Thursday, September 22, 2016

Bishop’s Note: September 22, 2016 – Capax Dei

           Bishop Eric Menees

In the lectionary, over the months of September and October, we are going through 1st & 2nd Timothy. Last week I mentioned how much I love the Pastoral Epistles, because St. Paul is clear and unequivocal in his teaching to his assistants - Timothy and Titus.

This past Sunday was no different. Apparently, Timothy had written to St. Paul asking for advice on dealing with parishioners who were pushing competing false teachings known as Gnosticism (which believed that only few could be saved through special enlightenment) and Ascetical Judaism (which believed Jesus was the Messiah, but also that everyone needed to become a Jew and follow the law strictly to be worthy of salvation). 

Rather than dealing with the particular interpersonal problem with the parishioners, St. Paul gives both theological and practical advice. Pray, pray, pray! Pray for all people. “[2:1] First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.”  (1 Tim 2:1)

It is hard for us to appreciate the radical nature of this advice. To pray for everyone would have been outlandish, because it assumed that everyone was capable of receiving God and His Grace - exactly what the Gnostics & Ascetical Jews were arguing against. But St. Paul’s point is that all people can receive God’s Grace if they but open their hearts and minds to Him: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

St. Augustine would later refer to this as “Capax Dei.” The understanding that God loves all His creation and desires salvation for all through His Son Jesus Christ. St. Augustine would write:

“All Amen may be lost but they can be found by Jesus Christ.
All men may be ignorant but they can be enlightened by Jesus Christ.
All men are sinners who may be redeemed by Jesus Christ.”

Let us never lose sight of this fact, and recommit ourselves to finding the lost, the ignorant, and sinners. Let us remember that we, too, fall into each of those categories, requiring the ministrations of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost, enlightens the ignorant, and redeems the sinner.

I pray you all a very blessed week.

Catechism Questions: 336-337

336.     Is it possible for you to keep all these commandments?
No. I fail to fulfill them perfectly, however hard I try. One purpose of the Law is to show me my utter inability to obey God flawlessly, and so to point to my need of Christ’s obedience and atoning death on my behalf. (Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 3:19-31; Hebrews 10:1-14)

337.    Since you cannot keep God’s commandments perfectly, what has Jesus done on your behalf?
As the perfect human and the unblemished Lamb, Jesus has offered himself to God, suffering death for my redemption upon the cross, which is the once for all “sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” (1662 Book of Common Prayer; Hebrews 10:10,12)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Bishop’s Note: September 15, 2016 - An Honest Assessment

Bishop Eric Menees

This past Sunday the lectionary included one of my favorite verses, which is really a prayer of gratitude. It comes from St. Paul’s letter to his apprentice, Timothy, who would soon be the first bishop of Ephesus:

“I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

As a priest and bishop, what strikes me so powerfully in this prayer is St. Paul’s honest assessment of himself and Christ’s power in his life.

First, Jesus Christ had strengthened and judged Paul faithful, and had appointed him to serve the Lord – even though he was a former “blasphemer, persecutor, and man of violence.” St. Paul didn’t sugar coat his former state of sin – these were sins worthy of being stoned to death according to Leviticus – but Jesus’ overflowing mercy transformed rather than condemned Paul.

Second, St. Paul succinctly states that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and he honestly regards himself as a serious sinner.

Third, St. Paul also recognizes that it is Christ’s mercy that forgives our sins and transforms our lives so that we may be of service to Jesus.

Sadly, we live in a world that denies sin and, therefore, the need for mercy. We are told we are just perfect the way we are. We are told that the worst thing that can happen to us is low self-esteem. However, false self-esteem, based on a false premise (that we are good) – is what will lead us to believe we do not need Jesus – and a life without Jesus ends in hell.

However, once we acknowledge our sinfulness, then we too can bask in the Grace of Christ like St. Paul. As the old hymn goes – “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” If we have no clue of our own wretchedness, then neither do we have a clue of God’s Amazing Grace in our lives!

I pray you all a blessed and Grace filled week.

Catechism Questions: 334-335

334.    How is covetousness especially dangerous?
Covetousness begins with discontent in mind and spirit, and as it grows in the heart, it can lead to sins such as idolatry, adultery, and theft. (2 Samuel 11:1-4; 1 Kings 21:1-15; Luke 12:15; James. 1:15)

335.    What should you do instead of coveting?

I should think often of the inheritance that Jesus has prepared for me, meditate upon his care for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, be generous with what God has entrusted to me, and help others to keep what is rightfully theirs. (Matthew 6:25-34; Romans 12:13; Philippians 4:8; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; 1 Peter 1:3-5)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Bishop’s Note: September 08, 2016 - An Offensive Gospel

Bishop Eric Menees

The other day I was speaking with Fr. Mike Law who spoke about how offensive Jesus could be.  When he said this my brow furrowed and I thought – NO!  He can be harsh and his words can be difficult, but offensive?

Then we read from the 14th Chapter of Luke last Sunday, and I had to agree – sometimes the words of Jesus are offensive! “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25)
Jesus meant to cause offense, in fact. In the 21st century, it is impossible to truly understand how offensive this statement was. Family was everything in the first century – your source of identity; your source of social standing; your source of security. Could Jesus really have meant to cause offense? Yes. Jesus meant to cause offense; he meant to cause us to think; and he meant to cause us to act.

Now, I don’t believe Jesus was being literal in this statement. He was using hyperbole, because Jesus would never ask anyone to go against the Word of God: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

What was the point of Jesus’ offensive statement? To make the point that being a disciple of Jesus  is to come before everything – including one's family and one's own life!

Twenty-five years ago, when Florence and I were well into our engagement and going through our pre-marital counseling, the counselor asked us to list what was most important in our lives. I said, “Jesus, Florence, Family, and Church.”  Florence agreed. But about five years ago she admitted to me – twenty years into our marriage – that she was offended by my list. She had wanted to be first! That was, until she attended a Cursillo (Anglican 4th Day) retreat. On that weekend Florence realized that from her childhood on she’d given 85% of her life to Christ, but withheld that last 15% out of fear – out of pride.

When she came home from that retreat, it was obvious to me that something had changed – that Jesus really was first for her.

This was significant for Florence and for our family, because when we put Jesus first in our lives – when our discipleship isn’t simply a theoretical concept, but is a reality – we become better husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

Jesus’ point wasn’t to abandon these relationships, but to put them into perspective – with Jesus first! My prayer for you and for me is that we may truly live into the offensive teaching of Jesus – placing him first!

I pray you all a blessed week!

Catechism Questions: 331-333

331. What is the Tenth Commandment?
The Tenth Commandment is: “You shall not covet.”

332. What does it mean not to covet?
I am not to let envy make me want what others have, but in humility should be content with what I have. (Micah 2:1-2; Hebrews 13:5-6; Philippians 4:10-13)

333. How did Jesus practice contentment?
In contentment, Jesus took on the form of a servant without wealth or possessions, and in his earthly life loved and trusted his Father in all things. (Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 2:3-11

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bishop’s Note: September 1, 2016 - The Sin of Pride

Bishop Eric Menees

The Gospel Lesson this past Sunday was taken from the 14th Chapter of Luke, in which Jesus is at a dinner party and observes people jockeying for position to be in places of honor.  For Jesus this was, once again, an opportunity to teach, and so he shares with them the Parable of the Wedding Feast. Jesus concludes the parable with this powerful statement: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 14:11 ESV)

Of course, the problem with pride in our lives is that we are generally blind to it in ourselves, and overly observant of it in others. Years ago this little survey on pride ran across my radar screen, and I’d like to share it with you. Answer each question quickly and honestly – don’t over think it…

1. I enjoy being the center of attention. Y/N
2. I think I deserve the very best. Y/N
3. Much of my conversation is filled with “I.” Y/N
4. I find it difficult to admit that I’m wrong Y/N
5. I seldom pass a mirror without looking at myself. Y/N
6. I don’t like to be corrected or challenged! Y/N
7. My feelings are easily hurt. Y/N
8. I am impatient with other people’s mistakes. Y/N
9. I don’t get enough appreciation for all that I do. Y/N
10. I’m offended if I render a service and don’t receive  “thank you.” Y/N
11. I seldom ask for help, because I can do the job better myself. Y/N
12. I feel pretty good that I didn’t check “yes” to every question! Y/N

The author of the survey concludes: If you have one or more “yes” answers, it reveals the presence of pride in your life. If you don’t have any “yes” answers, it simply reveals you are lying to yourself about yourself!

The problem with pride is that, in our fallen nature, it is one of our most vulnerable areas for spiritual attack and temptation. The answer to the problem of pride is the cultivation of the virtue of humility in our lives. To be prideful is to have an unrealistic image of self based on a worldly standard – generally, comparing ourselves to other people. Humility, on the other hand, is based on a godly image of ourselves.
AW Tozer says this about humility:
“A humble man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is weak and helpless as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time he is in the sight of God of more importance than the angels. In himself, nothing, in God, everything.”

My prayer for myself and all of us in the Diocese of San Joaquin is that we will be quick to recognize unhealthy pride in our lives, and that we will cultivate humility. 

The Lord bless and keep you all!

Catechism Questions: 329-330

329. How is false witness borne in court?
False accusations, lies, withholding evidence, or an unjust verdict all violate  truth and   justice. (Exodus 23:1)

330. When is it right to speak of your neighbor’s sins
I am forbidden to gossip or slander, but I must speak the truth in love to my neighbor, report crimes, advocate for the helpless, and protect the community. (Ephesians 4:15, Leviticus 19:17-18; Matthew 18:15; James 5:18-20)