Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bishop’s Note: January 29, 2015 – A New Teaching With Authority!

Bishop Eric Menees

During this season of Epiphany, my Bishop’s Notes are focusing on how the Holy Scriptures make the person and character of Jesus manifest as the Son of God.  We've seen how God spoke to Jesus: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk. 1:11)  And Nathanael, having encountered Jesus proclaimed: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49)  In last week’s gospel, Jesus himself proclaims: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

This week’s gospel is a continuation of the passage from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus has called the first disciples and immediately sets about doing his primary ministry – teaching about the Kingdom of God.  St. Mark tells us that the people present were amazed because Jesus taught “ one who had authority, and not as the Scribes.” (Mark 1:22)  We don’t know exactly who these people were, however, they were able to understand that Jesus wasn’t simply restating the scriptures, but rather explaining the realities of the Kingdom of God and how the scriptures pointed to that reality.  

However, the worshipers in the synagogue were not the only ones who recognized Jesus’ authority.  St. Mark tells us that a man with an unclean spirit was also present.  The unclean spirit sees Jesus and immediately knows who Jesus is, and it announces for all to hear: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24 ESV)  It correctly recognizes Jesus and his power to destroy unclean spirits.  But more importantly, the unclean spirit proclaims: “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”

The men in the synagogue recognize one who teaches with authority, but the demon recognizes the person and character of Jesus!  Too many people in this present age recognize Jesus as one having authority – the moral teacher; the religious leader – but they fail to recognize Jesus as the Holy One of God!

My prayer for you and me is that we will assist those people who see something in Jesus, but don't realize who he really is – the Holy One of God!

I pray you all a truly blessed Lord’s Day!
Catechism Questions 67 - 69

67.    What is the result of the Ascension?
Jesus ascended into heaven so that, through him, his Father might send us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, Christians are united as Christ’s Body on earth to Jesus, our ascended and living Head, and in him to one another. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27; Ephesians 4:15-16; John 14:15-29, 15:5-9)
68.    What does it mean for Jesus to sit at God the Father’s right hand?
The throne on the monarch’s right was traditionally the seat for the chief executive in the kingdom. Ruling with his Father in heaven, Jesus is Lord over the Church and all creation, with authority to equip his Church, advance his Kingdom, bring sinners into saving fellowship with God the Father, and finally to establish justice and peace upon the earth. (Isaiah 9:6-7; 32:16-18; Ephesians 1:22; 4:11-12; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 5:9-10)
69.    What does Jesus do for you as he sits at the Father’s right hand?
Noting my needs and receiving my prayers, Jesus intercedes for me as our great high priest. Through Jesus and in his name, I am now granted access to the Father when I make my confessions, praises, thanksgivings and requests to him. (Hebrews 7:23-25)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bishop's Note January 22, 2015: "I Will Make You Fishers of Men"

Bishop Eric Menees

This week, we continue to examine the scriptures and witness how the person and character of Jesus is made manifest.  Over the past two weeks, we've been with Jesus at the waters of baptism, when God the Father declared: "You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:11) And we have witnessed the call of Philip and Nathanael, in which Philip modeled the evangelistic zeal that all of us should have when he proclaimed to his friend Nathanael: We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." (John 1:46)  This Sunday's gospel lesson, from Mark, reveals more about Jesus through his call to repentance and his invitation to follow him.

"The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1: 15)  Jesus' declaration of the presence of the Kingdom of God is not metaphorical, but physical - the Kingdom of God is present in the person of Jesus.  What is the appropriate response upon coming into Jesus' presence?  Repentance!  Because we fear his judgment or wrath?  NO!  Rather, because we recognize who he is in relation to who we are!

The gospel lesson continues with the call of the sons of John and the sons of Zebedee, who I refer to as the "Big Four" (Andrew and Simon Peter, James and John).  When we see this described in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus meets the fishermen and gets into the boat with them.  Jesus tells them to cast their nets into the sea, even though they had been unsuccessfully toiling all night.  Soon, their nets are filled to overflowing and when they bring the heavy laden net into the boat, Simon Peter recognizes that he is, indeed, in the presence of the Kingdom of God.  Peter falls on his knees, lifting his anguished voice to Jesus: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8)  This is the proper response when coming into the presence of Jesus - this is what Jesus meant when he said,  "Repent and believe in the gospel."

How amazing and wonderful it is that Jesus follows Simon Peter's declaration with an invitation - the same invitation that he makes to you and to me today, and every day.  "Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men." (Mark 1:17)  Jesus, the Messiah, didn't come to condemn us or to leave us in sin.  He came to redeem us and transform our lives.  And we participate that transformation by following Jesus and spreading his message of salvation to all people!  He makes himself manifest to us, and we make him manifest to others!  That is what the Season of Epiphany is all about.  And to that I say... AMEN!

I pray you all a truly blessed week!

Catechism Questions 64 - 66

64.    What does the Creed mean when it affirms that Jesus rose again from the dead?
It means that Jesus was not simply resuscitated; God restored him physically from death to life in his perfected and glorious body, never to die again. His tomb was empty; Jesus had risen bodily from the dead. The risen Jesus was seen by his apostles and hundreds of other witnesses. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
65.    What kind of earthly life did Jesus have after he rose from the dead?
Following his resurrection, Jesus spent forty days visiting and teaching his followers. He appeared to his disciples, spoke to them, invited them to touch him and see his scars, and ate with them. (John 20:19-23; Luke 24:13-49; Acts 1:3)
66.    How should you understand Jesus’ ascension into heaven?

Jesus was taken up out of human sight, and returned in his humanity to the glory he had shared with the Father before his incarnation. There he intercedes for his people and receives into heavenly life all who have faith in him. Though absent in body, Jesus is always with me by his Spirit and hears me when I pray. (John 17:5; Acts 1:1-11)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Bishop's Note - January 15, 2015: The Nathaniel Effect

Bishop Eric Menees

    Over this Season of Epiphany, my Bishop’s Notes will focus on how God makes manifest the person and character of Jesus. Last Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus, and we heard - from the Gospel of Mark - how God tore open the heavens and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus “ a dove.” Then, just to put an exclamation point on it, God the Father spoke to His only begotten son saying: “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)

    This Sunday we will celebrate the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, but rather than making the person and character of Jesus manifest in a dramatic way, the story of the call of Nathaniel is subtly compelling.

    You will recall, from the first chapter of the Gospel of John (John 1:43-51), that Jesus calls Philip, who is from Bethsaida, to follow Him. Philip responds to Jesus’ call to follow him, and then witnesses to his friend Nathaniel declaring without reservation: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45)

    The first way that the person and character of Jesus is made manifest in this scripture is through Philip's testimony to his friend Nathaniel. Philip doesn’t make a weak and vague identification of Jesus’ identity. Philip clearly states that Jesus is the Messiah - the long expected one of prophesy! Nathaniel’s response is: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip answers simply: “Come and see!”

    How important it is for us to witness to one another about Jesus, and then to follow that up with an invitation to meet Jesus personally! Of course Philip brings Nathaniel to Jesus, who demonstrates that he knows Nathaniel’s character: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)

    Nathaniel is flabbergasted that Jesus knows him – knows his character and, by extension, knows his history. He asks: “How do you know me?” And Jesus responds: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48 ESV) Jesus makes it clear that he doesn’t know of Nathaniel because Philip has told him – Jesus saw him before Philip had even spoken to Nathaniel. Jesus was interested in Nathaniel the same way that he is interested in you and me!

    Nathaniel’s response is the same as that of all who come to a saving relationship with Jesus is: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV)

    The cycle of Epiphany is clear: we meet Jesus, who already knows us; we tell others about him and invite them to meet him; and, when they do, the cycle repeats.  

I pray you every blessing and peace this Second Sunday of Epiphany!

Catechism Questions 61-63

61.    Why does the Creed make a point of saying that Jesus died?
The Creed makes the point to emphasize that Jesus died a real, bodily death such as all people face because of our sins. (Matthew 27:45-51)
62.    Why does the Creed emphasize Jesus’ death in this way?
The Creed emphasizes Jesus’ death to counter suspicions that Jesus did not truly die on the cross, to celebrate the fact that He died there to secure our salvation, and to prepare our minds to grasp the glory of his bodily resurrection.
63.    What does the Creed mean by saying that Jesus descended to the dead?

That Jesus descended to the dead means that he truly died; his spirit did not remain with his body, but entered the realm of death. (1 Peter 3:19)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Collateral Damage of Alcoholism

Fr. Dale Matson

Recently, a bishop in The Episcopal Church struck and killed a cyclist. It was reported to be her second DUI.
My prayers go out to the cyclist’s family and to the bishop. I drove while drunk for years and fortunately was never in an accident or received a DUI.

The root of alcoholism is spiritual but the collateral damage affects the soul, body, social and economic life of the alcoholic. I am speaking as someone who decided to stop killing myself on the installment plan almost half a life ago. Additionally, God allowed me, as a psychologist and now as a priest, to comfort others with the comfort that I received (2 Corinthians 1:4).

I had recommitted my life to Christ and was recently baptized as an adult in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church (LCMS) when the Lord made me aware that a drunk was unsuitable as an ambassador to His kingdom. I did not initially put the bottle down but a person full of ‘spirits’ does not manifest the Holy Spirit to others. God’s grace can even reach an unrepentant drunk.

Whether one views alcoholism as a disease or a ‘character defect’, the long-term trajectory for the alcoholic is morbid. The road along the way is full of evidence that there is a problem but personal denial will leave the alcoholic blind to the destroyed relationships, health problems, an erratic job history and missed opportunities.

The root sin of the alcoholic is idolatry. Alcohol is a drug viewed by the alcoholic as the elixir of life. For so many alcoholics, alcohol is a dependable friend who softens the anxieties, sings you to sleep, helps you speak your mind, and makes you the king of an imaginary kingdom. Alcohol helps you get rid of those folks who hassle you. Those who help you play the game (enablers) are the folks you keep around. After all, isn't it really about you and your love affair with alcohol?

There is cumulative damage along the way but the prime directive for the alcoholic is to make sure he has enough booze available everywhere he goes on an ‘as needed’ basis. It is your god and you are a devoted follower who prays without ceasing. The only thing that comes close in importance is your employment because it allows you to tithe to your god. It insures entrance into the holy of holies. There is no need to make plans, to aspire to accomplishments, maintain relationships because once you are drunk (and that is the reason alcoholics drink) you are in heaven. This trajectory for many will lead to a life on hold, treading water, paused until life ends. The blackouts will come more frequently.  If the liver manages to endure then organic brain syndrome will conquer the last lucid thought.

The alcoholic is not in heaven. The alcoholic is in hell. If he would just look around at the good people he has exchanged for his current loser friends but his former standards no longer mean anything. He has sacrificed himself to his god (Romans 12:1). The god of the alcoholic is a creature, a golden calf, and the evil one. He tells you the truth in a lie as only Satan can do. “If you stop drinking you will die.” The old man must die so the new man may come forth.

Quitting is the biggest sacrifice an alcoholic will ever make. He must step off the throne, die to himself and start over. The fragile rotting ego must be razed. Recovery begins with this. “Help me Lord, help me”.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Bishop's Note - The Epiphanies of Epiphany

Bishop Eric Menees

As I write this week's Bishop's Note, we are on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany - a feast which holds the imagination of so many across God's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. But, just like Christmas, Epiphany is not simply a Feast Day but rather a whole season - this year lasting until February 17th, the eve of Ash Wednesday. During this season, the lectionary scriptures will demonstrate a series of "epiphanies" which illuminate the divine nature of Jesus. Over this season of Epiphany, I would like to dive into these "epiphanies" with you in my Bishop's Notes, as we explore the divine nature of Jesus.

This coming Sunday, January 11th, is the first Sunday after the Epiphany, and the Gospel lesson is taken from Mark, chapter one - the Baptism of Jesus. Mark does not begin with the birth narrative - I believe he assumes people know that. Instead, he starts with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, which, as with all of us, truly begins with his baptism.  

John comes onto the scene preaching repentance from sin in Jerusalem and all Judea, calling people to be baptized. John prophesies about the coming of one who is the fulfillment of scripture and whose sandals he will not be able to untie. John is clear to say that he baptizes with water alone, but the one to come after him will baptize with water and the Holy Spirit!

It is in this dramatic environment that Jesus shows up to be baptized in the river Jordan - not as a result of repentance and needing forgiveness, but as a result of the prompting of God the Holy Spirit to set the example for his future followers; an example of humility and grace, setting the stage for God to "make manifest" the true character of Jesus. St. Mark described it in this way: In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1:9-11)

I am struck by Mark's description of the, "...heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove." Can't you see, in your minds eye, the hand of God reaching down and tearing the heavens open - eliminating one separation between the fallen world and the divine creator? As God starts phase two of His rescue mission, He does so with both amazing power - enough to rend the heavens - and loving gentleness in the form of His Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove.

Clearly this was no ordinary man upon whom the Spirit alighted, but still the Lord God Almighty makes it perfectly clear who Jesus is when He declares: You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." Now that's an epiphany! Could the Lord God make it any clearer who Jesus is? Jesus is God's only begotten Son who had, and will always have, the full pleasure and love of the Father of Light and the Author of Creation.

That is who Jesus is - the beloved Son of God - but that is not all of who Jesus is, as we will see in the coming weeks of the Season of Epiphany.

Catechism Questions 58 - 60

58.    In what ways did Jesus suffer?
On earth, the incarnate Son shared physically, mentally and spiritually in the temptations and sufferings common to all people. In his agony and desolation on the cross, he suffered in my place for my sins and, in so doing, displayed the self-denial I am called to embrace for his sake. (Hebrews 4:14-5:10; Mark 8:34-38; Philippians 2:5)

59.    Why does the Creed say that Jesus suffered under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate?
The Creed thus makes clear that Jesus’ life and death were real events that occurred at a particular time and place in Judea in the first century A.D. (Matthew 27:22-26)

60.    What does Jesus’ crucifixion mean?

It means that Jesus was executed as a common criminal. He was scourged, mocked, and nailed to a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. Though humanly a miscarriage of justice, his execution fulfilled God’s plan that Jesus would bear my sins and die the death that I deserve, so that I could be saved from sin and eternal condemnation and reconciled to God. (Matthew 20:28; 27:32-37; Romans 5:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19)