Sunday, October 30, 2011

And Of All Things Visible And Invisible

Fr. Dale Matson

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2nd Corinthians 5:7 ESV)

Occasionally a particular passage will stand out and remain in my mind. Today, while reciting the Nicene Creed, I realized that in addition to the Creed itself being a statement of faith, there are many specific faith statements within the Creed. “And all things visible and invisible.” This passage in the Creed comes to us from Colossians, “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. (1:16a) Nearly each line in the Creed is a faith statement in and of itself, yet how many in our contemporary culture believe that there is also an invisible world created by God? How many see an invisible Heaven as a pattern for what we can see in our material world (Hebrews 8:5).

As Christians, we are encompassed by and believe in this invisible world. It allows us to see things through the eyes of faith that are not, as though they were. “As it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:17, ESV).

When we believe in an invisible world, it enables us to at least partially grasp the reality that Christ not only lives in us but we live in Him. For in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28a). It helps us to understand that God is at work in our life, mostly unseen, guiding and protecting us.

In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther was detailed in his unpacking each Person of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Creed. In the first article on God the Father, Luther refers to the Creator and to His creation. What he does not discuss further is God as creator of the invisible. It is consistent however with Luther’s understanding of daily bread in our Lord’s Prayer as our material needs not Christ Himself. I am not taking issue with Luther in general here, only his focus on creature comforts.

If we take nearly every line of the Creed as a mini faith statement, I believe the statement about God the Father in the first article sets the precedent and principles upon which the rest of the Creed is built. How many people say that they confess and believe the statements in the Creed when they actually parse out what they do and do not believe within it? If we do not believe in God, there is no point in continuing. If we believe in God but He is not the creator of both a visible and invisible world, there is no point in continuing either. In other words, the Creed builds logically on itself.

If we believe that there is an invisible world, then we may and can expect that the invisible world, the world of Spirit, will sometimes break through into the material world. “And He said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:3). This invisible world is The Kingdom of God that arrived with Christ, is with us now as His church, empowered by God the Holy Spirit and is yet to be fulfilled when Christ returns. If we don’t believe in an invisible world, then we will be no different than Nicodemus who stated, “Must I enter into my mother’s womb a second time?” (John 3:4). The Nicene Creed is not an old wineskin constricting our understanding of God. It is a living, faith building document distilled from Holy Scripture by men of God in the spirit of unity and truth.

“Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1, CEV). Amen

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Visions: By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

Fr. Dale Matson

“For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:43-45, NASB)
The Scripture passage is a portion of the Gospel lesson for this Wednesday, the feast day of Alfred the Great.
I have given over considerable time to reflecting on the vision I experienced last Wednesday at the conclusion of the Eucharist. As I was folding the Corporal, I looked to my right to see the resurrected Christ in the tomb folding His burial linen. The Corporal itself, I discovered later represents the burial linen of Christ. God can and often does break through when we least expect it. This was no exception, especially since it happened during what could be considered the “clean up” part of the Mass. My first response to this was to think myself unworthy of such a magnificent vision. I also wondered with whom I should share it and under what circumstances.
There was no doubt in my mind that this was a genuine vision from God. It was not my only experience with visions. As a retired psychologist, I am reminded of the seeming similarities between mystical visions and psychotic hallucinations but there is an important difference. Psychiatrist Thomas Agosin comments, “The consequence of the experience is the most important difference between mysticism and psychosis, and I believe that it often is the only way to truly differentiate between the two.” (
What is the result or fruit of this experience? According to Dr. Agosin, “The mystical experience leaves the mystic more connected and involved in the world. He/she expands his/her capacity to love and to serve. The mystic becomes more appreciative of the beauty and the miracle of life. The mystical experience leaves the individual with a feeling of reverence for all life, embracing every aspect of life and death as sacred. Serenity increases in the mystic through detachment to the temporal and transient. The mystic identifies with the eternal, that which is most sacred and valuable. In that deep identification, the mystic finds peace and inner tranquility." I believe this accurately reflects this experience for me.
One result of this experience for me was a further letting go of anxieties about my own personal passing. Another was an appreciation of the unlimited dimensions of God’s Kingdom. Finally, there was a deeper understanding of my priestly vocation and the mystery of the Eucharist. I wanted to tell the congregation about this but asked God to confirm this. In the Sunday Homily from Fr. Carlos, he quoted from the Gospel of St. John, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” (John 14:21)  I took this as confirmation that I should say something to the congregation and told the congregation about it during the announcements. What was the rationale for this? Was it to impress them? No, it was to strengthen their faith and I ended my comments with a paraphrase of the following verse. “But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) I am still sorting things out but know that I will forever be blessed by this vision. Historically, I am thankful for all of the saints in the church, especially the mystics like St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and Evelyn Underhill. They are a rich source of written counsel for us all, especially today.  Amen

Thursday, October 20, 2011

In Persona Christi

Father Dale Matson
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 15: 51-58)

            Yesterday was the feast day of Henry Martyn Priest and Missionary to India and Persia. Although the beginning passage is not from the readings assigned to his feast day, it is from the last verse of the epistle lesson of the readings for the Daily Office of Wednesday Morning Prayer and perfectly fits the theme of the lesson from Isaiah (49:1-6) assigned for Fr. Martyn’s feast day. Perhaps Isaiah too felt that he had labored in vain because neither the Northern nor Southern Kingdoms heeded his preaching and repented. His reward was from God.
            While Christ preached the Gospel of the Kingdom few heeded his call to follow Him. He was rewarded by His Father by His resurrection and ascension to glory in Heaven.
Henry Martyn labored as a missionary in obscurity also translating the Bible and Prayer Book into Hindi and Persian. Following his death at the age of only 31, he was recognized for his accomplishments throughout the world. If we serve our Lord on this earth, St. Paul tells us that our toil is not in vain.
I believe the lesson from the Lord today was that those who do the work of the Lord do not labor in vain whether or not they see the fruits of their labor.
As I was celebrating Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist today, it did not seem any more or less eventful than any other Wednesday morning. We had the usual handful of clergy and lay folks who attend and I am always thankful when there are at least two of us so that we can celebrate the Liturgy of the Table. When everyone had communed, I began to clear the Liturgical Vessels with Fr. Carlos standing beside me to assist by taking the vessels from me and placing them on the Credence table.  I had rinsed the Chalice, wiped it with the Purificator, laid the Purificator on the cup and rested the Paten on it. I then laid the Pall on top.
As I began to fold the Corporal, something caught my attention in the corner of my vision to the right. As I looked, I found myself looking into the tomb of the resurrected Christ. He was folding his burial linen. My hands stopped as I watched and then I turned and finished folding the Corporal. The Corporal represents the burial linen of Christ. Before offering a blessing and dismissal, I told those present what I had seen.  Once again, Christ had made Himself known in the breaking of the bread. God had shown me what it truly means as a Priest to be the “In persona Christi”. Those who labor in Christ do not toil in vain. Amen

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Finishing The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run

Fr. Dale Matson

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

            I have published another book and this one deals with Finishing the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.  As a friend once said, “Everything else is just a training run for Western States. The race is considered to be the Holy Grail of running and the Boston Marathon of Ultrarunning. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done and I failed to finish the run in my first two attempts making it to mile 78 in 1995 and mile 70 in 1996. The run begins in North Lake Tahoe at Squaw Valley and finishes 100.2 miles later in Auburn California. It begins at an elevation of about 6,000’ and immediately climbs to 8,700’ in the first four miles. There is over 22,000’ of elevation loss and 18,000’ of elevation gain. Most years, the beginning of the trail is in snow and the run descends into canyons where the temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The runner has 30 hours to complete the course.
            The book includes a history of the first 100 mile run in the United States and is written as a tribute to those who have attempted the Western States run but also those who are pacers (running companions), crew or volunteers. It is also about the determination of an ordinary individual who, with God’s help (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me) was able to overcome personal limitations, injuries, and past failures.
            I have kept a journal for nearly twenty years and much of the narrative surrounding the failures and final success in 2001 is taken from the journals. I was happily reminded how much prayer was a part of my training and running over the course of almost a decade that went into the training and attempts at finishing the run.  I have also included an interview and stories submitted to me form other runners who have finished and failed to finish.
            I would especially commend the book to anyone who is involved in endurance sports of any kind. The Kindle version is available now on Amazon. and the paperback will be available from Amazon books in about ten days.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Moral High Ground and Public Relations

Fr.Dale Matson

"Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name” (Matthew 24:9 NASB).

What the Episcopal Church leadership has accomplished equally well in their assault on the faith once delivered is control of the narrative. In the court of public opinion, it is they who are defending the moral high ground. It is they who are both the victims and the defenders of the victims. In the new gospel of inclusivism it is God who advocates for big tent Christianity and the traditionalists who are discriminatory and bigoted. It is they who embrace diversity and the traditionalists who call for conversion of manners and repentance. It is they who respect the rights of all individuals and the traditionalists who call for responsibility and accountability.

It is The Episcopal Church that avoids putting God in a box and understands the importance of cultural and historical context when understanding the chauvinist patriarchs like Paul the Apostle. It is the leadership that carefully defines and restricts the behaviors of the traditionalist bishops through new canons while granting the blank check of a “generous pastoral response” to circumvent existing constraints.

It is the Episcopal Church that takes on the politically correct issues of social justice and world hunger but calls the murder of unborn children a blessing. They call for unity and call for sanctions against those who would speak against unity, yet on the world stage of Anglicanism; they want autonomy, no accountability and the right to innovate.

The traditionalists have fought the Episcopal Church in their manner with litigation on their turf the courts. TEC has redefined the polity of the church as hierarchical and the courts and public believe this. It is not the means but the ends. It is consequentialism that not only justifies the means, it determines the means. Never mind the theological rationale for an action. It is ultimately “What seemed good to us.” There is an after the fact making up of the rules to justify the behaviors. They are not rational. They are rationalizing.
And who are the traditionalists? They are the people who can no longer identify with a church with a behaviorally derived theology that diminishes Holy Scripture to justify idolatry. Traditionalists still confess and believe the creeds. They still cling to God’s mercy and the hope of salvation not a free pass of universal salvation from a god who has no hell or heaven. They still believe that Christ is who He says He is. Christ is God and the only way to eternal life.

The traditionalists have lost the battle of public opinion and are losing the battle in the courts. They have lost the battle for TEC. Traditionalists remain a remnant within the Episcopal Church where once they were the majority. They are being persecuted for His name’s sake. They continue to leave and die; leaving behind those who are driving an agenda of what they believe is the worthy goal of self-discovery and self affirmation but is in reality self-immolation. They have reversed the goals of the Kingdom of God. They seek everything else and believe that is the Kingdom of God.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33).    

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rowan Williams And The Possible Deposition Of Bishop Lawrence

Fr. Dale Matson

“However, without forestalling what the Primates might say, I would repeat what I've said several times before - that any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such.” [Excerpted from a Letter to Bishop John Howe from Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury Oct 21st 2007]

I believe Bishop Lawrence, the Communion Partner Bishops and the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) had their their hopes riding on the eventuality of the Anglican Covenant and on this chip provided by Rowan Williams. From this point on there was a belief on the part of the Communion Partner Bishops, that no matter what happened with TEC, they could hold on to the Canterbury Pedigree. They could remain islands of safety within TEC because they wrongly believed in the immutability of the power of a bishop and the autonomy of a diocese. While they were making plans to move on from TEC while still within TEC, they also correctly realized that the polity of TEC was changing.

Several bishops from TEC signed a statement on the ACI website. that described the limitations of the power of the presiding bishop, the historical autonomy of the dioceses and the voluntary relationship the dioceses had with TEC. [April 2009) I believe they were further encouraged by the following statement by Rowan Williams later that year.

“25. It is my strong hope that all the provinces will respond favourably to the invitation to Covenant. But in the current context, the question is becoming more sharply defined of whether, if a province declines such an invitation, any elements within it will be free (granted the explicit provision that the Covenant does not purport to alter the Constitution or internal polity of any province) to adopt the Covenant as a sign of their wish to act in a certain level of mutuality with other parts of the Communion. It is important that there should be a clear answer to this question.” [Post convention letter from Rowan Williams July 27th 2009]

They were making a mistake to hang their hope on the myth of an eventual viable Anglican Covenant and on the statements of Rowan Williams that they wanted to believe. It was just as easy to see that Rowan Williams only saw Anglican Communion membership at the provincial level.  Rowan Williams did make it clear in his Sept. 2009 letter that “as a matter of constitutional fact, the [Anglican Consultative Council] can only offer the covenant for ‘adoption’ to its own constituent bodies (the provinces).” Rowan Williams had changed his position and left the the bishops who had exposed themselves by visiting him to twist in the wind.
By wanting to sign on to the Anglican Covenant as dioceses, they also revealed themselves as a threat to TEC leadership who saw the Covenant as a threat to their own provincial autonomy. In the meantime TEC leadership made its case that they were in fact, a hierarchical church and always had been. This was important to establish in the ongoing and future lawsuits and in changing the Title IV disciplinary canons.

“In September 2010, we published an article demonstrating that the new Title IV disciplinary canons enacted at the last General Convention are unconstitutional and unwise: unconstitutional because they infringe on the exclusive rights of dioceses to institute courts for the discipline of clergy and give the Presiding Bishop metropolitical authority over other bishops; and unwise because they deny basic due process rights to diocesan clergy.”

By the time the ACI issued the above statement in February of 2011, the die was cast and the leadership of TEC were about to move forward against the islands of safety.