Sunday, August 28, 2005

Pray for the people of New Orleans

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Most who could flee from Hurricane Katrina have done so. Around 30,000 of those who couldn't make it out are seeking refuge in the Louisiana Superdome tonight.

To paraphrase William Whiting's Navy hymn:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril from the sea. Amen.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

The completed Altar panels

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Above, I have placed updated pictures of the four panels on the front of the new school Altar. They depict traditional symbols of the four evanglists: Matthew (human), Mark (lion), Luke (ox), and John (eagle). The paintings are modeled after the style of the Book of Kells.

In the cross of Christ I glory

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I have recently returned from a wonderful and refreshing retreat with brother priests of the Society of the Holy Cross at Camp Crucis. Every time I go on a retreat, the words of Psalm 133 come to mind.

Oh, how good and pleasant it is *
when brethren live together in unity!

It is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down the collar of his robe.

It is like the dew of Hermon *
that falls upon the hills of Zion.

For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: *
life for evermore.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I don't understand

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Meet Tony Sinclair. He doesn't really exist. He's an actor in an ad campaign for Tanqueray. Their website introduces an "interview" with Mr. Sinclair this way: "Socialite extraordinaire, world traveler and the TANQUERAY Gin company's best find ever. Armed with a witty line and a cocktail shaker, Tony is the master of the mix for TANQUERAY Gin. While he's fast becoming the guest at parties around the globe, very little is known about the man himself."

Meet me. I'm not a socialite extraordinaire or a world traveller. I don't drink or particularly like alchoholic beverages. So the question is, how does this guy talk me into trying to buy what I don't want? If it weren't so hot outside, I'd probably drive straight down to the liquor store. Perhaps its the fop hair or the Joker-like grin, or just the idea of being a world traveller who schmoozes with celebrities all day long. But every time I see Tony at a party, I feel like saying, "Yes, I'm ready to tanqueray!"

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Feast of St. Mary the Virgin

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Today we commemorate Our Lady's life of faithfulness and her glorious assumption into heaven. Mary is sometimes referred to as the "first Christian" because we see all of the duties and rewards of Christian life realized in her. She was first in redemption and sanctification. She was the first Christian believer. She submitted herself to the will of God in the miracle of the incarnation--providing from her own body the material for sacrifice of the cross. She was first to bring Christ into the world to share with others. Tradition tells us that at the end of her earthly life, God fulfilled in her the promises he makes for all believers. Part of God's will for us as his children and heirs of the kingdom through adoption as his sons and daughters, is that each of us will one day have an empty tomb and reign with him in glory.

Consider how the following passages speak of the life and service of the Mother of God. It is a glimpse of what God has in store for us who follow the examples of the blessed Virgin Mary and all of the saints.

"Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:49-57).

"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:15-17).

"And the temple of God in heaven was opened; and the ark of his covenant appeared in his temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm. A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Rev 11:19—12:1).

"In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing" (2 Tim 4:8).

Let us pray.
O God, who hast taken unto thyself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thy incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, August 12, 2005

More school crucifix pictures

The crucifix for chapel services at St. Alban's Episcopal School in Arlington, TX has been finished. Here are some pictures from the final painting process. I'll have more pics later of the Altar and a final one of everything in place.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Progress on the school crucifix

My wife Melisa and I have been ornamenting the wooden cross and corpus for use at our parochial school. She has painted the image of Jesus and I am working on detailing the cross. Here are a few pictures of the work in progress.

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Walking on water

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Homily on Matthew 14:22-33
by The Rev’d Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban’s Church, Arlington, TX on 7 August 2005

Last week, if you recall, we talked about Jesus feeding the crowd of over 5,000 in a miraculous way with only five loaves and two fish. It wasn’t much to share, but everyone contributed what they had, and in God’s provision, there was enough (indeed, what looked like an empty basket turned out to be a basketfuls of abundance).

Jesus was always looking for ways to instill faith and confidence in his disciples. Part of that task was to teach them dependence upon God. Another part was to encourage them to be a part of the solution. Remember, Jesus said, "You give them something to eat." Now that he’s shown them that God can fill an empty dinner plate, why not just teach them to walk on water?

I remember taking swimming lessons as a child, perhaps you do too. I think I was about 7 or 8 years old. It was a series of lessons that went on over the summer weeks. And I remember that the first week was easy. We all got in the shallow end of the pool. We would grab ahold of the side of the pool and practice kicking. We would practice holding our breath, getting our faces wet. We would learn safety rules and different strokes.

Before too long, we were swimming laps at the shallow end. I’d swing my arms through the water from one end to the other, all the while, keeping my feet firmly planted on the bottom of the pool. But I remember one day it was different. I headed to the shallow end, ready for business as usual. But it was not to be. The instructor called us over to the deep end.

The dozen or so kids walked around to the other side of the pool. I followed them--hesitant and uncertain. We lined up standing along the side of the deep end. The instructor was in the water saying something, but I wasn’t listening. I just kept looking at that water. At the shallow end, the water was almost colorless. But down here, it was a deep blue. I could hardly see the bottom. I looked at the numbers on the side of the pool. Back on the shallow side it was 3, down here it was 12. I wish I could remember how tall I am.

Evidently, the instructor had told everyone to jump in, because before I knew it, I was the only one left standing on the side. She called out to me, "Hey Tim! Come on in. Just look at me. I know you can do it. I’ll be here for you." Now I had jumped in the shallow end many a time. It was no problem. I’d plop in the water, hit bottom, and stand right up. But this just looked totally different.

I had all the skills I needed. I could hold my breath. I knew how to move my arms and feet. So I just did it; I jumped in. Instantly, there was blue all around. I was sinking in the water, but I ever hit bottom. I had to hold my breath a lot longer than I did before. There was nothing to push off from, but I slowly started to rise. Then my head popped above water, just long enough to get a breath.

My arms and legs seemed to remember what they were supposed to do. I felt two arms under mine, as the instructor helped me to the pool’s edge. There I held on for dear life as we continued the swimming lesson. I wonder if perhaps St. Peter might have felt the same way. For a number of chapters now, Jesus had been trying to get some time alone. Finally, the crowds start to disperse when Jesus sent his disciples to go in a boat across the lake ahead of him. Jesus stayed on the mountain to pray.

For the disciples, it was not an easy task--it was like rowing upstream. The harder they tried to make headway, the more the sea and wind came up against them. They would not reach the other side until Jesus joined them in the boat. And lets face it--swimming is for the fish. If they weren’t astounded before, with the loaves and the fish, they certainly were now, as the saw Jesus coming toward them, walking on the surface of the water.

They thought perhaps it was a ghost, but Jesus reassures them, "It’s me. Don’t be afraid." Peter says, "If it’s really you, then ask me to come over to you." So Peter jumped out of the boat, or perhaps we should say, he stepped out of the boat and started walking toward Jesus. When Peter was focused, he had no problem, but soon he became distracted--the wind, the waves, the deep blue sea.

Soon the blue was all around him, and he felt himself sinking. He was so afraid, all he could do was cry out, "Help me." At that moment, the hand of Jesus reached down, pulled him up, and helped Peter get back into the boat. "O man of little faith; why doubt?" When Jesus sat down in the boat, the wind calmed down. They could go on about their way now--the Lord was with them.

It seems to me there are three decisive moments in this experience. The first is the moment of courage, when Peter left the boat. It takes a lot of courage to leave the boat, because it looks rough out there. And worse than that, the wind is rough; the waves are as bad as they seem. The water is deep; you can’t even see the bottom. It takes courage trade the security of a boat for the turbulence of water. Some might think it foolish, but don’t confuse foolishness with courage. The fool does not discriminate. The fool believes everyone or no one. Courage involves exercising discernment and trust, even over the cost it may involve. Even though he saw the raging sea, Peter trusted Jesus when our Lord said, "Come to me."

Having courage to get out of the boat is a defining moment. Courage is the moment when we have the strength to sacrifice who we are in order to discover who we may become. The Danish philosopher theologian Soren Kierkegaard put it this way, "To dare is to momentarily lose one’s footing. But not to dare is to lose one’s self." There ended up being two kinds of people in that boat--wet & dry. Eleven disciples were left dry, unchanged. They had not understood about the loaves and fish.

Might I encourage you to take the plunge in whatever God is inviting you into. Don’t do it when it’s for foolish reasons, but do it when it’s out of trust and godly discerment. Jesus is there like that swimming instructor was for me, saying, "Come on in. You can do it. I’ll be with you." We as a parish church need the same lesson--We will never learn who we can be and what we can accomplish until we have the courage to give up what we already are.

The second decisive moment in this story is that Peter faced panic. The Israelites were not sea-going people. There enemies were. For them, the sea almost always represented something negative--chaos, confusion, turbulence, danger, the unknown. Have you ever gotten out of the boat, and then panicked? Of course you did. You were sinking into waters of chaos and confusion. When I first jumped into the deep end of the swimming pool, I panicked. I felt like I would never come back up to the surface. The deep blue waters that covered me distracted me from the fact that I had all the skills I needed, and that my teacher and guide was there.

What Peter needed was patience--patience helps us face panic. When he remembered who it was he trusted, Peter was saved. When he cried out, "Save me," the hand of God was right there. Patience allows us to make better use of our courage. Patience gives us the level head to act at the right moment. All Peter had to do was tread water--what fisherman couldn’t do that. We panic when we feel that our circumstances are greater than God. Patience keeps us mindful that God is greater than out circumstances.

We might say that the third decisive moment in this story is that Peter embraced the faithfulness of God. Every story of risk and challenge and growth is the story of the discovery of God’s never-ending faithfulness. Even in the most unlikely moments, God is there for us.
When Jesus got into the boat, the water became calm. Can’t you see Peter, wet and shivering, looking across the boat to Jesus, thinking, "God is faithful, isn’t he! We sure found that out." Why don’t you find out? If God calls you out of the boat, why not. Have courage, be patient, and find out how faithful God really is. Be like Peter, who said, "Lord, if it is you, ask me to come to you."

Understanding the Loaves and the Fish

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Homily on Matthew 14:13-21
by The Rev’d Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban’s Church, Arlington, TX on 31 July 2005

A man driving a van stopped to fill up the gas tank. He had a van full of restless rowdy kids. Someone at the next pump asked, "Are these all your kids or are you on a picnic?" He answered "Yes, these are my kids and NO, it’s no picnic!"

Summer is a time of picnics and outdoor fun for many people. In today’s gospel, even though the people gathered together outdoors in the spring, sitting on the grass, eating bread and fish, life was still no picnic. Just as it is with people today, they faced many difficulties. They had some burdens in common, and others burdens they carried alone. Some were sick and were looking to Jesus to heal them. Many of them lived in want and some in desperation.

Besides the crucifixion and resurrection, the story of Jesus feeding the multitude with loaves and fish is the only story one from Jesus’ ministry narrated in all four gospels. In Matthew’s account, there is an interesting contrast between Herod and Jesus. Of course, Herod is the Roman-approved King of the Jews, and Jesus would later be crucified for claiming to be King of the Jews.

In Mathew chapter 14, the eangelist gives us a sharp contrast is between the banquet of Herod’s birthday party and the banquet of the poor crowd gathered with Jesus. Herod fears the crowd and he fears what his guests might think of him if he goes back on his word to deliver the head of John the Baptist. Jesus, on the other hand, has compassion and cares for the crowd, even though they had interrupted his desire to be alone in prayer, perhaps to grieve over the death of John.
Herod is tricked into putting John to death. On the other hand, Jesus willingly provides life by curing the sick and feeding the hungry. Matthew shows us in Herod and Jesus the sharp contrast between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God.

In a lesson in unselfishness, Jesus and his disciples shared the little food they had, and in God’s provision, there was enough for all. This is one of many stories of God’s provision in the Scriptures. The Israelites were fed with manna in the wilderness. Elisha was supplied with food in abundance in 2 Kings to feed over 100 men with 20 loaves of barley. In Genesis, God supplied a ram for sacrifice in place of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham named the place Jehovah-jireh, or "the Lord will provide." Of course, the messianic kingdom is always pictured as a place of abundance--where no need goes unfulfilled.

Jesus sees the crowd and has compassion on them; they look helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. As messiah, he shows them God’s abundance by meeting their needs. The sick are healed instantly by Jesus alone. They present their needs and Jesus responds directly. The hungry are fed after a lot of work by the disciples. The disciples don't actually present to Jesus the need of the crowd, but their solution, which is: "Send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves."

It seems like a reasonable request. The disciples assume (or hope) that the village markets will be able to cope with crowds of five thousand plus. Contrary to Jesus' teaching, they look first to the marketplace to supply the need, rather than to God. How often do we pray to God, asking him to bless our plans, rather than first putting ourselves at God’s disposal, by offering ourselves as servants of his plan? It may be that he has the better idea.

Jesus, seeing a teaching moment coming on, tells them, "They [the crowd] need not go away; you give them something to eat." The "you" is emphasizedgrammatically in the Greek text. Why does Jesus do this? What is the lesson? Perhaps "you" was just the word that the disciples needed to hear. When Jesus sees the sick, he heals. When he sees the ignorant, he teaches. When he sees the demon-possessed, he exorcises. When he sees the hungry, he provides food. When he sees disciples, he challenges them to follow his example: feed the hungry.

Have you ever thought about how much work it would be to distribute food to 5000 men, besides women and children--and then to clean up the mess? No wonder there were exactly 12 disciples and exactly 12 basketfuls picked up at the end? As apostles, it would be their labor to continue the banquet, to give others a taste of the messianic banquet, to give others a taste of the abundant provision that comes from God. It is no mistake that this passage has many parallels to the account of the eucharistic banquet at the last supper.

Matthew makes a strong connection between the two events in his language. The verbs "take, bless, broke, & give" are the same in Greek both times. Matthew also makes the strongest connect with the end time feast. When Jesus asks the crowd to sit down to eat, it is the same word he had used to say in chapter 8 that "many will come from east and west to sit at table to eat with Abraham and Isaac in the kingdom of heaven. One of the predominant themes of the Eucharist in the early Church was that this feast prefigures the heavenly banquet.

Even today, we continue the apostolic tradition of gathering as a crowd (even a small one) to "take, bless, break, and give." It is a reminder to us that even though we carry our own burdens, God can and will meet all of our needs. It is a reminder that we share in that work of God’s provision, the work of gathering up, handing out, and cleaning up after. It is also a reminder that we can have a foretaste of God’s complete provision even now, in the Eucharist.

St. Paul had more than his share of burdens. In today’s epistle, he notes that the passage that speaks to him best is, "For thy sake we are being killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." Nevertheless, he asserts that none of his hardships will come between him and the love of God. He understood the lesson of Jesus’ feeding of the multitude. As St. Paul would put it, the lesson is this, "In all things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."