Friday, October 7, 2016

Comfort My People, Says Your God.

Pentecost 21C2016

Fr. Dale Matson

When God called me into the ordination process I distinctly remember thinking of the phrase from Isaiah, “Comfort My People”. It is a rather ironic phrase when applied someone such as myself who has a reputation for having quite an edge…someone with sharp elbows, an abrasive fellow…someone who can be confrontational.

Last week Fr. Carlos offered us a statement twice at the beginning of his talk and once at the end. “No church has a future unless their dreams are greater than their memories. I would say however that memories are what anchor those dreams and keeps us from repeating mistakes of the past. Our memories are what make us human. Memories don’t have to be limiting factors. It is not always a case of “Once burned, twice shy”.

I want to say first that for many of us this is still a time for mourning. We have been displaced and like our Lord, we have no place to lay our head. Yes, we are currently guests in this place but we know and our hosts know that we will be moving on with God’s help. This place is a temporary port in a storm.

Sharon and I already know what it is like to mourn the loss of a church and faith community. We left Holy Family Episcopal Church 8 years ago. Since that time many of the saints there have passed on or left. My closest friend there, the former senior warden Joe Faria no longer attends Holy Family Church. Another senior warden Andy Robinson has passed on. His wife Linda Gail, because of her infirmities, was no longer able to serve as clergy and gave me her Pix at my ordination. Another senior warden Gary Walker no longer attends church at Holy Family. I have heard that the cross was removed from the front of the church. The red doors, which represent the shed blood of Jesus Christ, were repainted another color. I remember Sharon and I leaving Holy Family after 11 years there and turning my key over to the rector, a priest who had betrayed his bishop by joining a lawsuit against Bishop Schofied. My last memory of Holy Family Church was seeing the verse above the exit door as we departed that quoted Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” If only. My alb that I am wearing came from the late rector Steven Mills. It was this history that I hold that has not held me back. It has served to remind me that a false gospel is destructive and cannot be tolerated. Sharon and I came to Saint James where the Gospel was and is preached in truth in purity and where the faith once handed down is preserved.

With God’s people, in order to move forward, there must first be a recounting… a remembering… a time for reflection and in some cases a time to mourn. We cannot move forward until we recount the past and understand the present. Often in the Old Testament the Israelites were reminded of where they came from. I want to begin with something I wrote for our Diocesan Blog site Soundings almost eight years ago.

“As I reflected on a portion of the Gospel lesson from Luke (Chapter 6) for the Daily office for Wednesday May 6th, it also occurred to me again that we are in the midst of a serious legal struggle in our Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin against The Episcopal Church (TEC). It is easy to be anxious and fearful about the possible outcome. It is also possible to wrongly adopt a self-righteous anger too. However, our Gospel lesson is quite a contrast to what would be an expected human response. “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” This is a portion of Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” which is a kind of parallel to Mathew’s Sermon on the Mount.

There is a property dispute of course but hopefully both sides would say that ultimately, God owns the property not a Parish, Diocese or a Denomination. It also occurred to me that while property provides a place to gather for worship and fellowship, it could also be an occasion to misunderstand and be misdirected as to what is meant when we talk about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God has never been about bricks, stones, mortar, wood and steel.

I believe the Jews of the Old Testament confused God’s presence among them with the Temple in Jerusalem. Much of their pride and identity was centered on the temple rather than God Himself. Seeing the Dome of the Rock sitting on the very ruins of the Temple should be evidence enough that God has left an historical reminder that the Temple and the land of Israel are not as important as the God who gave both to Israel. While it is what they are fighting each other about, who owns the land and the buildings is really not the central issue for the Arabs and Israelis nor should it be the central issue for us either. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:20, 23).

With each crisis in our personal lives and in the life of our faith community, we are faced with understandable initial human responses of anxiety, fear, anger or self-righteousness. I am reminded of the man who put his faith in his possessions. "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20) My brothers and sisters, we are the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The property and the buildings belong to God and Him alone.”

Four years ago I wrote this as part of an article for Soundings.

“There is a gradual loss of identity within The Episcopal Church. I believe that what was once a Christian church is now becoming an activist organization; a faith based initiative. Like so many colleges that were begun by Christian denominations, TEC too, is now becoming secular. The leadership has become human focused to the extent that there are no barriers to inclusion. Baptism is “ancient” and “normative” but not necessary for inclusion in the body of Christ. They are, in fact, ashamed of Christ and willing to see Him as only an avenue to a liberated life of self-affirmation in the here and now. They no longer see him as the way to salvation and eternal life. They have even outgrown their contemporary I’m OK and Your OK. It is now the “I am special” church, yet the members no longer see themselves as what St. Paul referred to as a “peculiar people” who are called out of a worldly life as witnesses to the transforming love of Jesus Christ. They are no longer called to holy living and they are not in search of Christ. They are not sinners seeking God’s mercy; they are victims in search of justice. They are called to “live into” their natural selves, whatever that might be. In short, TEC lost the pearl of great price; Jesus Christ Who is our true and authentic self. He is also the identity and head of the corporate and mystical body, the church. He is the Logos and the emotion driven leadership is not interested in God informed reason any longer. They are too busy tithing their dill of diversity, radical inclusion, social justice and planet sustainability.

They don’t see the need to repent individually for personal sin but they do repent organizationally for failures to discover the blessed uniqueness of each kind of new personhood; for the insensitivity to other cultures. Whom did they fail to include this time around? We will see next time around.

The leadership seems almost “affect driven” in their need to avoid discernment as being judgmental and hateful and all in the name of inclusivity. The gate to the Kingdom of God is narrow but the formerly red doors of TEC are wide open. TEC, as it sheds doctrine, reminds me of a cell that no longer has a semi permeable membrane to filter out what is harmful and to allow in what is nurturing. The organization is like Star Trek’s “Voyager” moving through space and time collecting this and that, becoming an eclectic blob and seeking its creator “The god of our understanding”.

The Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin has kept the faith and St. James as the Cathedral congregation was the tip of the spear in the fight against the apostasy of the Episcopal Church. We are bloodied but unbowed. Like our Lord they have divided our belongings among themselves in the name of saving the legacy of TEC. How sad and ironic that my former congregation will move to the St. James campus and take our name also. We are gone from the campus but our memories are there and must be brought with us. We have brothers and sisters, parents and children who have passed on while we were there. We celebrated their lives and their passing on the cathedral campus on Dakota and Cedar. I was ordained and priested by Bishop John David Mercer Schofield. He passed on this month three years ago. He was a man of joy, courage and prayer. John and Cathy Downing and I recorded an interview with him in 2010. It is important that we carry his memory with us to our next location. How many other saints do we also have to remember in our community of saint? I ask that you say their names out loud as the Lord brings them to your remembrance.

Why am I remembering? I am remembering the reasons why we are here now. We had a lot of skin in the game so to speak. We didn’t phone it in. We have paid a price and we have suffered. Like Watchmen Nee we SAT with Christ, we WALKED in Christ and we STOOD against Satan. Satan is never satisfied with just a pound of flesh and he is not done with us yet. This is not over by any means. Lord have mercy.

The first book I read after my Christian renewal was by Watchmen Nee. He was a Christian pastor in China. As I read his book “The Normal Christian Life” I thought to myself, “I’m not sure I can do this.” Mao Tse Tung imprisoned him and the other Christian pastors. After 20 years in prison Watchman Nee died. He left a note on his pillow. “Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world who was resurrected on the third day.” Are we willing to suffer a little longer for this eternal truth?

Finally, I want to assure those who are mature in the faith, those who yet weep and mourn that they must remember and NOT forget. You will also have a place at the table. There will be new opportunities to contribute and participate. "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions; your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17). After a period of mourning, we will dream again. Amen

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