Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Prayer For California In A Time Of Drought

Fr. Dale Matson

The San Joaquin Valley is now the valley of the dry bones.
Lord bring us rain.
Our crops will not be planted and our fruit trees will perish.
Lord bring us rain.
Our nut trees will all dry up and our lands will lay fallow.
Lord we ask for rain.
The soil is too dry and parched and hard for planting.
Lord where is our rain?
Our winter hills remain a lifeless brown.
Lord, Your land needs rain.
It is a harsh winter of rain and snow for others and still.
Lord we have no rain.
Lord our lands thirst and our souls are in torment.
Please bring us rain.
Peaks lack snow and the source streams are drying up.
Snow is needed Lord.
Our aquifers and wells no longer hold water.
Fill them once again.
Your people, your creatures and your land cry for rain.
Please make it be.
Your people cannot be fruitful. They can do no work.
Do not hold back the rain.
You are the source and from Your hand we feed. 
It is not of us we know.
Give us our rain in due season and with it:
Your Glory show. Amen  

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Seventh Sunday in Epiphany

Bishop Eric Menees

O Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; Send thy Holy Ghost and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee. Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

This Collect of Archbishop Cranmer is as beautiful as it is convicting and challenging.  Archbishop Cranmer challenges the church with four different things.

First, he acknowledges before The Lord that all of our works and actions, if they are done without Charity, are for naught. It is interesting that the Archbishop used the term “Charity” rather than "Love," which he uses in other collects. Charity can be translated as love, but really has a larger meaning than that. Charity, in its broadest sense, includes love of God as well as love of man. In other words, it is the love of the Great Commandment - Matthew 22:36-40.

Secondly, this collect acknowledges that Charity is a gift from God that comes as an anointing of the Holy Spirit. No matter how hard we try, we cannot infuse the gift of Charity  - this love of God and man - into ourselves by shear will power or desire. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is so much more than a thought or a feeling - it is a virtue.

Thirdly, Archbishop Cranmer implores God the Holy Spirit to give this gift of Charity to us, which we experience passively as peace and actively as a virtue. This peace, or Shalom, is what St. Paul promised for those who rejoice in the Lord in his epistle to the Philippians, [7] “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 ESV) This Shalom is so much more than the absence of violence or strife in our lives - it is the active presence of the Holy Spirit! It is that very presence of the Holy Spirit that leads us to actively love. The virtue of Charity calls us to go beyond ourselves to care for another as an expression of our love for God, and to love God as an expression of our love for man. It is that beautiful interrelationship - the dance with God - that Archbishop Cranmer is desires for us, the People of God.

Fourthly, Archbishop Cranmer desires this for us because he knows that, without it, we are dead; Dead in sin, dead in self, and dead in the world. You see, one of the great deceptions of the devil is the idea that if we embrace the world - if we seek all the "gusto" in life - we are, in fact alive. But that is only a deception. The more we embrace the world the more we sin, and the more we sin the more callous we become to the things of the Spirit. That is why St. Paul argues that we are to die to sin and be raised to new life in Jesus Christ.  "How can we who died to sin still live in it? [3] Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? [4] We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:2-4 ESV)

This collect speaks to the reality that we are either alive or dead, living in Grace or dying to sin. Satan tries to tell us - and we try to tell ourselves this too - that there is this gray area where it's enough just to be nice, isn’t it? It's enough just to not harm others, isn't it? 

The answer to that is, NO! Our Lord Jesus looks to us with the eyes of compassion and perfect understanding, and says to you and to me, "I love you!" Our answer to that can only be made through the power of the Holy Spirit: "I love you, Lord. Please allow my life to demonstrate that love." 

My prayer for you and my prayer for me is that our lives will demonstrate our answer to Jesus.  And to that I say... AMEN

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, February 13, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Sixth Sunday of Epiphany

Bishop Eric Menees

This Collect is one of those beautiful collects, prayed by Archbishop Cranmer that reflects both its, and our, Catholic and Protestant roots.  

Like so many of the Collects, this prayer for the Sixth Sunday in Epiphany is counter cultural. The culture tells us that we are strong and sufficient and good. That's what the culture tells us, but experience and the Word of God both tell us the opposite: we are not strong, but weak; we are not sufficient, but dependent; we are not good, but wicked. Archbishop Cranmer knew all of this, and so he prayed that God would act, as is His nature, counter-culturally!

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in thee: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee, give us the help of thy grace, that in keeping thy commandments we may please thee both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

First, when we pray this prayer, we acknowledge that any strength we have comes, not from within ourselves, but from God. This is a hard lesson to learn because our nature is fallen and we try to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, as it were. But that is a false understanding, because any strength we have is given to us by God, and by Him alone.

Secondly, in this prayer we acknowledge that our weakness is bound to our mortal nature - we will, all of us, die. As much as we try to put that out of our minds or even to deny it outright, the fact is that we could take our last breath in thirty seconds or in thirty or sixty years - but we will, all of us, die.

Thirdly, because of our inability to help ourselves and because of our fallen nature, even if we could, we would not use that strength to honor God. Therefore, we must humble ourselves to rely upon God and His Grace in order to obey Him and His Word.

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, February 6, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany

Bishop Eric Menees

This week's Collect speaks to the freedom and grace that can only be found in Jesus Christ, and which stands in opposition to the world around us. The world around us tries to argue that there really is no sin - just poor choices. They argue that we are already free, saying, “We are not sinners in need of salvation; we are children of God who simply need correction and guidance.” The doctrine of original sin has been replace by the philosophical construct that we are simply a tabula rasa - a blank slate. Being neither really good nor really bad, we simply need good parenting by a culture that is willing to take us by the hand and lead us to some sort of government sponsored utopia.

I believe that, at our core, we really know we are not a tabula rasa - we are fallen; selfish by nature; wanting what we want, when we want it. I often use the following example. Picture two lovely children from lovely families and homes. They are both placed into a room that is light, and warm, and comfortable. There is no furniture in the room they are in; they are alone save for two objects in the center of the room: a lovely, shiny, colorful toy and a fork. One child gets the toy, and one child gets the fork. How long do you think it will take for the child with the fork to realize that with the use of the fork he can have the toy as well? Do you know any very young child who would set down the fork and say, "Oh please, you play with the toy, and when you are done perhaps you'll allow me to play with it?" Or can you imagine the other very young child with the toy saying, "Gosh this seems to be unfair; please, you take the toy and I'll wait until you are done playing?"  That child does not exist, because in our nature we are sinners in need of salvation. Those children grow up and, no matter how lovely and kind they are, they, like all of us, have a sinful side - a side that seeks power and immediate gratification.

This Collect asks God to set us free from the power of sin, free from the grip of our selfish nature, and free to find our true freedom in the boundaries of a life in Christ.

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us, we beseech thee, the liberty of that abundant life which thou hast manifested to us in thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

You see here the abundant life that Jesus desires for us and which he promised in John 10:10 - "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." Abundant life is available to us who place our lives, our faith, and our trust in Jesus Christ. The thief, Satan, comes to us in the voice of a culture that says we are perfect just the way we are. The issue isn't our sin, it is our failure to accept the divine within us. The Lie of Satan is attractive and tempting, but does not lead to freedom. Instead, it leads to our bondage to the passions of our natural, sinful lives.

The good news is that when we pray this prayer with a true and contrite heart, God hears and responds.  Jesus died on the cross so that we can be saved from the penalty of our sin, and so that we may be freed from the chains of sin that bind us down. 
Thanks be to God for His love that comes to us and sets us free.  And to that I say...AMEN

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, February 1, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

 Bishop Eric Menees

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost govern all things in heaven and earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of thy people, and in our time grant us thy peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This week's Collect goes back to basics, but they are the very basics that we must go back to again, and again, and again, because we mostly don't understand it - or believe it. I realize I shouldn't use such a broad generalization however twenty seven years of ministry and almost forty years as a Christian have taught me that, while we will often state that we believe that God really is in charge and "governs all things in heaven and earth," we don't really live in a way that demonstrates that understanding and belief.  Equally, we too often don't live in a way that demonstrates a belief that God really does hear and answer all of our prayers.

What would our lives look like if we really lived with the sure and certain hope of God's being in charge? Well for one thing, we'd be a lot less anxious wouldn't we? Jesus said that we should not be anxious about our lives - what we will eat or what we will wear - that God provides for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. (Luke 12:22-34) Jesus says that we should not be anxious about our lives, because our Father in heaven has already taken care of things. St. Paul makes a similar statement in his letter to the Philippians: "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:6)

I know that the anxieties I feel in my own life are often associated with really wondering if God can take care of things. Worries about providing for my family creep in sometimes, and yet time and time again my life experience teaches me that God always provides one way or another. Sometimes I'm anxious because I want both to honor God, and not to look foolish or embarrass the Diocese of San Joaquin or the Anglican Church in North America. That was true this past weekend when I gave the opening invocation at the Walk for Life West Coast. Speaking before 60,000 people was new for me and, if I'm honest, I was anxious - that anxiety was, in part, my not giving things over to Jesus and trusting that he's in charge. Needless to say, he came through and I did not trip and fall on my face - physically or metaphorically.

This is not to say that this kind of faith is simply fatalistic. Far from it! Because we are believers in Jesus Christ, we know that he's given us ministries and responsibilities to represent him in a fallen and broken world. That means that we need to pick ourselves up and, in faith and the power of the Holy Spirit, head out to do what we are called to do. That's what I did this weekend - put one step before the other and trusted that God would cover it. And you know what? He did!

The second half of the Collect calls us to trust that God really does hear and answer our prayers - every one of them. Great sadness has come over me throughout the years when I've spoken to people in difficult times and they've responded, "Oh I haven't prayed about this...I couldn't bother God with such trivia,” or “I save my prayers for the big things,” or “God really doesn't answer individual prayer, he answers collective prayers.” What sad statements these are, because they go contrary to the teaching of Jesus: "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Luke 11:9-10)

Some years ago I heard a pastor explain it this way: God hears and answers every prayer we offer. The answer is always one of three: "Yes," "No," or “Not yet." That really resonates with me, because I do see the result of prayer daily. That which has been broken down is risen up; that which is old has been made new; the sick are healed - the list can go on and on. The problem doesn't come when God answers our prayers with “Yes.” The problem is when he answers our prayers with “No” or “Not yet.” 

My 13 year old son, when he asks for something and we say “No,” has a habit of immediately responding: "Why not?" Expected, perhaps, of a 13 year old, but how often do we all do that with God? We pray for something, we don't see immediate results, and we say, "Why not, must not really exist, or you don’t care about me if you do." In fact, the contrary is true: God, like my wife and I when we say “No” to our son, has our best interests in mind when he says “No” or “Not yet” to us.

This Collect calls upon us to have faith, hope, and trust in God, with the understanding that he really is in charge and really does want to give us the very best. As Jesus said: "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)  And to that I say...AMEN!

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+