Thursday, February 14, 2019

Bishop’s Note: The Sursum Corda

Bishop Eric Menees

We are continuing our examination of the 2019 Book of Common Prayer’s (BCP) Holy Eucharist. Last week we looked at the “offertory” and this week we turn to the beginning of the Liturgy of the Table – The Sursum Corda. This Latin term – Sursum Corda – literally means “Lift up your heart” and is the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer also known as the Great Thanksgiving. The Holy Eucharist is our thanksgiving to God for His favor and goodness towards us as well as the heart of our worship on the Lord’s Day. However it can also be, for those fortunate enough, a daily practice as well.

Holy Eucharist is a communal act of worship, and in the Anglican tradition it cannot be celebrated by the priest alone. However, a priest is required in order to celebrate Holy Eucharist and he does so not on his own behalf but on behalf of the community gathered.

And so Holy Eucharist begins with the invitation to the community to “Lift up your hearts” as a way of making ourselves open and vulnerable to the Lord God Almighty.
Lifting up our hearts to God is at the heart, no pun intended, of worship.

Why do we lift up our hearts? To give thanks and praise to God!

The Sursum Corda

The People remain standing. The Celebrant faces them and sings or says

The Lord be with you.
People:            And with your spirit.
Celebrant:        Lift up your hearts.
People:            We lift them up to the Lord.
Celebrant:        Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People:             It is right to give him thanks and praise.

This coming Sunday I invite you to ponder the importance of this invitation to lift your heart to the Lord and to give God your thanks and praise!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Bishop’s Note: The Offfertory

 Bishop Eric Menees

As we continue our examination of the Service of Holy Eucharist in the 2019 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) we transition from The Peace to The Offertory. Having reconciled with God and our neighbor we are then invited to offer our sacrifices to God.

The Offertory

The Celebrant may begin the Offertory with one of the provided sentences of Scripture.

During the Offertory a hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung. The Deacon or Priest prepares the Holy Table for the celebration. Representatives of the congregation may bring the People’s offerings of bread and wine, and money or other gifts, to the Deacon or Priest.

The People stand while the offerings are presented. The following may be said.

Celebrant:   Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for everything in heaven and on earth is yours; yours is the Kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as Head above all. All things come from you, O Lord,
People:        And of your own have we given you.
                     1 Chronicles 29:11, 14

The Offertory begins with the Celebrant giving one of 20 sentences of scripture – 4 from the Old Testament and 16 from the New Testament. Each of these sentences reminds the worshipers that it is God who provides everything that we have, and it is out of our gratitude that we return to God a portion of what He has given us.

The Offertory, of course, is rooted in the offering of sacrifices required in the Torah. In the Torah, the law demands that the Israelites return to God 1/10th (a tithe) of all that they receive. Leviticus 27:30 states: “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord's; it is holy to the Lord."

It is unclear whether or not the New Testament continues the same tradition of the tithe. However, what is crystal clear is that St. Paul lays out sacrificial generosity as the standard: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

In the offertory, the worshipers are invited to place offerings of their treasures in the offering plate but this is not the only thing that we are to offer up. In fact, it is our hearts and souls that the Lord desires and our tithes and offerings are but the outward expression of that interior faith.

I pray you all a very blessed 5th Sunday after Epiphany!

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Call Of God And Souls Saved This Week

 Epiphany 4C 2019

Fr. Dale Matson

My homily is based on our Old Testament Lesson from Jeremiah

4 Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (When does life begin?)

6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” 7 But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,
“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth…”
With Abraham and Noah, the response to God’s call is not met with resistance, while the call of God to Jeremiah, Moses and Jonah is met with reluctance that may be humility or less noble reasons. Moses was called by God. “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Was Moses humble or reluctant with this response?
How about Jonah? God called him to go Nineveh to witness to the wicked Ninevites but Jonah was so reluctant to go that he got on a boat going the other way. We all know the story and in spite of Jonah’s resistance, he miraculously wound up in Nineveh. Was it that Jonah hated the Ninevites or that he was afraid to go?    

I was raised in a Southern Baptist family. There was a plaque near the church entrance. Numbers were inserted into the plaque and changed each week. The title of the plaque was “Souls Saved This Week”. Although we are Anglicans, I think this sense of mission should be ingrained in our minds also. Isn’t that what happens when the Gospel is proclaimed? Souls are saved.
            How many here know a friend or a relative that is not saved? How long have you known them to be this way? Were they once saved or never saved.  Do you love them enough to set your fears and your ego aside to tell them about Christ? Have you ever given your testimony? Do you have a testimony? I’m not talking about the prosperity gospel here. I am not a winner. I am a finisher. When we are saved by Christ we are transformed from losers to finishers. We were once quitters but the fruit of the Spirit includes patience, self-control and self-sacrifice. I knew my friend Phil for over 50 years.
            When I met my friend Phil in high school, I had already been drifting away from God. By the time I graduated from high school Phil and I had become close friends and I had become estranged from God.  
I moved to Wisconsin and Phil moved to Texas. By this time both were addicted to cigarettes and alcohol. Because of God’s grace and mercy, I, like the Prodigal Son returned to the Father and gradually began to change and heal by the renewing of my mind. I was taking on the mind of Christ. Like many folks who have friends with similar addictions, it means that I had to say goodbye to my “so-called” friends at the neighborhood tavern. So many of them had stories that sounded like the title of sad country western songs like “Waiting Around to Die”, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, “Whiskey Lullaby”, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. My personal favorite is By Randy Travis called “Better Class Of Loser”. “You think it's disgraceful that they drink three-dollar wine but a better class of loser suits me fine.”
  Did I testify to them? No. They were never really interested in me or anyone one else. When I stopped going to the bar, no one called or stopped over. They only wanted to remain victims who medicated every night with alcohol and cigarettes. They were signed up for a life leading to “death on the installment plan”.
Phil was a different story. We had much in common with a long friendship with many good memories. I was not just called by God, I was specifically called by God to witness to Phil. I was reluctant to heed God’s call because I knew it was very possible that he would never respond to me again. When I did offer my testimony, after months, he did write me a letter saying he would think about what I had said. He had even married a devout Roman Catholic. God wanted Phil.   
 He was one of the most gifted individuals I have ever met both physically and intellectually. His doctorate was in geology and before his retirement, his profession was the head of the rock analysis lab of Chevron Oil. However, he could have been successful at anything he put his hand to. While he was a scientist evaluating the physical world, he did so with the eyes and ears of an artist.
I lacked Phil’s native aptitudes. I didn’t have the stuff he did but his blessings were also a curse. Phil always had a handicap. He didn’t sense a need for God. Things were easy for him; too easy. He never had to rely on anyone else. Age and a nearly fatal motorcycle accident provided an evolving but uncharacteristic humility and a willingness to listen more carefully. Like Jacob, he walked with a limp. At one time he had all the answers. Now he was living a life of pain. No matter how intelligent a person is, if they are not in Christ and Christ in not in them, they will major in minors and lead a life of self-destruction. Deuteronomy 13:19-20 states “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you, life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” Do you know someone like my friend Phil? Are you someone like this? Are you tired of the same old same old? For those of you who only have Jesus as Savior, it’s time for Jesus 2.0; Jesus as Lord. Is it any wonder that some don’t seem to be able to get off the sin/forgiveness cycle?
Is your Christianity something you share with your friends; your relatives or are you afraid it will put distance between you and them.
The point of this story about Phil and me is to urge you to follow through with witnessing to those for whom God has placed a burden on your heart. I believe that God was involved in preparing Phil’s heart for Christ for Phil’s whole life. I also believe that Phil was correctly convinced that his lifelong friend was not diminished by his relationship to Christ but transcended both a miserable and an ordinary life because of Christ. Like any good scientist, Phil had 50 years’ worth of evidence for this. He saw the transformative power of God working in me.
God in His grace can even reach into the heart of the active unrepentant addict. This is the person Philip knew only so well. Following my return to Christ, I was baptized. I might add that at this point I was still addicted to cigarettes and alcohol. God’s call is not initially heavy but the cumulative effect is a rod of iron. I gradually became aware following my baptism that there was no turning back. I was now another ambassador of God’s Kingdom and as an ambassador; it was not fitting for me to be a drunk or a smoker. At one point in my life, I had such severe indigestion from drinking that I put baking soda in my wine to avoid the acid stomach. I actually believed the lie that I would die if I quit drinking. I prayed about this and was delivered from the need to drink.  I was trustworthy again. I had to pray for two more years to get the desire to quit smoking and when I quit on January 10th 1983, I never smoked again. I believe there can be conversion from addiction also.
This was the new man coming forth. The old man had been drowned in baptism and rose with Christ. I was putting on the new man Jesus Christ. My language changed too. I no longer used profanity in every other sentence. I no longer used my Lord’s name to curse things. How ironic it is that now as a Priest, I use His name to bless people and things. My friend Phil still used Christ’s name in a way that made me sick inside. A non-Christian has no idea how painful it is for a Christian to hear Christ’s name profaned. Do you remind those around you who curse how it hurts you to hear your Lord’s name dragged through the mud?  I remember my late Aunt Louise confronting a stranger at a bus stop and telling the lady who was cursing not to profane her Lord’s name. I am proud to this day that she spoke to her about it.
I showed Phil by my life which is my living testimony that I am a different person yet I am still legitimate. I am a member of the church of Christ that continues to restore my soul. Christ purchased it with His death and offered it back to me.  
Phil had it all. He was a handsome blond of northern Italian descent. He was the best athlete in our large suburban high school and a member of the national honor society. I was ordinary and not on any athletic teams. Phil did not read music but taught himself to play the Adagio from Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ on the piano in a single day.
I believe with all of my heart that God does truly want all people to be saved. As 1 Timothy 2:4 states, “God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. I believe this included Phil and prayed for him for many years of the 50 years that I knew him. At one time Phil did not need God. I used to wonder What would happen if I died before Phil became a Christian? Prayers do not have a statute of limitations. They don’t have a shelf life. God does not forget. As it turned out, Phil died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack 3 years ago. May he rest in peace.
What about you and your friend? What about you and your relative? Has God called you to witness and pray for them to be saved by Jesus the Christ? Has someone been praying for you to be saved? No? Don’t you pray for them when they are in trouble or sick or broke? Well, what about praying for their eternal destiny? Pray and witness. When you can’t witness to them; pray.  Then pray some more. Enlist others in those prayers. Enlist us now as I pray a final prayer. When I pause, call out a first name and do it boldly if you are able.
Dear Lord, we stand in the gap for our friends and relatives who do not know You and are killing themselves on the installment plan in this world. Lord we are fearful and ask for boldness. We know that they are headed to hell and want to head them off. We love them and ask You to witness to them through the Comforter, God Holy Spirit. We know that now is the time of salvation and we covenant to continue to pray for and when possible, witness to those You have placed on our hearts. Dear Lord I ask that You bring into Your Kingdom those people we now name……Amen.