Christ the (Crucified) King

Luke 23:33-43

As the Church winds down an entire year spent in St. Luke’s Gospel, we are reminded that in Christ’s Kingdom things are not always what they seem. In Christ’s Kingdom what is revealed are the ways in which followers of King Jesus serve and love one another. It’s not a kingdom that finds its meaning in wealth, power, privilege or pleasure. It’s a kingdom that finds reality in Resurrection. It’s Good Friday juxtaposed with Easter Sunday. It’s sorrow coupling with joy. Sacrifice deepening sound relationship with love.

Like the first crucified criminal in today’s Gospel, the kingdom of God where Jesus reigns can be rejected, or it can be revealed and intuited like the second thief’s intercessory prayer, “Remember me.” Jesus, in his very body and being, is able to resolve both rejection and remembering in rhythmic syncopation. For it was he as King who descended into the heart of both convicted criminals who holding tightly to their own crosses of death made very different pronouncements. The first pridefully decided not to part with his cross; thus, binding himself to fear and eternal estrangement. The second intuited not just a kingdom but a person, and ultimately the person-al God in whom there was (and is) no separation. It’s been said that, “The meaninglessness of suffering is subverted by the meaning of the Passion.”[1] Like the redeemed thief intuited meaning in Jesus, we too can call on Christ to remember us through our own sufferings, misgivings, and misfortunes. Jesus will go all the way down with us as well as lift us all the way up resolving double-binds, and ab-solving our missed chances inviting us into the beautiful Forever.

Christ the King Sunday is a liturgical icon revealing not only the end of the Christian year, but also the conclusion of the way things have always been. Life, St. Luke helps us discover, is not about winning but common participation. Participating tangibly in divine and dignified relationship. Life is not about joining an angry mob scoffing and mocking, and finally, rejecting Love. No. Jesus as crucified King of Kings and resurrected Lord of Lords will finally “scatter the proud in their conceit, cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lift up the lowly.” The kingdom of God “fills the hungry with good things, sending the rich away empty.” On his cross King Jesus has remembered his promise of mercy having a long memory that stretched all the way back to Father Abraham. All of these promises are set and re-set in metrical motion on Calvary. All of these promises come to their final fulfillment in the emblem of the empty tomb.

Next week the Church acts like a sentinel anxiously anticipating the Lord’s return. Christians have been waiting for over 2,000 years, not because we’re in a hurry and Jesus seems slow to come, but because God is forever patient having impeccable timing. Our ongoing job; therefore, is to watch. “Watch, for you do not know when the King of the castle will come. In the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find us all asleep.”

Christ the King has freed and brought us together under his most gracious rule. It’s a rule of love that leads to a watchful rule of life. It’s spiritual and religious. It’s water and wine. It’s spirit and flesh. Finally, like the second criminal who in his final moments was able to ponder Paradise, this Advent may we repent and remember, forgo and forgive, watch and wait praying, “Come, Lord Jesus. For you are Christ the King.”

[1]           Urban T. Holmes, III, (What is Anglicanism? “Pastoral Care”), Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, PA, 1982, p. 60.

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.

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.

Freedom in-Dependence

Today is July 4th. Independence Day. Hundreds of years ago, our forefathers fought to free themselves and future generations from state sanctioned tyranny, control, and abuse. Today is a day to celebrate. Today is a day to let loose, and let go.

If today is a day for Americans to remember independence, it is also a day for American Christians to remember their dependence – dependence upon their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier for even in our freedom we rely on God.

This dependence is first learned in the family. A child is totally dependent upon her parents to nurture, care, and to receive love. There is very little freedom for the child (not to mention the parents as well), and everyone involved is utterly dependent upon love. As we get older, we are introduced into a new family: the Church family. It is here where we learn about the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to love as God has loved us. Even in this grace, we find a total dependence upon God like a child with her parents.

Today, I will celebrate Independence Day with my fellow Americans, but I will also continue to pray and contemplate on how dependent I am upon my Savior. It is only in this paradoxical dependency that I am free to love as I have been loved.

The Questions Epiphany Bring

During Epiphany we remember three miracles: The baptism of Jesus by John in the River Jordan with the voice of God the Father giving approval for this act, the wedding feast in Cana where ordinary water was turned into extraordinary wine; and finally, the star that led the Magi to Bethlehem. These Epiphany miracles remind us Jesus’ ministry has begun. They also foreshadow his death and resurrection, and how we are compelled to take up our crosses and follow him. The Season of Epiphany invites us to find the miraculous in the mundane, and to walk alongside Christ as a disciple.

During what is sometimes referred to as the “Octave of Christmas” – those 8 out of the 12 days of Christmas – the Church’s calendar begins to reveal what following Christ truly entails. December 26, the day after Christmas, is St. Stephen’s feast day. The irony in the placement of this feast is clear. On December 25th, we remember the birth of Christ, the Messiah into our world, and the very next day we remember the death of Stephen, one who followed him. St. Stephen was the first martyr of Christendom, and revealed what the cost of discipleship can sometimes entail. The 20th century theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this about discipleship: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

On the second day of Christmas, we remember St. John the apostle and evangelist. John takes us away from martyrdom for a moment and helps us focus on Calvary’s cross in a very intimate way. From the cross, Jesus looked down and saw his Mother Mary; he then looked to John, and again at them both and said, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26). A classic interpretation of this story is that Mary represented the Church. John was to be joined to her, and the Church to him. Christ compels us to do the same through the graces his Church offers.

The third day of Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Innocence. Here, we are reminded that those who stand in the way of the State (represented by Herod in the story) will be punished and even killed for the sake of Truth. It is Jesus Christ that is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, not emperors, kings, congress, or presidents. Historically it is the State that is willing to sacrifice the least of these in order to gain power; whereas, Christ lifts up the least of these as the ones who will inherit the true Kingdom founded upon Him.

Finally, on the octave of Christmas the Church remembers Christ’s Holy Name. Here, we remember the name the angel gave him – the name Emmanuel – which means God with us. This name is important because if the call to discipleship is to loose our self for the sake of Christ (again, represented in St. Stephen) then Christ (as Emmanuel) is always with us. He’s with us in our joys and our sufferings. He’s with us corporately in His Mystical Body – the Church. He’s with us whether we are Jew or Gentile as St. Paul reminded us in his letter to the Church in Ephesus (Ephesians 3:1-12).

God is with us is a great Christmas truth that continues into this season of Epiphany. In two weeks, we will celebrate the Confession of St. Peter, the apostle. Peter confessed to Jesus that he was indeed who he said he was. Jesus is the Christ, and Peter would spend the rest of his life stumbling around trying desperately to figure out what following him meant. Peter, in other words, is very much like you and I.

The following week, we have the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Paul’s story is a conversion story in the extreme. It was he who by persecuting the Church was persecuting the very Body of Christ. Christ appeared to him and told him this. Paul repented of his sin, and followed Christ. He then went on to produce most of the canonized letters found in the Bible’s New Testament.

On the 40th day after Christmas, and really the day that ends the Christmas stories, is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Here, we remember Jesus being presented by his parents to the priest; and yet like Anna and Simeon who were waiting on him in the Temple, we too must ask how we are to present ourselves to him. Again, do we fight against him and recollect our egos like Herod; or do we die to our egos, take up our crosses and follow him? These are short questions, and the Church gives us 40 long days in which to contemplate them.

After tomorrow, which is the Baptism of Our Lord, the Church will change its liturgical colors from white to green. Green signifies growth, and Epiphany truly is a season in which we are invited to grow into the likeness and image of Christ. Will you be like Peter this season, proclaiming Christ is Lord, yet wondering how to follow him? Will you be like Paul, in need of conversion from this or that in order to truly follow in his path? Ponder these questions that the Church naturally gives at this time, then live into their answers knowing God as Emmanuel is always with you.

Mary – Mother of God

Luke 1:26-38

An electric anticipation fills the air as we celebrate the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. We can guess what this afternoon, evening, and tomorrow may hold; yet this morning take a deep, collective breath before plunging into Christmas. May I suggest looking to Mary, and observing (with her) how the angelic messenger of God transformed her world from the ordinary into the extraordinary? For a moment, may we too give a loving ‘Yes’ to God, and with Mary stand perplexed and pondering, “What sort of Advent greeting this may be?”

The greeting named Mary “favored one.” This title was such an existential shock to Mary she had no words in that moment. She allowed the angel to proceed with his words while humbleness took over her disposition – Again, “She pondered.” Once the angel finished his divine proclamations, revelations, and prophesies it was Mary who did not let the truth found in these statements overwhelm her. Instead of being called into Heaven, she brought Heaven to Earth with her practicality –  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Didn’t see that one coming, did you angel?) It’s quite possible the angel fumbled a bit, and tried to relate, taking a different approach with his next set of sentences. Perhaps he sat down, took at deep breath, and compared Mary’s miraculous birth with her relative, Elizabeth’s. It may have been a bit of a stretch, but being a good Jewish woman, Mary might have taken the angel’s counsel of her own pregnancy, and compared it to her ancestors Sarah and Hannah. Were impossible pregnancies just something that ran in her family? Again, the answer was ‘Yes’ and in perhaps the most beautiful poetic response to any angel’s musings, Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” The scripture says that the angel simply went away (possibly relieved). The message was signed, sealed, and delivered. Mary, in that moment gave herself away to something greater than herself. She became a vessel of God – a vessel for God – a vessel to God.

Fun Fact: Mary and Pontius Pilot are the only historical persons besides Jesus who are mentioned in the Creeds of the Church. Where Pontius Pilot would later ask Jesus, “What is Truth,” not knowing that Truth was standing before him, it was Mary who held Divine Truth in her very being, birthing it into a world that desperately needed it. Perhaps this is our calling as well? Sunday after Sunday we gather here on the Lord’s Day proclaiming what we believe (credo).

“We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son…He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

What are we to do with this statement?

I think we are to ponder it in our hearts. I think we are to say ‘yes’. I think we are then called to be vessels of the truth. We are to imitate the great saint of Advent – Mary, the Mother of God. When we say Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, we are reminding ourselves to purify our hearts, minds, and bodies so that God’s Spirit will be revealed through us, dare I say, birthed into being through us. Truth is able to make itself known when we say, “Let it be to me according to your word.” When we don’t do this, truth suffers under Pontius Pilate again and again and again. We hold the truth within us instead of giving it away. We allow States, Caesers, Emperors, Kings, Congress and Presidents to possess so called self-evident truths and realities, when the only reality I know of in Heaven and on Earth is Christ. Put Christ up alongside those brothers above, and they pale in comparison. They just don’t hold up. Mary knew this too. Today, choirs across the world sing her song:

He [Christ] has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

No Pontius Pilot in history has ever sung that song!

It is only by the merciful rhythm of Christ that we can even begin to dance to this music, to experience its graceful melodies, to have the eternal laugh of Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary. What God calls us into during the seasons of Advent and Christmas is none other than history itself. God invites the credo of our hearts to be made manifest in his creation: Spirit with flesh, and flesh with Spirit. When this happens, new music is made. We get to play jazz because we have learned the truth, and the truth has set us free. This is Mary’s eternal song: Playing jazz with a people named Israel, its prophets, and its future apostles all the while Christ is being brought forth, truth is being brought forth, beauty is being brought forth, goodness is being brought forth and we are caught up in the moment, caught up in the history of it all.

As the music of Advent fades, and we turn up the volume on Christmas, may God’s truth reverberate throughout history. The true song is the song of Mary. The true reality is Christ. The true vessel is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We say, proclaim and believe these scandalous things each and every week (for some of us, each and every day). May we use the music of this season to wake us up to these gifts that we have been given so that we may share them with a worn and weary world crying out the eternal question of Pontius Pilate, “What is Truth?” God has an answer to this question. This afternoon, this evening, and for the next 12 days may we celebrate this eternal truth who has come into the world.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

Intimacy Requires Commitment

Matthew 25:1-13

Today’s Gospel focuses on two things: Preparedness and Intimacy.

Five of the bridesmaids were prepared to participate in the wedding banquet. Five were not. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches what preparedness “looks like” in the form of new commandments. A good Jew would have followed Holy Torah starting with The Ten Commandments. Jesus took this Divine teaching a step further, and gave us the Spirit behind the commandments that are captured ever so beautifully in The Beatitudes and The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5). In other words, to follow God is to be prepared by following his commandments, and living into the graceful Spirit found within them. But wait; there’s more!

Jesus offers himself fully to us – his life, death, and resurrection. This truth is captured ever so eloquently each and every time Christ offers his Body to us during Holy Communion. Like a bride offers herself to her husband, and a husband offers his body to his bride, Christ offers his very flesh to us in this very intimate act of communion and consummation.

We are wise when we recognize this intimacy, and commit fully to Christ’s redeeming love by accepting his grace as well as living into his Holy Commandments. We are unwise when we expect intimacy, yet are not committed to everything that goes along with the graces found in intimate relationships.

All are invited to the intimacy of the wedding banquet. Don’t be turned away for lack of wisdom.

 

 

By Erasing Art We Forget Our Flaws and How it Mixes with God’s Grace

Art evokes many things: Truth, beauty, goodness – emotion, controversy, pleasure, and contemplation. Artists can be a bit more complicated. They can be mystics, manic-depressives, manipulators, or murderers. They have been lovers, fighters, pedophiles, perverts, and prodigies.

Often times we equate the work of art to the artist (think Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel) but this oversimplifies the complexities of the human condition. Michelangelo, for example, not only painted and sculpted masterfully, he also ate, drank, slept, had relationships, emotions, and longings. By virtue of being human he also made mistakes. You might say Michelangelo was flawed even though his work (arguably) was not.

The same line of thinking could be said for all mankind. No matter what one’s vocation may be, that vocation does not ultimately define a person – it’s simply a part of the person, an extension of the (flawed) self. For example, popular characters from the Bible – Moses, King David, and the Apostle Paul – were all murderers in their lifetimes; yet, for billions of Jews and Christians these are three of the most respectable men in the Bible. Moses freed a people, King David ruled with valor, and Paul wrote masterful letters to the early Christian communities. Again, these were flawed individuals, but (arguably) their life’s work was not.

Could we not make the same argument for the founders of this country? They most certainly were flawed, but their life’s work was not. Taking down statues, plaques, stained glass, and other works of art that depict the founding fathers forgets the complexities of being considered great (and flawed) all at the same time.

  • Augustine was a sex addict; yet because of his work is now a saint. Should we burn his writings?
  • Lewis Carroll was a pedophile; yet because of his work his stories are read in nurseries around the world. Should we ban “Alice” from “Wonderland”?
  • Martin Luther once suggested a child with a mental disorder be drowned because he had no soul. Should all Protestant Christians return to “Mother Church”?
  • Jesus Christ often told parables where many of the characters were slaves. Should we edit these stories out of the Bible because Jesus did not object?

Why do we leave the statues, plaques, stained glass, and other works of art that depict the founding fathers up? I would argue – You leave them up because of grace – amazing grace, dare I say?[i] You leave them up to help people and parishioners remember that great women and men make mistakes – sometimes huge – yet grace and mercy are still available. And if grace and mercy are still available to them, then they are available to us as well. Personally, I like remembering flawed people because I am a flawed person. I especially enjoy remembering them and their work knowing that they were sinners just like me; and yet, by the grace of God they were also loved.

As a Christian, I don’t define myself solely on who I am, but whose I am. In other words, I am a child of God. That is what ultimately defines me. The same can be said for Moses, Augustine, Washington, Jackson, or Lee. We can choose to label them good or evil, but ultimately they too are children of God – warts and all. As citizens in our country debate tearing down, building up, or leaving art where it stands, consider your own flawed nature compared with the goodness of God. Nobody stacks up; therefore, it is by grace that we can all be called children of God.

[i]           Slave ship captain, John Newton, wrote the song “Amazing Grace”. Should we get rid of his music in our churches too? Sterilizing history is a slippery slope. At what point do we cross the line?

Angels and Demons

Friday was The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. Below are some musings on the subject; but first, take a look at the exorcism portion of the liturgy in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. This section, found in the Book of Common Prayer is sometimes called the renunciations and affirmations section of the baptismal rite.

Q.  Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
A.  I renounce them.

Q.  Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
A.  I renounce them.

Q. Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
A.  I renounce them.

Q.  Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
A.  I do.

Q.  Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
A.  I do.

Q.  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
A.  I do.

When a priest is ordained, he takes vows to be pastor, priest, and teacher. All three constructs aid the archetype of priest; however, I’ve come to believe there is one underlining metaphor that unites these offices. A priest is a journeyman – not in the sense of journeying alone – but rather, as someone who ‘journeys with’. A priest has been called (by Christ and His Church) to journey with others; and not as the hero, but as a companion along The Way. Put differently, and in the context of parish life, the priest accompanies his parishioners along the hero’s pathway.

I am at my best when I see the parishioners I serve as heroes. I can easily forgive in this mindset. I remember compassion. I do not forsake love. You might say a priest is more Sam Gamgee rather than Frodo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings. Sam was right there by his friend’s side every step of the way. He spoke as needed, but knew the supremacy of silence. He evoked the power of metaphor at times, heard confessions, and gently corrected his hero when necessary. In a variety of situations and quests evil was fought, spirits were restored, and persistence remained.

Although priests are as much flesh and blood as the next person, scripture and tradition teach that there are also spiritual companions to help guide and protect along The Way. Actually, that’s putting it nicely. Angels (who we are celebrating this feast day) are better described as warriors, or maybe even secret-service agents that shield and defend us from the powers and principalities that corrupt our world. Humanity has always had a fascination with good and evil. Judeo-Christian thought has classically personified it. Roman Catholic Bishop, Robert Barron says this about evil incarnate:

“What are his usual effects? We can answer that question quite well by examining the names that the Bible gives to this figure. He is often called diabolos in the Greek of the New Testament, a word derived from dia-balein, to throw apart, to scatter. God is a great gathering force, for by his very nature [God] is love; but the devil’s work is to sunder, to set one against the other. Whenever communities, families, nations, churches are divided, we sniff out the diabolic. The other great New Testament name for the devil is ho Satanas, which means “the accuser.” Perform a little experiment: gauge how often in the course of the day you accuse another person of something or find yourself accused. It’s easy enough to notice how often dysfunctional families and societies finally collapse into an orgy of mutual blaming. That’s satanic work. Another great biblical name for the devil is “the father of lies.” Because God is Truth, truthfulness—about oneself, about others, about the way things really are—is the key to smooth human relations. But how often we suffer because of untruth!””[1]

St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans suggested that nothing, neither death, nor life, nor angels [fallen or otherwise] nor rulers…nor powers…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:38-39). In other words, evil (like death) has lost its sting; yet, that’s not the end of the story. As Christians, we remember his death. We proclaim his resurrection. We await his coming in glory (BCP, 368). We’re still living in the midst of the first two statements, and until Christ comes again [whatever that looks like], those powers of evil (which paradoxically have no power at their root) still persist to tear us (and our world) apart.

These days, a preacher (especially in The Episcopal Church) may get a scoff or two preaching a sermon on angels and demons. “How silly”, they might say. “Fr., haven’t you heard of myth and metaphor?” But I say unto you, “Haven’t you heard of Holy Eucharist, Confession, prayer, the Bible, and spiritual direction, to name a few?” Classically, these have been the tools of spiritual warfare within the world of the Christian. These gifts of the Church not only open us up to God’s love, grace, and goodness; they also protect us from evil like a devouring lion scattering and tearing our souls, communities, and families apart. We have Christ. We have His Church. We have the Angels. We can call on God’s Spirit to help us discern. We can use the sacraments and spiritual tools of the Church to strengthen us. We can call on St. Michael and his army to defend us. All of this is orthodox. It’s nothing new, but modernity casually puts it aside.

As I look around the catholic church today, I often wonder if we have forgotten how to see. Are we invested in too much of the modern spirit that we forget the Spirit of God? Are we so set on ‘not offending’ that we mirror the culture instead countering it? Are we so immersed in the ideology of inclusion and tolerance that we have forgotten Love? Love in the sense that not every idea, behavior, or thought should be given equal value or consideration. Put Biblically, we must practice discerning the spirits. We cannot do this on our own. We need the sacraments. We need prayer. We need study. We need God’s help.

In the story of Jacob’s ladder, we find Jacob wrestling with the angel. Afterwards he proclaims, “Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it.” That may be postmodernity’s mantra. God isn’t in the sacraments. What you need is additional counseling. God isn’t in nature. You only need to study biology. God isn’t real. Mankind created Him. But aren’t these classic temptations from the ‘father of lies’…who desires to violently divorce, separate, dis-order, to set one against the other and God?

Let me go on record and say: Good is real. Sin and evil are real. They reside in us, and in the world. To give into the modern religion of relativism is to claim that there is no Truth, and taking this ideology to its final argument will show that there is no meaning to life. This leaves one in a state of perpetual nihilism that is very hard to overcome. As Christians we claim that these dualities (good and evil; black and white) are finally reconciled in and by and through Christ. We are made one in His Love. In the end, we are not separated because of His Love. Remembering this oneness, and living into this Truth gives us (and the world) hope. It may be an audacious hope, but our faith tells us it’s there.

I started out this blog by musing on the metaphor of a priest as journeyman. Together, let us journey with one another with God in our hearts, and all the angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven forever defending us, protecting us, and fighting always for the Good.

[1] Bishop Robert Barron, Word on Fire Ministries, https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/revisiting-the-spiritual-warfare/448/

Statement on #Charlottesville

Every Lord’s Day, we gather as a community of faith to proclaim what all Christians believe. The Nicene Creed begins, “We believe in God, the Father Almighty.” When we claim that God is “Almighty” we reveal a very powerful God (God of powers or Lord of powers may sum up “Almighty” well). Yet, this all-powerful God chose to relinquish all power and became powerless in the form of a human child. This child eventually grew up and taught us how to “walk in love”. We know the rest of the story: The world rejected his teachings, sought truth elsewhere, and “He suffered death and was buried.” But in a twist of fate, look what happened: “On the third day He rose again.” That’s a surprise, and is still surprising today if we allow its truth to sink into our bones. What this means is that love has won and death has been conquered.

Living into the faith of the Christian Creed sneaks up on us. There are times when it is simply words, but at others God seems to reveal its words (and meaning) to us when we least expect it. In Charlottesville, VA this past weekend the worldly powers that be were on full display that reminded us of the mob violence that killed our Lord (“He was crucified under Pontius Pilate”). The Good News of Jesus Christ is that He set us free to love without fear. Any thing, group, ideology, or politic that does not allow freedom to love is anti-Christ. When we are shackled to hate, stereotyping, and ignorance we run the risk of binding others to us in a show of vengeful force. Ultimately, the chains can be released but only by the grace of God. It is by His grace that we are saved.

Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI once stated this about our All-Powerful God:

“The highest power is demonstrated as the calm willingness completely to renounce all power; and we are shown that it is powerful, not through force, but only through the freedom of love, which, even when it is rejected, is stronger than the exultant powers of earthly violence” ~ from his Introduction to Christianity, p. 150.

As Christians it is our duty to continue to seek, experience, and reveal this “freedom to love”. Everything else confines us to the powers of this world. Pray for those who are shackled by hate. Lift up those who have been injured or died. Renounce the “evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” and instead “persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord.”

Remember: We protest hate, bigotry and violence by our very lifestyles. This week, style your life around the freedom to “walk in love as Christ loves us” and continue to pray for those who persecute this love. When we do this we are in heavenly company.