Thursday, January 18, 2018

Bishop’s Note: January 18, 2018 – “Come and See”

Bishop Eric Menees

     The road to discipleship begins with an invitation. Who was it who invited you to church; to believe in Jesus; to be a disciple? For me, it was Bob Lamar who invited me to church when I was 13. Soon after, Fr. David Heaney invited me to believe in Jesus, and it was Madge Miller who invited me to become a disciple of Jesus Christ! Thank God for these three people in my life!

     Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson from St. John gives us one man’s story of receiving an invitation to discipleship: “43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.””

     Jesus sets the example for us as his disciples, and he was never shy about inviting people to follow him.  Of course, that invitation includes more than just the surface invitation.  Many people are invited to come to church, but that is only the first step in the process.  We must pray that the individual’s heart will be touched; touched by the witness of faithful Christians; touched by the Truth of the Word of God faithfully read and taught; and touched by the Holy Spirit in worship and - when appropriate - the sacraments.

     Once the heart has been touched, we are encouraged to take the next step and invite the person to “Come and See” that Jesus really is who scripture says he is and who we say he is!  We don’t have to worry that Jesus won’t show up! We don’t have to worry that he will not answer our prayers. We don’t have to worry, because Jesus is a man of his word! He has to be, because he is the Word!

     This is the lesson that the disciples learned and to which St. Peter made his outrageous confession: “You are the Christ! The Son of the Living God!”

     I pray you all a blessed Epiphany!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Epiphany 2B 2018 Let The Light Shine In The Temple

Fr. Dale Matson

Let The Light Shine In The Temple

From our opening Collect: “Almighty God, Whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ¹s glory. Amen”

God’s people are Children of light. The light of Christ that dispels darkness glows within His temple. Each of us is His temple. St. Paul made it quite plain in our Epistle lesson today. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” But you say to me, “How do I go about giving glory to God in my body?” We give glory to God by living respectable, disciplined, and productive lives. John Henry Neumann once said that being holy is simply doing the things of daily life well.

Being holy and showing the light of Christ simply means putting others first beginning with God Himself. That is our first commandment. Having no other god, putting God first is our prime directive and when we do not do this we commit the sin of idolatry. In our world today, those who live in darkness have other gods. They have replaced God with golden calves fashioned by the hands of men. They are not free. They are slaves to material things. Their thoughts are dominated by unbridled passions and obsessions. They have not taken captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Christ’s death and resurrection have given us freedom to be the children of light; to do good deeds to step outside of ourselves and experience the compassion that God has for his creation.

Paul tells us in our lesson, "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything.” Here he is expressing the liberty we have in Christ as individuals. I believe this is a wonderful understanding of our liberty. Our liberty is not license. We each have a tipping point where things we use begin to dominate us. Things we own begin to own us. Things we seek after begin to possess us. We rarely call addictions a form of idolatry but that is what addictions amount to. They have become first in our lives. They have replaced God on the throne before us. We can manage to live without God but we cannot live without our friends like the Marlboro Man, Jack Daniels, Henry Ford, Brad and Angelina, Justin and Selena, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, shopping, Mr. Job, eating, drugs and visual images that “cause the lamp of God to grow dim” in the temple of your body. So many folks want to be ‘in love’, infatuated with someone else, to fantasize about him or her but they don’t want to do the hard work it takes for a committed, enduring love of someone else.

My own story is replete with the siren calls of idols. I remember the first puff on a cigarette that made me immediately cough. I remember sneaking a sip of my dad’s whiskey when I was about 5 years old. I immediately began crying because it burned as it went down. “My dad turned around, looked at me and said, “That’s why they call it ‘firewater’ bud”. I went from that place to a place where those things that made me cough and cry dominated my thinking and my life.

The root of alcoholism is spiritual but the collateral damage affects the soul, body, social and economic life of the alcoholic. I am speaking as someone who decided to stop killing myself on the installment plan almost half a life ago. Additionally, God allowed me, as a psychologist and a priest, to comfort others with the comfort that I received (2 Corinthians 1:4).

I had recommitted my life to Christ and was recently baptized as an adult in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church (LCMS) when the Lord made me aware that a drunk was unsuitable as an ambassador to His kingdom. God’s grace can even reach down into the heart of an unrepentant drunk.

I did not initially put the bottle down but a person full of ‘spirits’ does not manifest the Holy Spirit to others.

Whether one views alcoholism as a disease or a ‘character defect’, the long-term trajectory for the alcoholic is morbid. The road along the way is full of evidence that there is a problem but personal denial will leave the alcoholic blind to the destroyed relationships, health problems, an erratic job history and missed opportunities.

The root sin of the alcoholic is idolatry. Alcohol is a drug viewed by the alcoholic as the elixir of life. For so many alcoholics, alcohol is a dependable friend who softens the anxieties, sings you to sleep, helps you speak your mind, and makes you the king of an imaginary kingdom. Alcohol even helps you eliminate those folks who hassle you about your behavior. Those who help you play the game (enablers) are the folks you keep around. Usually, the alcoholic keeps one friend around who drinks more that he does so he can be an ‘average’ drinker. After all, isn’t it really about you and your love affair with alcohol?

There is cumulative damage along the way but the prime directive for the alcoholic is to make sure he has enough booze available everywhere he goes on an ‘as needed’ basis. It is your god and you are a devoted follower who prays without ceasing. The only thing that comes close in importance is your employment because it allows you to tithe to your god. It insures entrance into the holy of holies. There is no need to make plans, to aspire to accomplishments, maintain relationships because once you are drunk (and that is the reason alcoholics drink) you are in heaven. This trajectory for many will lead to a life on hold, treading water, paused until life ends. The blackouts will come with increasing frequency. If the liver manages to endure then organic brain syndrome will conquer the last lucid thought.

The alcoholic is not in heaven. The alcoholic is in hell. If he would just look around at the good people he has exchanged for his current loser friends but his former standards no longer mean anything. He has sacrificed himself to his god (Romans 12:1). The god of the alcoholic is a creature, a golden calf, and the evil one. He tells you the truth in a lie as only Satan can do. “If you stop drinking you will die.” The old man must die so the new man may come forth.

Quitting is the biggest sacrifice an alcoholic will ever make. He must step off the throne, die to himself and start over. The fragile rotting ego must be razed. Recovery begins with this. “Help me Lord, help me”.

Each person has his or her own tipping point. I know recovering alcoholics who drink from the cup and other recovering alcoholics who do not. "All things are lawful for me," but not all things are beneficial. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be dominated by anything.”

Christians are called to be a fit residence, a clean dwelling for the Holy Spirit. In our world today we are often given false choices about what we stand for. We were all horrified by the brutal terrorist acts by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the radical Muslim murders in Paris. Yes, I agree with Pope Francis who defended free speech as not only a fundamental human right but also a duty to speak one's mind for the sake of the common good. He also stated however that there are limits to free speech and I agree. All things are lawful when it comes to free speech but not all things are beneficial.

Christ does not call for us to kill those who offend and attempt to defile our faith. He calls for us to pray for them. Jesus Christ is God the Son. He revealed to us that God is a God of love and compassion. For Christians, the cross is the central point in human history. Christ died and rose from the dead. He defeated Satan and opened the door to eternal life for those who died with and in Christ. So, how does a Christian respond? “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”. Paul stated in 1st Corinthians, “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.” (1:18). The cross is offensive to our civic selves because Christ did not condemn or curse those who conspired against Him. He did not call out for vengeance or retribution. He did not even call out for justice. He called for God to have mercy on those who crucified Him. He asked God the Father to forgive them. “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.” (Luke 23:34) “ A greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. (John 15:13)

Christians are surrounded by darkness. There is a votive prayer candle in our hearts. It is the light of Christ in this world and darkness cannot overcome it. Almighty God, who’s Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ¹s glory. Amen

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Bishop’s Note: January 11, 2018 – Descent of the Holy Spirit

Bishop Eric Menees

This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus. I was struck by the gospel lesson from Mark and the description of Jesus’ baptism that goes as follows: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)

Last week I spoke of God’s desire to adopt us as his beloved and cherished children as stated in John 1:12-14. This, of course, is modeled in God’s pronouncement at the Baptism… “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

However, in addition to becoming God’s adopted Children, God wants to empower and equip us through the Power of the Holy Spirit. Again, in the Baptism of Jesus we witness an example of this with the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus as he came up out of the waters of baptism: “10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

Of course, the answer to the questions of why Jesus was baptized, why the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and why the voice of God came from the heavens is simple: to fulfill all righteousness! Jesus was the ONE person in history who didn’t need baptism, but because of his example, billions have been baptized.

In the baptism of Jesus, we have all of the elements to becoming and remaining a disciple of Jesus Christ. It begins with a submission to Jesus as Lord and Savior. With belief in his name, we are adopted as God’s sons and daughters (John 1:12), and in baptism that adoption is sealed. In baptism, we are anointed by the Holy Spirit and called to ministry.

A disciple of Jesus Christ is a baptized believer, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who seeks to be an obedient son or daughter committed to living out their life serving Christ and his Church!

I pray you all every blessing living into the life of a disciple!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Baptism And The Holy Spirit

The Baptism Of Our Lord

Father Dale Matson

San Joaquin River

This is a special week for me. I will be celebrating two anniversaries. On the 10th of January, I will be marking the 35th anniversary of my quitting smoking. It was God who provided the reasons, the will and the self-control to quit smoking. No less important, also on the 10th I will be celebrating my 10th year in holy orders. I was ordained by Bishop Schofield on the Feast Day of William Laude, Archbishop of Canterbury. Fr. Carlos was my sponsor. I do believe there is an important relationship in giving up an addiction and spiritual development. Additionally, our bishop, Eric Menees was baptized on this day at age 14.
There are parallels with both our Lord’s baptism and His transfiguration. Unlike miracles that Jesus performed they are miracles that happened to Him. There is the miracle that happened to Him following his baptism where God the Father also said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22). There is another parallel. The Baptism of Jesus is celebrated on the first Sunday after Epiphany and it is at the beginning of his ministry.  The Transfiguration account is part of the lectionary for the last Sunday after Epiphany and it is near the end of his ministry. God identified Jesus as His son at the beginning of his ministry and as His son at the end of his ministry. Both His baptism and transfiguration were supernatural manifestations by which God the Father authenticated Jesus as His Son.  
 As I reviewed our lectionary readings in preparing to write my homily today, it was obvious what two key words continually appeared in our readings, Baptism and the Holy Spirit. The words Baptism and Holy Spirit are in our opening collect, and in our Epistle and Gospel lessons. Baptism is not new to the New Testament and was symbolized also in the Old Testament. Peter referred to this in his comments about the earth being purged of sin by the flood in Noah’s time. (1 Peter 3:20-21). St. Paul speaks of a type of Baptism for the Israelites when they crossed the Red Sea. (1 Cor. 10:2). Both the nation of Israel and Jesus were baptized in the River Jordan. Our Collect for purity is a type of Baptismal prayer where we ask God the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts at the beginning of our service in Rites I and II (pages 323 and 355) Before celebrating the Eucharist, as the priest washes his hands, he says to himself "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” – Psalm 51:2. It's symbolic of the cleansing water of baptism and when the priest recalls his own need to be cleansed interiorly and that he shares in the need for forgiveness and redemption with the congregation. In the Old Testament circumcision of the heart, not the flesh prefigured baptism in the New Testament.
When Peter preached his Pentecostal sermon, he had in view this promised regeneration, the circumcision of the heart, the new birth, promised to Israel throughout the Old Testament. Acts 2:37-39 37 “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" 38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
Here Peter states what Anglicans have embraced as doctrine. When we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit and our sins are forgiven. Specifically, our original sin is forgiven. We are at birth contaminated with the original sin of Adam and Eve. Additionally, in baptism we are incorporated into the body of Christ, the church. That is why the baptismal font is usually located just inside the doors of the church. Baptism is necessary before communion and we announce this every Sunday, before communion. Unbaptized individuals would be taking communion to their own detriment. They could be harming themselves.
I was not baptized until mid-life. I had recommitted my life to Christ and soon after that; I felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to be baptized. When I was about to go down the center isle of the church to be baptized, a thought came to me. “You are throwing away your life for this Jesus” Only Satan could turn the truth into a lie. Yes, I was throwing my life away but the life I had been living was worthless anyway. I was about to be drowned in the waters of baptism that the new man could come forth. I knew that I would be considered an enemy by Satan from that point on and every time we have a baptism and we say that we reject the devil and all his works, I think back to that time.
I said at the beginning of my homily that there were two key words in our readings and they were Baptism and the Holy Spirit.  I have been discussing Baptism, its benefits and as a means of entry into the body of Christ, His church. I will now discuss the Holy Spirit. From our Gospel lesson, we have the following.
“When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as He was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:21) From our Epistle lesson, we have this. “You yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. (Acts 10:37-38)
John Wesley notes, “It is worthy to remark, that frequently when the Holy Ghost is mentioned there is added a word particularly adapted to the present circumstance. So, the deacons were to be full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, Acts 6:3. Barnabas was full of the Holy Ghost and faith, Acts 11:24. The disciples were filled with joy, and with the Holy Ghost, Acts 13:52. And here, where His mighty works are mentioned, Christ Himself is said to be anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power.” 
         The Holy Ghost is always associated with Baptism. God the Holy Ghost is also associated with the gifts of the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit. The gifts of the Spirit are intended to equip Christ’s church to carry out her mission. Her mission is to do good works and proclaim the Gospel message. The fruits of the Spirit include love which motivates our actions. It is love that grows compassion within us toward others. We cannot stand idly by and watch someone destroy themselves both now and for eternity. It overrides our fear of getting involved or entangled in the lives of others. The other fruits of the Spirit make us contagious to others. They make us Christ like. God the Holy Spirit grows the fruits of the Spirit in us as we mature as Christians. “He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)
         What power is Paul talking about here? He is talking about the indwelling Holy Spirit. I believe this empowerment from the Holy Spirit is based on need. This is similar to a security classification I had in the Army. I had a “secret” security clearance. I was not cleared to “top secret” because I did not need to access information at that level so my security clearance remained only “secret”. I believe it is also the case the God the Holy Spirit. The mission God has called us to and we consent to determines how much we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  Someone in Holy Orders has been granted additional power through the laying on of hands by the Bishop during ordination. This does not mean that a lay person could not be empowered by God the Holy Spirit with more power than a bishop IF that lay person was called to an extraordinary life of service to the church. I would remind you that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are not the trained talents of a profession. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as He determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11) You know what modern stories remind me of this. This reminds me of stories like, “The Magnificent Seven”, “X-Men” and “The Avengers”. Every character has a specific super power that when united with a team allows them to overcome evil. In the case of the Christian, the ‘team’ is the Body of Christ, the church.
         The final evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit for me is both the “blessed assurance” and the counsel I receive. Sometimes the counsel is a question. “What makes you better than him?” Sometimes the counsel is a caution. “Look at your speedometer.” Sometimes I am convicted. “That is a rather prideful remark.” Sometimes it is a compassionate prompting. “Tell them they are loved and appreciated.” Sometimes it sounds a lot like Sharon’s voice. “Wipe the snot off your nose.” Oh, in that case it is Sharon’s voice. Well, marriage is a sacrament too.
         In this first Sunday after the Epiphany, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. In our celebration let us consider our own baptism and the benefits procured unto us by it. Let us also consider our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and what that means for the mission of God. It is also a caution to be good stewards of the body given to us.
         During Epiphany, I would encourage you to reflect on the meaning of your baptism, the Person and work of our Savior Jesus The Christ, God’s indwelling presence and the good works you have been called to do. Amen.