The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you Peace. (Numbers 6: 24-26)

Monday, August 30, 2010

September Newsletter Article

Labor Day rapidly approaches; and as we prepare for the last gasp of summer frivolity, shall we consider for a moment just what it means to labor. Fundamentally, to labor is to work. Work is not always enjoyable, although it certainly can be, but work is necessary lest we fall into slothfulness, apathy, hunger and homelessness. Living takes work, and so does believing. Therefore, I offer to you, Dear Reader, three thoughts on how our labors might properly be turned to the better for us, for our children and for our children’s children.

1. Labor to learn and to demonstrate the Good News of Jesus Christ. My experience so far at Christ Memorial has taught me that this form of labor has been underway for some time and has already born much fruit. The level of Biblical literacy in this congregation is far higher than in most Episcopal Parishes, I dare say. That is a credit to the parishioners and to the clergy who have preceded me in this historic place.

Our labors spent delving into the pages of Holy Scripture return to us a hundred-fold. There is no better way to come to know the Will of God than to read His holy writ. There is no better way to conform our wills to His than to read, mark and inwardly digest His inspired word. This is not always an easy endeavor, and that is why the word “labor” is apt for this discussion. One cannot just take pieces of Scripture and conform it to our expectations and desires. In order to fully understand, one must read it thoroughly and be prepared to work through the questions that may arise. One must read with confidence that any confusion that comes from reading Scripture stems not from a lacking within God’s message to us, but from our own lack of understanding. It takes time, and it takes work, often in the form of Bible study groups, lectio divina (holy reading) and prayer; but rest assured that the effort is definitely worth it.

As we learn and grow in our faith, it is also important to teach and show what we have learned to our children and to our children’s children. Remember that it is our responsibility to teach them about God so that they can come to know and love Him. This may be the most important thing that any of us do in our lifetime. Nothing is more important than introducing and fostering the Word of God to our family, friends and, let’s face it, the rest of a confused and darkened world.

2. Labor to learn and to appreciate our traditional Anglican Faith and heritage. We are Anglicans, and, as such, we share in over 2,000 years of Christian tradition and heritage which finds its root in Jesus Christ, Himself. Through His Apostles and through His Church, we have inherited a liturgical, priestly and apostolic Faith based upon Holy Scripture, tradition and reason.

As Anglicans, we share in a worldwide Communion of faith that is uniquely English in character. It is through our Catechism that we learn first what it means to be Christian and then what it means to be Anglican. The Nicene Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Thirty-nine Articles of Faith, the Seven Sacraments and the History of the Church are but a small part of what we must learn about the Church. In the Early Church, the catechetical process which prepared a person for Baptism and Confirmation took at least three years. Today, we do it in somewhat less time, but the import of learning the fundamentals of our Faith cannot be understated.

As with Holy Scripture, we must also labor to learn our Faith so that we can impart that knowledge and experience to those who shall come after us. By word and example, we show our youth and our new-comers who we are. We want them to see and hear our Christianity lived out according to our Anglican heritage. (Warning: Shameless plug approaching.) If you are interested in learning or re-learning about our Faith, please plan on attending the Confirmation Class which begins on September 19. You might labor hard, but you will not be disappointed.

3. Labor to learn and to participate in our Anglican worship of God. We must instill in ourselves and in our children a desire to participate in the worship of God, not because it is some obligation that we make on Sunday morning (it is, but it shouldn’t be seen as a burden), but rather because it is the right thing to do. We must foster a sense of belonging and purpose that will in turn create a desire to seek, to serve and to worship God more and more. Part of that is through discipline and the prioritizing of choices. It is a sad fact that in our modern world Sunday is no longer a day reserved for worship. Sporting events, school and work often impinge on the Sabbath, and the choices we make and the priorities we set form us and our children and our children’s children for the good or for the ill.

On Wednesday evening, we at Christ Memorial come together and combine all of these things together. We worship God by celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist which Christ gave to His disciples at the Last Supper, and that the Church has preserved as the principle expression of His Love for us and of our devotion to Him. Then, we share a meal and fellowship with one another in a manner very reminiscent of the Early Church. Finally, we study the Word of God and explore what His Word means to us and how it affects us as followers of Christ.

To paraphrase our Savior, let us labor hard for God and lay up in Heaven the treasures which rust and moth cannot touch. Let us not labor for our own needs, but for the needs of those who shall come after us and for those who have not yet come to know Christ.

Fr. Michael+

You've Got To Be Kidding Me......Really??

I beg your forgiveness right at the start, for this post can best be described as an off-the-cuff rant.  I was just reading an article that reported the apparent befuddlement (good word, huh) of a clergyman in the Anglican Church in Canada regarding why so many young people are seeking spiritual fulfillment outside of his Church.  Well....not to put too fine a point on it....IT'S BECAUSE THEY AREN'T FINDING IT IN THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN CANADA!  For that matter, I dare say that a lot of people are not finding in it in ECUSA or the CofE either.

For the past 60+ years at least, Western Anglicanism has done everything it can to take the mystery and mysticism out of the Faith.  We have poo pooed Christ's miracles.  We have sought to deconstruct Holy Scripture in an effort to quantify and qualify every word and action in a fit of almost unimaginable hubris.  We have met in special seminars to an attempt to identify the "historical Jesus" and in the process rejected most of the Gospels.  We have bishops who have spent their lives spreading heresies and denouncing Christ's bodily resurrection, His very nature as the Son of God and the very existence of Heaven and Hell.

Mostly what we have done is abandon the Truth.  "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.  If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him.'" John 14: 6  Western Anglicanism has become so polite and so politically correct that this simple assertion of Truth is nearly impossible.  The leadership of ECUSA routinely articulates a pluriform, universalist model which only confuses and alienates.  If the plan is to make the Church so non-judgemental and so open that everyone will come and join, then I proclaim that plan to be false and a recipe for disaster.

People today, in fact in any age, want to hear the Church speak boldly and with authority about God.  People, I believe, don't want to hear their priest offering platitudes from the pulpit, they want to hear the Truth.  We find the Truth in Holy Scripture.  We find the Truth represented in 2,000 years of tradition and history.  We do not find the Truth in whimsical forays of post-modernism, or in attempts to make the Church more suitable to the culture.  We must do exactly the opposite.  The Church must re-make the culture.

Western Anglicanism must return to the chief cornerstone: Jesus Christ.  Western Anglicanism must embrace a core doctrine of faith that resides in Holy Scripture and in the traditions of the Church.  We must not be afraid to speak the Truth, because that is how we will reach the nations of the world, and how Christ will change society, again.

Fr. Michael+

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Teach Your Children Well

Only take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children—how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children so. Dt 4: 9-10
With apologies to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for the title of this reflection, this passage from Deuteronomy may be one of the most important lessons that we as parents and bearers of the Good News might hear. Moses speaks these words to the Hebrew People as a warning to a generation who has witnessed the presence and the power of God in their midst. God has heard the cries of His people, He has delivered them out of the hand of Pharaoh, He has led them on dry ground through the Red Sea, He has guided them through the desert as a pillar of fire and a column of smoke, He has dwelt upon the holy mountain and given to His people the Commandments by which they are to live, and He has been present with them in His Holy Tabernacle. Moses admonishes his people not to forget the mighty acts and the presence of God which they have witnessed with their own eyes.

More importantly, and in God’s words, Moses tells the people that they are to pass on what they have seen to their children and grandchildren so that future generations might know what God has done for them. The remembrance of God’s deliverance of His people from bondage in Egypt remains to this day an important part of Judaism, and of our Christian Faith as we read and remember the Exodus in Psalm and Scripture.

How is a generation once or twice removed from the awesome presence of God to appreciate and embrace Him? This was a problem for the Hebrews as they entered and conquered the land given to Abraham and his posterity by God. The people who arrived at the Jordan River under Joshua’s leadership were already a people one generation removed from the slavery of their fathers. By the time the Twelve Tribes of Israel had entered, spread out and laid claim to the land, Joshua and all the elders were dead, and another generation had passed. Once in the land, God’s Chosen People were plagued by the presence of the people that had possessed the land and whom they had been instructed by God to displace and from whom they were to remain apart. Yet, the people chose not to heed God’s instruction, they made covenants with the peoples of the land and they intermarried with them. Worst of all, God’s People began to worship at the altars of the ba’als and turned away from the one, true God.

In the fullness of time, God provided the Savior for all mankind in the person of Jesus Christ. God once again made his presence felt among His people, only this time He was somewhat more subtle about it. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, so that all of creation might once again be in right relationship to Him. Jesus rose from the grave as a clear sign of the eternal life that is ours because of His sacrifice. Many witnessed the miracles, heard the teachings and even experienced the Risen Lord, and they took Christ’s words to heart when He sent them forth into the world to teach the Good News to new generations of Jews and Gentiles.

The question for us is this: how well do we take to heart the words of Moses and Jesus Christ? Are we cherishing in our hearts the mighty works that God has done in our lives? Are we teaching our children and our children’s children about God? Are we resolved to protect the future generations from the ba’als of this world; from the attractive and dangerous things of this world that threaten to draw young and old alike away from God and toward certain ruin?

It is very easy to connect with the sensual realities of the world around us. It is very easy to find satisfaction in the good feelings and cheap rewards of a world designed to entertain and enthrall. It is very easy to sit back in our relative comfort and luxury and lose sight of the source for all that we have. It is not evil to live a pleasant life amongst the goodness of God’s Creation. It is evil, however, to worship the pleasantries and the comforts rather than the One who provides them for us.

What then must we teach our children? First, that God loves us, unconditionally; and it is because of that love that He has delivered us from the bondage of sin and death. We have done nothing to deserve His Grace and Mercy, yet He has intervened for us and saved us. Second, God does expect something from us. He gave us His law by which we are to live our lives. Christ established the Church so that His Word might go forth to all the world and so that all God’s people may worship Him. We participate in God’s Grace and Love more fully the closer we are to Him; and we grow closer to Him by worshiping at His feet, studying His Holy Word and communicating with Him through prayer and quiet devotion.

Third, we must have faith and trust in Him who made us. Life is not always easy, and the decisions that we must make are often not fun to make. If we have faith in God, and allow Him to be our guide, then life becomes easier, and our decisions are not just our own to make when we make them with His guidance and counsel. Finally, we must teach our children that the greatest fallacy of modern life is that we are in control. We have split the atom, we have traveled to the Moon, we have developed medical science to a point where we can map the human genome and possibly even alter our own genetic code. Yet is it right to do these things? Are we really that much in control? Are we making ourselves gods? There can be only one God, and that position is filled. He is in control not us, but the good news is that He does not keep secrets. Read His Word to them, tell them how He has acted in the world and in our lives, make Him real to them by showing them how He is real to us.

Remember His mighty works, heed His glorious Word, and teach our children well.

Fr. Michael+

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wednesday Night Continues to Grow

We had a fantastic night at Christ Memorial last night, beginning with a celebration of the Mass for the Feast of St. Clare in the Chapel.  It was practically standing room only!  After Mass, the crowd swelled to almost 40 people, and we had a delicious meal provided my many generous members of the parish.  We ate ham, chicken casserole, corn casserole, salad, macaroni and cheese, roasted potatoes, and many other tasty items.  For dessert we had chocolate cake, brownies and the best banana pudding in the entire world (my wife's specialty). 

We finished up with an introduction to the Book of Judges.  In an effort to set the stage for the book and to provide a cultural and historical background for the people and events in Judges, I spent the hour tracing the wanderings of the Hebrew people from the Patriarchs through their slavery and redemption in Egypt to Joshua's leadership in the initial conquest of Canaan.  We discussed some of the underpinning theology of Judges and the pattern of disobedience, repentence and salvation so prominent throughout the book (and the lives of all God's people I might add).

"And the people did what was evil in the sight of the LORD..."  That is a phrase that will come up time and time again in the Book of Judges, and we begin that discussion next Wednesday starting, as always, with Mass at 6PM.  Please pass the word and encourage your friends, family and neighbors to come and hear and experience God's Word.

Fr. Michael+

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In whom do we put our Faith?

Have you ever, Dear Reader, stopped to consider the difference that a capital letter makes? As I began to compose this little reflection that was born out of the Scriptures for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, I typed Faith with a capital ‘F’. I stopped and looked at it, and wondered about what kind of faith was I writing?

To me, and maybe this is only me, there is a difference between the small ‘f’ and the big one. Lower case ‘f’ speaks to me of the faith enumerated by the writer of Hebrews when he says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This faith speaks of the trust that Abraham placed in God when He called him out of his homeland and set him on a path toward becoming the patriarch of a great nation. This is the faith of Abel, Enoch and Noah who believed and, “…became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.” They and all the others who believe in God are sojourners and exiles on the earth; each longing for the homeland promised to all believers by God from before time began.

Please do not somehow diminish lower case ‘faith’ or see it as somehow inferior or secondary, indeed it is not. This is the faith of our Fathers. This is our faith placed in the Living God, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Inspiration. Faith is the thing that binds us to God, allows us to participate in His Grace, and consequently connects us to each other. Most of us learn, sometimes through hard lessons, what and who we may place our trust. We know that we can always trust in Him, but when it comes to the things of this world, faith and trust are often hard to find; unless we learn to make God a part of our earthly relationships. It is our faith in God that strengthens the bonds between neighbors. For further study, I refer you to Mark 12: 28-31.

Now, Dear Reader, you may ask, “Then what is the big deal about a stinking capital ‘F’?!”

Consider, if you will, this familiar quote: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16: 18). Setting aside any discussion of the Papacy for the moment, these are the words that Jesus Christ is speaking to His apostles about His Church. Before His ascension, Christ charges Peter three times to feed and care for His sheep. In the Acts of the Apostles, Christ dispatches His apostles from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria and even to the center of the world, Rome. And, as if we could, let us not forget a certain Pharisee blinded, convicted and recruited on his way to Damascus.

Upper case Faith, in my mind, refers the institution left by Christ upon this earth to continue His mission of bringing salvation to all mankind. In order for the Gospel to be heard by the multitudes, it had to be spoken by those entrusted with the message delivered to them by God, Himself. It is the Church, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which has recorded, collected, preserved and promulgated the Good News to every corner of the world; and she still has a way to go. It is the Church that is the protector of the doctrine and the traditions from the earliest days of the Apostles’ messianic ministries. It is the Church which should be the fountainhead of theological interpretation and knowledge.

For me, I cannot divorce the Church from my faith. I often have heard people say things like, “I don’t have to be in a particular building at a particular time to worship God. I can do it that just fine on my own.” While it is true that we do, and should, work on developing our relationship with God at all times during our busy week; it is a fallacy to think that we don’t owe something more to Him. God commands us to keep holy the Sabbath. That is not just an opportunity for us to prop up our feet and relax from a busy work week. It is an instruction to us to come together and worship Him.

The Church is more than an historic building with a staff and an annual budget. The Church is more than the ritual, the incense or the hymns. The Church is even more than the people who gather together in fellowship and worship. The Church is the catholic (universal) expression of Christ in the world.

My faith is in the Risen Lord, for it is only in his death and resurrection that all of creation is washed clean from the stain of sin and death. My Faith is unapologetically Anglican, rooted in Christ, delivered to His people by the Apostles and preserved through the bishops in whom rests the responsibility to defend that which was entrusted to them.

Finally, I think that it is important to make clear that while the Church was created by Jesus Christ in the person of His Apostles, the Church is populated with and governed by the children of The Fall. Those who administer the Church are not perfect; mistakes have been and are being made. We have rent asunder the Church so that now we divide and subdivide ourselves into denominations and affiliations which in some ways bear little resemblance to each other. But that is why we must have faith: small ‘f’. Even at times when the Faith in which we participate and grow seems to be following paths unfamiliar and treacherous, we must rely on the faith of Abraham, Abel, Enoch and Noah. We must rely above all in our faith in and love for Jesus Christ, and in that we will find unity.

Father Michael+

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Couple of Reminders

Next Wednesday, August 11, we begin our study of the Book of Judges.  Last Wednesday was the final installment of a study of Celtic Christianity which I think went rather well.  We ended up examining a late 6th century exegetical homily on Matthew 16: 24.  In a nutshell, the exegete talked about our taking up of the Cross of Christ as being our willful decision to regognize Christ as the true Son of God.  He went further by elaborating on God's place as the Creator of all things, rational and irrational, sensate and unsensate.  As Creator, God exists outside of His creation, although He participates in that Creation by the mere fact that He created it.  God is not subject to His creation, creation is subject to Him.....with one notable exception:  Jesus Christ.  In Christ, God chose to redeem all of creation by becoming a part of it Himself.  By becoming flesh of the Blessed Virgin, God stepped into creation and, for the appropriate was subject to the physical laws and ravages of time and temperment which effect us all.  God loved us so much that He stepped into our time (chronos) so that we could subsequently share in His Time (kairos).

We begin Sunday School for Youth and Adults on Sunday, August 15.  We will all meet in the Parish House to take stock and assign rooms and have some fun.  We have a great group of teachers lined up for this year, and I am confident that Sunday School will be fun and formative for everyone.

Confirmation Class will begin on September 19 following the 10AM Mass, so mark your calendars.  Please let me know if you are interested in taking the class for credit or if you are interested in coming for a refresher of what you already know.

Anyone interested in becoming an acolyte should be watching and listening for I will have a date for our first acolyte training class very soon.  Anyone over 8 years old can become a member of the Guild of Acolytes, and anyone 5 - 8 years can begin to train and serve God and this parish as a Jr. member.  I will have the date set by next week.

Pax vobiscum,
Fr. Michael+