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, January 24, 2011

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand! (Mt 4: 17 RSV)

But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. (Mk 13: 24-27 RSV)
Jesus spoke of the time when every knee will bow before the Lamb and all the brokenness of creation will be set right.  This is the eschaton, the Second Coming.  Part of what Jesus preaches refers to that promise, the promise when God will rule the world with pure justice and pure mercy and pure grace; setting all things right and in their proper place.  We do not know the time of this conclusion of history; but we know that it is on the way.

When speaking of the "Kingdom of Heaven", however, Jesus tells us not only of a coming event that may or may not be distant in its arrival.  Jesus also speaks of a present reality; the presence of God in the midst of His people.  Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The new proximity of the Kingdom of which Jesus speaks - the distinguishing feature of his message - is to be found in Jesus himself.  Through Jesus' presence and action, God has here and now entered actively into history in a wholly new way.  The reason why now is the fullness of time (Mk 1: 15), why now is in a unique sense the time of conversion and penance, as well as the time of joy, is that in Jesus it is God who draws near to us.  In Jesus, God is now the one who acts and who rules as Lord - rules in a divine way, without worldly power, rules through the love that reaches 'to the end' (Jn 13: 1), to the Cross.  John Cardinal Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth
We live in a history that has been touched irrevocably by the physical presence of God.  He chose to make himself one of us, fully man and fully God, so that we might not only look forward to the promise of life eternal with Him; but that we might share in a restored relationship with our Father right here and right now.  Jesus points to the future, but he is not only about prophesy and promises.  Through our faith in Christ, our actions guided by the Holy Ghost and our participation in the Body of Christ, the Church, we find that we are in the presence of the Kingdom even while we await its arrival at the end of time.

Fr. Michael+

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Another Great Wednesday Night at CMEC

How can you have anything but a great time when you have choir rehearsal, Mass, dinner and Bible Study?  We finished our study of the Book of Acts last night with a rousing discussion of Paul's last days, the ongoing mission of the Church and the words of the Prophet Isaiah which Paul spoke to the Jews in Rome (see Acts 28: 23ff).  These words from God which the prophet had spoken to the Hebrew people should resonate with us today, I think.  "You shall indeed hear but not understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive."

There are times when those words apply to us today just as much as they did when Isaiah first spoke them.  Can we honestly say that we hear what God speaks to us through Holy Scripture, or that we see Him in our neighbors as we should?  Do we read His Word as we should, or do we seek to live out His Commandments as we ought?  Do we turn to our Father every day when we rise and do we commit ourselves to conform ourselves to His Will?

The Book of Acts ends with Paul "preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered."  To be disciples of Jesus of Christ we must spend time learning and living the Word delivered to us through his Apostles to his Church.  We must spend time with Christ in Holy Scripture.  We must put into practice what we learn and make ours a Christian life well lived in love and service to God.  In this, we find that we may show the way to others and may support others as they strive to live a life dedicated to the Word of God.

In other business last night, we decided that beginning next week, January 26, we will begin a study of the Church which I am calling Anglicanism 101.  It is a refresher course in things Anglican and is meant to give folks on opportunity to learn or re-learn many basic principles and facts about our Church.  The syllabus for this class looks something like this:
          January 26:  Liturgy - A tour of the Church with discussion of our tradition and liturgy
          February 2:  Sacraments - The seven Sacraments of the Church
          February 9:  The Book of Common Prayer - Cranmer's Legacy
          February 16:  The Seasons, Fasts and Feasts of the Church - What do all those colors mean?
          February 23:  The Episcopal Church of the United States of America - Why we are who we are
          March 2:  Wrapping up loose ends and general discussion

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 9, so there will be no dinner or Bible Study that night.  There will be Mass with the Imposition of Ashes in the Church at 7:00PM.  Beginning on March 16, we will begin a study of Exodus which will run through the season of Lent.  We will continue to have choir practice, Mass, dinner and Bible Study according to our normal schedule during Lent, but the meals will be very simple, consisting of soup and bread.  Looking even further into the future, our study for the season of Easter will be "Jesus of Nazareth" by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).

I would like to encourage everyone to come and join us on Wednesday night.  Coming together to worship, to share a meal and to study the Word of God are important ways that we grow in our relationship with the Father and make ourselves disciples to our Savior Jesus Christ.

Everyone is welcome.  Please, bring a friend.

Fr. Michael+

Monday, January 17, 2011

Report on Operation Christmas Child

In November, the parishioners of Christ Memorial participated in a wonderful evangelism and outreach effort called Operation Christmas Child which is sponsored by Samaritan's Purse each year.  The idea of the project is to pack and deliver a shoe box full of fun and useful items to a needy child somewhere in world.  This is a gift, given in love and in the name of Jesus Christ, with no strings attached.  According to the literature, for every eight boxes delivered, a child comes to faith in Christ.  This year, the collection station at First Baptist, Mansfield collected 3,407 shoe boxes, an increase of almost 5% over last year.  In turn, the collection center in Bossier City took in over 21,000 boxes which were then trucked to the regional receiving center in Hurst, TX, which received 413,248 boxes from Texas and Louisiana (88,314).  Nationally, Operation Christmas Child was able to collect and deliver over 5.5 million boxes in 2010.  Praise God!

It is not too early to start thinking about OCC for next year.  One easy way to help is to keep a watchful eye when you go to the store.  If you see plastic shoe boxes on sale, pick up a few.  If you see toys or toiletries that we can put in the boxes, pick them up and stash them away.  Make it a habit to pick up a little something here and there; and then when box packing time rolls around again, we'll be ready to make it happen.

I would also ask your prayers for all those who do so much to bring the Light of Christ to the nations of the Earth.  Pray for those who have heard and received the Gift of Christ, that they may be strong and joyful in their faith.  Pray for those who have yet to hear the Word, that God will touch them with His infinite Goodness and Mercy.

Fr. Michael+

Friday, January 14, 2011

Miles on the road

I ask your prayers for my son, Miles, who is on a bus with the Youth Group from St. Paul's, Shreveport.  They are bound for Ashville, NC for Youthquake 2011.  Accordong to his last message, he did not sleep last night.  God help them all.

I also wanted to update you on my friends, Tom and Mathew, who are in Uganda right now.  They arrived safely on Wednesday, but their bags went to Uzbekistan or some such place and should get to them in Hoima today.  Please pray for those who are travelling and for those working in the mission field.

More to come.......

Fr. Michael+

Monday, January 10, 2011

Yes, Virginia, There is a Newsletter!

Sometimes, even the best laid plans of mice and men lead to nothing other than good intentions and missed deadlines.  While most of the pertinent information has been up on this blog, the newsletter has been delayed for a variety of reasons, some unavoidable and some not.  That having been said, I am publishing my letter to the congregation below, while the newsletters are printing in the other room to be mailed this afternoon.  I hope to see everyone at the Annual Meeting on Sunday.

Pax vobiscum:

I begin with a hearty apology for the lateness of this newsletter.  Between the holidays, illness and a general plethora of circumstances, we have been delayed, but not defeated.  This past year was full of changes and opportunities, departures and arrivals; and this new year promises to be filled with new and exciting experiences.  I would like to begin this year by considering a few of the things that we share together as believers in the Risen Christ.

Worship:  As Anglicans, we place a great value on our shared worship of God, specifically in our liturgy and our traditions.  Our liturgy has developed from centuries of study and practice that finds it roots as far back as Moses and preserved by the Early Church in their worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  We gather on Sunday to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the Communion which Christ gave to his Apostles on the evening of his arrest, and we do so out of obligation to his words to his people, for as Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11: 26)

We also gather together in prayer in a uniquely Anglican fashion every morning in St. Anne’s Chapel.  In the Daily Office of Morning Prayer, we participate with Anglicans all around the world and throughout history in praising God and asking him for all the things that we need to be faithful followers of his Son Jesus Christ.  This service, which dates to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer written by Thomas Cranmer, provides us with a daily remembrance of Christ’s love and mercy.  Additionally, we celebrate the Mass on Wednesday nights and at other special times throughout the year so that we may remain fed by “…his most precious body and blood…”

Study:  We are also fed by the Father’s everliving Word as delivered to us in Holy Scripture.  In addition to our own studies, it is certainly beneficial to come together read and study and inwardly digest that which is given to us for our learning and benefit.  At Christ Memorial, we offer several opportunities to study and discuss the Bible.  Brother Ken has been leading a spirited Study of Scripture (the Epistle of James, a Christian perspective on Islam, and currently Paul’s Epistle to the Romans) in the Adult Sunday School offering every Sunday morning at 9:05 AM.  Martha Yarbrough, Kimberly Harris and Tabitha Sparks have been doing a fantastic job of providing Biblical education for our young people on Sunday mornings as well.  On Wednesday nights, I lead an Adult Bible Study that has covered such topics as Celtic Spirituality, the Book of Judges and currently the Book of Acts.

Fellowship:  We do fellowship very well here at Christ Memorial.  We are a tightly knit and loving community who, I think, genuinely enjoys being together.  The Bazaar, the Hallowe’en Party, and the Christmas Party are
just a few examples of what my family and I have experienced in just the past few months and are proof of the dynamic nature and vibrant condition of this parish.  Wednesday night dinners are always festive and tasty because of the cooperation and dedication of those who cook and provide a fabulous meal for all who attend.

Outreach:  In the coming year, I expect that we will be hearing more and more about this important part of our Christian lives.  This parish has a long history of generous giving and support of each other and of the community as a whole.  At Christ Memorial, we provide food for the hungry and monetary assistance to those who have trouble paying utility bills throughout the year.  At Thanksgiving and at Christmas this year, we provided meals to those who were in need and at Christmas supported several families who were in real need for help with necessities as well as the things that make the holiday fun.  I hope that our outreach to the community will continue to grow and provide folks with something even more important: the sure and certain knowledge of their salvation in Jesus Christ.  I also hope that we can expand our outreach and mission to the world by going into the world to see, learn and live what it means to be a Christian today.

The new year is upon us, and it is my hope and prayer that each and every one of us shall know the blessings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, this year.  I for one, am looking forward in great anticipation.

Fr. Michael+

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mission of Hope 2011

Next Tuesday, a team of eleven people from Pennsylvania, Louisiana and New Mexico will be leaving for a 17 day mission trip to Hoima, Uganda.  They will spend the majority of their time ministering at the Mustard Seed Babies' Home and will provide medical services, Bible School and education, and anything else that they can do to help this Christian orphans home.  Two of my very close friends will be going on this trip, Tom and Matthew Dalton.  I have lost track of how many mission trips Tom has made since I have known him (he is the chairman of the Diocesan Missions Committee), and this will be the first time in the mission field for his son, Matthew.  I traveled with Tom to the Dominican Republic almost 5 years ago, and I am looking forward to going back with him this year in July.

I post this because I think it is important to remember the work that is being done by missionaries around the world.  In addition to these short term mission trips, there are folks who have dedicated their lives to teaching the Gospel and bringing the Love of Jesus Christ to all the people of the world, just as Christ instructed us to do.  I have been on two mission trips, one to the D.R. and one to Peru, and both experiences effected me deeply.

While this team is in Uganda, I would ask that everyone who reads this blog take a minute and say a prayer for their safety and for their success in bringing the Word of God to those in Uganda who need to hear it.  I also ask that you pray that their hearts and minds are open so that they can learn and grow from their experience with those who live the Christian life in Uganda.  One of the blessings of going on a mission trip like this is to experience life in a country where the Gospel is not just something that is read on Sunday; it is the Word that effects every aspect of their lives.  The people in Uganda may seem poor by our standards, but, believe me, they are richer beyond our wildest dreams when it comes to their faith in the Risen Christ.

Two Prayers for Missions
Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to thee through thy Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.
Almighty God, who hast given unto thy Son Jesus Christ the Name which is above every name, and hast taught us that there is salvation in none other: Mercifully grant that as thy faithful people have comfort and peace in his name, they may ever labor to publish it unto all nations; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Fr. Michael+

MEA CULPA:  My recollection was faulty.  This is not Matthew's first trip to Uganda; he went with his dad on last year's trip to Hoima.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Feast of the Epiphany

No, don't worry.  It's not Epiphany, yet.  Please mark your calendars, however, for Thursday, January 6 at 6PM for our celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany.  Epiphany marks the arrival of the Magi at the home of the Jesus and his family in Bethlehem.  The arrival of these gentiles from the East also reinforces the universality of God's plan for the salvation of His Creation.  The Messiah has not come just for the Hebrew people, but for all the people of the world, and since the Gospel is not yet ready to be carried to the world, the world will instead come to the Gospel.

Also on Thursday evening, we will observe an old tradition of the Church by blessing chalk.  This chalk is then used to inscribe a blessing on the door post of one's home as an acknowledgement of God's blessing upon us for the new year.  The chalk will be blessed prior to the conclusion of the Mass.

Finally, we plan on having a King Cake Thursday evening, so plan to hang around to enjoy is traditional treat of Epiphany (at least in Louisiana).

See you Thursday!

Fr. Michael+

Christmas Pageant Pictures

Hey!  It's still Christmas, right?

Happy New Year

As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form.  Psalm 17: 15
This short quote from the Psalms seems to encapsulate an important concept that we should all strive to understand and make a part of our lives.  There will always be things and people to distract us; there will always be things that we want but don't necessarily need; there will always be those who have much more stuff that we do in this world: but, in Jesus Christ, we share in the promise of spending our eternal lives in the presence of God The Father, and all the rest of that stuff just doesn't matter that much.

Father Michael+