Monthly Archives: September 2012

Ordained and Constituted in a Wonderful Order

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:11-12)

Year by year, the Easter celebration begins when the deacon sings: “Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets shout Salvation for the victory of our mighty King!” (BCP 286).

Week by week, the Great Thanksgiving at every celebration of the Eucharist begins as the priest or bishop sings, “Therefore we praise you, lifting our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven” (BCP 362).

Night by night, each of us closes the day with this quiet prayer: “That your holy angels may lead us in paths of peace and goodwill, we entreat you, O Lord” (BCP 122).

Saint Michael and All Angels

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 244)

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Will Your Wonders Be Known in the Dark?

Will your wonders be known in the dark?
or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?

But as for me, O Lord, I cry to you for help;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
(Psalm 88:13-14)

Many years ago, about the time that we moved to Wisconsin, I struggled through a period when I was certainly clinically depressed.

I was stuck in my head, unable to translate any plan into action. We lived in a beautiful wooded area near Lake Geneva, and I thought it would be lovely to take a walk in the morning, but I could never even make myself actually put on my shoes.

At the time I was reading Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and I was impressed by a concept he calls the “daily private victory.”

Whatever simple action or task you decide, if you accomplish it, by definition the day is won. The daily private victory is won, and you have not failed.

I remember reading that description, thinking “I will make walking my daily private victory,” and then getting up and walking through the door! As I came out into the actual sunshine, I felt I had also come out of the darkness in my mind.

The psalmist knows the interior darkness, knows what it is to live “in the country where all is forgotten.” He also knows, as I do, that coming out of the dark is not simply a matter of will.

I could never have simply willed myself out of my depression. It took an insight, a grace from outside of me, to help me take one single step.

That is the central message of our Christian faith. By ourselves we cannot save ourselves. It takes grace from outside ourselves that helps us take the first faltering steps into the sunshine. “We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Or, to put it in another way, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

The daily private victory is also a cumulative process. “In the morning my prayer comes before you,” says the psalmist, and it is the same for us. As we daily practice the basics — walking, praying, being thankful — we get stronger and stronger until one day we fear the dark no longer.

With You I Am Well Pleased

Dad and me in Orlando, 1970.

You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased. (Luke 3:22)

I am among the most fortunate of people, because I know that my father loved me.

In this picture, you can see his hand touching my cheek, a simple gesture of physical affection that characterized his relationship with me and our whole family.

He held me in his arms (and he held my mother and my siblings, too), and he told me he loved me in countless ways. When I shared this picture on Facebook, my sister instantly responded that she recognized his gesture — the “sense memory” is as strong for her as it is for me.

The last time I served at the altar with him before he died, this account of the Baptism of Our Lord was the appointed Gospel reading. After I read the Gospel, Dad got up to preach but then stopped, saying, “I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to sit down, because this is my son, my beloved, and I want to hear what he has to say.”

My wife and I have spoken many times about what a blessing it is for both of us to have had this kind of unconditional love in our lives. Even though we do not have children of our own, we have been privileged to share our love with others, especially our “daughter” Anna (we don’t put quotation marks around her in real life, you understand). We are well pleased with her, and I’m especially looking forward to holding her son, my grandson, after he’s born in October.

You have it in your power to give this kind of love, too. You can be for another person — a child or a grownup — the same kind of blessing that my father was. You can embrace them in the kind of love the Father has for all of his children.

Who is your beloved? Who needs to feel the touch of your hand on their cheek and hear from you that you are well pleased?

Turning the World Upside Down

Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar …. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17:4-7)

“Turning the world upside down.” Just what was so crazy about Paul and Silas’ preaching that prompted such a backlash?

Well, for one thing, their message resonated not just with some of the Jews in the synagogue at Thessalonica, but also with some “devout Greeks,” those Gentiles known as “God-fearers” who were attracted to Jewish worship and teaching. We’ve also been reading over the last several days about the presence of “leading women” like Lydia, slave-girls set free from evil spirits, and jailers treated with kindness finding a place in the new community and being baptized as new believers.

Paul and Silas, and the communities they were creating, mixed up Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, jailers and prisoners, men and women into a new family of believers that was in sharp contrast to the divided, patriarchal Greco-Roman culture of their time.

Their egalitarian preaching so threatened some people’s sense of order that Jewish believers joined up with “ruffians” to attack someone’s house, drag him before the authorities, and loudly support the emperor’s position.

Think about that for a minute.

When was the last time you saw such angry energy directed against people who believe that everyone has a place in Christ’s new community of love?

When was the last time you saw believers joining with those in power to keep women and the poor and prisoners “in their proper place”?

The world still needs to be turned upside down.

“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you into the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name” (BCP 101).

Sir, We Would See Jesus

So how did the Greeks know Phillip could lead them to Jesus?

What set him apart from the festival crowd in Jerusalem on that Passover long ago?

For that matter, what sets you and me apart from the crowds of people “among whom we live, and work, and worship”?

Would a stranger at the Appleton Farmer’s Market or at the airport (or on the flight, for that matter?) be able to identify me as a Christian in the press of people and in the fog of their own concerns?

Perhaps more to the point, if they did pick me out, would they think I’d welcome the interruption?

What was it about Phillip that shone so clearly that the Greeks knew he’d welcome them and help them find Jesus?

God grant that we may shine so brightly and similarly radiate welcome.

Guide Our Feet Into the Way of Peace

O God, the King eternal, whose light divides the day from the night and turns the shadow of death into morning: Drive far from us all wrong desires, incline our hearts to keep your law, and guide our feet into the way of peace (BCP 99).

Josh Thomas and the good folks at dailyoffice.org continue to publish each week the names of military personnel killed in the war in Afghanistan, and they provide links to the total human cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

7 More Lost in Afghan War; They Have Names

Total War Deaths:  7977

Iraq: Total Deaths: 4804
-no casualties this past week

Afghanistan: Total Deaths: 3173

CANTU, Shane W., 20, PFC, US Army, Corunna, MI, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team
SCHMIDT, Jonathan P., 28, SSGT, Petersburg, VA, 52nd Ordnance Group, 20th Support Command
BORDER, Jeremie S., SSGT, age not given, US Army, Mesquite, TX, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne)
ROOKEY, Kyle R., 23, SPEC, US Army, Oswego, NY, 4th Infantry Division
TERWISKE, Alec R., 21, LCPL, USMC, Dubois, IN, I Marine Expeditionary Force
MONTENEGRO, Jr., Jose L., 31, CWO2, US Army, Houston, TX, 82nd Airborne Division
RAMIREZ, Thalia S., 28, CWO2, US Army, San Antonio, TX, 82nd Airborne Division

Source: iCasualties.org

Total Coalition Deaths, non-U.S. : Iraq, 318 (UK 179, Italy, 33, Poland 30) as of February 24, 2009
Total Coalition Deaths, non-U.S.: Afghanistan: 1059 (UK 425, Canada 158, France 88) as of August 20, 2012

Human Costs of War:

* more than 99,000 injured and 552,000 disability claims
* rates of suicide, divorce, and spousal or child abuse have doubled or more among military families since the wars began

Source: “Costs of War,” Eisenhower Study Group, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, June 2011

* Other reports have found that at least 217,000 of the 1.6 million troops that have returned from the wars suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), 165,000 have been diagnosed with depression, and 1,600 have lost at least one limb.

Source: The New York Times

Estimates of civilian casualties in Iraq range from 105,000 to 1,033,000 For information, click here.
Estimates of civilian casualties in Afghanistan range from 17,000 to 37,000 For information, click here.

For Peace Among the Nations

Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (BCP 816)

For our Enemies

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (BCP 816)

Evolution of the Word

Over the weekend I practically devoured the new book by Marcus Borg, Evolution of the Word: The New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written.

The idea of the book is simple. By placing the letters and Gospels and other books of the New Testament in chronological order and looking at the historical context in which they were written, we get an idea what the Good News of Jesus Christ meant for its first hearers and for the earliest generations of Christ’s followers.

There is general consensus that the earliest documents in the New Testament are seven letters of Paul, written in the 50s. Mark was written around 70, and was used by both Matthew and Luke as they composed their Gospels. Revelation was not the last to be written, but came in the 90s. The latest work is 2 Peter, which dates to the middle of the second century, about 120 or so. The book consists of introductions to each book followed by the full text from the NRSV.

We can also see the impact of current events on the language of the New Testament writers. The Gospel of Matthew, for example, most likely written in the 80s or early 90s, reflects the conflict between Christian Jews and other Jews. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70, many synagogues “closed ranks” and ostracized or expelled Christian Jews. This sheds light on why Matthew and John (both written late in the first century) contain harsher language about “the Jews.”

Reading the New Testament in this way makes me feel more connected to my brothers and sisters of those distant centuries, and it makes the issues they dealt with in their “life in Christ” feel as real as the ones I deal with. It also gets me excited for the upcoming year of Education for Ministry (EfM) when the eight students in my group will be studying Old Testament, New Testament, and Church History.

Building one’s knowledge of God through study of the Scriptures is as important as building one’s devotion to God through the use of the Scriptures in the Daily Office. Through the Scriptures, we come to know the power of God in our own time just as the very first Christians knew that power in theirs.