Fr. Justin gives us a brief introduction to Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.
I was working in our garage the other day. As I was sizing up the larger-than-preferred task of doing some reorganization, I made a discovery that felt like I had unearthed buried treasure. I found a tool that I had “lost” by putting it in a cabinet drawer in my last organization. It fit and made sense at the time to place it there but it sure didn’t serve me well while in it’s dust-free dwelling.
This Epiphany, we’re remembering the posture of the wise men who responded to the manifestation of Christ to the nations by bowing down and worshiping (Matt 2:11). Worship has a central role in our Christian lives. However, in all of its varied aspects, worship is not so much about what we do or offer to God. It’s primarily concerned with what God has done for His people. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
One of the greatest tools to help us rightly focus on what God has done and help us to respond in worship is the book of Psalms. This collection of “songs of praise” serve as both heartfelt expressions of prayer, adoration, confession, and thanksgiving as well as templates for our own spiritual life. Liturgically arranged collections of the Psalms (called Psalters) have been in use from the early church. Church historian Philip Schaff writes: “So far as we are able to gather from our sources, nothing, except the Psalms and a few New Testament hymns was as a rule sung in public worship before the 4th century AD.” In modern times, C.S. Lewis had this reflection: “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.”
Through the ages, the Psalms have been a sort of steel girder for the development of worship, both public and private.
My prayer for us during Epiphany is that we would rediscover worship through the Psalms. This spiritual formation tool is available to us today and it is a treasure. You might want to simply start reading a psalm a day, using it as a springboard into your own prayer and praise. If you’d like to add the Psalms to your devotions, a copy of the new ACNA Psalter can be downloaded here. It does a wonderful job guiding us through all 150 Psalms over a 30 day period. I commend it to you.
Sometimes, it’s good to look again into corners and cabinets and rediscover buried treasure.
Jesus changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee. This first of His miracles is something we examine in Epiphany and rightfully so.
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.” Jesus had been spending time after His baptism gathering His disciples. He was already engaging Himself in the expansion of the Kingdom through others. These were strategic days indeed. Strategic days should call for epic-sized maneuvers. Instead, Jesus attends a party.
The party He attended was a wedding, a traditional feast that would have lasted for several days, but it was an ordinary and common event. Jesus “manifested His glory” (John 2:11) first at an ordinary party. It was there at this ordinary event that the steward of the feast realized that something extraordinary had occurred. The glory of God, that which we’re told to “declare to the nations” (Psalm 96:3), had been revealed by no ordinary human act.
St. Ambrose (338-397) communicated it this way in one of his Epiphany hymns.
It (Epiphany) is holy too,
by thy changing the water
of the pitchers into wine;
which the steward of the feast,
knowing that he had not so filled them,
drew forth for the guests.
As Jesus’ disciples today, we too can realize that the effect of God’s glory in our lives and certainly among the nations (Psalm 96:3) is not based on something our own striving has accomplished. We can know, like the steward of the feast with the jars full of wine, that “(we) had not so filled them.” Let’s worship Him this Epiphany for transforming our lives!
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream” (CS Lewis)
This Saturday (9am -12pm) our Ministry Teams will gather to focus on the future, dream together, pray together, strategize together, and develop their plans for the next 12 months. Everyone is welcome!
One of the great Scriptural examples of planning comes from the book of Nehemiah.
God’s people had been taken away into exile. The Babylonian captors had given way to the Persian Empire. In exile, Nehemiah had heard the report: “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (Neh 1:3). The city of Jerusalem laid in ruins. The wall of Jerusalem was in shambles!
When Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the Persian King Artexerxes I, heard this report, he prayed. After his prayer, he was providentially authorized to return to Jerusalem, serve as its governor, and rebuild the wall.
He cared deeply for the city of God’s people. He had a vision of what the wall would be. He assessed the damage. He secured the resources. He established leaders and distributed the assignments among them. The goal necessitated a plan.
Nehemiah’s plans came from a love and devotion for God and for His purposes. He took that love and devotion into prayer and then into intentional planning for the future. As we gather this weekend, let’s take our love and devotion for God, His people, and His purposes into prayer and into planning.
Just yesterday, when I asked to take my partially repaired car early from the mechanic in order to make it to an appointment, the kind manager thought it would be a good idea for me to pay for all of the work in advance. I wasn’t sure how good of an idea that was; however, it turned out that my car was more in need of fixing than previously thought and I ended up asking my daughter to ferry me over to the appointment in her car.
The manager wanted compensation in order to secure our business relationship. It was our experience living overseas that whenever work was needed on the house or on the car, a down payment (normally up to half of the final price) was required. Both of these arrangements are types of pledges or tokens that are given as an assurance of the fulfillment of a bargain or promise.
Three times in the New Testament (2 Cor 1:22, 2 Cor 5:5, Eph 1:14) “guarantee” or “pledge” is used to describe how God has given us the Holy Spirit. “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Cor 5:5) God has given us this guaranteeing pledge to serve as a seal of our relationship with Him and an indication of what is to come.
In Jerusalem this week, 2,000 Christian leaders from the Anglican Church will come together from 50 countries. They will come together around the theme of “proclaiming the Gospel faithfully to all nations”. They will come together with the shared guarantee that the Holy Spirit has been given to God’s people and that this same Spirit is the power (2 Cor 4:7, 2 Cor 12:9, Rom 1:16) by which the nations will come to Christ through the proclamation of the Gospel.
Faith Church has sent three representatives to this Jerusalem conference, possibly the largest delegation from any church in our province. Please pray for Fr. Bates and Sherry Richmond and for Stephanie Marshall as they join with others and represent Faith Church in Jerusalem at this historic GAFCON gathering.
Recently we were visited by South Sudanese Archbishop Hillary Garang Deng. He had an amazing story to tell. He told of great trial, of growing up in a civil war, of losing all of his family assets, of remembering bullets flying through his own home, and of spending four days under their beds. He also spoke of the strengthening that happened in the Church specifically during seasons of persecution.
How can the people of God be strengthened and even thrive in times of trial and persecution? By relying on and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, insisted that “We give too much attention to method and machinery and resources, and too little to the source of power.”
And yet the first disciples were told to wait. Waiting surely helped to keep them from the allure of method and machinery and resources. Their waiting was worth it. They were to “wait for the promise of the Father, which he said, ‘you heard from me…(for) you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4) They were told to, in essence, “give much attention” to God’s power in the Holy Spirit - the same power that can enable weak and fragile disciples in South Sudan to be strengthened, and even thrive. After a period of waiting the first disciples would receive power. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
This power not only enabled weak disciples to be strong, but it birthed, on that first Pentecost, the Church and its global expansion. John Stott gives a fitting perspective along these lines: “We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.”
On that first Pentecost, at least fifteen different languages were uttered. Dinka, the mother tongue of Archbishop Hilary, unfortunately wasn’t represented. Mine wasn’t either. Both weren’t listed in Acts 2:9-11. However, the Holy Spirit is not limited to the fifteen listed. It was just a beginning. On that remarkable day in the history of the world, the Spirit of God was poured out and peoples of the world heard the “mighty works of God.” The Good News was to be known not just among the Jews but among all nations, among the rim of the Mediterranean, among the Dinka, and even among the Texans.
Pentecost means that God unleashed His power on His people so that even trials and persecutions could be overcome, but it also means that He engaged His people with His plan - a plan to welcome those on the outside into the household of God. Paul said it this way: “For through (Jesus) we...have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:18-19)
We celebrate Pentecost this Sunday because His power has been given and His plan has been enacted - a plan that extends to the Dinka as well as to you and me.
I met someone recently whose expertise came with a high monetary value. He was a plumber and he said that he wouldn’t fix my leak because if he did, he would have to put his name and license on it. What he meant was that, because of his expertise, his services would be expensive. He suggested that I could avoid the expense if I fixed it myself. He was right. And this illustrates a couple of problems we find in our Christian life as we journey together through the cross to the empty tomb.
The first problem is forgiveness. Carnegie Simpson phrases it this way: “Forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties; to God it is the profoundest of problems.” Put a different way, we put away the offenses or insults or wrongs done to us by others as just a part of daily life and relationships. It is normal and assumed. It’s how we get things done. For God in His majestic holiness, extending grace or favor toward mankind is another matter altogether. God must maintain who He is--wholly just--and yet at the same time deal with those who exert their God-given power to choose. John Stott says, “God must not only respect us as the responsible beings we are, but he must also respect himself as the holy God he is."
We are forgiven not because we are able to adequately placate God but because we have Another, the Author and Perfecter of our faith who was the Perfect Sacrifice on our behalf. Through Jesus, God has dealt with our sin without changing His character.
This brings up a second problem. What are we do with this forgiveness and grace we’ve been given? We are to extend it to others. CS Lewis addresses it this way:
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.”
When we understand the value of God’s character of holiness and the grace that we’ve been given, we are able move out into our relationships with the same grace. It becomes part of our routine that is motivated and inspired by each other. The letter to the Hebrews encourages us to: “...stir up one another to love and good works” (10:24).
Anglican Reformer Thomas Cranmer once wrote, “faith does not lay dormant in the heart but it is fruitful in bearing good works.” My prayer for us this Lent is that we carry with us that forgiveness and grace we have received. As we do, may His value show through us, and not our own.
Today we begin the season of Lent. We move slowly through this season taking note of our own mortality, the need to turn from our erroneous ways, and to embrace the unfettered grace and mercy of our God.
In Lent, Christians have historically emphasized praying, fasting, and giving. Jesus addresses these ancient practices in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18. He assumed activity in these needed areas but He sought to curb how we're often drawn to "go big or go home" with trumpets and fanfare and recognition. Jesus' teaching is pertinent for our day. As we pray, fast, and give during Lent, let's focus on our audience of One - God Himself.
What a gift to have a slow season, to journey together, and to know that the end destination is the empty tomb of God's grace.
Please join us tonight for our Ash Wednesday Service at 7:00 PM when we will begin the Lenten journey.