Holy Cross Day

 (14 September)

The Collect:
ALMIGHTY God, as your blessed Son was lifted on the cross, you made this instrument of a shameful death to be for us the means of life and peace: Grant that we may always glory in the cross of Christ and gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of our Savior; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

The Readings:
Isaiah 45:21-25; Psalm 118:19-29; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:31-36a

Reflection:
The Cross is the primary visual symbol of Christianity, and with good reason! The Cross is where, as the Epistle puts it, Christ gave himself over to death so that God would highly exalt him. The Cross is where, as the Gospel puts it, Christ became the judge of the world, cast out Satan, and drew all people to himself. The Old Testament reading explains further what it means for all to be drawn to Christ at the Cross, and the Psalm declares this the “gate of the Lord” though which God’s people must enter the Kingdom. So, as the Collect prays, we seek to follow Christ and share both his suffering and his glory at the Holy Cross.

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The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

(14 September 2014)

The Collect:
ALMIGHTY and merciful God, of whose only gift it comes that your faithful people do unto you true and laudable service ; Grant, we beseech you, that we may so faithfully serve you in this life, that we fail not finally to attain your heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
Leviticus 19:13-18; Psalm 74:20-22; Galatians 3:16-22; Luke 10:23-37

Reflection:
Today we find a hard-hitting lesson that cuts to the heart: we are called by God, as Christians, to love our neighbors in serious and tangible ways. The Collect makes it sound like we must do good works in order to gain God’s promises, so the Gospel gives this more context: if we are truly to be like Christ, we must love others as ourselves. The Old Testament and Psalm give further scope to the importance of providing aid and justice for the poor. The Epistle, however, jumps in at a different angle: in it we are taught that our relationship with God (and thus our call to good works) is no longer subject to the observance of the Law of Moses, but are once again a simple matter of God’s personal promise to Abraham’s offspring: Jesus Christ!

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The Man of Prayer 2/15

He always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7:25

Michael Ramsey was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, reigning from 1961-1974.  In 1979 he wrote a fantastic little book called The Christian Priest Today in which he has a number of short chapters about various aspects of the priesthood.  Many of these chapters were addresses or homilies said to a group of seminarians.  Chapter 3 is called Man of Prayer, and is a marvelous reflection on the prayer life of the priest.  Although it is written especially for, to, and about priests, the insights about prayer are valuable for any Christian seeking growth in closeness with God.  Each of these fifteen posts (which I will endeavor to maintain as a weekly series on Thursdays) is a reflection on one paragraph from the late Archbishop’s chapter, Man of God, from his book The Christian Priest Today.

How did he teach them?  He gave them the Our Father as the model prayer, and many parables about prayer.  He taught them by those instructions.  But is it not probable that they learned most of all not from what he said to them but from their daily proximity to him, the Son of Man whose prayer day by day was perfect?  We can faintly imagine what it must have been like to be trying to pray while living constantly in near intercourse to one whose prayer was perfect, one in whom was the perfect response to the Father in praise, self-offering, intercession, and all that prayer means.  The strength of his prayer would flow into theirs like the “virtue” flowing from him to the woman who touched the border of his robe.  The disciples thus prayed with Jesus, near Jesus; and what a difference that made!  It may help us if we recall the occasions of the prayers of Jesus recorded by the evangelists, no doubt as typical occasions.  Meditate sometimes on the prayers of Jesus.  Simon Peter finds Jesus a great while before day praying in a desert place.  Jesus prays through the night before the appointment of the twelve.  Jesus prays on the mountain where he was transfigured.  He rejoices in the Holy Spirit, giving thanks for the reception of his message.  He prays in the garden of Gethsemane.  He prays during the hours on Calvary.  And perhaps the prayer at the Supper in the seventeenth chapter of St John is a kind of summary of the inner meaning of all his prayer: he gives glory to the Father.

Ah, Scripture, the best place to start, is it not?  Exploring the teachings and prayers of Jesus in all the occasions listed here could fill an entire book of its own!

Let’s start with reflecting on Jesus himself.  Archbishop Ramsey describes Jesus as “the Son of Man whose prayer day by day was perfect.”  Jesus’ prayers were “the perfect response to the Father.”  So although his teachings about prayer must have been marvelous for the spiritual growth of his disciples (as they are for us today), his example must have been just as profound for them.  I know I appreciate learning things alongside people who know what they’re doing.  It can be intimidating at times, but it’s also inspiring to see one’s own goal or destination demonstrated by another person.

In that sense, the disciples have an advantage over us; they got be with Jesus for long periods of time over the course of three years.  We “only” have what a few of them wrote down in the Gospel books.  But then again, if they who walked with him all that time learned anything from Jesus’ prayer life, they would also know what to write down for future generations to get a proper summary of the experience and content of Jesus’ prayer life.  As Ramsey himself wrote here, it’s well worth our while to meditate on Jesus’ prayers in the Bible, especially the one in John 17, as it is through the word of God that we can truly draw near to (and learn from) the Word of God.

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on “Being Saved”

In what I like to call “pop evangelicalism,” salvation is always spoken of in the past tense.  “I’ve been saved!”  “When did you get saved?”  “Is she saved?”  But the New Testament is not that simple; salvation is more than a past tense event.  While the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is always central, the operation of salvation is both within time and timeless.  Let’s survey the New Testament for the use of the verb “to be saved” in simple statements.

Future Tense: “will be saved”: Matthew 10:22, 24:13, Mark 13:13, Luke 7:50, Acts 15:11, Romans 5:9, 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:15, 5:5, 1 Timothy 2:15

Present/Progressive Tense: “is being saved”: Acts 2:47, 1 Corinthians 1:18, 15:2

Past/Preterit/Perfect Tense: “has been saved”: Matthew 27:42, Mark 15:31, Luke 23:25, Romans 8:24, 10:10, Ephesians 2:5, 2:8, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 3:5

I left out several which were unclear, or in questions rather than teaching statements.  But on the whole you can see what’s going on: salvation is a bigger picture than any single event in one’s life.  Let’s think twice before saying “I got saved when…” lest we mis-communicate the fullness of what salvation is really all about!

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The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

 (7 September 2014)

The Collect:
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and are wont to give more than either we desire, or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, you Son, our Lord.

The Readings:
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 34:1-10; 2 Corinthians 3:4-9; Mark 7:31-37

Reflection:
One of the major dynamics of Christian teaching is the dual work of Law & Gospel. The Epistle here notes the glory of the Old Covenant Law, and asserts that the New Covenant is even more glorious, because where the Law brought condemnation and death, the Gospel brings righteousness and life. Where the Law tells us we are insufficient, the Gospel tells us we have our sufficiency from God. The Collect and Gospel reading together give an example: as the mute man whom Jesus healed was unable to ask for mercy by himself, so are we unable to ask God for anything without the mediation of Jesus Christ, whom we know to be even more ready to hear than we are to pray! And so we can celebrate the goodness of God, as in the Psalm.

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The Man of Prayer 1/15

He always lives to make intercession for them. – Hebrews 7:25

Michael Ramsey was the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, reigning from 1961-1974.  In 1979 he wrote a fantastic little book called The Christian Priest Today in which he has a number of short chapters about various aspects of the priesthood.  Many of these chapters were addresses or homilies said to a group of seminarians.  Chapter 3 is called Man of Prayer, and is a marvelous reflection on the prayer life of the priest.  Although it is written especially for, to, and about priests, the insights about prayer are valuable for any Christian seeking growth in closeness with God.  Each of these fifteen posts (which I will endeavor to maintain as a weekly series on Thursdays) is a reflection on one paragraph from the late Archbishop’s chapter, Man of God, from his book The Christian Priest Today.

“Will you be diligent in prayers?”  I shall put that question to you in the cathedral tomorrow, and you will answer “I will endeavour myself so to do, the Lord being my helper.”  It is the Lord Jesus who will teach you to pray.  You remember how the disciples once asked him “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples”, and he is as ready to teach us as he was ready to teach the twelve in Galilee.

The question and answer Archbishop Ramsey is describing here is from the liturgy for the Ordination of a Priest: one of the several vows made by the ordinand is to be diligent in prayer.  The standard answer includes the stock phrase “the Lord being my helper,” and Ramsey dwells on that reality here – we need Jesus to teach us how to pray.

Now, we might hear this in the service or read this just now and think to ourselves shouldn’t someone becoming a priest ought to know how to pray already?  A fair question, and one that I had to consider when I was about to become a priest myself just about a year ago.  The obvious reality is that we’re always learning how to pray. Communicating with God is a mysterious thing, and it’s all too easy for us to take it for granted.

So the basic truth today is the same as it was in chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew: Jesus is ready to teach his people how to pray.  The disciples, too, must have already known something about prayer.  Most of them had been faithful Jews their whole lives, after all!  Nevertheless, between the facts that they were now with a Master of prayer and that their life situation was rapidly changing as they were being transformed from fishermen and tax collectors into apostles, they realized that their prayer lives would need to transform as well.  That is just as true today for Christians who step into ordained ministry; the manner in which I am called to pray as a priest is different than what was expected and required of me a year ago.  Teasing out just what has changed for the Priest, and what Jesus teaches about prayer, is where the bulk of this series will explore.

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The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

(31 August 2014)

The Collect:
O GOD, who declares your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity; Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of your grace, that we, running the way of your commandments, may obtain your gracious promises, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Readings:
1 Kings 3:5-15; Psalm 28; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 18:9-141

Reflection:
Perhaps the primary theme here is the mercy of God. The Collect asserts that God mainly declares his almighty power in showing mercy, and each scripture reading reveals a different angle of this truth. In the Old Testament, King Solomon humbly asks for wisdom instead of long life and wealth, and God grants all three. In the Gospel parable, the Tax Collector confesses his sins and goes home justified. In the Epistle, St. Paul describes God’s mercy upon him as a former persecutor of the Church now a hard-working Apostle. The Psalm, also, refers to a situation where one can finally exclaim God “has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy!” Finally, the Gospel also has a word of application: the parable was given to those who were self-righteous and held others in contempt. Therefore, we learn that God’s mercy is for all, and keeps us healthily humble.

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