Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seeking God As Beauty And The Mountains

Fr. Dale Matson

Mt. Jordan Behind Reflection Lake Kings Canyon National Park
Click Photographs to Enlarge 

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.” Psalms 27:4 (NASB)

Benedict Groeschel, OFM Cap.  (Priest, Psychologist and Friar) maintains that most of us seek God in one of four ways (Spiritual Passages: The Psychology of Spiritual Development, 1993 Crossroad, N.Y.). He used the saints of the church as examples to illustrate his point. The call of St. Catherine of Genoa was to Unity, St. Francis saw God as the Good, St. Thomas Aquinas saw God as True. St Augustine saw God as Beauty.

St. Augustine had the following to say about beauty. “But what is it that  I love when  I love you? Not the beauty of any bodily thing, nor  the  order of  any  seasons,  not  the  brightness of light  that rejoices  the  eye,  nor  the  sweet  melodies  of  all songs,  nor  the  sweet fragrance of flowers  and  ointments and  spices;  not  manna or  honey, not the limbs that carnal love embraces. None of these things do I love in loving my God.  Yet in a sense I do  love  light  and   melody  and fragrance and  food  and  embrace when  I love my God - the light and the  voice and  the  fragrance and  the  food  and  embrace of  the  soul. When that light shines upon my soul which no place can contain, that voice which no time can take from me, I breathe that fragrance which no wind scatters, I eat the food which is not lessened by eating, and I lie in the embrace which satiety never comes to sunder. This it is that I love, when I love my God.

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved Thee! For behold Thou wert within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and   in my unloveliness fell upon   those lovely things that Thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee. I was kept  from  Thee by those  things, yet had  they  not been  in Thee, they would  not  have  been  at all. Thou didst  call and  cry to me and  break  open  my deafness; and  Thou didst  send  forth Thy  beams and  shine  upon  me and  chase  away my blindness; Thou didst  breathe fragrance upon  me,  and  I drew  in  my breath and  do  now  pant  for Thee; I tasted  Thee and  now hunger and  thirst  for Thee. Thou didst touch me, and I have burned for Thy peace.” Confessions

East Lake With Mt. Brewer Center Left
Kings Canyon National Park

These mountain places are where I fellowship with God too for it was He who made these things and us also.  It can at times be as intimate an occasion for me as when I proclaim the words of the Great Thanksgiving during the Holy Eucharist.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Feast of the Holy Cross - September 14th

Bishop Eric Menees

“Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”
Crosses are an interesting thing. This past weekend I was with the leadership at St. Francis, Stockton, and learned of a beautiful cross given to them by parishioners. It is a "Franciscan Cross" (the Cross of San Damiano, from which Jesus spoke to St. Francis and commissioned him to rebuild His Church). The cross is beautiful - the colors are vibrant, and the figure of Jesus is both haunting and inviting at the same time.

It is one of those truly amazing distinctives about Christianity - that the instrument of death and destruction could be redeemed into an instrument of life and grace. To be crucified was a shameful and very painful death in the first century. The cross was a symbol of the Roman Empire’s domination and rule. When entering Rome, the Appian Way had hundreds of crosses lining the road so that anyone who entered into Rome passed by this very clear threat: "You mess with Caesar, and this is what will happen to you." Jesus, the only truly innocent and perfect man, was wrongfully and painfully put to death on a cross on Mt. Calvary. However, three days later He rose from the dead and that instrument of death was redeemed into an instrument of life.
If memory serves, it was St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, who made the journey to the Holy Land in search of relics and returned with pieces of the Cross of Christ. This would have been especially poignant for her, as her son's conversion involved a vision of the Cross of Christ. While the Cross had been associated with Christianity prior to the conversion of Constantine (martyrs often crossed themselves as a witness to the audience in the amphitheater or circus, in order to indicate that they were being put to death for their faith and not because they were criminals), after Helena returned to Rome from the Holy Land the Cross became the single most identifiable sign of a Christian and a Christian Community. One would be hard pressed to find a church that did not have a cross. This transformed symbol of death to life is not worshiped, but is seen as a symbol of God's divine mercy - that by Jesus' death and resurrection, reconciliation was offered to fallen man.
Equally, as we recently heard from our Sunday Gospel readings, Jesus challenges every Christian: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mt. 16:26)  This is not always a challenge to martyrdom, but it is always a challenge to live a life that is sacrificially offered to the Glory of God, for the benefit of others.

My prayer for you and my prayer for me is that on this the Feast of the Holy Cross, we may marvel in the fact that Jesus died for us - that by his death we have life and we are called to offer our lives for the sake of others. And to that I say, AMEN! 
Catechism Questions 14 &15

1.How may a person repent and place faith in Jesus Christ?

Anyone may repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ at any time. One way to do this is by sincerely saying a prayer similar to the Prayer of Repentance and Faith given above. (John 15:16; Acts 16:31-34; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 12:12)

2.What should you do once you have turned to God for salvation in repentance and faith?

If I have not already been baptized, following proper instruction, I should be baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and thus into membership in his Body, the Church. (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 12:13)

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Watchman: Proper 18

Fr. Dale Matson

"The Watchtower"
Kings Canyon National Park

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."

This is due process in the Christian life. How many of us have first gone to others before we have gone to our brother? Do we not seek out those who would agree with us? This is because it is in our nature to be self-righteous rather than righteous. We would rather be right than reconciled. Adam and Eve wanted to decide for themselves what was right and what was wrong.

I recently offered some corrective feedback to a brother. One test of whether my feedback is authentic and not me just being a critical parent is how much it pains me to say it. If there is eagerness, then it is probably not necessary to say it. If it is not spoken in love, it probably should not be said either. If it’s “Now I’ve got you right where I want you!” I probably should not say it.

There is an additional event that will follow corrective feedback I’ve offered to others as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. A brother will also offer me feedback soon thereafter. This is God’s way of reminding me to take care lest I slip.

I believe there is an important relationship between our Gospel lesson today and our Old Testament lesson. Our Gospel lesson is advice on offering correction to our brothers and sisters. Who are our brother and our sister? Everyone is our neighbor and everyone is our brother and sister.

I can remember when I was about ten, my aunt Louise asking a woman at the bus stop not to use the name of her Lord Jesus in a disrespectful way. I was proud of her even though somewhat uncomfortable about it. Have you wanted to say this to someone also? I have too and sometimes I just don’t do it when I should.

Our Old Testament Lesson is a charge to those who carry God’s word to God’s people. That person is called the watchman. Who is the watchman? In this case it is the prophet Ezekiel. But there are other times when it is us, you and me.

“And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, speak to the sons of your people and say to them, ‘If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take one man from among them and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows on the trumpet and warns the people, then he who hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood will be on his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning; his blood will be on himself. But had he taken warning, he would have delivered his life.  But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand.”

The watchman can be the voice of the prophet to the nation of Israel or the watchman can be the prophetic voice of the church to call the nation back to God. In either case, there is not an option to keep silent. The watchman must speak God’s words or God will hold the watchman responsible.

The Anglican Priest John Keble said the following in his Assize sermon on national apostasy. These words are no less prophetic now than nearly 200 years ago.

“That they rejected God? That they wished themselves rid of the moral restraint implied in His peculiar presence and covenant? They said, what the prophet Ezekiel, long after, represents their worthy posterity as saying, 'We will be as the heathen, the families of the countries.' (Ezek. xx. 32.) 'Once for all, we will get rid of these disagreeable, unfashionable scruples, which throw us behind, as we think, in the race of worldly honor and profit.' Is this indeed a tone of thought, which Christian nations cannot fall into? Or, if they should, has it ceased to be displeasing to God? In other words, has He forgotten to be angry at impiety and practical atheism? Either this must be affirmed, or men must own, (what is clear at once to plain unsophisticated readers,) that this first overt act, which began the downfall of the Jewish nation, stands on record, with its fatal consequences, for a perpetual warning to all nations, as well as to all individual Christians, who, having accepted God for their King, allow themselves to be weary of subjection to Him, and think they should be happier if they were freer, and more like the rest of the world.”

What happens when God is not in charge? What happened in the wilderness when God’s representative Moses left the encampment and God was not present for the Israelites? They made a golden calf and worshiped it. Instead of worshiping God, they worshiped the creature. When we do not worship God we become idolaters and we fashion golden calves from things we should have left behind when we were in bondage; things we have no use for in God’s Kingdom.

I am speaking to you today as the watchman. This is the Lord’s warning to those who would deny God and in so doing downgrade the life of humans. God does not like it and is angry about it. Humans in the womb are His children and not less than human. Humans at the end of life are God’s children and not less than human. Humans in the wilderness are not intended by God to be prey for wild animals. Humans are increasingly seen as a liability, a threat to our planet. We are seen as producers of Carbon Dioxide and CO2 increases global warming. Mr. Smith in The Matrix told Morpheus that humans are a virus. Those who want to deny God want to downgrade human life also. Be a watchman!

"A British Pakistani woman, whose relative was convicted alongside others of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl, says her community brushed the issue "under the carpet" It comes after a report found 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited over a 16-year period by gangs consisting mainly of men of Pakistani origin. She said she was tortured every day and had abuse through her letterbox after speaking out about the issue, which took place in a different town to Rotherham. She said local authorities failed to intervene because they were afraid of offending people or being branded racist."
We are on the watchtower.

Keble continues in his Assize sermon, “One of the most alarming, as a symptom, is the growing indifference, in which men indulge themselves, to other men's religious sentiments. Under the guise of charity and toleration we are come almost to this pass; that no difference, in matters of faith, is to disqualify for our acceptance and confidence, whether in public or domestic life. Can we conceal it from ourselves, that every year the practice is becoming more common, of trusting men unreservedly in the most delicate and important matters, without one serious inquiry, whether they do not hold principles which make it impossible for them to be loyal to their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier?”

Thus not only by supernatural aid, which we have warrant of God's word for expecting, but even in the way of natural consequence, the first duty of the Church and of Churchmen, INTERCESSION, sincerely practiced, would prepare them for the second; —which, following the words of Samuel as our clue, we may confidently pronounce to be REMONSTRANCE. 'I will teach you the good and the right way.' REMONSTRANCE, calm, distinct, and persevering, in public and in private, direct and indirect, by word, look, and demeanor, is the unequivocal duty of every Christian, according to his opportunities, when the Church landmarks are being broken down.” We are the watchmen.

“Recently a woman who appeared to be pregnant was walking around a state fairgrounds drinking beer and eventually became drunk. However, it was an experiment and she was only made to look pregnant. In the hours she walked around, no one [repeat] stopped to tell her that she was risking her unborn child by drinking to the point of drunkenness.” Who is manning the watchtower? You and me are manning the watchtower and God will hold us responsible for the things left undone and unsaid.

“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Here our Lord is speaking to His church. He had made us responsible for setting the boundaries on what is right and what is wrong. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are also called to say what is right in God’s eyes. We are called to be the watchman on the watchtower. Woe to the church if she does not do this.

God has said that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked should he turn from his evil way and live. That is our job as watchmen. We are not cops catching people in the act of wrongdoing. We are not the prosecuting attorneys either. This takes us back to our Gospel lesson. First we must show our brother or sister the fault in private then if he listens to you, you have won your brother. That is the starting point. Amen

Bishop's Note: Collect for the 13th Week of Pentecost - Proper 18

Bishop Eric Menees

“Grant us, O Lord, we pray thee, to trust in you with all our heart; for, as thou dost alway resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so thou dost not forsake those who make their boast of thy mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

This week's Collect is one of those that captures both the heart and mind of the petitioner. We call out to God to grant us the ability to trust in Him with all our heart, just like the father who brings his demon possessed son to Jesus asking for His help. Jesus responds:  "All things are possible for one who believes.Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9 23b-24) Our trust, like our belief, is not perfect, but with God's help it is made perfect in Him!

Trusting in God means that we are not trusting in ourselves. This is the key - we need to stop trusting in ourselves - our own strengths and talents. Even believing that we have strengths and talents apart from God is a false belief - a potential idol - and the very thing that leads to pride. If we give ourselves completely to the Lord, we will come to understand that everything we have and everything we are is, in fact, a gift from God.

And we can make this petition to the Lord because we can trust in the His grace and mercy! It is Jesus whose mercy and grace led Him to offer His life as a ransom for ours! It causes me to think of St. Paul's "Sermon on the Mount" from the 12th chapter of Romans: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." (Romans 12:1) My prayer for all of us in the Diocese of San Joaquin is that we may truly place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone. I've already begun with this prayer and will continue to offer it as I, and all of us, deal with the frustrations and trials of life in a fallen world!  

Catechism Questions 12 & 13

12. What does it mean for you to repent?

To repent means that I have a change of heart, turning from serving myself to serving
God. I need Gods help to make this change.

13. What does it mean for you to have faith?

To have faith means that I believe the gospel is true; I acknowledge that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead to rule over me; I entrust myself to him as my Savior; and I obey him as my Lord. As the Apostle Paul said, If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved(Romans 10:9).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for 12th week of Pentecost - Proper 17

Bishop Eric Menees

"Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

This week's Collect is a powerful one, representing both our Hebraic and Reformed roots. The opening declaration recognizes the power and authority of God: "Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things:..." Can't you hear the ring of the rabbinic prayers? One such traditional prayer, upon awaking in the morning, goes something like this: "Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the Universe. I give you thanks, for you have restored my soul with kindness and mercy." So, too, this collect acknowledges God's majesty, power, and grace. Only He is able to answer our petitions.

"Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name;..." Only God can graft anything to the hardened human heart. A love for the name of Jesus is a love that leads us to our knees in worship and lifts our hands in praise. As St. Paul penned: "Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

"...increase in us true religion;..." This petition, for me, asks of God to cast away from us all "religiosity" which, in my mind, is when the acts of worship are meant to show God our worth.  True religion is without pretense, because it's based on the knowledge that we are loved beyond measure - not because we deserve it, but because of God’s perfect character.

"...nourish us with all goodness;..." Only God can nourish is with all goodness because He is the source and content of all goodness. Here, goodness is synonymous with God Himself.  This is clearly seen in Moses’ petition to God and the Lord's response: "Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’  And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’” (Exodus 33:18-19 ESV)

"...and bring forth in us the fruit of good works;..." It stands to reason that if God answers the first three petitions, then the fruit will be good works. This is work that comes in response to God's love and grace, NOT as a means to earn God's love and grace. Jesus said it perfectly: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5 ESV)

My prayer for all of us this week is that God will grant the petitions of this Collect so that we, as individuals and as the Church, may abide in Christ and in Him alone!

Catechism Questions 10-11

10. Is there any other way of salvation?
No. The Apostle Peter said of Jesus, There is salvation in no one else, for there is no
other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved(Acts 4:12).

11. How should you respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

I should repent of my sins and put faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and my Lord.