Sunday, January 12, 2020

The First Sunday in Epiphany -- The Baptism of Jesus

I was blessed to deliver this morning's Homily for the First Sunday in Epiphany, the day the Western Church remembers the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River at the hands of John the Baptist.

Thesis:  Christ’s Baptism was far more significant that what was caught by the mortal eye.

The Father’s Direct Will

Today is the first Sunday within the season of Epiphany, and the Sunday on which the Western Church recalls Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan and the launch of his public ministry which would ultimately culminate outside of Jerusalem on a hill called “The Skull”.  In the three years between the moment that John proclaimed the Nazarene as the Lamb of God and Pilate rightly named Him “The King of the Jews”, Jesus would light Judea, Samaria, and Galilee ablaze with proclamation of the Love of God the Father, and how all who would embrace the Good News of Kingdom, Jew or Gentile, might become children of the Most High.  

Those of us who grew up in Church, learned of Jesus’ Baptism through Ditto papers, coloring sheets, or on flannel graphs.  Yet, for far too many, the understanding of this event has not been expanded beyond what they learned at those tender ages. I could easily number myself among those, until I began a serious study of Scripture. After I did begin this endeavor, it was a portion of the dialog between Jesus and John that left me perplexed; this being where Christ exhorted John to continue, as it was fitting for them to continue in order to “Fulfill all Righteous”. Let’s, over the next few moments, consider just what being said at this moment.

Saint Mark tells us in the opening words of his Gospel, how Saint John the Baptizer “appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.  While not normative in the Jewish experience, Baptism existed first existed in the realm of types and shadows in pre-exilic Israel, then in practice in the inter-testamental period. In Psalm 51, David conveyed the desire to be washed and cleansed after his falling into transgression with Bathsheba. Centuries later we learn how the Essene community of Qumran incorporated the rite for those converting to Judaism.  On the seventh day following their circumcision, the convert underwent a ritual baptism which marked their entry into the community of Israel. A number of scholars believe that John, at the very least was well acquainted with the Qumran community.  Regardless, the Lord in His grand design, used John and a Baptism of repentance to prepare hearts for the coming of Messiah. John would prove to be that one voice crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”. Yet for the beauty of this awakening there were certain priests, who were scandalized by John’s ministry, and went down to the river to discern what was occurring. John set aside all small talk, and exposed their motive. It was there in the midst of the showdown between Sadducee and Nazarite, that the Nazarene entered the story. 

Saint Matthew records the moment:

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Matt 3:13-14

The Baptizer spoke to his hearers and disciples about the one who was to come. He had no illusions of being a ministry partner or peer to him. As to this coming one, John considered himself not even worthy to serve at the level of a lowly house servant, like the ones who’d remove their master’s sandals to wash their feet upon their returning home. But as he described his low estate, he also spoke of the mighty Baptism that he’d offer.  While John baptized with water, the Christ would baptize with “Fire, and the Holy Spirit”.  At some moment as the two locked eyes, John became acutely aware for the Fact that he was encountering Deity.  This wasn’t the first time he’d encountered the Son of God; thirty years prior, he’d experienced an epiphany in-utero, when encountering the babe in Mary’s womb.  And now, ust as Isaiah proclaimed “woe is me”, and as Daniel fell as a dead man, John was acutely aware of his unworthiness to stand in the Lord’s presence, let alone baptize the one who without sin.  It was here where Jesus said:

 "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. Matt 3:15

It was in this moment of John’s reluctance to baptize his Savior, Jesus counters in urging John to Baptize him as a fulfillment of all righteousness. I have to admit that this was a puzzle on multiple levels.  John’s mission and ministry was to offer a Baptism as a sign of repentance to the contrite.  Yet, the one who knew no sin stepped forward to receive this Baptism.  The key to understanding this paradox is rooted in understanding the “righteousness” which Christ spoke of in this moment.

The term Jesus uses here, speaking to fulfilling all righteousness, speaks to being in perfect submission to the requirements of God the Father.  So, in a more direct manner of speaking, “John, you WILL baptize me because my Father and your God demands and expects nothing less.”
Christ’s Baptism is intrinsically linked to His Death on the Cross

On that day, Christ’s Baptism served to identify him with those he came to redeem.  While those who went under the waters of Jordan, confessing their sins, Jesus had no sin of which to repent of. Christ was now identifying with all humanity and all the sin they were capable of. Yet, He who knew no sin, bore our sin and the sin of all humanity. 

John, perhaps not fully apprehending all of this, was to be the obedient participant in this great move of God. He plunged his cousin, the very expression of the Godhead into the turbid waters of the Jordan. I suspect scant few gave this moment any additional scrutiny.  Yet when Jesus rose from the waters, everything changed.  Mathew notes:

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Matt 3:16-17

Now, for the second time in the life of Jesus, the firewall between the Eternal, and the realm of time and space was rent as the Holy Spirit, in the image and form of a Dove descended upon Jesus.  Then, perhaps like a sonic boom tearing the very fiber of our atmosphere reverberated with the voice of God Almighty proclaiming:  "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Given the atmospheric properties of air moving through a valley, I suspect there where none that day who missed the voice of God, leaving all without an excuse.

So, this leaves us with questions with Eternal weight.  Christ Jesus shattered the barrier between Time and Eternity to identify with us in His Baptism, that he might be an Appropriation for our sins.  Have we identified with him in the waters of Baptism? 
Baptism isn’t only for Children.  If you’ve given yourself to the Almighty but have never underwent the waters of Baptism, that is a treatable condition.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

On the Feast of the Holy Innocent's - 2019

Today, much of the Church remembers a day that is strangely dissonant to the joyous strains of the Christmas Season.  While much of the twelve days are full of mirth and good cheer, today echoes of terrified little boys and the inconsolable cries of mothers helpless to stop the unfolding slaughter  that exploded in unimaginable horror before their eyes. Gari Melchers, an Artist of the Nineteenth & early Twentieth Centuries captured the moment in his rendering here on the page.  Try to Imagine for a moment you, your wife, your mother, or your sister jamming her frame in a a crevice in a desperate ploy to escape Herod's  murdering thugs?

Saint Matthew captures this moment in the second chapter of his Gospel:
"Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
Many have asked how was this overlooked by contemporary historians?  This is likely that given the depths of Herod's moral turpitude, the killing of a fifty or so peasants would hardly be a footnote.  Yet our God has a long memory and doesn't skip over footnotes.  

Today, my heart is broken afresh for all mothers who've found theirselves crying out like Rachael.  The mother who wakes to learn that a son took his life in a dark, despairing night.  The mother who receives a police notification that her son, a sleeping passenger, had his young life extinguished in a auto mishap.  For the mothers who were deceptively led by Planned Parenthood to believe that  they alone offered the best option.  Nor can I fail to remember mother's who right now, sit by beds of desperately ill children with the bleakest hope for recovery.  For the reader who's found themselves in this, I will not offer platitudes.  I will offer you Jesus of Nazareth.  As the late Francis Schaeffer would oft remind us, He is the God who is there.

The Coventry Carol captures this day

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Archbishop Foley Beach's Christmas Message

A message from Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Christmas Eve -- 2019

"...for we have seen his star in the east..."
Its Christmas Eve here in Suburbia Majora.  But as I type this I'm aware that its already early Christmas morning for friends in Melbourne Australia, and in the coming minutes for American service men and women spending this season on the Korean Peninsula.  Christmas Eve, traditionally, has been a time of in-gathering for those professing the most nominal Christian faith.  But reality has a way of taking a wrecking ball to our cherished idyllic memories.  There are those tonight and tomorrow will not be part of this in-gathering.  The soldiers, sailors, and airmen standing watch across the globe. The EMS community, taking solace in a hot cup of coffee.  Even the humble sales clerk, on duty for our "convenience" will be apart from family and loved ones tonight.  Saddest of all perhaps, are those whose sudden passing have created a sudden vacuum at the family table. In all, I could recite a sad litany of all the things that separate and divide this morning.  However, I refuse to as we who are followers of the way are in the closing hours of Advent, that season of remembrance, recalling the Incarnation of the very Word of God, and His promised return.

The Father's promise of His Son is found in the earliest books of scripture, but given greater clarity by the Prophet Isaiah in his prophesies to ancient Judah and Israel as he proclaimed:
Isa 40:1-5 ESV - Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
A two-sided season; in Advent, we give thanks for the gift of Immanuel (God with us). By the Father's will, He stepped out of the eternal and into time and space that he might walk with humanity.  Ultimately, He would become the propitiation (the satisfactory offering) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world as told through Saint John's epistle.  Yet in the second side of this season, we're encouraged by the truth that the Son of God who came to sojourn with, and deliver humanity has promised to return and set his creation back to order.  Both testaments of holy scripture, along with the historic creeds of the church make this truth manifestly clear: "He will come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead; and His Kingdom will have no end."

In the closing hours of Advent and onto the season of Christmas 2019, take comfort in the truth that there is a God who so loved the World (and you), that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in will not perish, but have  eternal life.
Merry Christmas
Fröhliche Weihnachten
joyeux Noël
Feliz Navidad
felicem natalem Christi
메리 크리스마스
Wilujeng Natal
Nollaig Chridheil

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Thanksgiving 2019

I was blessed this year, to deliver the homily on Thanksgiving Morning at All Saint's.  It was a double blessing as I had the opportunity to serve with our Missionary, Mother Jessica Hughes who'll be returning to Uganda Christian university here in the next few days.  

Christ’s Counsel: Do not anxious because God is the King of Life

 Worry – Introduction
Its known by many names, and manifests itself in many ways; worry is part of life in the fallen world where we sojourn.  It has the ability insert itself into lives where people find themselves bound in worry over anything from real and tangible issues, to things nonexistent. Worrying comes easy to us and we find ourselves worrying at tender ages about boogeyman under or beds or the monsters in our closets. Left to its own, anxiety will follow us through our childhood, through adolescence, and into our adulthood’s where our boogeymen and monsters morph into even scarier things.  Financial woes, social status, job accomplishments become as frightening to some as were those shifting shadows.
Worry, carries its own side effects and consequences which are both physical and spiritual. Consider the physically debilitating effects of worry.  Chronic sleep loss, depression, hypertension, and cardio crises are by-products of a worried soul.  I witnessed this in my own extended family as a teen, where one particular aunt spent her afternoons and evening’s glued to her police scanner when much police traffic was still passed in the clear.  Like clockwork, when an incident occurred on her street, she would go into cardiac distress.  Ultimately under doctor’s orders, my uncle removed the scanner from their home. Beyond the physical effects, worry has a number of profound spiritual effects as well.
Worry provokes a type of spiritual visual distortion.  It causes the object of our worry to loom larger than it actually is, as it redirects our focus inward.  For the child of God, it pulls our focus away from God and onto our perceived predicament.   Perhaps the truest example of this is the long night on a stormy Sea of Galilee.
Worry will also function as a type of “gravity well” where one will be pulled ever deeper into the center where, if left unaddressed will emotionally and spiritually cripple the sufferer.  
In all, worry can be to most subtly corrosive sin that a believer can fall into.  While many sins are brash, loud and seen by all, the worrier walks among us behind a face which would belie their heart’s state.
Yet, for all the injury endured by worry, and all the temptation to worry, Jesus speaks directly to worry and counsels His children NOT to worry.  He presents the truth of the Father’s love for us, and how we might rise above this temptation.
 Christ’s Counsel: Do not anxious because God is the King of Life (Vv. 25-30)
 25 "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Jesus sets out here in v. 25 to speak directly to our most basic needs: nourishment, hydration and shelter from exposure.  To the First Century hearer of this message, these were palpable needs that were basic to their survival.  Food was obtained for the current day, and nearly all were only one meal from hunger.  Potable water had to be located and a well’s production was not guaranteed.  A scant few had what we would consider a “wardrobe. Jesus, speaking here, doesn’t dismiss these needs, he tells his Disciples and greater audience not to fret or worry over them.
Jesus then calls their attention likely to the hillside where they’d been seated, pointing to the flora and fauna surrounding them; the birds above in the encircling skies and the lilies gracing the hillside.  While lilies and birds likely have no sense of the providential hand that sustained them, Jesus reminds them of the Father’s care and asked the rhetorical questions “how much greater value, and how much greater value then are you?”
While the passage gives us assurance, it should never be misconstrued as license.   God promises His provision to His children, it’s no license to be slothful and unproductive.  Saint Paul speaks to this though in his his second letter to the Church in Thessalonica, where he cautions those that those who will not work, will not eat. 
 Christ’s Counsel:  Do not anxious because you are the King’s Children
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Jesus, in repeating the exhortation, tells us why we’re not to fret or be anxious over these things.  Its those outside the kingdom and family of faith who fear and worry over these these things. Jesus speaks to those who are outside the faith as being on a proverbial hamster wheel, in a never-ending quest to fulfill life’s basic needs.  We however, are called to rather seek the Lord and His Kingdom.  Jesus promises us that as we seek God’s kingdom first in our lives, that His provision will be ours.


So, where are we in all of this?  Like Saint Benedict tells us in has Cardinal rule, we “Work and Pray”, or in his words, “Ora et Labora”.  We pray and work.  Too, Following Saint Francis, we pray and seek to be channels of our Lord’s Peace, that we might be our Lord’s Heart & Hand’s extended to our dry and dusty world. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What Susan Said

The music and lyrics of Rich Mullins as woven well into the tapestry of my life.  I can tell you where I was when I first heard The Lord's Troubadour sing "If I Stand".  I was driving towards Boonsboro, MD from Smithsburg, MD and listening to WCRH on FM 90.5 MHz.  His music would water and enrich my growth in the faith until his sudden and seemly. untimely death in 1997.  His falling out of Beaker's Jeep that night seemed a tragedy out of time.  It happened in a time where I was about to leave my Bride for an unaccompanied Military assignment in Korea, and an unnecessary gut punch.  Not only would I be leaving my bride and boys, I'd be leaving my Ministry Partners, Frank and Suzanne Vance. 

Whenever I hear this song, my mind goes back to those days.  I'ms still your friend.


Monday, October 14, 2019

A Blogger has crossed the Bar and Gone Home.

The Catbird Seat is now in its thirteenth year of existence.  Had it not been for the inspiration of one woman, this blog would have never seen the light of day.  It was 2006, and the Episcopal Church was in crisis as it's Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jeffers Schori in an NPR interview Espoused a Universalist position in stating that Christ Jesus was one of "many roads" to God the Father.  While conservative Episcopalians were vigorously debating liberals on a number of issues, this was a deal breaker.  Jesus of Nazareth was The Way, The truth, and The Life; The only avenue of approach to God the Father. It was during this time of Spiritual Crisis that I became acquainted with the writing of Mary Ailes.  

I met Mary in 2006 and while expressing my appreciation and admiration of her work, she encouraged me to launch a blog of my own.  It was a time when many great blogs were popping up on both sides of the debate.  On Both left and right, bloggers like Matt Kennedy, Joel Wilhelm, The Ugly Vicar, Underground Pewster, David Virtue, Padre Mickey, and The Mad Priest were all putting it out there. Mary offered her own perspective.  She wasn't a "cradle Anglican", but one whose family left the false church of Christian Science to embrace the true Gospel as expressed through Anglicanism.

Mary was both a brilliant and gifted woman.  She loved her God, Loved the truth, and loved the music and work of Bob Dylan (from whom her blog site was named.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. I Thessalonians 4:13-15
And, so we pray..
O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that your servant Mary, being raised with Christ, may know the strength of his presence and rejoice in his eternal glory; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Well done, good and faithful servant.  we'll all see you again when its our time to cross the bar.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

On a Somber Anniversary

6,570 days or 18 years ago today, the morning skies over Manhattan were much like those in the photo.  All this would be forever altered before the sunset.
Almighty and ever-present Lord, eighteen years go, our illusions were shattered under clear September skies when son's of Belial snuffed out innocent lives in heaps of rubble. This morning we remember those lives and pray that they’ve found their eternal rest under your throne. We pray too, that this Republic would come to the knowledge that its only in you that we have our strength, our safety, and our prosperity. Protect and preserve this nation, that it might be your heart and hands in this dry and weary world. Finally Lord, we pray that you would rise up and scatter your enemies, that your name would be revered far and wide and everyone with breath in their lungs, would exalt your mighty name. This we ask through your son Christ Jesus who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God now and forever,Amen.
That we could all pray for our Republic and our world as we did on 9/12

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

The road, and where it takes us. -- Reflections

"St. Augustine-in-the-Fields", from another time
BLOGGER's NOTE:  This one is published out of season as I've been allowing it to percolate for a month or three...

The appreciation of well-crafted poetry is largely lost in our graceless age.  Much of our society has grown too crass and too coarse to enjoy the spoken lyric, as it takes us away from the instant gratification and sensory overload, to a place where we actually must pause and think.  Of all the American poets, I have a deep appreciation for Robert Frost (1874-1963).  A man of a breadth of verse and one acquainted with sorrows, one of his most familiar poems is perhaps 'The Road not Taken" (The Road Less Traveled).
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; 
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, 
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. 
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
Rod Stewart reminded us in 1971 that every picture tells us a story, and this photo offers no exception.  At first glance, this picture captures a weathered sign along a rural road, likely taken in late winter. It's weatherbeaten and fading, yet its clear that the sign was once beautiful. Even in its sad state, it conveys what was once a hopeful new vision to its community.  For me, this sign is emblematic of Mr. Frost's poem and of the final stanza particularly. Quoting the poet, "And that has made all the difference." 

Much like the vista offered by this photo, in muted late winter, I was looking up a hill on an unknown road, in a spiritually bleak season of life in early 2005. I hadn't found myself in a crisis of faith, but rather a crisis of Theology where my I'd been questioning much of what I'd taught for years as a Pentecostal pastor and teacher. At this time I was two years removed from the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), having sojourned with the Southern Baptists and more recently with a Calvary Chapel Congregation.  Each, though heresy-free, failed to satisfy an unanswered longing within my spirit. My heart yearned for a connection that transcended the transactional faith of American Evangelicalism.  

While in this place, I would routinely travel Shelton Shop Road, and pass a road sign advertising a new church which billed itself as both "Episcopal and Evangelical.  While part of me was drawn to the later, I was equally repulsed by the former.  In my mind, the Episcopal Church was essentially a toothless old dog that was bereft of the Spirit and power of the Almighty.  It was a body that once upon a time, embodied "America at prayer" but now was one the lashed itself to any and all Liberal cause.  I'd written her off as what Saint Paul spoke of as "having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof".  Yet for all of this internal revulsion, I was drawn and warmed by the message of this sign.  But an additional event would have to occur to knock me out a complacent space and onto the unknown road represented in this photo.

In March 2005, two prominent individuals were dying;  Pope Saint John Paul II, and Terri Schaivo.  If you remember, Ms. Schaivo was the woman who was starved to death by a "husband" who wanted to get on with his life, but his current wife was an impediment to his plans.  So, starvation was his easy fix to take Terri out of the picture.  When the Calvary Chapel pastor and his wife made it clear that they had no real issue with Michael Schaivo's intent to for his stricken wife, while rebuking me for referring to the death by starvation as demonic.  I knew that we were at an irreproachable place our time there was at an end.  So what then?

In the waning days of the 2005 Lenten season, I called the number on billboard to enquire about this new church that billed itself as such a hybrid.  I was traveling on business but would be back to visit the church on Easter Sunday.  As I now consider my life in the faith, Easter 2005 remains a significant mountaintop moments.  Had I turned onto the path "more traveled", I don't know that I'd be sitting here this evening, MacBook Pro in lap, sharing tonight.

Nearly a fifteen years have passed since that fateful Sunday.  I've been blessed to serve two Bishops, three Rectors, and two Parishes.  The bulk of my ministry has been lived out with the parish of All-Saint's Anglican, a loving, growing, serving, and going community that is truly a house of prayer to the Nations.  

Sadly, all that remains of Saint Augustine-in-the-fields (and her subsequent rebranding) is this sign.  She failed to thrive, yet for a season served the will and purposes of the Almighty.  She was the path less traveled, and the one that made all the difference.