Tag Archives: Ephesians

12 Steps of Christmas | Eve of the Epiphany

Step Twelve – “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

Morning Prayer for today can be found here. Since tonight is the Eve of the Epiphany, today is the 12th day of Christmas.

Thank you for joining me in these reflections on praying the Daily Office and practicing recovery; I hope you have found them useful.

Having had an awakening

The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O LORD my God. (Jonah 2:5-6)

Step Twelve begins with a recounting of the previous Steps and of our progress to date. It’s a little longer than the previous chapters in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, but I invite you to take a few minutes to read it.

Among other things, you will find that “alcoholics” are mentioned no more than 20 times in 20 short pages. The Twelve Steps are basically human wisdom about living by spiritual principles, though for us the essential starting point was a crisis brought on by our drinking.

It mattered little whether we had sat on the shore of life drinking ourselves into forgetfulness or had plunged in recklessly and willfully beyond our depth and ability. The result was the same—all of us had nearly perished in a sea of alcohol. (123-24)

Today, “we begin to practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily lives so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety” (106).

Carry the message

As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. (Eph. 6:15)

The A.A. meeting that I attend each week opens with the Serenity Prayer and a moment of silence.

Then different people read three key texts: the Preamble, “How It Works” (the chapter from Alcoholics Anonymous that lays out the Twelve Steps), and the Twelve Traditions.

The last reader finishes with a “Responsibility Declaration”:

I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that, I am responsible.

The first part of “Twelve Step work” is to be willing to serve any alcoholic who still suffers. After all, we are people who are in recovery, and we have something that the alcoholic needs, so we must be ready to share that knowledge humbly at any time.

Many of the people I know “in the program” are truly generous with their time and talent in the service of others. My sponsor, for example, attends several meetings a week with the several people he sponsors at any given time. He also brings A.A. literature into the jail and prison system and arranges for newly-released prisoners to find a meeting close to home.

Just so in every church I have served, which is full of people willing and eager to go the extra mile in order to make visitors feel welcome, to reach out into the neighborhood with invitations, to feed the people who come several times a week for a meal, to teach classes, to visit the shut-ins.

The list of ways that we extend our hands to others is nearly endless.

Practice the principles

Now comes the biggest question yet. What about the practice of these principles in all our affairs? Can we love the whole pattern of living as eagerly as we do the small segment of it we discover when we try to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety? Can we bring the same spirit of love and tolerance into our sometimes deranged family lives that we bring to our A.A. group? Can we have the same kind of confidence and faith in these people who have been infected and sometimes crippled by our own illness that we have in our sponsors? Can we actually carry the A.A. spirit into our daily work? (111-12)

In an earlier post, I shared a couple of occasions when I realized that recovery practices — especially admitting fault promptly — were not just about alcoholism but about a new way of living.

Like other membership groups, A.A. and the church alike run the risk of turning inward.

If the church doesn’t connect Sunday with Monday, we go back into our daily lives and act no differently than those around us. If we attend lots of meetings but stay “in the rooms,” we may still be out of control in our daily lives.

Just like the song “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” we might sing that “They’ll know we are recovering by our sobriety.”

Just as the point of the Daily Office is not to check another prayer task off the eternal to-do list, neither does attending meetings alone secure any benefit for us. Both of them are examples of the “maintenance of our spiritual condition” that keeps us on the path of sobriety in our daily lives.

We pray the Daily Office not only to be in relationship with God, but also to equip us to see God at work in the world around us and to see Jesus “hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison” (Matt. 25:31-46).

We attend meetings not only to share the company of those who understand our problems, but also to help us live lives that are “sober and upright” in order to draw into our fellowship those who are still suffering.

A Prayer for Mission

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 to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

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The password that opens the heavens

Yesterday, several members of our deanery went to the Chazen Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Wisconsin to see an exhibit of The Saint John’s Bible.

The Saint John’s Bible is the first handwritten and hand-illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine abbey since the invention of the printing press. It represents 15 years of work by a team of calligraphers and artists under Donald Jackson in Wales and a Committee on Illumination and Text at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

The exhibit at the Chazen Museum includes actual pages from The Saint John’s Bible and a display of the calligraphers’ tools, including hand-cut quills and tools for applying gold leaf. There is a video documentary about the process of creating the Bible, and an example of a full-size “Heritage Edition” bound in oak boards and rich leather.

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One of the most arresting pages in The Saint John’s Bible is the frontispiece to the Gospel of John. I own the reproduction volume of the Gospels and Acts, so the featured image for this post is a closeup of that page.

Donald Jackson uses gold leaf to signify God, and the figure of the Word made flesh shines brightly from the cosmic background (based on images from the Hubble telescope) behind him. The art underscores the way John connects the coming of Christ to the account of creation in Genesis.

Verses from Paul’s hymn in the letter to the Colossians appear to the left of the figure:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers —
all things have been created through him and for him (Col. 1:15-16)

The keyhole along the left edge of the image reminds me of the sermon I heard in Munich on December 26, St. Stephen’s Day. We attended the Eucharist with my wife’s Tante Barbara at her neighborhood church, Maria Trost.

Sermon at Maria Trost Kirche, Munich

Sermon at Maria Trost Kirche, Munich

The priest spoke of this opening passage of John’s gospel, describing Jesus as not just the “word” of God, but as the “password” whose coming opens the heavens to human beings.

Stephen, he went on to say, was one of the first who knew the password, who exclaimed as he was being stoned, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56).

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In the introduction to his companion book Word and Image: The Hermeneutics of The Saint John’s Bible, Michael Patella OSB, chair of the Committee on Illumination and Text, writes:

Readers should not be surprised if they find that their engagement with The Saint John’s Bible opens their imaginations, hearts, souls, and intellects to new ways of conceiving God. In addition, they may also find themselves entering a deeper relationship with God (xiv).

The Saint John’s Bible is a beautiful, sacramental expression — in ink and gold leaf, vellum and leather, word and image — of the “immeasurable riches of [God’s] grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” as today’s Epistle reading suggests.

May meditating on its words and images, and on the Word made flesh whom it reveals, open the heavens to you, too.

In all we do, direct us

Collect for Grace

O Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)

Members of Christ’s body

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus about the power, the giftedness we have received through our participation in the dying and rising of Christ, symbolized by our baptism:

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).

Not just a faithful remnant 

With the Ephesians, we are no longer just a faithful remnant, like “whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem [and] will be called holy” (Isa. 4:3).

Instead, we are called to “the measure of the full stature of Christ,” to a much larger vision of ministry to the whole world. As we sing in Canticle 11 this morning:

Nations will stream to your light, *
and kings to the brightness of your dawning.
Your gates will always be open; *
by day or night they will never be shut. (BCP 87)

We are not secure within the walls of the city, but welcoming to those who would come in.

We are no longer left behind, separate from the world, but sent out into it.

Certainly not anxious neighbors 

And out in the world, we ought to be recognizably different from the anxious neighbors Jesus meets in today’s Gospel (Matt. 8:28-34).

Too often, we respond just like the townspeople. “Why are you helping those dirty, wild, Gerasenes?”

“And, wait a minute,” say the swineherds, “those are my pigs!”

“You’re upsetting everything! This was such a quiet neighborhood until you came along; we were secure and separate.”

Instead, we ought to look for and recognize God’s purpose at work, for we are a whole community of gifted, grace-filled ministers being directed, in all we do, to the fulfilling of that purpose.

No longer strangers and sojourners

genuflect

I stretched forth my hand against myself;
I have broken my covenant.

My speech is softer than butter,
but war is in my heart.

My words are smoother than oil,
but they are drawn swords.

Cast your burden upon the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous stumble.

(Psalm 55, adapted)

The class I’m taking this fall at Bexley Seabury is called “This Dangerous Book” for a reason.

We’re together investigating how texts, images, and sounds in juxtaposition can help us experience the Bible at a heart level rather than in our heads.

Our exercise last night was to do some free association on a text appointed for All Saints’ Day. The reading from the Book of Daniel stirred up in me various “beasts” like Daniel saw “in the visions of his head as he lay in bed.”

I saw in my vision by night
the four winds of heaven
stirring up the great sea
and four great beasts
came up out of the sea
different from one another.
(Dan. 7:2-3)

Though I am struggling with several “great beasts” — various kinds of sin in my life — the experience of the saints reassures me that I am not alone. I am not unique in my struggles, and in fact I can learn how to live from those “who have come out of the great ordeal” before me (Rev. 7:14).

In many recovery programs, those who have gone before are called sponsors; in our tradition they are called saints. Thanks be to God that we are not left to deal with our “great beasts” alone, that we are not left to swim the great sea by ourselves.

We are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph. 2:19).

To unity, knowledge, and maturity

Ss_Simon_and_Jude

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Unity

We often hear in the Church the old saw that “unity does not mean uniformity.” What we are trying to express, I think, is that we don’t have to march in lockstep, we don’t all have to be believers in the same exact way.

The Church is gifted — not only with those who guard the faith (apostles) but also with those who upbraid the faithful (prophets); not only with traveling preachers (evangelists) but also with local leaders (pastors and teachers). We all have the same purpose, though: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.

You may serve in the food kitchen, you may lead youth group, you may knit prayer shawls, you may provide pastoral care, you may give generously, you may go on mission trips, you may host a fellowship group in your home, you may advocate for political change, you may lead a Bible study. As David Allen says, “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

Whatever you do, then, do it in order to equip the saints and to build up the body.

Knowledge

My own particular interests are in teaching the Bible and the practice of the Daily Office.

Isaiah has harsh words in today’s Old Testament lesson for religious leaders who teach nothing more than “precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isa. 28:10).

That is to say, teaching only Bible facts without teaching saving wisdom is no help in equipping the saints. It puffs up the teacher (as Miracle Max would say, “hoo hoo hoo, look who knows so much!”), but it does not build up the learner.

How do the words of Scripture become “living and active” in our lives? How do they soak into us until they are there when we need them?

One reason I teach about the Daily Office is that it is a method for reading Scripture in the context of worship that has helped Christians throughout the centuries to “inwardly digest” the Scriptures even as they “read, mark, and learn” (BCP 236) them in Bible studies and other forums. Again, no one method is complete or self-sufficient; each has a particular purpose.

Maturity

The gifts given to the Church are “for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

“Equipping the saints” ultimately means enabling them to stand on their own two feet — to help learners become believers, and to help believers become ministers themselves.

Another program I’m involved in is Education for Ministry, a program of theological education for lay people created by the School of Theology of the University of the South. This year there are 11 students in my group at St. Thomas Church.

Along with the study we pursue in the four-year curriculum — Old Testament, New Testament, Church history, and theology — we also engage in a process of theological reflection, learning to identify where our beliefs and positions come from and how to turn our insights into action.

As we share our “spiritual autobiographies” with one another, we start to trace how God has acted in our lives. As we study the Scriptures, we learn about how God has acted in the life of Israel and of the Church. Reading church history is a humbling exercise in seeing how we keep getting it wrong, over and over again. And our study of theology is no academic exercise, but an attempt to go from “milk” to “solid food” (1 Cor 3:2) as we serve in our various ministries.

Being “lifelong learners” is wonderful, but as St. Benedict puts it, “the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings” (RB Prologue).

Collect of the Day

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 245)

 

Trinity Sunday

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St. Augustine’s Chapel in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Fond du Lac

First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

O God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 228)

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I want to reflect not so much on the doctrine of the Trinity but on the method of Trinitarian faith.

It took more than 400 years of sustained practice and reflection before the Christian church articulated the doctrine of the Trinity. The Apostles’ Creed is first mentioned by Ambrose around 390; the Nicene Creed came after the Council of Nicaea in 325 and was revised by the Council of Constantinople in 381; Augustine wrote On the Trinity in 415; and the Athanasian Creed dates to sometime after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

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From the beginning Christians gathered to pray daily (just as they had been doing as observant Jews), celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and ministered to those around them, making disciples through the power of the Spirit.

“No one has ever seen God,” writes the author of the Gospel of John. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

“Jesus is Lord” rings the cry of faith; “We are one in the Spirit” say the apostles to Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female; “How good it is to sing praises to our God” we pray every morning and every evening, joining our voices to the Psalmist’s (Ps. 147:1).

The doctrine of the Trinity is the attempt, however mathematical and philosophical it may be, to account for the lived experience of the Church, following the Lord Jesus in the power of God’s Spirit and in praise to the eternal Father — acknowledging the Trinity and worshiping the Unity.

Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

(Te Deum laudamus, BCP 95)

No armor needed on the Way of the Cross

Armor_Small

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:7)

It took less than 50 years after the crucifixion of Jesus — the Prince of Peace, the sacrificial Lamb foretold by Isaiah — for the martial language to creep back into the church’s vocabulary.

By the time of the letter to the Ephesians, written somewhere between 62-95 AD, we have this exhortation to believers to “put on the whole armor of God.” Now granted, this is spiritual armor we’re talking about — the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14-17). As a metaphor, the image works beautifully to depict discipline and confidence in the spiritual life.

But do you hear the difference?

Jesus went to his death unprotesting, silent before the slaughter. His followers in Ephesus, less than 50 years later, are being urged into an aggressive posture, armed to wage war “not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

How much longer, though, until this spiritual aggression is turned against “enemies of blood and flesh”?

Church history tells the story; just 300 more years. In 385, Priscillian, the bishop of Avila, became the first Christian to be executed for heresy by the (Christian) Roman authorities — the church finally had the power of the state behind it to enforce its will.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
(Isaiah 53:8)

I hear such anger in our religious discourse today that it worries me.

Religious leaders and believers alike denounce other Christians with such violence, and are so heated in their demands that society conform to their desires, that I wonder if our lust for the heat and noise of battle has made us lose our taste for “that peace which the world cannot give” (BCP 123).

I wonder if we have become totally deaf to the silent voice of the crucified Christ urging us to follow him in the way of the cross, which is “none other than the way of life and peace” (BCP 99).