Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Collects - First Sunday of Advent

 Bishop Eric Menees

Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Diocese of San Joaquin - first allow me to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.  This is that secular and sacred feast in our land where with one accord families and friends sit down to give thanks to God for His many blessings!  Of course for us as Anglican Christians we gather for "Thanksgiving" every Sunday as we celebrate Holy Eucharist  which has its roots in the Greek - εχαριστία (eucharistia), meaning "thanksgiving," thus every Sunday celebration is a Thanksgiving.

This week I begin a new series in the Bishop's Note  which will last a year and cover the entire of the church calendar.  Each Sunday as we gather to make Thanksgiving (εχαριστία) the service begins with an opening prayer known as the "Collect."  The Collect is a gathering prayer that very often sets the theme of the week’s celebration from scripture.  These collects date back to the earliest church but are most easily documented beginning in the fifth century.  In the sixteenth century, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer used those fifth and sixth century collecting prayers to establish the collects for the church year that we find in the Book of Common Prayer.  They were set in concrete, as it were, in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer that we still use as the foundation of our Anglican worship today.

These collects are beautiful - theologically, scripturally and poetically - some have argued that they capture the beauty and nuance of the English Language and did for English worship what Shakespeare did for English theater. 

Beginning today, the Thursday prior to the First Sunday of Advent, and running through the season of Pentecost (also known as the Season after Trinity) we will be examining the collect for the coming Sunday.  Because of Archbishop Cranmer's beautiful language I will most often but not exclusively use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  I invite you to join me on this journey and to feel free to write me your own thoughts on the subjects the collects raise.

Collect for the First Sunday of Advent: "Almighty God, give us grace, that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in the which thy son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy ghost now and ever. Amen."

The season of Advent is a season of preparation - preparation for our death (or the 2nd Coming of Christ which ever comes first) and preparation to receive the incarnate Jesus born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.This preparation begins by seeking God's help to "cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light."  It is only by the help of God the Holy Spirit that we can in fact truly examine our lives and repent of our sin.  (Mark 1:15) Repentance of sin alone is not enough - forgiven of sin we are vulnerable and so we are called to clothe ourselves in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18). 

This collect is clear to say that we need to repent and put on the armor of God in this Mortal Life - so often, people put off repenting and accepting Christ believing that there is still time...the problem is that not a one of us knows if we have 30 seconds or 30 years to live.  It was to this very life that Jesus took on flesh - he who knew no sin became sin in order to redeem our lives so that we who are also flesh may join him in life immortal.

As we begin this season of Advent, we prepare for this life by repentance of sin and putting on the armor of God, and we prepare for the life to come by receiving Him who came in humility and rose to Glorious Majesty so that we may join him in God's good time!

Note: The "Notes to the church" articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Search For Maggie Caslon

Dale Matson

"This is a story about the search for one of the most famous personalities of our time, Maggie Caslon. She was beautiful, talented, young and rich. Her disappearance was a mystery. The world held it’s collective breath as the search unfolded. It is also the story of those ordinary anonymous souls who were in the world’s spotlight for a brief period of time because they were associated with the search for her. This is also true of her boyfriend Ryan who was referred to as a “male companion” in the first newspaper account of her disappearance. I have included photographs I had on hand and ones I took during the search to illustrate the story." [from the book]

I have just published my 11th book. It is my first book of fiction and available from Amazon books in paperback or Kindle formats. It is a fictional story however, that is true in three respects. I am a priest in the book and a priest in real life. The locations in the story are real and I have a first hand acquaintance with them as a backpacker, hiker and searcher. The search process as described in the book is also real and as a volunteer member of the Fresno County Sheriff's Search And Rescue Team, I have real experiences with search and rescue.

The story is told through my eyes as a searcher. In the book, I took the name "Tom Hardy". Tom is a real person and a lifelong friend. He is a cool person with a great name. In the book I wear two hats as a narrator and a priest who is also a searcher. It was fun to write this story. Preaching is a kind of story telling also. Every time I preach, I get to tell the greatest story of all; the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christology, Document Stability And The Church

Fr. Dale Matson

I have self published several books. Briefly this consists of writing the book and creating the book interior style. It means creating a cover for the book in Photoshop. Being a self-publisher also means exporting the interior and cover files in a format that can be uploaded to a publishing website.

I write and edit my documents in Microsoft Word and then import them into Adobe ‘InDesign’. InDesign is a powerful software program that combines word processing and graphics. I am “self taught”. I unfortunately know and use very few of InDesign’s features. One important consideration is the stability of the document. Will the document retain the formatting, fonts, and graphic placement when exported to another program/format? The stability of the document is based on what are called “presets”. This is similar to laying a good foundation on which to build a house. The fact is that there is no “work-around” and no retrofit when problems arise. I have started over too many times because I failed to learn the rules.

Presets allow for style consistency and format stability. For example there should be as few paragraph returns as possible in a document. They should not be used to create extra white space in which a graphic is inserted. Tabbing at the beginning of a new paragraph should be an entire document preset. If it is not, the paragraph tabs may occasionally disappear when the document is exported.

What is most maddening is graphics that move to other locations in the document. Sometimes the graphics disappear entirely or drift on top of text. This is dealt with by using a preset for text flow that allows for text changes that won’t affect the graphic. In short, there are rules that must be followed in constructing a document that will allow it to keep the formatting stable even when exported to other programs.

A Word document can be exported to a portable document format (PDF) and keep the formatting because it has essentially become a kind of photograph in PDF. All of the work-arounds are hidden. Don’t try converting that same document to a mobi file. The proof in document stability is when the original document is exported to a mobi file (Mobipocket eBook file) and retains the formatting. Without the proper presets the document interior characteristics become corrupted and and its stability is ruined.

I have been discussing rules, presets, instability, loss of formatting and my frustrations. The simple fact is that without proper instruction, my experience has been trial and error. Many of my work arounds have been counterproductive in the long run.

So Dale, where are you going with all of this publication jargon? What does this have to do with Christology? Christ is not only the Word but also the “preset”. We have the basic rules (doctrine) to follow as Christians. We are given the mind of Christ. It is through his still small voice that we honor those rules and guide our decisions and lives.

The Christian and the church need to learn the program. Christianity is powerful and robust. There is only one version. It is Christ “1.0”. Changing the Christology does not make the program more robust. He is God. He is the only way to God. He is also a human. He died on the cross to save us from sin and eternal damnation. He rose again and ascended into Heaven.

In a church, when this Christology is removed, the truth moves around like graphics in a poorly formatted document. The document (message) loses its coherence. The message is no longer exportable. Evangelism suffers. All of the work-arounds (other gospels) make up a patchwork of patches that conflict with and contradict one another.Without Christ there is no message and no message to be communicated. Christ is our Savior, Lord and only Preset.   

Friday, November 15, 2013

Instructions to the Church: # VII

 "Jesus Christ is the Same Yesterday and Today and Forever"
Bishop Eric Menees

This morning we continue our discussion of Hebrews Chapter 13 and the author's instructions given to the church:
 "Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Hebrews 13:1-8 ESV)
Verse 8 is the key to this passage, to our redemption, and to our future. As Anglican Christians we believe in ONE God in three persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Therefore, the prologue to the Gospel of John - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made." ) (John 1:1-3 ESV) - speaks of Jesus who has been from the beginning of time, and will be at the very end. As Jesus refers to himself in the book of Revelation: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13 ESV)
Why would the author of the Letter to the Hebrews make this point to the church? Because throughout time, men have tried to make God in our image rather than having the humility to accept the reality of the opposite - we are created in God's image. From the Gnostics of the first century, to the Arians of the fourth century, to modern day heresies, the argument is that God is doing a new thing. Of course, this new thing is actually the old thing. In the first century, the desire was to make Jesus less divine and to make ourselves more divine. That same desire continues today as people push for respecting or accepting the "god within."  Of course, they argue that the way to respect or accept that “god within” is to seek pleasure.
However, when we accept the reality that Jesus is, in fact, who he says he is - The Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 22); the Word made Flesh (John 1); God Incarnate (John 3); The One who was, and is, and is to Come" (Rev. 1) - then, and only then, can we receive the redemption that he gave his life to secure for us. This foundation of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is attested to in Holy Scripture.
Ultimately, it comes down the simple decision of accepting Jesus on His terms and not mine. Personally, I thank God that I have accepted him and seek to mold my life after His, and not vice versa. The peace that comes when we can turn our lives over to Jesus is wonderful. The joy of knowing that he is the unmovable rock of our lives - not changing with every wind or tide - gives my life meaning and hope, not simply for today but for every day, until he comes back again or calls me home!  
Note: The "Notes to the church" articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Instructions to the Church # VI

"Remember Your Leaders."
Bishop Eric Menees

This morning we continue our journey with the author of the book of Hebrews, studying the instructions that the Lord has given us for the church. So far we've examined the need for the church to: Continue in Brotherly Love (13:1), Show Hospitality to Strangers (13:2), Remember Those in Prison (13:3), Honor Marriage (13:4), and Keep from the Love of Money (13:5-6). This morning we continue with a scriptural imperative to: Remember your Leaders (13:7). Specifically, we are to:
"7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and  imitate their faith."

The author of Hebrews is telling the people of the church to remember those leaders who have faithfully taught the Word of God to them. These are the ones who shared the Good News of Jesus Christ and whose lives reflected that same grace and love that Jesus shared with his disciples. We are not only to listen to their words, but to honor them by imitating their way of life and, most importantly, their faith.

As I write this Bishop's Note, it has not even been 24 hours since I received the news of Bishop Schofield's death. How appropriate it is, then, that today I write on verse 7 of chapter 13, because it is so easy for me to think of one such leader - the Rt. Rev. John-David Mercer Schofield, IV Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin.

I first met Bishop Schofield in 2009, when I had the great privilege of sitting at the feet of his teaching when he came to San Diego to lead the San Diego Anglicans clergy retreat. The theme of the retreat was Forgiveness, and I found myself instinctively knowing that I was sitting under the teaching of a truly godly man. How impressive it was that he could teach for two hours a session, regularly quoting scripture, and never look at his notes or the Bible. His teaching was straight forward, passionate, well illustrated, and grounded in the Good News of Jesus Christ. Bishop Schofield's ability to teach was clearly a gift of the Holy Spirit - I knew, when listening to him, that I was not only getting a glimpse into his life, but that God was using him to speak directly into my life. Of course each person present at that retreat felt the same way - that is the mark of an anointed leader.

While I had met Bishop Schofield a few times after that retreat and prior to my being called to be his successor, it was in those first months of being in the diocese that I fell in love with +John-David as a father in God and a brother in Christ. I'll never forget the fall of 2011. I had been in the diocese only a week or so, and I was on the football field at my son's elementary school watching the end of his football practice. I struck up a conversation with another dad, who turned out to be a local pastor, Jymme Foote, who was also relatively new to the Fresno and trying to get his feet wet. He explained how he had, that day, realized he had come into his own. Pastor Foote shared that he knew he had made it as a pastor in this city because he had received an invitation to dinner with Bishop Schofield. "Have you heard yet of Bishop Schofield?" Pastor Foote had asked.  All I could say at that moment was, "Who hasn't?"

Over these past two years, as I've attempted to follow in the footsteps of +John-David Schofield, I have prayed that the Lord will give me the grace to pray with the same intimate knowledge of our Lord and Savior; that I'll preach and teach with the same passion and grounding in the scriptures; that I will pastor my clergy with the same measure of true and sincere love; and that I will laugh with the same gusto, both at myself and at the marvelous ways God works all things to his Good. (Romans 8:28)

I will always remember Bishop Schofield as a leader among leaders, and as a man whose ministry I hope to imitate - secure in the knowledge that nothing, in this life or the next, can separate our brother +John-David or us from the Love of Christ.  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor “height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) All I can say is, Amen to that!
Note: The "Notes to the church" articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Instructions to the Church # V

"Keep From the Love of Money."

 Bishop Eric Menees
We continue with our study of Hebrew's 13 and God's instructions to the church.  So far, we've looked at the need for the church to: Continue in Brotherly Love (13:1), Show hospitality to strangers (13:2), Remember those in prison (13:3), and Honor Marriage (13:4). This morning we continue with a scriptural imperative: Keep from the Love of Money (13:5-6).  

"Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

I write this Bishop’s Note from Nairobi, Kenya where I have been meeting with Anglican Leaders from around the world at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) 2. There are 331 Bishops and Archbishops, and we've been meeting in a separate workshop on Leadership. I have been so very struck by the constant refrain from bishops in the Global South that the Love of Money is as difficult a burden and as great a sin in their churches as it is in the wealthy West and North. I should not be surprised since St. Paul warned his apprentice Timothy that, "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Timothy 6:10) And Jesus himself was quick to point out that "You cannot serve God and money" (Mt. 6:24)

St. Paul was clear to say that money is not evil, but the Love of Money is a root for evil.  As Christians, we are called to be countering culture and not be in love with money or the power that comes with it. The love of money makes us fearful - believing that we will not have enough - and that hurts our stewardship. There is no question that if everyone in our congregations followed the biblical principle and tithed 10% of their income, then there would never be a question about being able to provide for the poor, the children, our outreach programs, or providing for our clergy. That fear is what Satan exploits in us when that little voice in our head says "there is no way you can do great giving 2% - that's a heck of a lot better than the other people are doing."

When Florence and I were first married, I struggled with this. I was making $1,800 a month before taxes, Florence was a full-time student and not working, and I wondered how we would make ends meet. When it came time to fill out our pledge card, I put down $100 a month. Florence looked at that and asked if that was a tithe (knowing full well it wasn't). I said, "Well no, but with our bills how can we make it if I add another $80 a month to the church?" She responded that God would be faithful, and that, if we were obedient to God and returned to him, we'd be fine. Well, my wife was absolutely correct. Since 1990, we have given 10% of our income to the church, and more beyond that to outside organizations. In that time, we've never hurt, never been without, and  - most importantly - we’ve learned to be content with what God has provided us as individuals and as a family.

How tragic and beautiful it has been here at GAFCON, to hear Bishops speak of the incredible pressures that they are under and the temptations that they receive from the liberal churches in the US and England to accept money to assist their diocese, but in accepting that money the strings of supporting a false gospel are attached. Likewise, how inspiring it has been to hear how they have remained faithful to Christ and rejected those offers. One bishop from Tanzania told my small group that he had been tempted, but that he believed in Jesus' promise that God's desire is to provide for his children all their needs (Mt. 6:25-34). While they rejected that support, God has provided for them, their diocese has grown, they've built a Cathedral and Diocesan Center, and built 14 Churches in the last 7 years. When I heard of his faith and God's provision, I was humbled at the times I have worried for the diocese and myself.  

These African Bishops have learned, as have Florence and I, that God is good and faithful - that he desires to give to his children, always providing for our needs, though not necessarily for our wants. The problem is that we confuse our needs and our wants.

In our own diocese, we have seen demonstrated again and again that we have a faithful God who provides. We stepped out in obedience and separated from the Episcopal Church (Ephesians 5:7), and we have now come very close to raising the needed funds for our trial. In the mean time, it has been rough with our monies frozen, but we've learned to be content with what we have and to trust in The Lord! And to that I say AMEN!