Saturday, September 30, 2017

Pentecost 17A 2017

The Ego Has Landed

Fr. Dale Matson

My homily today is based on our Epistle reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
St. Paul lists many qualities of the mature Christian in this paragraph. The qualities include, Encouragement, Consolation, Love, Sharing, Unity, Humility, Respect and Selflessness. I want to discuss some of these qualities.
When the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon in 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong said, “The Eagle has landed.” When the great but conceited Irish dancer Michael Flatley came to England, the review headline stated, “The Ego has landed.” And that was a favorable review.
And that is our main difficulty also. How much suffering must it take to move our ego down a peg or two? What does it take for us to become humble and regard others as better than ourselves?
I am not saying that all suffering is to make us humble. I’m also not saying like the Pharisees that suffering is only related to sin.  Sometimes suffering is a good work of holiness. Our suffering, like the suffering of St. Paul, could also be for the sake of the church. We suffer in our physical bodies for the mystical body of the church. We are not completing the suffering of the competed atoning work of Christ on the cross. Sometimes men and women suffer because they are righteous. It may be through our suffering and how we suffer that others come to faith. Paul and Silas suffered with joy, and because of this, the Philippian jailer and his household were saved.
St. Paul states in chapter one of Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (verse 21). I believe this verse sets the tone for the entire epistle and it can set the tone for how we, with God’s help, may live out our lives.
St. Teresa of Calcutta once said that she wanted to drink to the last drop from the cup of Christ’s suffering. Her wish was granted. This is what she wrote to her confessor and it was made known after her death. “In the darkness . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love — and now become as the most hated one. The one — you have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love — the word — it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” This was the reality of her long dark night beneath her smile and her long life of miraculous works for the Lord.
Recently Sharon and I were in the middle of a difficult hike in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Two friends who were also interested in why I would take on such a difficult hike accompanied us. I was there to get photographs of Split Mountain reflected in the pond below it. Split Mountain is one of the 14 thousand foot mountains in the Sierra Nevada. For me, it was another quest to capture God’s beauty in photographs. We were laboring on tired legs as we hiked back down the steep trail back to my truck. At one point, we sat down to rest when Sharon got a text message from her sister in law that Sharon’s brother Jim would not last much longer. He was losing his yearlong struggle with cancer. He had been discharged from the hospital to his home. His wife Melinda had a hospital bed put in their bedroom and hired a visiting hospice nurse. Our daughters of the Holy Cross prayed for Jim also during his illness. Thank you.  
We completed our hike and spent the night in Mammoth. The following morning, rather than returning to Fresno, Sharon insisted on seeing her brother before he passed on to the greater life. We drove to Laverne near Los Angeles and spent the last half of Saturday till Sunday afternoon with Jim. There were many relatives who were also spending time with Jim. He had suffered so much over the past year with hope repeatedly dashed by setbacks.
Jim was in and out of consciousness with his wife Melinda giving him oral doses of morphine for pain management. As I looked at Jim my first thought was how much better it would be for Jim, “To be absent from the body and present with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
When you are my age, you cannot help but take someone in Jim’s situation personally. He was 68 and I was nearly 73. It is easy to see yourself in his place. Besides, he was a better man than me. It is easy to experience “survivor guilt” when someone younger than you dies. Jim was a member of the Laverne Church of the Brethren. They don’t have the sacrament of Extreme Unction also called “The last rites” and I believe this is why God had put me there. I asked Melinda for permission to pray with Jim. As things turned out Jim and I were alone together and I prayed the prayer for the dying. I anointed him with oil and said my final goodbye.
At a time like this, it seems like all the deaths of those who have gone before come to our remembrance and rush in to multiply our current sorrow. Jim Passed on Tuesday morning. The family has planned a memorial service for the end of the month. His obituary was a paragraph that did not begin to describe the dash. The dash is the time between a person’s birth and death.
It is people like Jim and Danny Farenbacher who remind me of my own pettiness. I have spent most of my life being the older brother in the story of the prodigal. For him, there was not righteousness but self-righteousness. For him there was not love for his younger brother or joy when he returned. There was only jealousy that his younger brother did not deserve his father’s love or the celebration of his return.
God reminded me last December that I was merely living under the illusion of good health. I really thought that I was ‘bullet proof’. After all wasn’t I an Ironman? As it turned out, I was no longer an Iron Man. I was just an old man with Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). The realization that my health was fragile bridged the compassion gap between me and many brothers and sisters around me. One person in our congregation and I spent a lot of time talking about our new stents placed in the artery to our hearts and the medications to prevent a clot in the stents. We formed a two-person support group. So many of us are wounded and broken. Sometimes the wounds are not visible to others. Sometimes our wounds are visible to others and not to ourselves. The resurrected Jesus was able to connect with Thomas by asking him to touch the wound in His side made by the soldier’s lance. Our suffering makes us more compassionate and more available to others who suffer. Our suffering for the sake of the Gospel is righteous.
St. Paul mentions compassion and sympathy. I believe sympathy flows from a compassionate heart. God is a God of compassion. Years ago I was returning from a failed job interview and had stopped at a gas station somewhere between Lacrosse and Milwaukee. As I was filling my tank, a young woman pulled up in a jalopy of a car on the other side of the pump. She had two small children in the car with her. I still remember the plastic sheeting covering a rear window, which was broken out. When she got out of the car, I could see that she was heading to the attendant with only a dollar in her hand. At that moment, I was overwhelmed with compassion for her. Although I didn’t have a lot of spare cash myself, I had enough to offer her a five-dollar bill toward her gas. Her smile was her silent “Thanks”. I believe this was a compassion imparted by God. While I have had similar experiences since then, I don’t believe any have had the same impact on me.
While God is partial to the poor and the needy, “He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save.” (Psalm 72:13). However, God is also sovereign in his compassion. And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." (Exodus 33:1).
In this 24/7 world of need we find ourselves a part of, it is necessary that we don’t turn the grace of compassion into a law of service.  We are finite and the needs of our world are infinite. Our compassion for others is given by God to us and directed by God for us. It is Him whom we serve and it is Him in whom we serve others. If our prime directive is to love, worship and serve God then it is to Him we must listen. He will direct our paths in serving Him. Jesus also allowed others to minister to him as demonstrated by the woman breaking the spices over his head.  Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, "Why this waste? “For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor. “But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.” (Matt. 26:6-10).
As we live out the dash between birth and death, it is easier to be compassionate, consoling and encouraging when God has allowed suffering as a kind of refiners fire, burning off the dross of an inflated ego. Our lives are like candles. God trims the ego like a wick on a candle. When a wick is properly trimmed, the flame burns efficiently and the flame absorbs the carbon particles. There is no smoke and no soot left behind. May your life be a candle of hope to others lost in darkness. Amen.

Click On Photograph To Enlarge

The Beauty Of Split Mountain (14,065') In The Eastern Sierra Nevada

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Letter To Bishop Daniel Martins From Bishop Eric Menees

[Note: The following is published with the permission of Bishop Menees]

1300 Shaw Avenue #123 Fresno, California 93710 (559) 244-4828

September 25, 2017

The Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins
Nashotah House Theological Seminary
2777 Mission Road
Nashotah, WI. 53058

Dear Bishop Martins,

I read with surprise, and more than a little confusion, the decision of Nashotah House to award Presiding Bishop Curry the Archbishop Ramsey award for excellence in the areas of Ecclesiology, Ecumenism and Liturgy. 

Regarding ecclesiology Bishop Curry has chosen to disregard the will of the primates of the Anglican Communion and continues to act willfully as one not under authority. 

Regarding ecumenism relations between TEC and the vast majority of Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical churches are at an all time low. 

Regarding liturgy Bishop Curry is presiding over the creation of new rites that defy scripture, tradition and reason. In the last few years Seabury, General and EDS have all but folded. Recently, with the abrupt transitions of the dean and several faculty members I suspect that Nashotah House will not be far behind. 

Lastly, while Bishop Curry preaches reconciliation at every turn he fails to practice what he preaches with his continued support for the ongoing lawsuits in Quincy, Fort Worth and South Carolina. Given this reality, Bp. Martins, can [you] give me a reason to send my men to Nashotah House? San Joaquin has had a long and positive past with Nashotah but at this point I am really shaking my head and wondering what in the world has happened?

The Right Rev. Eric Vawter Menees
Bishop, Anglican Diocese Of San Joaquin

cc. Acting Dean Garwood Anderson The Rt. Rev. Eric Vawter Menees, Bishop

Friday, September 8, 2017

College of Bishops Statement on the Ordination of Women

College of Bishops Statement on the Ordination of Women
September 7, 2017 
In an act of mutual submission at the foundation of the Anglican Church in North America, it was agreed that each Diocese and Jurisdiction has the freedom, responsibility, and authority to study Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, and to seek the mind of Christ in determining its own convictions and practices concerning the ordination of women to the diaconate and the priesthood. It was also unanimously agreed that women will not be consecrated as bishops in the Anglican Church in North America. These positions are established within our Constitution and Canons and, because we are a conciliar Church, would require the action of both Provincial Council and Provincial Assembly to be changed. 
Having gratefully received and thoroughly considered the five-year study by the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, we acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood. However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood. 
As a College of Bishops, we confess that our Province has failed to affirm adequately the ministry of all Christians as the basic agents of the work of the Gospel. We have not effectively discipled and equipped all Christians, male and especially female, lay and ordained, to fulfill their callings and ministries in the work of God’s kingdom. We repent of this and commit to work earnestly toward a far greater release of the whole Church to her God-given mission. 
Having met in Conclave to pray, worship, study, talk, and listen well to one another, we commit to move forward in unity to carry on the good witness and work that God has given us to do in North America (Ephesians 4:1-6; John 17). We invite and urge all members of the Province to engage with us in this endeavor to grow in understanding the mission and ministry of all God’s people. 
Adopted Unanimously 
College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America 
The Church of Our Lord, Victoria, BC, Canada

"We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province."

I am perplexed by this statement. Dale Matson+

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Be Transformed By The Renewing Of Your Minds

Pentecost 13A 2017

Fr. Dale Matson

I would like to focus on a portion of our Epistle Reading from Romans Chapter 12 authored by St. Paul.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable and perfect."
How do we live out this statement from St. Paul that we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? How does this play out with problems that so many suffer from? I want to discuss two problems so common today suffered by so many including me. This is not feel-good therapeutic advice. This is for most of us just fighting the good fight with help from the Word of God.
The topics I want to talk about today are Depression and Anxiety, and both can occur together.
Depression has been called the common cold of mental health. It is true in the respect that it is common and can also be contagious. For example if your spouse, parent or child is unhappy, it is difficult to be happy yourself. Depression however, is much more severe than a common cold. It is an isolating, deep, seemingly hopeless hole of despair. It is a place where a broken shoelace in the morning can destroy an entire day. It is a place with no pleasure and no more tears to shed. It can appear normally as a part of grief. But what if you are depressed without a reason? Depression has been described as a behavior disorder, a cognitive disorder, a family systems disorder and a neurotransmitter imbalance. Depression is usually treated as if it were a chemical imbalance with antidepressant medication. Counseling also helps.   
I want to offer another way for folks to consider why depression is seemingly so difficult to deal with yet point to a hopeful understanding and treatment.  In some sense I see chronic (with acute episodes) depression as an identity disorder. It is as if people who suffer from chronic depression no longer can distinguish themselves from their disorder. It is as if depressed persons would have to give up who they know themselves to be if their depression was removed. They would not know who they were any longer. From a Christian perspective this means to go to the cross with Christ not to destroy oneself. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20).  And we hear also from Paul in Romans “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (6:6). I think that is why a Christian approach could provide help. I mean by this, helping the individual to put on Christ as their new identity. Putting on Christ is something all Christians are asked to do. The life of a Christian is continually taking the old man to the cross or as Luther would say, celebrating our baptism daily by drowning the old man so that the new man might come forth. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph. 4: 22-24). There is so much in Scripture that encourages us to put on the new person that is Christ. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2a) What kind of mind are we to have? Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 2:5). “… my friends keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don't ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8). Have you ever examined your daily thoughts? Are they focused on “…whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper.
There is an additional side to addressing depression. Since depression can be isolating, Christians know that physically they reside in Christ’s body the church. Their brothers and sisters who may also have experienced depression are available to offer the comfort that they were comforted with. (2 Cor. 7:13). Spiritually they also reside in Christ. “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 28a). Christ suffers with His church and us.  The topic of depression fills volumes and treatment options are multifaceted with varying degrees of effectiveness depending also on the individual. What I have attempted to say, that as Christians we all have an opportunity to seek and to find ourselves in Christ and He in us. For those with depression this is especially important. My comments are in addition to, not in lieu of other treatment options offered by your physician.
Christ is our true self and our only self. Listen to the life He offers us. It is a not a life without suffering but it can be a life of joy.
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)
Anxiety is defined differently than fear. Fear generally has an object, immediacy and a means of avoidance. Anxiety is more of a state of uneasiness, an apprehension about the future and a sense of the unavoidable. Anxiety is often associated with depression. While Depression is often the primary diagnosis, Anxiety may be the presenting problem. While depression gets “top billing” and treatment dollars, it is anxiety that takes the quality and the could-have-been out of far more lives than depression.  Anxiety extinguishes dreams and paralyzes plans. It is the primary ingredient in the opposite of the Peter Principle. Most people will not become who they could be.  
Anxiety rubs against our thoughts until it creates an open wound in the soul. To some extent we do it to ourselves. We fail in the basics of eating, exercising and resting. Some dither until they must rush. Some multitask, doing nothing well. Some become addicted to frenzied activity in an effort to fill a life devoid of meaning with substitutes. There is a normal pace to living and most are living too fast.
We also live in a virtual world that does not wait for us to catch up. We are simply inundated with information beyond our ability to process and absorb it. We are suffering from virtual Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How many times have we seen the jet airliners fly into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center? How many times will we see the rivers of water covering the streets of Houston? We no longer live in small isolated communities. We live on and experience a planet’s worth of trauma. We brace for hurricanes and blizzards days in advance with some never arriving. Scientists inform us that there could be an asteroid that would collide with our earth and we would all perish. Anxiety makes us cautious. Everything we buy including the morning coffee comes with a warning label. We seem to guide our lives by our fears. Our fears are so limiting. Let’s be honest here. Did you make up a false excuse for not doing something because you were afraid of doing it? Can’t we do all things through Christ who strengthens us? (Philippians 4:13). 
We have a world’s worth of trauma delivered to our home and portable viewing screens twenty-four seven with updates on the ten.
At its core, anxiety is an ego state. It is the ego awfulizing at the prospect that it may perish. It is an existential drama where the individual is continually in a state of “What if”? It is the ego trying to control what cannot be controlled. The worst part of anxiety is that we have no control yet we are responsible. We are like the mouse that is shocked no matter where he jumps to in the cage. We cannot avoid or escape the shock.
Anxiety is not an uppercut to the jaw. It is a series of body blows that wears us down. It masks the ego vulnerability and manifests itself as road rage, frigidity, autoimmune disorders, social isolation and self medicated fugue states. It is the primary disease of self and the prognosis is morbid. The prescription is divestment of self not destruction of self. As John the Baptist said, “He must become more, I must become less.” (John 3:30) We are simply preoccupied with ourselves. It is time to step off the throne of self and surrender to God. We must stop trying to be God. We are vulnerable because life is all about our wants, our needs and us. It is our ego that requires applause. It seems we can never get enough “upvotes” on social media and selfies.
Instead, Christ tells us to put ourselves in the least honored place, the place of the servant. It is not about getting more things. It is about pouring ourselves out on behalf of others. How much of our time, talent and treasure is wasted building an edifice of straw to ourselves. Our true legacy is determined by our good deeds, those we have helped not a curriculum vitae filled with self-promotion. The self we keep propping up and defending is a golden calf and a false god. We have fashioned ourselves into idols. We are not only idolaters; we are the worst kind of idolaters because we are the idols we worship.
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). So what is the release from this prison of anxiety? 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. I believe this is not something that happens overnight. It is a daily giving over of ourselves to Christ. St. Paul said, “In all things, I have learned to be content.” Being content is a process. Sometimes a “Dark Night of the Soul” like Cancer or the death of a child makes this process happen a little faster. It is something I struggle with too but less so as I age in Christ and the new man comes forth. Each time there is anxiety, we can ask ourselves, “Is it my ego that I am defending here”?  If it is then let go and let God as someone said. The language of Scripture is the balm of Gilead and the elixir of life. These two verses help me as God brings them to my remembrance.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1st Peter 5:7)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6).

I would now like to conclude with a prayer for help.

Dear Lord, save me from the chaos of this world. Save me from the fears of distant wars and local crime. Save me from the fear of infirmity and bodily harm.  Save me from the fear and anxiety that continually cause me to withdraw, that limit my movements and involvement in good works. Save me from the prison of self. Save me from self-abuse, self-destruction and mistreatment of others. Save me from my own thoughts that are so critical and corrosive that my joints ache. Save me from self-indulgence and pleasure seeking. Save me from the root of bitterness continually filling me with its toxic anger, sarcasm, cynicism, mistrust and a heart unwilling to reconcile with others. Save me from self-righteousness, pride and condescension toward others. Save me from dismissing others from my mind. Save me from numbing my mind with drugs and distractions. Save me for Yourself Lord Jesus. Save me for Your name sake. Amen