Friday, December 29, 2017

Bishop’s Note: December 28, 2017 Feast Of The Holy Innocents

 Bishop Eric Menees

Merry Christmas!

The week following Christmas is filled with special celebrations. On Tuesday we celebrated the Feast of St. Stephen – the first Deacon and Martyr - on Wednesday we celebrated the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, and today we celebrate the Feast of Holy Innocents.

Holy Innocents does not commemorate the birth of Jesus, but rather those innocent children killed as a result of a jealous and paranoid despot - Herod the Great. Herod realized that the Wise Men did not come back to report on the location of Jesus, who had been prophesied about, and so, in an attempt to eliminate a potential rival for the throne, he ordered the slaughter of all the male children under age two. Then was fulfilled what had been foretold by the prophet Jeremiah: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

Our hearts cry out at the murder of the innocents today as much as they did two thousand years ago.  And yet, every day innocent children are killed through war, preventable hunger, and through “choice.”

This day, let us weep for the over sixty million children legally aborted in the United States since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land.  Let us weep for the loss of life and the loss of potential that these children represented.

Let us also weep for the women who felt they had no other choice and those who were pressured into making this decision. Let us weep for all the parents who are unable to conceive or bear children who have been denied the opportunity to adopt. Let us weep for a society that does not give sufficient support to pregnant women who aren’t sure what to do.

Let us pray: We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the  Holy Spirit,, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas I Year B 2017

Fr. Dale Matson

Jesus Christ A Savior Is Born. He is Lord Of All.

As I reviewed and meditated on the readings for Christmas Eve, a phrase caught my attention that was repeated in both our reading from St. Paul’s letter to Titus and our passage from Luke.
In Luke we hear, “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.’” The Messiah was born for all of us.
In Titus we hear, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.” Yes, of course, He came upon this earth to offer salvation to all humankind. The invitation to the Kingdom of God is intended for everyone. Sinners are especially welcome. I love the verse from 1st Timothy (1:15) from our Rite I service following the Priest’s absolution. “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
Our passage from Isaiah begins, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” Our passage from Luke states, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Why were they terrified, it was night and the glory of the Lord lit up the sky as if it was day.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light isn’t just a physical reality; it is a spiritual one also. Haven’t we all been caught up in the power of sin at one time or another? Haven’t our minds become darkened as we have attempted to hold onto those things we have hidden in our hearts? Chronic sins have a way of darkening our minds like gradually turning down a dimmer switch on a light.
I can actually remember when I said my first swear word, I was upset with a friend on the way home from school in the 10th grade and swore. I was a late bloomer. Don’t worry, I made up for lost time and after two years in the Army and 17 years of construction, my conversation was only suitable for speaking into a garbage disposal. I remember asking my son’s baby sitter if I could smoke in her house and was indignant when she replied, “No.” What was her problem? This is a true saying a worthy of all men to be received. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
I also became a professional level drinker along the way. How do you know you are at the professional level? There is a string of destroyed relationships and jobs along your path. I didn’t think twice about driving drunk. I used the one eye trick to keep from seeing double and opened both eyes periodically to judge distance. Thank God I never got into an accident or even got a ticket yet most professional drunks will tell you when they get a ticket for DUI that that is the first time they drove drunk. Baloney! If you believe that, I’ve got a good deal for you on the Brooklyn Bridge. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
And yet Satan will tell you that if you give your life to Christ that you are throwing it away. Right! You love all the drama and anxiety and lies that go with this kind of a life don’t you. Well, for a long time I did like it that way. I liked being angry and not talking to folks for days on end. In short, it was the rest of the world that was screwed up. I was in total denial. As the great Philosopher POGO would say, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” When an airplane crashes most of the time it is pilot error. In our own lives when we crash it is operator error also. I was convinced that normal, whatever that was, was boring. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
I had a close friend that I had known since high school. He was given enormous intellectual and physical gifts. He had so much that he didn’t need God. To the day that he died suddenly and unexpectedly, he claimed to be an atheist and chose to remain in the living hell of alcoholism and cigarette addiction. He did not believe in God and his mind had become darkened. He was estranged from his two sons. I had to call him early in the day to talk. If I called him in the evening, he was too drunk already to make any sense. I continued to pray for him because I know that I would already be dead, if I continued living the way I did over 30 years ago now. He was there to remind me where I would be without a Savior Jesus Christ. Lord have mercy on him. In his final days, he seemed to be softening toward God. He was a Geologist and wrote the introduction to a book I wrote on the Sierra Nevada Mountain Basins in the last year of his life. “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will be a great joy to all people.”
So, if we belong to Christ, this Christ who came to save us, how do we conduct ourselves? First, we stop killing ourselves on the installment plan. We stop these evil ruminations about imagined hurts caused by others. When are you going to move on? When are you going leave your gift by the altar and make peace with your daughter, your father? Listen to the words of St. Paul in our Epistle today.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” We live a self-controlled life. Did you know that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit? Because the Holy Spirit dwells within Christians, positive qualities like self-control, kindness and self-control grow in us as we mature in Christ.
Do you find yourself wanting to help the less fortunate? Do you find yourself quickly asking for forgiveness when you have made a careless comment to someone? Have you simply said to someone, “Can I get you anything while I am up?” Do you find yourself giving things to others? Are you more patient with others?
Jesus did not just come to save sinners. He came to purify us for Himself. He came to make us eager to do what is good. He came to give us self-control, to lead disciplined and productive lives. He helps us live godly lives in a culture that rewards outlandish and outrageous behavior. When we speak out against this notorious kind of living, we are called haters and bigots. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! (Luke 6:22).
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).
Think about this verse for a moment. Look at the names for Jesus, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This is the Trinity in action as we speak about Christ. All of the titles for the Trinity apply to this new baby.
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things, which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” On this night our Lord was born in Bethlehem. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life and He is our Hope.  On this night may he be reborn in our hearts.    


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Bishop’s Note: December 21, 2017 – Authenticity and Humility

Bishop Eric Menees

A blessed St. Thomas day to you all! St. Thomas is often much maligned as the “doubter.” But, in fact, he was a terrific disciple credited with bringing the Gospel to India.

Throughout the season of Advent, we’ve heard John the Baptist call out from the bank of the river Jordan… “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”(Mark 1:4-5 ESV) Why was John so successful in his ministry? Why did the people respond to him with such enthusiasm coming from the whole “country of Judea and all Jerusalem?” Because John was the real deal! John the Baptist displayed all the marks of a true disciple.

This week I’d like to focus on two of those defining marks of discipleship that John the Baptist demonstrated – Authenticity and Humility.

John the Baptist lived authentically, not only speaking the Word of God but also living the Word of God. Scripture tells us that he lived in such a way that he relied solely upon the provision of God the way the prophets of old did.  St. Mark tells us... “Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.” (Mark 1:6) John called the people to repentance – to turn away from their sin and to return to the Lord.  But more than simply calling people to repentance he offered them the promise of forgiveness of sin – to be washed in the river Jordan. 

John the Baptist also displayed great humility – not only in his humble dress and lifestyle – but also by understanding his place in the scope of things. John consistently pointed to Jesus – as we all should! “And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8) We know that John’s prophecy came true three years later at the Feast of Pentecost.

Equally as important even when being swamped with praise and popularity John consistently pointed people to Jesus… “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore, this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30)

Authenticity and humility are hallmarks of any disciple of Jesus Christ. My prayer for you and my prayer for me is that we will demonstrate these virtues the way that St. Thomas and John the Baptist did this Christmas season and throughout the year!

I pray you all a very Merry Christmas!