Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Monday, September 21, 2015

St. Matthew- 21 September

Today is the feast of St. Matthew, Apostles and Evangelist. The Collect of the Day mentions his background and points to his example in leaving behind greed to follow Christ.

O Almighty God, who by thy blessed Son didst call Matthew from the receipt of custom to be an Apostle and Evangelist; Grant us grace to forsake all covetous desires, and inordinate love of riches, and to follow the same thy Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen. 
The Gospel from  St. Matthew 9: 9-13 gives the account of Matthew's call to follow Christ:
And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
Matthew also seem to have been called Levi, and ancient tradition ascribes the authorship of the first Gospel to him. He may have also been a missionary among Jews and a martyr. Otherwise, our Gospel account contains most of what we know of Matthew. Although we are not fond of taxes, most modern Westerners have a hard time imagining the position of tax collectors in first century Palestine. First, for patriotic Jews, tax collectors were servants of hated oppressors. They were traitors to their own people. Secondly, tax collectors were religiously suspect. They dealt with money imprinted with idolatrous symbols, they were constantly in contact with people and things that were ritually unclean, and their lifestyle did not make it easy to participate in sacrifices and prayers. Thirdly, many tax collectors were morally reprehensible. The Romans contracted local tax collectors to gather a certain amount of money for the Empire, but the collectors were free to gather as much as they wanted by any means they wanted. Tax collecting was often similar to organized crime. Collectors could use the means that seemed convenient, included blackmail and extortion. And if a victim lacked cash, various goods and favors could be demanded.

So most tax collectors were indeed "sinners" that Pharisees and other respectable people avoided. Eating with tax collectors brought ritual uncleanness and at least a hint of moral taint. Yet, Jesus associated with such people and raised questions about His good judgment. The Pharisees put Jesus" disciples on the spot, and overhearing them, Jesus replied. He was the spiritual physician concerned about the sin-sick souls. He was calling tax-collectors like Matthew to repentance. Of course, the irony was that everyone, including the Pharisees was sin-sick and needed to be called to repentance.

On this feast of St. Matthew, may we see ourselves in the example of Matthew.  Like him, we are all sinners whom Christ calls to repent. And like him, we are sinners who can be called and healed by the gracious mercy of Christ. Like Matthew, we can turn from sin, follow Christ, and serve His Gospel.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Ember Reflections upon the Ordained Ministry and the Church

I have written about the history and meaning of the seasonal Ember days a number of times. These days always lead me to reflect upon the meaning and purpose of the ordained ministry. This week, I have been thinking about the Anglican teachings on the ministry and their relationship to teaching about the Church. In recent months, encounters with Christians of other backgrounds have highlighted the special perspective of Anglicans (I started to write "unique perspective" but then mused that Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholics, and some Scandinavian Lutherans have shared a similar perspective).

From the early years of the Christianity onward, both the ordained ministry and the Church itself have been viewed from two directions: 1) from the bottom up, and 2) from the top down. The first perspective focuses upon individuals baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptized persons who respond to grace by faith are the Church militant. In a sense, the Church is present wherever there is a baptized believer and even more when two or three are gathered in Christ's name. From this body of baptized believers, the ordained ministry arises. Even the most hierarchical churches expect candidates for ministry to be related to a local congregation. Unfortunately, Christians have often distorted this side of the Church. Many, especially Protestants, have stressed the individual and the congregation so much that they ignore the larger Church. At the opposite extreme, Christians involved in larger structures have often ignored the individual or the local parish.

The second perspective on the Church focuses upon the Apostles and the continuation of their ministry through the historic ministry of bishops, presbyters/priests, and deacons. As best we can tell, the Apostles sent or appointed other men to continue their work in various places. And certainly, as the Apostles died off, the universal Church saw need for order and connections centered in the ministry of bishops. Through their oversight, preaching, teaching, and special sacramental functions, the Church carried out her mission. Individual believers and local congregations looked to bishops and other clergy as guardians of the faith and sacramental grace. Unfortunately, many Christians have also distorted this side of the Church. Some bishops and other clergy have over-emphasized the larger organization and forgotten that the Church also flows from all the baptized and local groups of the faithful. And higher prelates (archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs, cardinals, popes) have ignored that local bishops are central and that the highest dignity of any prelate stems from the simple fact that he is a bishop. At the other extreme, many lower clergy and laity have rebelled against abuses by dismissing the importance of the historic ministry.

Anglicanism at its best keeps the two dimensions of the Church together. On the "micro" side, we know that baptized believers, individually and in local congregations are basic. In a sense, they are the Church throughout the world. Yet, they do not stand alone. On the "macro" side, the Church depends upon the historic episcopate with the assisting ministries of presbyters and deacons. Bishops are the universal ministers of the universal Church. They are supposed to be the guarantors of the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ. On Ember Days and always, let us pray for the Church from both perspectives, for the ministry of every baptized believer and for the ministry of all true bishops and other clergy.