The Ministry of a Bishop: Part III – General Guidelines for Bishop Wright’s Visitation

The below guidelines are specific to the people and parish of St. Julian’s. For more of a general overview of a bishop’s visitation in The Episcopal Church, please consider reading my earlier blog posts here and here.

  • We will have only one service on September 22nd. It starts at 10:30 AM. All persons who are involved in the liturgy need to arrive by 10:00 AM and check in with your verger, Earnell Morris.
  • All persons involved in the baptisms need to arrive at 9:15 AM to rehearse your part of the liturgy. This gives us a chance to rehearse, and to meet with the bishop before other parishioners arrive. You will have a chance to take pictures with the bishop after the service.
  • All undesignated offering will go to the bishop’s discretionary fund for support of emergencies and non-budgeted ministries that arise in the course of the year. Please give generously.
  • Please do not say to the bishop, “Welcome to our church.” Why? Because, theologically, it is his church too. A bishop has an interesting role in being both host and guest with his visitations. Bishop Wright will be gracious if this is uttered, but please know that Saint Julian’s is part of the greater Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta where the bishop serves as chief pastor.
  • At the reception in the parish hall, the bishop will do a Q & A with the parish. This is your time to tell him about your own ministries here at Saint Julian’s as well as for him to clue us in on what is happening in the diocese.
  • What is the bishop going to wear?

According to Paul V. Marshall in his book, “The Bishop is Coming,” “The insignia of a bishop are the mitre, staff, cross, and ring.” The mitre is the bishop’s hat, his staff “is not a shepherd’s crook or even a walking stick. It signifies the office of the bishop. In the liturgy “the cross is normally worn over the alb and under the chasuble. When worn with street clothing, it is tucked into the left breast pocket of [his] shirt.” The bishop’s ring is worn at all times (Marshall, 14-15).

  • Finally, be joyful. Remember, each Sunday is a Feast Day of the Lord, and it is not everyday that the chief pastor of the diocese gets to lead us in worship. I am excited because of good preparation, and I am personally going to enjoy the moment as we all celebrate Holy Eucharist together.

See you Sunday,

~Fr. Brandon

The Ministry of a Bishop: Part II of III

On Sunday, September 22nd, Saint Julian’s Parish will have a visitation from Bishop Robert C. Wright. I wanted to take a moment and prepare the congregation for what a bishop’s ministry entails. Below is Part II of III. Part I can be found here.

In Paul V. Marshall’s book, “The Bishop is Coming!” he lays out theologically rich language describing the role of the bishop. A bishop, Marshall writes, is “a wandering minstrel, host, and guest” (3). He goes on,

“[T]he bishop comes as the one who has ultimate pastoral responsibility for the parish, so the weight of the [Eucharistic] event is different: the family table is fuller. Furthermore, because the bishop is by ordination and canon the chief evangelist and pastor of the diocese, the assembly rightly expects an extraordinary word of gospel proclamation and a genuine interest in its own mission” (Ibid).

 What this statement means within the liturgical life of Saint Julian’s Parish is when the bishop arrives on September 22nd, he will be the chief celebrant over the liturgy, and will also preach. His preaching will not only be contextual to the life of the parish, but also of the diocese, and even the current experience of the catholic (i.e. universal) church. Does this mean that I can sit this liturgy out why the bishop does his thing? Not at all. Marshall goes on,

[Within the liturgy] the bishop is joined at the table by the local presbyters who are the bishop’s first-line colleagues. The visitation is a good time to enact ritually the truth that presbyters are not ordained because the bishop cannot be everywhere: presbyters are ordained so that the bishop’s ministry can indeed be everywhere.

This statement has great significance to all ministers of the Church because ultimately all our ministries taken as a whole point to Christ. It’s been said that Christ has no body but ours. In other words, the Body of Christ is the Church, so wherever the Church is, and whenever the Church is being the Church (both formally and informally, individually and corporately) Christ is made known.

Here’s Marshall again,

“… the presence of the bishop means that seldom-seen liturgical rites are celebrated” (Ibid, 4).

What this will mean for us on that day is that there will be baptisms although a bishop may also celebrate confirmations, receptions, and reaffirmation of the faith.

“… the presence of the bishop is meant to connect the parish with the larger community of which it is a part, so the liturgy ought to feel a little different” (Ibid).

This is a good point. Remember the Q&A section (from Part I) that described a bishops’ role: The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church (BCP, 855). At Saint Julian’s we know our own context, but don’t always get to hear the broader context of what is going on in other parishes within our diocese, and even outside our diocese. The bishop, either in the sermon, or at lunch, might clue us into the going-on’s of the greater church if you ask him. One other thing: Many parishes complain about paying financial “dues” to “the diocese.” You might hear someone say, “that money could be best spent here, in this place.” A statement like this is unaware of our larger ecclesiology (i.e. church life). We are not “St. Julian’s” while Atlanta is “the diocese”. Instead, Saint Julian’s is “the diocese.” Bishop Claude Payne brilliantly said that each parish is “a missionary outpost of the diocesan effort to follow Jesus and make him known” (Marshall, 5). Our own presiding bishop, Bishop Michael Curry calls us, “The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.” This is thrilling to live into the call to be a mission of Christ out here in Douglasville while at the same time knowing that we are connected to something greater than ourselves.

Tomorrow’s post will be some of the practical ways and last minute housekeeping items to prepare for worship with “a full table” with the bishop on Sunday.

The Ministry of a Bishop: Part I of III

On Sunday, September 22nd, Saint Julian’s Parish will have a visitation from Bishop Robert C. Wright. I wanted to take a moment and prepare the congregation for what a bishop’s ministry entails. Below is Part I of III.

Getting started, perhaps, we can start with a brief reminder on who the ministers of the Church might be (Hint: It is all of us). According to the Church’s catechism, and under the heading, “The Ministry,” found on page 855 in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), here are a few questions and answers to get you started on the specific responsibilities all ministers have within the life of the Church.

Q.  Who are the ministers of the Church?
A.  The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Q.  What is the ministry of the laity?
A.  The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

Q.  What is the ministry of a bishop?
A.  The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry.

Q.  What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?
A.  The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.

Q.  What is the ministry of a deacon?
A.  The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.

Q.  What is the duty of all Christians?
A.  The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.

Did you notice something similar in all the statements? Each sentence, no matter what ministry being described all started with the statement, “The ministry of lay persons/bishop/priest/deacon is to represent Christ and his Church.” It is only after this sentence that the description gets specific to each ministry. Something else pops out: There is no hierarchy other than Christ. In other words, each minister in the Church has very specific functions, and when each minister lives into their ministry, then Christ is revealed. This is very refreshing to me. I once thought that there was some type of ranking system within the Church (i.e. bishop, priest, deacon, lay person), but this is simply not the case, nor is it biblically sound. Instead, each minister serves Christ and his Church in specific ways; thereby, cancelling out any function of the ego in order to point to Christ – instead of self. Think of lay person, bishop, priest, and deacon walking arm and arm, side by side towards Christ – not single file line in some pecking order.

I’ve always said that if someone wants to know the job description of a Christian, they are to read, “The Baptismal Covenant,” (BCP, 304). If they want the job description of other Christians who have taken holy orders, they are to read the ordination vows of a bishop, priest, and deacon found in the prayer book on page 511 through 547.

Now that we have a general idea as to the theology and functions of the various ministries of the Church, my next post (part II of III) will turn to the specific ministry of a bishop.

Praying through Parenting

Our youngest son turned 6 months today. In honor of my time with him on summer paternity leave from work, I’ve written down a few questions and lessons he has taught and continues to teach me.

What if God enjoys rocking us in rocking chairs? This was a reoccurring thought over this past summer’s paternity leave. What if God enjoys rocking us in rocking chairs?” God knows when we’re tired, anxious, fussy, hungry, and upset. Like a compassionate and aware Father, God receives our cries, our wailing, and our screaming as potential prayer. Our Father names and validates these cries for us when we do not have the language nor the where-with-all to pray them properly. Perhaps our Heavenly Father simply rocks us with love showing us we are more than our fear. We are more than our anxiety. God knows this truth; and God knows we are wonderfully made inviting us into the rhythm of the rocking chair. “Let go,” he says. “Sleep soundly.”

What if God holds the baby bottle until we can hold it for ourselves? While thinking out loud, Jesus revealed to his friends that there were many things in which he wanted to teach them, but could not reveal all he knew because (in his words) they couldn’t handle it (Jn. 16:12). The timing was off. They weren’t mature enough. Jesus wasn’t anxious about it. He simply named the truth in love trusting that all shall be well in time. He invited his friends to cast their cares on him, for soon and very soon he would have to convert these cares into responsibilities. Until then, he would be the one holding the baby bottle.

What if the prayer of the parent asks God to sanctify our weaknesses? With the addition of a child or children to a family, worlds are turned upside down. Rules and rituals get a readjustment. Parents quickly find themselves un-knowing the feelings, emotions, and culture they believed they knew. They must relearn what they think they thought. There were so many times when I had to eat a hardy piece of humble pie. I always thought I was a patient person, slow to anger, and empathetic to those in my care. God, with the help of my son, showed me the real mirror of my soul thus shattering the outdated one I always thought so highly of.

When Daddy’s driving the car, why does the baby always have to be screaming in the back seat? How very uncomfortable and overwhelming it must be for a child to not know what is going on, where Mommy and Daddy are, or in what direction they are taking. A child is constantly seeking safety. Safety in that rocking chair. Safety and comfort in the baby bottle. When these things are taken from him – objects that remind him of his parents – feelings of helplessness well up. Perhaps it’s the first lesson on God’s Providence? That is, with time and deeper experiences of trust, what will be revealed is that Jesus has the wheel and knows the destination. Soon and very soon all will arrive together safely. Until this understanding is lived into, however, the screaming and holding on continue.

Why do babies cry when their diapers are being changed? So many times I had to stop and remind myself that an infants are not rational beings – at least not yet. When a parent changes a child’s diaper it is for the child’s own good. For a few moments of discomfort a wealth of well-being lies just beyond the horizon. Why can’t they see this, I would wonder? It reminded me of going to my priest for the sacrament of reconciliation. I’ve confessed to him before. I’ve received forgiveness and a clean slate, so why do I pitch a fit beforehand? Why can’t I envision what lies just beyond forgiveness?

Babies cannot communicate with language, but communicate they do. Parents also find new ways of communication with their children finding out fairly quickly that children have a sixth sense about such matters. For example, if I was stressed, the baby could absorb this negative energy. There were many times when I had to pray The Lord’s Prayer with the intention that God would take away any negativity from our relationship. This was another lesson in prayer for me because I realized that like a good parent God meets me where I am in my own thoughts, words, and deeds. His presence reveals to me who I am now (in my fussiness), but also who I have the potential to be in the future. God, like a parent, sees the potential in his children, and steers them in the best direction in which to live. Theologically speaking, our capacity lives within God’s will: Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done is the most powerful of prayers. In The Lord’s Prayer we’re desiring an alignment (and a readjustment) to what God desires for us in life. It’s frustrating and disappointing when our children (of all ages) do not remember the way in which we raised them, or forget a lesson taught. But we should never give up on praying for them in the midst of our pain as well as theirs, having faith that God is somewhere in the mix of it all. Which brings me to the importance of community.

Sister Joan Chittister, a Christian monastic and expert on St. Benedict of Nursia has written, “Benedictine spirituality is about caring for the people you live with and loving the people you don’t and loving God more than yourself. Benedictine spirituality depends on listening for the voice of God everywhere in life, especially in one another and here.”[1] The core of Christianity is relationship – relationship with God, self, and neighbor. Within Christianity what you will not find is a mythos of rugged individualism, the proverbial ‘pulling yourself up by your own boot straps.’ What is discovered is that I need you and you need me, and together we all need God. My time with my son was a time by myself; yes, but also with family. Being around my parents, spending more quality time with my wife, as well as letting our two boy’s experience more of their aunts, uncles, and cousins helped me to remember my own roots. I was honestly able to be thankful for the sacrifices my own family has made for me through the years. I couldn’t see this without being a parent myself. What I also discovered was for all the love I have for my parents there comes a time in a person’s life when we all must travel east of Eden leaving the creature comforts of the nest. What we carry with us are the teachings, morals, and ethics our families pass down, as well as the traumas that need to be dropped in order to make the load a bit lighter. We soon find ourselves challenged and bumping up against other ideas of morality and ethics, and if we’re open enough find ourselves listening with holy curiosity to the stranger, neighbor, and others in our midst. We find friends, lovers, and communities of faith that hold us up and hold us accountable. They become proxy families, wanting what’s best for us. I think it is this that I want for both my sons:  I want them to learn from my wife and I. I want to pass down those virtues that were passed down to me understanding that some of my own vices must be separated and discarded along the way. I think what I’m trying to say is that I have discovered (or maybe rediscovered) that life is a gift, and I am blessed. I have also discovered that blessings are not meant to be kept close, but to be given away – always. Some days I’m better at living into this truth than others, and there are certainly days I forget to share who I am as well as whose I am. For these moments I ask forgiveness knowing that God (like a good Father) will give me another chance.

It’s my hope to continue my prayer of rediscovery. A prayer that asks where God shows up in my own life, as well as how life truly is a practice – a practice in caring for the people you live with, loving the people you don’t, and loving God more than yourself.[2]

[1]               Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21stCentury, (New York: Crossroad, 2016), 298.

[2]               Ibid.

An Adjustment of Love

5th Sunday of Easter Readings

 In 2011 I started watching NASCAR. One of the things that intrigues me most about stock car racing is what happens at the pit stop. From the race track, the driver signals to his crew chief that his car is either too tight or loose. This diagnosis, determined with driver and chief calls for a much needed adjustment. When the driver pulls in for his pit stop, his pit crew make the necessary alignments, and off the driver goes –  back onto the racetrack to report new findings within the cockpit of his car.

When a pit crew makes an alignment they are adjusting the suspension of the racecar. A car’s suspension is an intricate system of “tires, [air pressure of those tires], springs, shock absorbers, and linkages that connects [the racecar] to its wheels allowing a relative motion between the two.[1] According to Wikipedia, “Suspension systems must support both road hold/handling and ride quality, which are at odds with each other. The tuning of suspensions [therefore] involves finding the right compromise.”[2]

Communities, like racecars and pit crews, have their own suspension that allows for a relative motion. Within community, the motion is relationship; and adjustments to relationship happens when persons are able to communicate freely and effectively. Ask any child which parent is more likely to buy them ice cream, and one can immediately take a guess as to which adult is the disciplinarian in the family based upon their answer. Ask a teacher which student they would put in charge if they needed to leave the classroom for a moment, and we might be able to infer something about that teacher’s values. Ask anyone what truly brings them joy, and we start to experience hearts opening up.

The relative motion in a church community is Christ, and depending upon the community each church has its own suspension engineered into it. Just like a Ford’s suspension is different from a Chevy’s, and is different than a Toyota’s, the suspension of The Episcopal Church (TEC) is different from a monastic community is different from the Roman Catholic Church. However, even though the suspension differentiates between brands of cars the goal is always to get from point a. to point b. with relative security. We might add that even though churches are broken by denominationalism they all claim Christ as the goal. For example:

We might say the suspension of TEC is reliably grounded on Scripture, Tradition, and Reason whereas our RC sisters and brothers find its authority through Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium (made up of the Pope and his Bishops). In Joan Chittister’s commentary on The Rule of St. Benedict she shows us what the suspension looks like underneath the hood of a Benedictine monastery. There are four essentials to monastic life in these communities of faith:

  1. The Gospel.
  2. The teaching of the prioress or abbot.
  3. The experience of the community.
  4. The Rule of St. Benedict itself. Chittister writes that:
    • The Gospel
      • “gives meaning and purpose to the community”
    • The Teaching of the abbot
      • “gives depth and direction to the community”
    • The Experience of the community
      • “gives truth to the community”
    • The Rule itself
      • “gives the long arm of essential definition and character to the community”

She continues, “No matter how far a group goes in its attempts to be relevant to the modern world, it keeps one foot in an ancient one at all times. It is this world that pulls it back, time and time again, to the tried and true, to the really real, to a Beyond beyond ourselves. It is to these enduring principles that every age looks, not to the customs or practices that intend to embody them from one age to another.”[3]

In each of our readings this morning, the Church gives us Biblical examples of what an adjustment to the suspensions of our hearts looks like. For St. Peter, he had to adjust who he thought was included and excluded within the Kingdom of God. He had to rethink what was considered clean and unclean, as well as sacred and profane. He’s reminded by God that all of God’s creation is good; therefore, “take up and eat.” He’s also reminded not to make a distinction between Jew and Gentile, but to remember them with the love of Christ whose cross is for all. Then in St. John’s Revelation new adjustments to the created order help to align a new heaven and a new earth where the destructive powers of death are no more. Finally, Jesus asks his disciples at the Last Supper to align themselves with love. In doing so, he says, “everyone will know you are my disciples.”

I wonder if you could name what the “enduring principles” within your own family are? Could you perhaps name these principles at your work, or school, or within your politics, and within your practices? Put differently, Who’s in your pit crew? Once we start to honestly probe the depths of our hearts alongside the enduring principles found in our pit crews of influence and our communities of faith we can better adjust the suspension of our souls aligning ourselves with Christ; thus aligning ourselves to the way, the truth, and the life whose north star is always love. This week, pay attention to how your engines are running, and how your suspension feels. Then reach out to your pit crews to not only report what is going on within you, but to also listen to their suggestions, observations, and realignment advice. Together, and with God’s help, your heart (as well as the heart of the community) will be filled and full for another lap or two ’round the track of life.

[1]          Wikipedia article accessed on 5-18-19. Article refers to: Jazar, Reza N. (2008). Vehicle Dynamics: Theory and Applications. Spring. p. 455. Retrieved 2012-06-24.

[2]               Ibid.

[3]               Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for he 21stCentury, (New York: Crossroads, 2016), 55-56.

The Feast of Saints Philip & James – A Trinitarian Reflection

John 14:6-14

In tonight’s Gospel we have Jesus identifying himself with God as The Great “I AM”. When Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” our ears should burn as we remember YAHWEH, the God of Israel, telling Moses who He is. Out of the burning bush God says to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disbelieving Sadducees that because the great I Am is the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. This is the same spiritual life force that is God, and this life force is One.

As Christians we believe that God the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is one of the lines from the Nicene Creed we recite on Sundays. So, when Philip asks Jesus to show him God the Father, Jesus replies He/Jesus is One with the Father. If you know the Father you know me. Since this is a deep theological truth, and Philip doesn’t necessary get it, Jesus offers, “at least believe on the evidence of the works [of God] themselves.” And what are these works? Well, going back to the Moses story, God is the great gathering force who desires to once again gather his people Israel so that He may be their God, and they His people. That’s the work; and this is the same work, the work of God being done by Jesus. Jesus is gathering his people once again, and those who recognize his divinity recognize the way, the truth, and the life. His work is to gather up those who are on their way to him as well as invite those who do not know him into his Being, or into his “I Am-ness.”

When we remember all the above, Jesus’ words, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” makes more sense. If we have been gathered up by God who is the way, truth, and life then our actions, and our works have the potential to be one with the actions and workings of the living God! This is what is meant by the words in The Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, when we align ourselves with the will of God, we are asking for what God has already deemed a triumphant, ‘Yes.’ God is glorified in saying ‘Yes’ to His will – always. So what does all of this “look like” on the ground? That’s where the saints come in – two of which we are celebrating today. The saints of the church show us through their lives what the workings of God look like, and the workings of God are as diverse as the saints themselves. St. Philip is certainly different than St. James, or St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, or Theresa. Throughout space and time, it is the saints who inspire us to focus our lives on the will of God the Father, and in doing so find Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Tonight, as we all seek out health, healing, and wholeness may your prayers align with the Spirit of Christ who is constantly praying within you to the Father in heaven, and in doing so revealing God’s will in your life.

The Passion of Christ – a Palm Sunday Reflection

Luke 23:1-49

Today we remember the Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We remember how he was betrayed, abandoned, and denied – by those closest to him. We remember the violence, anger, and resentment mobs can carry when self-righteousness becomes the driving energy force. We remember how weapons used for war and courts for trials reveal to us how fallible human institutions can be when compared with the providence and salvific plan of God. Today, we remember anxious politicians scared of their constituents’ shadows. We remember soldiers justifying their acts of cruelty as alleged protectors of the state. We remember hecklers, hypocrites, and apathetic on-lookers. All of these characters are guilty, and all of these characters are us.

There is also another type of remembering, and it comes from an unlikely source. It comes from a criminal. From his cross, the unnamed man admits for all of us our own guilt. We stand convicted of pride and presumption, anger and resentment, malice and greed, lack of discipline, cruelty and indifference. From his cross, he admits to all of it saying, I have been condemned and condemned justly. I deserve what is coming. This is his confession, and he doesn’t stop there. Like the prophets of old he steps over the line and dares to inquire of God. Dares to ask him yet another question of clarification, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The man is not presumptuous here. The kingdom of God does not belong to men like him; and yet, from this man’s cross and from this man’s suffering he finds faith, seeks after hope, and desperately begs for charity. And what Jesus does from his own cross goes beyond merely remembering. Jesus himself steps over that same line daring to promise this man eternal life in him. Paradise with him.

Like the women in today’s story who observed all these things from afar we too are to objectively self-examine the state of our souls, questioning our intentions, presumptions, and biases. As this work is being done within the hills and valleys of our hearts, we are to act like Simon of Cyrene, who coming from the country of his heart took up the cross of Christ holding onto it for a little while knowing full well he must one day take up his own. Finally, we must be like the criminal, who does take up his own cross, realizing that the life he has led should be crucified, and the life he must now lead welcomes him as a friend of God’s.

Today is the beginning of Holy Week. If you believe Christ when he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” then come and be forgiven, come and be washed on Maundy Thursday. If you believe in the cross of Christ, and how it was not only used as an instrument of torture, but also one of redemption then come and claim this truth on Good Friday. If you uphold the faith of the Church that being washed by Christ in the waters of Baptism gives one access to his Body and Blood, come to the Great Vigil on Saturday and renew your faith in Him. Finally, if you know a person that needs to hear the redeeming message of Jesus Christ as a message of love, then invite them to church this Holy Week as a preparation for the celebration of Resurrection one week from today. As Christians our very life as the Body of Christ depends upon this witness, our witness – together.

 

Ash Wednesday – A Call to Observe a Holy Lent

Do not think that saintliness comes from occupation; it depends rather on what one is. The kind of work we do does not make us holy, but we may make it holy.
     ~Meister Eckhart (1260-1329)

Today begins a 40-day journey. A journey into Lent. A deep expedition into the life of the soul. I pray that you find comfort that the church gifts us with this season of Lent, and may be bold enough to count those blessings over the course of these 40 days. What are some of the blessings that this saintly season allows?

The first blessing is that today is not a feast day, but one of fasting. This is a rarity in our tradition given that the prayer book only names 2 days – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (BCP 17) – as times to make fasting a priority. Put differently, because fast days are such a rarity, we should pay attention to what a day like today truly reveals. Again, I claim it anticipates blessing for today, the church grants us permission to un-plug. To experience…to dig down and really see the world around us. Maybe today you will begin fasting from consumerism or television, social media, or tobacco. Will you be giving up meat on Fridays, or resisting chocolate on Mondays? No matter what your self-discipline will be, try to understand that abstinence and fasting are helpful for recalling us back to God, and can serve as specific practices that allow us to stand in solidarity with those who are in need. For example, when you are hungry today, remember and pray for those who are chronically hungry. If you are trying to live more simply, live simply so that the least of these may simply live. Remember not only your flesh-and-blood neighbors, but also your neighbor trees, flowers, forests, and fields asking such questions as: How do I love all of God’s creation? As well as, “How do I neglect these creations?” Finally, remember Lent allows us to pray for God’s creation and our neighbors but also gives us space to serve them in specific ways too.

The second blessing of Lent is that it allows for routine. We all have routines upon waking, sleeping, and everything in between, but Lent reminds us that our daily schedules can be grounded in an intentional life of prayer. Take these 40 days to experiment with a regular routine of prayer. Specifically, and with intention, divide your day up into times for prayer and meditation. Eat your meals with friends or family. Take time to labor and live into your vocations, but also find the time for learning and rest. When was the last time you truly went on retreat? When was the last time you took up something new simply for the joy of learning something new? Remembering afresh the ways in which we order our lives will harness that extra sense in which God also has his own ways-and-means in which God orders, guides, and directs our souls.

The third blessing of Lent is that we are obligated to confess our sins to God and our neighbor more frequently. We confess, not to be condemned, but to be forgiven. When we are forgiven, we are reminded of the peace of Christ. Forgiveness is a gift for it lifts up our heavy hearts allowing them to praise God, and to be in thanksgiving, honoring and adoring the One who grants us forgiveness of our sins. At once, confession gives us access to God’s judgment as well as his mercy. There is no season in the church calendar that emphasizes the graces of confession more than in the season of Lent.

Finally, Lent allows for further conversion of spirit. When we convert to something, we stop doing what we’re doing. We turn from it and pursue something altogether different. Conversion doesn’t necessarily mean we turn from something bad to something good. More times than not conversion happens when we turn from something good to something better. During this season of Lent, I invite you to start paying attention to your choices choosing the greater one that helps you live into the person you desire to be while acknowledging God’s graces that are there to assist you.

To sum up, Lent is a time of fasting, and a time of reflection on one’s routine in life. Lent is also a time of confession and ongoing conversion. Given all these blessed realities of this season, take the time to do them and if you cannot commit to all of them this year, choose one and work with God on how you will live into your fasting, routine, confession, or further conversion. Be brave this Lent. Experiment with the tools the church offers. Live out your faith comparing your relationship with God since this time last season. Are you growing stronger in the faith? Is there a greater sense of hope in your life? Are you walking in love more fully and with each passing day? Get curious about these virtuous things, and with intention (along with God’s help), observe a time of Holy Lent.

This New Year Recall the Light of Christ in Your Life

The Prayer Book defines 7 “principal kinds of prayer” being adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition (BCP, 856). These are all defined on page 857; however, there are two – thanksgiving and penitence – which I would like to focus on as we approach the New Year.

For 4 weeks, the Season of Advent gifted us with John the Baptist’s invitation to repent in order to prepare our hearts for the light of Christ coming into the world at Christmas. Christmas is a season of thanksgiving as we stand thankful for the gift of light within our lives being called (like John) to witness to this light (Jn 1:7,8). This act of thanksgiving is symbolized on Christmas morning when someone gives you a gift to open. You open it; thus acknowledging the gift. Then you thank the person for the gift by actually using the gift – be it a toy, or something practical, or monetary. Again, you use the gift that has been given to you.

Taking these two prayers, thanksgiving and penitence, and thinking about the closing out of one year and the opening up of another, let us recollect, counting our many blessings naming them one by one through prayers of thanksgiving, as well as acknowledging and confessing sin in our lives – not to be condemned, but to be forgiven. This is a great way to not only end a year, but to also live into the next one with grace, mercy, and integrity.

God Moments
When a God Moment occurs, we usually tell somebody about them, or we serve Christ in tangible ways because of all our recognizable moments with God. We are like John the Baptist “testifying to the light” when we participate in these God Moments. Prayers of repentance as well as thanksgiving help to recall those God Moments in our lives, and the church has gifted us with spiritual tools to help recollect both our sins and our thanksgivings. It’s important to balance confession with thanksgiving. Only confessing sin leaves us dull, and boarders on obsessiveness and morbidity. On the other hand, continually thanking God without confessing sin puts us out of touch with the reality of sin, and ignores real problems within our own lives, the lives of others, and even the life of our planet. Having balance with these two types of prayers is a sign of Christian maturity, and spiritual longevity.

Self-Examination & Confession
When there is a God Moment that convicts you of a sin, or sins, in your life this is the Holy Spirit prompting you to pray. Tradition calls this movement of the Spirit, self-examination. We examine our lives in the light of God’s mercy and love, while seeking forgiveness for those thoughts, words, and deeds done and left undone where we fell short. There are multiple manuals within the tradition of Christianity that have helped countless Christians recall and confess their sins. I want to look at 2 of them in the English/Anglican/Episcopal Tradition: The Bible and The Book of Common Prayer.

The Bible
One way to examine our lives is to put it up against Judeo-Christian practices, specifically the moral and aesthetical practices found within the Bible. Within the Old Testament, we could turn to the Decalogue, or The 10 Commandments, meditating on them and observing where we are convicted of sin. From the New Testament, we might consider reading and meditating on the Beatitudes found in Matthew’s Gospel or when Jesus summed up the law. Let’s take this last one (Jesus Summing up the Law) and treat it as an example of self-examination. Jesus said,

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:37-39).

During self-examination we might get curious as to how we understand and experience love within our lives (“Thou shalt love”), and how our love extends from our self, to those around us, including God. Reversing this, we might ask how we believe God extends his love to us, those around us, and in fact, to all God’s creation. This love extends out through our “hearts,” “souls,” and “minds.” This gives us pause as we can now recollect the awesome power of God’s love, and where we fall short giving expression of this love to ourselves, neighbors, and the world. What starts out as a broad meditation on God’s love and the feeling of falling short can now turn into specifics: “I didn’t love God with my mind when I…” “I neglected my neighbor just yesterday when I…” Being specific is important when confessing sin, and reveals to God your desire to be forgiven.

The Prayer Book
Self-examination in the prayer book is best expressed in the liturgical Rite of Baptism. Here, we are reminded of our Baptismal Promises made, or someone made on our behalf at our baptism, if one was baptized as an infant or young child. These promises are on page 304-305. Another resource is St. Augustine’s Prayer Book. In it are specific questions for self-examination using the traditional “7 Deadly Sins.” Once a Christian has practiced self-examination using the Bible and the prayer book for a while, and desires to go deeper, this is an excellent resource for doing so. Getting back to the Prayer Book, once sins have been recollected, there are three ways to seek absolution and forgiveness in the Episcopal Tradition. The first is to confess your sins directly to God in private asking for forgiveness, then praying a prayer of Thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins. Psalm 51 is a classic Psalm of thanksgiving for forgiveness of sins. There are other Psalms that you may wish to say with your own words of thanksgiving as well. The second way is during the General Confession either during Holy Eucharist, or within the Daily Office (morning and evening prayers). The last is a Rite in the Prayer Book called, Reconciliation of a Penitent (BCP, 447). This is confession to God with a priest being present to absolve the penitent through his priestly ministry of absolution. Confession to a priest isn’t in vogue like it used to be; however, this sacramental rite of the church is always available. Persons who use this office of the church today are usually wondering if God truly forgave them, and desire some tangible closure. This isn’t always the case of course as many Christians find confession beneficial at certain seasons of the Church, or at regular times in the calendar where confession to God through the priest is particular important and necessary for further spiritual growth and maturity. Traditional times of self-examination and confession during the liturgical year are during the seasons of Advent and Lent.

Thanksgivings 
Leaving confession and going over to Thanksgiving: Here you Count your blessings. Naming them one-by-one. A sense of gratefulness and thankfulness can suddenly wash over us as we recollect the many wonders of life and being. When this happens we can pause, taking it all in, and simply say, “Thank You.” When we want to be more specific, a great resource found within the Prayer Book is the Thanksgiving section found on page 836 and 837. This section is divided into A General Thanksgiving and A Litany of Thanksgiving. I’ve taken both of these and put them in question format for better recollection and self-examination. Once the questions have been answered, a proper way of closing out the recollection is to simply pray one of the two prayers. This can be done by yourself, in a small group, or within your family as a wonderful way of thanking God for the many blessings of life and light in our lives now as well as thinking upon this past year. The questions are below. Choose as many or as little as you with. I hope you find them helpful; then, using the Prayer Book, either use one of the prayers of thanksgiving on page 836 and 837, or gather up all your thanksgivings and pray The Lord’s Prayer.

God’s creation is beautiful. Where did you seek out beauty and find it this year?

Where did you remember the mystery of love this year? Who helped you remember?

How were you blessed by family? by friends? How were you cared for? How were you caring?

We can be thankful for our disappointments and failures if we faithfully believe that these missteps can lead us to acknowledge our dependence on God. How was this true for you?

 Choose a Gospel story were Jesus is teaching, healing, suffering, being tempted, questioning, being obedient, dying, etc. Place yourself into the story. What do you believe God is showing you today?

 What do you know about Jesus? How do you know him and/or experience him in your own life?

 What gifts did you receive this year? Could any of these gifts be used to “give back” to God?

 Did you travel somewhere beautiful this year? If so, describe it to God.

 Do you pray to God thanking him for the food and drink you are blessed to have, shelter over your head, and friends that support you along the way? Thank God for these now.

 Where did you use your God-given intellect this year? How did it help you or someone else? Did you know thinking critically is a gift?

 How did you serve Christ in “the neighbor, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the lonely” this year? How did they serve you?

 Work gives humanity dignity and respect. Are you satisfied with the work you did this year? Will you remain in this work next year, or are you discerning “a new calling?”

 Where did you take the time to make good use of leisure, rest, and play? Do you have tangible plans for these important things in the coming year?

 How are you brave and courageous? Who is your example – either living or past?

 When you suffer or are experiencing adversity, are you patient? Do you experience God’s presence in these times?

 How do you seek after truth, liberty, and justice? How are these Godly attributes lived out in your life?

 Who is your favorite saint, and why?

Conclusion
As we set aside 2018 looking toward 2019 may these two types of prayer – penitence and thanksgiving – give you pause in your life to recall, recollect, and examine your lives in the light of Christ’s glory and grace.

God bless you, and Happy New Year!

What Then Should We Do?

~A meditation on Luke 3:7-18

What then should we do?” It’s this question that gets me every time I read today’s Gospel. “What then should we do?” is a deeply human question. It’s personal, hopeful, and courageous. And John the Baptist being the prophet that he is actually answers the question. He gives the people something to do. He gives them a word, and invites them to make it flesh. He instructs them to examine their lives and repent. He asks them to take responsibility for one’s actions speaking, living, and growing in truth…to even stop seeking for a moment; instead, taking the time and concentrating on what has been found. Use what you have, and what has been given you; and what the people have are God’s promises, morality, faith, and hope, and love. So what exactly were the people repenting of, and what made them forget these promises? They were repenting of their self-centeredness, their pride, and their vanity. They had forgotten the oaths they swore to uphold as soldier, citizen, and state. These oaths represented something virtuous, and virtues are truths bigger than us.

With the help of John, the people are redirected to a life of virtue and virtuous living. This redirection leads to a need to self-examine. Self-examination leads to repentance. Repentance prepares the heart to receive truth incarnate, the One even John feels unworthy before. Repentance gives us permission to pay attention. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none.” How can we tell who doesn’t have a coat if we’re not paying attention? “What should we do,” was asked three different times, and John did give the crowd something to do or something not to do, not for the sake of busy-ness, but for the sake of Being.

The Advent message is always John’s message to be on guard, to repent, turning to God time after time. It’s repenting, and accepting the peace of Christ before being invited to the altar. Once at the altar, one can honestly realize that what we are about to receive is something all of us are unworthy to receive, and yet we do receive it because we worship a God who is worthy, virtuous, and true. That’s what the people listening to John needed, and that’s what we need right now. A Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “He coming”, says John the Baptist. “I’ll wipe away your sins with water, but he’ll burn them in the fires of justice.” “I’m unworthy to untie the thong of his sandals, but he’s worthy, so pay attention, be alert, snap out of it, sleepers awake…he’s coming.”

Perhaps, “What then, should we do?” is a life or death question. The question gives us permission to take a look in the mirror and to be honest. It allows us to caliber and recalculate the dials, to turn the temperature up or down, braving reality as we face what is instead of what isn’t. What is real? What is truth? What is virtuous? These are the questions of Advent. These are the deep, deep mysteries we are preparing our hearts to receive. And the answer lived is even more mysterious for reality, truth, and virtue turn out not to be a philosophical statement, or a theological treatise. Reality, truth, and virtue turn out to be human; and not just any human, but the One who is most alive. Anything less is death, an ax lying at the root of the trees, or chaff being burned away. This season is a season where we exchange our unworthiness to the one who is worthy. Today is the day we wake up from fantasy to face the music. Advent reminds us to look truth in the eye and say, Yes to life; thus saying No to death. Yes to Christ and No to anything less than.

What then should we do?” but to incarnate being, to bring forth life to a life-less world, and there find joy in the midst of suffering. “What then should we do?” is not a happiness code, but a mantra of meaning – a question that acts as a divine chariot riding us out to the 7th heaven that just so happens to reside in our hearts. I speak abstractly today because what this season represents is hard to put into words. I speak theologically today in the hope that Christ coming again can come to be a truth in your own life. You know beauty when you see it. You understand truth when you experience it. You come into contact with goodness daily. What these virtues point to; however, transcends all thought and contemplation of them. They land you in the realm of the Divine, and the land of the Divine is personal. It has a name. It is conscious. It is with us. So come O come Emmanuel. Come into our world. Come into our hearts. Come into our lives. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well; and yet, make yourself known, again.

Give us something.

Give us anything, Emmanuel.

Give us God.