Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Season of Advent is Approaching

The Season of Pentecost is coming to an end.  The Season of Advent begins the 1st Sunday of December. The liturgical seasons reflected on the Church calendar are… 
Advent-Christmas

Epiphany

Lent-Easter

 Pentecost

This liturgical cycle has a long and rich history and has developed around aspects of the Christian journey and experience.  The Advent-Christmas cycle focuses on the Incarnation, God coming to us and dwelling among us.  In the Lent-Easter cycle we dwell on the Lord’s Resurrection and God raising us to new life with Him.  Incarnation and Resurrection (Christmas and Easter) are the two anchors of the Christian year.  Advent and Lent precede these two great seasons of celebration and are seasons of preparation.
 
What is called Ordinary Time lies between the Lent-Easter and Advent-Christmas liturgical seasons.  These are known as The Season of Epiphany and The Season of Pentecost.  Epiphany is about Christ being made “manifest” to a world that desperately needs a Savior.  Pentecost refers to the Holy Spirit empowering the Christian life and making all things new.

With all that said, let us look at the approaching season of  Advent.  The word Advent means coming or arrival.  Since it is the season before Christmas, it is logically about getting ready for Jesus’ coming.  We naturally think of Jesus’ First Coming at Christmas, but if we listen to the readings that are assigned from the lectionary during Advent, we quickly realize that it is also about getting ready for Jesus’ Second Coming, which is the long-awaited fruition of Christ’s redemptive work in the world. 

It might seem strange to us that Advent, the first season of the Church year, is also about the very end of things.  It makes the strong theological point, however, which is that the flow of history from God’s perspective (Salvation History) has both a

purpose and a destination.  History is not a randomly stitched together series of events; rather, it is headed somewhere and God is in the driver’s seat.   There is a divine destination for all of us, and the Season of Advent is about discovering the Way to that destination.  The Way is, of course, Jesus.  Therefore, whether we are talking about Jesus’ first coming as a baby lying in a feeding trough in a stable at Bethlehem 2000 years ago, or about Jesus coming to us in power and glory at the End Times, Advent is about God coming to us; thus we have the great cry of Advent, “Come, O Come, Emmanuel!”                                                         
Father Rob

 

A Discovery in Corinth

Five of us from our parish spent two weeks in Greece and Turkey on a study tour led by two professors from the seminary which I attended.  We followed in the footsteps of St. Paul, We spent some wonderful time in places familiar to all of us from Scripture, such places as Phillipi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus
 
In addition to seeing and enjoying these great biblical sites, our goal was to understand the world of Paul and explore why he was so successful in sharing the Gospel in a culture so antithetical to his own Judeo-Christian worldview.
 
When talking about Paul’s success, one first needs to affirm that it is God’s Holy Spirit working the hearts of the men that opens them to a new life in Christ.  We also need to acknowledge something that is obvious from St. Paul’s own letters and from St. Luke’s recounting of Paul’s ministry in Acts, that Paul was a very gifted communicator.  A third observation to acknowledge about Paul’s success is that Paul had another remarkable spiritual gift, the gift of perseverance.  Paul had spent years and sacrificed much establishing and maturing the churches in these places we visited. 
 
But there is one additional facet to Paul’s evangelical success that was brought into sharp focus through my visiting and studying the places Paul visited.  The gentile world of Paul was ready to hear Paul’s message.  It was the right time, what Paul calls in Galatians 4:4 the “fullness of time.”  The Greco-Roman world was a society desperately needing God to speak hope and purpose into their lives.  It was the right time for God to move decisively in human history and in the human heart. 
 
To better understand this, one can look at the daily lives of the people populating the great urban centers in which Paul preached.  The people of Paul’s time had very little upon which to pin meaning, purpose and hope. The pantheon of gods as the Greeks perceived them were capricious, and the pagan religions and philosophies of the time could not provide answers to life.  The chasm between heaven and earth, divine and human, was seemingly un-bridgeable.  This reality was manifested in the fact that, in the Greco-Roman world, morality was largely disconnected from religion.  God’s precious gift of sexuality was unbounded and extraordinarily abused.  People were filled with a sense of being on their own in an unpredictable world, with no hope of escape. Happiness and fulfillment were however one could obtain it. 
 
Along comes Paul.  The Good News he bears is that God is knowable, but more than that, God can be known intimately and personally.  Although Paul in 1 Cor. 13:12 says that for now we can only see his face as in a “glass dimly,” God has unambiguously revealed Himself to us and spoken purpose, direction and meaning into our lives.  This “God-Speak” is the sacred and inspired Word of Hebrew Scripture, the Hebrews being the people chosen by God to be the bearers of this self-revelation of God.  More than that, Paul tells them that  God so loved the world that He stepped into creation and lived among us. It is this steadfast, unchanging, sacrificial love that is the true character of God. 
 
Unlike the gods of the Pantheon, we now can know what to expect of God and what God expects of us.   Paul’s Judeo-Christian message re-connects morality and faith.  Forgiveness, redemption and hope are accessible.  The chasm between God and man is bridged, not by what we have done, but by what God has done.   And finally, we have the blessed assurance of all these things because God now dwells in us, the blessed Holy Spirit.
 
Now, to my personal discovery in Corinth… As I stood among the archeological ruins of this once great city  where Paul lived, worked and preached, and with this picture of Paul’s world and his message flooding my mind, it came to me with great clarity that our post-Christian culture of today is not very different from Paul’s world.  The void culture leaves in the human heart is the same.  The church’s message and calling is the same.  Be assured that the Holy Spirit is out in front of us preparing the human heart as surely He was doing so in Paul’s day. 
 
Paul’s mission field therefore sounds much like our mission field.  We can thus learn at least three ways Paul’s ministry can be a model for ours:
 
1.      First, we need Paul’s perseverance.  In places like Ephesus and Corinth, Paul lived and worked for years among the people, serving them, representing Christ to them, and presenting a different way to live according the rule of God.  We as Christians in the long line of Christians since Paul’s time are called to persevere in being Christ’s ambassadors to this broken and hurting world.

2.      Secondly, we need Paul’s steadfast love and compassion for those who have not yet heard the Good News of what God has done for us through Christ. Paul exhibited a sacrificial and self-giving love that can only be acquired by being “in Christ,” as Paul was fond of saying..  Paul was often beaten, driven out of town, or worse; yet, he would dust himself off and forge ahead for the Kingdom of God, motivated by God’s kind of love for a people he didn’t even know.

3.      Finally, like the communities that grew up in the wake of the Apostle Paul, Holy Trinity needs to be a port in the storm, a hospital for sinners and a haven for those who are beat up and trodden down by this world.  Paul established house churches in places like Corinth, Ephesus and Thessalonica.  These places were ruled by “principalities and powers” of this world, as Paul phrased it.  Paul, however, offered a new way of living and a safe place from the material and spiritual ravages of their world.  We too are to be a beacon in the darkness. We too are to be an outpost of the Kingdom of God offering a new life based on a new relationship to be found in the person and work of Christ.

Following in the footsteps of Paul for these two weeks in Greece and Turkey have deeply enriched my faith and ministry, but in an even more significant way, we are all called to follow in the footsteps of Paul.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Crucial Goal of the Christian Life

What are you doing to advance in your knowledge and love of the Lord and to seek the ultimate goal of all Christians, the likeness of Christ?  Dr. Charles Stanley recently wrote, “How you answer this question is important; your spiritual stature and well-being depend on it.”1    If we truly understand God’s intention for the Church, we know that spiritual growth is not an option; it is a mandate and expectation of our Lord.  So, how do we grow in our likeness of Christ? 
 
Here are four essentials:
 
1.   Claim and Live into Your Salvation:  The first essential in the journey into Christ-likeness is Salvation.  Salvation gives us the freedom to grow and change.  Jesus in John 3:3-8 tells Nicodemus (and us) that we are to be “born again;” that is, we are to enter into a New Life, a new way of living, based on and propelled forward by a redeeming and life transforming relationship with God.  But Christ is clear…being born again is just the beginning of the journey. 
 
How about you? Are you Born Again?  If you are, you will know.  If you are not sure, talk to your priest or pastor about gaining that Blessed Assurance of your eternal salvation.  Growing into the image and example of Christ begins with this life-transforming step.
 
2.   Be Intentional about Your Spiritual Growth:  Another essential to growing in the image of Christ is intentionality.   In your born again relationship with God through Christ, the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your life.  With the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, expect to be irresistibly compelled to grow in your knowledge and love of God. 
 
How about you?  If other interests or circumstances are taking priority over God’s call for you to grow in Christ, then simply make an intentional commitment right now to seek Him with all your heart and mind.  Take on the spiritual disciplines that foster and grow you in Christ, and see what the Lord does with your intentionality.

3. Immerse Yourself in Caring, Loving, Sharing Christian Fellowship:  True Christian fellowship is a foretaste of the Communion of Saints in Heaven who God is loving gathering to Himself through time and for  always.  That is why, ultimately, there can be no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian.  It is in relationship with others that we learn to love unconditionally the way Christ first unconditionally loved us.  We are all called by Christ to move ever more deeply into the fellowship of the saints and be more involved in others lives.   It is in the Church that we can be a blessing to others... be Christ to others.... and in the process we ourselves can be blessed and encounter Christ in others.
 
How about you?  Are you committed to a Christian fellowship?  Are you invested in the spiritual growth and well-being of others?  Are you seeking to be nurtured in the Faith by other Christians?  Are you dedicated to helping, encouraging, supporting and praying for others?  

4.   Allow God’s Holy Spirit to Lead You from Self-Absorption to Self-Giving:  One final essential for growing in the image of Christ is sacrificially giving yourself for the sake of others.  The Christian journey at its heart is a movement from self-absorption to self-giving.  To model our lives on Christ is to sacrifice and even suffer for others.  Christ says in John 15:13, No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  This sounds like something reserved for the Saints (with a capital S), but to think so would be unbiblical.  We will never approach the sacrificial giving of Christ who gave His life for the sake of the world, but we are all called to grow in giving of our time, talent and resources for the sake of others and to the glory of God. 


How about you?  Are you discernibly on this Christian journey from self-absorption to self-giving?  Are you growing in your likeness of Christ?
Father Rob
1 Dr. Charles Stanley, “The Height of Godliness,” In Touch Magazine, August, 2012.                            

 

 

 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Your Invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner


The Church of the Holy Trinity is inviting all in the community who care to join them to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, November 22, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm.  You will be Holy Trinity’s special guest, and there is no charge for the dinner.  Space is limited, however, and reservations will need to be made by November 17 by calling 803-341-0075. 

As is especially appropriate for Thanksgiving, Holy Trinity will have an ingathering of non-perishable food items and money for the hungry and for the ministry of Golden Harvest Food Bank.  Those coming to dinner are invited and welcome to participate in this.  Additionally, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (November 25), at its 10am service, Holy Trinity will be designating its regularly received tithes and offering for that Sunday and all special offerings received to Golden Harvest Food Bank.  An ingathering of canned goods and dry goods for the hungry will take place at that time also.
 
The Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity is located at the Sweetwater Center (past I-20 across from Advance Auto Parts on Edgefield Road), 160 Merovan Dr. North Augusta, SC 29860. You may call, Google or go to wwwanglicanchurchoftheholytrinity.com for directions and further information.