Saturday, November 22, 2008

Christ the King

Tomorrow, we will be celebrating Christ the King Sunday (or "The Reign of Christ the King")! - It is the last Sunday after Pentecost and the last Sunday of the Christian year. It is also the Sunday just prior to our entering into the holy season of Advent.

The observance of Christ the King Sunday is really a relatively new celebration. It was originally instituted by Pius XI, Bishop of Rome, for celebration on the last Sunday of October. However, after Vatican II, it was moved to its current location on the Christian calendar.

The lectionary readings for this Sunday during our current year (year A), are quite interesting. The Epistle lesson, Ephesians 1:15-23, presents an image that one might naturally think of for this celebration. There, Christ is seen as seated at the right hand of the Father "in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come . . ." (NRSV).

The Gospel lesson, too, gives us an image of Christ the King. In Matthew 25:31-46, we see Christ in His glory with all of the angels. He is seated on His throne judging between the sheep and the goats.

But the Old Testament lesson, Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, gives us another image. Oh, there is still a reference to the Davidic throne, but the over-riding image is that of the Good Shepherd gathering, tending, caring for, and healing His sheep. - Here we see Christ as the Shepherd/King.

And so, when we read the Gospel in light of the Old Testament passage, we begin to discover that we sheep, are really called to be just like our Shepherd/King. We are called into a life wherein we are transformed by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit so that, like our King, we naturally reach out to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, visit those in prison.

This Sunday (and everyday!) may we celebrate and worship Christ our King, not only with our lips but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to His service, and by walking before Him in holiness and righteousness all our days (cf., "A General Thanksgiving," BCP). - May all glory be to God the Father, Christ our King, and the Holy Spirit! Amen!

Faith & the Sacraments

The evangelical world is filled with those who have little regard for the sacraments. The attitude of many within my own denomination is often disheartening. Actually, it can become a bit strange.

There are many who look upon the Lord's Supper as a memorial, only. (Of course it is a memorial meal! But that is not all!). And yet, they are concerned to keep the "specialness" of this remembrance by means of infrequent celebrations. (And celebrations is the wrong word, here. It should simply be observance.)

Many of these same sisters and brothers in Christ, have an odd way of viewing the "power" of the sacrament/ordinance, as well. You see, many of them would deny it as a means of grace (except in the sense that one may experience the grace of God as one contemplates what Christ did for us on the cross). On the other hand, these same people who strongly emphasize that it may be a "means of curse." - That's right! They, of course, refer to St. Paul's admonition not to partake of the sacrament unworthily. So, while we cannot count on the Lord's Supper to be a means of grace, we must be careful that it not be for us a means of curse. - That we ought to take the holy apostle's admonition seriously is not in doubt, but it seems to me that my "non-sacramentalist" sisters and brothers make a strange argument, indeed.

Aside from the issues above, many wonder why the sacraments (or, simply ordinances, for them) are needed at all. Is not personal faith, enough? If I have a personal relationship with God through Christ by faith, why do I need dead, empty rituals?

Indeed, if we are talking about dead, empty rituals, we ought to be done with all of them! But . . . if we are talking about something that is life-giving and full of grace, by the power of God; if there the living Christ has promised to meet us, then why wouldn't we run to the Table as often as possible?

The Wesley's address the argument concerning faith without the sacraments in hymn #54 in The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley (J. Ernest Rattenbury. OSL. 1996.):

1. Why did my dying Lord ordain
This dear memorial of His love?
Might we not all by faith obtain,
By faith the mountain sin remove,
Enjoy the sense of sins forgiven,
And holiness, the taste of heaven?

2. It seem'd to my Redeemer good
That faith should here His coming wait
Should here receive immortal food,
Grow up in Him Divinely great,
And, fill'd with holy violence, seize
The glorious crown of righteousness.

3. Saviour, Thou didst the mystery give
That I Thy nature might partake
Thou bidd'st me outward signs receive,
One with Thyself my soul to make;
My body, soul, and spirit to join
Inseparably one with Thine.

4. The prayer, the fast, the word conveys,
When mix'd with faith, Thy life to me;
In all the channels of Thy grace
I still have fellowship with Thee:
But chiefly here my soul is fed
With fulness of immortal bread.

5. Communion closer far I feel
And deeper drink the' atoning blood;
The joy is more unspeakable,
And yields me larger draughts of God,
Till nature faints beneath the power,
And faith fill'd up can hold no more.

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Book Meme

Okay, I've been "tagged" with "book meme" by Fr. James Gibson at Sanctus. - According to what his blog says, this is the way the game works:

I am supposed to:
1.) Pick up the nearest book. - That happens to be The United Methodist Book of Worship
(Looking at the lectionary passages for Sunday.

2.) Turn to page 123

3.) Find the fifth sentence, and

4.) Post the three sentences afterward.

Well, that puts me in the midst of "Christian Marriage I," and it's a bit difficult to determine actual sentences, but I'll do my best. We pick-up in the middle of a Prayer of Thanksgiving for a service in which Holy Communion is not being celebrated:

Defend them from every enemy.
Lead them into all peace.
Let their love for each other
be a seal upon their hearts,
a mantle about their shoulders,
and a crown upon their heads.

Now, I'm supposed to "tag" five other people (and Fr. Gibson already tagged Peter Matthews in my blog links!). I'll tag Eric Frey, Kim Reisman, David Straw, Fr. Wes, and Kate McKinney.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Word from John & Charles for Those Who Stumble

It seems quite easy to counsel the Christian who finds his/herself seeking forgiveness for falling prey to temptation. As a pastor, I know how to point them to Scripture, to pray with them, to encourage them, and to offer them words of assurance about the forgiveness of their sins.

I find it rather difficult, however, to apply the same to myself. After all, I'm different. I've been a Christian all of my life. I'm a pastor. I should know better. Therefore, what I would say to others, somehow, doesn't seem to apply to me. At least those seem to be the feelings that I sometimes face.

It seems to me that all of us are much harder on ourselves than on others, when it comes to repentance and forgiveness. Perhaps this is why the historic Church includes the prayers of confession and the words (not granting, but) announcing pardon within its liturgy.

For those who, like myself, find it difficult to accept that God so readily forgives, not others, but ourselves, I offer (in addition to the Scriptures, of course!) this admonition from John Wesley:

If you have stumbled, O seeker of God, do not just lie there fretting and bemoaning your weakness! Patiently pray: "Lord, I acknowledge that every moment I would be stumbling if you were not uphoding me." And then get up! Leap! Walk! Go on your way! Run with resolution the race in which you are entered.

And having heard these words, I invite you to sing along with the Wesley brothers their hymn, Depth of Mercy!:

Depth of mercy! can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear -
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face,
Would not hearken to His calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls.

Now inlcine me to repent;
Let me now my sins lament;
Now my foul revolt deplore,
Weep, believe, and sin no more.

There for me the Saviour stands,
Holding forth His wounded hands;
God is love! I know, I feel,
Jesus weeps and loves me still.

And sing, also, the last verse of their hymn, Jesus, the Sinner's Friend:

What shall I say Thy grace to move?
Lord, I am sin, but Thou art love:
I give up every plea beside -
Lord, I am lost, but Thou hast died.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Wesley Hymn on the Eucharist as a Means of Grace

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been incorporating the singing of Wesley hymns during my praying of the Daily Office. Most recently, I have been singing The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley. This week, during Morning Prayer, I came to one of my very favorite Wesley hymns focusing on the sacrament of the Lord's Supper as a means of grace.

This hymn expresses how wonderful the gift of this sacrament is. Of course, we are reminded that the grace poured out is poured from God. That is, the sacrament is not the object of worship. It certainly is not magical. Rather, it is the "mysterious rite which dying mercy gave." It is the gift to the Church through which God has promised to pour out to us His abundant grace.

The hymn is listed as #42 in The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley, by J. Ernest Rattenbury. - This hymn is well worth having any and all Wesleyan/Methodist congregations learn, and it can be sung to the same tune as O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing. - May God grant that this song would be a blessing to all.

1. Glory to Him who freely spent

His blood, that we might live,
And through this choicest instrument
Doth all His blessings give.

2. Fasting He doth, and hearing bless,

And prayer can much avail,
Good vessels all to draw the grace
Out of salvation's well.

3. But none, like this mysterious rite

Which dying mercy gave,
Can draw forth all His promised might
And all His will to save.

4. This is the richest legacy

Thou hast on man bestow'd:
Here chiefly, Lord, we feed on Thee,
And drink Thy precious blood.

5. Here all Thy blessings we receive,

Here all Thy gifts are given,
To those that would in Thee believe,
Pardon, and grace, and heaven.

6. Thus may we still in Thee be blest,

Till all from earth remove,
And share with Thee the marriage feast,
And drink the wine above.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Star Wars Video

The following has nothing to do with Wesleyanism, Anglicanism, sacraments, liturgy, or theology. However, if you are a Star Wars fan, you have to see this video at YouTube.

If I knew how to embed this on my blog, I would, but I haven't figured that out, yet. So, you'll have to click on the link to see it. - Hope you enjoy it!

Thanks to my Order of St. Luke brother, Joseph Mathews, for sending this to the OSL Cyber-Chapter.