Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bishop’s Note: April 19, 2018 – Get Real

Bishop Eric Menees
Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson from Luke Chapter 24 describes the resurrection appearance of our Lord to the disciples on that first Easter Sunday.  Jesus appears to the disciples and says, “Peace.”  Last week we discussed the Peace of Christ as a gift of the Resurrection.  This week we see that another gift is that of His Real Presence.

[37] But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. [38] And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? [39] See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” [40] And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. [41] And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them,“Have you anything here to eat?” [42] They gave him a piece of broiled fish, [43] and he took it and ate before them.” (Luke 24:37-43 ESV)

Jesus doesn’t ignore the reality of their fears and doubts – he addresses them by demonstrating that He is REAL – His Resurrection is REAL! Not only has He risen from the dead - Jesus desires to be with us – to sit and eat with us – to love and teach us.

And that is exactly what we do every time we celebrate Holy Eucharist.
We set the table with bread and wine – to be invited to share in His body and blood.

I think of the hymn by George Wallace Biggs:
Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;
nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine;

thyself at thine own board thyself make manifest
in thine own Sacrament of Bread and Wine"

Just as Jesus made himself manifest – physically present – to the disciples in the breaking so too He makes himself manifest when we come together around altar churches. The same churches which have known so much joy and sorrow.  Where babies have been baptized and young couples married and people of all ages mourned and placed into God’s loving hands.  Every time we gather for these life events we celebrate the Holy Eucharist – which is right and good.

When we place our hands out to receive the bread – his body – and the cup of wine – his blood – we gather as His guests not He as ours.

I pray you all a very blessed week!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Bishop’s Note: April 12, 2018 – Peace

Bishop Eric Menees

Last Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, the Gospel Lesson reminded us of Easter Evening, when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room. Just as he’d promised, Jesus rose from the dead; fulfilling the plan that His Father had put in place in Genesis 3:15, when God said to Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” On that Easter day, Jesus had destroyed death and vanquished Satan.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, he gave them the gift of peace - which is a lasting mark of a disciple of Jesus Christ:

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

Of course, “shalom” - Hebrew for peace - was a traditional greeting within first century Judaism (and still is today). However, this shalom was so much more than a simple cultural greeting. This peace was not the Eastern concept of peace, which results from detachment from the world. For example: If I have no attachments to the world, then no matter what happens I will know peace. I don’t believe that is peace, but rather denial. Nor was this the peace that comes from the mere absence of violence.

The peace Jesus offered then, and offers now, is so much more than those things: this is peace with God. Jesus didn’t blame the disciples for abandoning him; he didn’t shame the disciples for their lack of courage. Instead, he said: “Peace to you!” In Christ, the divide between God and man has been bridged by his sacrifice on the cross!

This peace is also peace among and between the disciples. Jesus’ declaration is both a desire and a benediction at the same time! The desire of Jesus is for the disciples, and all Christians, to live in harmony with one another, and with the world! Jesus told the disciples: “34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34) It is impossible to express the magnitude of this peace when it is lived out in Christ’s presence among us!

The Peace of Christ is the “Peace that passes all understanding,”  as St. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:7. This is the peace that comes with the knowledge of Christ’s presence. This is the peace that I recently witnessed with a young mother who was in labor and about to give birth two months early. I met with her in the hospital and prayed with her, and asked her how she was dealing with all that was going on. She simply said she was at peace. She said that she knew that God loved her little baby; that He loved her; that He was at her side; and that He would help her with whatever may come. What a blessing to see that kind of peace and that kind of grace. This is a result of Christ’s promise to us in baptism. Jesus never promises, “Believe in me, and all will be well.”  Jesus promises, “Believe in me, and I will never leave your side – no matter what.”

I’ve been equally blessed to see this across the diocese as congregations have had their property wrongfully confiscated; rather than fear and worry, the people of the congregation have been filled with a sense of calm expectation.

That is the Peace that passes all understanding!

I pray you all a very blessed week!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Easter Two Year B 2018

Fr. Dale Matson

Click Photo To Enlarge
Bighorn Ewe With New Lamb Near Bishop CA

Who Is This Jesus?

     Today we celebrate the continuing feast of Easter which lasts for fifty days from Holy Saturday to the feast of Pentecost. Additionally, we celebrate Easter each Sunday of the year.  Why do we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection so extensively?  Because we are so slow to realize what it means.  We need reminding over and over again. The bodily resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ is the central feature of the Christian faith and also distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. In Christ we have hope that we too will be raised from the dead to eternal life. In Christ we already are assured of eternal life as we live out our present life.
     This is the very first year, however that I really connected the resurrection of Jesus to the annual cycle of life around us. Last year I was too weak to attend Easter Vigil but this year I again sang the Exultet at Easter Vigil. This wonderful ancient hymn was God renewing a right spirit within me too. This week I had my first sighting of a Robin, which I located by the Robin’s distinctly cheerful voice. There is the fresh smell of Jasmine in the air reminding me of my first trip to Fresno to interview for a job at Fresno Pacific University 26 years ago. Spring is a hopeful time. I photographed a newborn bighorn lamb walking on unsteady legs behind the Ewe and eagle eggs in a nest. Sharon and I photographed two Great Horned Owl chicks in a nest watched over by their mother from a branch above the nest. God is reminding me in so many ways that as Christ rose from the grave, our world is coming back to life also. The foothills are green and Millerton Lake is filling with water from the San Joaquin River. Praise God!     
     Our Gospel reading is from John. The Gospel of St. John is my favorite, and important in forming my “Christology”, that is, my understanding of who Jesus really is.  This is because John’s Gospel speaks to the deity of Christ.  While Matthew generally deals with “Christ the King”, Mark deals with “Christ the Servant” and Luke deals with “Christ the Man”.
As I read St. John’s post resurrection account of Jesus appearing to the disciples again the humanity of the apostles is very evident. Even though the disciples were familiar with Hebrew Prophesy, even though Jesus had told them what would take place, even though they had seen the empty tomb and even after Mary Magdalene had reported seeing and talking to Jesus, the disciples were still gathering behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jews. The fact that Jesus could walk through a locked door probably frightened them but they should have realized that Jesus had already walked out of His tomb before the huge stone that covered the doorway was rolled away. Then Jesus appeared to them in the room. Jesus told them to be at peace. St. Luke notes in his account that the disciples were terrified because they thought they were seeing a ghost.  Jesus showed them His wounds and breathed the Holy Spirit on them.  This is both a looking back to when God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam and a looking forward toward Pentecost. After breathing on them He commissioned them as he had commissioned Peter following Peter’s confession.  Yet even after all of this, where are they one week later? They were still meeting behind locked doors.  Jesus did not bother to knock on either occasion because He knew they would be too afraid to answer the door.  So, He simply walked through the door on both occasions.  The disciples still didn’t get their game face on until the day of Pentecost.  It seems like it takes a mission and a repeated push from God the Holy Spirit to get all of us going.
Much is said of Peter’s confession in Matthew (16:16) “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God”. In Matthew, Jesus commends Peter for his confession and claims that his understanding came not as a revelation of flesh and blood but as a spiritual revelation from God the Father.  Because of this, Jesus commissioned him and offered him the keys to the kingdom based on his confession.  In John’s Gospel Thomas states, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails and place my fingers in the mark of the nail, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  In the case of Thomas, flesh and blood did reveal who Christ really was.  The response of Thomas commands our attention.  After seeing and touching the wounds of Christ, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God”. Christ’s divinity was revealed to Thomas by his humanity. Christ is not only the way of salvation, He is not only our salvation, He is our God.
 If Christ is our God then what kind of Gospel is being preached when some say today that there are other paths to God than Jesus? Doesn’t this diminish who Christ really is?  This also must grieve the Holy Spirit who bears witness to Christ as God the Son.  2,000 years of church history also bears witness to this reality. 
We refer to Mary as “Mother of God”.  We reflect on Jesus Christ as both man and God when we recite the Nicene Creed every week.  The response from Christ to Thomas finishes with, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” That statement is also addressed to us.
The big question for many is not whether God exists or not. For me the big question was, “Is Jesus God or not?  For me making the connection was absolutely crucial.  I could fear but I could not love God if God was not Jesus the Christ.  If one has only a fear relationship with God, it will always be a relationship of appeasement.  Our last verse from today’s Psalm (Psalm 111, verse 10) states that the fear of the Lord is [only] the beginning of Wisdom. I could love a God who was like Jesus for He never refused help to those who asked.  I could love but I could not trust a Jesus who was not also God.  What was the starting point for me?  I wanted to believe that Jesus was God. The Holy Spirit was now free to bring me to belief.  The Holy Spirit did this through the Gospel of Saint John and presented Jesus Christ as my Savior, Lord and God! 
     Today’s readings and Gospel message deal with the person and finished work of Christ, the ongoing work of the church in proclaiming this. It is also about this only being made possible by empowerment from the Holy Spirit. Why then are we behind locked doors ourselves? Why, when the opportunity arises do we not say, “Yes, I know this Jesus. Let me tell you about Him.” Christ continues to offer Himself both for us and to us, yet our fears continue to keep us behind locked doors.  What are we waiting for?  Rev. 3:20. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me." Who is this Jesus? Paul tells us in Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.
     In our second lesson from 1st John, I was struck by the simple but elegant way that the apostle states things. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God.” If you say you are a “believer”, some will ask what it is that you believe. I believe the same thing St. Peter confessed, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. Think about that for a second. “His commandments are not burdensome”. I think I am still in the process of overcoming the world. The correct ESV translation uses the word “everyone” not “whatever” which is used in some translations. What could be more comforting and hopeful that believers overcome the world with all its temptations, disappointments and frightening events. This phrase is a real elixir and ointment for my daily aches and pains. This reminds me of the verse from Romans 8:31. “If God is for us who can be against us?”   
     Bishop Menees stated in his Thursday note on Easter week, “The Paschal Season’s worship asks us to live lives that reflect the faith that we profess. My hope and prayer for each and every one of us in the Diocese of San Joaquin is that we, and every Christian, will live lives worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice; that we will rededicate ourselves to Christ and his teaching, and redouble our efforts to share that love with an aching world.
     The last words of Christ from the cross were, “It is finished.” His work was finished but the work of the church was just beginning. It is the good work of the church to proclaim the finished work of Jesus Christ. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church if it obeys this commission. He has also commanded us to love one another. These two things constitute the Gospel message. 
As we accept Him again today in the mystery of the Eucharist let us take seriously the words we include in our final prayer. “And now Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” Amen.