Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bishop's Note: February 26th, 2015 - The Last Words of Jesus, Part #2

Bishop Eric Menees

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

The last words of Jesus are some of the most powerful ever spoken. They have resounded throughout the last two thousand years, and will continue doing so until our Lord returns. In the first week of Lent we concentrated on Jesus' statement: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34) This week we see Jesus put those words into action as he responds to the plea of a criminal.  Allow me to set the scene.

Jesus has been falsely accused and convicted.  He has been beaten and scourged, nailed to a cross, and hoisted aloft between two criminals - one on his right and one on his left.  The religious officials and Roman soldiers were mocking Jesus.  They divided his garments, and even one of the criminals berated Jesus saying: Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. (Luke 23:39-42)

It was the plea of the criminal to be remembered that caught Jesus' attention. Jesus' response had to have been the sweetest words imaginable: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43)  The Greek term that Jesus used for "Paradise" (paradeisos) is the same term used in the Greek Old Testament to mean “garden” - specifically the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8).  In addition, in the first century "Paradise" was also used to refer to the place one went following death while awaiting the coming of the Messiah, or “Heaven." In other words, Jesus promised the criminal, whose heart called out to Jesus, that he would be with Jesus in Heaven that very day.  Whether Heaven was the Garden of Eden restored or the great wedding banquet that Jesus spoke of to his disciples, is academic.  The Good News - the Gospel - for this criminal is that Jesus would have mercy upon him - not saving him from the consequences of his action that led to crucifixion, but showing him the ultimate mercy of saving him from banishment to hell.

It is important to note that this criminal was not a disciple of Jesus, nor did he live a virtuous life.  He simply recognized who Jesus really was and asked with a contrite heart, "...remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Salvation really is that simple.  It comes with the recognition of who Jesus really is and who we really are, and with pleas for mercy and grace.

Of course, the criminal was actively dying, and in fact shortly would have his legs broken by the Roman solider in order to hasten his death.  99.99% of the rest of us who come to that knowledge of who Jesus really is need to follow up that plea for mercy with the humble invitation for Jesus to be Lord of our lives.  Have you made that plea for mercy?  Do you know in your heart of hearts what awaits you the very next second after you take your last breath on earth?  If in any way you are unsure, I encourage you to take this moment to make the same plea that the criminal made, and to invite Jesus into your life as Lord.

This Lent I would like to invite you to meditate upon the mercy of the Father for us, granted through His Son - mercy which is given not because we deserve it or have in any way merited it.  God's mercy is simply given through love.  Having received God's love and mercy, what in your life reflects your response to God?  Have you put your full trust in Jesus?  

I pray you a blessed Lord's Day and a Holy Lent!

Catechism Questions 79 - 81

79.    How do you judge yourself?
With the help of the Holy Spirit, I judge myself by examining my conscience. I may use the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or other equivalent Scriptures, as well as godly counsel, to help me see my sins. (Exodus 20:1-17, Matthew 5:1-11)

80.    How does the Church exercise its authority to judge?
A priest, acting under the authority of the bishop, may bar a person from receiving communion because of unrepented sin, or because of enmity with another member of the congregation, until there is clear proof of repentance and amendment of life. But the authority Christ gave to his Church is more often exercised by declaring God's forgiveness in absolution. (Matthew 16:19)

81.    Who is the Holy Spirit?

God the Holy Spirit is the third Person in the one Being of the Holy Trinity, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Son, and equally worthy of our honor and worship. (Luke 11:13; John 14:26; 16:7)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bishop’s Note: February 19th - The Last Words of Jesus

Bishop Eric Menees  

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” With these words, we receive the gritty sign of the cross on our foreheads, made with ashes.  On Ash Wednesday we are asked to think of our own mortality, but throughout the season of Lent we are invited to think of a more important death – that of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. 

Throughout Lent my Bishop’s Notes will focus on the Seven Last Words of Jesus.  These statements - recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John - give us insight into the meaning of Jesus’ death.

The first of the “Last Words” is taken from Luke 23:34: “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

What extraordinary words!  In the midst of such suffering, inflicted without cause, Jesus intercedes to his Father - on behalf of his tormentors - for mercy.  Jesus, indeed, practiced what he preached.  Not only did he turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39), he offered his life as the perfect sacrifice for sin.

Of course, for those of us who know and are known by Jesus, it makes perfect sense – Jesus is all about forgiveness.  In fact, that is the whole point of the cross.  

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, forgiveness is offered to all who repent and turn to him.  How beautiful it is to know that God not only forgives our sins, He wipes our sins away. 

Too many people do not know that forgiveness is theirs, if they would but repent – confess their sins to God, ask for forgiveness with a contrite heart, and seek amendment of life.

Let me ask you: Do you really believe that God can and will forgive your sins?  This week, will you take the time to examine your life and - where you are in sin - ask for God’s forgiveness?  Will you share with one other person about the joy of receiving God’s forgiveness and grace?

I pray you all a Holy and Blessed Lent!

Bishop Menees

Catechism Questions 76 - 78

76.    Should you be afraid of God's judgment?
The unrepentant should fear God's judgment, for “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness,” but for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation. I have no reason to fear the coming judgment, for my Judge is my Savior Jesus Christ, who loves me, died for me, and intercedes for me. (Romans 1:18; 8:1, 31-34)

77.    What does Scripture mean when it tells you to fear God?
It means that I should live mindful of his presence, walking in humility as his creature, resisting sin, obeying his commandments, and reverencing him for his holiness, majesty, and power. (Exodus 20:20; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 8:13; 9:10)

78.    Should you pass judgment on sinners or non-Christians? 

No. God alone judges those outside the Church. The Church may proclaim God's condemnation of sin and may exercise godly discipline over members who are unrepentant; but I am called only to judge between right and wrong, to judge myself in the light of God's holiness, and to repent of my sins. (Matthew 7:1-5, 1 Corinthians 5:12-13; 11:31)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Ash Wednesday Year B 2015

 Fr. Dale Matson

The season of Lent has arrived and we begin the season with Ash Wednesday. It is a time for reflection, confession, repentance penance, almsgiving and prayer. It is forty days of preparation for Easter where our Lord arose bodily from the grave. Lent is a penitential season. It is a time of self-denial, fasting, reading of Scripture and personal sacrifice. For Catechumens, it is a time of preparation for Baptism. In the Lenten season, the focus is on contrition and cleansing. It begins on Ash Wednesday where ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the penitent.

Lent is a time for downsizing the ego. I am reminded of a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3)

There is a tendency for Christians to be like the self-righteous older brother in the parable of the Prodigal son in Luke Chapter 15. St. Paul warns us about being self righteous in Galatians. “If a man thinks he is “somebody”, he is deceiving himself, for that very thought proves that he is nobody. Let every man learn to assess properly the value of his own work and he can then be glad when he has done something worth doing without dependence on the approval of others.” (6: 3-4, J B Phillips)

At some point we need to get beyond being righteous to being gracious, from insisting on justice to offering compassion and mercy also. As we mature, we need to stop being the older brother to being the father in the story of the Prodigal. Our opening collect states in part, “Create and make in us, new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord…”

When we think of God, we think of God’s many attributes. God is a God of Love and Grace. God is Righteous, Holy and Sovereign. He is also a God of Mercy. In our opening collect, we are asking first of all for mercy.

We hear of God’s Mercy again in our Old Testament passage from Joel. “Yet return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning. Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful.”

We hear of His mercy again in the first verse of our Psalm today. “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness.”

In His Sermon on the Mount, our Lord said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
The young Christian strives with God’s help to be righteous. The young Christian is the righteous older brother with sometimes grudging loyalty to his father. I believe the mature Christian embraces compassion and mercy. The mature Christian strives to be like the prodigal’s father, full of compassion and mercy.

When the younger son returned, he had squandered his entire inheritance. He had lost all his earthly possessions, yet he had reclaimed his humility and his humanity. That is why his father could look past his debauchery and see a man with a broken and contrite heart. He could see that he had in fact, regained his son. The father in the story of the prodigal is intended to represent our Heavenly Father.
When the son “…got up and went to his father, while he was still some distance off, his father saw him and his heart went out to him, and he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. But his son said, ‘Father, I have done wrong in the sight of Heaven and in your eyes. I don't deserve to be called your son any more....’ ‘Hurry!’ called out his father to the servants, ‘fetch the best clothes and put them on him! Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and get that calf we've fattened and kill it, and we will have a feast and a celebration! For this is my son—I thought he was dead, and he’s alive again. I thought I had lost him, and he’s found!’ (Luke 15). The son’s confession also revealed his new humility.

God cannot refuse a child with a contrite and broken heart. Neither can the mature Christian refuse those with a contrite and broken heart. The older brother in me judges the street beggar but the father in me reaches out in mercy for these individuals with weather beaten skin and a humble demeanor. 

For the mature Christian, compassion and mercy is the natural response because we also have learned of our Father’s mercy by our repentance, contrition and confession.

In this season of Lent, let us heed the words of the prophet Joel. “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.” Amen.       


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Bishop’s Note: Last Week in Epiphany - Jesus Transfigured

In this, the last week of Epiphany, we see once again how the person and character of Jesus are made manifest in the scriptures.  Over this season we've seen how Jesus was made manifest through his father’s declaration; we've seen how Jesus was made manifest through the recognition of demons; and we've seen how Jesus was made manifest through his power to heal with just a word.  This week we journey with Jesus, Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus is transfigured and the voice of God comes forth from the cloud declaring: “This is my beloved son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7)

The season of Epiphany is bracketed by God’s own declaration making the person and character of Jesus manifest as the Son of God – the long expected Christ.  The first week of Epiphany we journeyed with Jesus as he entered into the waters of the Jordan.  The skies opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus.  Then, the voice of God called out from heaven: “You are my son; with you I am well pleased.”  (Mark 1:11)  God the Father addressed his son in that tender moment – thus revealing the true identity of Jesus.  Still, you can imagine that those around wondered: “Did we really hear that?  Was that thunder?”  How simple it would have been to rationalize it away and simply move on with your daily routine.  

On the Mount of Transfiguration, there was no way to rationalize the event or simply move on with the disciples’ daily routines.  Peter, James, and John were invited by Jesus to go off and pray up on the mountain.  There, scripture tells us, Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes: “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”  (Mark 9:2b-3)  This alone would have been miraculous – the laws of nature being suspended for the benefit of man and the glory of God.  However, God decides to put an even finer point on it.  Moses and Elijah – representing the Law and the Prophets – appear alongside of Jesus, leaving no doubt that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets!  “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” (Mark 9:2-4)

Lastly, and in a way so as to make things even more abundantly clear to the sometimes dimwitted disciples, God himself speaks from the cloud, directly addressing Peter, James, and John: “This is my beloved son; listen to him.” (Mark 9:7)

This season of Epiphany, have you been open to the manifestation of Jesus? Have you met him at home, while reading the scriptures in the quiet of your room?  Have you met him in the sermon at church?  Have you met him as you've extended your hand to receive the host, hearing those blessed words: “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven?”  

The Lord has blessed me this season, and I can honestly say, “YES!” to all three of those, and many more.  Perhaps most poignantly for me, he made himself manifest these last two weekends in the Leadership Retreats.  I saw Jesus glorified in those Vestries and Bishop’s Committees.  I saw people excited about ministry, and sometimes convicted by reality.  I saw a recommitment on the part of those men and women of the diocese, who rededicated themselves to bringing people to Jesus.

Ultimately the question isn't, “Is Jesus being made manifest?”  The question is, “How are we responding to his being made manifest.”

I pray you every blessing and peace as we conclude the season of Epiphany and begin the season of Lent.

Catechism Questions 73 - 75

73.     What should be your attitude as you await Jesus’ return?
I should anticipate with joy the return of Jesus as the completion of my salvation. The promise of his return encourages me to seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to live a holy life, and to share the hope of new life in Christ with others. (Titus 2:11-14)
74.    How should you understand Jesus’ future judgment?
When the Lord Jesus Christ returns, the world as we know it will come to an end. All that is wrong will be made right. All people who have died will be resurrected and, together with those still living, will be judged by Jesus. Then each person will receive either eternal rejection and punishment, or eternal blessing and welcome into the fullness of life with God. (Matthew 25:31-46)
75.    How should you live in light of Jesus’ coming return for judgment?
Because I do not know when Jesus will come, I must be ready to stand before him each and every day of my life, I should eagerly seek to make him known to others, and I should encourage and support the whole Church, as best I can, to live in readiness for his return. (Matthew 25:1-13

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

NBC And TEC Are Treating Symptoms

Fr. Dale Matson

“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5, NKJV)

In her restriction (inhibition) of bishop Heather Cook, The Episcopal Church (TEC) Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated, “This restriction is being placed upon your ordained ministry because information has been received by the Intake Officer that indicates that you may have committed one or more offenses under Canon IV.4 as a result of your alleged criminal conduct in connection with an automobile accident on December 27, 2014 and misrepresentations you allegedly made to persons in the Diocese of Easton and in connection to your candidacy for the episcopate in the Diocese of Maryland regarding your experience with alcohol.”

Deborah Turness, President of NBC news had this to say; “We have decided today to suspend Brian Williams as Managing Editor and Anchor of NBC Nightly News for six months. The suspension will be without pay and is effective immediately. We let Brian know of our decision earlier today. Lester Holt will continue to substitute Anchor the NBC Nightly News.

Our review, which is being led by Richard Esposito working closely with NBC Universal General Counsel Kim Harris, is ongoing, but I think it is important to take you through our thought process in coming to this decision.

While on Nightly News on Friday, January 30, 2015, Brian misrepresented events, which occurred while he was covering the Iraq War in 2003. It then became clear that on other occasions Brian had done the same while telling that story in other venues. This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position.”

I am concerned that both organizations have failed to discern that the real problem lies within the cultures of their respective organizations. The parallels are remarkable and unfortunate. Both organizations have allowed corporate agendas to supersede their prime directives. The things they have done in recent years are counterproductive and have served to undermine their brand [TEC is currently in the process of rebranding (‘reimaging’)]. Lord have mercy.

Whether NBC admits it or not, they have lost their first love, impartiality and the search for truth. With this, they have lost credibility as a first class news organization. This loss of market share is the collateral damage of lying to the viewers. They have presented the truth, as they want it to be perceived by the viewers. They manipulated the information in events like the Zimmerman 911 call and the NBC Dateline report on defective gasoline tanks in trucks.

How fitting it is that the face of NBC news is a liar also. But the problem does not end there. NBC cultivated the image of Brian Williams and helped him pad his Curriculum Vitae with falsehoods. They knew he had a problem with overwhelming the truth but ranking overruled reason. Agendas superseded truth. Brian Williams was not just the face of NBC news he was the managing editor. A chronic liar determined what we would view on the news every day. His suspension is not as much a punishment for Williams as a period for NBC to determine which way the wind is blowing. Will the ratings go up or down? He is a sacrificial lamb that will not cover the sins of an organization that needs to reflect on its culture. He was just the messenger, a symptom. They have lost their first love. That is the disease.

Bishop Heather Cook is another symptom identified by an organization as the disease when the permissive culture from which she arose is the real issue. This is the new and improved TEC that welcomes all, is ‘all-inclusive’. It is also the new TEC that has spent 10’s of millions of dollars to ‘preserve is legacy’ suing former dioceses, parishes and even vestry members. In fact, TEC is dipping into the legacy (endowment) for the funds needed to sue its departing folks that see the new TEC as apostate. Some congregations that remained have diminished or neglected funding the national church.

Once again, an inclusive agenda to attract and embrace the marginalized and disenfranchised has led to an organization that has forgotten its first love and removed bishops who reminded her of that fact. A “conciliation” process initiated by Katharine Jefferts Schori recently muzzled the orthodox bishops who remain. This was her shot across the bow suggesting that they could be deposed also.

One bishop that was ‘conciliated’ Dan Martins had this to say about the reimaging document of TEC. 

“A few statements and assumptions strewn throughout the document simply cannot be allowed to slide without comment. Like this one:
‘The Episcopal Church’s identity is rooted in Jesus and his Way.’
Generously construed, this is an aspirational statement. Would that it was an accurate description, but it is not. Of course, our constitutional liturgical formularies are thoroughly christocentric; that cannot be denied. But our prevailing ethos and culture, not so much. If anything, we are, collectively, largely christophobic. We're OK talking about "God," but substitute "Christ" or "Jesus" and we begin to get squirmy. Words like "discipleship" have acquired a certain cachet of late, but they still raise a few interior eyebrows. This needs to change. We need to learn to love Jesus and be able to say so.” Amen to that Bishop Dan!
TEC has lost its first love.

            Both NBC and TEC have identified symptoms as problems, and both have lost their first love. The culture in both organizations has enabled and rewarded those that in an ironic sense are an incarnational product of that culture. Amputation will not solve the problem. The disease is systemic. Offering a sacrificial lamb will not cover this sin. The Lenten season is nigh upon us all.