Weekly Rector's Notes

Last week I wrote to you about the influence of the monastic tradition on the Anglican and Episcopal church. This week I want to talk about how we grow up in faith.

Every denomination of the church could be seen as a tradition or method of discipleship, offering a way of following Jesus. In the Episcopal church we offer a method that we inherited from the English and Scottish churches. We pray Morning and Evening Prayer, gather weekly for communion, and we read and study our Bibles, reading devotionally.

In the last couple of decades the attention of the church has sometimes been distracted away from this core to current issues and survival as the age of Christendom, the dominance of the church in social and political life of the West, has really ended. But, our real vocation as a church is found in our following Jesus, making disciples, teaching them to obey what he commanded, and baptizing them in the name of the Trinity. see Matthew 28

Our method is codified in the Book of Common Prayer, which equips every member of the church to be a full participant in the disciplined life. The commitment to the church is to be growing in our following of Jesus.

Several years ago, several distinct faces of history came tighter as I was trying to plan a season of worship.  One: the first Book of Common Prayer was written between 1538 and 1545 and revised shortly thereafter. It is marked by a simplified Daily Office and weekly Eucharist with primacy given to the Psalms in worship. It also includes a strong insistence on the regular reading of the Bible, which I always took to be Protestant overlay of the Roman Catholic pattern of worship.

But then Two hit me. Between 1536 and 1541 or so Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell closed the monasteries of England, Wales, and Scotland. The complaints and need for reform were real, but the dissolutions were terrible. Official numbers are hard to quantify, but somewhere between 620 and 900 religious houses were closed in an area 20% smaller than Arizona. Imagine all those monks, nuns, and canons integrating into local parishes. People who prayed multiple times a day in community, who read their Bibles devotionally, and lived according to a common rule of life.

In a few days now, a group of parishioners and others will travel to Italy together to see holy sights, which we call a pilgrimage.  I say “we call” because I think of pilgrimage as generally involving more suffering than we ever do on these trips where Bonnie Waite makes sure that every detail is completely nailed down.

For many years, pilgrimage was something I dreamed of or simply did not understand. Then my first opportunity to take a group out of the country came through my work for the Diocese of Arizona back in the late 1990’s. I led a group of young adults down to Belize to build a community center, visit and work in a rain forest, and to live with locals for ten days. We also had one day on the Cayes of Belize before we headed back home.

It was a mission trip, but I was uncomfortable thinking of missions as merely taking Jesus to other people. So I began preparing the group to seek God’s work in a new place, and this is the essence of pilgrimage. It becomes not just a way to excuse travel, but a way of life.

He is Risen!

Easter.  Finally.  This has been a long Lent at my house. There are all kinds of reasons for that, but one of the main ones is simply business.  Or busy-ness. Or both. And we always do stuff for Lent.  Daily office.  Prayers.  And of course, some abstinences.  I restricted my diet a little.  But mostly I have tried to focus on prayers and the daily office.  

We really get into Lent somehow.  Even people who are not all that Christian know what we do at Lent. Strangers ask about it.

What do we do for Easter? The King has been enthroned. Crowned and set in his place as the rightful ruler and the “ruler of this world has been cast down.” Sins forgiven.  The heart of God revealed to be as Jesus revealed, the heart of a loving Father, and not those other gods we carry around in our fears. God is good. Love wins.

Holy Week is upon us. It is hard to overstate the importance of these seven days to traditional Christianity. As we enter in to the mysteries of God’s salvation of the world, we tell the story of the last week of Christ’s life, from the entering of Jerusalem tomorrow to the Resurrection on Saturday and Sunday.

These days are our holiest, so make time for Christ this week and enter with us into his Grace.

-daniel+

Dear People of God,

What is that red book in the pews, Reverend, and why do we use it?

During Lent we go back to the basic teachings of the church, and as we build toward Easter we are adding on to what we have learned before. This week we have been looking at our identity in Christ as we applied the Kingdom of God to our own lives in our Lord. Now we turn to how we live out those teachings in the Episcopal/Anglican church.

The Church has often lost her way as she has followed after her Lord, and during the fifteenth century she got lost enough that a series of Reformations began. She had become a worldly power that was corrupt. At the same time, the nation-states of Europe were really becoming entities with identities and power, and so they began to negotiate with Rome for both religious and political reasons. As what would become Germany and Switzerland became Lutheran and Reformed and expelled the Roman church, so France and Spain remained but worked out important compromises, some of which took a hundred years to develop settle.

8 March 2017
The Rev. Daniel P. Richards

Baptism

Our life in faith begins in baptism. The church has taught for two millennia that an ontological change happens in our baptism, that we are no longer a creature separated from God, but through death and rebirth in Christ we are made new, and so is the world that we live in.

This teaching is no longer cool, because we believe strongly in the goodness of people who are not baptized, even who are not Christian. We also know of terrible people who have been baptized! So how can we still make this claim with any seriousness?

Superheroes have been showing up in sermons lately. As I pray about what God is calling me to teach each week, I keep circling around the internal conflicts of superheroes. But superheroes always present one major problem for followers of Jesus.

The Gospel of Violence is the proclamation that we can overcome evil if we are just stronger and more violent. This Gospel is written into a thousand movies, games, and stories that I love, and I bet you do too. I love the action, but I am becoming deeply concerned about the catechism.

“When he was at table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were open, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” Luke 24:30-13. From the Road to Emmaus story.

We come to the table every week in our worship because it is at the table where we most often recognize Christ and the will of God. This Sunday, we are asking the CCA family to gather at table and seek the face of God.

It is a simple fact for many of us that we best experience the way of Christ at table with friends. It is a sad fact that many Christians forget that we are gathering at table every week, and we mistake the formality of the liturgy for something other than fellowship at the table.

Every now and again I hear about God has spoken to someone in clear, undeniable ways, but all the time I hear about how God has spoken to someone through a friend, a parent, a spouse. Holy Conversation is about coming together to listen to each other for the purpose of hearing God’s voice in the voice of another person while hoping that God may somehow speak through me as well.

The New Testament tells us that God is Spirit and God is love (see First John). Because God is Spirit, disembodied personal power as Dallas Willard defines it, God is made physical when his will is embodied in our lives as the Body of Christ filled with his Holy Spirit. When you let God use your hands or voice to do what God intends, you become a part of his active kingdom in the world. That is pretty amazing.

You can know it is God’s will if your words and actions are love embodied. God’s will is summed up in love, but we mean self-sacrifice for the life and goodness of another. Because God is a person and not a force, he is said to be spirit which means he has identity and self-order, and therefore he has attributes that exclude other attributes. God is loving and just and good.

O! church family,

The Bible is a large and difficult omnibus of literary styles. Some of it is meant to be read like history or story, some like poetry, and some like proverbs, particularly the book of Proverbs, which comes just after the Psalms.

Proverbs is a book with a quiver full of Verse Arrows for life. It is addressed, as the book tells us, at young men who are beginning on the road to life and must choose the path of Wisdom over being sidetracked by the seduction of Folly.

It should be read that way, but also with an eye toward good advice and principles. Good advice can save your life, but it is not always applicable. A principle, though, is almost always applicable.

Hush.

Epiphany is the season of light, and in the tradition it serves as a pre-catechism season, with several of our readings focused on the call of God in Christ. This can sound either distant and otherworldly or difficult in lives like ours. So here is what I want you to hear: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus said that. So how can it feel so hard? Well, like everything in life that matters, you have to do it. But there is nothing hard here. Just hush. Spend some time drawing inward and listen for the silence where God speaks so gently.

We are inherently spiritual people from our creation. We are God-breathed clay according to Genesis. And though we have all fallen down on the job of being good human beings, God did not leave us as failures but came to us in his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. This is the gospel of Christmas and Epiphany.
 
People tell me all the time that they are “spiritual but not religious.” What they mean, I think, is that they are in touch with their spiritual impulse, but they don’t really do anything about it formally. But in reality, everyone is religious in the sense that a religion is the regular outward and communal practice of the inward spiritual life. That is my definition of religious.

Merry Christmas! Blessed Nativity! Happy Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord!

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is one of my top five all time hymns, and my favorite of the Advent hymns. If you go back and read the words, it sweeps up the great themes of the Bible in the names of God and reinterprets that history in Christ.

1 O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.

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