Saturday, June 30, 2018

Our God Is Compassionate. Are We Compassionate Also?

Pentecost 6B 2018

Fr. Dale Matson

On this Sunday so close to Independence Day, I would like to begin with a prayer by our first president George Washington.
 “Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the Lamb and purge my heart by Thy Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of Thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in Thy fear, and dying in Thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy son, Jesus Christ”. – This is a prayer of our first president George Washington. For those historians who claim George Washington was a deist, it doesn’t appear to me to be the case based on President Washington’s prayer.

From Deuteronomy we hear this. “If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Can you see how this wrathful, vindictive God of the Old Testament has a soft spot for the poor? Prior to our passages, God declared the year of Jubilee where all debts are forgiven every seven years. The people were warned that even if the year of Jubilee is near, don’t use this as an excuse not to lend money.
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), He 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).
Our Lord Jesus was a man of compassion but sometimes delayed helping (Lazarus) and only did what he saw His father doing. “Therefore, Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19).
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 who we serve. 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).
 Those in the church who experience compassion fatigue and burnout have allowed others to determine their service priorities when it should be God who does this. I am continually reminded of a portion of the Morning Prayer Collect for Peace, “……to know you is eternal life, to serve you is perfect freedom…” (BCP, p.99). Jesus himself is our model for not allowing others to determine our service. I am writing this to those on the edge of dropping out; those who are exhausted and weary from doing good.
In our Psalm today we hear in part,
4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
5 Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice?
6 Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
7 They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
I used to conduct evening prayer at the chapel once a week. After becoming a priest, I conducted morning prayer once a week. As most of you remember, our Cathedral campus was spacious, unfenced, and kind of like a landscaped mall with several buildings including a school.  It was located in a poorer area of Fresno surrounded by aging apartments. Because it was a large corner lot by an intersection, many folks cut through the campus as a shortcut to somewhere in the neighborhood.  These folks also shopped in our second-hand store and came on Wednesdays for our food pantry.  Some stopped in to our Parish offices to ask for rent money or for Pastoral counseling. As a church we at St. James were continually reminded by our circumstances to be compassionate.
When it comes to compassion, I believe we are called to take care of and make time for our family. Sharon and I have lost both are parents but we still have siblings, children and grandchildren. Families are like our homes. They surround and protect us but require constant attention. It is so easy to take our relatives for granted. This is especially true of those who live in other states or even other countries. St. Paul has this to say in his first letter to Timothy. “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (5:8).
Sharon is very good at putting both of our families on the front burner of our agenda. On our recent trip back east, we visited my son and his family in Kentucky and my 3 siblings in Michigan. The trip was arranged by Sharon. I’m not righteous about this. If it weren’t for Sharon, I probably would travel back less often.
The problems with my family can’t be avoided or denied when I am there. As my son and I were riding in the car alone together, He exclaimed, “I’m crazy, just plain crazy”. I couldn’t help but say, “You’re not crazy and saying it means you will have to be a liar to believe otherwise.” Life is difficult for him and his wife with two young children and each having a full-time job. Things always seem to be hectic for them. Ignoring their pain is like hearing a noise in your car and turning up the radio to drown out the noise. That approach only postpones the inevitable.
Although my 3 siblings all live within a half an hour from one another, they rarely get together. My older brother who is 81 got lost driving to my younger sister’s house for our gathering. His excuse, “I think I’ve only been here three times.”, he stated. “That would be three times in about 18 years.” I said to myself.
My 83-year-old sister took care of my mother’s affairs when she came down with dementia. Now it is my younger sister who is taking over for my older sister who now refers to me as Sharon’s husband because she can no longer remember my name.
It was good getting together, perhaps for the last time, to look at photographs and talk about the past with my siblings. I can say that God was in it big time. And Sharon was there to silently photograph and video our time together with her iPhone. Sharon conducted separate interviews with both her parents and grandfather recorded and transferred to DVD.
Even though it was painful to see the decline in my older siblings, it was a great joy to be with them. There was no greater good work to be done than this. As we dropped off my older sister, I said good bye thinking the rather sobering thought that the next time we visit, she may not know me at all. Or, The Lord could call me home first. Compassion begins at home and sometimes it is simply caring enough to listen and being there.
Family is important and Jesus critically reminded the Pharisees that they couldn’t get out of taking care of their parents by saying they couldn’t help their parents because they had to donate to the temple. (Mark 7:9-13) This was just an excuse for them to ignore family. The mission work begins in our homes, in our church and our parish neighborhood.
As we examine our reading from St. Paul we see that compassionate giving is also at the heart of his comments. “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter, I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-15).
Finally, I am struck by the compassion simply stated in our Gospel Lesson (Mark 5) “22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him.” Amen


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Bishop’s Note: June 28, 2018 – The "Jerusalem Declaration" and the Gospel

Bishop Eric Menees

Three weeks ago, I began a series on the "Jerusalem Declaration" – the declaration developed at the first Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem 2008. This week I have returned from GAFCON 2018, and I would like to continue the discussion of the "Jerusalem Declaration." It is now even more evident to me that the "Jerusalem Declaration" is a seminal document in the history of Anglicanism, as is GAFCON a seminal movement in Anglicanism. The "Jerusalem Declaration" can be read in its entirety here:

In an ever-changing world, where the basics of Christian faith and doctrine are tossed out with every new wind of the culture, we were reminded at GAFCON of the importance of being grounded in the Uniqueness of Jesus Christ, in the Word of God, and in the substance of the faith once delivered!

In the last “Bishop’s Note,” we examined the Preamble to the "Jerusalem Declaration." This week I’d like to look at paragraph one: The Gospel.

We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.

St. Paul tells us in his epistle to the Ephesians that “[f]or by grace you have been saved through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8) Every person who hears the Good News – the Gospel – with an open heart and mind, hears of a love so deep that it defies all imagination: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that all who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) In hearing and receiving the Good News of Jesus Christ we are “saved” from the wrath of God, which we deserve for our sins, and are welcomed into the open and loving arms of God: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) The very act of believing in Jesus is a gift of the Holy Spirit; where our hearts and minds are prompted to yield – though not forced to do so.

Ultimately, the Good News of Jesus Christ is the story of God’s love for His creation and each and every person who was, is, and ever will be created in His image (Genesis 1:27). In a very real way, in the Gospel God looks us in the eye and with a gentle assurance states: “I love you!” The rest of our lives is our response.

The appropriate response to God’s “I love you” is to follow the Great Commandment we recite in the beginning of each celebration of Holy Eucharist:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ says: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Of course, a major aspect of Love is the recognition when we have “erred and strayed” from Christ, we then determine to make that 180 degree turn back to him. In other words – repent! If “I love you” is the most powerful phrase uttered, the second most powerful is, “Please forgive me.” In response to God’s love for us – and out of love – we repent of our sins against God and our neighbor. And all of that is done because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

I pray you all a blessed week!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Gafcon Letter To The Churches

The third Gafcon conference held in Jerusalem has concluded and the concluding communique can be found here.

Archbishop Foley Beach of the ACNA has been elected one of the new leaders.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Brighten the corner where you are!

Brighten The Corner Where You Are

Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
Do not wait to shed your light afar;
To the many duties ever near you now be true,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Brighten the corner where you are!
Brighten the corner where you are!
Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
Brighten the corner where you are!

Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear,
Let not narrow self your way debar;
Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Here for all your talent you may surely find a need,
Here reflect the bright and Morning Star;
Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed,
Brighten the corner where you are.

Ina D. Ogden 1913

Maybe it is because I am 73 that I reminisce more than I have when younger but I fondly remember my Sunday School days with the instruction with the teacher using felt board bible figures. There was also lots of singing. The songs were simple, easy to learn and sing and full of truth.

It is also easy as I age to become more of a crabapple. It seems like the world is going to hell in a handbasket. It it all too easy to become hyper-reflective, preoccupied with myself and critical of others.

What will one more letter to the editor do other than scold scofflaws who probably don't read the paper anyway? What can I possibly do to improve things? 

What better advice can one reflect on than to "Brighten The Corner Where You Are"? We are urged to act now, not wait. We are urged to think of others instead of ourselves. Maybe our lasting legacy will be helping only one person. In reflecting the life of Christ, we are offering hope to those who are lost.

I am persuaded that when we focus on brightening the corner where we are, God will attract those in darkness to our small corner of existence. Help my light so to shine Lord. Amen


Friday, June 22, 2018

Bishop’s Note: June 22, 2018 – GAFCON Update #2

Plenary Session

Today’s Plenary was led by The Rev Canon David Short, of the Anglican Network in Canada. Rev Short delivered a bible soaked message, reminding us that God’s strategy is a strategy of salvation, and that, “The church is both the goal and the agent of God’s strategy”. To view the entire talk click on the link below.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

God's Consolations

Fr. Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge

Dale At Millerton Lake Near Fresno CA

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:19)
         The past year has been personally difficult for me. The problems are mostly age-related illnesses that are chronic. They create physical discomfort, a loss of confidence and self-efficacy, uncertainty about the future and a general malaise. This is not a situation unique to me but common to folks in the last stage of life.
         But God continues to offer consolations. The 2017-2018 season offered the most opportunities to view and photograph eagles in general and Golden Eagles in Particular. Last year at this time, I had given up trying to get any photos of Goldens. I had done considerable hiking to this end with no good result not even sightings.
         This year, I had a new model camera and telephoto lens that were not even yet available last year. This year, I had new leads on possible locations to look. My own photography skills improved also.
         After discovering the Golden Eagle nest, I returned 24 times over the span of 4.5 months. It was an even bigger thrill to see a 3rd chick appear after three weeks of watching 2 chicks. At first I thought it was a runt that I had missed seeing in the nest. As it turned out the third chick developed into a hawk. How the hawk got into the nest is a mystery. It is the first recored account of Golden Eagles raising a hawk to fledge. About 20 days after the hawk fledged, the eagle nestlings also fledged.

It was a two-mile round-trip hike with about 800’ of gain overall. Thus, this adventure involved nearly 50 miles of hiking with 20,000’ of climbing. I also had a mile round trip on six occasions on the other side of the lake for distant photos. I wore a heart rate monitor and my cardiologist would not have been pleased had he known how far above his recommended maximum my heart rate went.
         I was of necessity secretive about the nest location for I did not want hordes of folks heading up there which may have resulted in the adults abandoning the nest. Two bald eagle nests at Millerton Lake were abandoned this year for unknown reasons.
         The adults only came to the nest once while I was at the view site and I tried to keep my visits short and infrequent knowing that I might be disturbing the feeding and care of the chicks while there.
         I can say that I prayed often for the chicks in general and the hawk in particular. One cannot observe wildlife for any period of time without being drawn into their story and the attendant drama. Just as the hawk was an adopted member, I became ‘extended family’. While the adults were not pleased, the chicks did not seem to be bothered, only curious.
          With eagles, it is impossible to observe them without them seeing you also. Even on the other side of Millerton Lake, I could see them looking at me in my Camo, as I viewed them through my telephoto lens or binoculars.
         This was quite a process viewing these tiny snow-white chicks develop into huge dark raptors. During this time, I collected over 50 Gigs of photographs and video. They became the second largest wildlife quest I have ever engaged in. I put together a YouTube video called “Golden Eagles Raise A Hawk”.
Photographing and filming the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep was an even bigger project which became another consolation from God. I hiked many miles across the Sierra Crest and over high passes to no avail only to walk up a trail near Lone Pine Peak one day and stand within 75’ of a group that allowed me to photograph them until I could no longer hold up my camera and lens.
One thing that I continually considered was the ethics of observation. How frequently and how close was too frequent and too close. These birds and sheep cannot fill out a consent form so it is up to the observer to exercise caution to avoid observation becoming intrusion. On one occasion, I was watching the adult on the eggs and the bird flew off. It was a cool day and I immediately left out of concern for the viability of the eggs.
I want to thank God first of all for this opportunity and privilege. I also want to thank my wife Sharon who encouraged and sometimes accompanied me to the nest view site. Finally, I want to thank Mike Smith the resident Millerton Lake eagle expert and eagle boat tour docent who gave me both guidance and cautionary advice. I am also glad we had an opportunity to hike together to the view site on one occasion.
I am also happy that I could share this experience with so many others via my Mid Sierra Musings blog, the YouTube Video and the California Fish and Wildlife Facebook page. I now wish to share this story with my Soundings followers.
May God bless you.

Adult Golden Eagle With Eagle Chicks On Left and Hawk Also Raised By The Eagles Perched On Right