Monday, September 10, 2007

10/09/07 Mon in the 15th week after Pentecost


Blessed are those for whom Easter is...
not a hunt, but a find;
not a greeting, but a proclamation;
not outward fashions, but inward grace;
not a day, but an eternity.


Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Alexander Crummell, whom you called to preach the Gospel to those who were far off and to those who were near. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today's Scripture

AM Psalm 41, 52; PM Psalm 44
1 Kings 13:1-10; Phil. 1:1-11; Mark 15:40-47

Spiritual Practice of the Day

This hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth.
— C. S. Lewis quoted in God Hunger by John Kirvan

To Practice This Thought: Allow yourself to really feel hungry for God; don't try to ignore or anesthetize the feeling.
From Forward Day by Day:

Philippians 1:1-11. I thank my God every time I remember you...because of your sharing in the gospel.

I'd love to know what the Christians at Philippi were like-I mean one at a time, in detail. It's clear from Paul's letter to them that they were something special, very dear to his heart. Just as it's easy to figure out
that the community at Corinth was fairly well off,devoted to what we would today call "charismatic" phenomena and prone to arrogance and in-fighting, so it seems that the Philippians were the opposite: poor in worldly goods but rich in charity, joy, open-heartedness, and enthusiasm for their faith.

It's possible that Paul wrote other letters to this community-that somewhere there's a Second Philippians telling them off for how badly they have strayed from their good beginnings in the faith. If so, I'm glad it didn't survive. I'd rather hang on to the picture this letter paints, of a Christian community that, for once, has all its allegiances and priorities straight-folks who love their Lord and their priest, and each other, and even the big shots back in Jerusalem who take a dim view of their membership in the kingdom of Christ. The picture of the Christian community in Acts looks a little touched up to me, but what Paul says to this one has the ring of truth, and inspires me too.

Today we remember:

Alexander Crummell:
Psalm 19:7-11
Sirach 39:6-11; Mark 4:1-10,13-20

Today in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer we pray for the Diocese of South Western Brazil (Brazil)

Speaking to the Soul:

Baptisms, aisle 5

By Richard Helmer

“What do I need to do to get my child baptized?”

I’ve fielded this question, by phone, from people I have never met several times over the past year. The conversation has inevitably followed a somewhat vexing, but now familiar pattern:

It begins with the caller pulling out the “I’m an Episcopalian” card. The implication is clear enough: while perhaps I have not darkened the door of a church community for quite sometime, the fact that I was raised in the Episcopal Church means I have a claim on her sacramental rites, customs, and clergy. Then the claim gets pushed a bit further. Would a private baptism therefore be possible? Family are coming to visit on such and such a holiday, and wouldn’t it be nice to do it while everyone was in town?

I’m initially stymied by the request. I hear an almost subconscious cultural assumption being made about baptism: a church, like a grocery or convenience store, stocks certain products, and not least among them is baptism. Or a more apt analogy is that well-meaning parents who truly love their children want the best for them, so there’s a checklist of goods and services to procure: diapers, formula, toys, crib, health insurance, life insurance, and – oh, yes, coming sometimes almost as an afterthought – salvation or at least spiritual “insurance” . . . also known as baptism.

It’s hard not to sympathize. I can imagine in some cases the rumblings of a grandparent or an aunt and uncle or two behind the scenes. By pushing the importance of baptism, anxious relatives might somehow hook the next generation back into the church community. Then there is the natural inclination of a family scattered over many states to gather and engage in a customary ritual that has multi-generational roots. We have so few of these customs left as a society, it seems, and the church is one of the few institutions remaining with an understanding of them and their practice.

But baptism, of course, is not just a ritual. Nor is it simply an opportunity to touch base with family tradition or custom. And, for sure, it is not as everyday as taking out a life insurance policy for a family member. Parents who have their children baptized are making serious counter-cultural promises on their behalf:

• putting Christ at the center of their lives and household
• renouncing evil – which means evil is real and sometimes near at hand
• upholding the dignity of every human being – which means actively resisting the easy polemic, demonization, and protectionism of our society
• embracing a life of true obedience – which means so much more than the one-dimensional complicity that gives us cause to dismiss it in the name of freedom
• proclaiming the Gospel – which implies we need to know at least a little bit about it, and better yet endeavor to live into it!

The conversation begins to turn south the moment I express my desire to meet with the family at least four times before the baptism. I figure if I’m not doing at least as much consultation as I would before marrying a couple, I’m not encouraging the level of commitment baptism demands. Christian life-long union, after all, has its foundations ultimately in baptism, as are all our sacraments. I live in earthquake country. Foundations are profoundly important.

But beyond all this is among the most compelling moments of the baptismal rite for me personally, especially when it involves a young child or infant. Immediately after the baptism and chrismation, the child is often carried by the priest into the midst of the congregation, away from the parents. It’s too often done almost without a second thought, but the action itself says something profound about what has just happened: The parents have offered their child to God, and to the community – the Body of Christ. It’s a kind of offering that might well give most parents of small children pause for thought. It certainly does for me.

Moreover, the language of baptism is significant. The parents brought in a biological child. They go home with more than that: a little Christian, died and raised with God in Christ. This means things from then on will be different, or ought to be at least, for everyone. Parents need time and space to reflect on what this might mean.

My spiritual director is fond of pointing out that for the Christian community, water runs thicker than blood. Baptism trumps blood ties. Godparents, in some mysterious way, are considered to be even closer to their charge than biological parents. We rarely see that played out in practical ways these days, but at least there should come a recognition that the biological or adoptive parents are at most stewards of this new life, no longer owners. The newly baptized child is a living revelation that this precious, tender humanity belongs ultimately and completely to God. And baptism turns responsibility from the parents outward and into the community of the Body of Christ. This is one reason Jesus talks about potential division when it comes to choosing between loyalties to the Gospel and to blood ties. It’s dangerous, countercultural stuff. It’s about joining a new family that is not entirely recognized by even contemporary legal and secular laws and customs.

And here’s the final rub: we promise as part of the baptismal covenant to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers. In short, an important step in engaging in our baptismal covenant means being active in Christian community. This is where these phone conversations too often end. I gently remind our inquirers that baptism is about being part of community, and that in the baptismal rite the community pledges to uphold the child in a life-long journey, demanding a life-long relationship with the Body of Christ. The community has to be present to make this pledge!

So for the heart of this priest, at least, a private, convenient, impromptu baptism really won’t cut it. While pastoral exceptions might be made in extreme cases, most of us who have participated in a baptism with little catechetical foundation know the end result: we never see the children or their families again. We deserve no better.

God’s grace is indeed free, but how we respond to it surely matters if our relationship with God is real. Love requires more of us than just pulling a sacrament down off the shelf and moving into the checkout line. And our beloved children simply need and deserve more than that from a transformative spiritual tradition and a truly loving community.

So I don’t stock salvation insurance.

The Rev. Richard E. Helmer, a priest, pianist, and writer, serves as rector of Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley, Calif. His sermons have been published at Sermons that Work, and he blogs regularly at Caught by the Light.
++++++++++ Reflections

Well and good if all things change, Lord God, provided we are rooted in you.
St John of the Cross
Sayings of Light and Love, 34.

Reading from the Desert Christians

Abba Copres said, 'blessed is he who bears affliction with thankfulness.'

Daily Meditation (Henri Nouwen)

Opportunities to Witness

Jesus teaches us how to live in the present time. He identifies our present time as the end-time, the time that offers us countless opportunities to testify for Jesus and his Kingdom. The many disasters in our world, and all the tragedies that happen to people each day, can easily lead us to despair and convince us that we are the sad victims of circumstances. But Jesus looks at these events in a radically different way. He calls them opportunities to witness!

Jesus reminds us that we do not belong to this world. We have been sent into the world to be living witnesses of God's unconditional love, calling all people to look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.

From the Principles of the Third Society of St. Francis:

Day Ten - The Third Aim

To live simply

The first Christians surrendered completely to our Lord and recklessly gave all that they had, offering the world a new vision of a society in which a fresh attitude was taken towards material possessions. This vision was renewed by Saint Francis when he chose Lady Poverty as his bride, desiring that all barriers set up by privilege based on wealth should be overcome by love. This is the inspiration for the third aim of the Society, to live simply.

Upper Room Daily Reflection

A Foolish People
September 10th, 2007
Monday’s Reflection

WE TAKE OTHERS to task for small mistakes, and overlook greater ones in ourselves. We are quick enough to feel and brood over the things we suffer from others, but we think nothing of how much others suffer from us. If we would weigh our own deeds fully and rightly, we would find little cause to pass severe judgment on others.

- Thomas à Kempis
A Pattern for Life

From page 28 of A Pattern for Life: Selected Writings of Thomas à Kempis, edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe. Copyright © 1998 by Upper Room Books. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

Richard Rohr's Daily Reflection

Saint Bill W.

Saint Bill W.? Consider the spiritual fruit that his Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is now bearing throughout the world. In 1939, Bill Wilson codified his program for recovery from alcoholism. It has been so successful that it is now used by overeaters, gamblers, neurotics and those addicted to religion, drugs, sex, money, shopping, relationships and worry. Beneficiaries of these programs are some of the most spiritually open and religiously mature people you will ever meet.

While denominations haggle over metaphysics and belief systems, argue about who is saved and righteous with God, defend their sacramental and scriptural turf, Bill Wilson and his followers have moved forward with a humble realism that is both rare and convincing. They begin at an honest place and end at the same without arguing, proving, defending or spouting religious jargon. They come together not as a gathering of the saved but wearing their "scarlet letter" for all to see. They don't have to be talked into a salvation theory or a need for God out there.

Their broken and powerless humanity is all that they are sure of—like parched and weary earth waiting for rain. God is a felt need, no Sugar-Daddy-Answer-Giver but the very ground of their being. To be redeemed—"brought back"—is a daily gut-and-heart experience, not a liberal or conservative theology.

People in Twelve-Step programs, without knowing or intending it, have every likelihood of renewing the meaning of gospel in our time. The very word "Christian" has been so cheapened that probably the only way God could re-found the Churches was from the outside. But as Scripture says, "Who can know the mind of God or who can teach the Lord?" (Wisdom 9:13).

from Radical Grace, "The Twelve Steps: An Amazing Gift of the Spirit"

From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

Let charity be exercised by your living good lives

The heedless person forgets to put an end to a quarrel; the stubborn one is loath to grant pardon when asked; the person who is proudly ashamed disdains to beg pardon. Animosities live on in these three vices, but they kill the soul in which they don't die. Let a spirit of recollection keep watch against heedlessness, of compassion against vindictive stubbornness, of gentle good sense against proud shame. If you recall that you have neglected to make it up with someone, then wake up and shake off your torpor. If you are so keen to exact payment from your debtor, just think for a moment that you are God's debtor. If you are ashamed to ask your brother or sister to forgive you, overcome this bad sort of shame with a good sort of fear, so that with destructive animosities terminated, with them finally dead, you yourselves may live.

All this is the work of charity, which does not act crookedly. So let charity, my brothers and sisters, insofar as it is present among you, be exercised by your living good lives; while insofar as there is little of it there, let it be obtained by your praying for it.

Augustine of Hippo

Daily Readings From "My Utmost for His Highest", Oswald Chambers


"When thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee." John 1:48

We imagine we would be all right if a big crisis arose; but the big crisis will only reveal the stuff we are made of, it will not put anything into us. "If God gives the call, of course I will rise to the occasion." You will not unless you have risen to the occasion in the workshop, unless you have been the real thing before God there. If you are not doing the thing that lies nearest, because God has engineered it; when the crisis comes instead of being revealed as fit, you will be revealed as unfit. Crises always reveal character.

The private relationship of worshipping God is the great essential of fitness. The time comes when there is no more "fig-tree" life possible, when it is out into the open, out into the glare and into the work, and you will find yourself of no value there if you have not been worshipping as occasion serves you in your home. Worship aright in your private relationships, then when God sets you free you will be ready, because in the unseen life which no one saw but God you have become perfectly fit, and when the strain comes you can be relied upon by God.

"I can't be expected to live the sanctified life in the circumstances I am in; I have no time for praying just now, no time for Bible reading, my opportunity hasn't come yet; when it does, of course I shall be all right." No, you will not. If you have not been worshipping as occasion serves, when you get into work you will not only be useless yourself, but a tremendous hindrance to those who are associated with you.

The workshop of missionary munitions is the hidden, personal, worshipping life of the saint.

Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Let the Abbess always bear in mind
that at the dread Judgment of God
there will be an examination of these two matters:
her teaching and the obedience of her disciples.
And let the Abbess be sure
that any lack of profit
the master of the house may find in the sheep
will be laid to the blame of the shepherd.
On the other hand,
if the shepherd has bestowed all her pastoral diligence
on a restless, unruly flock
and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behavior,
then she will be acquitted at the Lord's Judgment
and may say to the Lord with the Prophet:
"I have not concealed Your justice within my heart;
Your truth and Your salvation I have declared" (Ps. 39:11).
"But they have despised and rejected me" (Is. 1:2; Ezech. 20:27).
And then finally let death itself, irresistible,
punish those disobedient sheep under her charge.


Benedict puts a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of people in authority, but not all of it. Abbots and prioresses are to teach, to proclaim, but the community's responsibility is to listen and to respond.

Benedict wants a community that is led, but not driven.

The concept is clear: people are not acquitted of the responsibility for their own souls. Personal decisions are still decisions, personal judgments are still judgments, free will is still free will. Being in a family does not relieve a child of the responsibility to grow up. The function of twenty-one year olds is not to do life's tasks as their parents told them to do it when they were six years old. The function of twenty-one year olds is simply to do the same tasks well and to take accountability themselves for having done it.

Perhaps the most important result of a model of authority like this is the environment it creates. The monastery is not a royal court, a military barracks, or a detention home. The role of leadership is not to make lackeys, or foot soldiers or broken children out of adult Christians.

The purpose of Benedictine spirituality is to gather equally committed adults for a journey through earthen darkness to the dazzling light that already flames in each of us, but in a hidden place left to each of us to find.

The Rule's model of leadership and authority, then, is a paradigm for any relationship, husband and wife, parent and child, supervisor and employee. The function of authority is not to control the other; it is to guide and to challenge and to enable the other. Benedictine authority is a commitment to that, a promise of that.

A midrash on Genesis points out: "God prefers your deeds to your ancestors' virtues." We are not here simply to follow someone else. Being part of something good does not automatically make us good. What we do with our own lives is the measure of their value. We are here to learn to take ourselves in hand.

Dynamis is a daily Bible meditation based upon the lectionary of the Holy Orthodox Church.

Monday, September 10, 2007
The Empress Pulcheria
Kellia: Jeremiah 4:1-10 Epistle: Galatians
4:28-5:10 Gospel: St. Mark 6:54-7:8

Prophet to the Nations ~ The Alternatives: Jeremiah 4:1-10 LXX,
especially vss. 1, 2, 10: "If Israel will swear....The Lord lives, with
truth, in judgment and righteousness, then shall nations bless by
Him....And I said, O sovereign Lord, verily Thou hast greatly deceived
this people and Jerusalem, saying, There shall be peace; whereas behold,
the sword has reached even to their soul." Historic acuity is a
striking attribute of the Prophets of God, being evident in Jeremiah.
So attuned was he to the mind of the Lord that he readily extrapolated
from present social conditions to predictable outcomes. In the present
reading, Jeremiah exhibits this prophetic gift of foreseeing results
from present actions. He knew that his native land of Judah stood
before the choice of radically opposite alternatives: to be a blessing
to the nations around them (vs. 2), or to find the destructive sword of
invaders pointed at their very lives (vs. 10). Jeremiah offered his
compatriots no middle ground. Looking back from a vantage point
centuries later, the modern reader can plainly see the accuracy of his
God-inspired intuitions.

In an earlier passage (Jer. 3:19-25), the Prophet indicated the path
toward genuine return to the Lord - heartfelt, genuine repentance.
Continuing that point, he makes clear in the present passage how pure a
true "return" to God must be. There can be no temporizing or religious
show. "Circumcise yourselves to your God, and circumcise your hardness
of heart" (Jer. 4:1). No true relationship with God exists and thrives
in formalities. Each of us must speak honestly to the Lord before Whom
we make prostrations and pray. God's acid test of our truth with Him is
to "remove [thine] abominations out of [thy] mouth, and fear before Him,
and swear" (vs. 1).

God applies His standards of "truth...justice, and...uprightness" to
measure our candor (vs. 2). He is most explicit about what He expects
of those who say they worship Him. The Ten Commandments are
straightforward. Look to your own life, and may God give you and me the
grace to discern the extent to which we live the Beatitudes: poverty of
spirit, mourning for sins, meekness of life, hunger and thirst for
righteousness, mercy, purity lived from the heart, peacemaking and joy
when persecuted for God. Admittedly, the measuring rod of truth,
justice and uprightness on God's scale is stringent; yet who can deny
that He calls us to His standard?

When the Church lives by truth, justice, and uprightness, and all her
members being accountable to God, history affirms that their influence
on events becomes extraordinary. O People of God, strive to live in
this manner and richly bless nations and peoples across the face of the
earth. For when we who make up the Church on earth do not obey Christ,
we "sow...among thorns" (vs. 3). Struggle to cleanse the thoughts of
your heart, your words, and your deeds so that the dire consequences of
which Jeremiah speaks do not come upon you. Let not calamity happens to
your communities and nations. Make no mistake, "the lion is gone up
from his the destruction of the nations...and to make thy land
desolate" (vs. 7).

Living under the Covenant of Circumcision, the Prophet begs his fellow
believers: "circumcise your hardness of heart" (vs. 4).
Unquestionably, actual choices are made in the heart, in the deep place
within where we do or we do not keep covenant with God. There is no
more middle ground for Christians than there was for God's People under
the Old Covenant.

God does not temporize. He allows us to embrace false prophets, trust
in our honeyed delusions, and pursue our favorite lusts to "great
destruction" (vs. 6); but in love, He longs for us to choose the
alternative - to return to Him "with truth, in judgment and
righteousness" (vs. 2).

Grant, O Master that we may live in steadfast peace and harmony, and, by
the light of Thy commandments, graciously pass our days with a seemly
disposition and in virtuous living.



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