Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Feast of Edward Bouverie Pusey

Sept. 19, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Cathedral

In the Name of God, Father, + Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Yesterday was the Feast of Blessed Edward Bouverie Pusey. Although it was his good friend, John Keble, who started the so-called Oxford Movement in 1833 with a sermon he preached at Oxford University, Pusey became the leader of the movement that brought what we now call Anglo Catholicism to the Anglican Church.

For most of us, the issues of High Churchmanship and Low Churchmanship are hopefully no longer issues. But what Pusey and Keble and John Henry Newman proposed in their day—rife with anti-Roman Catholic sentiment—was considered radical.

And when Edward Pusey preached about his view of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, that’s when got himself into some deep trouble. In May of 1841, he preached a sermon at Oxford with the seemingly innocent title of The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent. This sermon—filled with his views that Jesus was truly and clearly present in the bread and wine—so incensed people that he was suspended from preaching for two years.

Of course, it backfired in those same authorities. The sermon was later published and it ended up selling 18,000 copies.

The fact is that what Pusey preached about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not radical, nor is it un-Anglican. But it is sometimes a good thing to ask ourselves: What do Anglicans believe concerning the Eucharist?

As we all know, Anglicans tend to have an ambivalent view toward many things and the Eucharist is no exception. As a result, Anglicans tend to hold a wide variety of differing views. Some prefer the more “low Church” definitions, in which Christ is truly present but not in any extraordinary way. The view here is similar to the Lutheran view of consubstantiation—in which the belief is that Christ is present with the bread and the wine. It is still bread, it is still wine, and Christ is present.

The Roman Catholic view is that of transubstantiation. It no longer bread or wine—it only appears to be so. For Roman Catholics, the Bread and the Wine have been transformed into the actual Body and Blood of Christ.

For us Anglicans—we don’t necessarily define the Eucharist in either way. We simply know that Christ is present in the Bread and the Wine, although we are wary of saying how or in what way.

I am currently reading the second volume of Book of V of Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. In this book, Hooker gives voice to what most Anglicans believe when it comes to verbal or intellectual wranglings regarding Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. He writes,

“I wish that men would more give themselves to meditate in silence what we have by the sacrament and less to dispute of the manner how?”

I personally tend to echo those immortal words of one of my personal heroes, James Dekoven. Dekoven himself was somewhat of a radical when it came to battling the powers-that-be in the Church when it came to issues of the Eucharist. Dekoven said,

“You may take away from us if you will every external ceremony; you may take away altars, and superaltars, lights and incense and vestments, and we will submit to you. But… to adore Christ's Person in His Sacrament - that is the inalienable privilege of every Christian and Catholic heart. How we do it, the way we do it, the ceremonies with which we do it, are utterly, utterly indifferent. The thing itself is what we plead for.”

I have clung to those words and found deep consolation in them over the year. For me, the matter is very much like Edward Pusey believed.

I know beyond a doubt that Christ is present in the bread and wine at the Eucharist. And like Pusey, I believe the Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament in the ambry here or in the tabernacle, in a monstrance held up with a host in it. And I especially believe that Christ is present in the bread and the wine when we gather here at this altar to celebrate the Mass.

My faith in the fact that Christ is present in the Eucharist has sustained me many times over the years. I have found profound and deep comfort in being able to retire at several times during the day here, to this chapel, to this ambry here, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. I enjoy the opportunity to enter into Christ’s very real and very potent Presence here. I enjoy those occasions, in which I can take the Body and Blood of Christ to parishioners and others who ask for it and are comforted and upheld by it. I take comfort in knowing that Christ’s physical presence is just that close that I can turn to Him in those moments and find Him near. And in those holy moments in which I spend adoring, contemplating or simply being in His presence, issues of transubstantiation, consubstantiation or any other doctrines simply vaporize. In those moments, it is only my knowledge and belief that I am in the presence of holiness, that I am in the presence of the One whom I serve, whom I love and whom I believe in profoundly is enough for me.

For me, to define that Presence, to attempt to articulate and quantify it is the equivalent of trying to pin a wave upon the shore. When I ponder it too deeply, I become distracted. When I think of it for more than a few moments, I find myself led astray from my devotions. When I attempt to explain my experience with the Eucharist Lord by the standards of those doctrines, I find myself turning away from Him and the gift of His Presence that He gives.

All I know in those moments, is that it is Christ is present. When I look upon that small round host, or that loaf of consecrated bread, I see Christ’s body. When I hold it aloft at the Mass and break it, I know that the answer to my prayer—“Lord, make yourself known to me in the breaking of the bread”—has truly and wonderfully been answered, because He does. He does make himself known in the breaking of the bread. Because He is there.

When I look into that chalice and I see that deep dark rich wine, I see Christ’s Precious Blood and I know that it is Him. And when I eat of that Body and drink of that Blood, I know that for that moment in my life, I am, in fact, truly “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones,” as the great Bishop, John Jewel, once proclaimed.

Christ is present here. Christ comes to all of us in the bread and the wine that we consecrate here on this altar. So, take comfort in that belief. Come to the feast of this Mass, knowing that, in doing so, you come to partake in Christ’s presence, that you come partaking of His flesh and blood and that by doing so, you become his flesh and blood as well.

Christ is here. He is here for you. All we have to do is look and see and believe and taste.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Feast of Blessed Paul Jones

The Feast of Blessed Paul JonesSept. 4, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
Fargo, N.D.

John 8.31-32.
Today, we commemorate the feast of Paul Jones on the sixty-sixth anniversary of his death. Paul Jones was elected Bishop of Utah in 1914, just as World War I was breaking out. He did much as Bishop of Utah. He established preaching stations, he made others aware of what was then known as a missionary district.

But what he is best known for now, is not what he did as Bishop of Utah, but what he protested and spoke out against—namely war. In a speech in 1917, Bishop Jones did something few other people were doing at that time: he called war “unchristian.”

He went on to say, “Christians are not justified in treating the Sermon on the Mount as a scrap of paper."

Most of us no doubt shrug our shoulders when we hear that Bishop Jones protested the war. After all, we live in this post-Vietnam War era in which protesting war is just a part of out culture, whether we agree with it or not. But in 1918, protesting America’s involvement in war was considered unpatriotic and calling war unchristian was considered unbecoming of an Episcopal bishop. If fact, it was so scandalous, that Bishop Jones that, because of his statement, he was asked by the House of Bishops to resign, which he did, in the spring of 1918.

On resigning, he wrote, “I believe that the methods of modern international war are quite incompatible with the Christian principles of reconciliation and brotherhood, and that it is the duty of a Bishop of the Church, from his study of the word of God, to express himself on questions of righteousness, no matter what opinion may stand in the way."

Bishop Jones, whether you agree with his position on war or not, is still a great example for all of us Christians. He stood up for his convictions and lived by them no matter what anyone else thought. He truly lived out the words of Jesus from our Gospel reading this evening—

“If you hold to my teaching, you are my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
He lived out to those words and that conviction to be a disciple of Christ, even to the point of stepping down from a position to which he felt called.

Occasionally, in our lives, we must live out the words of Jesus from tonight’s Gospel much as Bishop Jones did. We, as Christians, are called to know the truth and in knowing the truth, we know that the truth is truly freeing.

For Paul Jones, he knew the truth. For him, he could not reconcile the fact that one can still fight in a war and be a Christian. He did not feel that one can truly love God and love one’s neighbor as one’s self and still condone war. For Bishop Jones, this was the ultimate truth. And although he had to give up everything, he lived his life in truth to himself.

Paul Jones is ultimately an example to all of us for two reasons. On one hand, he represents in a powerful way that Christians who are pacifists should be respected for their views. It is easy to see war as unchristian. There is nothing beautiful about war. And for those people who have been through war, they know how horrible unchristian it can be. The fact is, whenever war breaks out in the world, we as Christians need to examine ourselves and our convictions deeply before we either condone or condemn the actions of that war. We need to return to the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ blessing of the peacemakers, and we need to return to the commandments of loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. I’m not saying we should all be pacifists. I think there is such thing as a justified war. But I do believe any decisions we as Christians make about war need to be made with prayerfulness, deliberation and keeping intact our faith in Christ who calls to love not hate, to peace not violence, to life not death.

Paul Jones is an example for a second reason: He lived out his Christian convictions deeply and thoroughly, against great odds. And just because society at that time condemned him for his views, in the long run, he has prevailed. When we look at the Bishops who were seated in the House of Bishops in 1918, we probably don’t remember many of them now. We certainly don’t commemorate them as saints. But here we have Paul Jones. 66 years after his death, we are commemorating him and discussing him still. In this time of war, many Christians look to him as one of the many pacifists who paved the way for them to be able to speak out against war. And for all of us, Paul Jones helps instill in us the courage to stand up for our convictions, no matter how unpopular they may seem by society as a whole.

And even there, we find a lesson for all of us: God can take a perceived defeat, like being forced to resign as Bishop, and can use that defeat as an ultimate triumph. That is a wonderful lesson for us as well. Even our failures can be turned to God’s ultimate glory in the end.

So, let us remember Bishop Paul Jones and let us do him honor by standing up for the Truth. Like Bishop Jones, hold to the teachings of Christ as you see them and as you live them out in your life. And know that the Truth of those convictions in Christ will, without doubt, set you free.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

14 Pentecost

September 2, 2007
All Saints Episcopal Church
Valley City, ND

Luke 14:1, 7-14

For those us who were listening closely to this morning’s Gospel, we might find ourselves struggling a bit with Jesus’ words. And if we aren’t struggling—if those words don’t make us uncomfortable—then maybe we should be. They are uncomfortable words, after all. He is making clear to us that, if we neglect the least among us, if we put ourselves first, we are putting ourselves in jeopardy. What we do here on earth—in this life—does make a difference. It makes a difference here, and it makes a difference in the next world. It makes a difference with those we neglect. And it makes a difference with God.

So, we should take heed. We shouldn’t neglect those who are least among us. But probably the most difficult aspect of our Gospel today is when Jesus summarized everything in that all-too-familiar maxim:

“For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus is not pulling any punches here. He is clear as day. Humble yourselves. If you do so, you will be exalted. If you are arrogant and full of yourself, you will be humbled.

I think, humility and pride are too often huge issues for all of us Christians, whether we are laypeople or clergy. For those of us who have spent a good part of lives in church, we have known too many arrogant, self-centered, conceited Christians in our lives. They sometimes are on the Vestry, in the pews, in the kitchen, or in the pulpit.

Pride is ugly. It doesn’t do anyone any good, especially the prideful one. But to be fair, it’s easy enough to do. It’s easy enough to fall in that ugly trap of pride. When we encounter those prideful Christians, we need to be careful how we deal with them. Because we need to remind ourselves: “there but for the grace of God, go we.” Sometimes, the most prideful Christian we encounter, isn’t in the Vestry, or the pews, or the kitchen or the pulpit. Sometimes, the most prideful Christian we know is the one we find staring back at us from the mirror.

Pride is an easy trap to fall into as Christians. We know we are loved by God. We also know we, as Christians, through our Baptisms, have a special place in relation to God. It’s easy sometimes to feel smug and self-assured. And when we are fully immersed in Church work, it’s easy for us to think that the success or failure of the ministry of the Church depends on us. We’ve all heard it, “If I didn’t do it, who would?” We’ve all said it. “If I didn’t do it, everything will fall apart.” And sometimes, this might be true.

But, it is a dangerous road to take when we start thinking everything revolves around us. And for clergy, they are in an even more vulnerable place. I will admit, I find myself falling into the pride trap on occasion. But I am, at the same time, lucky in some ways. I have a circle of family and friends who put me in my place very quickly whenever I find my head getting a little too big for its own good. Whether it be my parents, my friends and colleagues, or any number of other people, I can always depend on them to either subtle or not so subtly remind me when I am getting a bit too big for myself.

As clergy, we occasionally find ourselves being praised and treated with a sometimes undeserved respect. And although I have found my vocation to the priesthood a very humbling experience, there are times when we might find ourselves feeling very smug over a job well done. That’s true with all of us, as Christians.

A few weeks ago, I was feeling not so much prideful or smug, but simply good about my duties as a priest. I was at the Cathedral, doing two Masses that day. At the second Mass, I baptized the beautiful baby daughter of a couple I married over a year before. I also preached a sermon on baptism (one of my favorite topics) that received many wonderful, glowing comments from people. It was one of those perfect Sunday mornings and as I left the Cathedral that morning, I admit I felt like I had done a good job. And I felt the creeping edges of pride coming up inside me. To be honest, it felt good.

It was about that time when, as I approached my car, I saw it had been vandalized once again. As I shared with you before, my car had been vandalized in May on three different occasions by a disgruntled bi-polar cross dresser who has been hanging around the Cathedral. Having done almost $3,000 worth of damage then, I had my car repainted and was putting the incident behind me when here it happened again. Here, in front of me, was my car with the same pattern of scratches, the same amount of damage. And with it, the same sinking sense of frustration.

I came away from that perfect morning feeling as though I had been punched in the stomach. To call this a humbling experience was an understatement.

But this is what it means to be a Christian sometimes. It means experiencing those highs, knowing full well that we must also experience the lows as well and knowing that Christ is with us in highs as well as the lows.

It’s easy to fall into that ugly trap of believing everything is about us. It’s easy to convince ourselves that the world revolves around us and only us. Life, after all, is a matter of perspective. And from our perspective, everything else does in fact revolve around us.

Our job as Christians is to change that perspective. Our job as Christians is to, always and everywhere, put Christ first. It is not all about us. We are just a breath. We are just a blink of the eye in the larger scheme of things. We are born, we live, we die. And then we are gone. And, without Christ, that is all we are. There is no hope, there is no future, there is no us, without Christ. Christ gives us our definition. Christ gives us our identity. Christ gives us our purpose. This is what it means to be a Christian.

And this is what Jesus is getting at today, when he talks about the humble being exalted. Who knows better than Jesus about humility? He, who humbled himself by becoming one of us, who humbled himself to the point of actually being betrayed, humiliated and murdered, knew a few things about humility. But, we don’t have to let pride win out in the end.

I have found a very helpful exercise based on a saying by one of my personal heroes, the priest and poet, Blessed George Herbert. George Herbert would pray, each time he preached, that he would be the window pane through which the Light of Christ might shine. I love that image. And we can do so much with it. The idea of being a window through which the light of Christ shines is wonderful for us. Because we realize that no matter how dirty the pane is, no matter how cracked or warped the glass might be, Christ’s light can always shine through. We don’t have to be the clear, clean window pane. We only need to be enough of a pane that Christ’s light will get through in some way. And by letting Christ’s light shine through us, we are truly putting Christ first. That is really our job as Christians.

So, when you find yourself falling into the pride trap, stop and remind yourself to put Christ first. When you find yourself seeing the world as revolving around you, stop and remind yourself that Christ is at the center of your life and, as such, your world in fact revolves around Christ. When you find yourself shining with the glow of self-pride and self-contentment, remember that the light shining through you is not your light, but the light of Christ and that any reflection others have of your works are accomplished only through that light. When you find yourself becoming prideful, stop and listen to the voice of Christ as he says to you, “those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Because, Christ wants you to be exalted. Christ wants to exalt you. But this can only happen when you come before Christ as his humble servant, as his humble disciple, as his humble friend. This can only happen when you place Christ at the forefront of your life.

So, put Christ first. Humble yourself before Christ. And let the light of Christ shine through you in all that you do.


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