Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Food Was Meant For The Stomach

Fr. Dale Matson

I have struggled with being overweight since my early 20’s. I was called “Butter Butt” by my platoon sergeant in the army, but not for long. Basic and advanced individual training (AIT) brought me back down to a reasonable weight of 170 pounds for my 6 foot frame. Unfortunately, it has been a matter of up and down since that time.

In the early 1990’s I discovered what I thought was the silver bullet. It was exercise. I became a long distance runner with marathons and ultra-marathons. I did learn to see food as fuel and kept a reasonable weight but still struggled, since running is a gravity sport that challenges every overweight runner. I did not want to be in the Clydesdale class of marathoners. Most distance runners know what their ideal running weight is and it is usually about 10% below the “normal” average for their height.

I also joined weight watchers in 1999 and although this is not intended as a promotion, they did raise my level of consciousness about portion size, keeping track of calories “in” and eating only until you are satisfied not until you can barely breathe. I have been a lifetime member of the clean plate club also. I was trained by my parents to finish everything on my plate to qualify for the reward of a desert.

I have been blessed (yes, blessed) to have a genetic family predisposition for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides. All of these factors can be moderated by exercise, diet and weight.

Here is the rub with calories “out” as a means of weight control. Eventually, you will become injured and or older with a slower metabolism. This purging through exercise is not the way to control weight nor is it the proper focus.  I have found that Proper diet is the single most important factor in weight maintenance. For me it was almost, “Too soon old, too late smart”.

So, what does this have to do with God? Once I broke through the denial and stepped on the scales to learn what my pants had already told me, I gave this problem to God. Well, how did He help in this? He allowed me a wakeup call. After a routine treadmill stress test, my blood pressure was so high; my doctor referred me to a cardiologist. Yes, the blood work revealed my cholesterol was way too high also. What a birthday present that was! The cardiologist told me that 90% of the people he worked with had lifestyle issues. I promised him I would lose weight and try the treadmill again.

On October 1st I went on a diet that reduced carbohydrates, increased protein (fish, chicken), reduced portion size  and for the first time in 30 years, I actually ate a breakfast. I still exercised but actually reduced my time on the bike, in the pool, and running. I still worked out with weights three times a week because muscle does require more calories than fat. I recorded my prayers about this every morning and asked God to help me with being disciplined. I also ate slower and thought about the blessing of adequate food in great variety that was available to me. As a runner and backpacker, I was well aware of the full multiday pack (35 pounds) of extra weight I was carrying around every day. Sharon was supportive and helped with nutritious meals with moderate portions.

I thank God that He has allowed me to finally lose this 35 pounds gradually and it has been mostly fat loss not muscle loss. My Systolic blood pressure is down 20 points and cholesterol is down 50 points.
I offer this as encouragement for those who may read this and hope those who struggle with lifestyle issues like me seek God’s help in this, along with good medical advice. God sends us to doctors also. Remember, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Praise God that He is the savior of the whole person. Amen

Friday, April 20, 2012

Flesh And Blood Jesus

Fr. Dale Matson

The flesh and blood humanity of Jesus is quite evident.  Jesus became fatigued. He was hungry and thirsty. He wept; He was filled with joy and even anger. He was born as a child from a human mother and bled and died as a man. He was fully human in body and in His emotions. Jesus was born, lived, died and was even resurrected in the flesh. The prologue to John’s Gospel states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV)

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us.” (1st John 1:1-3, ESV)

Jesus reassures His disciples that He is in the flesh and not a ghost by showing the wounds in His hands and feet. He also stated, “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.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.” (Luke 24:39-43, ESV)

Scripture offers overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence to the fact that Jesus was truly human, truly died and bodily rose from the dead. In a sense this does not even require faith since the evidence is there. The arrival of Jesus the Christ was predicted throughout Old Testament prophesies. The events of His life were recorded by four separate accounts that agree and His resurrection was witnessed by over 500 people before He ascended to Heaven. As a scientist and a researcher, I accept the objective evidence of His life, death and resurrection and the concurring witnesses that reported it.

As a Psychologist, I would also like to comment further on the response of the disciples. It is human nature to frequently distort reality because humans often perceive reality subjectively, not objectively. Often we do not see what we don’t want to see. How many folks have gotten into a car accident and stated later, “I never saw the car coming that ran into me.” Why is that?  That is because the person did not want to wait for traffic to clear and so they saw no traffic as they pulled out.” It is also human nature to see what we want to see. A group of subjects was asked to eat a delayed lunch. Each was walked past a sign with an arrow that said 400D. They were each asked to record what the sign indicated when they returned and every person wrote the word “Food”.

OK, Father Dale, so where are you going with all this about perceptions and subjectivity stuff? What did the Scriptures say would happen with the Messiah? He would be killed and raised to life. What did Jesus say would happen? He would be killed and raised to life. What did the disciples believe? They wanted to believe that he was raised from the dead. This should have primed their perceptions to see Him raised from the dead, but it didn’t. They thought someone had taken the body when they saw the empty tomb. They thought they were seeing a ghost when He appeared to them. They didn’t even see this Ghost as the Ghost of Jesus. He had to first convince them that it was Him and that He was not a ghost. Still, Thomas would not accept the report of the other disciples that Jesus was raised unless he physically put his fingers in the wounds. These accounts do not describe the disciples as men of faith or even men who reported what psychologists would predict their response to be. They were surprised and slow to realize, even with the evidence in front of them that Jesus was in fact, raised from the dead. What convinced them that He was Lord and God, however was not a transfigured Jesus but a resurrected flesh and blood Jesus.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Fr. Dale Matson

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7, ESV)

Over the years, I have donated blood and actually asked the blood bank not to attempt to contact me on a regular basis since my blood type O is the universal donor and blood banks never seem to have enough.

My reasons for donating blood have generally been self-serving such as a 3 day pass when I was in the Army or pints of ice cream in more recent years. I even made “weigh-in” once, at weight watchers by stopping by the local blood bank first.  My late mother was a “Grey Lady” who served at a local blood bank.

Friday I was a recipient of two units of packed red blood cells. I appreciate the anonymous individuals who gave me this gift of life. It seems to me that giving blood is Christ-like since it is a part of a cleansing and replacing process for those receiving chemo therapies. Without the new blood many would end this earthly existence. Without the blood of Christ, there would be no Heavenly existence.  It takes a lot longer for the blood to go in at about two hours per unit. The hospital “infusion room” is a very solemn place with serious nurses and precise technicians. There are redundant procedures to insure the matching of patients with the needed blood types.

I ran down the battery on my smart phone and began conversing with some of the other patients and their spouses, who frequently accompany them, during the infusion. Most patients are wheeled in and out.

Patty was with her husband Joseph who was there for platelets. As soon as his blood is restored, he will be ready for another round of chemo. She told me, “Thank God for the donors.” I used this as an opening and asked her if she really meant that or it was just an expression for her. “Oh, my husband and I are Catholic but have not been to church for years. A priest refused last rights to Joseph’s uncle and we haven’t been back since. We’re religious though and Christians.” I offered that it was my hope that there would be an eventual reconciliation. As Catholics, they had cut themselves off from the sacraments. She understood. I told her I was an Anglican Priest.

Later I asked her if she would help me by plugging my pump back in since I was tangled up in all the plastic hoses and was concerned I would disconnect myself. When she plugged the machine back in, I asked her quietly if she would allow me to pray for her and Joseph. She agreed and following the prayer, we were both tearful. She commented as she sat down, “I guess we were supposed to be here today.”

As she and Joseph were leaving the room she said, “I mean this in the best way. I hope we never see you here again. Your Church needs you to be well.” I said, “Sometimes clergy are more useful when they are sick.”

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9, ESV)            

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thy Will Be Done

Fr. Dale Matson

“[We are] Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:10-11)

I have spoken a couple of times in the last two years about physical afflictions which appear unexpectedly. Some have become chronic; some vanish as quickly as they first appeared.

I am currently using a daily devotional, a gift from my late mentor in 1995. It sat on the self all this time. It is a collection of the sayings of St. Padre Pio. He and St. Therese the Little Flower are examples of what are termed “victim souls”. These individuals accepted the invitation from Christ to suffer more than others. Mother Teresa also drank from the cup of suffering to the last drop. Christ has not offered nor have I sought these afflictions. Some of it I am sure is due to aging and some are self-induced via lifestyle. Some are for the sake of the Gospel. In a post on Soundings 2010, I stated “There is definitely an element of spiritual warfare but the physical suffering is something that I have not come to a full understanding about.”

And what has God been saying to me about this lately? “Take this suffering but do not withdraw. Take this suffering and turn it into compassion for the suffering of others.” It reminds me of St. Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 1:4. “Who comforted us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”

There is an additional factor however. At ordination, priests prostrate themselves in submission to God to demonstrate with their bodies, that they have turned their wills over to God. Thy will be done. There are obvious things we do to gradually and incrementally make exceptions to this “all in” devotion and dedication. I think for me it has been an unwillingness to suffer. At least, it is an unwillingness to suffer without an explanation or a purpose. Just tell me why I have to suffer Lord. I think it is the willingness to suffer as an act of unquestioning obedience toward which God is moving me. I have had some blessed consolations.
‘“…after all, His Majesty will give you help proportionate to your trials, and so as you are suffering great trails, you will enjoy great favors, too!”  St. Theresa of Avila

A Prayer For Those Who Suffer
Dear Lord I ask that You keep my heart from becoming discouraged or depressed. Don’t let me withdraw and be absorbed by self-pity. Guard the measure of faith You have bestowed upon me and help my spirit grow as my body no longer is capable of repairing itself.  Dull my suffering and pain when medicines fail.  Let me thank You for the moments where pain is not evident. Help me to focus on the needs of others, especially those less fortunate. Help me to offer a message of encouragement, a word of affirmation or simply a smile. Let others put their hands in my wounds to see I am human. Let me take note of the pleasant spring morning following a necessary rain. Let me listen more carefully to those around me. Thank You for those You provide to offer care and support. Let me contribute till I am poured out. Don’t let me become bitter about those who fail to acknowledge me or disregard me. Lord, let my decisions be based on faith not fear. As I become less, may You become more. Let Your joy, hope, love and peace attract others to You in me. Amen  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter And The Response Of Christ’s Church

Fr. Dale Matson

            Today we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Additionally we celebrate Easter each Sunday of the year.  Why do we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection so extensively?   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. 
            The Gospel of St. John is my favorite Gospel 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 the fearful 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 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.  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 were 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.
After the Apostles were arrested and  put in prison for healing in the name of Jesus, the Angel of the Lord released them during the night and they went right back to teaching in the temple the next morning.
Do these seem like the same Apostles? Who was afraid now? “And someone came and told the Pharisees, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people. Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” (Acts 5, ESV)
The tables have been turned haven’t they? Now it is the Pharisees who are afraid. Before, when they cried out to have Jesus crucified, they said, “Let His blood be upon us and our children.” (Matthew 27:25) Have they not condemned themselves out of their own mouths?
“Peter answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5, ESV)
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel stated, “I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” And so, this finally put fear back into the Apostles and they shut up right?  “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5, ESV)
These are the same unlearned, timid and fearful men who had previously been hiding behind locked doors. They were now performing mighty signs and miracles. People were laying the sick in the streets as Peter passed by; hoping his shadow might fall on the sick and heal them. These were now Apostles empowered by the Holy Spirit and speaking boldly with no regard for their safety or even their lives.
In John’s Gospel Thomas stated, “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.
            John’s Gospel message deals with the person and finished work of Christ and 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? 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 primary work of the Christian church. 
As we accept him again 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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

What Is So Good About Good Friday?

Fr. Dale Matson

Have you ever posed this question to yourself? “What is so good about Good Friday?”  I think the key to providing an answer lies in a simple statement from Genesis by Joseph to his brothers. “What you intended for evil God intended for good.” (Genesis 15:20) In fact, the situation was similar. Joseph’s brothers betrayed him simply because they were jealous of him. They were jealous because he enjoyed a special relationship with his father. They turned him over to the enemy.  This is the same jealousy we see toward Jesus. He had a special relationship to His father. In fact Jesus claimed to be God. In John Chapter 8 Jesus stated, “Before Abraham was I am.” (Verse 58) On hearing this, the crowd picked up stones to stone Him knowing that He was claiming to be God. This was the capital crime of blasphemy.

There is another issue that continued to crop up. When Jesus healed people, the Pharisees thought He was using demonic power. They of course, like unspiritual religious people of any age have no power, cannot do mighty works, and cannot discern good from evil. After Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the word got back to the Pharisees and they decided to kill Him. Here the words of Jesus are confirmed. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead!” Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

 “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation. You know what they are admitting here. They were saying “We don’t want the Messiah to come. If the people recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Romans will destroy us. The leaders didn’t want to be freed from their captivity to the Romans, they wanted the status quo.  “Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man dies for the people than that the whole nation perish. “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

How convinced were the Pharisees that Jesus must die? They were willing to use the courts of the hated Roman captors. They could provide witnesses to the statements that Jesus claimed to have the power to forgive sins that He was the son of God and He claimed to be God Himself. The problem was they had no authority over him. No one had authority over Him unless He allowed it. They were comfortable in their captivity. Their charges of blasphemy would not hold in a civilian trial so they charged that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews. This was heresy and a chargeable offensive in Roman law since there could be no King but Caesar. That is why Pilate had the sign on His cross inscribed with the phrase “King of the Jews”. Here Pilate, like the chief Pharisee Ananias was also prophetic.

The Pharisees were willing to see a fellow Israelite die for an offense that all of them were guilty of. None of them wanted Caesar as their king but forced the hand of Pilate to accomplish their ends. In a sense, in pledging their allegiance to Caesar, they along with Judas, made a deal with the devil.

As I prepared for this, I needed to answer questions that had come up in my mind every Lenten season. None of this makes sense to me and never has. How could a perfect man be betrayed by foe and friend alike? It is a tragedy of cosmic proportions. Why such suffering, humiliation and total loss of dignity? How was Jesus able to wash the feet of the man He knew would betray Him? This makes all of slights I have suffered at the hands of others seem so petty by comparison.  How could this perfect storm of tragedy happen? It could only happen if it were orchestrated by God. The plan of redemption following the fall of man was laid out in Genesis. Jesus Christ the Messiah of the Jews and savior of Mankind was embedded throughout Scripture and is the living incarnate Word of God.

I think of all those who had a hand in the betrayal of Jesus. There were the Pharisees like Caiaphas, Judas and Pontius Pilot. They were responsible for this betrayal, this injustice. If it weren’t for them, the devil’s agents, Jesus would not have been crucified. Actually, it really didn’t matter who the participants in the plot were. The issue was never His guilt. The issue was our guilt and we are the reason He is on the cross. This is an anamnesis, a remembering in sacred time of those events.

For me, the season of Lent is long and arduous. It is an annual cyclical emotional descent to the foot of the cross and I look on whom we have pierced.  This year I have come to a better understanding about my own seemingly inexplicable sadness that is not characteristic of me. It is a kind of survivor guilt. He died so that I could live.  It is not easy to entertain the idea that I feel so separate from Christ and so vulnerable during this time. Forgive us for we knew not what we were doing. Do you love Me son? Yes Lord, You know that I do.
What is good about Good Friday? What is good about the crucifixion of a perfect and innocent man? Men had intended it for evil but God had intended it for good. Christ took the sins of all humankind to the cross with Him. His death was the necessary atoning sacrifice for the redemption of all people. By His death, He has freed those who believe in Him from sin, death and the devil. By His death he has reconciled us to our Heavenly Father. He is the way, the truth and the life. Without Him there is no life, no hope and eternal death. Jesus Christ is the light of the world. May we as His disciples bring this Gospel light to a world in darkness. Amen.  


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Betrayal

Fr. Dale Matson
Wednesday in Holy Week

I think it is useful to provide additional context for our Gospel reading for today (John 13:21-35), the narrative from St. John of the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. So much of what John includes is the prophetic events found in the Old Testament that frame the events of the life of Jesus. Jesus was not just obedient to His Father, He was obedient to the prophets. In the beginning of the chapter we see our Lord loving and serving His disciples through the foot washing, at the same time Jesus was aware of His betrayal and who would betray Him. There is the ever present tension of His reluctance to take the cup of suffering, die and be separated from His Father. At the same time He understood well His destiny and imminent death. The living Word of God placed Himself under the authority of Scripture. Jesus understood that Scripture foretold His death and that the Old Testament Prophesy must take place. The events must unfold as prophesied.  It also must take place to provide after the fact evidence for the disciples who at this time, simply refused to accept the fact that their master had predicted that he would be sacrificed for their sake and the sake of those who followed. As He washed the feet of Judas, how difficult it must have been to love and serve the one about to betray Him. He quotes from Psalms 41:9, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.”

Notice also that Satan had put the idea in the heart of Judas to betray Jesus but as we read in the latter part of chapter 13. Jesus offered Judas a choice. He could have refused the bread and called off the plan. By taking the bread Judas had decided on his own to betray Jesus and to follow through on Satan’s plan. It is at that point that Satan entered Judas. Yet, there is a final irony here. Judas had embraced Satan’s plan but was under the agenda of Jesus who told him “What you do, do quickly”.

Meanwhile the disciples had attempted to figure out who would betray Jesus. I believe Jesus kept them from knowing the answer because He knew that they would all betray Him. This was not like Judas but each one betrayed Him just the same, by deserting Him by falling asleep when He asked them to pray with Him and denying knowledge of Him after He was arrested. They hid behind locked doors until Pentecost. How many times have we betrayed Him also? How many times have we failed to say to others,  "I know this Jesus"?

Finally, When Jesus commanded that His disciples love one another as He loved them; He had demonstrated not just a sacrificial love. He was loving those whom He knew would betray Him. He was a loving servant to His enemies. It is a love like this that can forgive us and bring us from death to life. Amen