Monthly Archives: March 2015

Rehearsing the whole of the faith

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48).

Picture the scene in Jerusalem in the late fourth century:

“Immediately a throne is placed for the bishop in the major church, the Matryrium …. The bishop [teaches them the law] in this way: beginning with Genesis and going through the whole of Scripture during these forty days, expounding first its literal meaning and then explaining the spiritual meaning. In the course of these days everything is taught not only about the Resurrection but concerning the body of the faith. This is called catechetics” (134*).

These are the words of Egeria, a Spanish woman who spent a year in Jerusalem on pilgrimage and wrote letters home about everything she saw and how the Church in Jerusalem worshiped.

It’s entirely possible that the bishop she saw on the throne teaching the catechumens (those who were preparing for baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter) was Cyril himself.

Cyril taught his fellow-Christians about living in the way of the cross, about repentance and forgiveness, dying and rising, and he helped develop the doctrines that became the Nicene Creed.

Cyril wrote about the way of the cross in his Catechetical Instructions, saying that “Jesus never sinned; yet he was crucified for you. Will you refuse to be crucified for him, who for your sake was nailed to the cross? You are not the one who gives the favor; you have received one first. For your sake he was crucified on Golgotha. Now you are returning his favor; you are fulfilling your debt to him” (136).

Christians then and now walk in the way of the cross during Holy Week, putting ourselves imaginatively in the places where Jesus himself was arrested, carried his cross, stumbled and fell, and was crucified. We will observe Stations of the Cross in Solidarity with the Persecuted Church at St. Thomas on Palm Sunday and three times on Good Friday.

The pattern of dying and rising that we rehearse through Holy Week and Easter is the pattern of the Gospel and of life in Christ.

We learn through experience that repentance and forgiveness are the way forward in relationships, that falling and rising again move us toward deeper union with God and each other, that our failing and falling lead us into greater dependence on God “who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son to the end that none should perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Sometimes it’s the Church that teaches us this pattern, but often it’s a mentor or support group or teacher or 12-Step program.

Jesus himself not only teaches but embodies this pattern. “Then he opened [the disciples’] minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (Luke 24:45-48).

Cyril and the believers in Jerusalem kept Holy Week by walking the Way of the Cross from place to place in Jerusalem, from the Martyrium to Golgotha, from the Mount of Olives to the Holy Sepulchre, and Cyril spent his time and energy with catechumens, “opening their minds to understand the scriptures.”

He taught them that “in learning and professing the faith, you must accept and retain only the Church’s present tradition, confirmed as it is by the Scriptures. Although not everyone is able to read the Scriptures … we have gathered together the whole of the faith in a few concise articles … this summary of the faith was not composed at any human whim; the most important sections were chosen from the whole Scripture to consitute and complete a comprehensive statement of the faith” (447).

So as we prepare ourselves to walk the Way of the Cross during Holy Week …

As we reflect on the falling and failing in our lives and see God at work to redeem and raise us …

As we open each other’s minds to understand the Scriptures …

Let’s follow Cyril’s example “in learning and professing the faith,” and let’s also join Cyril and Egeria and our fellow pilgrims in rehearsing “the whole of the faith in a few concise articles.”

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The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen. (BCP 358)

* Page numbers for the passages from Cyril and Egeria refer to J. Robert Wright’s Readings for the Daily Office From the Early Church (Church Publishing, 1991, 2013).

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Friday the 13th

It’s definitely a modern invention, the claim that Friday the 13th is inauspicious because Jacques de Molay and the Knights Templar were arrested in France on Friday, October 13, 1307.

Even so, I’ll play on the connection with that story and today’s readings from Morning Prayer.

I can’t help thinking today of Christians and others imprisoned for their faith, persecuted because of their religion, or driven from their homes to live as refugees, as so many are today.

I can’t help praying for the teenage boys a friend just texted me about, the older killed in a car accident this morning, the younger in critical condition in the hospital. Their suffering and their parents’ grief and fear are dark prisons.

You have put my friends far from me; you have made me to be abhorred by them; *
I am in prison and cannot get free.
My sight has failed me because of trouble; *
LORD, I have called upon you daily; I have stretched out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead? *
will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?
Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? *
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
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 88:9-14)

Pray for all whose faith is abused for financial gain; whose loyalty is rewarded with political murder; whose life is thrown away by those seeking power or control.

Pray for those whose faith is tested by tragedy, pain, and fear.

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-11)

But remember, too, that even in the middle of persecution, flight, and abuse; even in the face of tragedy and pain; even on this particular Friday in the middle of Lent, Scripture reminds us that death is not the end of the story.

We are nearing Holy Week, when we remember Jesus’ willing sacrifice, his dying and rising, the way of the cross that is the pattern for our own lives of faith.

We are nearing Good Friday, the Friday that makes all others “good,” even the ones that land on the 13th of the month.

And we hear echoes this morning in Paul’s letter to the Romans of the canticle Christ our Passover (BCP 83) that we will sing throughout the coming season of Easter.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Solidarity with the persecuted Church

The Catholic Herald in the UK recently published Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar’s reflections as A Way of the Cross in solidarity with the persecuted Church. Archbishop Samir is the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, and he serves as Episcopal Shepherd of the Syrian Commission for the Family.

Here, for the convenience of any who may wish to use this Way of the Cross in their parishes this Lent, is a booklet (gently adapted) and formatted for double-sided printing on US Letter size paper (8.5″ x 11″).

It is offered in hopes that, as we journey toward Jerusalem this Lent and Easter in solidarity with our persecuted sisters and brothers in the Church throughout the world, we may together bear witness to the power of the cross to overcome death and the grave, and to open to us all the resurrection life of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sermon for 2 Lent | Abraham, Peter, and a mustard seed

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:31-33)

I don’t know if Paul had this story in mind when he wrote today’s chapter of the letter to the Romans, but his rivalry with Peter might have colored the way he painted the story of Abraham’s faith.

Abraham

Before the portion of Genesis that we read this morning (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16), Abram:

  • had already followed God to the land he showed him, “along with his wife Sarai, his brother’s son Lot, and all their possessions, and all the persons they had acquired”
  • had already gone down to Egypt because of a famine
  • had already separated from Lot so they wouldn’t get in each other’s way, then come back to rescue him
  • had already been blessed by Melchizedek
  • had already made a covenant with God, and “it was reckoned to him as righteousness”
  • and had already had a son, Ishmael, with Sarai’s servant girl Hagar, who went into exile with the boy

Today, God gives Abraham a new name, and God says Sarah will give birth to a son.

Here’s how Abraham responds, at least according to Paul:

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:19-22)

Peter

Now before Jesus started talking about suffering and dying, Simon

  • had already left his nets and followed him
  • had already seen a man with an unclean spirit healed
  • had already seen his mother-in-law healed, for goodness’ sake
  • had already seen a leper healed
  • had already seen a paralyzed man get up and walk
  • had already seen a tax collector leave the money follow Jesus
  • had already been appointed one of the Twelve and given a new name, Peter
  • had already heard Jesus teach in parables, calm a storm, heal a demoniac, raise a girl to life and heal a suffering woman

And Peter had already gone out on a mission with the rest of the apostles and done all of these impossible things himself!

And then …. Jesus fed 5,000 people, walked on water, cured a deaf man, and fed 4,000 more people.

And then Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”

Today, Jesus talks about yet another impossible thing: “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Peter starts to argue with Jesus, saying that’s not how it’s going to be! We’re on a roll here – look at everything we’ve accomplished – and it’s just going to keep getting better from now on!

Jesus is sharp in his rebuke, calling Peter on the carpet in front of everyone. “Get behind me, you adversary, you tempter! (That’s what “Satan” means.) You’re focused on human things, not divine.”

I can just imagine Peter’s face burning red with shame.

In his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr writes “Jesus praised faith and trust – even more than love. It takes a foundational trust to fall, or to fail, and not to fall apart.”

How Peter must be humbled by Jesus’ rebuke, though he still has to fall, and fail, a couple more times before he finally falls upward into the identity his name points to: Peter the Rock.

The Mustard Seed

But today I want to turn from rocks, and from the mountain-top where the tempter lives, and focus down on a little mustard seed.

Jesus said, according to Matthew, that “if you have faith the size a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Both Abraham and Peter had trust.

Both of them had seen God acting and had followed God in trust.

Abraham also had just enough faith to be “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

That little faith, small as a mustard seed, was “reckoned to him as righteousness.”

However, Peter is most like us – that’s probably why he’s first among the Twelve apostles.

Like Peter, we have already seen Jesus and his Spirit acting in our lives:

  • In two powerful Faith Alive weekends that have revitalized the congregation
  • In vibrant healing ministries that we offer each other every week
  • In so many Bible studies, EfM groups, and reading groups every week
  • Through our mission partners and mission prayer links
  • Through our children and young people
  • In our retired clergy, so generous with their wisdom and time
  • In the 85 people who came out on Wednesday night to gather with our bishop for a Lenten study

But like Peter we have a hard time hearing Jesus when the talk turns serious, when he sets his face toward Jerusalem and the cross.

The transformative dying that Jesus describes, what we now call the Way of the Cross, demands of us not just trust that Jesus is leading us where we need to go, but faith that our falling and failing actually moves us upward toward the share in the kingdom that he promises.

That kingdom, Jesus says, is within us (Luke 17:21).

That kingdom, he says, “is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:31-32).

Jesus says elsewhere that unless a grain of wheat is planted and dies, it cannot rise into new growth (John 12:24).

We are so like Peter in our falling and our failing — afraid to let go of our success, afraid to risk even a tiny mustard seed of faith.

Today, may we be like Abraham, fully convinced that God, in Christ, can do what he has promised.

“For those who want to save their life,” Jesus says, “will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Our little faith is enough. Our little mustard seed of faith, if we are willing to lay it down for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the good news, is enough.

And that little mustard seed of faith will “be reckoned to us as righteousness,” just as Paul said it would be.

He also said, “The promise rests on grace … “

And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and for ever. Amen.