Mary and Christmas

Fourth Sunday of Advent
A Sermon preached at Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh PA Dec. 18, 2011
by the Rev. Dr. Leander S. Harding

It is the tradition of the Church on the last Sunday of Advent to focus on the figure of Mary, and upon the annunciation by the angel Gabriel to her that she would bear the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. “Hail, Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee; the Holy Spirit shall overshadow thee and thou wilt conceive a child and call his name Jesus, which means God saves, and He will save His people.” Ultimately He will spread out His arms on the hard wood of the Cross so that the whole world will come within the reach of His saving embrace.
Most churches have a stained glass window of the Annunciation — here at the Cathedral, there is one in the Lady Chapel and also in the main sanctuary.

The life of Jesus is bracketed by two miracles. The first is the miracle of the incarnation, the miracle of the Virgin birth, whereby the eternal Word of God’s love, the only begotten Son of the Father takes human flesh from the Virgin Mary His mother and becomes man. In the paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson called The Message, “The Word took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” At the beginning of His life on earth is the incarnation and at the end of His earthly life is the Resurrection. The Father raises the Son from death and gives us the hope and promise that we might be raised as well — to a new life which begins now and which he grave cannot hold.

The New Testament forthrightly puts before us a God of miracles and bids us to hope in a miraculous salvation. A miracle is a demonstration of the power of God that is recognized as such in faith. Where there is no faith, there can be no miracle seen, only something appearing astonishing or inexplicable. Both the deed of power and the faith to recognize it are the gift of God. He gives the faith that recognizes the deed and performs the deed that elicits and strengthens the faith.

So the angel comes to announce the meaning of the deed, and because the author of the miracle is the God of Love, the mighty deed is done with the character of love and for the purpose of Love.

Our era is a strange mixture of skepticism and superstition. On the one hand, there is the militant skepticism and scientism of the new atheists who think of any kind of religious belief as a kind of virus. On the other hand, alongside this atheism, there are literally millions of sons and daughters of the civilization the Bible built who are numb to the claims of their ancestral faith but are mesmerized by all kinds of fantasmagoric spirituality and religiosity. There is oddly more interest in Gabriel and in angels than in the message of the angel and the miraculous birth he comes to announce.

Hard skepticism and credulous superstition — they have in common an allergy to the God who intervenes, who breaks into human life and by so doing creates a crisis of decision, a moment which is full of both judgment and salvation. In our age, an aspect of human life which has always been there has gained the upper hand, has become dominant. It is a deep fear of anything which might interfere with our personal freedom, or at least the way we think about our freedom. We think that the more choices we have, the more free we are. The God who intervenes decisively in human life suddenly reduces the choices to two: reception or rejection.

So properly scientific theories are over-inflated into psuedo-philosophical world views, the purpose of which is to keep our riot of self-will safe from the intervention of a God who cares and cares to act decisively for our salvation. The death of Christopher Hitchens is in the news. He is an interesting figure. One of doctoral students at the seminary debated him and they became friends. They shared a long car ride. Hitchens wanted to discuss the Gospel of John. But this famous proponent of the New Atheism wrote in one of his books that he found the idea of a God who knows everything about us and who interferes in human events, oppressive.

But suppose that the miraculous God, the interventionist God, when he intervenes, when he acts for our salvation, acts not only out of love and towards the end of love but lovingly :
Here we see in the Annunciation the character of God’s intervention, the character of God’s miracle — It does not overwhelm but invites. The miraculous God always makes room for the free response. Love in action lovingly makes room for a free and loving response. Mary’s heart is prepared. In art and stained glass, the Annunciation is often depicted with a book on the floor at Mary’s feet — she has been reading Isaiah. So the salvation of the world depends on Mary’s fiat. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it unto me according to thy will.” In surrender Mary finds a human dignity and freedom she could never have otherwise, and so by invitation and free response, God comes savingly among us.

Mary is the figure, the pattern, for both the individual Christian and for the Church. God desires that both as individuals and as the Church, we should be overshadowed by the Spirit and bring forth into the world the new life of Jesus Christ and the eternal Word of seeking, searching, and sacrificing love — the Word which at great cost brings peace with God and goodwill among men. Our purpose as Christians, as the Church of Jesus Christ, is to be bearers of this love. This is our hope. This is our salvation.

It is necessary for us as Christians and for the Church, if we are to fulfill our calling to love each other and the world with the love wherewith we have been loved by God, to closely imitate Mary and like her to say to God “Be it unto me according to your will.” “Lord, come into our lives and make us what you would have us be.” This requires humility, it requires a casting of ourselves upon God in spite of fears and doubts (The doubts and fears of all the years are met in Him on Christmas night).

It requires everything that is the opposite of the cool, detached, ironic, stance that is the ethos of our time. It does not require a sacrifice of the intellect but it requires a humility of the intellect and a docility before the witness of the scripture and the great teaching tradition of the church. It requires a willingness to trade the false freedom of an infinity of meaningless choices for the real freedom which comes from saying, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord. Be it unto me according to Thy will.” And “not my will but Thine be done.”

Let us pray. Father, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the Saviour, make us, each one of us and our Church, more like Mary. Give us hearts like hers, surrendered to your will, and bring forth in us, in each heart here and in the heart of your Church, the life and love of your Son who is the peace and joy of the world. Amen.

Quote of the Day

There is no way in which tension and conflict can be avoided. We probably need to be much more ready for painful conflict than we have been in an age when tolerance has been regarded as the supreme virtue. But the pain is bearable if both sides can recognise in each other a total commitment to Christ, and a total willingness to be directed by what God has done and shown us in Jesus Christ. The tension is bearable only if Christ means more to us than any of the causes to which we have committed ourselves.
It is, I think, necessary to say this rather sharply because we have in recent years seen so much of a kind of theology which can only tear the Church apart. I am referring to such well-known developments as liberation theology, feminist theology, green theology and Black theology. All of these draw attention to issues about which Christians must be vitally concerned.
They challenge the too-comfortable domestication of the Church within the reigning
establishment. But one has always to ask: “Where does my ultimate loyalty lie? Where is the bottom line?” We cannot help being exposed to propaganda on these issues which value the Church only in so far as it is an ally in a particular cause. If, in these contexts, one begins to talk (for instance) about evangelism, as though it really mattered supremely whether or not a person knows Jesus as Lord and Saviour, one is met with incomprehension. Jesus is not the supreme, issue in these new single-issue theologies. It has to be said that if this kind of thinking permeates the Church, the tension it causes will block both unity and integrity and bring us all great pain. No one can lay down general rules to determine whether and when faithfulness to Christ requires separation.

We can only pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in such a terrible dilemma. But that guidance will be given to the community which lives, thinks, perceives and acts from within the biblical story of God’s purpose for all humanity and all creation, not only at moments of crisis but at all times.

Read the whole thing here

A Christmas Sermon

Flying Saucers & Christmas


Christmas Eve 1996, Leander Harding


Tonight I am going to talk about something which may seem strange as a topic

for a Christmas Eve sermon. I am going to talk about flying saucers, UFOs and

alien abductions. My job is to tell the story of Jesus Christ. In order to tell the

story of Jesus Christ effectively, it is important to listen to the other stories that

people tell each other. People express their hopes and fears in the stories they tell.

Tonight the church proclaims that in Jesus Christ the hopes and fears of all the

years have been met. The stories of UFOs and space aliens have a form which

seems strange, even bizarre to some, but the content of these stories is very familiar

and very universal. At the heart of these stories the human heart cries out in

hope and fear. I want to spend a few moments exploring these stories so that I

can share my conviction that the true and living story of the birth of the Saviour

is the answer to the desire of the human heart that is being expressed by this fascination

with visitors from outer space.


It interests me that stories of visitors from outer space persist and enjoy great

popularity in spite of the obvious scientific difficulties. From a strictly scientific

viewpoint it seems plausible that there is life elsewhere in the universe, and

implausible given the vastness of the universe and the limit of the speed of light

that we have been visited by intergalactic travelers. Yet the interest in this topic is

huge, and television programs and movies which explore these themes, have large

and enthusiastic audiences. Some popular ones are Close Encounters of the Third

Kind, X Files, Third Rock From the Sun, Independence Day, Mars Attacks and

others that you can name. People do not get tired of telling these stories and people

do not get tired of hearing these stories. Two basic themes are represented in

these stories.


First there is the alien as a strange and sinister force, immensely sophisticated,

which threatens to destroy humanity by a combination of superior force and

deceit. Often in these stories, such as The X Files, there are traitorous human

beings who are willing to aid the evil aliens and prepare the way for them in the

mistaken notion that they can cut a separate deal. Often there are humans who

have been completely taken over. They look human but have been taken over

from the inside out and are really now enemy agents. There are those terrifying

scenes where the evil alien creature which has consumed the person from the

inside out breaks through the skin of the person and the horrible truth is

revealed. These story lines also have a heroic figure who has learned the horrible

truth of imminent destruction and can’t get well-intentioned but terminally

naive innocents to take him seriously. You sit in the theater saying to yourself,

“For God’s sake, listen to him before it is too late.”


Then there is another story line, a more hopeful story. The aliens are superior

beings, morally and spiritually superior as well as technologically. From time to

time they have visited us to help and guide us, to nudge and direct the course of

our history. Now the time is right for them to reveal themselves and save us from

ecological disaster, planetary war and destruction. In some versions of this story

line, the aliens mate with humans to create a new race, a superior race, morally

and spiritually as well as physically. This new race will change the course of history

and give us hope that we might survive.

I believe these stories of visitors from outer space exert a strange power over so

many people because they speak of deep intuitions of the human heart. Human

beings look at life on planet Earth and know with a deep intuition that there is a

power at work in human affairs that is dark and sinister and which is underestimated

by people. Many good people seem naive and complacent, unheeding of

the warning as the greedy, selfish and hateful play with forces they do not understand.

When will they listen? When will they listen?


It may be hard to believe in Flying Saucers but it is not hard to believe that

our race, the human race, is a threatened race, and our planet a threatened planet

and that the situation calls for dramatic action. These are the kinds of things people

feel in their bones. This is a deep and true intuition of the human heart. The

form of this story may be fantastic but the content is profound. This story of a

threatened people and a threatened world is a more profound story than the story

that some combination of science, technology and commerce will solve all our



The other story line, the more hopeful one, also reflects a profound intuition

of the human heart, that there is in the universe a benevolent force that is more

powerful than human beings are, a force that is good and which subtly influences

history for the positive, a force which is on our side and working to save us and

our world. It is also a profound intuition that what has been hidden is about to be

revealed and that which has been working behind the scenes is about to step out

onto center stage. Even this seemingly bizarre part about the mating of humans

and aliens represents a profound intuition of the human heart. The human heart

knows about the reality of the first story, the story of evil which threatens to

destroy from the inside out, and human stupidity and cupidity in the face of that

evil. The human heart knows that there needs to be some new element—new

blood, yes, but more importantly a moral and spiritual transfusion leading to a

renewed and redeemed humanity. If only this were true, there would be hope.

We might make it. We could hold out.


That is the feeling of these stories. While the form is fantasy and the fantastic,

the content is deep human truth.


St. Paul the Apostle spoke to the scientific, rational, skeptical and yet superstitious

world of ancient Athens. He spoke to people who were searching and seeking

because of a deep feeling that they lacked the moral and spiritual resources to

survive. These people had an altar to almost every god imaginable, even to an

unknown god. St. Paul said to them, “Men of Athens, that which you worship

unknowingly, that it is which I proclaim to you.” To a world which expresses its

hopes and fears in stories of alien invasion and alien salvation, I want to repeat

these words of St. Paul, “That which you worship unknowingly, that it is which I

proclaim to you.”


I want to say, you are right. There is a sinister and alien force that is stronger

and more clever than unaided, unassisted human will. It must be recognized and

resisted before it is too late. You are also right that there is a superior, benevolent,

beneficent force that guides history, which has been hidden but now wants to be

completely known and to clearly reveal its purposes. This force wants even to

have intercourse with human beings and bring to birth a new race with a renewed

moral and spiritual power, so that disaster may be forestalled and we may be

saved. This is all true and it is all set forth in the Holy Bible.


There is a good God who means us well and who guides our history in a subtle

way that does not rob us of our freedom or responsibility. There is a force which

rebels against God and is bigger, stronger and more clever than humankind, and

which threatens to destroy us with the help of our self-defeating connivance. In

this dire moment, the good God who has worked behind the scenes has revealed

himself, come center stage, to give us direct assistance, again in a way that does

not rob us of our freedom or responsibility. The good God, the maker and creator

of all things does this by being born a baby, living and dying as one of us,

conquering death and giving us His life-giving spirit. By joining us to Him in

such a way as to create a new humanity, reformed, redeemed, renewed by a moral

and spiritual infusion.


God rest you merry, gentleman, let nothing you dismay;

remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,

to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;

O tidings of comfort and joy.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;

yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;

the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

There is a threat and there is a Saviour. The Saviour is here for us tonight in

our Christmas Communion so that He can live in us and we in Him, so that He

can re-create us as a new and redeemed race capable of honoring and stewarding

this world and fit for life beyond the stars with Him forever. Amen.

Bishop John Chane and Imperial Pluralism

Bishop John Chane and Imperial Pluralism


The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D.

“I think it’s really very dangerous when someone stands up and says: ‘I have the way and I have the truth and I know how to interpret holy scripture and you are following what is the right way,'” he said “It’s really very, very dangerous and I think it’s demonic.” Bishop of Washington, John Chane as quoted in the English newspaper The Guardian.

This is from an interview in which the bishop of Washington was commenting on the crisis in the Anglican Communion and the charge by Anglican traditionalists that many bishops in The Episcopal Church have simply departed from the Apostolic faith.

John Chane charges the traditionalists with the crime of certainty. This is a commonplace. It is a corollary of the reigning intellectual culture among the intellectual elites of the West. It is a consequence of the dogmas of post-modernism. It is based on the conviction that there is very little that can be known with certainty, perhaps just a very few “facts” of science, perhaps not even them. The dogma at work here is the ironic post-modern dogma of the certainty of uncertainty. Consequently according to this post-modern dogma, to claim certainty in the area of beliefs and values is immoral and especially so given the huge variety of religious and philosophical options. The high dudgeon of the well educated university grad schooled in the dogmas of post-modernism is reserved for anyone who has the audacity to claim certainty in the area of religion, morals and beliefs. This is seen by people such as John Chane as an example of immorality and trying to force your beliefs on others. People who are morally and religiously certain create alarm. They are in Bishop Chane’s words, dangerous.

This protest against certainty claims the moral high ground and sounds on the surface as though it is based on a generous tolerance. This supposed moral protest in the name of tolerance needs to be unmasked as exactly the opposite, the dismissive and marginalizing rhetoric of the powerful who seek to protect their own agenda from critique on the grounds of any transcendent authority. It is precisely an attempt to force your beliefs on others before any argument is engaged by virtue of the way in which the rules of discussion are established. It is saying, in effect, ” before we talk you must agree that your beliefs and values are the sort of thing that I say they are and I say they can never be more than one opinion among others. If we are to talk, you must give up all your truth claims before you come to the table. With regard to the rules of the table, I will be the final referee.”

Lesslie Newbigin has brought forward a devastating critique of this pretended stance of tolerance. Newbigin identifies one of the foundational myths of contemporary pluralism in the parable of the blind men and the elephant. A group of blind men so the story goes are exploring an elephant by touch. One feels the tail and says the elephant is like a rope and one feels the leg and says the elephant is like a tree and one feels the ear and says the elephant is like a large leaf. Each has a piece of the truth. No one of them has it all. To apply the parable to our current controversy, many in The Episcopal Church see the protest of traditionalist Anglicans as an attempt by one of the blind men to make his perspective the one authoritative perspective and thus a power play and an immoral case of over-reaching. Lesslie Newbigin points out that there is a problem with this parable. The parable is told from the point of view of the King and his courtiers who take in the whole scene. The parable is told from the point of view of a supposedly neutral observer who is able to see the partial and limited nature of all other perspectives from the vantage point of the one perspective which is not subject to any critique. The parable is told from the imperial point of view. The teller of the parable adopts the pose of tolerance but this is surface camouflage behind which the King asserts the right to relativize and marginalize all other claims to truth but his own. Of this Newbigin says, “In a pluralist society such as ours. . .any claim to announce the truth about God and his purpose for the world, is liable to be dismissed as ignorant, arrogant, dogmatic. We have no reason to be frightened of this accusation. It itself rests on assumptions which are open to radical criticisms, but which are not criticized because they are part of the reigning plausibility structure.” (Gospel in a Pluralist Society, page 10.)

Bishop Chane’s protest sounds high minded and tolerant but it is in reality the rhetoric of the despot who is beyond rebuke. I do not ascribe a calculating mentality to the bishop in this but the words quoted in the Guardian are nonetheless words which express an imperial pluralism. Having once dismissed his opponents, Bishop Chane will immediately turn and announce his agenda for revision of the inherited moral teaching of the church as a “Gospel imperative.”

Now the question is this: to whom shall we turn when issues are disputed; to the whole Christian dogmatic and moral tradition of the last 2000 years or to the dogmas of skepticism and nihilism of the current Western intellectual elites?

The Resurrection of the Body and the Life of the World to Come





Christ is Risen! This is the Christian Gospel. He lives and because He lives, we shall live; this is the good news which is the life of the church and which the church has to share with the world. That God raised Jesus from the dead and that there is new life in His name, a life which begins now and which the grave cannot hold is the precious message which the Apostles have entrusted to us and which is our joy and privilege to pass on to you. The church exists for no other reason than to communicate this message, the Christ, the Saviour, is risen. But we proclaim not only that God in Christ has triumphed over sin, evil and death but, the church says, this triumph is for you, this life is for you. Come and stretch out your hands and receive this life. Come and take this cup and drink deeply of this life. This life of love and sacrifice, of holiness and righteousness, this life poured out toward God and poured out toward brothers and sisters, this life which conquers all the enemies of our human nature, sin, evil and death, this life, the life of the Lord, the life of the Saviour, this life is for you that you may live in Him and He may live in you.

The proclamation of the church is that this Risen Lord comes to us as we gather together and that the life that is in Him, He breathes into us as we hear His words in the scriptures, share in the sacraments, serve each other and the world in His name. For He has said,”Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst.” And He has said, “Lo I am with you always even to the end of the ages.” The great theme of the Gospel according to St. John is Life, abundant life,”For this reason I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” St. John teaches us about the eternal life that was in the Saviour and which has come into the world. This life that was in Him is most certainly and surely a promise of life eternal with the Father but it is also a new kind of life, which begins now, a new relationship with God and with each other. St. John speaks of this life as light. Humankind is living in darkness. We know much about darkness. A world in which we are forced to choose between war and passivity in the face of evil is a dark world. St. John says, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness overcomes it not.” On the cross of Calvary love meets hate, righteousness meets sin, holiness meets evil. Light meets darkness and the darkness does not overcome Light. The light of the resurrection breaks forth from the grave. The purpose of the church is to carry and convey this life and this light. All about us this light shines with rays of the Resurrection. The vestments, the flowers, the music, the light coming through the stained glass, the best offering of art and architecture, our prayers, praises and adoration are all testimony to the Resurrection, all a way of saying with Mary Magdalene,”I have seen the Lord.” All of these things are visible witnesses to this invisible life at the heart of the church, which is the secret life at the heart of the world. Here the life of this world is beginning to shine with the life of the world to come. Here the creation and our human nature, which have become darkened by evil and sin, are being transfigured by the light of Christ. Therefore, St. Paul says, “Let us put away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only a past event; it is also a present reality and a future hope. We believe in the Resurrection because of the trustworthy testimony of the original witnesses but also because when they speak we know what they are speaking of. We live by, with and through that love and that life. We have died with Him to sin that we might live with Him unto God. Therefore, St. Paul says,”You have died and your life is hid with God in Christ.” From the first Easter day until the Ascension the Lord revealed to his disciples the nature of the risen life, which He continues to give to the world. Here in this Gospel this morning a very important aspect of the nature of this life is brought out to us. That is that the Resurrection is a resurrection of the body for the tomb is empty.

In the Apostle’s Creed we say that we believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the life of the world to come. We believe that the Lord was raised bodily. The Resurrection does not proclaim that some part of Jesus, his spirit or soul, survived death but that God raised Him up. What was raised was not a part of Him but all of Him. When God raises us up it is not a part of us that God shall raise but all of us. “Behold,” St. Paul says, “I tell you a mystery. We shall not all die but we shall all be changed.” St. John says, “It does not yet appear what we shall be but when He appears we shall be like Him.” And what is He like? He is completely changed and yet completely the same. There is an awesome strangeness about the Risen Lord. But He calls His sheep by name and they hear Him and know Him and there is nothing lacking, nothing left behind, all is transfigured. When He raises luminous hands in blessing they bear the marks of the nails. Everything He bore in His body has been raised, even the suffering. The wounds are not erased, forgotten but raised, changed, transfigured, glorified. The prints of the nails are the tokens of his victory.

The Resurrection of the Body, that when He appears we shall be like Him, is our hope for the life of the world to come. The Resurrection of the Body also speaks to us of the kind of life the Risen Lord offers to us now in this life. When He was raised, everything pertaining to our humanity was raised with Him and that Risen Life is being offered to us now, communicated to us now. St. Paul says that we are being given an arabon which means a preview, a down payment, a first installment of the life of the world to come. We are members of the body of the Risen Lord and the life of His Risen Body flows into us through the Word and sacraments.

We must think for a moment what the body is. Our body is intimately connected to our personality, to our individuality. We know the footsteps of our loved ones. That the body is raised means that everything which makes you, you will be raised. Your uniqueness as an individual is of eternal significance. We will recognize those we love and they will recognize us. God intends you to grow from glory to glory in the life of the resurrection and become more and more yourself as you grow in the love of God and in the fellowship of all the saints. But you do not have to wait to begin to become truly yourself. God now wants to give you the glorified humanity of His Son. God wants you to grow now in his love and service and in fellowship with all the saints. You were never meant to be scarred by sin, your own sins or the sins of others. If we turn to God with repentance, if we turn to God for healing, God will give us the new humanity of His Son which will be embodied in us in a way which is eternally unique and you will already begin to become more you than you have ever been. You will certainly begin to change on the inside and you may even look different on the outside.

The body is the means through which we process information and through which we come to knowledge. Even the knowledge we have of spiritual things comes to us through the body. When we begin to understand something we say that we have “come to our senses.” In heaven we shall truly come to our senses and we shall know even as we are known. But we do not have to wait begin to know the truth that will set us free. We do not need to wait to open our eyes and see and open our ears and hear and be believing and not doubting. We are invited even now to handle and touch holy things.

The body is the instrument through which we receive and express feeling and emotion. When we are embarrassed we blush. We burn with shame or with anger, we are sick with love or grief. It is not for nothing that we speak of “gut feeling.” The Resurrection life will be a life full of feeling, full of joy and peace. This joy and peace will not be a forgetfulness of this life but our sadness and grief transposed to a new key. The depth of suffering will by the transfiguring mystery of Christ’s suffering be the depth of joy. But we do not have to wait to begin to feel the life of the Resurrection. When we confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness, our suffering turns to joy. When the hurts that others have done us are brought to Christ’s cross and seen in the light of how we have hurt Him, anger and hate begin now to turn to forgiveness and compassion. His love for the Father and His love for brothers and sisters is offered to us now, and here and now we begin to feel the life of heaven.

Our bodies are the means by which we worship and by which we serve. We bow our heads and bend our knees, or we stiffen our necks and turn away. We stretch out our hands in worship to God and in service to each other, or we use our hands to steal from God and from each other. In the life of the Resurrection we shall be able to perfectly express worship to God and perfectly love and serve each other. But God does not want us to wait to begin to taste of that life. Even now He wants to give us the hands of His Son, hands of sacrificial service and loving adoration.

Our bodies were given to us that we might know and love God and love and serve each other. Our bodies were given to us that we might know love, peace, joy and the abundance of God’s blessing and God’s creation. Our bodies were created fair and pure. Our bodies were created for righteousness and holiness. Our bodies, our memories and emotions have become marked and scarred by sin and evil. We are scarred by what we have done to others and what they have done to us. Our poor frail bodies are impotent in the face of death. He has died our death and offers us His life. He has clothed Himself with our body of sin that He might clothe us with His body of righteousness; now in this life imperfectly but really and truly, and in the life of the world to come completely and perfectly. If we come to Him now and to His church now, hungry for this life that He brings up out of the grave and which He is breathing into us now, we shall find a confidence in saying, we believe in the Resurrection of the Body. For we shall know however through a glass darkly the sort of thing of which the creed speaks. We will know because we will have already received new eyes and new ears, new heart and new hands, a new character and a new expression, a fuller communion with God and a richer fellowship with each other. We shall be fitted for a new life in the new heaven and new earth that Risen Lord will bring to pass when He returns to bring all things to their perfection. And when at last we come to die, then shall this saying have come to pass,”O grave where is thy victory, O death where is thy sting.” ‘Then shall this corruption put on incorruption and this mortal put on immortality.” Let it be so. Amen.

Meditation for Evensong at Mere Anglicanism

Mere Anglicanism/ Evensong/ January 31, 2008 The Rev. Dr. Leander Harding

Psalm 84:12 O Lord of hosts, happy are they who put their trust in You.

John 5:40 You will not come to me that you might have life.

Faith has two elements — it has the element of belief and it has the element of trust. They are dynamically related. Belief leads to trust, and trust confirms and deepens belief. Some years ago, when my three sons were small, we built a plywood skiff — a little rowing and sailing boat. We built it very simply in our garage out of lumberyard materials with a view to getting out on Long Island Sound which was nearby. We put a lot of study into our project and we believed, we had faith that we could accomplish it. Our neighbors had grave doubts and were sure our little boat would not float. We persisted. We believed. There came a day of truth and we launched our boat, piled in and had a lovely time rowing around the yacht basin. Some of our neighbors were on hand and they had now come to grudging belief. We four had gone from belief to trust. We trusted our little boat because we knew that it would hold us up. We had put our belief to the test and we had found the boat trustworthy.

For faith to grow, it must be put into action. Belief must issue in an act of trust — which makes possible a growing conviction of the trustworthiness of Him in whom we have believed.

In the Bible, the crisis of faith and trust revolves around God’s providence — God has rescued, redeemed and upheld them in the past. But what about today, and what about tomorrow? This is the moment when again and again they lose confidence, falter, and put their trust elsewhere, in chariots and horses, in over-clever alliances, in the false gods of the land — in things that are inherently untrustworthy, which can never hold them up. Especially, it seems to me, the faith and trust of Israel falter when the act of trust which is required is faithful waiting — when God has not acted in the way they want, on the schedule they want, they become anxious, lose faith, and put their trust elsewhere. All our liturgy is an act of remembrance that we might renew our trust in the Lord.

I am finding it difficult in this moment, and I suspect many of you find it difficult, to trust in God’s providence for our churches — the Anglican world is in a mess; the situation in North America is very chaotic — it is very hard to see how it might all work out — and easy to believe that the whole ship might sink. There are moments when here and there is some decisive action which seems meet and right to take — but for most faithful clergy and most of the laity, it is as they say in the Army, “Hurry up and wait.” We get anxious and impatient.

Here is my prayer for those of us who are waiting and find the waiting hard and a trial and temptation to our faith. It is possible to err by doing the right thing at the wrong time. It is possible to err by doing the right thing at the right time but in the wrong way, and that is impatiently. Good judgment requires patience, and patience is a fruit of the Spirit — a fruit of trust in the Lord. Patience is not passivity; it is waiting on the Lord — acting on His timing and as He leads. Here is my prayer: I pray that God will give us a renewed sense of His trustworthiness and that the Christian virtue of patience which is the fruit of trust in the Lord for His providence will grow in us. That all our actions and decisions individually or corporately will be sober, reverent and deliberate, and will be animated not by impatience, distrust and fear but by confidence in the Lord who will surely hold us up if we put our trust in Him.

Mere Anglicanism, 1-31-08 Evensong Chaplain: The Rev. Dr. Leander Harding

Holy Matrimony

A Sermon Preached on January 19, 2008
at the Wedding of Sally Yuan-Ting Kao and Sean McClaren Jackson
in St. John’s Episcopal Church, Stamford, Connecticut
by The Rev. Dr. Leander S. Harding

There has been an argument in the churches since the time of the Reformation about the number of sacraments. Traditional Roman Catholic theology had said there were seven — the Reformers, only two: Baptism and Eucharist. If a sacrament is something commanded by the Lord Himself, then there are two. If a sacrament is a liturgical rite performed by the church as an outer and effectual sign of God’s gift of an inner and transforming grace, there are at least the traditional seven. Anglicans have spoken of two dominical sacraments and five sacramental rites. I am an unabashed proponent of understanding Holy Matrimony sacramentally. There are other understandings that are possible. Perhaps the one that is most common in contemporary society is that marriage is a contract between two consenting adults for their mutual benefit and fulfillment, including the fulfilling experience of getting and raising children. The corollary is that when the marriage is perceived by one of the parties to be no longer beneficial and fulfilling, the terms of the contract have not been honored and it is permissible and even in a way necessary to withdraw. Hence the culture of divorce, which, humanly speaking, in terms of the span of human history and cultures, is not unusual.

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Ordination Sermon on The Good Shepherd

Ordination of William Starke to the Priesthood Dec. 14, 2007
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Leander S. Harding

I have been a shepherd of both the four-legged and the two-legged sorts of sheep. My wife and I helped to support the ministry in the first parish I served in rural Maine by raising sheep. Bill has asked me to speak on the figure of the Good Shepherd. This figure of Jesus as shepherd — as pastor — is the oldest representation which we have: a picture in the Roman catacombs of a young shepherd with a lamb draped about His neck. The crucified Christ is the most widely shared representation of Jesus, and second to it and closely related to it is the figure of Jesus the Good shepherd. Closely related because at once we think of the biblical Good Shepherd, we must think of the one who lays down His life for the sheep — who is irrevocably committed to the sheep and flees not when the wolf approaches — who is faithful even unto death. This utterly unique Shepherd who is also the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world and who is truly our peace with God and with each other — who is truly Life, Life eternal — the life of the Resurrection and of the world to come.

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Christmas Book Reviewed on Amazon

My Christmas book Flying Saucers and Christmas has received a review by Don Mitchell, one of’s top ten reviewers. The title sermon received an award from the Episcopal Evangelism Foundation. My hope for this book is that it can be given to family and friends as a kind of book evangelism.

You can read the review and order the book at

If you would like a signed copy please visit the Flying Saucers and Christmas webpage to order directly from me.