Alfred's Newsletters
November 2015: Eternal Truth (Nov 2011)

September 2015: Make Sure You Are Ready

June 2015: Lift Up Your Heads!

March 2015: Fishers of Men

Annual General Meeting, January 25th, 2015: Address by Rector Alfred A. Sawyer

January 2015: Our Only Mediator and Advocate

November 2015: Eternal Truth (Nov 2011)

The last day of October was the 498th anniversary of a pivotal event in western history. On that day in 1517 an obscure Roman Catholic monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s bold act changed the face of Europe and later on much of the world.

Martin Luther was brought up like most in Western Europe as a faithful son of the Roman Church. He believed that in order to get to heaven one must lead a righteous life and receive the grace which came through the sacraments. Sacramental grace, of course, depended on the sacraments being valid. Valid sacraments required a valid priesthood, so salvation was inextricably linked to the institution of the Church. The Roman Church taught that outside the Church there was no salvation.

The Bible was a closed book to most people in 1517 for three reasons. First, most people were illiterate. Second, the translation of the Bible available at the time was in Latin, a long-dead language understood by only a few. Lastly, there weren’t many copies of the Bible available even if people could read and understand Latin. The printing press had been invented only 65 years before.

Luther was not only literate, but had become a doctor of theology after his ordination. He could read the Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek. And it was through his own private study of scripture, particularly Paul’s letter to the Romans, that Luther became convinced that the Church had corrupted the essential message of the New Testament. Salvation, he came to realize, is not based on what we do through our own religious exertion and effort, but on what Christ has already done.

Jesus paid the price for our sins when He died in our place on the Cross. He secured, through His resurrection from the dead, eternal life for all who place their faith in Him. The means whereby a person is forgiven of his sins and given the assurance of eternal life is faith in Jesus, not sacraments. “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) The ultimate authority is not the Church, but the Bible.

"Faith alone and the Bible alone" became the rallying cry of a Reformation which swept across the face of Europe and changed the course of history. It is ironic that the Gospel fervor which engulfed northern Europe is but a dimly burning wick today, the torch having been passed to America and much of the Two-Thirds World.

But the truth of Luther’s affirmation is eternal. It is eternal because God’s Word is eternal. The grass withers, the flower fades. But the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

- Alfred Sawyer, Rector

September 2015: Make Sure You Are Ready

Rosh Hashana, literally the "head of the year" in Hebrew begins on the evening of September 13 this year at sundown. For Jews around the world this is the beginning of the High Holy Days, which include Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) on September 23 and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) which runs from September 28 until October 6. This is a special time for the Jewish people, and it should also be for Christians.

These High Holy Days are uniquely fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We are told in Galatians 4:4, "But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba Father."

Some, based on the date of the birth of John the Baptist, believe Jesus was born sometime around Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Feast of Tabernacles. Whenever Jesus was born it most probably was not on December 25th, the pagan Roman festival of Saturnalia which was adopted by the Church in the 4th century as the day of Jesus’ birth.

I personally prefer the autumnal date for the birth of Jesus for several reasons.

  1. It fits in with the idea of the new year being a time for new beginnings. Jesus’ birth ushered in a new era. We see in the birth of Jesus the beginning of the breaking in of the Kingdom of God into this dimension of time and space. "Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’" Mark 1:14-15 The Kingdom of God arrived with birth of Jesus but it will not be fully manifested on this earth until he comes again.
  2. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is a complete and total fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. Jesus lived out a life of total obedience and perfection before the Father and He went to the Cross as the unblemished Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. "But when Messiah appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the Holy of Holies once for all, having obtained internal redemption." (Hebrews 9:11-2)
  3. The Feast of Tabernacles is a celebration of the in-gathering of the final harvest before the winter rains begin and also commemorates God’s provision for the people when they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. We are living in that time before the fullness of God’s Kingdom arrives but we can taste the first fruits of His Kingdom even now. John’s gospel tells us of Jesus traveling up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. On the last day of the feast, Simchat Torah (rejoicing in the Law), the rabbis would take large jars of water and pour them on the ground as they prayed for abundant winter rainfall. "Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." (John 7: 37-39)

Jesus has fulfilled completely the meaning of the High Holy Days in the Old Covenant. All that remains is the final harvest of those who have believed in Jesus when they are gathered to Him in that final in-gathering.

"And He will send forth His angels with a Great Trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other." (Matthew 24:31)

Make sure you are ready by turning from your sins and placing your faith in Jesus now!

- Alfred Sawyer, Rector

June 2015: Lift Up Your Heads!

Current events unfolding in the world can be frightening if viewed without a firm belief in the truth of God’s word His sovereignty. Christianity is under serious attack throughout the world and many Christians are dying for their faith. In the West, the culture itself is becoming more anti-Christian and openly hostile toward people espousing biblical values. In the past few days one presidential candidate was ridiculed by the media for daring to say that it’s not inconceivable that Bible-believing preachers could even be charged with the crime of “hate speech” for merely preaching the gospel.

Many have asked me if I think the present events unfolding in the world are a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. While we can only conclude that after something has taken place, I do think it is fair to say that the Bible is clear on what will happen in the days preceding the return of Jesus.

1. The Bible says in many places that Israel would be expelled from her land and scattered to the four corners of the Earth. This happened following two disastrous revolts against the Romans in the first and second centuries AD.

2. The Bible also predicts that Israel would be re-gathered from their dispersion at the End of Days and restored to the exact same land from which they were dispersed.

3. There are also prophecies (Zechariah 14:2 being the best example) that in the end, all the nations of the world would turn against Israel.

4. But perhaps the key prophecies are found in Ezekiel. There it is predicted that Israel would be gathered back to her own land in unbelief (chapters 36 and 37), and would then be invaded by a vast army consisting of a confederacy of nations, including present-day Iran. In desperation Israel calls out to God (chapters 38-39). It is at this time that God removes the spiritual hardening that has come across the heart of Israel and they recognize Jesus as their true Messiah. (Romans 11, Zechariah 12:10)

What does all of this mean for us? It means that the Bible is true. It means that God is faithful, and will fulfill His promises. It also means that we can take some of the last word Jesus spoke to heart:

But when these things begin to happen, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:28)

- Alfred Sawyer, Rector

March 2015: Fishers of Men

As Jesus was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. (Mark 1:16-17)

In Mark’s account of Jesus’ call of Peter and his brother, Andrew, we see the Lord—in typical Israeli fashion—getting right to the point. Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush or try to give the brothers a convincing sales pitch as to why they should abandon their safe and secure livelihood of fishing for the uncertain and dangerous life of itinerant street preaching. He simply calls. And they lay down their nets, turn their backs on the only life they had known, and follow Him.

Luke gives us more details. He tells us the brothers had been fishing all night and hadn’t landed a single fish. Remember, Peter and Andrew had spent their entire life fishing in the Sea of Galilee. They knew every square inch of the lake like the backs of their hands. They knew where the fish would be and what time of day or night they would be there. Fishing was not a pleasurable pastime for these men. It was their profession. Their way of life.

Peter and Andrew must have felt frustrated and humiliated after spending a whole night on the lake with not even a minnow to show for it. Then Jesus arrives at the shore. Instead of addressing Andrew and Simon’s immediate problem, he borrows their boat for a pulpit. Shoving off from the shore, Jesus sits in the boat and preaches a sermon. We can only imagine what must have been going through Peter and Andrew’s mind at this point. They certainly must have been tired after staying up all night vainly trying to catch fish. We can be sure they were probably frustrated as well, and in no mood to listen to Jesus’ sermon.

But what happened immediately afterward got their attention. When Jesus had finished speaking He turned to Simon and told him to take the boat out into the deep water and let down the nets one more time. Peter was incredulous. What did this rabbi know about catching fish? We’re the experts, reasoned Peter. We’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught anything. What makes you think there are fish out there now?

Burying his logic and his pride, Peter does as he is told and lets down the net one more time. To Peter’s utter amazement the net was full of fish, so many that the net began to break!

God knew exactly what it took to speak to Peter and Andrew’s hearts. He reached them in language that was clear and unambiguous. He spoke to the fishermen not in some ethereal, esoteric abstractness, but in simple and concrete terms that left no doubt in their minds that Jesus was for real.

God speaks to us in the same way today. We sometimes miss what He is saying because we try to make the gospel more complicated than it is. Furthermore, God wants to use us as His fishermen to draw others to Himself in the same straightforward way.

Years ago, I went fishing for the first time in years. George Ivey kindly invited me to join him at his father’s lake. It was a beautiful day, and as the sun was setting I was very much enjoying both the scenery and the conversation. I knew there were lots of fish in the lake. George’s father stocked it with trout, and he informed me that there were an abundance of fat fish just waiting to bite the lure. I could even see them breaking the water with their huge tails. I reasoned that this fishing expedition would be child’s play, and I had visions of supper that night.

George and his father began reeling in astoundingly huge trout at an alarming rate. I could feel the fish nibbling, but like Peter and Andrew, I couldn’t seem to land even one! Just as the sun was setting the thought occurred to me to look at my lure.

Sure enough, the lure was bright and pretty, enough to make any trout go for it. There was just one problem. There was no hook. The omission of that one vital accoutrement meant that despite the attractiveness and splendor of the lure, there was not a chance I would catch a fish.

Let us remember the example of Jesus with Peter and Andrew as we share our faith with others. God knows exactly how to reach the heart of each of us. He does it simply, directly and effectively if we will just allow Him.

- Alfred Sawyer, Rector

Annual General Meeting, January 25th, 2015: Address by Rector Alfred A. Sawyer

It is hard to believe that exactly 17 years ago today we gathered in the cafeteria of the Heiskell School for the first service of Christ Church of Atlanta. I was still working as Press Secretary for the Governor of Alabama. Memory and I had driven up the day before from Montgomery, bringing with us all things necessary for a service of Holy Communion.

Only a couple of months earlier I had met with some of you in Brian and Barbara Nash's home to discuss the possibility of starting a church which would be Anglican in ethos, but not a part of the American Episcopal Church. I chose January 25th as the starting date for this new church because it was the anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood in 1979.

There was no ACNA. There was no AMiA, there was no foreign bishop offering to give us episcopal oversight. Those of us who gathered that morning at the Heiskell School came together with the conviction that it was possible to be faithful to Scripture and Anglican at the same time. The then Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta was not pleased when he heard that an Episcopal Priest was starting a church in his diocese without his permission! He wrote to my Bishop, Terry Kelshaw, and tried to get Terry to stop me. Terry, to his everlasting credit, not only backed me up but gave me his blessing. My good friend, Dr. John Rogers, who was not a bishop at the time, agreed to give us pastoral oversight and function as our bishop in all but name. Not long afterwards, Jim Corr flew John Whelchel and me up to Pittsburgh to meet with John Rogers and the leaders of several other newly formed congregations like ours which had come out of the Episcopal Church with the conviction that God was beginning to do a new thing in Anglicanism that would result in the realignment of our communion along the fault-line of biblical truth.

Most of you know the rest of the story. Bishop David Anderson and the American Anglican Council have been the catalyst for this global realignment which has resulted in the formation of Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). We now have our very own diocese, The Anglican Diocese of the South (ADOTS) and the resident Archbishop of ACNA, Foley Beach.

What seemed to be a distant dream 17 years ago is now a reality. This congregation was a pioneer in this move of God and is in the forefront of what is happening now in the still evolving transformation of the Anglican Communion. Looking back on that day 17 years ago in the cafeteria of the Heiskell School has reminded me afresh not to despise the day of small beginnings.

As we begin our 18th year I would encourage all of us to remember from whence we came because that releases in us the faith to trust God for the future. We have much to praise God for, including the establishment of ACNA and His provision for faithful Anglicans at the local, national and world-wide levels of ministry. I know some of you were disappointed this past year with our failure to acquire a building. I want a building too. I believe we need a building. But it is important to remember how good and faithful God has been to this congregation and how He has used you to bless others and bear fruit for His Kingdom. Whatever building we may acquire in the future will eventually crumble to dust. What will last forever are the souls who have been brought from a nominal faith or even no faith into a relationship with the Living God through the Blood of Jesus. We must not forget that the salvation of souls is our vision, our mission, our destiny and our ultimate calling.

Many thanks this year go to our outgoing vestry members, Meredith Fletcher, Billy Espy and Buck Wiley. Thanks, too, to our Senior Warden, Scott Thompson, and to our Junior Warden, Nancy See. I am reappointing Scott for another term as Senior Warden, and in just a moment the congregation will elect our Junior Warden. Please join me in welcoming our new vestry members, Bill Wood, Brian Nash and John Whelchel.

I want to thank all of you who give of your time, talents and money to make Christ Church, Atlanta such a warm, welcoming and supportive fellowship of believers. I am truly grateful every day for the Lord calling us to be a part of this fellowship.

As we celebrate the beginning of our 18th year and look back on what God has done, I think it is fitting that we recall His faithfulness in the words of Isaac Watts' immortal hymn,

"O God our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home."

- Alfred Sawyer, Rector

January 2015: Our Only Mediator and Advocate

Lawyers are everybody’s favorite target of jokes. In our increasing litigious culture they are frequently lambasted by comedians and cartoonists, and often don’t do well in surveys of professions the public holds in high regard (clergy don’t rank very high in public esteem either!).

Both my grandfather and great-grandfather, as well as my uncle, on my mother’s side were lawyers. I was brought up to revere the profession, and have had the privilege to witness some outstanding lawyers operating in court before a jury. I must admit I love watching them. A truly gifted advocate arguing a case with skill and persuasion is a thing of beauty to behold.

Not many people realize that Jesus is the Supreme Lawyer. The Bible calls Him our Mediator and Advocate. While the Church has properly emphasized the once and for all time atonement for our sins that Jesus offered on the Cross, it has often neglected another on-going aspect of His ministry to us.

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son,” wrote Paul, “much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:10)

Jesus lives to be our ultimate Defense Attorney. His arguments on our behalf are constantly being offered before the Court of Heaven where God the Father is Judge. Who is He defending us against?

First, he defends us against ourselves. Our own sin is our accuser. It reminds us that we are unfit for admission into God’s presence. God’s holiness precludes His overlooking our transgressions because He cannot look upon sin.

Secondly, He defends us against the accuser of the brethren, Satan, whose object is to destroy us eternally.

Jesus has one argument, and it wins every time. When Satan accuses us of sin, he is right. But Jesus offers the very best defense possible, His own Blood. Jesus’ Blood shed for us on the Cross has paid the price for every sin we have ever committed or will ever commit. His atonement for us is complete and total, past, present and future.

When the accuser of the brethren presents his argument for our condemnation before the Father, Jesus steps up as our Advocate and pleads His own Blood for our acquittal. The verdict is the same for everyone who has placed their faith in Jesus. “Case dismissed. The penalty has already been paid in full!”

Paul puts it this way, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

- Alfred Sawyer, Rector

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