Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Too Close to Christ

Yesterday was the (transferred) feast of the Holy Innocents. This day commemorates the massacre of the young boys in Bethlehem recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew (2: 16-18). A recent National Geographic article noted that there is no “independent” source authenticating this event, and discounted the possibility of it ever happening. The article was something of a “rehabilitation piece” for king Herod, lauding him for his achievements in statecraft and architectural splendor. Yet, the character of his life and what we know him to have done as part of his quest to maintain and expand his power is quite harmonious with the hideous act of violence recorded in the Gospel.

The Innocents were just that. They were children too young to know Christ, too young to know sin, too young to fight back. They were victims who looked enough like Christ to be killed. They ushered in a new era: the era of Christian martyrdom. Even though they did not consciously die as martyrs, they have been accorded this honor by the Church from very early on.

We hear much about the suffering inflicted on people in the name of religion, and it is surely a sad history. Yet, how much more suffering has been inflicted on innocent people in the name of power: state power, the power of personalities, the power of institutions (including religious), systems, and ideologies? Our Lord came to expose the futility and hopelessness at the core of this naked obsession with power. His Incarnation in Bethlehem as a result of an Emperor’s decree, his status as a refugee, and his ultimate suffering at the hands of the earthly power structures (both civil and religious, note) are a testimony to what at heart is wrong with the world “as it is.”

True power comes from God, and thus comes from the Love of the Holy Trinity – not the viciousness of fearful human actors. Only those who live in communion with this Love can live rightly with power, for they know the source and purpose of power. This understanding of power is at the core of the Gospel.

The Holy Innocents were but the first victims in this conflict between earthly power and the Gospel. The world, with its obsession… indeed, addiction… to power, sensed a threat and sought to extinguish this threat from the first moments. The Innocents remind all who would follow Christ that merely being like Christ is enough to earn the hatred of the World. As with the National Geographic article, the World remains enthralled by palaces, pleasures, and power. God has decreed that it is love and mercy that matter, though.

In the midst of our Christmas celebrations we must not forget this basic point of conflict; the battle is ultimately won by God on the Cross, but the Holy Innocents, too, are part of that might struggle. Let us not forget them or the many innocents who suffer to this day because the bear a resemblance to the Truth from Above in their vulnerability, fragility, purity, or gentleness. How much more blessed by God it is to be an innocent than one whose addiction to power has twisted us into the character of a Herod, whose achievements merit no memorial other than crumbling citadels and horrid memories!

We remember this day, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod. Receive, we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent victims; and by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

O almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths: Mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Prayer and a Plan for Our Nation

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our
heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove
ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.
Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and
pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;
from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend
our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes
brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue
with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust
the authority of government, that there may be justice and
peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we
may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.
In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,
and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;
all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
"A Prayer for our Country," BCP p. 820

On the day after our national elections, I offered special prayers and thanksgivings at Morning Prayer, and was drawn to offer the above prayer at the end of the service. This is an old prayer, using old language -- and yet, it is oddly modern and to-the-point today. The election we have just concluded was largely a referendum on what sort of a Union we think we should be. The "Prayer for our Country" reminds us that what many people have said they want to see in a new chapter of American life and history is in many ways simply the living out of the ideals that have always been with us as a nation... but have over recent decades been allowed to atrophy in an atmosphere of toxic partisanship, consumeristic greed, imperialistic swagger, and rampant, selfish individualism. It is this "anti-culture," this diminished view of our ideals that many have said must change.

The Prayer for our Country is not a partisan prayer; neither are the ideals it sets forth. It begins with an admission that we have been given a good land for our heritage. That land comes with a complicated history, one with many sorrows and wrongs, and well as glories and rights. Our awareness of both the great gift we have been given and the history that comes with it requires from us what the prayer states: humility. We are bidden to ask God in our humility to make us a people mindful of the Divine favor and always glad -- not ashamed or grudging or out of obligation, but glad -- to do God's will. 

And what is that will for our nation? The prayer illustrates it, first by positive examples: Honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. This is not a choice between personal or societal morality: it is a requirement that we as individuals and as a nation be about both. Then, the prayer tells us what we must not allow: violence, discord, confusion, pride, arrogance, and "every evil way." Ours must be a nation of reasoned, reflective, and respectful governance and discourse -- personally and societally. 

Beyond this, the prayer calls upon God to defend the liberties we enjoy. This, too, is a call for the members of our society to take the very fact of liberty seriously, and not to erode it through fear, partisanship, ideology, or any mistaken form patriotism. In times of crisis, this is of particular concern.

Then, we ask God to make the ideal of E pluribus unum a reality, re-affirming the delicate balance between the variety of peoples and unity of a People in ways not unlike the doctrine of the Holy Trinity affirms both God's unity and triplicity at once. What this calls upon each of us to sacrifice is something we would do well to ponder, especially in an era of instant communication and winner-takes-all thinking.

The prayer continues by calling upon God to give us that spirit of wisdom which alone will allow us to transcend our own smallness, asking that spirit be given to our elected leaders, to whom a democratic nation must entrust its governance. But the leadership of our nation has that power only, as the prayer reminds us, so that all may have justice, peace, and the capacity (by being obedient to the precepts God has laid down for humanity) to show forth God's praise to all the nations of the earth. In an extraordinary way, our nation -- though not an officially Christian nation -- is called upon by this prayer to be an evangelical nation. We are to show forth God's praise by embodying God's will for humanity in justice and peace. Again, this is not about partisanship, but about the deepest meaning of patriotism... a concern with the true "fatherland" of the Father, the Kingdom of God which is already among us wherever Christians preach, teach, and live out the Gospel.

The prayer concludes with a form of warning: in times of prosperity we must be thankful rather than complacent or arrogant (that is one of the key issues behind this election, it seems), and "in the day of trouble," our confidence in God must not be allowed to falter. Thus, the prayer ends by asking us the question: are we willing as Christians to make our commitment to our shared civil society part of our discipleship, or are we content to let our nation's shared life reflect only our passions and anxieties?

In earlier Prayer Books, the prayers for the State and Civil Authority were much more in evidence than in the current book. In the aftermath of Vietnam, the 1960's, the Civil Rights movement's early struggles and first victories, Watergate, and a general trend to denigrate Government, we have tended to treat the Ship of State as either a kind of show-boat for ideology or a garbage-scow to be used and abused by whomever is in office at the time. It is neither. It is a vessel on which all of us depend. It demands our prayerful attention and our effective stewardship. All the prayers for our national life in the Book of Common Prayer deserve new attention, as does the repair of our civil society in this new day for America. As Christians, we must begin in prayer, where we will, I believe, find out there is a plan -- not a Democratic or a Republican plan, but a Divine Plan. That plan is based on an enduring belief that, as one of the two mottos on the National Seal states: Annuit coeptis: "He [God] approves our undertakings," when we accept our duty to each other and to our nation with the solemnity and high purpose found in this prayer.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Weapon of Words about God

O that ye would altogether hold your peace! and it should be your wisdom.

During the last week, we have been making our way through the Book of Job chapter by chapter (with some edits, sadly, in order that we might expedite matters). After the rather surprising opening where God and The Accuser (Satan) converse and a challenge is laid down over the righteous man Job, we enter into the heart of the book: the complex debate over why evil happens and what the human is to do in the face of suffering.

We have heard Job’s opening lament. We have listened to his friends begin their first round of questioning of Job; their at first rather round-about accusations of Job. Surely, he must have sinned against God and is now paying the penalty. Job refuses to acquiesce. He knows, as does the reader, that his sufferings are not a quid-pro-quo; he did not commit a wrong that must be requited. He is righteous, and yet he suffers. One by one, the theological rationales of Job’s day – and, to a great degree, ours – are trotted out. They all seem to boil down to much the same thing: someone sinned and punishment is being meted out. But, we know this is not the case here. We reach, with Job, a great theological dead end.

But the way forward is clear: Job refuses to deny God. He continues to supplicate the God whose protection and blessing has seemed to fail. He comes before God with a complaint, seeking for God to justify His actions. He is preparing to offer one of the great high-points in the book and in the Old Testament generally: the lament in chapter 14, which contains elements looking forward to the Gospel itself. This, in turn, will result in the heat being turned up on Job by his “comforters,” whose only response to the failure of their arguments and theology is to abuse Job and to press their positions even harder. “The experiment must continue,” they almost say.

And this brings me to the verse from chapter 13 I opened with. In it, Job rails against his comforters-now-tormenters for their waterfall of words that leads only to more misery. Their silence would be a far better argument! But, having begun to speak and claim a knowledge of God that is inferred rather than revealed, they can only pick up speed and infer more and more… eventually needing to crush the suffering victim in order to bring to perfection the beautiful architecture of their theories.

One of the great insights of this book of Scripture is that theology is a realm which requires great humility if it is to be life-giving. Without this humility, words and thoughts about God easily become weapons. In our arrogance and smugness we can use them simply as ways of comforting ourselves by hurting, controlling, crushing, or imprisoning others in our own ignorance and fear. We can even call this spiritual violence “good” because we do it for God. But it remains violence, and it remains little more convincing as an argument than whistling in the graveyard.

The Christian must renounce all forms of arrogance and adopt the way of the Cross as the only way to the Kingdom. This includes the use of theology divorced from the humility of Christ. The theology of Job’s “friends” is deeply flawed precisely because it is no longer really about God at all, but about human fears, power, and rationalization. While Job’s insistence on his own righteousness will ultimately be shown to be an error, his refusal to accept any substitute – no matter how lofty – for the Living God will ultimately be rewarded. And it must be so with us; we, too, must accept nothing less if we are not to become the enemies of the very God we claim to serve.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Sermon for Last Sunday

Sermon for Proper 15, Year A

From Matthew 15:28
"Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

“What you see is what you get.” This phrase is often used to describe something we are about to purchase; a kind of warning that what is seen is all there is; there isn’t any more. Or, the phrase may indicate that what is seen on a computer screen is exactly like the thing that will be printed out or as it will appear on a web site.

However, WYSIWYG has another at least one other meaning: what you think you are going to see, what you have become conditioned to see, is often what you WILL see, and what you WILL get.

I have a friend who is red/green colorblind. Last year, we were out camping and went for a hike on a sunny day in a glorious coastal forest. We came upon a red huckleberry bush, laden with bright read fruit. Both of us are avid berry-eaters. I pointed to the bush and said: “wow, that’s rare – a red huckleberry bush covered in berries.” My friend responded: what berries? I can’t see any.” Of course, to him it was a kind of grayish plant with all sorts of leaves – some pointed, and some round. Because I can distinguish between red and green, I could tell that the pointed leaves where really leaves, and the round ones were actually succulent, sweet-tart red hucks.

Like colorblindness, some people, I think, simply don’t have the right equipment to apprehend spiritual realities. For whatever reason, they simply can’t pick out things that aren’t concrete or physical. Some such people actually are members of the Church: they are attracted to something else about the Gospel, or Christ, or the worship, teachings, practice, or history of the Church.

Unlike colorblindness, which is a genetic condition, we can acquire spiritual blindness by how we have been formed, or by the choices we make. In the Old Testament Lesson today, Joseph’s brothers were blinded by the years of separation and by Joseph’s changed condition; they were also blinded by the sin that had led to them to consider killing Joseph, and then settling for selling him into slavery. This is the blindness of human sin; but Joseph’s words show that God’s purposes are so deep, and his love so vast, that even human sinfulness cannot overcome it. Joseph’s brothers’ blindness was ultimately used by God to bring about for them, their father, their families, and all the peoples of Egypt.

But there is another kind of spiritual blindness, even more entrenched than this; for, indeed, Joseph’s brothers repented for their earlier sin and overcame its effects by God’s grace. This other form of spiritual blindness is based on the belief that we know better than God. Spiritual blindness is most terrible when it produces smugness, arrogance, and self-certainty.

This is what Jesus condemns in the first part of today’s Gospel reading. It is not what we eat with the mouth, but what proceeds from out of our mouths, that defiles us. It is a supreme act of spiritual folly and blindness to think that we can justify ourselves by a code of purity. What God wants is not our religiosity, our capability to blindly follow rules, but a living faith, willing to contend, to risk, to grow, to engage a Living God.

The second part of today’s Gospel lesson is disturbing to many. Jesus seems to be cruel to this Canaanite woman. Yet, St. Matthew is carefully making a point. The pious, officially “religious” people in the previous verses reject Jesus because he rejects the automatic, almost vending-machine way of relating to God through outward observance. St. Matthew then places a story about a foreign woman (a doubly-difficult position in the culture of her day) who actually contends with Jesus as she seeks the healing of her daughter.

The Canaanite woman verbally wrestles with Jesus, not unlike Jacob wrestling with the Angel. In the end, she prevails and comes away with the blessing she sought. Jesus’ actions show that is precisely this sort of living, open-eyed and engaged faith – not the mechanical and ritualized faith of the Pharisees – that His God and Father wants.

And so we are bidden to ask ourselves a question today: what form of spiritual blindness do we suffer? Has a form of sinfulness, anger, or envy blinded us to the value and purpose of others in our life? Or, have we become complacent in our faith, looking at God as a sort of spiritual vending-machine fulfilling all our wants and needs because that’s His job?

In any case, the way we have come to see God, the expectations we bring, will help determine what we see when we raise our eyes at Communion this day: just some flat bread and some sweet wine with perhaps a little history and a good deal of sentiment attached, or the real presence of Christ Jesus, inviting us to contend with Him, so that we may join her in hearing the words said to her: “Great is your faith; let it be done for you as you wish.”

What you see is what you get. What do you see today?

Job's Lament

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said: 
‘Let the day perish on which I was born,
and the night that said,
“A man-child is conceived.”

How I would be lying down and quiet;
I would be asleep; then I would be at rest. There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. 
There the prisoners are at ease together;
they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster. 
The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are free from their masters.

Why is light given to one who cannot see the way, whom God has fenced in?

These verses from Chapter 3 of Job form part of what is one of the greatest laments in Scripture. Challenged to “curse God and die” by his wife, Job determines rather to curse the day of his birth, his coming into conscious, sentient existence instead. Though not a cursing of God, this is obliquely a condemnation of God’s allowing for an entrance into the suffering and pain of life.

This chapter might be titled “The Lament for Humanity in the World as it has Come to Be.” It is a stark assessment of a world ruled by death, a world where suffering and want seem to be everywhere, and where power is substituted for truth in human relations. Job’s lament is an implicit critique of this earthly order; an order which God seems to do nothing to stop.

Out of the silence Job and his friends have known for seven days there breaks forth a keening and burning threnody of existential honesty. Which of us remembers agreeing to enter into this life? Who can say that they have never wondered why we came into being, especially as we see the suffering of innocents whose only apparent fault was being born into a particular time and place? Job’s song of regret brings up images of human agony covering the field: from the tragedy of a stillborn child to the cruelty of human politics and power. He laments the fact of such a world and his participation in it. He gives voice to what so many of us are afraid to say because the watered-down, unreal, and exterior faith we practice is unequal to the challenge. But the Hebrews were not so squeamish; they were willing to bring all of the heart’s offerings to the altar of God. Perhaps this is why so many of us today find some of the Psalms a great challenge. Like this lament, the Psalms can speak with an honesty and a directness we dare not.

Yet, we cannot proceed into the heart of this book – or the heart of the Christian faith – if we are willing only to stay on the surface, or in the comforts of a faith too shallow to accommodate the depth of our own life and experience. Job points the way into the mystery of God and humanity by first giving voice to what we often feel but cannot say. Perhaps it is the tension between our mind’s capability to wander amongst the stars yet to be so fragile that a single broken blood vessel in our body can bring our death. Or, it could be the inherent unfairness of the world into which we were born, the wrong of the suffering we see inflicted by humans or by fate. We can ignore it all if we choose, but in order to be fully human, we must respond. It may begin with recoiling in revulsion or anger; but it must proceed past that. This is the invitation of the Book of Job. The lament we read today is the necessary first step, the clearing of the throat in a tense room, the opening chords in a long song. We must have the courage to listen and to accept where Job’s words are our words; without doing so, we will never have the courage to journey on in this most challenging book to its profound, life-changing conclusions.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Thinking about Job...

They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. – Job 2:13

The Daily Office lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer has recently taken up a survey of the long and profound Book of Job. I look forward to each opportunity to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this extraordinary part of the Old Testament; for, along with Ecclesiastes, this was the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures I truly came to love.

The opening sections of Job seem almost like a fairy-tale. They present the story of an ideal man of faith, blessed with all that one could want. The setting is that of a far-away place (not in ancient Israel; yet Job is more faithful than the most obedient Hebrew, it seems). This setting allows for much of what follows: an experiment dealing with the very extremes of belief itself. So radical and dangerous is what follows, that is must be held with the spiritual equivalent of oven mitts.

First, God allows the Malevolent One (literally “the accuser”) to put this good man to the test: first by the destruction of his wealth and family, then the destruction of his health. In itself, this is a very menacing window into the vagaries of life. God allows evil to happen as part of some deeper testing. Of course, we know that at the end of the book, all will be restored. But, for now, the actors in the drama cannot know this. Job and those around him only know that all of God’s blessings have been taken away in a complete and seemingly final way. Why? So begins the main part of the book.

Indeed, the first chapters are really a lead up to this central section of the Job: the great inquiry into the question of why evil happens. The author of Job has skillfully engaged our interest, set the stage, and drawn us into what will be a difficult, long, and labyrinthine discussion of justice, good and evil, God’s purposes, human righteousness, and the ability of the human being to be justified before God. It is a heady, demanding book whose subtleties are greater than almost anything else in the entirety of Holy Writ.

So, as we begin, we need to notice what Job and his friends do before they begin the Great Discussion: they sit in silence for seven days. This holy silence is a fast: a fast from attempting to make painful situations easier by surface conversations, easy answers, or sentimental clap-trap. While much will be said in this book that is ultimately proven to be false or unwise, it begins in a spirit of compassion and deep purpose. As we read this book, we need to do the same. This book’s secrets can only be unlocked in this spirit, much as the Gospel's meaning and purpose can only be known by a spirit of humility and inner silence.

Let us approach this book in our daily readings, our faith in its practice day-by-day, and our neighbors in the encounters allowed us by God, with a spirit of silence and compassion. Let us confront our own selves -- the lies we tell, the pat answers we offer to ease our circumstances at the expense of the truth, and the prejudices we hold. These things rob our neighbor of full humanity and deny the Imago Dei in them. Then – and only then – will we gain the wisdom available in the encounters with God and humanity that is the very fabric of our Christian pilgrimage.

Now: let us read on in faith and courage!

Friday, August 15, 2008

St. Mary & Us

St. Timothy's is blessed to have a fairly long observance of the feast of St. Mary on August 15th,  with a special festival Eucharist and community meal following. Thanks to our roots in Catholic Anglicanism and a deep appreciation for the central role accorded St. Mary in the Scriptures and the teaching of the undivided Church, we are able to celebrate the truth about Our Lady: she is both a very human being like us and a remarkable, holy person who answered God’s call in a unique way. The Bible tells us a great deal about St. Mary, but it does so in ways that always point to Jesus – and to us.

Pointing to Jesus: From the moment of the Annunciation through the Pentecost, Mary is present as a witness and a participant in Jesus’ ministry. Mary gives her consent and her body in order that God might take flesh and dwell among us. In giving birth to Jesus, she becomes what the Early Church at the 4th Ecumenical Council (Chalcedon, 451 A.D.) called her: the Theotokos, or God-bearer (see BCP p. 864). This leaves us with a great mystery to contemplate: her womb was at one and the same time a finite place where the Christ-child developed into a baby, and also contained eternity and infinity in the Godhead found in that hidden, growing child.

Mary’s entire life and ministry as recorded in Scripture points to Jesus. She both nurtures the child Jesus and must gradually come to grips with the nature of His calling. She is a follower, present at the Cross, and also a learner, “treasuring in her heart” the experiences and events she could not at that moment understand as she journeyed with her son. Always, one imagines, she bore in her mind the moment when God called her to this ministry, a moment both glorious and laden with risk. How much we can share in that understanding of discipleship, if we try!

Pointing to us: St. Mary has been seen from very early on in the Church as a kind of image for what faithful people need to be like. We need to be open to God’s call and will. We need to listen carefully to God’s word in our life, and treasure those things we do not yet understand when God speaks – awaiting the time in life when these seeds reach maturity, sprouting in mysterious ways. We, like Mary, must be loyal to Jesus when times are good and when they are difficult. As with St. Mary, we are called to “bear Christ” into the world in our own way, as God calls us.

Finally, we are to join St. Mary in pointing to Christ, and not to our own selves. It would be much easier to make life an ego-trip, but it is supposed to be a pilgrimage back to the Father. We are messengers, not the message. St. Mary is an icon of the Church, and we are called to follow her example. Her greatest feast-day, August 15th, is a celebration of her life, her death and repose with Christ in heaven forever, and our calling to join her in offering our lives in holiness, consecrated to a God who knows us each by name, and calls us each to be more than merely our ordinary selves: for within each human being there is a potential self than can only be found by saying, like St. Mary, “behold, I am the servant of the Lord: be it unto me according to your word.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

This Holy Day

The Feast of the Holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul commemorates at least two key facts about their ministry: their complete devotion to the Gospel of Jesus – to the death – and their harmony and unity in teaching.

Many of the icons for this feast show these two great leaders of the early Church embracing or holding a miniature church building between them. These simple gestures show one of the truths behind this day: the Apostolic teaching is based on love: love of God, love of our brother and sister in Christ, and love for Christ’s Body the Church. Without this deep love at its center, all ministry and teaching is in vain.

The Collect for today reminds us of this connection between teaching and unity in love:

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The unity which is at the heart of the Church comes not from human agency or force, but the Divine Life itself – the Holy Trinity. Whenever we as disciples attempt to replace the Divine origin of our unity with something merely man-made, it always fails. Division ensues, the simplicity of the Gospel and the balance of the faith found in the Creed is lost in a welter of tangents and legalism. Finally, the love which radiates from the Gospel is covered over by human egos and projects… often disguised as lofty ideals or objectives, but yielding none of the long-lasting fruit of the Kingdom sought by Our Lord.

The only way to remain in that Divine Life and Love is through prayer. This is, sadly, the most-overlooked and least-valued part of modern church-life. Instead, we have projects, products, and trends -- often "enforced" by nervous authorities motivated more by ideology than Love. The Feast of the Holy Apostles is devoid of such gimmickry; indeed, the reading from Colossians for the second evensong of this feast specifically dismisses such thinking; it is only the mission of the Kingdom which counts, and all other considerations must vanish.

To be a prayerful Church means being a Church where repentance and humility are lived. It means being a communion of relationship between members rather than being an “institution” with parts or sections that may be spun-off, out-sourced, or “right-sized.” But this may be too difficult for many today, weaned as we have been on the milk of consumerism, materialism, and individualism. Current divisions in the Church are the fruit of such a mutilated notion of the Body of Christ. The imperative of unity illustrated in the Feast of the Apostles has been lost in the hearts of many, replacing Divine Love with human force.

So, for some this feast will always be a mystery. How could St. Peter and St. Paul be an icon of love when they at times differed? How can they embrace forever in heaven when they once (or even more than once) confronted each other on earth?

But for those who have chosen the way of the Apostles, the way of prayerful submission to Christ, this mystery is not a closed door but an open invitation. It is an invitation as are the Holy Mysteries of the Liturgy itself: an invitation into the Divine Love made possible by the Love of God poured out in Christ Jesus.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Proper 1 - for the first time

In the years I have been an Episcopalian (since 1983), I don’t believe I have ever had the opportunity to use the propers (official collect and readings from Scripture for a particular service) for the Daily Office from Proper 1 in the Book of Common Prayer. Easter has never been this early in my lifetime, so the need never arose. How wonderful to have something new from something with which I am so supposedly familiar!

From the simple clarity of the collect (“Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called us to your service, make us worthy of our calling,”) to the words of the First Letter of John (“all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.”), these are wonderfully clear prayers and lessons about what it means to live the life placed in us by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Would that we experienced this set of propers every year. Or, perhaps it is because they are being put to me in this form for the first time that I am finding them so insightful.

In any event, the Daily Office this week reminds me how precious the gift of the Prayer Book tradition of daily prayer is; its balance, its careful analysis of the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints, and it grounding all of our individual experiences in the greater Experience of the Church Catholic. I am reminded this week about the value and need to teach this heritage to an ever busier and less-grounded world.

Like the snow falling on the flowering trees outside the church on a Sunday in Eastertide, this is just another gift of the earliest Easter I've known. It is a helpful reminder that all of our liturgical practices are there to open us up to God's mysterious and freeing work in our life, not to put that work under some sort of deadening spiritual lock & key.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

To what end?

And now, Utquid effusio hæc? 'To what end all this?' For it is not to be imagined this pouring was casual, as the turning over a tub, nor that the Spirit did run waste; then it were Utquid perdito hæc? An end it had. And that follows now; 'and your sons,' &c. The Spirit is given to many ends, many middle, but one last, and that last is in the last word, salvabitur; the end then of this pouring is the salvation of mankind. Mankind was upon the point to perish, and the Spirit was poured, as a precious balm or water, to recover and save it. So the end of all is--and mark it well! that the Spirit may save the flesh, by the spiritualizing it; not, the flesh destroy the Spirit, by carnalizing it; not the flesh weigh down the Spirit to earth hither, but the Spirit lift up the flesh thither to heaven, whence it came.

Lancelot Andrewes, SERMON XI
Preached before the King's Majesty, at Greenwich, on the Twenty-fourth of May,
A.D. MDCXVIII being Whit-Sunday

We have now reached the culmination of Eastertide, the Great 50 Days: the Feast of Pentecost. With it, the power of New Life manifest in the Resurrection breaks forth into the New Life of the new Church, born on this day. The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost unlocked the Resurrection from an event primarily about Christ, opening the Kingdom to all the world through the preaching and witness of the disciples. The entire sequence of Easter, from the moment the tomb was discovered empty, through the encounters with the Risen Christ, the Ascension of Christ to the Right Hand of the Father, and in the firey gift of Spirit – the entire season is one long crescendo of meaning, one rich icon of the love and transforming will of God.

Pentecost tells us many, many things. Among them is the truth about our value, our worth, our mattering to God. On Pentecost we rejoice in the birth of a community, but we also give thanks that the Spirit lifts us to heaven in worship, in our desires, and in how we see and treat others. The Spirit has saved the flesh, has saved humanity not by rebuking it or destroying it but by revealing its holiness, its profound value. This humanity was once made in God’s Image; today that Image is revealed once more. This is the message that goes "to the ends of the earth." That is the end of this day; let us rejoice and be glad in it! Alleluia, Alleluia!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Royal Way of Repentance

The color used at St. Timothy’s for the Lenten season is purple (although the use of unbleached linen in the parish’s past is another, equally valid tradition). This rich, royal color may seem at odds with the austerity of Holy Lent, but this is not the case; rather, purple teaches us something vital and important about how to experience this season.

During the Roman Empire, the highly-prized purpose dye extracted from the murex shell was so valuable that it became a State Monopoly. To own fabric dyed with this color was reserved for the Imperial family. Thus, purple became known as the “royal color.” Yet, it also was seen as a somber color, and eventually treated as the color of repentance. These two meanings of the color – royalty and repentance – go together very well, actually. Jesus said that repentance was the key step in following him (Mark 1: 15, Luke 5: 32, &c.). It has been seen from the beginning of Christianity as the “Royal Road” back to God, for repentance literally means a change in direction. Our repentance takes us from the way of death and puts us back on the way of Life. Lent sets this choice before us: will we take the “onramp” to Life or not?

And this is the good news of the season of Lent. It is a time of what one writer has called a “bright sadness,” an awareness of how we have come to accept a mutilated, diminished form of life rather than the abundant life available through Christ – and of how we are offered forgiveness and renewal if we but turn back to “our first love,” (Rev. 2:4). All of our Lenten disciplines are about recovering that fullness of life, getting back on the Royal Way of salvation.

As we celebrate a Holy Lent, we need to decide whether or not this is yet another self-improvement project in life, or a unique opportunity to embrace what Christ our King offers us. If the former, then Lent will come and go with little significance, joining all of our lonely efforts. If the latter, we will date our lives not from our birth, but from this Lent! May this be a highly-prized time for all of us, and may we join together in a rich and full observance of this Holy Season, without which Easter cannot be truly appreciated.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Easter, Even In Lent

   St. Timothy's has experienced two funerals in the last eight days. In the very beginning of our Lenten observance, we have already twice done away with our fast from Alleluia, the somber purple vestments of Lent, and the penitential character of the Lenten liturgies. For these two times, we have stood in the radiance of the Resurrected Christ, in the splendor of Easter even while making our way through the Great Fast. It can be a bit jarring for some, but it serves as a valuable reminder of a deep truth.
   The Funeral Liturgy is always an Easter Liturgy. There is never a time when the message of Resurrection at the burial of a Christian should be put aside. Though we fast from the jubilation of Easter during this season, even the Lenten Sundays are not used in reckoning the length of Lent: they are Sundays in Lent -- not Sundays of Lent. That is a small but key difference! Sunday, like the Burial Liturgy, is always a celebration of the Resurrection. Though Lent tempers this, it remains an unalterable fact of the Faith: Life and Redemption are God's final word to us. The hope and power of Christ the Victor shines through, inspiring us and leading us to live lives worthy of our calling.
   The triumph of Christ is a non-negotiable fact in the Christian's life, just as is the suffering on the Cross. The Love and Redemption made known in both places puts the Christian firmly in the hands of God. Jesus promises us that where He goes, His faithful disciples will follow. This means indeed we will go to the Cross with Him, taking up our own cross and following along. It also means that faithful discipleship will bring us to union with God through Christ. Nothing, not even Lent, can deny this... save one thing. We, and we alone, can deny ourselves this gift and joy. As the Burial Liturgy puts it: "Though we go down to the dust, even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia."
Whether we sing this song or another is up to us; whether others will learn this song by association with us is also up to us. A Lenten burial, especially on a sunny, warm, dry February day in the Willamette Valley, reminds us of this fact. 
   Our Lenten observance is not a time to impose an artificial sorrow for sins we were happy to commit and will commit again when opportunity arises. It is a season of joyful return to the song that is always ours, the melody of redemption, humility, service, and love which belongs to us because Christ has given it to us. Let us sing it with the souls of those gone before us into the Kingdom of God; let the Truth of Easter be with us always, especially in this Holy Lenten season.

Friday, February 8, 2008

These Three Things: A Primer on Lenten Observance

Below is a homily by St. Peter Chrysologus (the “golden-worded”, 406-450 A.D.) Bishop of Ravenna. These words express in great economy the spirit with which we must offer our Lenten ascesis. Like the boats shown in this mosaic from Ravenna, the three holy disciplines of prayer, fasting, and mercy will provide us safe transit to the Kingdom of God when offered in a holy manner. May you know a Holy Lent, reaping richly the fruits of repentance!

"There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are
 prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

 Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

 When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practise mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

 Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, a threefold united prayer in our favour.

 Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

 Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

 To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

 When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Transfigured, Challenged, Changed

When we are faced with unexpected, holy events, we sometimes let the mask slip and show a bit of who we are. I remember when my first-born was delivered. Pamela had a very difficult, long labor, and then there were signs of fetal distress. The doctor decided that the situation had become serious, and recommended a fairly hasty ceasarean. Suddenly, we were in a operating room and I was speaking to my wife while a screen was being erected, blocking our view of what was really major surgery performed on an anesthetized but fully-conscious person. Things had become very serious very quickly. I was concerned for the safety of my wife and my child. I prayed, I tried to be “in the moment” and supportive…but I was scared. After what seemed like a very short while, I heard a child’s cry. My first thought was: “now this is a very serious and tense situation; WHO LET A CHILD IN HERE?” Only after I had completed this thought did I realize just how idiotic it was.

When St. Peter uttered his famous request to “build booths” as a response to the Transfiguration of Our Lord, it was only natural. He was doing what the religious tradition recognized as an appropriate way of marking the holiness of the event; he was honoring Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But, he was also wrong.

I say this because of a basic rule in prayer: when we are in direct contact with God, it is always a sign of our having lost the point, our being unfocussed when we start multi-tasking in prayer – or when we think about praying while we are praying. As with any face-to-face contact with someone we value (or any one to whom we desire to show common courtesy), we don’t talk on the phone with someone else at the same time. St. Peter is in effect attempting to do this, and it means that he is unable to experience the event as fully as he might. As the Gospel according to Mark says, “he did not know what to say” in his fear. Just as with my son’s birth, he spoke out of his “true self.” With me it was kind of petulant protectiveness. With St. Peter it was a religious impulse to “do the right thing” and enshrine the event.

The Transfiguration means many things; it forms the great transition from Jesus’ ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing in the hinterlands to the final stage of ministry in Jerusalem. It is a foretaste of his Resurrected glory, and deep mystery showing forth Christ’s lordship over the living (Elijah) and the dead (Moses), as well as his being the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). Beyond this, we experience the Uncreated Light of God in the brilliant light issuing forth from Jesus, and the majestic words of the Father: “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased: listen to him.” It is an overwhelming disclosure, a profound experience of the Divine in Jesus.

But it is also a challenge to us as disciples to stand before our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the moment; not to multi-task, not to think about Jesus when we are in his presence and should simply listen, learn, and love. We cannot control or enshrine the Holy; we can only receive the gift on God's terms and then live it out. When we do, we experience the profound peace that comes from knowing the words in today's Gospel about being “the beloved, in whom God is well pleased” not only describing Christ Jesus, but also us when we are in Christ Jesus. It is that peace, that confidence, that power to be ambassadors of such a message we need to think about today. Then, when we contemplate Holy Lent and the character of what is holding us back from living out that peace, we will know where we are called to place our focus in repentance, ascesis, prayer, and reflection.

In today’s Epistle reading, St. Peter reflects years later on the events of the day of Transfiguration. He understands quite clearly by then the nature and meaning of that holy event – a calling to live lives worthy of the Light we have received in Christ. He speaks about this experience as being a lamp burning in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning-star arises in our hearts. It is a holy reminder of who God is, who we are called to be in God, and the absolute necessity we have to be ready for the moments of transfiguration in daily life presented by God.

The old hymn asks: “Were you there?” Were you there not only when they crucified the Lord, or when they nailed him to the tree, or when they laid him in the tomb? But also, were you there when God presented you with a person needing your care and compassion? Were you there when the Church needed your commitment and gifts? Were you there when God gave you the opportunity to forgive? Were you there when something beautiful, awesome, and profound was offered to you by God? If we were there, but were so busy multi-tasking that we failed to notice what was happening, then we were really not there - dead to God’s work in our life. But, we are given this Feast of the Transfiguration and the season of Lent which begins on Wednesday to wake up from our sleep, to rise from our deathly state, and to turn again to the truth. For that we may thankful, indeed.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Only Gate for All

Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

In a consumerist society such as ours, one based on the belief that more choice equals more truth, the words of Jesus in the Gospel appointed for the Feast of St. Timothy cannot but send a shiver down the back. We are taught, indeed groomed, to believe that only by keeping our options open, by having a wide array of choices, and through our opinions being consulted and valued, can we be content with our leaders. But Jesus has another vision.

He is the gate; he is the way into the sheepfold. He provides not a smorgasbord of options but a simple choice: either accept him as the Lord, or not. Why? And how can we proclaim this today?

He does this because there is only one way to gain entrance before God: that is to be like God. We were created in the Image and Likeness of God, but we have settled for something less, something ungodly. Christ offers the unique way back, and at the same time forward, to our identity. He makes possible the renewal of the Image and cleansing of the Likeness in us. He shares his life with that we might enter and stand before God again. But we must enter as he does: through the gateway of humility, mercy, compassion, love. This is the gate; this is the way to God. Jesus embodies it; he is it. There is no other way, no shortcut over the fence, or through a gap in the wall. There is only his way. This is why he must say these words. They are the truth we must hear and live.

Every time we focus on choices and options, we are really asking for the easy way of discipleship, the way that requires no personal transformation, no growth in hard-won compassion. The prayer for this day reminds us that it is through enduring hardship, not in avoiding it, that our holiness is wrought. The ‘godly and righteous’ lives of the saints we laud in our worship must set the standard and pattern for our own lives. Anything less is bleak hypocrisy.

A Christian is really a Christian when he or she knows that the disciple’s back is against the wall, and the time of choices has ended. There is only one way to the peace we seek: it is the way of Jesus, the way of love. When we accept this and then choose to love another person not because they are like us, but precisely because they are unlike us in every way except that Jesus has loved them as well…then we are taking the Jesus way, the unique way into the pasturage the human soul desires above all else. Only when Christians themselves have decided to walk through the Gate, and no longer make our own stolen entries on our own terms, will our witness to the world be righteous and godly. Pray this week we may live such conscious lives before our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Almighty God, you called Timothy and Titus to be evangelists and teachers, and made them strong to endure hardship: Strengthen us to stand fast in adversity, and to live godly and righteous lives in this present time, that with sure confidence we may look for our blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Gesima Sisters and their (almost) return

Some of you reading this will remember the three Sundays prior to Lent being known as the ‘Gesima’ Sundays: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. They formed a sort of “semi-season” of preparation before Lent in the ancient Western Kalendar. One priest I worked with used to speak lovingly of “the Gesima Sisters” and their annual visit The current revision of the Prayer Book swept these observances away, however. The focus today in the Calendar is on Epiphanytide as a time of Theophany (the showing-forth of Christ as Son of God) and the mission of the Church to share the Gospel to all peoples.

As valuable as this focus is, there remains a very real need for Anglican Christians to prepare for Holy Lent. When we defer that work until the days immediately prior to Ash Wednesday, we are likely not going to get very deep in our Lenten observance.

To that end, during these three last Sundays of the season, we are focusing on classic themes and practices for preparation for the full observance of a Holy Lent.
- Sermons on rekindling a Holy Desire for God, humility, and forgiveness of others
- A Lenten Rule form will be set out (with a detachable commitment form) with instruction for considering your Lenten discipline.
- A list of key Lenten practices with explanations will be in the Tidings (our parish newsletter)

We will also celebrate Shrovetide, of course! The Last Sunday after Epiphany will witness our “Farewell to Alleluia.” Holy Eucharist on Shrove Tuesday (10 AM) will commemorate St. Agatha and also the end of Ordinary Time; the traditional pancake supper will be offered in the evening.

While the Gesima Sundays are no longer officially part of the Church Year, my own sense is that eventually, a pre-Lenten time of “official” preparation will re-emerge in the Episcopal Calendar. It simply reflects a wise and holy practice. You are always welcome to contact me to discuss your Lenten observance; this glorious “Feast of Lent,” as George Herbert called it, deserves consideration. The opportunity it provides and the Paschal joy it heralds deserves no less.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Courage to Grow

Today’s Gospel is a quietly challenging text. In it, we hear that two disciples of St. John the Baptist overhear John naming Jesus as the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice will take away “the sin of the world.” This starts the disciples on the road of inquiry. Who exactly is this Jesus? How is he the “Lamb of God?” The biblical text takes but a few lines, but it is entirely possible that these hitherto devoted disciples of John had to do some serious soul-searching and courage-raising before they could ask Jesus about himself.

At first, the best they could do was to follow behind Jesus, apparently silently (and perhaps a bit sheepishly). Finally, Jesus turns to them and says: “What are you looking for?” And this really begins the great adventure. Jesus takes the initiative here, as he truly does in all authentic discipleship. When we forget this and come to think of our following Jesus as something we control or even start, then we have ceased to worship God and are looking instead into a mirror.

But, this story has much more to offer us. The two disciples in question were first disciples of John, not Jesus. We don’t know exactly how many disciples John had, but from what the Gospel tells us elsewhere, it was likely there were a considerable number. How many of them understood that his was a ministry of being a forerunner, we cannot be sure. Perhaps many were not even able to understand that John was “not that light,” as the Gospel tells us, but “bore witness to that light…that was coming into the world.” The point is that John was clear about his ministry: he came to prepare the way for the Christ. Yet, it must have been difficult for others who had become disciples of John to grow beyond him, to accept the full dimensions of his purpose and ministry.

These two disciples were amongst the first people who had to look at Jesus as a challenge to grow in their faith and understanding. Too often Christians act as if they can somehow “graduate” from growing in faith – as if there is a time when following Jesus leads us to a point of assurance requiring no deeper love, no richer comprehension. This is surely a kind of heresy. We who follow Christ need always be ready to answer the Lord’s question again: “What are you seeking?” And we must do so with fresh words, a new level of eagerness.

We are not told what transpired when these two disciples stayed with Jesus. It is a matter on which some speculate; but for us, let it be a reminder that the path to full discipleship includes chapters that are essentially incommunicable to others. All we are told is that one of those disciples – St. Andrew – came out of his encounter with Christ a transformed man, ready to share his experience of the Good News with his brother, thereby brining the future leader of the Apostles before his Lord and Master.

All of this could happen because these two disciples were not first and foremost disciples of John: they were seekers after the Truth, lovers of God, and unsatisfied with anything less. They did not confuse faith with stubbornness or rigidity. They had the courage to grow as they were called by God; they set the pattern for all of us, all our churches, all our ministries. Only if we are like they were will the message we bear be worth hearing…because it will not be our own message, but God’s.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Justice of God

In a sermon preached after Christmas in 1985, Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh said these words about the effect of the Incarnation:

And then a new justice was introduced, or rather proclaimed by Him, not the distributive and retributive justice of the law, another justice. When Christ says to us, ‘let your justice be beyond that of the Scribes and Pharisees,’ He speaks of the way in which God treats each of us. He accepts each of us as we are. He accepts good and evil, He rejoices in the good, and He dies because of and for the sake of what is evil. And that is what God calls us to remember, and how He calls us to be and to behave - not only within our Christian circle but in the whole world, to look at every person with that kind of justice; not judging and condemning, but seeing in each person the beauty which God has impressed upon it and which we call ‘the image of God in man’. Venerate this beauty, work for this beauty to shine in all glory, dispelling what is evil and dark and making it possible, by the recognition of beauty in each other, for this beauty to become reality and to conquer.

It is this beauty, this glory in the human person that has been lost in the horror and distortion of sin, and it is precisely this beauty that has been restored through the gift of Christ to the world. The Church in this season proclaims the living presence of Christ through its worship, but Christians must do more than proclaim in their churches the message of the Gospel: they must embody it. This means the end of “systems” whose purpose is to force humans into neat boxes that deny their true identity before God. All ideologies, all economies, all “ground-breaking” theologies, all academies…they all must be challenged by this simple idea: that we must see in each person the beauty which God has impressed there – venerating that beauty, work for that beauty to shine in all its glory, and dispelling the evil and dark that holds back that beauty’s fullness. If that person’s beauty is illusive to us, we are being called by Christ to look deeper, to let the Holy Light of God illuminate our own darkened vision.

Because this is a struggle, we want turn away from this vision and flee to an ideology, an “-ism,” or an intellectual certainty requiring no humility, no dependence on God. When we do, our justice becomes only that “of the Scribes and Pharisees.” Some “system” of human devising becomes our joy, the power of the Gospel is diminished in us, and we are the same as the World. The real challenge of this season may be to hold on to the gift of the Christ given at Christmas, recognizing that we have only begun to comprehend the magnitude of the freedom He brings for us and the world.

The Season after Epiphany: A Season of Theophanies

This time of the Liturgical Year is usually referred to as “the Season after Epiphany,” or Epiphanytide for short. It is part of the Ordinary Time of the Church Year, those Sundays which are ordered (numbered) after a Feast. Thus, the Season after Pentecost has numbered Sundays that stretch around to Advent, and this time of year has the same format connected to Epiphany. The color for both seasons (outside of major Feasts and special commemorations) is green – a color of growth and renewal.

Epiphanytide has been treated in different ways over the centuries. Current practice in the Episcopal Church connects us to the ancient understanding of this as a season about Theophany, or the showing forth of Christ as the Son of God – fully divine as well as fully human. This is clearly a major focus in the Feast of the Epiphany itself. The gifts given by the Magi indicate both Christ’s divinity (the frankincense) and his humanity (the myrrh for his burial); the gold connects them together in that he is shown to be the King of Glory, who will restore God and humanity to peace through the Divine Love made known on the Throne of Glory, the Cross.

But, there is far more in this season of Theophanies. On the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we recall Christ’s baptism in the river Jordan at the hands of St. John the Forerunner. This is the central Theophany of the season. It is recalled in the Gospels as the key moment when Jesus is shown forth to be the Anointed One, beginning his public ministry. It is also the moment when the Trinity is first shown and made explicit, though this great mystery was not understood by those present at first. The voice of the Father pronounces: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) In this moment, we are given the glorious gift of God’s self-revelation, seeing there the mystery of Divine Love and interrelationship, into which we are baptized as followers of Christ. We share in God’s loving approval through Christ and our response to the gift of new life in him. This Sunday is both a showing forth of the Divine life of the Holy Trinity and a recollection of our own share in that life through Holy Baptism. In the solemn procession at the beginning of the Liturgy on this Sunday, a special stop (called a station) is made at the Baptismal Font, and a prayer recalling our baptism offered. It is customary in some places for Holy Water to be sprinkled during this procession, as well, as a physical reminder of our baptism. The sign of the cross is made by those present as the water reaches them, providing an personal opportunity for acknowledging the gift of grace in Holy Baptism, and the call to live that new life out in our daily lives as disciples. And yet there is more!

On February 2, the Calendar commemorates the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple (also known as the Purification of the Virgin Mary, Candlemas, and Fortieth Day). This Feast brings us to the Temple, when St. Mary and St. Joseph, in accordance with the Mosaic Law, presented the infant Jesus forty days after his birth. It concludes the Incarnation cycle of feasts that began with the Annunciation in March, and reaches its climax at Christmas. This feast recalls Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2), and St. Simeon’s words, “Lord, you now have set your servant free….” Once again, Jesus is revealed to be the God-Man, the Incarnate Savior in our midst.

In Year C of the three-year cycle of Sunday readings (we are in Year A), the Wedding Feast at Cana is the Gospel lesson for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. This, the first of Christ’s miracles, is another “showing forth” of his Divinity. It also tells us that God is able to transform that which is ordinary into that which is extraordinary. Another part of this mystery is that other than Jesus and his mother Mary, we are told the only people who understood what had happened were “those who served” at the wedding feast. In other words, only if we adopt a servant’s humility and role as disciples will we ever gain an understanding of the Gospel and the great mysteries of the Faith. This challenge stands before us each day, especially when we share in the Holy Eucharist. We take into our very selves the Holy Mysteries of Christ, and are called to service in the world as Christ’s agents of grace. Only in this way can we enter into the true knowledge of God.

Finally, Epiphanytide culminates in the Sunday before Lent, when we celebrate the final Theophany before Jesus’ going to Jerusalem to be offered upon the Cross – the Transfiguration. This great day, with its solemn retelling of the great mystery of Christ’s appearing on the Holy Mountain with Moses and Elijah (symbolizing the Law and Prophets, the Living and the Dead – of which Christ is the Fulfillment and over which he is Lord), is celebrated with great richness. The Uncreated Light of God shines from the Savior, and those privileged few with him are stunned by their encounter with the glory of the Son. We see on this day a foretaste of the Holy Resurrection, giving us strength and grace as we undertake the rigors of a Holy Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday.

Of course, throughout the closing weeks of Epiphanytide we are preparing for Lent. A Lenten Rule for our observance will be made available, teaching on Lenten practices will be offered, and each person is called upon to hear what God is saying to us so that we might take up our cross and follow him into fuller life and freedom. This is called our Christian ascesis, our training for the Kingdom of God, and we will each need to take seriously what the Lord tells us is required for our growth in the knowledge and love of God as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter.

We will do this preparation, however, not as yet another secular “moral improvement project” due to guilt, on our own initiative, or through our own willpower; we will do so as a loving and joyful response to God’s call, God’s revelation of the Divine plan for us in Our Lord, and by God’s grace in these Holy Theophanies. God is with us, Emmanuel – not only at Christmas, but now and always. Let us rejoice and be glad in this truth, this promise.

May God richly bless you as you enter again into the mystery of this Holy Season!

Faithfully in Christ,


Friday, January 4, 2008

Fresh Beginnings Built on Solid Foundations

Dear Friends in Christ,
2008 is going to be a year of new initiatives at St. Timothy's. Before anyone panics, though, let's remember what doesn't change:
  • The Faith doesn't change.
  • The basic shape and character of the liturgy doesn't change.
  • Our commitment to Christ isn't up for negotiation.
  • God's call to us to be His people remains.
But, some other matters will be under review and undergoing some renewal. Here are some we are planning to address in 2008:
  • A new format for the Annual Meeting, focusing on discernment of God's call to us.
  • New Vestry members will be elected and the Vestry better integrated into the parish's overall structure.
  • We will be using the Commission system to organize our ministries; each Commission will have a Coordinator and a liaison from the Vestry.
  • A new overall "picture" of how we discern and then use gifts for ministry will be implemented, based on work done by the Diocese's Commission on Ministry.
  • A new Mission Statement will be developed; once we have a Mission Statement, then we will be able to set priorities and goals for mission. Each Commission (area of ministry at St. Timothy's) will then go about its work in direct relationship with an over-all vision for our common life and purpose as a Christian community.
These initiatives have to do with building on the solid foundations of teaching, worship, and fellowship at St. Timothy's. They are not busy-work or change for change's sake. Each aspect is meant to assist in sharing the message of the Gospel as we have received it--with grace, humility, joy, and effectiveness. January is the month when we celebrate our patron, St. Timothy. Here is a passage from the first letter to Timothy which I hope describes this parish as we enter into a season of thoughtful renewal. St. Paul is reminding Timothy to use the gifts he has been given by God:

Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4: 15 - 16)

St. Timothy's is being called to use the gifts it has been given in new ways. It will be a delight to work together toward this goal. May Christ's blessings be with us!


Brandon Lee Filbert+