Holy Asides
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June 12, 2014, 12:00 AM

Questions We Should Be Asking


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about answering questions that no one is asking. This led me to reflect on the types of questions that we should consider asking. The answer became obvious to me. We should begin by asking the questions that Jesus asked. Jesus asked a lot of questions. He asked questions of his disciples, the Pharisees, those who were seeking. Rarely did Jesus give a straight answer to a question, but would respond with his own: “How do you read?”; “Was John’s baptism from God or man?”; "Whose image is on the coin?” Even when things seemed quite obvious to everyone else, he would still ask questions. “What do you want me to do for you?”, he asked the blind man. The amazing thing about questions is that it keeps the conversation going. We note in the gospels that when the enemies of Jesus were beaten down, “no one dared to ask him any more questions.” They stopped asking questions in order for the conversation to end.

 

This summer we will have a ten-week sermon series (it will actually be over eleven weeks, as I will be away one week—and no, I won’t tell you which one) on “The Questions of Jesus." We will wrestle with the questions that Jesus asked his followers, those who would/could be his followers, and his adversaries. But these are questions that he is asking us as well. “What do you want?” “Which is easier?” “Do you want to be made well?” Answering these questions is vital for having a living and growing relationship with God. And I pray that these questions will continue to resonate in our hearts throughout the week, long after the sermon is over, so that we might continue that conversation with Jesus. For it is in continuing this conversation through prayer and contemplation through the Holy Spirit that we come to know the living God—and as Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that [we] may know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [He] has sent.”




June 4, 2014, 12:00 AM

Eucharistic Adoration? Huh?


Throughout the season of Lent, one of the services that was most appreciated was the Holy Hour held each Thursday. The primary function of this service is in creating time for the congregation to come and pray before the exposed Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration. 

Understood simply, Eucharistic Adoration is adoring or honoring the Eucharistic Presence of Christ. In a deeper sense, it involves "the contemplation of the Mystery of Christ truly present before us." During this time before the Blessed Sacrament, we "watch and wait", we remain "silent" in His presence and open ourselves to His graces which flow from the Eucharist ... By worshiping the Eucharistic Jesus, we become what God wants us to be! Like a magnet, The Lord draws us to Himself and gently transforms us. In its fullest essence ... Eucharistic Adoration is "God and Man reaching out for each other, at the same time!''

Each Thursday, beginning June 5, Eucharistic Adoration will be available in the church from 12-1 PM. The Daughters of the King will coordinate volunteers who will pray and intercede during this time. But all are welcome. Monthly, the full service of Holy Hour, with prayers and a Benediction (the Blessing of the congregation with the Blessed Sacrament) will take place. This month it will take place on the Feast of Corpus Christi, June 19th.  




May 26, 2014, 12:00 AM

Rediscovering a Major Feast and Major Function


The Feast of the Ascension is on Thursday, May 29th. Although it falls on a Thursday and has no commercial prospect of gifts or cards, this feast day celebrates one of the core realities of Jesus. Through the Ascension, Jesus is enthroned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords—and moreover, he prepares a place for us in that heavenly kingdom. It is in this role, that Jesus intercedes on our behalf before God. Jesus, who knows temptation, who has experienced being fully man through the incarnation, prays for us. Therefore, we should be functioning in a state of corporate intercession as well. This goes well beyond the Prayers of the People or reeling off our prayer lists. Interceding involves listening, waiting upon the Lord, and patience, as well as the speaking we often associate as prayer. 

 

To aid us in this rediscovery of intercession as a corporate act of prayer and worship, we will hold a prayer vigil, organized by the Daughters of the King, between the 10 AM and 7 PM services on Ascension Day. And beginning the following Thursday, we will have Eucharistic Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament from Noon to 1PM, where we can listen, wait and sit in silent intercession before Jesus. Also, for the nine days between Ascension and Pentecost, we will pray for the Holy Spirit and the empowerment of the Spirit upon us, our parish, diocese and the Church world-wide. (This is the original “Novena”, from the Latin word for nine.)

 

Intercession is one of the spiritual gifts that is among the “hidden gifts” that St. Paul speaks of when comparing the gifts in the Church to a body. It is like a vital organ, a liver or heart, whereby without it the Church can not only fail to thrive, but will not even survive. Let us rediscover the function of interceding with purpose for ourselves, our loved ones, our parish, our vision—and celebrate the Feast of the One who has Ascended to the right hand of the Father, is seated as King, and intercedes for you and for me.




May 23, 2014, 12:00 AM

Reflections from the Twin Cities


This past week I have been in Minneapolis at the Festival of Homiletics. Homiletics is the fancy word for giving sermons; so this was a conference about preaching for preachers. I know, I have already lost half of you to sheer boredom, but there was actually quite a bit that was helpful, useful, or at the very least thought provoking. Among the highlights was the encouragement to not deny death, because it is in death we find our hope; that we can not earn blessings, but we can certainly screw them up; that we as the Church are called to be a missional community—and several other things I need to (a) ponder and let sink in and/or (b) refrain from telling you, so I can claim as my own idea later. 

 

But there is one idea that I wanted to focus on, spoken by Lillian Daniels that was not new to me, but was certainly reinforced. This is the idea of the “nones.” This is not misspelled, as I am not speaking of the devout women dressed in habits, who reside in convents; rather those who profess no religious affiliation. This group checks the box “none” next to religion/denomination. They are the dechurched and the unchurched. They have left the church for doctrinal or personal reasons; or they have never been a part of church at all. The most interesting aspect about the “none” is in how they are perceived. Because there are two major responses. The first is to bemoan the fact that our nation isn’t what it once was. Prayer is not in school; religious primers are not teaching children to read; soccer games and little league activities occur on Sundays; and people do not need to be a member of a church in order for their cultural standing to be enhanced. The second reaction is to rejoice (at least slightly) that those who come to church actually come because they want to be there. There is no cultural pressure to come to church, and yet they have chosen to be here anyway. 

 

This creates a whole new model of preaching, teaching, and communication. More than that it involves refraining from answering questions no one cares about or is asking anyway. The visitors, especially those without church affiliation, do not care about the National Church, the Diocese, the reasons we sing the mass, sing hymns, sing praise songs, use incense, celebrate the Eucharist, go to coffee hour, the intricacies of prayers of the people, acolytes, LEM’s, ushers or VPOD’s (that’s Vestry Person of the Day, which even I never heard of till arriving at St. Joseph’s.) These people want to know Jesus; they want to know that knowing Jesus can transform their lives—bring them peace, joy, hope, and meaning; they want to belong to a community that loves, cares and supports them. They do not care about the politics of the parish, in whose name the Library was founded, or the minutes of the last Vestry meeting. The challenge for us as a parish, and me as the preacher/rector, is to help support and meet the needs of those in our parish. To not overwhelm them by answering questions they are not asking, nor care about, but rather to listen with open ears and answer the questions about Jesus they do have, about faith they struggle with, and walk closely with those who are seeking—that we may be an encouragement for the good news of Jesus in their lives.




May 11, 2014, 9:46 PM

Books, Confession, Shame, and Life


As Episcopalians we are people of the “book.” We see this in evidence through the focus on readings from the Bible, the scriptures of the Old and New Testament during the services, as well as through the Book of Common Prayer, where we find the richness of our prayers and liturgy. And while these are the primary books of our worship, there are a great number of books and authors who lead, guide and direct our thought, theology, and practical life in Christ. Therefore, in this blog-space I thought that I would share some of those books that have shaped me over the years. At first thought, this was an amazing and brilliant idea, but then I have looked and see that I have already referenced, Steve Macchia’s Crafting a Rule of Life and Christopher Beeley’s, Leading God’s People in previous blogs. So, I guess that was a subconscious thought, but I guess will now be more intentional.

 

This leads me to Brené Brown’s books about shame resilience and vulnerability. Both her books and TED talks (which are great little 22 minute videos) are on her website. And while over the next several months (maybe years), I will probably hint at her works and research, there is one aspect that is important for us to highlight in the Church—that is the issue of Confession. The confessing of our sins in order to receive God’s forgiveness has long been a core aspect of our theology. But the importance of confession goes well beyond receiving absolution—it relieves us of shame. Shame is not guilt. Guilt is the sorrow for our sins; we regret that we have acted outside of our moral code. Shame, on the other hand, focuses on our failure as a person. Instead of “I did a bad thing”, it’s “I am a bad person.” This person struggles to believe that God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and healing is available to them. 

 

This is why confession is so vital. Brown writes, “Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing that we can do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.” This does not mean that we need always to come to a priest, but it does mean that we go to someone. Someone we can trust, who loves us, and cares for us. A friend, spouse, parent—someone who can say, “That’s awful, I am so sorry—but it will be OK.” This is risky; this is daring; this is HARD; but, ultimately, living with the shame of our secrets is so much harder. We are the loved and cherished children of the living God. This is who we are; this is the reality we should live into.


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