Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Still Small Voice And The Holy Spirit As Life Choreographer

Easter VI year C 2016

Fr. Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge
Endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep
Young Ram Has Moutain Lion "Tattoo"

Our Gospel lesson for the 6th Sunday of Easter states in part, These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:25-27) Here Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit Who indwells all Christians not just His apostles. Think for a moment about the actions of the Holy Spirit. He is a Helper. He is the One who reminds, He is a Teacher, One who empowers and He is a Comforter. It is timely that Father Carlos has a class on listening to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Someone who reminds, teaches, comforts and counsels, the Holy Spirit is also a choreographer and I will talk about this later.

How do we tune in to the Holy Spirit? How do we get on His wavelength? Sometimes it seems like when my grandsons try to communicate with each other on our walkie talkies. They both press the talk button at the same time and can’t hear what the other is saying. The range of the walkie talkies is about five miles but they yell all the louder at each other from a distance of about ten feet.  Sharon and I can hear them both without the walkie talkies quite well thank you. Sometimes Jamison is on channel one and Maxwell is on channel three.  They can’t seem to agree to be on the same channel. Here are the lessons learned.  First of all, unlike Jamison and Maxwell, we need to get our finger off the talk button and simply listen. Second, never buy a boy anything that will amplify the sound of his voice.  Let’s look at one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament to help us understand how God communicates with us.

“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV).

In this passage the Prophet Elijah finally understands that God can be found in the “still small voice” (“gentle whisper” NIV). Certainly God communicates with us through Holy Scripture. He also communicates through His Sacraments, circumstances and through a word from our Christian brothers and sisters. In all these ways God leads us in our daily life. And this is His role as choreographer. I once had a student who said about herself in all humility, “I have always been blessed to hear the voice of Jesus.” I understood her perfectly and hope you do too.

This voice is not the auditory persecutions experienced by psychotics. A clinically depressed person may believe that the voice telling them that they are no good is from God. Well, it is not from God.  The Holy Spirit’s voice is instructive, it is a Teaching voice. It is not the condemning conscience energized by the law written on our hearts. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). The voice is Comforting. The voice is not one of self-criticism. How many have made a mistake and immediately say something like, “You jerk, what were you thinking?” That is not God. That is what I would call the voice of our critical parent. Has a parent ever talked that way to you?  The voice is a Counselor. The voice is not any louder than our own thoughts as God the Holy Spirit speaks to us. God is not in the earthquake. He is in scores of little things in our daily life. As the children’s song states, “He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own.” I would add that God will never; repeat never, tell you to do something that is not consistent with Scripture.

Let me illustrate with a personal example. I was on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains last week.  As I drove north again after crossing at Tehachapi, I called a friend in Bishop to say I would be staying the night in Bishop and could go out looking for Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep the next morning as planned. He asked me where I was and I said I was just south of Lone Pine. He said he found some Bighorn Sheep near there and told me about an area where I could look. As some of you know, I have been searching for the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn sheep over many mountain passes for years. There are only 600 of these endangered sheep in all of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Yosemite as far south as Olancha Peak. Finding a Bighorn Sheep is like finding a needle in a haystack.

I drove to a place where I couldn’t travel any further in my 4X4 truck and began walking up a trail at almost 7,000’. I was carrying my camera with a heavy telescopic lens on a shoulder strap and the climb was wearing me down. I eventually decided to turn around and go back to my truck. As I began walking back down, I heard in my thoughts, “Go higher”. Here is a rule of thumb about the Holy Spirit in my life and perhaps yours also. If it is a bold idea that takes you out of your comfort zone, it is probably the urging of the Holy Spirit. “OK, I’ll climb a bit higher”, I thought to myself. Then I began to see tracks from sheep on the trail and decided to try and follow them. I saw mountain lion tracks too. About a quarter mile further, I saw a Ewe standing on top of a big boulder about 300 feet above me and off to my right. Keep in mind that the vast majority of the times Bighorn Sheep are so far away they cannot even be seen without binoculars or a spotting scope. How could I NOT notice her?

I immediately began taking photographs thinking it wouldn’t last. Again I heard, “Go higher” in my mind. I thought, “But that will scare the sheep away.” I decided to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I encountered a group consisting of one ram, two juveniles and six ewes that allowed me to get within 125’ of them. I could have taken their photographs with a smart phone. My large 600mm lens became a portrait lens and the photographs may be the closest ever taken of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep in the wild. I spent an hour there taking over 100 photographs. My arms got tired from holding up the camera and heavy lens but unlike Moses; I had no Aaron and Hur to help me hold my arms up any longer. The sheep were so comfortable in my presence; they actually grazed toward me at one point. All of the time I was there, I felt as if the Holy Spirit was also there as the grand choreographer of this unique experience. Thank You Lord!

It was not until I finally left that I began to see how much God had orchestrated the entire experience including the timing of my call to my friend in Bishop, his directions to the area near where he had seen the sheep, God’s voice urging me to continue to look for His flock. The sheep were perfectly at ease with my intrusion into their world. Perhaps it was because they were with the Good Shepherd and me. Thank You Lord! I think it is in the really good experiences and the really horrible experiences that we are best able to see God guiding our lives with an unseen hand. Sometimes we see it at the time, Sometimes days and even years later that we see God’s involvement.

After years of struggling over mountain passes looking for bighorn sheep, I am reminded of Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I am not preaching the prosperity gospel here. We do not name it and claim it. We are to be persistent. God rewards persistence and as stated in Hebrews, “He rewards people to try to find Him.” (CEB) When we finally find His Sheep, we should expect to find Him there too. This experience with the Bighorn Sheep also reminds me of a portion of our opening collect. “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire…” This experience far exceeded all I could have desired.
In addition to being our life choreographer, He is the voice of the teacher, the counselor and the comforter neatly woven into our thoughts yet we are able to distinguish His voice from our own thoughts. With Elijah, God was not in the wind, earthquake and fire. Monks and Mystics seek silence and solitude to hear the voice of God yet ordinary Christians are blessed to hear God every day. Yes, God also speaks to us through others.

Let’s take a more careful look at this verse from our Gospel lesson.  “These things have I spoken to you while I am still with you, but the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father  will send in my name.” Here Jesus is both looking ahead to His ascension and later to Pentecost. Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension. How fitting is it then for St. Paul to say that those who are led by the Spirit are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:18) Does this mean that we are no longer bound by the Law? No, it means that when we are led by the Spirit of God, we will also honor the Law. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). The more the world becomes a confusing and crazy place to exist, the more I appreciate the Ten Commandments. There is certain clarity about them. The commandments are to behavior what sea level is to the surveyor.

I think there is also a great deal of moral ambiguity and confusion. Never forget this. The church will always be counter culture. We are called haters and bigots and we are not. It is not a right to free speech that we claim. It is a prophetic voice we cannot and should not contain. A life led for Christ is an affront to those living licentious lives.

As St. Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit has told us, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). We live in anxious times. So what is the release from this prison of anxiety for the Christian? It is the decision to die to self and live for Christ, for He is our authentic self. It is not our story. It is His story and He is the author and finisher of this story. I believe this is not something that happens overnight. It is a daily giving over of ourselves to Christ.

As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit. He is our choreographer, counselor and advocate. We have a conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ and forgiveness of our sins. We have hope. We are headed toward eternal life. We cannot convince the pagans around us to reform themselves because their minds are darkened by sin. We can however live a redeemed life, be a beacon of light to those who are perishing; to those who no longer have boundaries. “ …but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) Amen. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bishop’s Note: April 28, 2016 – A New Commandment

Bishop Eric Menees


In KAIROS Prison Ministry they have a saying: “God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!” What a blessing it was for me to assist with retreats at Donovan State Prison, in the Maximum Security Unit, to hear forty men serving their time proclaiming in full voice, “God is good all the time. All the time God is good!”

This past Sunday’s Gospel gave us a wonderful biblical example of the Kairos Proclamation. Jesus had gathered with his disciples in the Upper Room. It had been a chaotic week. Jesus had entered Jerusalem hailed as a king, with shouts of, “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” However, shortly afterwards, the people of Jerusalem were turning on Jesus. “When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him.” (John 13:36-37)

Into this hectic and difficult situation, Jesus welcomed the disciples with a simple and profound act of service – the washing of feet. As the disciples gathered at the table for the Passover Supper, Jesus told them that he was about to be betrayed by one of them. And, of course, we know that Judas soon left the table to make his deal with the religious authorities to turn Jesus over for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus then said that he would soon glorify God by giving his life, but that where he was going the disciples could not follow. Then what Jesus said was absolutely phenomenal – in essence he says: “If you want to glorify God and glorify me, then you must live out a New Commandment.” “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)

Admittedly, our lives in the Diocese of San Joaquin are uncertain at the moment, and a bit chaotic. Now, more than ever, we need to dedicate ourselves to living out the New Commandment of Christ! It is in the divine witness of sacrificial love that new people will be attracted to our churches. It is in a divine love that welcomes the stranger – not leaving them, or us, in our sin, but rather, in the power of the Holy Spirit, transforming and sanctifying lives – it is that kind of love that will preserve us and cause us to grow.

My prayer for the Diocese of San Joaquin is that the transforming love of Jesus Christ, which we have received, will be the same love that we will give to others. Our reputation should not be based on our stuff – the external signs of our lives – but on the inner Grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

“God is good all the time. All the time God is good!”

I pray you all a truly blessed week!

Catechism Questions: 278-280

278. How was Jesus tempted to break the first two commandments?
Satan tempted Jesus to bow down and worship him, promising him a world kingdom without the pain of the cross. Instead, Jesus loved and worshiped God faithfully and perfectly all his life. He chose the will of his Father over the promises of the Devil, and accepted the cross. (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 22:39-49; Hebrews 4:14-16)

279. How will idolatry affect you?
If I worship idols I will become like them, empty and worthless, and alienated from God, the only One who can make me whole. (Psalm 115:4-8; Jeremiah 2:11-19; Romans 1:18-32)

280. How can you love God in worship?
The Holy Scriptures teach me how to worship God, and the Church’s liturgy guides my worship in keeping with the Scriptures. I can show love to God by worshiping him in this way. (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 9:11-14; 10:11-25; 12:18-29; 13:1-19)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Bishop’s Note: April 21, 2016 “Your goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life.”

Bishop Eric Menees

Click On Photograph To Enlarge

Photograph Of Endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep
By Father Dale

This last week we celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday. At Christ Church, Lemoore, where I was on Sunday, we used that beautiful hymn of praise known as the 23rd Psalm. This is such a beautiful psalm, written by the Shepherd King from the perspective of a sheep.

As I was doing my study I was captured by verse 6: “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” What does that mean? God’s goodness isn’t with me now, but follows behind me? The answer, of course, is NO! God’s mercy and goodness are always with us, yet even more than that, His goodness and mercy pursue us.

I once heard John Piper preach on this scripture, and he explained that the Hebrew term (yir·də·p̄ū·nî) used for “follow” actually means to “follow after” or “pursue.” He went on to use this analogy to explain “yir·də·p̄ū·nî.”

Imagine that you have just left the gas station and are driving down the road, when before too long you notice a Sheriff’s Deputy behind you. Before you know it, the red and blue lights come on. Immediately you feel guilty thinking, “What have I done this time?” But, instead of slowing down and moving over, you speed up. All those past tickets run through your head, and even though you know it’s foolish, you go faster and faster; if you pull over you’re going to lose your license, and that vacation to Hawaii with your wife is going down the drain.

When your logic finally overcomes your sense of guilt, you ask yourself: “What am I doing?” and so you pull over.

The Deputy comes up to the car and says, “Man, it’s tough to get your attention. You’re probably wondering why I pulled you over. Well, I noticed that you left your wallet on the counter at the gas station and I knew you’d want it. But you know what, I also noticed that you’d bought that Lotto scratcher sticking out of your wallet – I hope you don’t mind, but I had the clerk scan it and, guess what? You’re a winner! I knew you’d want your wallet & scratcher - so here you go! Hey, have a good day, and next time don’t make it so hard for me to catch you!

Of course, that analogy breaks down if you take too far; but that is what The Good Shepherd does – he pursues us with his goodness and mercy. He desires the very best for his sheep.

My prayer for you and me this week is that we will not make it difficult for the Good Shepherd to catch up with us!

God bless you all!

Catechism Questions: 275-277

275. Why did the nations make such images?

Israel’s neighbors worshiped false gods by means of images, or idols, believing they could manipulate these imaginary gods to gain favor with them. (Isaiah 40:18-26; 44:9-20)

276. Are all carved images wrong?
No. God, who forbids the making of idols and worship of images, commanded carvings and pictures for the Tabernacle. These represented neither God nor false gods, but rather angels, trees, and fruits from the Garden of Eden. (Exodus 37:1-9; 39:22-26; 1 Kings 6:14-19)

277. Are idols always carved images?
No. Relationships, habits, aspirations, and ideologies can become idols in my mind if I look to them for salvation from misery, guilt, poverty, loneliness, or despair. (Ezekiel 14:4-5; Isaiah 2:20; Ephesians 5:2; 1 John 5:21)

Friday, April 15, 2016

Bishop’s Note: April 14, 2016 – Around A Charcoal Fire

Bishop Eric Menees

This past Sunday was the Third Sunday of Easter, and the Gospel reading was from the 21st Chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius. There he has prepared a charcoal fire with some fish and bread on it and invites the disciples to “Come and have breakfast.” What a beautiful scene – Jesus provides for the disciples a boat load of fish (153 of them) and a simple breakfast reminiscent of the Last Supper, though this was the First Breakfast!

What caught my attention this week in reflecting on the 21st Chapter of John is the “...charcoal fire.” The phrase “charcoal fire” is used only twice in the entirety of the scriptures. The first time it is used is in the 18th Chapter of John. The scene is the late night of Maundy Thursday or the early morning of Good Friday. Jesus and the Beloved Disciple are in the court of the high priest, while Peter has had to wait outside where he stood with a servant girl warming himself by a charcoal fire (vs. 18:18). The servant girl asks Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you? He said, “I am not.”

It was standing at a charcoal fire that Peter denies our Lord, and it is at a charcoal fire that Jesus invites Peter and the other disciples to have some breakfast.

Of course, immediately following breakfast, Jesus takes Peter for a walk along the shore and asks three times in slightly different ways: “Do you love me?” Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” And then Jesus directs Peter to “Feed my lambs.”

With these three questions, responses, and directions, Peter is forgiven for his three denials of our Lord. I find it interesting that forgiveness begins around the charcoal fire. Our Lord invited Peter back to the charcoal fire to revisit, as it were, his denials.

I think it very important for all of us, when seeking forgiveness, to return to the metaphorical charcoal fire in our lives; that we consciously return to the place of our sin, acknowledge it, and allow Jesus to transform it. While it’s not clear that Peter consciously recognized what was taking place at the time, it is clear to all that in this action Jesus is forgiving Peter and empowering him for service. I pray that all of us may consciously recognize our sin and respond to the invitation of Jesus to love him and receive his love. That Grace in Jesus’ invitation - the Grace in His Love - is what allow us to admit our sin, and what allows for Jesus to transform our lives.

I pray you all a very blessed and Grace filled week.

Catechism Questions: 272-274

272. What is the Second Commandment?
The Second Commandment is: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”

273. What does the Second Commandment mean?

God’s people are neither to worship man-made images of God or of other gods, nor make such images for the purpose of worshiping them. (Deuteronomy 4:15-24)

274. How did Israel break the first two commandments?
Israel worshiped the gods of the nations around them, neglected God’s Law, and corrupted the worship of the Temple, thus earning God’s punishment. (Exodus 32; Judges 2:11-15, Psalm 78:56-72; Jeremiah 32:30-35)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bishop’s Note: April 07, 2016 - Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Bishop Eric Menees

In 1922, Helen H. Lemmel wrote the wonderful hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Helen wrote this hymn to be sung at the Billy Sunday Missionary Meetings – what we would call today Revival Meetings. Helen knew great hardship, and in the middle of it she wrote this hymn - based on Hebrews 12:2 - as a reminder to herself and others that no matter how hard the path we need to keep our eyes focused firmly on Jesus. This hymn has been a source of inspiration to me since my youth and a constant reminder that Jesus is in charge!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There's a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!


Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conquerors we are!


His Word shall not fail you, He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!


In this Easter Season and always, let us indeed, “...go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell!”

God bless you all!

Catechism Questions: 269 - 271

269. Can you worship God perfectly? 

No. Only our Lord Jesus Christ worshiped God perfectly. He leads the Church today to seek to do the same. (Matthew 4:1-11; 26:36-46; Revelation 4-5)

270. Why are you tempted to worship other gods? 
I am tempted because my sinful heart is still drawn to false gods and their appeal for my allegiance. (Ephesians 5:1-21; James 4:1-10; 1 John 1:8-10; 5:20-21)

271. How are you tempted to worship other gods?
I am tempted to trust in myself, possessions, relationships, and success, believing that they will give me happiness, security, and meaning. I am also tempted to believe superstitions and false religious claims, and to reject God’s call to worship him alone. (Psalm 73:1-17; Romans 1:18-32)