Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for 12th week of Pentecost - Proper 17

Bishop Eric Menees

"Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; 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 is a powerful one, representing both our Hebraic and Reformed roots. The opening declaration recognizes the power and authority of God: "Lord of all power and might, who art the author and giver of all good things:..." Can't you hear the ring of the rabbinic prayers? One such traditional prayer, upon awaking in the morning, goes something like this: "Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the Universe. I give you thanks, for you have restored my soul with kindness and mercy." So, too, this collect acknowledges God's majesty, power, and grace. Only He is able to answer our petitions.

"Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name;..." Only God can graft anything to the hardened human heart. A love for the name of Jesus is a love that leads us to our knees in worship and lifts our hands in praise. As St. Paul penned: "Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11 ESV)

"...increase in us true religion;..." This petition, for me, asks of God to cast away from us all "religiosity" which, in my mind, is when the acts of worship are meant to show God our worth.  True religion is without pretense, because it's based on the knowledge that we are loved beyond measure - not because we deserve it, but because of God’s perfect character.

"...nourish us with all goodness;..." Only God can nourish is with all goodness because He is the source and content of all goodness. Here, goodness is synonymous with God Himself.  This is clearly seen in Moses’ petition to God and the Lord's response: "Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’  And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’” (Exodus 33:18-19 ESV)

"...and bring forth in us the fruit of good works;..." It stands to reason that if God answers the first three petitions, then the fruit will be good works. This is work that comes in response to God's love and grace, NOT as a means to earn God's love and grace. Jesus said it perfectly: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5 ESV)

My prayer for all of us this week is that God will grant the petitions of this Collect so that we, as individuals and as the Church, may abide in Christ and in Him alone!

Catechism Questions 10-11

10. Is there any other way of salvation?
No. The Apostle Peter said of Jesus, There is salvation in no one else, for there is no
other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved(Acts 4:12).

11. How should you respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ?

I should repent of my sins and put faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior and my Lord.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the 11th Sunday of Pentecost - Proper 16

Bishop Eric Menees

“Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy Church, being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit, may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen”

This week's Collect speaks to both the greatest power and the greatest weakness of the Church - our unity and our disunity.

On the Lord's Day, we gather to give thanks to God for His Grace and Mercy in the liturgy known as The Lord's Supper; or Holy Communion; or Holy Eucharist. In this service, we pray prayers that have been prayed for two thousand years, and that are said by millions of Christians on the same day around the world. How awesome is that? To know that brothers and sisters in Kenya, and Argentina, and the Arctic Circle are all confessing our faith in the words of the Nicene or Apostles’ Creeds - saying the same words that Jesus used as we consecrate the bread and wine, which mystically become the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Just one step back from that, we share the same faith with millions of other Christians who are not as liturgically centered in the Holy Eucharist, but share the same love of Christ and His Word as found in the Bible. In that shared faith, there is such strength and grace.

However, I also believe that in that same unity of faith, there is a disunity of polity. Following the great divide of the Church - East and West in the eleventh century - and then the Reformation of the sixteenth century - dividing Protestant from Roman Catholic - the Lord's heart is broken. It is impossible to imagine the impact that the Church could have in this broken world, if only we worked in concert rather than - too frequently - working at odds with each other.

Let us join with Jesus and pray for unity in faith and life: "Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one." (John 17:11) And to that I say...AMEN!

Catechism Questions 8 & 9

8. How does God save you?
God saves me by grace, which is his undeserved love given to me in and through Jesus. God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life(John 3:16).

9. Who is Jesus Christ?
Jesus is my Savior, fully divine and fully human. He bore my sins, dying in my place on

the cross, then rose from the dead to rule as anointed king over me and all creation.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Tenth Sunday of Pentecost - Proper 15

Bishop Eric Menees

“Almighty God, who hast given thy only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life: Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

As a student in my second year of college, I remember taking a study break and sitting on the bench in front of the Library on a beautiful spring day.  A pretty young woman came over and sat down next to me, which caught my attention.  She said hello and struck up a conversation.  In a few minutes I knew her name, she knew mine, and I wondered hopefully whether, for the first time in my life, a pretty young woman was hitting on me - that is, until she asked the question: "Are you saved?"  In this context I had no clue what she was talking about, and I quickly deduced that my chances for a date would vanish quickly if I didn't answer the question correctly.  So, I finally responded, "Saved from what?"  Oh my, her eyes lit up and she went into a thirty minute exhortation on the merits of giving my life to Jesus Christ and being saved from the fires of hell.  When I could finally get a word in, and hoping that the possibility for a date might be back on the table I said, "Why yes, I'm baptized and confirmed, and I want to be an Episcopal Priest."  Apparently that was the wrong thing to say if I wanted a date, because the conversation ended with her saying, "Wonderful...OK God bless you."  With that, the young woman stood up and went over to another bench where another young man sat alone. She sat next to him and I could see his eyes light up as I thought, “Poor guy.”

Since then I've wrestled with that question - Saved from what?  We are saved from the fires of hell and more.  Theologically what this refers to is "substitutionary atonement;" that is, the doctrine that states that Jesus gave his life on the cross as a substitute for you and me, so that He would receive the wrath of God instead of us.  For our sins, we deserve God's wrath because God is a just God and justice requires punishment.  Jesus bore the punishment of God for our sins in our place.  Isaiah prophesied about this 700 years before Jesus was born: But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)  And St. Peter wrote about it in his first letter: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)  It is important to note that the purpose of Jesus' suffering was more than simply saving us from the fires of hell.  He suffered and died so that we might be healed and live lives that glorify God and honor Jesus' sacrifice.

The question that lies before us is: How do we respond to the love of Jesus, who received the just punishment due to you and me?  This week's Collect contains the answer to that question.  First, we ask God to give us an attitude of gratitude for Jesus' sacrifice - that we not ignore it or cheapen it or minimize it.  If it were not for Jesus' sacrifice and our acceptance of that grace, we would receive the punishment of God: eternal separation from Him - which is the very definition of hell.  Second, we look to the example of Jesus' life, as set forth in scripture, for the very model of how we are to live our lives as the adopted children of God.  

If we can, with God's help, develop grateful hearts and seek to live lives that reflect Jesus' life and love, we will both honor God and have wonderfully fulfilled lives.  And to that I say, AMEN!
Catechism Questions Six & Seven

6. What is the way of life?
The way of life is a life directed toward loving and responding to God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, in the power of Gods indwelling Holy Spirit.

7. What does God want to give you?

God wants to reconcile me to himself, to free me from captivity to sin, to fill me with knowledge of him, to make me a citizen of his kingdom, and to enable me to worship, serve, and glorify him now and forever.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Ninth Week after Pentecost - Proper 14

Bishop Eric Menees

“Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot exist without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Have you ever noticed how Archbishop Cranmer, in the Collects - either the ones he wrote or the ones he included from previous works - tends to confront our number one sin: Pride?  This week's collect does not disappoint in addressing the issues of human pride and vanity.

Our pride tells us: "I know the difference between right and wrong, I don't need to pray for God to direct me to think rightly." Boy is that line of thinking messed up! Note that the prayer calls upon the Lord to give us His Spirit in order, always, to think and do the right thing. "Always think the right thing and do the right thing;" now there is the rub. I can often think of the right thing to do, but my ability to think it and the willpower to do it are not always in sync. In fact, more often than I'd like to admit, I think of the right thing to do but I do the wrong thing. I suspect that you may be able to relate with this. St. Paul certainly understood this reality when he wrote his letter to the Church in Rome: For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)

How often do you know the right thing to do, but do the wrong thing? Or - put even more strongly - do the very thing you hate? The answer for the vast majority of us is: "More often than I'd like to admit." When we rely upon our own strength and willpower, too often we give into temptation, or expediency, or peer pressure.

Which is the very reason for this week's Collect. Archbishop Cranmer is reminding us in this prayer that we need not rely upon our power and strength but upon the power and strength of The Lord and Him alone.  It is by God's Grace alone that we do the right thing or even think the right thing.  What a huge blessing that is - we do not need to rely upon our own strength, but upon the strength of the Lord God and Him alone!

All too often we act like we are alone. We believe we have to carry the burden - we have to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps. Whenever we tell ourselves that or live that way, Satan rejoices because it means that we have bought into his lie that we are self-sufficient. Jesus tells us just the opposite: Take my yoke upon you, and  learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 12:29-30) I suspect it breaks Jesus' heart when we fail to respond to his gracious offer to, "Take my yoke upon you...." The image of the yoke was very common in the first century, but in an age of tractors and farm machinery we lose some of the impact.  

A yoke is that wooden implement that - very often - fastens two oxen together so that the farmer can harness the power of not just one, but two oxen to plow a field, remove a tree stump, or do whatever heavy labor a man could not do on his own. There is a tradition that Jesus, as a carpenter, specialized in making yokes, since each yoke had to be specially made for each set of oxen so that the wood would not chaff their hides, and to best maximize their combined power.

That image is a beautiful one: Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon our shoulders so that we do not have to bear life's burdens on our own. That is God's grace and love for you and me: the desire not simply to sit up in His heaven, detached and far away, but rather hooked together to pull along His adopted son or daughter, or - more often than not - to carry him or her.

Let us join together in this week’s Collect, bidding God to grant us the Grace not only to think the right thing but to do it - not on our own, but joined together with God - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  And to that I say...AMEN.

I pray you all a very blessed Lord's Day!
Catechism Questions    

4. What is the way of death?
The way of death is a life empty of God’s love and life-giving Holy Spirit, controlled by things that cannot bring me eternal joy, but that lead only into darkness, misery and eternal condemnation.

5. Can you mend your broken relationship with God?

No. I have no power to save myself, for sin has corrupted my conscience and captured my will. Only God can save me.