Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Bishop’s Note: March 26, 2015 – The Last Words of Jesus #6

Bishop Eric Menees

“It is finished.”

This week we have come to the penultimate of the Last Words of Jesus. “It is finished,” speaks volumes – theologically, spiritually, and physically. Jesus utters these three words as his life ebbs away. He’s endured so much pain, sorrow, and anguish that his heart just cannot take it any more. St. John describes it simply this way: “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:30)

Physically, Jesus’ body could just take no more. I can’t begin to imagine what this could have been like – no living soul could, I suppose. However, I recently read Unbroken, the story of Louie Zamperini. In it he describes an experience in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, where a particularly sadistic guard forced him to hold aloft a heavy beam. He was told that if he dropped the board, he would be shot. After a long period of time, with scores of other prisoners looking on, the guard just walked away and Lt. Zamperini was able to drop the beam. The relief that he must have known would have been an, “It is finished,” moment. The physical and mental pain had ended – at least for the time being. When Jesus uttered the words, “It is finished,” it was a factual statement – his last breath proclaimed that he was done; spent; emptied.

Spiritually, Jesus’ statement proclaimed that he had completed his assignment on earth. Jesus was the Word made flesh in order to bridge the gap - created by the Fall of Adam and Eve, and experienced by everyone following - between God and mankind. “It Is finished,” spiritually represented a sense of satisfaction – the only begotten Son of God perfectly fulfilled the will of his Father. Jesus is the only one to have experienced complete emptying and fulfillment at the very same moment.

Theologically, Jesus’ statement speaks to the new reality that you and I are allowed to experience as the Father’s adopted sons and daughters. “Finished” (in the Greek, tetelestai) only occurs twice in the New Testament – both times it’s in chapter 19 of the Gospel of John. The first use is in verse 28: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, (tetelestai) said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’

And, of course, the second is in verse 30, quoted above. Biblical scholars tell us that tetelestai was used in the first century with regards to having paid a bill – i.e. paid in full! That is exactly what occurred - Jesus paid to the Father, in full, what was and is owed on our part; namely, justice for sin. Jesus paid, with his own flesh and blood, the price that we should pay. What more can be said beyond – IT IS FINISHED!

I pray you all a truly blessed Holy Week.

Catechism Questions 91 - 93

91.    Why is the Church called the Body of Christ?
The Church is called the Body of Christ because all who belong to the Church are united to Christ as their Head and source of life, and are united to one another in Christ for mutual love and service to him. (1 Corinthians 12: 12-27)

92.    What are the “marks” or characteristics of the Church?
The Nicene Creed expands on the Apostles’ Creed to list four characteristics of the Church: it is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” (see Articles of Religion, 8).

93.    In what sense is the Church “one?”
The Church is one because all its members form the one Body of Christ, having “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” The Church is called to express this unity in all relationships between believers. (Ephesians 4:5-6)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Bishop’s Note: March 19, 2015 – The Last Words of Jesus #5

“I thirst.”

Bishop Eric Menees

The last words of Jesus as he hung on the cross have penetrated the years to reach the hearts and minds of countless Christians and non-Christians. Of the seven last words, the statement above represents the only reference to Jesus’ physical struggle.

We cannot begin to imagine the pain and suffering that Jesus underwent.  Not only did he have the nails pounded through his wrists and feet and then lifted high upon the cross like other men who are crucified, but he was also stripped, mocked, beaten, and had a gnarled crown of thorns shoved down on his head. He had been without food or drink since the night before, when he instituted the sacrament of Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. Therefore, it is obvious that Jesus would be thirsty.

However, John tells us that it was more than physical thirst that caused Jesus to utter these words – it was his desire to fulfill scripture: “After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28 ESV) What was the scripture that Jesus fulfilled? King David, centuries before, wrote these words about the coming Messiah: They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” (Psalm 69:21 ESV)

St. John tells us that the soldiers who were there responded to Jesus’ statement: “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.” (John 19:29 ESV) This “sour wine” is what the Roman Soldiers would drink both to quench thirst and to provide a mild analgesic. It appears as though this was an act of kindness from the soldiers, though I suppose we’ll never truly know if this was done in kindness or in a mocking gesture – in either case, the Word of God tells us that this was prophesied centuries before Jesus’ crucifixion.

That Jesus suffered physically, emotionally, and spiritually is a fact. The question is: How do we respond to Jesus’ statement? Does it evoke sadness within us? Do we identify with his thirst? Do you recognize that Jesus suffered so greatly not only for the people “out there” beyond your scope and knowledge, but that he suffered for YOU?

This Lord’s Day, as you receive the gift the Lord’s body and blood, remember his words to the woman at the well: “Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14 ESV)

Jesus suffered so that you and I may never thirst again.  And to that I say, AMEN!

I pray you all a truly Holy Lent!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Bishop’s Note: March 12th, 2015 - The Last Words of Jesus #4

Bishop Eric Menees

    “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

    In this, the fourth of the last words, Jesus cries out from the cross: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”  Large spikes have been hammered through his wrists and feet.  Jesus has been beaten, mocked, and has been abandoned by his disciples; save for his mother, the beloved disciple, and a couple of other women whose courage is beyond measure.

    In his moment of anguish, Jesus turns to Holy Scripture and the words of King David in Psalm 22. This is the cry of an innocent man who has suffered greatly at the hands of unjust and sinful people.  

    I don’t think we will ever fully understand what happened at that moment on the cross, nor the meaning of Jesus’ cry, but we do know that Jesus bore this pain, suffering, and abandonment for us – for you and me – so that we would not have to know the crushing weight of God’s righteous judgment for our sin.

    At the moment of that cry, Jesus knew what hell was and is.  Scripture gives us many images of hell - the place of “outer darkness,” of “weeping and gnashing of teeth;” a “fiery furnace.”  I think we can add to that list something even worse – a place utterly abandoned by God, with no hope, no love, no peace.  Jesus knew that hell for three days, so that we would not have to.

    As we continue to journey through Lent, let us ponder the weight of what Jesus bore for us.  Let us ask ourselves how we should live our lives in response to such great love.  And let us commit once again to sharing with others the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Because, as St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

    I pray you all a blessed and holy Lent!

Catechism Questions 85 - 87

85.    How do you receive the Holy Spirit?
The Scriptures teach that, through repenting and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, I am forgiven my sins, indwelled from then on by the Holy Spirit, given new life in Christ by the Spirit, and freed from the power of sin so that I can be filled with the Holy Spirit. (John 3:1-7; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:14; Ephesians 5:18)
86.    What is the fruit of the Holy Spirit?
The fruit of the Holy Spirit is the very character of Jesus developing in us through the work of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
87.     What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

The manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit include faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, other languages, the interpretation of other languages, administration, service, encouragement, giving, leadership, mercy and others. The Spirit gives these to individuals as he wills. (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 27-31; Ephesians 4:7-10)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Law, Sin and Guilt

Lent 3B 2015

Fr. Dale Matson
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Please pay particular attention to the opening sentence. Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. An alcoholic friend of mine once said to me as we were drinking, “When it comes to drinking, I have the will power, I just don’t have the won’t power.”

So then, do you say to yourself if you are trapped in a chronic particular sin, “It’s God’s fault?” “I’ve asked him for forgiveness but God isn’t putting a stop to this.” Forgiveness is not a proactive remedy that God has given us to deal with sin. We don’t ask for forgiveness for a sin we are about to commit. We don’t say, “Lord forgive me for what I am about to do.”

The root cause of sin is willfulness and it began with Adam and Eve. The serpent said, “God knows that if you eat from The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you'll become just like God, and will be able to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong."

From that point until the Law was given, people did not know what was right and what was wrong. The Law gave them boundaries and with those boundaries, they became free from uncertainty and confusion. When the Law is rejected, people lose sight of what is the proper conduct. For those of us who embrace the Law of God and we know what the right thing to do is, we have trouble doing the right thing even though we know that we should. The past behavior has become so firmly established because we have done it over and over again that our will to change cannot overpower the sin that has become ingrained in our being. That sin has become a part of our nature.

Eventually we get to a point where we want to stop sinning but we no longer can resist sinning because we have done it so often for so long. We are stuck in a rut. It is having the willpower to not misbehave but not having the “won’t power” to stop misbehaving. Dealing with sin requires turning our will over to God. Paul talked about our human struggles in today’s Epistle lesson from Romans Chapter seven. “If I could only do those things I want to do and not do those things I don't want to do.” Once we decide to quit doing something, we have to overcome the momentum of how we have acted in the past. Our sins are not just outward actions. Our sins change our inner nature.

We have committed some sins so often; they have become a part of who we are. They are a part of our identity. Someone who drinks too much becomes a drunk. That is how they are known and it is a real identity crisis to quit drinking because it would be giving up a part of your identity even though it is an ugly part. People who know us expect us to act like a drunk. They can even unconsciously help us remain a drunk and that is called “enabling”. That is also why it is difficult to love the sinner and hate the sin because the sinner can become so immersed in their sin; it is no longer a behavior. It is a character defect. C.S. Lewis once said that chronic grumblers become grumbles.

What St. Paul is saying in Romans seven is that the Law is good but the Law cannot make men good. The Law tells us what is right and what is wrong. We do not decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. The Law does not empower us to stop doing the wrong thing and start doing the right thing. That is where we ask for God’s empowerment. We affirm this in our baptismal vows. The bishop asks, “Will you resist the devil and all rebellion against god?” We respond, “I will with God’s help.”

On those occasions where we experience guilt there is only one healthy response. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Guilt is a symptom of sin, with sin as the underlying illness. For us, there is the weekly confession of sin and there is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We hear the following from the BCP, “When the penitent has confessed all serious sins troubling the conscience and has given evidence of true contrition, the priest gives such counsel and encouragement as are needed and pronounces absolution.” (p.446, BCP)

Unfortunately many Christians are crippled by what is referred to in Hebrews (12:1) as “Weights and Besetting Sins.” In the King James Version we hear, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. What does St. Paul mean by weights and besetting sins? By “Weights” he means obsession with bodily concerns, fondness for and worries about this world. It was recently reported in the Los Angeles Times that one in five Californians say they need mental health care.

By “Besetting Sins” Paul means those sins that we have given a place in our lives to the extent that the sins now possess us. We are in captivity to them. They can be sins of addiction and in many cases they are also hidden sins. Some of these sins are hidden from the sinner and the sinner knows others. There are at a minimum three individuals who know about these sins. They are God, us and Satan the liar, thief and murderer. Eventually, more people may find out and at the last judgment you will have to account for these sins.

King David lusted after Bathsheba, which eventually led to him having her husband killed in battle so he could have her as a wife. Not everyone is fortunate enough as David to have a Nathan to reveal his Besetting sin to him or her. In this case it was lust. The outcome from this sin was the death of Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, David's son, a curse on the house of David and a warrior king turned into a cowardly fugitive from his own son Absalom.

I have had several besetting sins in my life. Perhaps the best way to describe them is that the sins can occupy and consume our thoughts. One of my remaining sins is fear. My fear of flying is a specific problem that kept me from flying for twenty-five years. Fear can control your life. To the extent sin controls your life it diminishes it. Christ said, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10).

So what is our spiritual firewall? How do we keep the accuser out? We are called to live a holy life. We are called to be a holy people. Our spiritual firewall is Virtue. In the King James Version of Holy Scripture it states that when a woman with a bleeding problem touched Christ, she was healed and He felt a virtue leave Him. (Mark 5:30) Virtue is power. But you say to me, “I don’t have to be a holy person, Jesus paid the price of my sins”. That is true but he also told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

So what are we to do with these besetting sins that give Satan an opportunity to steal our identity, blackmail short circuit and rob us of our power as Christians? I believe the first step is with our will. We must ask God to give us the will to turn away. I prayed for two years for the desire to quit smoking. Even though I knew smoking was bad for me; I did not have the will to quit. I was a slave to this sin. Smoking was an addiction that owned me. The second step is what Psychologists call providing a replacement behavior. For example in Alcoholics Anonymous the expression is, “Don't pick up a drink. Pick up the phone.” In the case of the seven deadly sins, there are also seven corresponding virtues. The prescription is to practice virtues that work against the entrenched sins. I believe that is why St. Paul listed the Fruits of Spirit following the sins of the flesh in Galatians. For example, if you are someone afflicted with hoarding behavior, the most freeing thing you can do is to give things away. You are replacing greed with charity.

I would like to summarize thus far and offer an additional prescription. I believe many Christians see themselves as imposters and powerless. It may be because they have secret sins that Satan exploits. They have asked for forgiveness over and over yet remain captive of those sins. These are besetting sins that keep us from progressing as Christians. These secret sins keep us from being a holy people. We must ask God for the will to resist these sins and seek a virtuous replacement. Brothers and Sisters, the Kingdom of God is an upside down Kingdom. The weak are strong, the last are first. The foolish are wise and the poor are rich. To rid ourselves of these sins, we must do the opposite.
In verse seven of our Psalm the law is perfect and revives the soul; *it is sure and gives wisdom. In verse eight the law is just and causes the heart to rejoice; *It is clear and provides light to the eyes. In knowing the law we are enlightened (The NIV says we are warned) and in keeping the law we are rewarded.

Verses twelve and thirteen discuss two kinds of sin, unintentional and deliberate sin. In verse twelve the psalmist asks God to cleanse him from his secret faults. These are not faults hidden from others but faults unknown to the psalmist. I believe some of our unexplained suffering is God removing the debris of sin from these unknown areas of our life. Verse thirteen asks God to keep the Psalmist from presumptuous sins. These are sins that we commit and know are sins expecting God to be merciful. They are a great offense to God. It is interesting that the there is a concern that these sins could get dominion over the person. For the person who is an addict, they have sinned against their body and the sin has in fact gained dominion over them. Finally, in verse fourteen, we hear a verse used often as a prayer prior to the preaching. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight”*. What does this mean? May I be clean inside and out as I present your Holy Word.

The verse ends with an acknowledgement that it is God who provides our strength and is the one who has redeemed us. May you find the will and ask for God’s strength to resist the sin in your life. Amen

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Bishop’s Note March 5, 2015 – The Last Words of Jesus #3

Bishop Eric Menees

“Woman, behold your son. Son behold your mother.”                            (John 19:26–27)

In the Autumn of 2013, Florence and I traveled to Rome for a few days of vacation on the way home from GAFCON 2. This was my first trip to Rome, and sadly it was cut short with the news of Bishop Schofield’s death. I had hoped to spend time in St. Peter’s Basilica, and especially to see the amazing works of Christian art there; not least of which is the Pieta – Michelangelo’s sculpture, which I have longed to see in person.

I cannot think of Jesus’ statement from the cross to his mother and the disciple known as the “beloved disciple,” without also thinking of Michelangelo’s amazing sculpture of the lifeless Jesus in his mother’s arms. (Picture HERE)

If anything points to the humanity of Jesus as he hung on the cross, it is the haunting image painted for us in St. John’s Gospel: “...but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:25-27 ESV)

I can’t imagine how horrific Golgotha must have been, but it would have been doubly so for a mother watching her innocent son suffer such an ignominious death. In the midst of that horror, Jesus’ thoughts were of his mother and her welfare, and not on himself. He calls on the unnamed disciple, who seemed to be especially close to Jesus, to care for his mother following his death. This was not a momentary duty, but rather a sacred responsibility for a lifetime.
I cannot help but think that Jesus’ care and concern for his mother also extends to those of us who are the adopted children of his Father. Thereby we, like the beloved disciple, have been given a sacred responsibility to care for one another until such time as we are called home or the Lord returns.
I pray you all a truly Holy Lent!

Catechism Questions 82 - 84
82.    What principal names does the New Testament give to the Holy Spirit?
Jesus names the Holy Spirit “Paraclete” (the one alongside). This signifies Comforter, Guide, Counselor, Advocate, and Helper. Other names for the Holy Spirit are Spirit of God, Spirit of the Father, Spirit of Christ, and Spirit of Truth. (John 14:15-17; Matthew 10:20; Romans 8:9)

83.    What are the particular ministries of the Holy Spirit?
The Holy Spirit imparts life in all its forms throughout God’s creation, unites believers to Jesus Christ, indwells each believer, convicts believers of sin, applies the saving work of Jesus to the believer’s life, guides the Church into truth, fills and empowers believers through spiritual fruit and gifts given to the Church, and gives understanding of the Scripture which He inspired. (2 Peter 1:21; John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15)

84.    How does the Holy Spirit relate to you?

Jesus Christ sends the Holy Spirit to make Jesus known to me, to indwell and empower me in Christ, to bear witness that I am a child of God, to guide me into all truth, and to stir my heart continually to worship and to pray. (John 16:12-15; Romans 8:15, 26; Ephesians 1:17-19)