Thursday, November 24, 2016

Bishop’s Note: November 24, 2016 – Thanksgiving

Bishop Eric Menees

Good Morning, and a very Happy Thanksgiving to you all! This is that day in American Culture where we are infamous for waking up, turning on the TV to watch the Macy's Day Parade, and then, when the Turkey's ready, stuffing ourselves to overflowing. Then, in a stupor fueled by tryptophan, we plop ourselves in front of the TV again to watch the football games. But is that what Thanksgiving Day is really about? No, of course not.

Well then, is it about the Pilgrims and Indians, and those school plays that we used to do until the budget cuts eliminated things like that? I seem to recall being an Indian in the 4th grade, and being very self-conscience - as I was dressed in gym shorts with a simulated leather cover and no shirt - as I came on stage to deliver my one line: "Here" as I handed over a basket of steamed corn on the cob ready to eat. I know, not very historically accurate – but very cute!

I think those school plays were closer to the truth of what Thanksgiving is about.

While books have been written on Thanksgiving, and thousands of sermons have been preached, when I read this morning's Psalm I was struck with these two verses: “[8] Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! [9] For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” (Psalm 107:8-9 ESV)

I believe that Thanksgiving is, indeed, about giving thanks to God for all of his wonderful gifts, poured out upon us. But the greatest gift is a fulfilled heart! The knowledge that we are loved beyond measure by a God who is not distant but ever present; a God who humbled himself to take on human form in order to redeem His adopted children; a God who died that we may have life and have it abundantly!

My prayer for you this Thanksgiving – and my prayer for me – is that our hearts and souls will have our longings satisfied when we understand that the only true source of that satisfaction is Jesus Christ, and Him alone.

I pray you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

IV. Of the Resurrection of Christ.

Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Work II: Expressing Gratitude Before Nightfall

Fr. Dale Matson

My first essay written 6 years ago on the topic of work can be found here:

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work.” John 9:4 (NLT)

I was recently lamenting the enormous amount of work to be done on our cabin property. We have had a disastrous die-off of pine trees in California these past few years and our property is no exception. Loggers have felled about 40 dead pines near our cabin and water tanks and marked another 50 trees remaining further out to be downed yet this year. With many of these trees we have removed the limbs, collected the limbs and rented a chipper to grind up the limbs and broadcast the debris. This is necessary to reduce the chance of fire and reduce clutter. The logs have no market value and are simply left to rot on the forest floor. The work is dangerous, difficult and burdensome for Sharon and me. Because we are old, a workday for us is at most a 5-hour day.
Recent events have served to remind me how precious it is to be able to be able to perform hard work. One of my closest friends of over 50 years died of a heart attack. It was unexpected and sudden. Phil was the best athlete in my high school. He will never again know what it is to sweat or feel the relaxing endorphins brought about by work. For Phil, the night has come.
Sharon’s brother Jim, a marvelous and accomplished athlete was recently diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. His life expectancy and quality has been vastly reduced. Currently, his doctors are trying to get his pain medication adjusted to a level where he is merely “comfortable”. His frequent golf outings, travel to foreign lands and even daily bike rides are a thing of the past. I was thinking about how suddenly and how much Jim’s life had changed. I bet Jim would love to be able to do the work we do even now. For Jim, the night is not here but nearer.
I have another friend who has developed Parkinson’s disease. Dave was an accomplished cyclist. He rode from home to work and back for his entire tenure as a professor at Fresno Pacific University. He had completed the Climb to Kaiser several times in about 10 hours. He was one of only seven individuals to complete the Dinkey Double Century. Dave had to retire early because of his Parkinson’s limiting his energy. Today Dave still cycles but needs a tricycle because of balance problems. He has also installed an electric motor, which adds back the power he lost to his disease. For Dave the night is not here but nearer.   
I thought about these men who once all had much more skill and stamina than me. It changed my attitude about the property work that Sharon and I do from thinking about work as necessary toil to thankfulness. Being able to do work is a blessing. Some day a time will come and I will not be able to work either. Thank You Lord.   

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bishop’s Note: November 17, 2016 – Following the Election

Bishop Eric Menees

Last Friday, Archbishop Beach sent out the following message to the Province in the wake of the elections. I now prayerfully pass it along to you all in the Diocese of San Joaquin, for your prayerful consideration. 

“These have been historic days in the United States, and will have a ripple effect that cannot yet be predicted. Scholars will be dissecting these events for years to come, but I want to take a moment to speak to you about the next few days. Some of our members have been encouraged by this election, and some have been discouraged by its outcome.

Firstly, I want to thank the Canadian and Mexican members of our province for praying for your brothers and sisters in the United States this week. The diversity of the Anglican Church in North America is one of its strengths, and a reflection of the image of God. Being a province that spans not just political parties, but multiple nations is a unique gift, and provides helpful perspective in times such as these.

Secondly, to those in the United States, regardless of how you voted, this morning we are all even more aware of the fact that our country is in need of healing. There is a need for reconciliation across the divisions of race, ethnicity, class, and political party. While the issues are complicated, it is clear that many in our country are scared and feeling wounded. This is a time for the Church to be a refuge and an example. While living in this earthly kingdom, we must allow our citizenship in the heavenly kingdom to lead us in thought, word, and deed. The depth of this reconciliation can only be accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit, and I call on each of us to care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thirdly, I ask for your prayers for President-elect Donald Trump, and I ask you to continue to pray for President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and President Enrique Peña Nieto. Pray that each of these leaders would govern with wisdom, care, and courage. Pray for a smooth transition, and for President-elect Trump to select wise counselors to surround him as he becomes President. Practice 1 Timothy 2:1 ("First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.") And pray for healing and reconciliation in our nation.

Lastly, I write this to you having just stepped off of a flight to Asia where I will be ministering and sharing fellowship with our Christian brothers and sisters in Singapore, India, and Nepal. I am reminded how so many around the world look to the United States for good leadership, but more importantly, for our responsibility to pray and work that the whole world will hear and have the opportunity to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ."

Let us pray,

"Almighty God, we pray that you will lead the nations of the world into the way of righteousness; and so guide and direct our leaders, that your people may enjoy the blessings of freedom and peace. Grant that our leaders may impartially administer justice, uphold integrity and truth, restrain wickedness and vice, and maintain true religion." (Texts for Common Prayer, Prayers of the People)

Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

III. Of the going down of Christ into Hell

As Christ died for us; and was buried, so also is it to be believed, that he went down into Hell.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Bishop’s Note: November 10, 2016 – The Beatitudes

Bishop Eric Menees

On November 1st we celebrated the Feast of All Saints; many of our churches transferred the celebration to last Sunday, the 6th, which is completely acceptable. In 844 Pope Gregory IV established November 1st as the date for all the church to “remember the martyrs and all the faithfully departed.”

This feast is very important because we remember the promise of Christ found in John 14:1-6 ending with the declaration: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The gospel most often associated with this feast day is the Beatitudes, which represent the heart of Jesus’ ethical teaching and the goal for all Christians to live into:

[3] Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[4] Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

[5] Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

[6] Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

[7] Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

[8] Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

[9] Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

[10] Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[11] Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. [12] Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:3-12 ESV)

Bishop J.C. Ryle, the 19th Century Bishop of Liverpool, put it well when he spoke of the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes:

“Thanks be to God for our Lord’s words to those people by the Sea of Galilee because of them we would know what kind of people Christians ought to be. We would know the character at which Christians ought to aim. We would know the outward walk and the inward habit of mind which become a follower of Jesus. Then let us often study the Sermon on the Mount. Let us often ponder each sentence, and prove ourselves by it. Not least lest us often consider who they are that are called BLESSED at the beginning of the sermon. Those whom the great High Priest blesses are blessed indeed.”

I pray that we will endeavor to honor those who’ve gone before us; that we will respond to Christ’s teaching by seeking to live into the Beatitudes, like the saints who we celebrate and remember; and - in doing so - that we will be ambassadors of Jesus Christ and “all the saints” to everyone we interact with. 

Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Communion Of Saints

All Saints Service IC2016

Fr. Dale Matson
The Communion Of Saints

My homily today is based on the opening Collect, the Old Testament Lesson and the Epistle Lesson.
Our opening Collect states, “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”
From a portion of our reading from Ecclesiasticus we hear these passages, “Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning…. these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.”
“The Hallowmas season is the triduum encompassing the Western Christian observances of All Saints' Eve (Halloween), All Saints' Day (All Hallows') and All Souls' Day, which last from October 31 to November 2 annually. Allhallowtide is a "time to remember the dead, including martyrs, saints, and all faithful departed Christians." The present date of Hallowmas (All Saints' Day) and thus also of its vigil (Halloween) was established by Pope Gregory.” Hallowmas season reminds us of the Easter triduum that is also a three-day celebration beginning with Maundy Thursday, Holy Saturday and finishing with Easter Sunday.
Hallowmas season is where the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church celebrates the eternal and mystical “Now” of God’s Kingdom. We are primarily looking back at brothers and sisters who came before. It is where we remember those who rest in Christ. It was they who handed us the pure and undefiled Gospel by which we too have been saved. They are partly responsible for the faith we hold and defend today. The church has always recognized the importance and celebrated the death of martyrs such as John The Baptist, Steven and Paul. There were so many Christian martyrs however that the church developed a specific day to honor all the saints in addition to those saints who had specific days set aside to honor them in the church year. The church calendar days that honor martyrs are marked in red.
We are the church militant looking back to those whose souls now reside in the church triumphant. We have separated ourselves from deceased ancestors in the modern church and have been the poorer for it. When you think of old churchyards, you think of graves too. Relics of the saints are objects associated with the saints and often displayed in churches. St. Andrews Scotland is said to have the bones of St. Andrews buried in a monastery cemetery. The Shroud of Turin is reported to be the burial cloth of Christ and is located in the Cathedral of John the Baptist. Sometimes the saintly relic is the body of the saint that resides in the church. For example, the remains of St. Francis are buried under the altar. There are also what is called the “Incorruptibles”. The Incorruptibles are saints on full display in churches and remain as they were at the moment of death. Sharon and I saw the ring finger of St. Teresa of Avila on display at her convent with her ring on it. In the Cathedrals of Europe, the red mitres of the past Cardinals are hung from the rotundas.   While we shy away from such veneration of relics today, it occurred to me that we should have a photograph of Bishop Schofield on display when we have our own location. John and Cathy Downing filmed a two-hour interview I conducted with Bishop Schofield available on CD. I guess this is our “digital relic”.
All Souls Day is the final service in the Triduum of Hallowmas. In Anglicanism it is called Commemoration of All Faithful Departed and is an optional celebration; Anglicans view All Souls' Day as an extension of the observance of All Saints' Day and it serves to "remember those who have died", in connection with the theological doctrines of the resurrection of the body and the Communion of Saints. The prayers appointed for that day remind us that we are joined with the Communion of Saints, that great group of Christians who have finished their earthly life and with who we share the hope of resurrection from the dead.
            But Father Dale, when we remember those who have died we don’t pray for them do we? The Protestant reformation focused on the prayer for the church militant and not the church triumphant. Archbishop Cranmer’s first prayer book (1549) contains the following prayer for the dead.  ‘Grant unto them, we beseech thee, thy mercy and everlasting peace’. The 39 articles were not adopted until 1563, the articles served to define the doctrine of the Church of England as it related to Calvinist doctrine and Roman Catholic practice. It is clear that the Calvinists who strongly influenced the 39 articles were against praying for the dead.
            Yet the practice of prayer for the dead is practiced in the Anglican Church. It began to be practiced again as a result of the horrors of WWI. More recently, at the funeral of Princess Diana Archbishop Carey prayed, “May she rest in peace where sorrow and pain are banished, and may the everlasting light of your merciful love shine upon her; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.” The Church of England under Archbishop Rowan Williams on the 10th anniversary of her death issued this same prayer.
            In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Rite I Prayers of the People, we pray, “And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service; and to grant us grace so to follow the good examples of all thy saints, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom. In Rite II we have six different versions of the Prayers of the People and all of them include prayers for the dead. In our Rite II funeral service we pray this prayer. “O God, whose mercies cannot be numbered: Accept our prayers on behalf of your servant and grant him an entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
            We are told that anything we ask in Christ’s name will be granted. We are told to come before the throne of grace boldly. We are told to be intercessors for others. I believe that in this case as Anglicans, we are guided by Tradition and the Church Universal has been praying for the dead for two millennia.  I read this comment regarding an article on prayer for the dead. “If someone has what seems to be a horrible death, I think most of us are moved to pray that God was with them and that their suffering may not have been too great, which is praying for the dead for sure, and even believing God can act in the past, which he can.”
            There is also reciprocity in us interceding for the dead and the Saints interceding for us. How many here remember our use of the Litany of the Saints at Easter Vigil and for All Saints Day when John David was Bishop?
            Some of you may remember an atheist who has been one of my closest friends of over 50 years, Dr. Phil Mariotti.  I have used him in a number of my sermons about evangelism and reconciliation. Phil talked with me two weeks ago and ended by saying, “I love you.” Last week his wife Susan called to say Phil had died from a heart attack. I was his only friend.
Our friendship survived two difficulties. When I came back to Christ and witnessed to him about my need for Christ, I think Phil was disappointed in me. I’m sure he thought it was a weakness and a delusion. Unbelief had been a long shared mutual perspective. Being a Christian created a distance for a time. Being a Christian changes relationships and ended another close friendship. The second crisis was when I quit drinking. I sent him a letter expressing my concern for his drinking. I struggled with sending the letter but finally mailed it. There was a long period with no response. I was concerned that perhaps I had been too confrontational about it. As it turned out, he finally did respond and said he would not allow my letter to threaten a lifelong friendship. In a conversation, I told Phil about a vision of Christ I had experienced at the end of the Eucharist. He remembered and recounted another vision that I had told him about. I said I would take some time to sort this out.
The point of this story is to offer hope to those of you who have a burden on your heart that God has placed there for an individual in your life. I believe that God was involved in preparing Phil’s heart for Christ his whole life. I also believe that Phil was correctly convinced that me, his lifelong friend was not diminished by my relationship to Christ but transcended both a miserable and an ordinary life because of Christ. Like any good scientist, Phil had the longitudinal evidence for this.
Phil was not always good at getting closure on things. God had prepared his heart for reconciliation with his sons Steve and Mike and his brother David and he had intended to do that. I know that Phil’s stony heart had become a heart of flesh and that God would honor this change of heart. His unexpected heart attack was also a metaphor for this.
And from our Epistle lesson we hear, “After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
There is no shelf life for prayers. Maybe your prayers for the salvation of one of your children will be answered after you have passed on. I would like you to think about someone in your life that God has put on your heart. The time to witness to them is now. Now is the acceptable time. For those who have been witnessing, don’t be discouraged…. persist.  For those you know who have passed, I don’t believe the opportunity is lost either. For those of you who have not reconciled I ask you pray for that person that you may also forgive them. It’s not too late. God’s Kingdom is the eternal now.
Our proper preface today is, “Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at last we may with him attain to your eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”