Friday, May 30, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Feast of the Ascension

Bishop Eric Menees 

“Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen

Today, May 29th, is the fortieth day after Easter and, throughout the church catholic, this day is known as the Feast of the Ascension - one of the major Holy Days of the church, which include: Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. Many of our parishes will celebrate the reality of the Ascension of our Lord to the right hand of God today, and others will transfer the celebration of this feast to Sunday. In either case, there is no getting around the importance of this event in the life of the Apostles, the life of the Church, and our very own lives.

"And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)

With these words, the Resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven where he is seated at the right hand of the Father - answering his own question to the disciples in the Gospel of John: “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (John 6:62)

We proclaim our faith in this reality every Sunday in the Nicene Creed. We state it because it is an important aspect of our faith.  We believe that Jesus sits enthroned in power at the right hand of the Father, welcoming the saints into heaven and waiting until the fulfillment of time, when he will return to judge the earth. However, in the meantime, our Lord intercedes on our behalf. What an amazing reality, that The Lord of the universe - the savior of mankind, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords - is the same one who sits at his Father's side, pleading on our behalf. 

Thus, when my daughter was born ill and I offered up desperate prayers in the name of Jesus it was, in fact, Jesus who leaned over to his Father and begged His intervention to supernaturally change the course of natural law and miraculously heal her..., which He did!

Jesus, while seated at the right hand of the Father, is also very present with us in Word and Sacrament. He fills his church with his presence and grace.

Lastly, it is with Jesus' ascension into heaven that his promise to, "not leave us orphaned," (John 14:18) was fulfilled, when God sent us the Holy Spirit: "I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."  (John 14:25-28)

The Ascension means that, even though things may seem difficult for us in a fallen world, the King is on his throne, and he has sent us the Holy Spirit as our Advocate, Guide, Comforter and Provider. We need not let our hearts be troubled, but simply trust in the King!
God bless you all!

Note: These 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+

Monday, May 26, 2014

An Answer To Self Esteem In An Age Of Violent Narcissism


Fr. Dale Matson

Portion of the Prayer of Humble Access

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. (Page 337 BCP,)
The Confession

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved thee with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in thy will, and walk in thy ways, to the glory of thy Name. Amen. (Page 331 BCP, Confession)

There are certainly many reasons to explain why individuals go off on a rage of destruction, murder and mayhem. There are cultural reasons such as too much time on their hands. For example, being enrolled ‘in school’ does not mean that one is engaged in meaningful activity. There are psychological reasons such as a sense of entitlement and need to administer justice for imaginary wrongs suffered by the ‘victim’.

There are mass media reasons such as an individual following the well worn script of violence reported again and again until it is a violent part of a pattern embedded in the national consciousness. There are existential reasons such as moral isolation and anomie.

The means is often confused with the motive. Correlation is not causation however. People with evil intent in their hearts will use anything available to inflict suffering on others. St. Paul understood the toxicity of rumination and negative projections. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8).

The spiritual reason is a failure to love others. Disobedience created the ego and with it, a self conscious, self-loving, self-absorbed individual who is a child of the devil. That is the natural state of man after the fall. The unregenerate individual will sacrifice others to satisfy himself. He is motivated by what is right in his own mind. It is a mind darkened by self-seeking sinfulness. He is the measure of what is right and what is wrong. He is a god unto himself.

Man must be born again, rescued by Jesus Christ so that he may no longer live for himself. He will then sacrifice himself for the sake of others. I am not special. I am a sinner redeemed by the blood of my Savior Jesus Christ. Life for the born again individual is not about gaining things, power and recognition.  Those were the three traps laid at the feet of Christ by the tempter.  In each case He avoided the snares by putting God first. Adam and Eve put themselves first and became tools of the evil one.

The born again individual knows that the old man still lurks in the background beckoning him back to slavery. It is slavery to the material and the temporal. We know the old man still exists and is expressed in our unguarded comments, in our wishes and in our dreams. We know that the evil in our heart is only in remission, held in check by the grace of God. Each act of kindness, of compassion and mercy pushes the old man further away. We are creatures of habit and good habits can be good deeds also. We are laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). By doing so, we are placing our hearts there also. (6:21)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

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

Bishop Eric Menees

O God, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards thee, that we, loving thee in all things and above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; 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 seems to draw its inspiration from the First Epistle of St. John, chapter four: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:7-8) Because God is love, He is by His very nature loving, and desires to pour into the hearts of His children things that are so wonderful we cannot begin to imagine them!

When we are "born from God," i.e. born again, we have our hearts and souls supernaturally prepared to receive the love of God and to share it with others. Hard to imagine isn't it? Thus, any love we receive or give does not originate within us or others, but is a gift from God and is meant to be returned to Him and shared with others.

What this collect calls us to do is love the Lord our God above everything and everyone else in our lives! He is to be our first priority and our principle aim. I like the way that the Westminster Catechism states it:

 Q.  What is the chief end of man?

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

When we have our priorities correct - in other words when God is at the top of our list - what we discover is that everything else falls into proper perspective. Most of the difficulties in our daily lives come when we and others place ourselves, our families, our work, etc. first and God second, or third, or fourth.

This Collect reminds us that when we love God above all things, then we receive the blessings that exceed our greatest desires. How awesome is that?!

Now let me ask: Do you expect your Father in Heaven to bless you? Do you look for those blessings in your life? If I'm honest, I do look for God's blessings, but I need to do so even more. Like the father of the ill son in the gospel of Mark, who cried out to Jesus: "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief," (Mark 9:24) my faith is imperfect but fulfilling; imperfect but compelling; imperfect but loving. And, even my imperfect faith is a gift from God. I am exceedingly grateful for the gift of God's love in my life, which I am privileged to share with you all.
God bless you all!

Note: These 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+

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is This A Sin Father? Confessions From Millennials

Fr. Dale Matson

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation-if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:1-5, ESV)

There is one fact of the Charismatic movement that did not square with the idea that the movement was reflecting the New Testament Church. In the 1970s we had not yet also returned to a New Testament Culture. In fact, modern church catechisms took it for granted that a candidate for confirmation was embedded in a Christian culture.

Today we live in a culture more suited to the Didache as a catechism than the 1979 Book Of Common Prayer Catechism. The primary focus of the Didache was Christian formation in a pagan World.

The new Catechism for the Anglican Church North America (ACNA) is much more extensive than the Catechism from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. This is primarily because it is addressed to a contemporary culture that is no longer Christian.

Last night, I heard confessions from about 40 candidates about to be confirmed. All of the folks could be considered Millennials. I was not surprised to hear most of the issues to which they were confessing. The confessions centered on past disobedience, rebellion, being judgmental toward others, stealing, lying, drug and alcohol use and promiscuity. They spoke through tears and were sorry. As a priest, I absolved them in Christ’s name.

There were more contemporary things also. What did surprise me was the number of times I was asked, “Is this a sin father?” One person used the phrase, “Living the free life” in reference to her conduct before participating in church. I told her that she was only learning what the free life was about as a slave to Christ. In this pagan society, we have come to the place where hedonism is accepted as normative. Traditional family values are at odds with a permissive and self-seeking society.

Many of those who were confessing were confused about what conduct constituted sinful behavior. They are in the process of learning what is right and what is not acceptable. Their hearts have been changed and they are thirsty to know more. They are attracted to this Jesus the Christ and are in the process of putting on His Mind. They want to do the right thing but are not always sure what constitutes doing the right thing. They do know however, that they don't want to go back to the past life and ask for God’s empowerment to resist the pull.

This is Christianity 101. This is Christian formation more than it is Anglican formation. There is so much more they have to learn. These two hours spent hearing confessions was one of the most intense and blessed times of my priesthood. Thank You Lord.
I remember back in my Christian re-formation, reading Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life. I was overwhelmed by the description of a mature and fully ‘fleshed out’ Christianity. It was the beatitudes applied to life. I wasn't sure I was up to the task. I pray that the thirst for the new wine, of these young people, will be like the seed that fell on good ground.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

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

Bishop Eric Menees

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

If last Sunday was known as Good Shepherd Sunday, perhaps this Sunday should be known as The Unique Way Sunday. This Sunday's collect captures the fact that Jesus is the unique and ONLY way to God the Father and eternal life with Him. This is the good news of Jesus Christ - that we have a way to the Father. All other religions require their practitioners to work hard and lift themselves up to God. Christianity proclaims that, “...God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that all who believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It is not that we have to do anything to receive Christ's love, but rather that we must simply accept it; simply say yes; simply believe in Him who believed in you before you ever believed in Him.

That being the case, what a tragedy it is when we hold back the full truth of the gospel. I'll never forget watching the very moving funeral service of President Gerald Ford on TV on January 3, 2007. The service in the National Cathedral was a state event, with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance befitting the funeral services for the 38th President of the United States. The liturgy was flawless, and the music was majestic. How sad, therefore, when Fr. Robert Certain climbed into the towering pulpit to preach the funeral sermon but left off the final phrase of John 14:6 - "I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME." With literally millions of people watching the service live on TV, Fr. Certain had the opportunity to offer the hope of Christ to a lost and hurting world, but fell short.

When asked about it later, he stated that he wanted to focus on President Ford as the healer of the nation; that to speak of Christ as the unique way to salvation would be divisive. However, I would argue that President Ford could only have been a healer because he followed the great healer - Jesus Christ!

Fr. Certain expressed a fear that far too many Christians in the West have come to believe as true - that the uniqueness of Jesus as the only way to the Father is, "exclusive and intolerant." The opposite is true. Because Jesus died for all who would put their faith and trust in him, it is not dependent upon the person’s individual ethnicity, culture, language, education, economic status, etc., etc.  When we say, "Well, people in the East are Hindu and Buddhist, people in the Middle East are Muslim,” etc., we are truly being exclusivist - saying that we are going to keep the truth of the gospel to ourselves in the wealthy, educated West.

What this collect proclaims is that Jesus is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Equally the petition to God is that we will so embody that Truth and follow in that Way, that not only will we have the fruit of that relationship - eternal life with Jesus - but that we will share that Truth with all who will listen.

Note: These 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+