Monday, June 30, 2008

A homily on commitment

Click here to listen to this sermon, preached on 29 June 2008.

The commitment of a Christian is total commitment. That’s the kind of faith we see in St Alban. And that’s the kind of faith we heard about last Sunday.

Today’s gospel (which is actually the gospel for St Alban’s day) continues what some call Jesus’ “missionary discourse,” which is Matthew 10. But before we get too comfortable with the thought that Jesus’ words here are only for “professional” Christian missionaries, let me remind you that this passage is addressed to all of us.

Jesus has a word here for every Christian believer. We all have the vocation of Christian discipleship, and discipleship includes glorifying Christ before others, by living holy lives and sharing the gospel (i.e., by being disciples who make disciples).

Jesus begins this missionary discourse in Matthew with the calling of the Twelve. Before he sent them out, Jesus gathered his disciples close to him. Gathering close to Jesus is an act of empowerment—that’s what we do in church on Sunday mornings. Perhaps you have felt powerless to do some of the things that you feel that God has called you to do. Maybe you feel that way because you set out too soon. Perhaps God wanted more personal time to shape and mold you. Remember, it took forty years to shape Moses for God’s work.

After Jesus calls his disciples close, then he sends them out. He gives them instructions for how to carry out their mission. We also have instructions for carrying out our mission. We can turn to the holy Bible for unfailing guidance on the moral and theological questions that may come up. We have the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us, to show us the way and unveil God’s will.

We also have the Church to lead and guide us. We are surrounded by a family of brothers and sister in Christ to encourage us and help us find our way. We have those whom God has empowered in apostolic ministry. We have a godly bishop—the one entrusted to oversee God’s flock. It is his duty to guard the faith, to be the chief teacher, and to nourish the people in Word and Sacraments. The priests are his co-workers in this ministry. The priests are among the people as ambassadors of Christ. They are there to listen and give counsel, and to preach and teach and absolve in the Lord’s name.

This is part of the pattern of the church’s life—the life of a family. People come into this fellowship; they are born into the mystical Body. Once people are born in a family, they are raised up. We raise them through sharing our spiritual traditions. We pray together and read Scripture together. We learn together in thing like Sunday School, VBS, youth group, and Bible studies. When we grow up, we begin to move out. Some of us move out to start new churches or serve in new ministries. Some of us move out by getting involved in ministries that make a difference inside and outside our church.

Of course, moving out in God’s mission is not without problems. Last Sunday, Jesus said persecutions might await you when you go out there. But do not be afraid of any hostility that may come along. Your job is not to arrest the hostility that comes from the world; your job is to remain faithful in spite of any hostility.

Today, we pick up with some words about discipleship from our blessed Lord that might seem shocking to us, but need to shape our perspective. Jesus says, “Forget those Christmas carols for a moment. Don’t think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Now, if that was all Jesus had said, we would be gravely mislead. Jesus is rightfully trying to get our attention here. Jesus is trying to tell us that what he’s doing will shake things up. Sometimes we need to be shaken up, because while we are well able to recognize the hostility from without, we are often less able to recognize the hostility within.

Jesus warns us that in some cases, his radical call of discipleship will bring hostility within the closest of bonds—the human family. He says, “I have come to divide such close relations as a man and his father, or a mother and daughter. And if you can’t choose me over them, then you are not good enough for me.” Ouch.

These kinds of passages are what we call the "hard sayings" of Jesus. They seem to clash with our expectations so abrasively, we can scarcely believe it was really spoken by Jesus. Jesus goes on to say something a bit more familiar, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me.”

I believe Jesus is speaking here of the stark reality of priorities—what is most important? When faced with tough choices, one turns to his or her priorities. Often that’s how we first find out what our real priorities are. That’s why people say that conflict reveals character. That is, it is only when we make these tough decisions under real pressure that we discover what is truly important to a person.

Jesus is warning his disciples. “Before you go out there, before you face a hostile world, before things get messy in your own life, you need to set your priorities in order." That's why Jesus first drew them close. "And in case you miss it," Jesus tells us, "I am your number one priority.” Our main commitment as Christian disciples is that Jesus is our number one priority. It is what we mean when we say that Jesus is Lord.

We have many things that are meaningful and important and even crucial to us. But what is your highest priority? Food? Water? Shelter? Time? Let me suggest that your highest priority is not your job, your home, or your possessions; it is not your country nor your ethnic or family heritage; it is not your mother or father, nor your children, it is not even your husband or your wife or yourself. Your highest priority is Jesus Christ.

Who is this Jesus who claims such prominence? Our faith has a rich heritage of answers to that question: He is the Second Person of the Trinity, the Lord most high. He is the Savior and Redeemer of the world. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the only-begotten Son. He is the Bread of Life and the Captain of Salvation. Jesus is the Cornerstone and he is the Desire of Nations. He is the Light of the world, and the Dayspring from on high. He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of peace.

Jesus is the glory and power and wisdom of the Lord God Almighty. He is like the Ancient of Days, and the Head of the Church. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Good Shepherd. He is our great High Priest. He is the Holy One of Israel. Jesus is Immanuel—“God with us.” He is the perfect icon of the Father. He is the Lamb of God. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. He is the Man of Sorrows, the Mediator of a New Covenant. Jesus is the bright Morning Star. He is the Rose of Sharon. He is the Fairest of ten thousand. He is the Bishop of our souls. He is the Resurrection and the Life. He is the Root of David. Jesus is the Sun of Righteousness. He is the Seed of the woman. He is the True Light, the True Vine. He is the Truth. He is the incarnate Word of God.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Yet we must remember that each of those titles begins with the first confession we find in the early church: the confession that Jesus is Lord. If Jesus is not Lord in your heart, none of those others will matter.

One thing and one thing alone should have final command over every catholic believing heart—Jesus Christ as Lord. He is the measure of all things. He gives true perspective. He puts everything else in its proper order. Jesus lays an absolute claim on his church. He should rightfully be our highest priority. And that priority is not without its reward.

Jesus reminds us that welcoming the Son is the equivalent of welcoming the Father. He invokes the Jewish concept of shaliah, which regards the king’s emissary as if he were the king himself. And so the blessing moves on down the line: Welcoming the prophet earns the host a prophet’s reward. Welcoming the righteous person earns the host a righteous person’s reward. (Here, the righteous person might be said to be a mature Christian, what we would refer to as a strong believer or a living saint.) Finally, he said there will be great reward even for those who are good to these little ones because they are disciples. The little ones here are possibly children or new Christians. Each segment in the church’s life cycle is represented: those who are newborns, those who have grown up, and those who have been sent out.

Jesus’ note about reward here underscores the idea that the worthiness of a disciple is related to the priority of Jesus in their lives. It’s Jesus’ way of saying, “You can’t go wrong with me.” Just as persecutions await those who go out into the world in my name, so blessing will abound through those who go out into the world in my name. He doesn’t say what the rewards are—he only says they are certain.

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, giver of every good and perfect gift: empower us to make Jesus the top priority in our hearts, that as committed disciples, we may share the blessings of Christ with all those we bring to him; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, June 20, 2008

More conference photos

Well, that wraps up the third St Michael's Youth Conference, Southwest. It was a great session. Physically, I feel worn out, but I'm all pumped up spiritually. Here are some more photos. Click on the photo for a larger version.

Our Lord and the angels and saints were watching over us this week.

At the trivia game, one team looses and has to form a pyramid as a penalty.

Fr Foster taught the Bible classes, worth the price of admission alone.

Our Lady watches over the clergy at Davies Lodge.

Fr Brown was a mads driver on the golf cart.

Friday was a votive of the Holy Cross.

The red vestments were ones I had made for my diaconal ordination.

Here is the smoky blessing at the end of Mass.

Fr Will Brown with yours truly.

A great faculty helped make it one of the best conferences ever.

Fr Jones gives the final faculty talk after Evensong.

We assemble for a group photo in the chapel.

The boys march together. Onward Christian soldiers!

Fr Perkins and other boys join in on the push ups.

One of the annual highlights is the impersonations of the clergy at the talent show. This year, Fr Perkins was played by his son (first on left) and Fr Yost was played by his son (third from left).

Emma Doremus practices sketching me as her entry in the talent show.

Holy Hour in the chapel, when about two third of our Michaelites made their confession.

We had great boys serving as acolytes all week.

Our choir was absolutely fantastic. The music was glorious.

Fr Director puts on incense at the closing Mass on Saturday.

It was a votive of St Michael and All Angels.

A teary good-bye ends the conference. The next reunion will be on Sunday, 28 September at St Mark's in Arlington, TX.

For Fr Whitfield's photos, click here.
For Fr Brown's photos, click here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Journal from St Michael's Conference

Here are a few pictures from St Michael's Youth Conference, Southwest. (Click on the pictures to enlarge.) So far, things have been going pretty well this week. I am teaching one elective: the Holiness of Beauty. Michaelites attend Morning Prayer and Mass and have three class periods in the morning. There is also a faculty talk after Evensong each night. The afternoon and evening is taken up with recreational activities, and we close with Compline before bed. You might have thought that would be pretty heavy stuff for teenagers, but they eat it up with a spoon. The kids (and any of the adults who haven't yet) will start to make their confessions tomorrow, so keep them in your prayers. It's an intense time. We'll close on Saturday with a pageant for the parents.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Away at St Mike's

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I'll be off this week to my third St. Michael's Youth Conference Southwest, being held this year at Camp Crucis in Granbury, TX. I'm teaching one course, "The Holiness of Beauty," and assitaint with another "Training in Righteousness." I'm looking forward to the experience, but I know it will be exhausting. I ask your prayers for the kids who are participating this year, as well as for the adult counselors and clergy, not to mention my poor wife who has to be alone this week.
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Holy Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.
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O Prince most glorious, Michael the Archangel, keep us in remembrance; here and everywhere, always entreat the Son of God for us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What it means to remain faithful

Remaining faithful is a basic idea in the baptismal covenant (see BCP, 304-305). We pledge to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim the gospel, to serve Christ by loving others, and to strive for justice and peace. In other words, remain faithful. My wife and I have joined and I hope you might consider it as well. They have a new position paper out, and this is the summary:

Remain Faithful is a group of orthodox Episcopalians drawn from member parishes of the Diocese of Fort Worth who have formed an organization comprised of and led by lay Episcopalians to respond to what we see as a proliferation of misinformation concerning the pending split between the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and The Episcopal Church (TEC). To that end, a formal and detailed Position Paper has been written and posted on the group’s website, .

This Executive Summary outlines the purpose and contents of the larger Position Paper, which aims to:
* Spotlight the vast differences that now exist between the erroneous beliefs espoused by TEC and General Convention, and the essential and historic truths of our faith as Christians and members of the Anglican Communion.
* Clarify and correct a number of misconceptions TEC has spread in response to common questions that are troubling many Episcopalians (as well as other faithful, orthodox Anglican parishes in Canada and throughout the world) as they consider the practical aspects of remaining aligned with the Anglican Communion.
* Provide a glimpse as to what additional changes are on the horizon for TEC, General Convention, and those who choose to remain fully aligned with them.

Beliefs of Remain Faithful
The members of Remain Faithful believe two essential truths which are the cornerstone of our orthodox Christian faith:
* Jesus Christ is the Son of God, truly man and truly God, who died on the Cross for our sins, was resurrected from the dead, and is the sole source of eternal salvation.
* The Bible is the revealed and inspired word of God. It contains all things necessary for salvation, and is the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.
Remain Faithful is committed to speak the truth in love, communicating clearly the position of faithful orthodox Episcopalians upholding the authority of Holy Scripture. Remain Faithful stands firm with the vast majority in the worldwide Anglican Communion in its commitment to serve our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to support orthodox Christian ideals and beliefs, and to spread the Good News of Jesus' gift of salvation to all who accept him.

Revised Beliefs of The Episcopal Church
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church and The Episcopal Church itself have progressively moved away from, and in some instances repudiated, these essential truths of Christianity and our historic apostolic faith.

The following quotes from the leadership of TEC provide clear examples:
* Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori on the subject of Jesus: “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.” (Time, July 10, 2006).
* Former Presiding Bishop Griswold on the subject of the Bible: “And while I think we would all say as our ordination liturgy has us say – those of us who are ordained – that we believe that the Old and New Testament contain all things necessary to salvation, there is a broad interpretation of what precisely that means in actual terms as one looks at various issues and concerns in the life of the church. … So when we think about church, I think many of us think first of all about that sacramental experience rather than the Book” (AAC Equipping the Saints, 2007)
*Furthermore, the General Conventions of 2003 and 2006 failed to pass resolutions that would have reaffirmed the historic Anglican doctrines of Jesus as the Son of God and the Bible as the Word of God.

Reactions by The Episcopal Church to Orthodox Views
Rather than debate these theological issues with the orthodox, the leadership of TEC has chosen the purely secular approach of 1) deposing bishops and priests who disagree with the revisionist view of the faith and of 2) filing lawsuits in an attempt to retain possession of the buildings and land used by parishes that would seek to realign with an orthodox diocese or province. Such a response plainly shows that TEC is aware that its theological positions are untenable, as do its efforts to distract from the essential matters of Christ and the Bible by focusing on other issues such as the ordination of women and the matter of sexuality.

Future Intentions of The Episcopal Church
It is clear the TEC intends to try to enforce its authority in addition to its theological views. For example, pending resolutions on “discipline” that are scheduled to be presented at the 2009 General Convention include a proposed change to Title I, Canon 17, Section 8 which would allow for the disciplinary action towards lay persons for the first time in TEC history. The proposal would apply to “any person accepting an office in this Church” - which would include all lay positions in the Church of any kind - and provides for “removal without cause.”

The Choice Facing All Episcopalians
A crisis point has been reached, resulting in a situation in which personal and corporate decisions must be made. We take seriously St. Jude’s admonition: “I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license of immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” (Jude 1:3-4)

We at Remain Faithful prayerfully encourage you to read and reflect on the full Position Paper and then take action as your conscience and prayers guide you. “...but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24: 15)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

"Greater love hath no man . . .

. . . than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

A Schweinfurt, Germany-based infantryman who jumped on a grenade to save other troops was presented with the Medal of Honor yesterday. The 1st Infantry Division soldier, Spc. Ross Andrew McGinnis, 19, was killed 4 December 2006 while on a combat patrol in Baghdad.

Soldiers in his unit said he used his body to cover a grenade that had been thrown into his Humvee by an enemy fighter on a nearby rooftop. McGinnis’ actions probably saved the lives of the four other soldiers in the vehicle, his company commander, and other officials. As the U.S.’s highest award for wartime valor, the Medal of Honor is approved sparingly. This award is only the fifth which has been given out since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I think McGinnis's heroism and the many soldiers who show his kind of self-sacrifice day in and day out should be a model and inspiration to us all.

Monday, June 02, 2008