that he can show God’s glory doesn’t work on a time schedule. God is not bossed around by time, as if it’s something he has to deal with or work against, which is how we often feel. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is a moment when we are given the chance to see that in Christ, God has power over death and sin. It is a point where we are shown that God in Christ is able to overcome the decay and the destruction that confronts every one of us, even after we die!

When Jesus arrives on the scene and Lazarus has already been dead four days, Jesus does not say, “I am the treatment and the cure,” or “I am the prevention and the medicine.” Or, “I am the compassion at the right time.” His words are “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus isn’t going to just deal with death, hold it off, or stand at the top of the concrete stairs and comfort people in the rain. He’s going to conquer it. And while to us things so much of the time often look like “all is lost,” while we still deal with the grief and the sorrow Jesus has yet given his own life to make sure that grief and sorrow don’t have the final word.

Raising of Lazarus (Rembrandt, 1620s)
Lazarus’ tomb is actually getting the disciples ready for what will happen in Jerusalem. That’s why Jesus begins to talk about his own death before he heads there. The world is increasingly hostile to him, but Jesus is going to head into it anyway, and just as he stands at the edge of the tomb after Lazarus has been dead four days, Jesus will go straight into his own death on the cross. He will go straight into his own death to reveal that God is done once and for all with the things that separate us from him and send the living into disarray.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in this, those who grasp this by faith, understand that death will not be their final destination. Those who trust in Jesus come to know that our deaths, no matter how sad or tragic, are not the end of us. Jesus will stand on the brink of death and shout, “Come out!” and one day our bones will join together and walk right out.

The news these days reminds us that the world is filled with valleys of dry bones, places where despair and hopelessness reign. And yet we can still trust that God is raising up new life, undoing the decay of the tomb to remind us of the day to come. This week there was the news of the loss of Michael Sharp, a 34-year-old American aid worker who whose body was found in a shallow grave in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sharp devoted his life to trying to attain peace in one of the worlds longest and bloodiest conflicts, which has been waged for years in the remotest regions of Africa. He started out as part of a Christian missionary team, but his bold an unorthodox way of bringing about peace among the rebels was so successful that he was eventually appointed by the United Nations to lead some of their teams. Like Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb, so confident that dealing openly and honestly with long-festering feelings of decay and anger was the best way forward, Sharp would walk into the dark jungle with each attempt, armed with nothing but his desire to listen and have dialogue with the fighters’ feelings. Before he died, it is estimated that Sharp’s tactics persuaded over 1600 fighters to lay down their weapons and come back out of the jungle, like Lazaruses released from the tomb, unbound from the ways of hatred and violence. Michael Sharp’s death was felt by the international peacekeeping community, but even now we know that God will raise him up in the eternal kingdom he worked so hard to tell others about during his life.

Emily and other YAGM personnel at Robben Island
I also heard from our own missionary in Africa this week, Emily Dietrick. Emily grew up as a child of this congregation, and now she is serving as an ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission in a much more serene and peaceful part of Africa, South Africa, but nevertheless a country with its own history of conflict and violence, a history it is still dealing coming to terms with. Last week she visited Robben Island, the notorious tomb-like prison that housed the blacks who spoke out against that country’s racist policies of apartheid prior to 1991. Robben Island’s most famous inmate was Nelson Mandela.
Emily received her tour from a man who served seven years there, a man who was subjected to repeated rounds of torture and interrogation. His crime was leaving and re-entering the country without a valid passport. Emily said that he ended their tour by saying, “There is power in forgiveness.” This man walks even now, out from his tomb of oppression, because he has been summoned forth by the hope of reconciliation even with his enemies, the power of life triumphing over death. There is hope, too, in the presence of congregations who form young people to have faith in the power of Jesus' life so that they can seek out experiences like Emily.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says. And it appears that through lives like that former prisoner, and those like Michael Sharp, there is faith in Jesus’ power to conquer darkness, evidence that sacrificial love ultimately wins and the world is made new. This resurrection is promised in our baptism, and this life is offered for us now in the bread and the wine.

We often weep, too, like the people at Lazarus’ tomb, our vision of a bright future blurred by our tears, our frustration with the timing of it all, the multitude of dry bones around us. And yet we are also called forth to live in the hope of that future, to know that by the strength of his grace we, too, have the ability to stand in the midst of the world’s suffering…at the edge of the jungle…in the rain, at the top of whatever staircase we can imagine, and announce to those who are just pulling up and don’t know what comes next in their heartbreak: “But even now the Lord is here. Even now he brings new life. Yes, Lord, you know. These bones will live.”

It wouldn’t just make Dr. Hawkins happy. Jesus would be proud.



Thanks be to God!


The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

"Scriptures in the Vernacular...also known as God Talks Like Us" - Lent 2017 series, Lent with Luther: 1517 Ideas through 2017 Eyes


A reading from Acts of the Apostles, the 2nd chapter:

1When the day of Pentecost had come, [the disciples] were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 11b in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." 



And a reading from Philippians, the 2nd chapter:

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
 6who, though he was in the form of God,
 did not regard equality with God
 as something to be exploited,
 7but emptied himself,
 taking the form of a slave,
 being born in human likeness.
 And being found in human form,
 8he humbled himself
 and became obedient to the point of death —
 even death on a cross.
 9Therefore God also highly exalted him
 and gave him the name
 that is above every name,
 10so that at the name of Jesus
 every knee should bend,
 in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 11and every tongue should confess
 that Jesus Christ is Lord,
 to the glory of God the Father.





Our Lenten series this year has introduced us to central theological ideas that Martin Luther wrote about and spoke about during the Protestant Reformation, ideas and concepts which were not new, but which he unearthed and rediscovered to help reform the Church in his day and set it back on the right gospel track. The idea that we look more closely at this week was not really something Luther so much wrote about as it is something he wrote. That is, one of the most lasting contributions Martin Luther made to the church’s life—and many historians would say it is the single-most profound contribution of Luther’s—is his act of translating the Holy Scriptures into German, the language of his people.

In 1521 and 1522, when Luther was holed up in the Wartburg Castle in Saxony in order to gain protection from the authorities who wanted him imprisoned or possibly executed, Luther sat down with a Greek translation of the New Testament provided by the Dutch scholar Erasmus and began writing it in the German he heard spoken in his day. In fact, that’s precisely how he worked on his translation of the Bible. During the day he would roam the streets of the nearby town of Eisenach, often in disguise, visiting taverns and markets to hear what words and phrases people were using on an everyday basis and weave them into the document he was producing. His complete version of the Bible was eventually published in 1534, but his New Testament by then was a blockbuster success. Printed in large quantities by the recently-developed and improved printing presses, his Bible spread like wildfire in the German provinces.

In an age of digital communication and Google translator, this might seem like no big deal to us, but it was a huge deal at Luther’s time. In order to understand just how groundbreaking this was, we must imagine for a moment what it was like to be a Christ-follower in the late middle ages and early Renaissance. If you lived in northern Germany and attended worship on a Sunday, you have to imagine that not one word was spoken that you would understand, unless you had been fortunate enough to receive an education in Latin, which was extremely rare for the common person. As you listened to the priest chant the liturgy, you might not have known when the Scripture readings began and ended, since it would have all been one long stream of a language you didn’t know. There were no hymnals or books in the pews to follow along with; you were most likely illiterate, but even if you weren’t, you really weren’t expected to say anything, anyway. The main worshiping was done by the priests and cantors; as a lay person, you were just there basically to eavesdrop.

Don’t get me wrong—worship was undoubtedly divine and transcendent, but there was very little you could take away from it other than the experience of hearing it and being moved by its beauty. If you wanted to know a verse of Scripture, you likely had to rely on a priest, who was probably poorly-trained, reciting it for you, and it would probably have been taken from the Vulgate, the official Latin translation the church used. The Vulgate had been translated in A.D. 382, almost 1200 years earlier!

Luther's translation is still used as the base for German
Bibles to this day. This is the Bible I received about 20 years
ago when I lived near Wittenberg.
In contrast to this, Martin Luther wanted everyone to hear the Word of God. He wanted worship to involve the people, from letting them partake of the wine in Holy Communion (along with the bread), to hearing Scripture readings and the songs and hymns of the faith in their own language. He even developed large-print versions of Scripture so that people with poor eyesight could see. The Bible that he translated ended up becoming so popular and so widely-used that it is credited with creating the modern German language. In effect, it was a continuation of Pentecost. By streamlining and bringing together into one linguistic warehouse of a book all the diverse Germanic dialects spoken across the country, Luther created a form of German that everyone could understand and adopt. As a result, he is known as the father of the German language.

So, why did he do all this? These changes were much more sweeping and drastic than just changing a few words and lines of the Lord’s Prayer, which is something many of us still struggle with. For Luther, if the church constantly used language that sounded nothing like the language the people used and communicated with, it didn’t just potentially make church boring. It sent a message contrary to the very gospel itself. That is, keeping the language of Scripture frozen in one particular language or dialect suggested we humans had work to do in order to be understood by God, as though our natural speech wasn’t good enough. It sent the message that humans had to speak a certain way, or that we had to pass a vocabulary or grammar test, in order to be reconciled to God. It made God seem distant, and that we could climb to him on a Babel tower built of the right words.

And to Luther, that was the exact opposite of the message of Jesus, who had shown us God descends to us, becoming flesh to dwell among us. To the reformers, the fundamental life-saving message of grace was that even though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. God desires to be understood, and not simply admired or revered. God so wants to make himself known to us that God strips himself of divine pretentiousness so that and we can respond to him and confess him as Lord in our own tongue.

"The Tower of Babel" (Pieter Bruegel the Elder)
Just as we believe God has become human as a first-century Jew who spoke a language called Aramaic, so do we understand that God’s Word can bring life and wisdom in German, in English, in Spanish, in Creole—in whichever speech people are using at any moment. God is so alive, so present, that God can talk like us…and like those people over there! His is a living word, fully transparent, thoroughly “enfleshed,” taking on all the jargon and grammar devices of humankind. Even a Hip Hop paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm from something called the Hip Hop Bible, gets the point across, even if it’s not something you or I would use:



The Lord is all that, I need for nothing
He allows me to chill.
He keeps me from being heated
And allows me to breathe easy.
He guides my life so that
I can represent and give
Shout-outs in his Name.
And even though I walk through
The Hood of death,
I don't back down
For you have my back.
The fact that you have me covered
Allows me to chill.
He provides me with back-up
In front of my player-haters
And I know that I am a baler
And life will be phat
I fall back in the Lord's crib
For the rest of my life.



And our own hymnal contains the evocative words of a Christmas hymn written by French Jesuit missionaries when they taught the gospel to the Huron Indians in the early 1600’s. If you’ll turn to hymn 284, “’Twas in the Moon of Wintertime,” and look at the second and third verses, especially:



“Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew high, the angel song rang loud and high:
Jesus your king is born! Jesus is born, in excelsis Gloria!

And in the third verse you’ll see that it is chiefs from afar that bring gifts not of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but of fox and beaver pelt, valuable riches to the Huron people.


Martin Luther did not put the Scriptures in the vernacular just for shock value or to be cute. It was an extension of his theology of the cross, his understanding of being saved by grace alone. It was also dependent on his understanding of what the Scriptures were. First of all, they were not just inspirational words that had no original anchor. Each of his translations were careful, scholarly interpretations from the original Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament. For whatever reason God had chosen those languages to reveal his Word in, so they must be taken seriously.

Secondly, Luther thought that the point of Scripture was to point us to the Christ. It was not principally a rule book, or a science or history book, but a holy set of writings that revealed to us Jesus. As he once famously said, “the Bible is the manger wherein Christ is laid.” This strikes at the very humble nature of our Lord and the simple ways he comes to us. Faith is not best ignited in people by inspiring them to rise to a certain kind of holiness or liturgical atmosphere, or by getting them to worship a set of sacred texts. Faith arises, rather, whenever it is shown that Christ is given for you. And, in some instances, hip hop can do that even better than the Queen’s English.

My seminary preaching professor, Dr. Tom Ridenhour, always stressed that sermons should be both profane and vulgar. That’s a provocative statement, but he wanted us to take him seriously, His point was classic Luther: we were to keep the language of our preaching unchurchy, not too “of the temple,” which is what profane really means. And we were to speak in the pulpit like people speak in their everyday conversations, which is what vulgar means. Ironically, the word “vulgar” is taken from the title of that old Bible, the Vulgate. It’s Latin had once been the language of the people, but by the time of Luther no longer was.

It reminds me of a saying by Eugene Peterson, a popular and wise pastor of our time who, like Luther, has gone back to the original Hebrew and Greek and come up with a translation for our time known as The Message. Peterson says, “In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true.”

Language is always changing, evolving, perhaps even now more than ever before. I remember the reaction when the Pope created his own Twitter account and began tweeting.

But now he has over 10 ½ million followers! We are all about a Word that became flesh, a God who is eternally giving himself to us, so issues about how people of faith speak and the way we use and translate Scripture will always be relevant.

How many people nowadays attend church and have absolutely no idea what’s going on because pastors have kept it a little too churchy?

How many in our time question Christian authenticity when they hear us speaking in what sounds like a secret code?

How do we stay true to the original texts and a common understanding that Scripture primarily leads us to Jesus?

How do we balance respect for God in our words and speech with the need to show God’s own accessibility?

Where do we draw the line with use of language that is gender-specific for God?

Has this sermon even met its own standard of being plain-speaking and ordinary?

Can we somehow balance the old language of hymns and prayers that flow off our lips from years of blessed use with the new songs and linguistic offerings that are arising by the power of the Spirit every day?

One of the big problems that Lutheran reformers encountered when the Bible went so public was that each person felt called to interpret the Scriptures their own personal way. How do we ensure that interpretations and translations are normed by what the whole community understands and holds true?

Each of these questions—and the others like it—is not superficial to the gospel. We may not think we’re engaging in serious theological discussion as we tackle them, but, as Luther knew, speaking for God is speaking about God. And if you have a printing press, or a printer, or a pen, a handheld device, or even if you have a tongue then you are able to confess, you are able to profess, you are able to witness to the Word become flesh.

And to that, all we can really say, is “WORD.”






Thanks be to God!


The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.


Monday, March 20, 2017

The Third Sunday in Lent [Year A] - March 19, 2017 (John 4:5-42)



The woman at the well walks the journey, worships the Christ, and witnesses with joy.

First, she walks the journey. The particular details of the journey she walks remain a bit unclear, but we know at some point it leads her to the well outside of her city. It is Jacob’s well, a historical location that was important to both the Samaritan and Jewish people because he was a common ancestor. Jacob actually met his future wife at a well several centuries earlier, and although it may not have been this particular well, it does calls to mind the fact that wells in the time of the Bible were typically places where people could intermingle and gather. However, there appears to be no one else here that day. This woman journeys alone. Maybe because it’s noon and most of the water-fetching—a back-breaking, tiresome daily task undertaken almost exclusively by women—is done in the morning before it gets too hot.

From the conversation she has with Jesus it emerges that her personal life’s journey might be a bit complicated. However, Jesus doesn’t judge her and neither should we, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about her or what decisions she’s made. The fact that she has had five husbands and the man she is with now is not legally her married partner does not mean that she has morally questionable character. She may be a five-time widow, in fact, stuck in a type of Levirite marriage, where she is obligated to marry her first husband’s brothers until she produces an heir, which she hasn’t, so she feels useless. She may have been dismissed unfairly by these men, left to fend for herself, and walk the lonely and vulnerable journey of a woman who has no legal or social status in society. No matter what the case is, her life has been a journey and it’s probably left her with a lot to reflect on.

We all are walking a journey, aren’t we? Maybe it involves some of the pain and alienation that this woman experiences. Maybe, like water jugs that must be repeatedly carted back and forth, the journey involves carrying burdens that no one else knows about. On the other hand, perhaps it is a journey of relative privilege and blessing one that hasn’t included too many times of loneliness or disappointment. Whatever the case, this woman’s experience at the well goes to show that our journeys may encounter God’s holiness at any time and in any place. If God can hallow Jesus’ journey to the cross, then God can turn up in our dark valleys too. The journeys we undertake—the ones we choose and the ones forced upon us—are bound to intersect with the God who loves us. We do not judge others’ journeys or the decisions that may have got them there. We view them as fellow travelers who are seeking, learning, searching, waiting for a Savior.

"Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well" (Guercino)
The woman at the well worships the Christ. It certainly doesn’t start out that way that day—as a chance to worship. It starts out as a request for water from a Jewish man who should really know better than to speak in public to an unknown woman. It starts out, then, as an admission of vulnerability, as request for help, not as a demand for obedience. It starts out with a crossing of boundaries, with a refusal to let ethnic or racial or social boundaries influence or deny the formation of a relationship.

I remember the lunch area in my high school and how although on the surface, to an outside observer, it looked like everyone was mingling, the reality was that everyone was sitting and eating in distinct groups that did not really mix. People from one group could not just get up and go sit down and talk with another, unless they wanted to risk being laughed at or looked at funny.

The man she meets at the well doesn’t mind being laughed at or looked at funny. He ventures into the hostile part of the high school cafeteria…the part of town no one likes to drive through…the political rally that you don’t want to associate with. It’s almost a habit of his, crossing borders, disregarding conventions. It’s how he helps connect people. It’s how he helps draw people in closer to himself and, therefore, to God.

For this woman, worship begins in conversation. It doesn’t start out with a bright, shining light or a voice booming from the heavens saying, “Worship me.” It starts with a request for water and then questions, a discussion, a sharing of ideas. Over the course of several minutes she comes to realize that the Messiah—that is, the Christ—she and her people have been waiting fo is sitting with her. No longer must she face Jerusalem to seek God, or Mt Gerezim, which is what her people, the Samaritans, believed. God’s presence was with her in this Jewish man who talks about living water.

Right now our family is in search of the perfect sippy cup. We’ve tried about four different kinds. A perfect sippy cup is one that will hold the water in, even when it is slammed on the floor multiple times, but which will also freely release enough water when someone puts it to their mouth. It’s one that will always give running water—living water, if you will—not trap it inside somehow. This woman will find in Jesus the perfect sippy cup, spring of life, a nourishment that will dependably flow for her.

This woman’s encounter with the living Lord shows us we have a God who takes our questions, who leaves himself open, who honors our curiosity, who doesn’t force the issue. This God desires our worship, desires our obedience, but this God wants it to rise out of relationship, not out of compulsion. This Spirit and truth so often comes carefully and gently, not at the tip of a sword.

I don’t know about you, but I find this so difficult to remember this and to model it for others. So often Christ-followers, especially religious authorities, can come across so rigid, so doctrine-driven, so full of all the answers all the time. We think people need a guidebook when really they want to hear a story. We resort to issuing commands when God favors dialogue. The woman at the well worships the Christ and we see how her life is changed by the living water she discovers worship to be.

The woman at the well witnesses with joy. She is so full of joy and excitement that she actually leaves her jug at the well to go back to the city to tell the people about Jesus. It sits there as a reminder of the change he has created. She’ll need literal water again, for sure, but her searching for a word, a relationship that truly satisfies is over. She won’t have to lug her hopes for that around anymore. The source of new life has found her.

So full of joy and amazement she is that she runs back to the very place that has likely ostracized her, the very community that has let her fetch water alone. Jesus has transformed her view of herself as well as her view of other people and the world around her. She now sees herself as a person who has something to offer, something to share. This living water is truly gushing up in her, the joy of eternal life is so vibrant others can taste it, see it.

Her message to them is very interesting, probably not what we would first guess a missionary would use. She doesn’t run back and say, “You’re all wrong! Listen to what I know!” or, “I’ve accepted the Lord and you need to, also.” Her witness is contained in one simple line: “He told me everything I have ever done.” It’s a very personal message, one that really can’t be argued with. To be honest, I’m not really sure I know what her message means, or if my own faith could be summed up in such a way, but I know if I were in that village I’d want to hear more from her.

I like the idea of a God who really knows people—even the parts they’ve hidden or been ashamed of—and still claims them and wants to be in relationship with them. When she comes back to the city and says, “He told me everything I’ve ever done,” it’s like she says, “Here’s what the Messiah is like, people. He knows our story. He knows the journey. He gets it.” Faith in Jesus helps us put things in our own lives in their proper place. It may not happen all at once, but it comes over time. We find our own story, with all of its ups and downs, wrapped up in his. We find our own journeys with all their brokenness and beauty, contained in his journey to the cross. And there we realize a well of life that can never run dry, a fountain that will always runneth over, a grace that will never be exhausted.

The woman at the well walks the journey, worships the Christ, and witnesses with joy. It is as if she is a member of Epiphany Lutheran Church and knows our mission. And I believe she is. This woman is really any one of us: Curious. Searching. Tired, but open. At any given point we can think we’re too lost or too marginalized to matter, traveling to the well alone, and God will encounter us once again.

We can begin to think worship is all about knowing which direction to face, which religious pieties to adopt and practice, and Christ will transform that again, too, reminding us that faith is about trusting in him.

And we can wonder about how to witness, how to share, how to find the right words or the right strategy, but we learn it’s really just about sharing our story, talking to others about our relationship with God, allowing questions and dialogue to happen.

We’re thirsty, Lord Jesus, and we thank you, for visiting that well and speaking with that woman. And we praise you for the privilege to walk, worship, and witness alongside her.



Amen.





The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Simultaneously Saint and Sinner...also known as A Perfect God's Imperfect People" - Lent 2017 series, Lent with Luther: 1517 Ideas through 2017 Eyes


Romans 7:19-25

19 I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. 20 But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it. 21 So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me. 22 I gladly agree with the Law on the inside, 23 but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body. 24 I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?25 Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I’m a slave to God’s Law in my mind, but I’m a slave to sin’s law in my body.



Matthew 7:1-5

7 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s[a] eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor,[b] ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s[c] eye.




There is a website called OldLutheran.com which sells merchandise with traditional Lutheran themes, things like novelties and mugs and clothing. One of the most popular items for sale there is a T-shirt that is a bit of an optical illusion. When read one way, it says “Saint,” but when flipped upside down, it spells the word “Sinner.”  The font in which it is written resembles the calligraphy of ancient manuscripts, as if it is something a saintly monk may have written in one of those oversized manuals he transcribed. For me, it also looks like the style of writing found in gothic horror novels or biker tattoos. Seen one way it can seem holy and fancy, but it also has an edgy, ominous, devilish look to it. The design is clever because it is somehow both, rolled into one: saint and sinner, holy and sinister, whole and broken.

It is intended to depict visually a theological idea that Martin Luther wrote extensively about during the Protestant Reformation. That is, a believer is simultaneously saint and sinner. He or she is not ever really one or the other—as if at any given moment a person finds their life in a good column or a bad column or even a neutral column. When it comes to her relationship with God, a believer understands that she is both stuck in sin, in deep need of God’s mercy, and, at the same time, fully named and claimed as a holy child of God, set free from her bondage.

Martin Luther did not make up this idea that we are simultaneously saint and sinner, but it did become a central component to his teachings. He found it in Scripture, especially in the letters of apostle Paul. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he hears the apostle, who clearly is a man of great faith, struggle openly with his own sinfulness. Paul maintains steadfast faith in the victory of his Lord Jesus Christ over sin and death, and he talks extensively about the meaning and importance of his baptism, but he also is frustrated that he is still captive to sin. He finds himself still wanting to do the very things he should not do, putting him in conflict with the new, forgiven person he yet knew Christ had made him to be.

Martin Luther saw this conflict in himself, and it was struggling with this concept of his own imperfections in the face of God’s mighty perfection which really led him to launch his critique of the church in his day. He recognized that in this life we are never really totally free from that desire to sin, that tendency to transgress what Paul calls the law. We always fall short in our ability to live up to God’s righteousness.

In his commentary on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Luther says, “The true way of salvation is this. First, a person must realize that he is a sinner, the kind of a sinner who is congenitally unable to do any good thing.” “Congenitally” in this case means a firmly established habit, as if from birth. The first step in become one of this perfect God’s imperfect people is realizing you are instinctively flawed, broken.

And yet, at the same time, we also have the promise that Christ is given for us—we are assured through God grace that Jesus, who is God’s own Son, makes us righteous before God. We grasp this through our faith, we feel it in the water of our baptisms, we hold and taste it in the Lord’s Supper, and we know it is true for us. It’s a free gift, and like a garment that shields us, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross makes us holy in the eyes of God. Luther goes on to say: “[Let me] give a short definition of a Christian: a Christian is not somebody who has no sin, but somebody against whom God no longer chalks sin, because of his faith in Christ.”

In Luther’s day, this was a helpful guide for reforming the church and reorienting its message to the gospel truth. The church had practices and official stances that led people to believe they could get rid of their own sin by living perfect, virtuous lives, or by donating enough money, and that a Christian was someone who had successfully done just that.

Luther’s view helped people realize that God’s love for us in Christ was sufficient for our salvation.

But what about today? How does the church’s proper understanding that we’re both sinner and saintly at the same time—that we’re a perfect God’s imperfect people—meet modern culture and become a word of grace? To some degree, I believe that there is already a yin-and-yang sentimentality present in most people’s minds—that is, that life is mixture of opposites, and that some of the opposites are right within us. A yin-and-yang philosophy may not be the same thing as saint and sinner, but it is somewhat similar.

And yet I hear within our day and age a strong tendency to place humans fully in one category or another, to make hard-and-fast judgments about human worth. I see the debates over renaming schools here in Richmond or the possible removal of Confederate war memorials, the requests to no longer quote Thomas Jefferson, slave-owner, at the University of Virginia (which he founded!) and wonder if they all might be symptoms of this tendency to paint people all one color according to their sins. The most recent edition of one of the magazines I subscribe to, The Christian Century, deals with the struggle to make sense of Martin Luther’s own legacy, because along with the wonderful things he said in regards to church and faith and service to neighbor, he also said some hateful things about groups like Jews, Anabaptists, and Muslims.

And we come to conclusions about folks we know on a personal level, too, thinking that certain people have little capacity to embody God’s holiness or show forth the love of Christ because of our past experiences with them, or because of stereotypes we’ve developed through the media. There is a lot of confessing of other people’s sins these days, of pointing out the specks in others’ eyes we feel can’t be overlooked.

Things like slavery and discrimination are certain evils, and discussions about the ways they have intersected and impacted the witness of people’s lives are important ones to have. And yet it is easy to focus only on the sin, only on the parts of one’s life that seem to be irredeemable to us. Without an understanding that it is Christ who makes us saints—and not our own power to name and root out all wrongdoing and avoid all inconsistencies in character and thinking—our judgments of people can risk throwing out the righteous baby with the sinner bathwater. That is to say, it is best to view everyone with the knowledge that Christ offered his life for them, just like he did for us. Insofar as anyone—and you and me—is in Christ, they are one of God’s holy, loved people, part of the host that are promised to join him in the feast to come.

On the other side of the coin, saint and sinner thinking can help combat the human triumphalism that I fear is gaining ground in today’s world. Sometimes I worry that there is a growing attitude that humans are congenitally awesome, not congenitally flawed, as Luther would say, and there is great danger in this. There is an optimism about human nature and human capacity that on our own we can solve all problems, bring about all good. Such thinking is bound to ignore that some of the twentieth-century’s greatest horrors—World War I, the Holocaust of World War II, the eugenics programs in this country—were in large part brought about by a philosophy of human perfection, that we were in complete control of our own destiny.

But here I go confessing others’ sins, and there’s a log in my own eye, right? Saint and sinner understanding keeps all of us honest about our brokenness, helps us maintain a sense of humility about our human condition, with all its ugliness. We all have sinned, and all fall short of the glory of God.

I saw a meme recently that said, “Remember that you are mud, but you are also made of stardust.” It was a modern spin on simultaneously saint and sinner, a scientific re-thinking of Luther’s concept. We are dirty, fallible creatures, capable of making a mess of ourselves and the world, but also in our atoms lie the very same elements that make up the heavens, resplendent in their beauty.

We know now, too, that even our DNA, which contains the recipes for our bodies to heal on its own, for things like the color of our eyes and the shapes of our beautiful bodies and faces in all their diversity. And yet we are learning that within these same mysterious molecular codes are inscribed the instructions for many of the diseases that kill us. It seems as if biologically we are perfect and imperfect at the same time.

What a gift it would be to remember that when it comes to our whole life—our soul, our ambitions, our virtues—we are a perfect God’s imperfect people, being made more and more perfect in Christ’s image as we continue the journey of faith, which always includes repentance and confession. And, of course, forgiveness.                                                  

Several years ago one of my colleagues in Pittsburgh told me the story of baptizing a three-year-old one Sunday. As they held him over the font, he screamed “NOOOOOO!” at the top of his lungs, flailing his arms and legs wildly around. The very next week he underwent a five-hour-procedure at a hospital, followed by six hours of having to remain perfectly still. His nurse entered his room after recovery, asking the obligatory, “What’s your name?”  Without hesitation, this three-year-old replied, “Nathan Johnson, child of God.”

May we be so confident in our identity of who we are (sinners)…and also whose we are (saints!). May we by God’s grace remember that we, sinners that can scream in defiance, have been received by the Lord who offers up his own priceless life back to us in order that we may be children of God. That is…saints!






The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.