A Sobering Thought

There is a “permanent hatred of the Catholic faith which is inseparable from the existence of the Church on Earth. . . .  Such hatred is natural and inevitable.  All energy polarises, and the Catholic Church is the most powerful source of energy on earth.  It provokes an opposite pole.  Further, the Church is at issue everywhere with man as he is, restricting him always, and, at some time or other in nearly every man’s life, violently at issue with pride, ambition, or desire.  Over and above, and more powerful still as a provocative, is the Church’s claim to absolute authority  and universal moral dominion.”  Hilaire Belloc, How the Reformation Happened.

St. Barnabas is part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  It seems odd to say that Christianity “restricts” people.  Doesn’t God want us to be happy and carefree?  The answer is, yes, but you don’t get that way by ignoring God’s commands.  Think of a marathon runner.  She wants to do well and to enjoy the race.  Does she sit around in a thoughtless and carefree manner until the race starts?  No, she trains hard and heeds the advice of experts.  We want to flourish and live with the loving God forever.  We need to train, heeding the advice of Jesus, the Son of God.  But be warned:  God’s rules will inevitably conflict with our pride, ambition, and desire.  This is not because God wants to rain on our parade, but because he wants us to join the parade that is truly blessed for eternity.  The sin in us must someday die, and we might as well start now.

Haven’t bad things been done in the name of the Church?  Yes of course.  Do Christians claim to be better than other people?  No.  The Church is made up of flawed and sinful people.  Consequently, the Church’s authority does not rest on the goodness or wisdom of its mortal members, but on the wisdom of Jesus, through whom we were created.and who lived as a man to show us God’s ways.  When the Church listens to Jesus and follows his teachings, it does well. When the Church forgets its mission, it does poorly.  That is why our focus must always be on Jesus and that is why the Church is always reforming itself.  It’s an exciting ride, and you are welcome to join.

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Ascension Day

Forty days after Easter we celebrate the Lord’s Ascension to the Father. A Mass to recall this event will be held at St. Barnabas on Thursday evening, May 30th at 7:00 pm. We recognize this event in anticipation of Pentecost. That day concludes the Great 50 days between Easter and Pentecost. We then recall the gift of the Holy Ghost, the comforter.

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Old Words

One of the glories of the Anglican tradition is our Prayer Book, which represents an earnest effort to combine Biblical texts into a theologically sound and eloquent expression of Christian worship.  Despite its many merits, the Prayer Book (our version was published in 1928) contains some old words and phrases that could cause confusion, particularly because some words have changed meaning over time.  The Anglican Church in North America has just published a modern language version of the Prayer Book intended to address this issue.  Until that new version is widely accepted, however, the following notes may be helpful.

 Comfort.  Many prayers talk about God comforting us, or providing comfortable words.  In its original meaning, comfort means to strengthen (same root as fortitude). 

Vouchsafe.  This means literally to promise or guaranty that something is safe. The meaning is to grant, particularly when used of someone of higher status (like God).  So ask God, vouchsafe to bless us, which means to condescend to give us a blessing.

Grace.  We ask for God’s grace, or we ask God to be gracious towards us.  These days, grace and graceful are words we use to describe figure skaters.  The original meaning of grace is a free gift provided by one who has no need to give it.  This was a huge concept for Reformation theologians, who emphasized how our salvation was a free gift of God, not something we had earned or could earn.

 Thee, thou and ye.  These older pronouns have been replaced in modern English by “you.”  Although obsolete, the older versions have two interesting features.  First, they distinguish between singular and plural as “you” does not (except in the South, where one can say “y’all”).  Second, they were an informal way of address.  The distinction remains in German (between “du” and “Sie”) and in French (between “tu” and “vous”).  In other words, when we address God using “thee” and “thou,” we are treating God, as a family member, which Jesus encouraged by teaching us to call God “Father” (in the Lord’s Prayer).  Unfortunately, some people, hearing God referred to as “thou,” assume that “thee” and “thou” are words of special reverence, and consequently you see people in movies referring to kings as “thou.”  The “common speech” use of “thee” and “thou” as familiar forms of address remains among the Quakers, who use it to signify that all are equal brothers and sisters in the service of God.

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What is this sin you speak of?

Christians are interested in sin for the same reason that the Seahawks are interested in knees.  Football players need to use their knees effectively in order to play well, but knees have inherent limitations.  By studying how knees work and by proper exercises, we can improve the performance of our knees, but there are limits.

Our objective is eternal life with God, the source of all life. Sin cuts us off from God.  By studying sin and by proper exercises, we can improve our performance, but there are limits.  Here are some particulars:

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The Creation of Adam – Michaelanelo

1.  Sin can be thought of in terms of rules.  God gave Adam and Eve one rule in the Garden of Eden (“Don’t eat that apple!”).  God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.  In each case, the rules proved too hard to keep.  So sin can be thought of in terms of rules.  But there is a deeper understanding.

 2.  Sin is part of our nature.  Why did Adam and Eve fail to keep the one rule?  Why did the Israelites fail to keep the Ten Commandments?  What is it that prevents us from making it through even one day without slipping up on our best intentions?  We seem to have some defect in our nature.

 3.  Sin separates us from God.  Just as failing to keep a promise to your brother separates you from your brother, so failing to keep the commandments of God separates us from God.  That is not good if our objective is eternal unity with God.

4.  The root of sin is rebellion against God.  The writer of Genesis understood this clearly.  When the serpent tempts Eve, he says, “Eat the apple and you will be like God!”  At root, our sin comes from rebellion against God because we really want to be in charge.  A current billboard advises, “Thrive your way!”  At a superficial level that is OK (like “enjoy yourself”), but at a deeper level the message is subversive.  We want to thrive our own way, to set our own agendas, ignoring God.  Imagine that the Seahawks show up at training camp and one says, “I have decided that I would like to photograph footballs this year, enough of this running around,” and another says, “I have decided to carry the ball into the stands every time I get it.”  The coach would be perplexed:  “Don’t you understand that our objective is to win games?”  At root, sin comes from rejection of God, as if our half-baked plans were more important than his offer of eternal life.  

5.  The (partial) cure for sin is submission to God.  Just as the Seahawks need to learn from their coach how their individual efforts can contribute to the overall team objective, we need to listen to God and learn how our efforts can contribute to our eternal life.  This is best done together with other Christians.  The more we can learn about and submit to God’s plans, the better off we will be.

6.  The final cure for sin is Christ.  No matter how hard we work, that defect in our nature will always be there.  Even the most saintly people have recorded their frustration in being unable, by their own efforts, to achieve perfect alignment with God’s will.  Jesus had to live and die for us because there was no other way to defeat sin.  The time will come when we will all stand before Jesus and the question will be, “Do you love and follow me?”  (This question would seem self-centered if anyone but the Lord were to ask it.)  Let us begin training now to give the joyful answer, “Lord, I love you, help me to love you more!”  That is the final cure for sin.

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Do We Need Jesus?

American folk music is rich with praise for the work of Jesus.  Consider this:

     What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

     What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

     What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

     To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

     To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

Without Jesus, is there really a dreadful curse in store for your soul and mine?  There are many today, even among those who call themselves Christians, who would deny it. God is love, they say, and so surely He will accept us as we are, knowing our failures and frailties.  As long as we are basically decent people, that is all He can reasonably expect. He would not curse us for what we cannot help being.  That view, though superficially soothing, has big problems.  It is impossible to read what Jesus actually said and conclude that he was here to affirm our decent imperfections. To the contrary, over and over he called people to repent, to turn away from their sins. He said he was here to die for our sins.  Why would he have to die if sin was just a minor annoyance?  He said, “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  This means that, compared to the holy God, every sin is a grave sin.

When the Apostle Paul was addressing the Greek leaders in Athens, this is how he explained the situation:

While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.  Acts 17:30-31.

 Notice that Paul says “all people everywhere” must repent, not just the people we might consider “real sinners.”  Every sin, every failure to meet God’s holy standard of perfection, is a grave sin. 

It is reported that some of the Athenians scoffed.  Our initial response to the demand to be “perfect” is rebellion:  “That’s unreasonable, that’s impossible!”  And of course it is impossible for any of us, no matter how decent, to be perfect.  So how can God expect us to do the impossible?  The answer is he doesn’t.  Jesus came to us, to live and to die, to save us from the consequence of sin. And what is the consequence of sin?  It is separation from God, the holy source of all true love.  That is the “dreadful curse” referred to in the song. How do we escape the dreadful curse of separation from God?  When Jesus was asked this question, his answer was “Follow me.”  Following Jesus requires a fundamental change in our attitude from “I’m doing pretty well, I’m sure God knows that I am really a decent sort of person,” to “I have fallen short of God’s holiness, I have no ability to save myself, I rely entirely on the undeserved gift of God in Christ, help me, Lord Jesus!”

 In the Anglican liturgy, we say that the burden of our sins is “intolerable.”  This is very counter-cultural today.  Many of us (sadly) find our sins to be perfectly tolerable.  But it has nothing to do with feelings.  It is as if one were to say, “That bridge won’t tolerate the weight of truck traffic.”  The bridge has no feelings, but it will fail if overloaded.  We are all overloaded with sin and, however we feel about it, our souls will not bear the weight when Jesus comes to judge the world.  Our only hope (and it is a glorious hope!) is that on that day Jesus will stand beside us and say, “This is my servant, save him for my sake.”  

 So the answer to the question in the title is yes, we do need Jesus.  How do we follow him?  We join with other Christians and worship him with readings from the Bible, confession of sin, prayers for restoration, praise for God, and the sacramental meal of bread and wine that he commanded.  That is what we do at St. Barnabas, following the Anglican tradition.  Join us.

The Light of the World  by William Holman Hunt

 

 

 

 

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More on Bread and Wine

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The Passover meal was (and is) a memorial of the Israelites’ escape from bondage in Egypt through God’s miraculous aid.  At his last Passover meal before his death, Jesus made the mysterious statement that the bread and wine were his body and blood and that his followers should “do this in remembrance of me.”  Later, his followers understood that Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection had somehow freed them from sin, evil, and death, and they adopted the custom of meeting on Sundays (the day of resurrection) and joining in a communal meal featuring bread and wine, telling the story of Jesus’ last supper over and over, week by week.  This ceremony has come to be called “communion” and the “Eucharist” (from a Greek word meaning thanksgiving) and the “Mass” (from the Latin words of dismissal: “ite, missa est”).  

 What happens when we do this?  Philosophers and theologians have speculated; no one can fully explain it.  The Church has said that it is a means by which God gives us gifts, primarily the gift of himself.  But when the Son of God, who was there when the stars were created, asks you to “do this in remembrance of me,” you do it.  We can be sure of one thing:  what the loving God wants us to do is good for us.  But it is not something to be engaged in casually.  It is not like a drop-in buffet that we can take or leave alone.  It is part of a life-long commitment to following Jesus.  It is practice for the time when we will be faced with the choice:  live with the loving God forever in bliss, or fall into unreality and despair.  Choose life, choose God, commit to following him.  That’s what we are trying to do at St. Barnabas.

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When Jesus shows up

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April 27, 2019 – Saturday Morning

Brethren, the time is short.1

Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not.2 The world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.3 As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Death is swallowed up in victory.4 Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.5 To live is Christ, and to die is gain.6

Cast not away … your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.7 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.7 The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.9
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11Co 7:29; 2Job 14:1,2; 31Jo 2:17; 41Co 15:22,54; 5Rom 14:8; 6Phi 1:21; 7Heb 10:35-37; 8Rom 13:12; 91Pe 4:7;

From Bagster’s Daily Light (KJV)

 

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Why Did the French Priest Save the Body of Christ From the Fire?

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During the terrible fire at Notre Dame in Paris, a group of fire fighters and volunteers worked to save irreplaceable treasures from the building.  It was said that a French priest had carried out the “body of Christ” and one reporter thought this meant some kind of statue.  In fact, the phrase refers to the consecrated bread used in the Eucharist (or Mass).  What’s the deal?  

At the Last Supper before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples that the bread shared at the Jewish festival of Passover would take on a new meaning.  The apostle Paul explained this to the new Christians in Corinth (I Corinthians 11):  “Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you.  Do this for the remembrance of me.”  Over the centuries, Christians have broken bread together with prayers and spoken of the bread as the “body of Christ.”  Early critics of Christianity heard about this practice and accused the Christians of cannibalism. 

St. Barnabas, along with other churches in the Anglican (and Roman, and Eastern) traditions, holds that the Eucharist (which comes from a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving”) is not just a meal of fellowship and reminiscence.  It is an actual participation in Jesus’ gift of his Body.  How this works is a mystery but that it works is, we believe, guaranteed by Jesus’ own words. 

Notre Dame, like many churches, kept a portion of consecrated bread for use between services.  It was because he believed that consecrated bread is not just ordinary bread that the French priest made the effort, presumably at some risk to himself, to bring it safely out of the fire.

Watch this space for more about the Eucharist and why it is central to what we do at St. Barnabas.

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The Lord Risen

He is Risen Indeed!

The traditional greeting of Christians to celebrate Easter is “He Is Risen!”  Jesus had lots of good moral ideas, but he said some odd things too.  He said he was the Son of God, he predicted that he would be killed in Jerusalem, and (most odd of all) that after three days he would “rise again.”  Even his closest followers didn’t know what that meant.  When Jesus was arrested they scattered and hid from the authorities.  Then on the third day it was reported that his tomb was empty.  Where could he be?  Then he appeared, alive, to his followers.  This was no resuscitation:  he had truly been dead (one thing the Romans knew how to do was to kill people).  So what did this mean?  Jesus said he had overcome death and that his followers, even though they would die, yet would they live.  A life beyond death!  A life beyond sin and evil!  A life with God!  Jesus’ rising to life after death showed that these things were possible.  That’s why Christians rejoice and say, “He Is Risen!”  Join us and learn about this new life.

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Holy Week 2019

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April 14th through April 21st 2019

April 14 – Palm Sunday – Regular Sunday Services:

8:00am & 10:30am

April 18 – Maundy Thursday Service – 7:00 pm

Vigil at Altar of Repose

April 19 – Good Friday Services Noon & 7:00 pm

April 20 – Easter Vigil – New Light 7:00 pm

April 21 – Easter – 9:00 am

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