The Fourth Pillar

Four pillars

We have been teaching during this Advent on the four pillars of the Church. These are the hallmarks that we hope and pray that St. Patrick’s will embrace and incarnate. So far we have heard about radical love, discipleship and evangelism. The fourth pillar is the Sacraments and in particular the Body and Blood of Christ. In the video that gave us these pillars, called Rethinking Church, a nondenominational pastor, speaking of the first Christians said,“it seemed like they gathered and when they gathered they focused on the Body and Blood of Christ, Communion was a big deal….”

And he is absolutely correct. Communion was a big deal. We read in the Book of Acts that they gathered every day for the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and the prayers. And of course the breaking of bread included Communion at the end of what they called an “agape” or “love feast.” But why? Why was Communion such a big deal? Allow me to suggest several reasons.

First it was a big deal because it united them in love, one to the other. The invitation to come to the table was open to all; male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free. That astonished the ancient world where in some places it was law to separate classes and sexes and races. These early Christians came together as one, as His Body, and they drew strength from one another as different people brought different gifts to edify the whole.

The need for that has not changed. The usher greets, the lector reads, the choir sings, the acolyte serves, the preacher preaches, the people pray. We are like individual instruments, each with our own unique sound, but coming together to form a symphony to the glory God.

That is why it is sad to me that churches today are offering live podcasts so that people can worship in the privacy of their homes. While this may be a good thing for shut-ins or people who travel, those who are able bodied should never utilize it. The Scriptures gives a command that we are not to forsake the assembly of the brethren (Heb. 10:25).

I saw a sign on the road in Kentucky that read, “Tattoos while you wait.” Some things you can’t stay at home for and tattoos and worship are two of them. Especially since corporate worship should include the Body and Blood of Christ, you can’t do that long distance or through the Internet. The Body of Christ is not a virtual Body. It is made up of flesh and blood folks receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. As the saying goes, “you have to be present to win.”

Those first Christians partook of the Body and Blood of Christ daily while in much of the modern Church it is done once a month or quarterly or even less. One pastor said to me that he would be worried about doing it every week because it would lose its meaning. When I pointed out to him that he did not have that same concern about taking up the offering, it made him smile and I hope rethink his position.

After I completed my first seminary we spent one year in Sewanee at the seminary so that I could complete Anglican Studies and work on a Masters in Sacred Theology. During that year I attended Mass daily. It was offered at the seminary Monday through Friday, I attended Mass at a convent on Saturdays and on Sundays we returned to our home parish in Chattanooga. I did not really recognize what it was doing for my soul until we moved away from the seminary and I celebrated or received the Sacrament less often. I felt as though I was drying up spiritually and perhaps I did a wee bit. I can’t exactly remember the last time that I went more than a week without receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, but I vividly remember how out of kilter my life felt when that happened.

I am not proposing that we begin a daily Mass at St. Patrick’s but I do propose that we recognize how important it is and to make it a life priority. And not just on Sundays but also on Holy Days. One parishioner said to me. “My family has made it a commitment that unless we are sick or dead, we will be in Mass.” To that I said, “Amen.”

There are times that I wish I could model the Roman Church and tell you that missing Mass is a mortal sin and that you put your soul in peril, but I do not believe that so I could not say it. However I do believe that Christ’s Body and Blood is our spiritual food and drink and that it weakens our souls to miss it, just as it would weaken our bodies to go more than a week without food and drink. I do not say this to create guilt. I say it because I want what is best for your soul. The early Church received Communion daily to unite with one another to be the Body of Christ. I don’t think that it is too much to ask us to make it a priority to receive weekly and on Holy Days.

Communion was also important to them because it united them with their true home. St. Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven and that even now we are seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 2:6). When the Church militant (on earth) met around the Body and Blood of Christ she joined herself with the Church triumphant (in glory), because there is only One Body. In doing so the Church militant drew strength from the Church militant. How does that happen?

Think with me about the Revelation to John. What is being taught in that Book to exhort, correct and encourage the Church (besides possibly suggesting that Justin Beiber was the anti-Christ)? It was telling the Church to stir up its first love and to persevere to the end and it did this by giving them a glimpse of what is going on in the heavenlies.

Part of the Church on earth was undergoing persecution and more of it would face persecution in the future. It looked like the forces of darkness were winning. It was difficult to believe that God was on the throne when madmen were conquering the nations. How were they to believe that the cross had conquered Satan when satanic forces were putting them to death?

To answer this Jesus allows the Church on earth to get a glimpse of the Church in heaven where we see God firmly on His throne, the 24 elders falling in worship at the feet of the victorious Lamb and we see a heavenly wedding banquet. That is reality and that is the lens through which the events on earth must be viewed.

Thus when the Church on earth celebrates Holy Communion, it unties itself to the Church in glory. It is more than just a foreshadow of the heavenly banquet, it is an entering in as we join our voices with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” It is a time when the Church militant steps out of time and enters the eternal worship of God. Nothing prepares you to face the challenges of this life like seeing things from the perspective of the life to come.

As an Anglican priest I am not allowed to celebrate Holy Communion unless there is one other person with me because Jesus said that He would be present wherever two or three are gathered in His Name. A Roman priest does not have this restriction however because the Roman Church realizes that when a priest celebrates Holy Communion he is never alone. As just mentioned he celebrates with “all the company of heaven.” It is kind of nice however when I say “The Lord be with you” that there is at least one voice to respond, “And with thy spirit.” It’s even better when there is more.

Thus Holy Communion is such a big deal because it unites us with the Church triumphant, and as the writer of Hebrew put it, surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses we are able to run with endurance the race that is set before us. We need that connection to finish the race.

Mostly however, the early Church was so focused on the Body and Blood of Christ because that is how they united with Jesus. Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56). Remember many of them had actually knew Him. They remember the sound of His voice because they heard Him teach in the synagogue. Some felt His touch as He washed their feet or laid His hands upon them to heal or to bless them. Some had Him look into their souls and tell them their deepest thoughts. Some had seen Him beaten beyond recognition and over 500 had seen Him after He was raised from the dead.

What I am trying to say was that Holy Communion for those early believers was not a doctrinal matter of Transubstantiation versus Real Presence versus Spiritual Presence. It was a personal connection to the One that they knew and loved and missed and longed to be with again. It was a way to abide in Him and to have Him abide in them. It was smelling the pillow of your loved one who has been gone for too long, but it was more. It was wearing a piece of jewelry that your loved one gave you, but it was more. It was being connected to one another through a promise, but it was more. It was actually a physical way to connect spiritually to Jesus.

As we eat His Body and drink His Blood we take Him into our heart and mind and soul and He takes us into His. That is why we say in the Canon of the Mass “that He may dwell in us and we with Him.” This is not a theory for me.

About 30 years ago I was in a very dark place in my life and felt like I was drowning. I could not pray and the Bible, full of its promises, seemed to be mocking me. My heart was black. I had been wounded deeply and I was wresting with unforgiveness. If truth be told I was wrestling with hatred. There were days that I wish I had an off button. I knew that warnings in the Scripture about eating and drinking unworthily and so I was afraid. I knew I was slipping away and I did not know of another way to hang on and so I asked my priest if I could still receive communion, being in such a sin-filled condition.

He was a wise and loving priest and he told me that he would not only allow me to receive but that he was commanding me to receive and if I did not he would chase me down. So I came to Church late so that I would not have to talk to anyone and I left early for the same reasons. Week after week Christ reached out to me through His Body and Blood and like a Good Shepherd He took me to Himself and He carried me for about a year. Slowly I found healing and forgiveness and was able to forgive. I have no doubt at all that I would not be standing here today if Jesus had not allowed me to abide in Him and He in me through the Sacrament. It saved my life and my soul.

The preacher on YouTube was right. Communion was a big deal to the early Church, and if we are going to be the kind of Church that the Lord wants us to be, it must be a big deal to us as well. St. Paul in the letter to the Romans used the expression “the obedience of faith.” Obedience is how we express our faith. Jesus told us to go into all nations and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe or obey all that He has commanded. He gave us a new commandment that we are to love one another. But He also gave us another commandment. “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Let us demonstrate our faith by being obedient to what our Lord has told us to do. “Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” “Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.”

Christmas Eve

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Christmas Eve 2013 Fr. Ray Kasch St. Patrick’s Anglican Church

Lessons Is 9:2-7 Titus 2:11-14 St. Luke 2:1-20

I love the hymns and carols of Christmas and I am grateful that as Anglicans we sing them throughout the entire Christmas season up until Epiphany. When you add on our world famous one rehearsal Epiphany pageant, we extend their season even longer. But there also a song, that as soon as I hear it, I know it is Christmas. I’ve asked Kirk to play a few bars for you.

Yes that is a song named Linus and Lucy and it come from the The Charlie Brown Christmas, a show that I imagine most if not all of us have seen. I bring that show up because it gives us a message that we need to hear every year, but first let me tell you about what a little miracle that show is in itself.

A producer got a call from an ad agency in New York that said that Coke Cola wanted to sponsor a Christmas special. They asked if the producer had one. He lied and told them “yes” and then he pulled together Charles Schultz, the creator of the comic strip Peanuts, and an animator and on a Thursday afternoon they came up with the idea of The Charlie Brown Christmas. The Coke Cola people loved the idea but then that gave them only 6 months to come up with the finished product and none of them had ever done a cartoon special before! They had to come up with the voices, hire the actors, create the animation, compose the music, all of it.

Schultz who was a Christian, wanted to have Linus read from the Bible and everyone thought it was a terrible idea. Some even said it was not right to have something so sacred in a crass comic. Well, not only did Schultz not think that his comic was crass, but he argued that the Bible was not just for Church or the priesthood but it was for everyone. If they did not do it, who would? So they had Linus recite from the Gospel of St. Luke to explain what Christmas was all about and I believe that it is the Word of the Lord coming to us through the mouth of a child that makes this animated special so endearing to all generations.

When they finished the project the men who worked on it were disappointed. They thought it was too slow and the network execs didn’t like it either. But they were committed to play it once and they thought that was all of the air time that it would ever receive. To their amazement, it received a 49% share, which meant that half of the TV’s in America had tuned it in. It became the highest rated Christmas special and the most rerun show in the history of TV. It has aired every year since. Its message is universal and it strikes a cord deep within all kinds of people. God’s truth can be told in many different ways. Following the Bible, it includes the timeless themes of the condition of man, the false hope of the world and the gift of God.

Charlie Brown is worried because even though it is Christmas he feels sad. Linus tells Charlie Brown that of all the Charlie Browns in the world he is the Charlie Browniest. And while he is, there is a little Charlie Brown in us all. Our reading tonight from the Prophet Isaiah tells us why. Isaiah describes us as a people who walk in great darkness and therefore we are need of the intervention of God. As children of the Enlightenment we may resent such an expression but resenting it does not make it untrue. There is plenty of darkness all around us.

Charlie Brown says that while he likes getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating, but he ends up getting depressed. And isn’t that a snapshot of so many lives? We go through life looking for the next thing that will make us happy. If we will just finish that degree, or find the right person or land the right job, then we will at peace with the world. And for a moment those things do offer us a measure of joy. But if that is all we have, if we continue to walk in darkness, then we will likely end up getting depressed like Charlie Brown.

Often when we walk in darkness we look for things to add to our lives to make the darkness acceptable. But Isaiah is telling us that we do not need to add things to our lives, rather we need things removed. In Isaiah’s language what needs to be removed is the yoke of our burden, the bar across our shoulders, the rod of our oppressor. In New Testament language they are the world, the flesh and the devil. As we just heard from St. Paul to Titus, we are to be trained to renounce impiety and worldly passions, to remove them from our lives. But how, how are we freed from these things?

Charlie Brown saw through one false hope. He knew that the answer was not materialism. He saw the bankruptcy of commercialism as it distracted people from the real purpose of Christmas.

Given that stores are now putting out Christmas items at the same time that they are preparing for Halloween, I don’t think we have learned that lesson very well. Our culture is Snoopy decorating our doghouses in hopes of winning the cash prize. We are Lucy who said that she never gets what she wants because she always gets clothes and bikes and toys. When asked what she DID want she said. “real estate.” We are Sally who asked Santa for $10’s and $20’s and when Charlie Brown reacted she said, “All I want is what’s coming to me. I want my fair share.” Remember this was written in 1965. How far have we come?

No Charlie Brown saw past all of that but he did fall for Lucy’s suggestion to get into the Christmas spirit. She said, “You need involvement.” And so she talked him into directing the Christmas play that ended up completely falling apart at the rehearsal.

If you hang around long enough you will eventually learn that adding new stuff does not enrich your life. But it is all too easy, especially as you watch the grains of sand rush through the hour glass, to think that if you get involved, if you just get a little more busy, then your life will take on the meaning that you seek. We don’t intend it to be, in fact we renounce this theology, but in the end we try to save ourselves by our own works. If idleness is the devil’s playground then business must be the courts of heaven. Right? Wrong!

As his involvement leads to even deeper frustration, Charlie Brown cries out in despair, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” To which Linus answers, “I do” and he quietly goes to the center of the stage, asks for the light to be put on him and he says, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’….that’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.”

Charlie Brown then takes his pitiful little Christmas tree into the night, his friends follow and decorate it for him and it ends with all of them singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” It was the story of the Savior’s birth that put things in his life into proper perspective that night. Someone needed to herald the truth to Charlie Brown just as the angels were the heralds of truth to the shepherds and someone in your life was a herald of truth to you. We need to keep that going. “If we don’t do it, who will?”

If you have been raised in the Church or been a Christian for a long time it is easy to forget that there are a lot of Charlie Browns out there. They may have avoided the snares of materialism and at least they know that they don’t know, but they are nevertheless wondering if there are any answers. With the message of the Savior’s birth you can assure them that there are.

First of course you must know the answer for yourself. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, as Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” To me the key phrase here is “unto you.” Now to be accurate this is written in the second person plural, so if St. Luke had written this in the south of Israel the angel would have said, “unto all y’all.”

But we must be careful not to see Him as a generic gift offered to everyone and therefore to no one in particular. To be a herald of the truth you must know that God not only loves the world but that He loves you. After all, “Unto all y’all” includes unto you and unto you and unto you and unto me. That is why sometimes St. Paul called it “MY Gospel.” It is why we have the privilege of praying “OUR Father.” The gift is for each of us.
To be a herald of the truth we also must tell the whole truth. Unto us is born in the city of David whom? A Savior. We need more than just having the right feeling about Christmas. We need salvation, we need a Savior.

Please look at the Processional Hymn in your bulletin on page 19. “Joy to the World.” You will notice an asterisk on verse three. Often the asterisk is added to particularly long hymns so that you can shorten them without doing the hymn injustice. But this is not a long hymn so why are we being given permission to skip verse 3? Because while we love to sing about every heart preparing Him room and rocks, hills and plains which repeat the sounding joy, we don’t like talking about sin and sorrow and thorns infesting the ground as far as the curse is found.

But if we don’t tell the full story then we don’t understand the joy that is being offered to the world. If you were my lawyer and you got me out of a parking ticket I may like you a little but if you got me off of death row, I would love you forever. The people who walked in darkness needed a Savior and that is exactly what we got and that is why there is joy in the world. He has saved us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray and so as heralds of the truth we have tidings of comfort and joy. And that is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown. Merry Christmas

Concerning the Jewish People

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A parishioner writes;
per many of the old testament prophets’ writings and I will name only two here although there are numerous texts with a similar implication I’ve always had a feeling that Jesus came first to the gentiles then at His glorious appearance to the Jews: in other words he didn’t come to earth as a man for the Jews at all but He came here explicitly to save our people . . . for the gentiles. Then per all the Old Testament texts when He comes back in glory the Jews (Hebrews) will know Him for who He is and whom they pierced. I could give many references in especially Old Testament biblical text but for now I will speak of Isaiah 6:1-13, Amos 7:1-9 of which both seem to implicate that because God (of infinity) knew the Jews were hard hearted came to earth in the form of a man to save the heathen, then later would take in His chosen ones. Am I misreading the scriptures or is there some part of truth in this?

I think that if we take a look at the perspective of St. Paul it will tell us how best to read the prophets. In Romans 1:16 he says the he is not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation, “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” Then in Romans 11 he teaches that God has not forever rejected His people but that their stumble has resulted in the gospel going out to the Gentiles. He uses the analogy of some branches being broken off from the vine so that “wild branches” (Gentiles) could be grafted on. From this perspective we can see that the inclusion of the Gentiles in the writings of the prophets was not to declare that salvation was first to the Gentiles but rather that it was not limited to the Jews. Thus in one sense the inclusion of the Gentiles comes as a judgment on Israel, as you said, for their hardheartedness. I believe that is what the prophets are talking about.

But put in a positive way, the Gospel going to the Gentiles also affirms God’s promise to Abraham. In this promise we can see that God never intended for salvation to be limited to Israel. God promised to bless Abraham but He also promised to make Abraham a blessing to the nations (Gen 12). Israel was to be a model for the rest of the world and then through Israel would come the Messiah who would be, as Mary sang, “a light to enlighten to the nations and the glory of thy people Israel.” Israel failed in fulfilling her role but God in His faithfulness kept His side of the Covenant and gave us a Messiah.

Annual Rector’s Report 2013

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Rector’s Report 2013 St. Patrick’s Anglican Church

2013 has been a year of celebration and challenges. We celebrate as we continue to enjoy our chapel that is now two years old. This year to date we have celebrate 140 weekend Masses, 32 weekday Masses and 26 Private Masses in homes and hospitals. We also celebrate that we are continuing to grow. We presented 30 to the Bishop this year for baptism, confirmation, reception and reaffirmation. While we are an average sized for an American church, to put it in a better perspective, of the 46 parishes and missions in the Anglican Diocese of the South we are #6 in terms of average Sunday attendance.

We celebrate the gifted people that God has called to serve this parish. I don’t really think of them as a staff but rather as friends and colleagues. Others outside of our parish are amazed when I tell them of the gifts of Fr. BE and Fr. Chris and how different from one another and yet how unified we are. I can’t imagine trying to care for this flock without their help.

Marty has served us year after year with utter faithfulness as Christian Ed Director, Parish Secretary, Rota planner, VBS guru and countless other roles. Beth has said to me many times what a great role model she is for the young mothers of our parish and I agree.

Josh and Cari have led, taught, played with and prayed for our St. Patrick’s Youth with great devotion. It is not a ministry that they take lightly and we see the fruit of their labors in our kids. Kudos to them.

Peter continues to skillfully shepherd the Burmese flock. They meet on Sunday afternoons and just last night there was a Burmese wedding in our chapel. It is our plan to have Peter ordained a permanent deacon next year so that he will be able to serve them even more effectively.

Kirk has done a fine job in helping to guide our worship. Unlike other traditions, where the minister of music is the center stage star of the show, being an Anglican choirmaster requires a servants heart that draws attention away from self and to the Lord. I appreciate Kirk’s willingness to be a servant.

We also celebrate the leadership of Steve our Senior Warden and our Vestry. As you saw in the Treasurer’s report they have been excellent stewards of our resources. I hear stories all the time of power plays and battles among Vestries that often include the Clergy but thanks be to God that has never been our experience at St. Patrick’s. We have been blessed with people who only care that the will of God is accomplished for our parish.

This has also been a year of challenges. It has been so for me on a personal basis as I have taken on additional roles to serve our Bishop and Diocese. I am a member of the Standing Committee, which is essentially the Vestry of the Diocese. I am also the Dean of the Convocation of Tennessee. This role is an extension of the Bishop’s pastoral care for his clergy. All of this includes more travel than I have done in the past but when I consider the Bishop’s schedule, I have nothing about which to complain. It is an honor for me to serve in these capacities.

It has also been a year of challenge in terms of the pulse our parish. I have been concerned about a number of indicators. While Sunday attendance has been steady we are in danger of becoming just a Sunday Church. Let me explain what I mean by that. There was a time when we were All Saints’ that we had 5 Bible and Book Studies meeting concurrently on Wednesday nights. Now we barely have enough people to form one. We used to have dozens attend the monthly healing service and then put together several tables at Cozumel’s for food and fellowship. Last month it was Beth and me and one other couple. Holy Days were well attended but they too have declined significantly. Recently it was me, an acolyte and one person in the congregation. The Brotherhood of St. Patrick and the Sisterhood of St. Brigid also have been poorly attended. Even on Sunday it has been my impression that a number of regular attendees have become occasional attendees and some occasional attendees have become more like Christmas and Easter folks.

It is also a concern that a parish our size should have only 64 pledges last year. You need to be either receiving from your parish or giving to your parish but doing nothing means that others are carrying your load. Even if you can only pledge $10 per week it represents an important commitment to your parish.

The last indicator that causes concern is that new people who have been added to us have come here mostly by God’s Providence. Most of our members are not actively inviting others to join in our journey. The explosive church growth witnessed in Africa is in part because each parishioner understands that it is their responsibility to add one person every year to the Church. This sense of mission seems to be gone from us.

To what do I attribute this situation? First and ironically I think it has to do with our success. We made it through the wilderness and that was no small feat. Not all the parishes that left TEC have survived. We made it a goal to be in our own worship space and we accomplished what we set out to do. But just like Israel after entering the land, we have let our guard down. We have used this as a time to relax and enjoy the fruit of our labors, and perhaps that is okay for a season. But we built this chapel to have a base for doing mission and not to become a museum. Jesus calls us to be His disciples not Sunday church-goers.

I also attribute our present circumstances to my own error as your Rector. While guiding us through the building phase I let our vision as a parish drift into the background. As the Scriptures say, “without a vision the people perish.” While I don’t think anyone will actually die from my mistake I do ask your forgiveness and I intend to correct that error. We are using this Advent to recast the vision and I hope and pray that you will go to the website and read, learn, mark and inwardly digest the clergy’s Advent sermons. We need to have our vision restored. We will also be working with the leadership of this parish on ways to practically implement the vision so that our sense of mission returns.

The importance of prayer during this time cannot be overstressed. I am in need of a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit and I believe that we need this for our parish as well. As Jesus taught us, the Holy Spirit is sovereign and moves as He wills. Thus He does not come to us simply because we add another program. He comes to us when we call upon the Lord. Jesus said that if we who are evil know how to give good gifts to our children how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. For a season we are going to pull back on some of our programs so that we can have a season of prayer and renewed vision. Then we will add back the programs that fulfill the vision and let go the things that might be good but are not the best.

I have what I hope is a godly optimism about this New Year. I believe the leadership will work closer together than we ever have in the past and that this will produce fruit. I am attending a Clergy Leadership Training Institute to improve my skills to serve you better. I look for God to inspire many of you with new ways to reach out to others to make a friend, to be a friend, to bring that friend to Christ. The next two Sundays we will be showing the video The Star of Bethlehem. Beyond the astonishing findings, what moved me about this video was how God used this humble man, who was not a professional astronomer, to discover some amazing things. His life has gone in a direction that he never planned because he made himself available to the Lord. That is my hope for each of you. I hope that at the end of this year you will be able to look back and smile at the direction that your life has taken and that may well be beyond what you had imagined. This truly can happen when we place our lives more fully into the Master’s hands.

Respectfully Submitted
Fr. Ray Kasch
Rector

Stump the Rector

Name

In Revelation reading today, it said each one will be given a white stone with a new name on it. Will we receive a white stone/new name? I know several people throughout the bible receive new names after they’ve been transformed in some way.

G asked me this week why her other friends call their church leaders “Pastor” and we call you “Father”. I don’t know that answer. Could you help with these two name questions, please?

In terms of the white stone and new name I can only venture a guess. It was the custom to give a white stone as entre to a banquet, like a formal written invitation today. Given that the Wedding Feast of the Lamb is also in the Revelation this represents an invitation to the heavenly banquet to those who have overcome.

In terms of the new name that it written upon it, it may represent the transformed life of someone who has overcome. It may also mean that we literally receive a new name, since there is a pattern of this with Abraham,, Sarah, Jacob and Peter, as you mentioned. Also unless we are speaking English in heaven my current name would be meaningless. So perhaps we will receive a new name in a heavenly language that represent who the Lord sees us to be.

We call our clergy “Father” following an ancient tradition. In the Old Testament leaders/mentors/patriarchs were called father as when Elisha called Elijah “father” in 2 Kings 2:12. In the New Testament St Paul referred to himself as a spiritual father to Timothy and to the churches ( I Tim 1:1, I Cor 4:15). In the early Church all bishops were called “papa” until later when that term became reserved for the Bishop of Rome. Also very early on the leaders of monestaries were called “abbots” which is derived from “abba” or “daddy.” When I address the Bishop formally I will refer to him as “Right Reverend Sir, Father in God.” It is a term both of respect and endearment that implies a familial connection, which is accurate since we are the family of God.

Of course some object that we should not use the title “father” since Jesus said to call no man “father” (Mt 23:8-11). But there are problems if we take this literally. First we would then be wrong to call our dads “father” because He said “call no man on earth father.” Second, we would have to accuse St. Paul of error in calling himself a father to the church. Third Jesus also said to call no man “teacher” and yet we have Sunday School teachers and Bible teachers and St. Paul calls himself “teacher” in 2 Tim 1:11.

Jesus was making a point here not about what title we give to people but how much authority that we give them in our lives. Jesus points us to God as our ultimate father and the Messiah as our ultimate teacher and we must not eclipse them with human fathers and teachers. That is how cults are created. It is also true the using the term “pastor” instead of “father” does not automatically ensure that there will be no abuse of power. Since Jesus ends this passage with the exalted being humbled, it is a warning to all who have positions of authority to be servants and not lords.

The trend among Anglican clergy today is to call themselves “pastor,” I think to be more approachable. I regret this trend because it falls short of our calling. Having been a non denominational pastor for about 10 years, and a priest for many more, I can testify that there is a vast difference between those two callings. All priests are pastors but not all pastors are priests. As a pastor I did not have the authority of apostolic succession. As a pastor I did not administer the Sacraments. As a pastor I did not have access to the keys of the kingdom. As a pastor I did not stand “in persona Christi.” As a pastor my lips were not purpled with the Blood of Christ. As a pastor my hands had not been anointed to consecrate, absolve and to heal. I could go on but you probably get my point. It is my opinion that we should hold on to the long held tradition of calling are priests “priests” and addressing them as “father.”

Praise Music and Poor Ecclesiology

Worship 2

I was recently at a clergy event where the leader had us attempt a worship song that he pulled from the Internet. It was an impressive high-tech affair, connecting a smart phone to speakers and combining it with overhead projection to display the words. I had never heard the song before and so I did not even attempt it but that allowed me time to observe.

It was obvious that this particular praise song was written as a solo piece. It was also performed in a solo fashion even though it was presented as a corporate experience. So as the praise leader was singing in his personalized rhythm, it was not possible to join in, even by those who knew it well. As a result our proposed corporate worship was turned into a room full of disharmonized solos with each person in pursuit of the melody.

This experience was not an isolated event. I witnessed a similar thing at our recent annual Synod and I have seen it at worship services of other traditions as well as other Anglican churches. This caused me to reflect on what we were implying about the nature of the Church through this kind of worship. When the Church gathers for worship are we to be a room full of solo artists or are we to be a united voice? And what of the worship leader? Is he the center-staged star of the show or is he a servant who unites our voices by drawing attention away from himself and to the Lord?

The imagery of the Church that St. Paul gives us is that of a Body where every part is different but every part is necessary. We are to have a life-giving connection to one another. No matter which part of the Body we happen to be, we need one another. “The eye cannot say to the ear, I have no need of thee.” We are to be unified so that our worship expresses the truth that there is “one Body and one Spirit; one hope in God’s call to us; one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all.”

Praise music that invites the congregation to join the lead singer, like an audience singing along with a concert artist, does not reflect this image of the Church. Rather it puts each person in their own little world, often in search of a certain feeling or experience, and actually separates rather than joins the Body together. Church is not meant to be a room full of practitioners with each one seeking their own personal enlightenment. It is a uniting together as Christ’s Body and then joining our voices “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven….”

The comment above about people seeking a certain feeling or experience through praise music leads to a second way that it can lead to poor ecclesiology. There is a reason that so much of praise music is void of content and exhaustingly repetitious. It is because its goal is not to edify the mind but rather to engage and at times even manipulate emotions. The unspoken perspective is that if people don’t get goose bumps then they won’t feel that they have been to Church. Friends have told me of being in services where they were scolded by the worship leader because they were not acting “excited enough” about Jesus.

But is that the role and purpose of Church? Is worship about creating a certain experience or getting us excited? Sadly the answer for many would be “yes.” And so therapeutic oriented sermons are linked with emotion-based music so that people leave Church feeling moved even if they are spiritually and morally unchanged. Again, is that really the role and purpose of the Church?

I would argue that the Church is first and foremost a bastion of truth. She holds the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). We worship and follow Jesus because He is the Truth not because He makes us feel good. Having good feelings is a nice byproduct of having the right belief but Church is not about us, it is about Him. We give thanks to Him not to have an experience but because “it is meet and right so to do.”

It is not my contention that all praise music is bad, just as I would not argue that all hymns are good. Some are downright unsingable. Nor is this meant to be an indictment of all contemporary music since at some point in time all music is contemporary. Rather this is an appeal to recognize that there is a vast difference between theologically concentrated hymns and vacuous praise music that sounds like something on the radio. To paraphrase Benson in his book Living Prayer, perhaps the music we use to worship God should be different from the music we make love and sell cars to.

One of the most meaningful experiences I had as a preacher happened years ago in the Jesus Movement. I preached a series on the attributes of God and as I did a couple named Watson and Becky Frawley wrote hymn quality songs about each attribute ( you can find their music on the web). In doing so they moved our worship from how we felt to who God is, and this took us to a whole different level of spiritual maturity. That is what our great Anglican hymns do for us today and that is why it baffles me when we trade our rich tradition of worship for 7/11 songs (singing same 7 lines 11 times). It is typical today to seek a compromise by having what is called “blended worship” which combines hymns and praise music. It has been my experience that is rarely done thoughtfully and the result is doing neither very well.

The worship of the Church should reflect the nature of the Church. She is the temple of God, not a venue for a concert or a show. A church father said, “He who sings, prays twice” and so our worship should be more like a prayer addressed to God than a pop song about us and how we feel. Worship should be presented as a holy offering, it is to be God honoring. It is not a vehicle for getting a spiritual high, which in fact is not spiritual at all. Jesus said that God seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. Our worship should reflect that reality, being less about us and more about Him.

A NEW COMMANDMENT

Love One Another

Advent 2 Dec 1, 2013 Romans 13:3-14 Fr. Ray Kasch

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 11Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Sometimes when you pray, God responds by dropping the answer in your lap and it is so clear that you would have to be blind to miss it. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago.

I was praying for our parish and asking God to give me some direction for this New Year but I was coming up with nothing. Then someone posted a video on Facebook, which I usually ignore, but in this case I was drawn to it. The video was by a pastor who had built, by American standards of numbers and nickels, a very successful church. I think that he had something like 4,000 members. But rather than coasting, he and his staff had the integrity to ask, in spite of the outward appearance of success, if they were doing the right thing. Was this what Christ wanted the Church to be?

To answer that question they searched the New Testament to see if they could determine what were the true hallmarks of the Church. As I watched the video I knew that his findings were the answer to my prayer for direction. He said that they were able to highlight four signs of the Church in Scripture and they are 1. A radical love for one another. 2. A passion to share the good news with others. 3. (And this really caught my attention because he is a nondenominational guy) the importance for those early Christians to gather regularly around the Body and Blood of Christ. 4. A focus on training up leaders for the multiplication of the Church.

Love, Evangelism, Sacraments and Discipleship. If these were the hallmarks of any parish, it would be one very healthy parish no matter how many folks you had on the roles. It’s not just about numbers. As I told one pastor years ago, if it’s just about numbers then the Church should host public executions because you can always get a good crowd at a hanging.

So here is the plan. Fr. Chris, Fr. BE and I are going to use these four Sundays in Advent to unpack these four hallmarks of the Church. It is our sincere hope and prayer that we will incarnate all four of these hallmarks right here at St. Patrick’s. I ask for you to pray for that as well.

Today therefore I want us to think about love. Although I did not plan it this way, that topic shows up in our lessons for today. To tell you the truth, it is not a topic that I find easy to speak about for a couple of reasons. First when I was in seminary we had Morning Prayer every morning accompanied by a sermon from one of the Seniors. We were their guinea pigs as they learned to preach. And would you like to take a wild guess at the typical topic no matter what the lessons were about? You’ve got it. I heard so many sermons about love that I thought if I never heard another one that it would be too soon. What’s more is that most of what I heard was more feelings and sentimentality rather than a biblical understanding of love and it frankly made me fear for the future of the Church.

But this is also a tough topic because it is one where I so consistently fall short. Thus that I feel like a bit of a hypocrite to try to teach on it today. My comfort is that I read in the Old Testament God that spoke through a donkey. I figure if He did it once, He can do it again and I would prefer that we stick with the word “donkey” if you please.

As I searched the Scriptures I was convinced that the pastor was absolutely correct to say that radical love is a hallmark of the Church. In fact Jesus links the hallmark of love with the hallmark of evangelism in John 13:35 when He says that the whole world will know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. And that happened. It was not just a nice idea in the New Testament Church. A philosopher named Aristides on 125AD wrote this about the Church. “They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that hast distributeth liberally to him that hath not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit of God; but when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs. . . . And if there is among them a man that is needy and poor, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.”

When asked what is the greatest Commandment, what did Jesus say? “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” That’s it. How do I fulfill the commandments? By loving God and loving my neighbor. There is nothing I can do that is more important than that. Jesus of course has more to say about love but I also found it interesting how the Apostles continued that theme. I counted 130 verses about love throughout the Epistles. A classic piece is found in 1 John and he does a fine job of summing up what we are to believe about love. Look with me at 1 John 4 beginning at verse 7.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

There is actually a lot going on in these verses but let me point out a couple of things. First, contrary to what the world thinks, love is not just an emotion. Have you ever known someone who is in love with the idea of being in love? If you have than you have witnessed how pitiful that condition is. They end up using people and going through relationship after relationship in pursuit of a feeling, not realizing that to pursue a feeling is like trying to capture your shadow. It is a pointless exercise. Love is more than a feeling and while love includes what we do and it is even more than doing good. Love is to be our very nature. Look again at verse 7. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” Because God is love, and because we have not only been created in His image but also have been born again as His children, then love is who we are.

That may sound unattainable but not if we realize the source of our love. Verse 10 says “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He has loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” So it is not up to us, in response to the Great Commandment, to somehow manufacture enough love to love our neighbor. Genuine love comes as a response to having first been loved by God, knowing that are sins have been washed away and by abiding in Him and He in us. Simply put, love is a fruit of grace. Let me say that again. Love is the fruit of grace.

It is the same principle with forgiveness. When someone has deeply and seriously wounded me, I find it difficult if not impossible to manufacture enough forgiveness to truly forgive as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. But if I first contemplate on how much I have been forgiven, then it puts the other person’s debt in true perspective and I can readily let it go. My millions in debt do not come close to his few bucks. And so when we grasp the depth of God’s love for us then loving others becomes a natural course.

A second observation about love from this passage in 1st John is that love is generosity. Verse 9. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” Could God have been any more generous to us than to send not only His Son but His ONLY Son?

There is a wonderful word that is used a number of times in the New Testament that points to God’s generosity towards us. The Greek word is ἐπερίσσευσεν (eperisseusen) and it is translated “lavished” or “multiplied.” Ephesians One. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” From 1 John 3 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” From 2 Peter 1:2 “May grace and peace be lavished (multiplied) on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord!” From Jude “May mercy, peace, and love be lavished (multiplied) on you!”

Can you hear it? God does not give us His love in measured teaspoon fulls. He opens up a fire hose. And that is the pattern that He sets for the Church. To me it is an astonishing idea but Jesus said that He loves us with the same love that the Father loves Him (Jn 15:9). How much does Jesus love you? As much as the Father loves Jesus. Then He tells us to love one another in the same way (Jn 15:12). If you could get your mind around that truth it would change your life.

You heard the sacrificial generosity of the Church in the quote earlier from the philosopher. They even fasted so that they could care for others. In the Book of Acts we see Christians in one region taking up offerings for the Church in other regions who were facing difficult times. In this we see that love is so much more than emotion, it is action. “For God so loved the world that He GAVE….” The world is not going to know that we are His disciples if we love one another the way that they love one another. They are going to know that we are His disciples when we love one another as He loves us and that involves the word lavish.

A quick third observation from this passage in 1st John. Love is, and comes from, union with God. Having and sharing the love of God does not come just because we see it modeled for us, not even in Jesus Christ. If you read the Gospels Jesus was continually modeling before the disciples what they should be doing but most of the time the knuckleheads missed His point. Why? Because they needed more than information, they needed transformation….and so do we. 5 times in this short section the word “abide” is used. Jesus used it also. In John 15 He said, “As the Father has love me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.” He uses this language right after teaching us that He is the Vine and we are the branches and apart from Him we can do nothing. So it is union with God that is love and it is union with God and that enables us to walk in love.

When Jesus had gathered His disciples into that upper room, He washed their feet and instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. He established with them a New Covenant. But rather than having 10 Commandments written on Stone Tablets, He gave them One Commandment that was to be written on their hearts. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (Jn13:34,35). May He write this law in our hearts as well. Amen.