Friday, September 29, 2017

Letting Go of the Other Person’s Throat

In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter comes to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Jesus makes it clear that, in the great economy of the Kingdom of God, forgiveness is not an option.  In fact, in the parable that Jesus tells following Peter’s question, we see that God’s forgiveness of us is inextricably and uncomfortably tied to our forgiveness of others. 

Scripture has plenty to say about forgiveness: 
·   In Mark 11:25-26 Jesus says, "Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."

·   Paul in Ephesians 4 writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”   

·   And, of course, in our beloved Lord’s Prayer given us in both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, Jesus prays, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  How Jesus’ words would have been understood in its original context is that God forgives us in proportion to our forgiveness of others.  And if that is not uncomfortably clear enough, Matthew records Jesus driving this point home with these words, “14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6)

Jesus should have our undivided attention on this issue.  The bottom line is that Jesus is telling us that we cannot appropriate the mercy, compassion and forgiveness of God if we ourselves do not choose to extend mercy, compassion and forgiveness to others;

Still, we all struggle to forgive the transgressions and traumas of our lives.   Unforgiveness can shape our lives, define our identity, even determine our destiny.  It darkens, deadens and can even destroy our life.  It morphs into bitterness, and bitterness into anger.  Instead of becoming a child of God unconditionally loving those around us, we are angry and bitter.

It is helpful to be clear about what forgiveness is and is not: It is not pretending it did not happen; it is not acting like it really wasn’t all that bad; it is not turning a blind eye; it is not forgetting.  Forgiving does not mean moving back into a trust relationship with the person who injured you. Although it is a prerequisite, forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation or restoration.  

Forgiveness, fundamentally, is release- “letting go of the other person’s throat,” to quote from the book, The Shack (W. P. Young).  Forgiveness is giving your pain, bitterness and anger to God and trusting Him with it.  Even when reconciliation is not possible, release is.  Jesus on the Cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  True Christian forgiveness is mercy based, not justice based.

What, then, are you to do?  This is where God’s Holy Spirit comes in.    It is by the working of the God’s Holy Spirit in our lives that our minds, hearts and wills are transformed such that we can learn to forgive the way Jesus forgives.  We think of forgiveness as an emotion, but at its heart, forgiveness is an act of the will- aligning our will with God’s will.  Even when you do not feel like forgiving, forgiveness is possible- thanks be to God! 

Here is what you can do?
·      Through the Holy Spirit in you, seek the grace to forgive:  We cannot do it out of our old, unconverted nature.   If you really want to obey his command to forgive, then pray for and open yourself to Him empowering you to do so.

·      Again, through the Holy Spirit in you, choose to forgive:  Align your will and spirit with the will and Spirit of Jesus

·      Pray for those who have transgressed in your life: Pray that God forgive them, but also pray that God will convert their heart as He is converting yours.

·      Finally, ask God to forgive you:  not just for passing judgement on the other person, which in unforgiveness you are surely doing, but ask God also to forgive you for the ways you have taken on and owned your unforgiveness and carried it with you like and old worn out bag.  Agreeing and clinging to unforgiveness in your heart is not your offender’s sin- it is yours.

By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, may we learn to forgive.                                   Father Rob

Friday, September 22, 2017

Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation at Holy Trinity

Christianity, now 2000 years old, was instituted by God “in the fullness if time” (i.e. at the right time), that God might redeem a fallen and hurting world back to Himself.  He stepped into Creation in the person of Jesus, providing a full revelation of Himself and of His perfect will for humankind, in order that “all who believe in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) 

Jesus instructed His church to be His continuing presence in the world and, as His ambassadors, carry on His work of redemption: Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

We imperfect humans, still tainted as sons and daughters of Adam and products the “The Fall,” have not always gotten “being the Church” right.  A remarkable thing happened in the 16th C, however, to help the Church turn back to the Truth, to the basics, and to biblical foundations that God had given us in Christ.  This came to be known as The Protestant Reformation.  Men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and Thomas Cranmer stepped forward to correct deviations from the truths once delivered to the Church through the Apostles.  The Reformation was not about anything new, but about returning to the unchanged and unchanging revelation of God in Christ.

This upcoming All Saints Eve (October 31) marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther purportedly nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church, Wittenberg.  This occasion gives us a great opportunity to connect with our Reformation heritage and revisit for ourselves these great truths that lay at the heart of the Reformation.  In October and early November, we are thus going to do the following:

1.      Sunday preaching series on the “Five Solas:”  The Five Solas are five Latin phrases that emerged from the Protestant Reformation intended to summarize the Reformers' biblical principles.

Oct   1                    Sola Scriptura              Scripture Alone

Oct   8                    Solus Christus              Christ Alone

Oct 15                    Sola Fide                     Faith Alone

Oct 22                    Sola Gratia                  Grace Alone

Oct 29                    Soli Deo Gloria            To the Glory of God Alone

2.       Friday evening, Oct 20, the movie “Luther:” The movie will be introduced with background teachings on the life, witness and work of Martin Luther by one of our clergy.

3.       All Saints Weekend, Nov 3 and 4 -  “A Reformation Celebration:” With a covered-dish fellowship  supper Friday evening, and a continental breakfast Saturday morning, we will celebrate our Reformation Heritage and discuss the life, works, witness and theology of the Continental and British Reformers, and how that set the stage for us today and for worldwide Protestantism.  

Mark your calendars!

Father Rob+

Friday, September 8, 2017

Sabbath Worship

Isaiah 56:6-7

…all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-- these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

        Sunday worship is among the most important things the Body of Christ does when it gathers together.  As Christians we understand that offering an adoring response to the God who loves us and gives us life is fundamental to our relationship with Him. 

        Sabbath worship is obviously important to God.  He gave us the Sabbath and made it His 4th Commandment.  The Sabbath is not only a day of resting, it is a day of resting in the Lord, a Holy Day to honor God and to be with Him. 

             A striking feature of Christian worship is that it is a celebration of the immanence (presence, closeness) of God.  Most religions celebrate their god’s transcendence (his or her aloofness and untouchableness).  We do the same, of course, as attested to in the stateliness and reverence of our Anglican liturgy, but it is the intimate presence of God upon which we focus and celebrate.  We do not gather to celebrate a memory or an idea of God being aloof and far off; we gather to celebrate His presence. Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

We also gather to celebrate a victory, an Easter victory.   This is why our Sabbath is on the first day of the week, the Day of our Lord’s Resurrection.  Our expectation in worship is that Christ, the risen and living God, comes to us as His people gathered, as surely as He came to the Apostles in the Upper Room on Easter morning.

        Sunday morning worship offers us the opportunity to step out of our normal routines, step out of time and space, and step into eternity and into the presence of God, albeit for only an hour and twenty minutes on a Sunday.  Each Sunday we recite from Isaiah 6 (The Sanctus) which reminds us that we, like Isaiah, are being brought into the presence of the Almighty.  Isaiah records, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”

        This passage from Isaiah, along with other Scripture such as Chapters 4, 5 and 7 of the Book of Revelation, remind us that we are not the only part of the created order that has worship as a fundamental response to our Creator.  Angels also worship, and it is not hard to imagine that as we worship on Sunday mornings, we have the heavenly host worshiping with us.

        Worship is offering something very precious to God - ourselves.  Our Eucharistic liturgy says, “we offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice,” and Scripture speaks of us offering a sacrifice of praise:  Hebrews 13:15- “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”

         We Christians therefore recognize our responsibility to God and our fellow Christians to be present at Sabbath worship.  Too often we come on Sunday mornings seeking what we will get out of worship, which is a good and proper expectation to have, but we first come seeking the face of God, honoring God, offering a sacrifice of praise, and supporting our brothers and sisters in doing the same.

        A joyful truth about our worship is that the Holy Spirit, God Himself, empowers and anoints us to worship Him.  Our worship is Spirit-filled and Spirit-lead, if we will allow it to be.  In Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John Chapter 4, our Lord says, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The Holy Spirit creates true and Spirit-filled worship, for as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Spirit.”  It is the Holy Spirit who checks our unworthy instincts, inspires our prayers, moves us to praise, convicts us, and changes us.  Our expectation is that we leave worship differently from how we came in, and, as we know, it is the indwelling Holy Spirit who is the instrument of Godly change in our lives.

        Finally, Christian worship is permeated with a deep sense of participation, mutual support, and fellowship.  We did not come to have someone worship for us.  Early Christian communities gathered for worship to honor and celebrate God, to seek a touch from Him, and to support fellow Christians in their desire to do the same.  We get a sense of this in Acts 2- “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

        Is being absent from Sunday worship a sin?  It depends, of course.  What we do know is that sin is anything outside of the will of God for us, and the Lord obviously wills that His people be gathered together with Him on the Lord’s Day.   My suggestion, therefore, is to be there.  God will be glorified by your presence and you will be blessed by being in His.                                        Father Rob+