Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bishop’s Note: May 25, 2017 – The Ascension

Bishop Eric Menees

"So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:6-9)

With this scripture from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles (ACTS) we have the first hand account of Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

Let me ask you… When I say, “Hey what are you doing for the Feast of the Ascension?” what comes to mind? I mean surely you are doing something… right?  Perhaps an Ascension Cake… Angel food of course!

Ok, chances are that you aren’t celebrating the Ascension today.  Too often it is as if Ascension is the forgotten feast in the church. However, if we forget about the Ascension of Jesus then we miss one of the most important parts of Jesus’ ministry and his work would be incomplete.

Like the other feasts of the church, the Ascension is based on a real event from which we draw theological understand that fuels and fortifies our faith.

From that moment to this day Jesus sits upon his throne – making intercession to the Father.  The ascended Jesus sits next to His Father constantly speaking to the Father – sharing his love for you with the very essence of Love – God! The Ascension isn’t about the Son of God going into heaven, abandoning his people – it was about moving to a place of honor and authority to intercede for you and for me.  Every prayer – our deepest hopes and aspirations – are placed before the Father by the Son who loves and cares for us more than we could ask or imagine. 

There is another side to the Ascension that leaves us a little more unsettled.  Jesus sits enthroned upon the Judgment Seat – from this seat Jesus will judge the living and the dead at the end of time.  The question is…how shall we live between the Ascension and the Great Judgment? 

If by the end of reading this Bishop’s Note you ask how shall I mark the Feast of the Ascension? I hope you’ll do so with prayer and corporate worship this Sunday!

Let us pray: “Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.” Amen.

Happy Ascension Day!

Thirty-nine Articles of Religion
XXX. Of Both Kinds

The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord's Sacrament, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Bishop’s Note: May 18, 2017 – Martyrs of Sudan

Bishop Eric Menees

This Tuesday the Church commemorated the Martyrs of Sudan. The Anglican Church in the Sudan, known as the Episcopal Church of the Province of Sudan, has suffered greatly over the past thirty years. And yet, they are faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to living out that faith.

Who are the Martyrs of the Sudan? Back in 2006, when we were still in TEC, the following was presented to General Convention:

The Christian bishops, chiefs, commanders, clergy and people of Sudan declared, on May 16, 1983, that they would not abandon God as God had revealed himself to them under threat of Shariah Law imposed by the fundamentalist Islamic government in Khartoum. Until a peace treaty was signed on January 9, 2005, the Episcopal Church of the Province of the Sudan suffered from persecution and devastation through twenty-two years of civil war. Two and a half million people were killed, half of whom were members of this church. Many clergy and lay leaders were singled out because of their religious leadership in their communities. No buildings, including churches and schools, are left standing in an area the size of Alaska. Four million people are internally displaced, and a million are scattered around Africa and beyond in the Sudanese Diaspora. Twenty-two of the twenty-four dioceses exist in exile in Uganda or Kenya, and the majority of the clergy are unpaid. Only 5% of the population of Southern Sudan was Christian in 1983. Today over 85% of that region of six million is now mostly Episcopalian or Roman Catholic. A faith rooted deeply in the mercy of God has renewed their spirits through out
the years of strife and sorrow.

Last year, the Episcopal Church of the Province of Sudan formally broke off relations with TEC, and with that they lost all funding. Even in the midst of suffering, their faith remains a shining example for all Christians. When I’m tempted to feel like we’ve suffered as a result of our faith, due to the legal confiscation of our property, I just remember the Christians of the Sudan and others all across the globe.

Join me in the following prayer:

O God, steadfast in the midst of persecution, by whose providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: As the martyrs of the Sudan refused to abandon Christ even in the face of torture and death, and so by their sacrifice brought forth a plenteous harvest, may we, too, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thirty-nine Articles of Religion
XXIX. Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper.

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bishop’s Note: May 11, 2017 – “This is my body – This is my blood”

Bishop Eric Menees
This week the Holy Eucharist was much on my mind following my preaching on the Road to Emmaus. By God’s grace, I ran across this piece from the 2nd Century by St. Justin Martyr, who was a stalwart defender of the faith – ultimately being martyred in Rome. I share it with you all as a thought-provoking essay.

The Celebration of the Eucharist

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our saviour Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give assent by saying, “Amen.” The Eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us; he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: Do this in memory of me. This is my body. In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

We do not consume the Eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our saviour became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

Justin Martyr, First Apology (c.150)

Thirty-nine Articles of Religion
XXVIII. Of the Lord's Supper.

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.
The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Knowing This How Should We Conduct Ourselves?

Easter 4A 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday

 Fr. Dale Matson

Note: This will be my homily today God willing.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul stated that preachers are to offer words that instruct, encourage and comfort. I hope this homily will reflect this today.
I wrote a condensed history of St. James Church with contributions from several of our long time members and hopefully most of you have had a chance to read it by now. I believe it was important to get it to you folks prior to our vision dinner last night. We are beginning a new chapter in our church history. It is like beginning a journey. It is always important to know where you are at before you start out. In navigating the wilderness, I always mark a waypoint on my GPS to indicate where I began.
St. James not only moved as a visible congregation. A great cloud of witnesses’ accompanied us and continues to surround us. We are a part of the communion of saints. We bring our story with us just as the Israelites brought their stories and the Ark of the Covenant along with them as they journeyed in the wilderness. Why do I say these things? It is because St. James is not a collection of individuals. We are individually members of a body; the Body of Christ. We are joined to one another.
We were not any more secure in our St. James campus than we are now. While we have temporary shelter in a building we are no longer secure in our culture. The Episcopal Scholar Ephraim Radner recently stated, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches [my italics] within which to be a Christian.” That is a rather telling admission on his part. I am not so pessimistic because I believe our Anglican Christian Tradition provides both hope and a rough blueprint for us to follow.
The Arian Heresy was that Christ was not divine. I believe we have descended one more step in our modern culture even in the modern church by saying not only that Christ is not divine but also that the individual is divine. That is idolatry. I have heard it said again and again by modern church leaders that the church should focus on “Human Flourishing”. That is human focused not God focused and that is idolatry.
What St. James Anglican Church must continue to hold on to is the basic knowledge passed down to us by the saints who preceded us. Christ is divine. We are not divine. God is the Creator and we are God’s created creatures. We, as the Body of Christ have comforting immutable knowledge in a world that is increasingly confused, individualized, fragmented and floundering. We have 2,000 years of context as a church.
Some families have a lengthy recorded history. For example my wife Sharon has an album that goes back many generations on both her mother and father’s side of the family. She lives within the context of that story. It is a place of comfort and security. As a school psychologist I worked with many children who didn’t even know the name of their father. Those children were adrift, floating isolated and alone. That is the culture we find ourselves within today.
When I interviewed graduate student prospects as the director of the Fresno Pacific University school psychology program, I would ask them to tell me their story. What became clear to me over the years was the different worldviews the students brought to the program. Almost all of the Hispanic students told their story in the context of their family and culture. They did not see themselves as individuals distinct from the family, which included the grandparents. Sometimes it would take an hour for their stories to unfold. Often, I would get lost in the lineage.
            In our society today, individualism has now been raised to the level of idolatry. Human rights translated in today’s terms is, “I’ve Got To Be Me” (A song popularized by Sammy Davis Jr.) Today, the individual is free to do whatever he or she wants in the pursuit of their uniqueness. It is me absolving myself of a responsibility to my neighbor. Ignoring my neighbor is failure to love my neighbor as myself.
Eventually, the individual comes to see herself only as an individual with personal goals to be accomplished and a resume’ to be embellished. They don’t have skills or jobs but the educational system has ensured that they have self-esteem.  
Life lived in a collaborative fashion produces richer results, affirms and empowers others and draws us out of the hell of self-absorption. There is no such thing as a self-made person. Each person begins with a genetic endowment from ancestors just for a starter.
 Hyper-reflection is a preoccupation with self. Kierkegaard called it “extravagant subjectivity”. Some just call it “navel gazing”. Our contemporary society caters to and assists this self-seeking narcissism. Smart phone “selfies” are encouraged and applauded on social media.  The term used for our present age now is “Liquid Modernity”. Zygmunt Bauman, who introduced the idea of liquid modernity, wrote that its characteristics are about the individual. “It is a kind of chaotic continuation of modernity, where a person can shift from one social position to another in a fluid manner. Nomadism becomes a general trait of the 'liquid modern' man as he flows through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and sometimes more—such as political or sexual orientation—excluding himself from traditional networks of support.” Probably the best way to understand Liquid Modernity is that liquids, unlike solids, take the shape of their container.  In our society we can be whatever we call ourselves. Objective reality no longer matters. Our culture has descended to subjective emotional individualism.
This individualism contributes to the symptoms of anxiety, hypochondria, depression and character disorders. At its most pathological point, it is the Schizophrenic collecting his urine because his bodily functions have become the sole focus of his attention. An individual in isolation may succumb to hyper-reflection, dryness and desperation.
In contrast, a life lived interconnected to the community does not threaten the loss of individuality; it nourishes it. Family, friends and the Church are groups that provide structure, nurture faith, provide service opportunities, and direct us toward God and away from ourselves. The older I become, the more I see individualism as a pernicious modern malady.
 It is in knowing Christ that we truly know ourselves. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20, NASB)
According to Rod Dreher author of the recently published “The Benedict Option”, the modern church is no longer preaching Christ. He calls the belief system of the young people in the modern church “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD).
1.                   A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
2.                   God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions.
3.                   The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself.
4.                   God does not need to particularly be involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5.                   Good people go to heaven when they die.
Dreher further states, “Every single congregation in America must ask itself if it has compromised with the world so much that it is compromised in its faithfulness.” I believe this is not true of St. James that is a congregation in exile because of its faithfulness.
Dreher states, “Nothing is more needful today than the survival of Christian culture. He claims we need to rediscover the past including the writing of the early church fathers and the traditions of the church. The “Evangelicals did not reject them [the church fathers], they just ignored them.”
Can you see where Dreher (who is a convert to the Greek Orthodox Church) is headed here? The Evangelicals are now looking at the Liturgical churches as a role model for the future. It is more than the liturgy of the Word, the Gospel message. It is also the Liturgy of the Table, the Eucharist. In this rediscovering, Dreher wants the Evangelicals to “Recover Liturgical Worship”. “There is a connection between neglecting to take Liturgy seriously, or giving up Liturgy altogether and abandoning Christian orthodoxy. If we are to maintain these truths over time, we must maintain our Liturgy.” Agreed!
Dreher borrows from Han Boersma “…who identifies the loss of sacramentality as the key reason the modern church is falling apart. If there is no participation in the eternal-that is if we do not regard matter, and even time itself as rooted firmly in God’s being- then the life of the church can scarcely withstand the torrents of liquid modernity.”
Can you see here how the best selling book, the “Benedictine Option” is offering church renewal by rediscovering what we at St. James already have? We are deeply rooted in Anglican Christianity. Just as our salvation was bought with a price; the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, our steadfastness and faithfulness were bought with a price too. We lost what we had but we still have the only treasure that matters, the Pearl of Great Price. Our faith and tradition remain in tact.
Knowing this how should we conduct ourselves?
 Dreher states, “The first Christians gained converts not because their arguments were better than those of the pagans but because people saw in them and their communities something good and beautiful [my emphasis]--and they wanted it. This led them to the Truth.” Finally, Dreher states, “Instead of being seeker friendly, we should be finder friendly, offering those who come to us a new and different way of life.”What do we at St. James have to offer? We have Truth in Doctrine, Beauty in Liturgy, Goodness in the hearts of the people and the One as the many made one in the body of Christ.
In our Epistle Lesson today we hear, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.
But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” As we look to the uncertain future, we must keep in mind the opening verse of todays Psalm on this Good Shepard Sunday. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Amen