Weekly Rector's Notes
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
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.
As we sit before the altars of entertainment and in the lecture halls of cinemas, we are being formed deeply by what we worship and study even as we eat popcorn and feel our way to familiar states of ecstasy.
It is worth asking what god we are bowing to and what way of being we are studying.
Christopher Nolan wrote the last complete series of Batman movies, and they were brilliant. Ultimately they were about three forms that evil takes and three ways to respond. They are brilliant and dark and fun, but they are also carrying deep and significant messages about how to overcome the evils of this world.
As we turn to follow Jesus into Jerusalem, we face a real and profound choice about the God we will follow and how we will follow. Will we ride a bigger war machine into Jerusalem? Or will we throw our cloaks on the back of a donkey for a God who takes the cross as the ultimate symbol of power?
“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.
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.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
Merry Christmas. As we begin our final run-throughs for this weekend, there are a few key things below that you need to know. But there is one thing that you should hold on to.
This year’s Sunday Christmas Eve means we have a 10:15 service before the Evening Services. And that is the only one on Sunday morning.
I hate cutting services out of the schedule, and for years I would insist that we never needed to. Once I walked to church in a blizzard in Michigan, and a few people walked in to join me, and to tell me I should cancel.
Dear people of Ascension,
We have come to the period of waiting. Advent is about waiting and preparation. And I can be a very patient person. Sometimes.
But when I see the mess of our country, our world, my desk, I want them fixed right now. My desk is my dominion. I know that I could do something about that, but the world is not my dominion, and the little that I can do about the mess of the world seems far too little to have meaning.
Well, I lost the Turkey Trot again. I lost to a third grader. Now to be fair, he is very fast and very competitive. I have been ribbing him since he beat me last year. Last year, I dove for the line and lost; this year he dove and won. Life is not fair.
The Head of School gave me the job of running at the front of the pack for the Trot for the last two years, a job that several other adults in both the church and school and could do easier than I could. Coming in the middle and end were far stronger runners, so why am I out front?
This is one of the mysteries of following Jesus: our job as disciples sometimes means coming in second, and not just to Jesus.
Christ the King Sunday is coming up next weekend. It marks the end of the liturgical year before we begin Advent. It is one of those feast days that grew up out of the assigned collect of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, a loose translation of the Roman Catholic Missal prayer by Capt. Thomas Galley.
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
We are not a monarchy in the United States, and we have formed our identity in opposition to the very concept of royal nobility. We even avoid titles most of the time because of this tendency. So, the idea of Christ as King can seem foreign.
Kings and queens rule their territories which includes three important areas of care: giving and living the law, setting the boundaries, and providing for their people and land. They must embody the law in their own words and actions; only then can they enforce the law. They must extend and defend the boundaries of their land and behaviors of their people by force or attraction or just plain influence. And they must provide for their people through management of trade, fertility of crops and people, and the giving of gifts and provision.
This small quote from Jesus is a great place to begin reflection on the question of stewardship: “What belongs to God?”
There is an old joke about ministers from different traditions (a minister, a priest, and a rabbi, or some variation thereof) talking about how to divide up the collections from their congregations. One puts a line on the ground and tosses the collection in the air. Whatever lands on his side of the line, he uses. The rest he gives to God. Another one puts a circle on the ground. The last one just tosses the money into the air, “Whatever God wants, he can keep.”
I have told that joke way too many times. Next time just put your hand up and shake your head like a disappointed spouse.
In our lives we see glimmers of the King of kings. It may not be a form of governance any of us hope for today, but monarchy was how the people of the Bible understood their world and God.
We don’t understand monarchy in the United States, because we mostly remember the worst examples of megalomaniacs and dictators. But a true king, a ruler in line with God’s image of rule, is servant to his people. He sets and keeps the boundaries of the land. He embodies the law and enacts it. He provides for the care and welfare of his people. Perhaps the best model of monarch in our lifetimes is Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. For her faults, which some part of the British press is happy to list, she understands herself as servant of the people and nation.
God is King of kings, a title pronounced of Jesus before his birth, in the prophets. Jesus says of leadership in the kingdom of God, “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, but it is not to be so with you. The greatest among you should be least of all and servant of all.”
This is quite a week, and when I am writing we are only on Tuesday. Already we have a funeral for a priest who served in tragedy with the Phoenix Fire Department as chaplain and went to both Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center bombings as part of local response. And at the same time we are reeling with the nation as another mass shooting has taken the lives 59 people in Las Vegas. We are still cleaning up in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and around the world.
Yet, we also are host to a Talent Show on Friday night followed Saturday morning by a Quiet Day led by our own Rev. Bill Young and hosted by the Daughters of the King.
These positive events can be overshadowed by the darker clouds of violence and death, but they shouldn’t be. One candle can push back the darkness. These old sayings are based in real truth.
Dear People Ascending,
We are here to shape the world in the name of Christ. That sounds huge when you say it out loud. Audacious. Pompous. I know. Sometimes I have been ashamed to say things like this because I know how it sounds. (And I wear a robe during the day.)
But you have to back up and remember that we believe in a God who made the world, loves the world, mourns for our failure and sets us free to live again as his children, bringing his love and hope for the world to be. We are to be shaping a world that looks forgiven and restored.
To be able to do that in the midst of our day to day lives, you have to have a vision of what such a world would look like.
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things that Jesus tells us to do. But if we are followers of Jesus, we simply must forgive, but why?
In Jesus we see a simple anthropology, a philosophy about what it means to be a human being, anthropos in Greek is human being. We are made to bear God’s image, to be like God is in the world. In Jesus, we see that expressed in three language sets: kingdom, family, and stewardship.
As a kingdom, God is our king. Kings set boundaries, provide law and order, and provide for their people. Kings care for their people. When we live in the boundaries God provides, by his law, and in his care we are part of his Kingdom. It is really simple. Jesus is like the embodiment of a king, but a very different king than the sort we are used to. He is forgiving and healing. His law is a law of love. And we are asked to be like him.
As a family, we are adopted or made part of God’s family by the work of the Holy Spirit in us. (John 1) As we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us, Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel that the Spirit will remind us of what Jesus has taught, will convict us, and reassure us, guide us and pray in us. As we allow the Spirit to do these things we will act as God’s sons and daughters, bringing the joy and peace of our family to others.