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, August 13, 2018

Trinity XI- Ways to Pray

Trinity XI                    St. Luke 18:9-14                     12 August 2018
                   Sermon Notes by   the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D                         
The parable of the Pharisee and tax-collector is about two men praying. Much can be said about Christian prayer. The main emphasis today is on the mental and spiritual attitudes for prayer- and by extension, about attitudes for all of life. Like the two sons in the Parable of the Prodigal Son two weeks ago, here we have two contrasting characters- a self-righteous person and a humble repentant one.

According to St. Luke, our Lord told this parable to some respectable religious people. And for such people in Palestine, starting with a Pharisee going to the Temple to pray seemed positive. Many Pharisees took their religious obligations seriously; they tried to do those things that they thought God wanted. In our parable, the Pharisee seems doing a good thing- he’s praying and thanking God.
The original hearers may have had a slight surprise at the mention of a tax collector going to the Temple to pray. Tax collectors were not noted for being pious, but this one seemed to be making an effort. He seemed humble and repentant.

Up to this point, many hearers were probably comfortable with the parable. Yet, we know that Jesus wanted people to move beyond their comfort zone in religious matters. His main point came in the shocking ending of the parable. He stressed, “I tell you, this man [that is, the tax collector] went down to his house justified rather than the other [that is, the Pharisee]; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Jesus was implying that there were no really “good people.” In reality, there were only different kinds of sinners. And sinners are not distinguished as much by their deeds as they are by their attitudes.

Both the Pharisee and the tax collector are sinners. The Pharisee has done many good deeds, but he has failed to realize that he is still a sinner. He manifests spiritual pride before God. He ignores that any good thing in his life comes from God and forgets that God still holds him accountable. So the Pharisee is really a terrible kind of sinner- a proud and unrepentant sinner.

The tax collector, on the other hand, has probably done many bad things. His life is far from pure and respectable. Yet, from a spiritual point of view, he is on the right track. He acknowledges his sinful condition and knows that he must depend upon divine grace and mercy. He prays with a better attitude. This humble and repentant sinner is justified- set right- because he trusts in God rather than in himself.

As church-going Christians, we are probably aware of the teaching of this parable. We know that God humbles the self-righteous and lifts up the humbled sinner. Yet, although we know this, sometimes it doesn’t sink in. One mistake we make is to ignore our own self-righteous tendencies. It is easy for Christians to start thinking like the Pharisee. We can easily become caught up in simple outward performance. Our actions may be appropriate while our thoughts and attitudes are bad. Such attitudes are spiritually dangerous. They damage our souls and people around us.

What all human beings need is true repentance before God. All of us need to stop trusting in ourselves. All of us need to stop excusing ourselves by comparing ourselves to the failings of others. To be right with God, each person must truly regret his/her failings, realize his/her need for divine mercy, and trust in God alone to take away our sins.

Although today's Gospel is mainly about spiritual attitudes in prayer, there is a subtheme. There are hints about some postures or mechanics of prayer. Over the last 150 years, some Anglicans have come to assume that one always has to stand for praise and hymns, sit for instruction and kneel for confession and intercession. That is an interesting summary, but worship hasn’t always been that way. In the Bible and Jewish tradition, people sometimes knelt for prayer, more rarely prostrated themselves, and rarely sat. But most often, they stood for prayer, as both men do in our Gospel.

Standing has some practical advantages. Most people can stand longer than they can kneel. It takes less space and was certainly more practical in the days before pews and cushions. Standing is certainly better on our knees, especially past age 50. Furthermore, some ancient church fathers even said kneeling in church should be limited to penitential days such as Fridays or Lenten weekdays, but not on Sundays, Easter or other feast days.

And if we look at the instructions in the Prayer Book, they tell us when Cranmer and his comtempraries thought it was important to kneel. For example, in the Communion services of the 1500’s, the instruction for the congregation to kneel only occurs for the Ten Commandments and responses, the General Confession-Absolution, the Prayer of Humble Access and the Reception of Communion.

By these historical observations, I’m not saying that Anglicans should not kneel when we are able, but I am saying that we should not be legalistic or judgmental about it. Kneeling can be a fitting and meaningful way to pray, but it does not in itself make a person more holy.

Another posture implied by our parable concerns the head and the eyes. Despite a bad attitude, the Pharisee starts by praise, and presumably he follows common Jewish practice and prays with head and eyes slightly lifted.  We know that Jesus and the early Christians often prayed this way.  The tax collector, on the other hand, is emphasizing confession of sin, and so it was fitting that his head and eyes be downcast. Again we must be open to liturgical context and to personal needs in prayer.

Now to a third matter- the position of our hands in prayer. In Jewish and Christian tradition, there have been two common but different traditions about hands in prayer. One is with the fingers and palms of both hands joined in some way. This posture stresses quietness, introspection and meditation. The other is with hands and arms slightly extended and lifted near shoulder level. This posture emphasizes praise and openness to God. In Scripture, it is referred to as lifting up of hands. It was common among clergy and laity in the early church, and still expected of priests in parts of the liturgy. However, even in the ancient church, there were problems with lifting hands. The church father Tertullian (about 200 AD) warns, “We more commend our prayers to God with modesty and humility- with not even our hands too loftily elevated…” Unfortunately, in our time, some people who raise their hands seem more extravagant and less modest or humble.

In conclusion, Christ’s parable of the Pharisee and the publican points us toward proper worship of God.  Every human being needs to turn aside from daily activities on a regular basis in order worship and pray. Prayer involves both our inner attitudes and our external postures and gestures.
Let us pray for and pray in humble faith. And whatever our postures and gestures- standing, kneeling or sitting, eyes up or down, hands joined or lifted- they should reflect both our praise of God and our humble dependence on divine mercy and grace.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Trinity IX- Two Sons and a Gracious Father

The familiar Gospel from St. Luke 15 has been known to generations of English-speaking Christians as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Some contemporary readers or hearers may think the "prodigal" is an old word for "sinful" or perhaps "ungrateful." Now certainly the younger son in the story was both sinful and ungrateful, but  prodigal really means "wasteful" or "irresponsible" (especially financially). Many sermons (including some of mine) have focused on this son. And his story is dramatic. He is self-centered and selfish. He doesn't appreciate the grace of his father. He is determined to have his inheritance and do his own thing. In the process, he sinks about as low as a respectable Jew could imagine- in a pagan land, hungry, broke, dirty, in a pg pen, envying pig food. Then he remembers all the love, care and grace of his father. So he repents and heads home, trusting in the mercy of the father.

There is also another son who has stayed home and done his duty. Yet, he hasn't really appreciated the graciousness of his father. He has taken the good things for granted. And he resents his father forgiving his prodigal brother. He thinks that he has earned more consideration from the father.He is self-righteous, and in a different way, the responsible but resentful son is as self-centered and selfish as his brother. He too is a sinner who needs to repent and learn to be grateful for his father's unmerited love and grace.

This parable is really teaching us about what St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:5, " grace ye are saved."  Almost every human being has had times when we have been irresponsible prodigals who have wasted our heavenly Father's gifts and fallen into bad ways of living.  In such circumstances, we need to come to ourselves, repent, return to our Father and depend on His loving grace.
However, sometimes we may have avoided the most obvious forms of sin. We may have tried to be good and responsible sons and daughters of God. We have done our duties. We may have been outwardly obedient in most moral and spiritual matters. Yet, we still have a natural tendency as fallen beings to trust in our merits rather than God's grace. So we too need to repent, be more thankful  and learn to depend upon divine grace. No matter what sort of son or daughter of God we may be, we must realize that it is only by grace that we are saved.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Trinity VIII- Beware

Trinity VIII                  Matthew 7:15, 21                  22 July 2018
                Sermon Notes by the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.

How do you react when religion, faith or beliefs are mentioned- especially outside a church building? There are two common responses. Some people become nervous or uncomfortable because they don’t like religious discussion. Other people of differing persuasions are well disposed to discussions of religion. They assume that professing some faith, especially a Judeo-Christian one, is basically good.
In fact, there are drawbacks to each of these responses to religion. Those who are skeptical about all religion ignore the spiritual dimensions of the universe and misunderstand some basic human traits. The opposite response is also has problematic. Assuming that all or most religion is good also ignores biblical truth. For while the religious impulse is natural, not all religion is the same. There is bad religion as well as good.

In today’s gospel, Christ warns us about bad religion. In St. Matthew 7:15, He begins, “Beware of false prophets…” Then in Matt. 7:21 He concludes, “not everyone who saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven….:
During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ exposed a great deal of bad religion. Some religious people opposed Him strongly. Some others claimed to support Him at times, but they were not really committed to Jesus.

The false prophets purported to be religious leaders. They claimed to serve goodness, and they would often appear harmless (they were in sheep’s clothing). But inwardly, they were like hungry wolves in the midst of a flock of sheep. They were really selfish, out for themselves, and destructive.
False disciples honored Jesus and used some religious words without meaning anything. They might give lip service to high principles, but they did not really care about God’s will. Their hearts, minds and souls were not really committed to Christ’s Gospel, and they would not produce good fruit.
The problems caused by false prophets and false disciples have not been confined to New Testament times. Bad religion has been a recurring danger in church history, and it is a serious problem for Christianity in our day.

One might argue that false prophets and false disciples are the most serious threat to Christianity in our time. Of course, the challenges of Islam, neo-Marxism and atheism are significant and endanger many Christians, body and soul. But fake Christians do great damage to Christian faith, community and witness- from within.
There is still a lot of bad religion making a false show of piety. And it can come from any branch of Christianity. There are people who call themselves charismatic, evangelical and catholic or Anglo-Catholic who are selfish and insincere and use Christian labels for their  own bad purposes.
There is also a lot of contemporary churchmanship that is more concerned with secular standards and political correctness than with eternal Christian truth. There are false Christians who are more interested in organization or denomination than in Biblical Faith. There are people more dedicated to social respectability or worldly acceptance than to Christian morality.

Such false Christianity sometimes manages to appear good for a while, but in the long run, this kind of religion does not produce the lasting good fruit. Such false Christianity actually tends to hinder the true spread of the Gospel and give all religion a bad reputation.

 So what do Christ’s warnings about bad religion mean for us?  This is a deep and complicated issue, but today I would briefly suggest two points. First, we need to take Christ’s warnings seriously. We must remain aware that all religion is not good. We should not become complacent or gullible in religious matters. Some things wrapped in a Christian label do not deserve our acceptance. Thus, we must be on our guard against false prophets and false disciples. We must make practical judgments based on our loyalty to the Scriptures, the Creeds and the basic commandments.
Secondly, besides warning about bad religion, our Gospel today encourages us to grow deeper in our commitments to Jesus Christ. Pious words can be a start, but our Lord asks for more than a few pious words. He asks His followers for a living and true faith in Him and His message. He wants His Gospel to permeate our whole approach to life. He asks us to care for and cultivate the tree of faith so that it can produce much good fruit. So let us sincerely profess and live out our loyalty to Christ and keep Him at the center of all that we say and do.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Trinity V- Holy Fear

In the gospel for Trinity V from St. Luke 5, Simon Peter reacts to Jesus' miracle of the great catch with fear. His fear is two-sided. Peter recognizes his own sinfulness before Jesus. Peter also recognizes the overwhelming power of God at work in Jesus. Such fear is both a natural reaction and a religious virtue.
Unfortunately, many well-intentioned modern Christians do not see the value of such fear. In several different Bible studies over the years, I have had pious church-goers argue against the value of holy fear. They claim that fear is just a hold-over from what they view as primitive Old Testament religion. They maintain that believers should always function at higher levels with values such as love, mercy, hope, confidence, peace, etc.

Such claims are based on high ideals, but they are not the whole truth. Although Christians know to look beyond Old Testament law, the Hebrew Scriptures still contain the same basic message as the New Testament. The fear of the Lord is still the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Psalm 111:10). As a human being, even the Messiah has an appropriate spirit of fear of the LORD (Isaiah 11:2). The fear of the Lord is one of the seven traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit. Such fear is reverence and awe, but it is more basic than some polite reverence or aesthetic awe. It is the natural and primal reaction of the fallen and finite human being before the righteous and infinite God.

Thus, Peter is right to have a holy fear of divine power at work in Jesus. And so should we. Holy fear is not the whole story. Hopefully, in our spiritual journey, we move into other reactions such as faith, hope and love. Yet, if an element of fear is not present in us, then we do not truly appreciate our own frailty and propensity toward sin or God's almighty and infinite holiness.

Friday, June 29, 2018

St. Peter the Apostle- June 29

The Apostle Peter is an important figure in Christian history and an interesting personality. Much has been said and written about him over the centuries, often in the course of theological and jurisdictional disputes between the church of Rome and other parts of the Church. Although this post will not go into all the issues, a key passage is the Gospel from St. Matthew 16: 13-19. Here Simon Peter confesses his faith that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God. Because of this faith, our Lord calls Peter the rock of the Church, the new community of faith. Peter is the first minister of the church, but similar commissions will soon be given to other Apostles. Furthermore, despite his important confession, Peter is far from infallible, even in matters of faith. Within a few verses of his confession of faith, St. Matthew points out that Peter resists Christ's teachings about the way of the cross and serves the cause of Satan.

So let us honor St. Peter, his faith, his leadership, his service, his courage (most of the time) and his eventual martyrdom. However, let us not make the mistake of thinking that he or any other mere human being can be infallible for even a short period. May we have the grace to follow his good points and to avoid his errors.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Trinity III- Christian Individualism

One can hear all sorts of things about the individual human being. Some people stress the individual in all areas of life. Some others react by down-playing the importance of the individual; they may stress the human group- family, community, society, nation, humanity. Depending on the circumstances, both emphases can be appropriate.

However, in light of today's Gospel from the beginning of St. Luke 15, let us think a bit about the spiritual value of the human individual. One lost sheep is important enough to leave the rest of the flock to find. One soul that repents leads to heavenly rejoicing. This passage points to a general teaching of Scripture: the supreme human value of the individual soul and its relationship to God. This is the basis of any true Christian individualism. While this value may have an impact in all areas of human life, Christian individualism is not about philosophy, politics, economics, psychology, or societal building blocks. True individualism is spiritual; it is about God the Father reaching out in grace through Christ and the Holy Spirit to save individual souls.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Trinity II- Excuses

It has been a while since I commented on this Sunday's Gospel ( As I looked over the readings this week, I was truck by the theme of excuses. Lately, I have been noticing how often I hear excuses on all sorts of subjects. Maybe that is partly because I am a clergyman. People often seem to feel the need to make excuses to religious leaders- maybe seeking some sort of "absolution lite."  We also seem to live in an age of excuses. People make all sorts of excuses, great and small. They always seem to have extenuating circumstances for every major or minor failing.

Such human behavior seems to have been around since the Garden of Eden, and we certainly see it in our Gospel from St. Luke 14:16ff. Using the comparison of an ordinary feast, our Lord points to God's gracious invitation and the human tendency to make excuses. Such excuses really harm the one making the excuse, not the divine host. God asks for our fellowship. If we turn from His grace, we deprive ourselves. He may be offended, but He can always find other guests who will be grateful.

Weekly and daily, God invites us to spend time with Him. He asks us to read His Word and pray, publicly and privately. He offers to feed us in the Lord's Supper. And He hopes that we will accept His hospitality and fellowship with other guests. So any hesitations or excuses should be few and based on very serious circumstances. Rather than looking for excuses, let us accept the grace that God offers.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Trinity I- "Love, Love, Love"

Trinity I             I John 4:7- 21             3 June 2018
  Sermon Notes by the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.

Many human beings over the millennia have talked and sung about love. Especially since the late 1960's, popular culture has included a lot of talking and singing about love. A characteristic example is John Lennon's “All You Need is Love”. And the churches have been influenced by this popular culture. Of course, Christians have always spoken of love, but much of the talk in recent decades, even in the church, is far from Christian ideals. In contrast to such popular nonsense about love, this morning, let us spend a few minutes thinking about some New Testament views of love.

We begin by highlighting the beginning verses of our Epistle from I John 4:7-11, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

In this passage, the Greek term used for “love” is agape'. In Christian Greek, this love became clearly distinct from eros, “desire” and philos, “brotherly love.” This kind of love has its source in God; it is an attribute of the divine nature. “God is love.” Divine Love is creative and unselfish.
Such love, agape', is not some naive and syrupy sentiment. Love is not weak. It does not tolerate evil. It is powerful and holy or righteous. It is not selfish but it reaches out to care for the universe and created beings. According to divine wisdom, God's love may be applied in differing ways according to the circumstances. It may lift up the humble and bring down the proud. Love may strengthen the faint-hearted and punish the sinful. Divine love means that God is concerned about the true well-being of the one loved. He cares about our souls and works for our salvation, even in the worst worldly circumstances.

The clearest indications that human beings have about divine love cannot be separated from the life and saving work of Jesus Christ. As He Himself told us in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The ultimate goal of love is salvation and eternal fellowship with God. We see this in Jesus. He helped the poor and weak, and He rebuked the rich and proud. He chastised the self-righteous, and He forgave penitent sinners. He blessed those with even a trace of child-like faith in Him and His Father. And He gave Himself over to suffering and death for all who would turn to Him in faith.

Divine love is always there, and God's creatures benefit from it before they are even aware. The only condition attached to love is to accept it in faith. And once accepted, divine love should have results in our human lives. “..If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Although our particular expressions of love need wisdom, guidance and concrete expressions, true love does not start with us. It starts with God, especially in Christ, and asks us to respond. Because God first loves us, we love Him in response, and like Him, we love His creation and His creatures.

Like His love, our love should be powerful, committed, and unselfish. Unlike God, we remain fallen and fallible. Sometimes, we do not love as we should. And even when we do love, we don't always do so with strength or wisdom. We may love naively or inappropriately. We may not be tolerant enough, or we may be too tolerant of the wrong things. St Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:15 that we should speak “the truth in love.” We have trouble keeping love and truth together in the best ways. When we speak the truth, we may not be very loving. And when we try to be loving, we may hesitate to speak the truth. Love can be expressed through Christian courtesy, but there is a difference between being superficially polite and being loving. True love is more concerned about the long-term and eternal well-being of others than about their temporary and temporal comfort.

Therefore, let us heed Scriptural teachings about love. Let us avoid straying to the right or to the left. We must not avoid the danger of true divine love, and we must not substitute some cheap political or sentimental nonsense. If we must be foolish in loving, let it not be some artificial worldly propaganda from the movies or political activists of any kind. Rather if we are foolish, let it be the foolishness of the cross of Christ, the perfect love of God.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trinity Sunday 2018

Sermon Notes for Trinity Sunday    John 3:1-16    May 27 2018   
by the Rev. Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.

For over a thousand years, western Christians have emphasized the doctrine of the Holy Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost. This is fitting because the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost completes the steps of revelation of God in Three Persons.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not developed in detail in one place in Scripture, but it is supported by many passages. The Gospel from John 3 is a traditional one for this Sunday, and it deals with the Trinity as our Lord discusses Baptism and the new birth. This goes along with the commission to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 28: 19.  The Trinitarian emphasis continued in the Christian Church as Scriptural teachings about God were summarized in baptismal creeds such as the Latin Apostles’ Creed and the Greek creed which developed into the Nicene Creed.
Although a great mystery and although the history of and doctrinal discussions about the Trinity can be complicated, the basic concern of the doctrine is really simple: The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us about God and His love and grace, about His redeeming purposes. So most of us can best appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity by looking at its application to Christian life and devotion. Today, let us briefly consider the Trinity in the context of three familiar areas of Christian experience.

First, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is related to Christian morality. God the Father has created human beings with a basic capacity to learn to distinguish right and wrong. God the Son came into this world and revealed to human beings in the clearest way the divine moral will for our lives. Jesus the Christ has given us both clear teachings and perfect examples to guide us in our moral choices. By His death and resurrection, God the Son, Jesus Christ, has freed us from eternal slavery to sin and death and offered us His grace for new life. And God the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings us the love, the grace and the truth of the Father and of the Son. The Spirit gives us grace, wisdom and guidance in making moral choices. And when we do stumble, the Spirit also helps us repent and seek renewal.

Secondly, we can appreciate the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of Christian prayer. Although Scripture and devotional history contain examples of prayers addressed to all three divine persons, most of our prayers, including the prayer Christ taught us, are addressed directly to God the Father as creator and ruler of the universe. We offer these prayers to the Father through the Son, in Jesus’ name or for Christ’s sake. In other words, we ask God the Son, who has lived as one of us, to pray with us and for us. We dare to approach the Father’s throne of grace because His Son is our Savior, and because the Son still intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. We offer our prayers by the inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit. The divine Spirit at work in our hearts, minds, and souls motivates and inspires us to pray. If we are open to Him, and sometimes even when we are not very open, the Holy Spirit guides our thoughts and words. As St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:26, the Spirit even helps us utter wordless prayers when we are too tired, sick or overwhelmed to know how to pray.

Thirdly, we can relate the doctrine of the Trinity to the Bible. God the Father, creator and ruler of the universe, transcends human understanding, but He has chosen to reveal Himself to His creatures. Although our Creator has provided some hints about Himself in nature and in human consciousness and conscience, the essential points of God’s self-disclosure are in the Holy Scriptures. The Bible points out God’s power expressed in the creation of the universe and of human beings. The Bible points to the rebellion and fall of human beings and of some angels. The Bible also shows the Father’s loving desire and plan to redeem fallen humanity. Although Holy Scripture is the Word of God in written form, in a more basic and essential way, God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the incarnate and eternal Word (John 1). In Genesis 1, it is the Word of God that is the means of creation. Through His living and spoken Word, God called the people of the Old Testament and spoke to and through patriarchs and prophets. In the New Testament, the obvious center of Gospels and Epistles is the living Word, Jesus. In all the messages of the apostles, the spoken and written words are meant to reveal Christ. We are to respect the written letters and words, but our basic faith is Christ the Eternal Word who is the living center of Scripture..
And we can’t consider the Bible without the role of God the Holy Spirit. The moving of God’s Spirit led patriarchs, prophets, wise men, scribes and apostles of Israel and the Church to pass on the oral and written words that contain the divine Word. The Holy Spirit also worked among believers to distinguish the truly sacred writings from other religious documents. And the Spirit has worked over the centuries to preserve and spread the canon of Scripture. The Spirit still works to help us to understand and apply the divine meaning of Scripture to our faith and to our lives.

In summary, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the great mystery which summarizes the teachings of the Christian Faith. This doctrine is rooted in the Bible, and summarized in the ancient creeds. The Trinity has been a topic for theological analysis and doctrinal discussion. Yet, as with other mysteries of Christian faith, the doctrine of the Trinity is asking for something more than merely an intellectual or mental response. This mystery is asking us for the response of living faith. To have a true appreciation of the Trinity, we need to experience it in Christian life and devotion- in contexts such as Christian morality, Christian prayer, and a faithful approach to Holy Scripture.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost and Preaching the Gospel

The traditional BCP lesson appointed for the Epistle on Pentecost is from Acts 2:1- 11. It concludes, "we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God." What are these Galilean Apostles proclaiming? Although inspired by the Holy Spirit, and although Peter cites Isaiah about pouring out the Spirit, the core message is not about the Holy Spirit; the heart of the proclamation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A few verses later, Peter makes this clear. In Acts 2: 22-24, he preaches, "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it." This is the heart of the Gospel, the Christ-centered core of the Christian proclamation.

The proclamation in Acts is consistent with the Prayer Book Gospel for last Sunday. In St. John 15:26, Christ tells the Apostles, "When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me." The whole point about Pentecost is not about the mechanics of inspiration. And although we honor the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new way, Pentecost is not about the Spirit alone. The point is that the Holy Spirit testifies about and for the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. The Spirit of Truth enables Christ's followers to be faithful witnesses to and proclaimers of the Gospel of salvation. How the Spirit came and the variety of gifts bestowed are of interest, but the main issue is that the presence of the Holy Spirit brings faith in and witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ, the divine Word, God the Son.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ascension Day 2018

As I have mentioned before, Ascension Day is a significant but often neglected observance rooted in Scripture. I was heartened to hear its biblical significance mentioned on an evangelical radio station this morning. And the Anglican parish where I assist will observe it with Morning Prayer and two Eucharists, but in general, Ascension is overlloked- even on the following Sunday.

Last year, I discussed several of its meanings ( Today I am struck by the fact that one purpose of Christ's Ascension was to intercede for us at the Father's right hand. Rogation days have reminded us to pray; Ascension comforts us with a reminder that Christ is always praying for us as He watches over us from heaven.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Christian Prayer- Rogation Sunday

Fifth Sunday after Easter   St. John 16: 24-33
Sermon Notes by the Reverend Dennis Washburn, Ph.D.

In English church tradition, this Sunday has been known as Rogation Sunday. “Rogation” comes from one of the Latin verbs meaning “pray” in St. John 16.
In today’s Gospel from John 16, Christ talks to His disciples about prayer. In John 16:23, Christ promises His followers, “…Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.  In the next verse, He stresses the newness of the situation. “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (ESV) So let us spend a few minutes thinking of Christian prayer.

First, at a basic level, praying to the Father in Christ’s name refers to certain expressions used in our prayers- “in Jesus’ name,” “for Christ’s sake,” “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  And the greatest prayer we offer in Jesus’ name is the words which He taught in the Lord’s Prayer. All these words are important in themselves. They are signs of the ways that Christians approach the Almighty.

Secondly, in Biblical tradition, the name is an expression of a person’s essence, identity or spirit. The name is closely related to a person’s character, thoughts, and deeds. So praying in Christ’s name means appealing to the nature and character of the Christ, the redeemer of God’s people. It implies that the merits of Christ will be applied to those who sincerely and faithfully call out in His name.

Thirdly, praying in Christ’s name signifies that we hope to model our thoughts and deeds, indeed all aspects of our lives, upon Christ’s example. Aware of our own sinfulness, in faith we hope to approach the Father with the mind and spirit of Jesus. We seek to pray as our Lord Himself would pray to the Father in our situations. We don’t just ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” but also “How would Jesus pray?”

As Christians, we always pray as members of the Body of Christ. Like our Savior, we must always be ready and willing to pray for the Father’s will to be done. We must subordinate our personal opinions and preferences to the greater divine plan for salvation. When we pray with Christ-like faith in the heavenly Father, then our prayers are most truly offered in Jesus’ name.

Our Lord tells us that God answers prayers that are truly in His name. Yet, even such prayers may not be answered exactly like we imagine or hope. Our personal wishes may not be the best when viewed from the divine light of history and eternity.
In Gethsemane, even Christ offered two kinds of prayers. He preferred to avoid the sufferings of the cross, but He also humbly submitted to the greater divine plan for salvation- “Thy will be done.” And through such a faithful and humble attitude, He overcame the tribulations of this world (Jn. 16:33).

As followers of Christ, our prayers should reflect His perspective. In this life, our preferences are conditioned by our physical circumstances and by our human minds. But despite our situations and trials in this world, we seek to follow Jesus. Despite all our feelings of the moment, we must remain committed to the wise and loving plans of God our heavenly Father; the fulfillment of His will must remain our priority in prayer as in other aspects of life.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Good Shepherd

Depending on which lectionary one follows, either the Second Sunday after Easter or the Fourth Sunday of Easter focus on the theme of the Good Shepherd. Some reflections on this theme follow.

In St. John 10:11, our Lord boldly proclaims, “I am the good shepherd.”  There are two aspects of Jesus’ claim. 1) Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah-a leader like King David in many ways. 2) By calling Himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus of Nazareth is also moving His claim to another level. In John’s Gospel, “I am” sayings from Jesus are reflections of God’s name in Exodus. Furthermore, Jesus does not merely say “I’m a good shepherd.” He says, “I am the good shepherd.”

God Himself is the Good Shepherd of Israel, and this claim by Jesus is a reflection of Jesus’ unique relationship with God the Father. So Jesus is making a powerful claim. He is both the human Messiah and the divine Son of God. He is the great leader of the chosen people in both ways. 

Jesus cares for God’s flock. He nourishes their souls.  Jesus is not a hired hand who will abandon the sheep in hard times. The sheep recognize Him; they know that He is worthy of their trust. He looks after them even when it hurts Him. He lays down His life for their sakes, and Jesus Christ has the power to take up His life again for the sake of the flock. Even from heaven, He continues to watch over His human flock, intercede for them, and send His Holy Spirit to guide them.

Easter is a season that stresses our hope in Christ, and knowing that Christ is our Good Shepherd highlights such hope in a special way. All too often we are like wandering sheep, but we do have a leader that we can trust. Easter is a celebration and a proclamation of the depth of our Shepherd’s love and of His victorious power. So let us heed Him and have faith in Him. Let us be loyal and stay near our Good Shepherd. Let us accept His guidance and nourish our souls with His spiritual food and drink, with His Word and Sacraments.

Monday, April 09, 2018

First Sunday after Easter- Christ's Peace

The Gospel for Easter I in the BCP (or Easter II  B in the revised 3-year lectionary) is from John 20:19ff. Among other things, it shows the risen Lord Jesus coming to the fearful disciples. He greets them with the words, "Peace be unto you." Of course, this was a common Jewish greeting (shalom alechem). Yet, this common greeting has a special meeting in Eastertide. The risen Lord knew that His disciples had a special need for peace at that time. They were fearful of the Jewish and Roman authorities. They were also fearful and anxious about their relationships with God the Father and His Son the risen Christ. They had not been very wise, brave or faithful during Holy Week. So they needed forgiveness, reconciliation and encouragement. They needed a sense of peace with God. Christ offered them such peace, and then He repeated the words and commissioned them to share His peace with others. Sharing His peace was a special calling of the apostles as ministers of Christ's Church, but in other ways, it was also a calling of every disciple.

This need for Christ's peace still applies to all people for all have sinned and fallen short. Whether clergy, parishioners or un-churched, people need to realize that the risen Lord offers true and eternal peace. And whether we are clergy or laity, we are all called to share this message with others in ways appropriate for our status and abilities. May this Eastertide be a season of Christ's peace for us all!

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Easter Day 2018

St. John 20: 1-10.
The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. 
There is so much that can be said about the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the central event in human history. It is the foundation of all Christian theology. It is central in Christian liturgy and celebration. It is the basis of hope. It is the great example of divine love and mercy. All those things and more deserve our attention. Yet, personally, the key is the reaction of the young beloved disciple- "he saw and believed." At that point, he did not understand all the Scriptures or have a developed theology; he simply believed in the living Lord Jesus. On this day, that is where we all need to start. Jesus Christ is risen!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Even

Holy Saturday known in the Prayer Book tradition as Easter Even has always been a low-key day liturgically. It has been a day of rest in commemoration of Christ's time in the tomb and a day of preparation for Easter celebration. From the second century onwards the evening of this Saturday became a vigil of prayers and readings. The rite of kindling new fire, baptizing catechumens, and celebrating the first Eucharist were added after midnight. In 1549, Cranmer simplified matters and eliminated most of the speccial features of Holy Saturday and the Great Vigil. He did retain a Psalm, Epistle and Gospel. The Palm Sunday Collect was expected to be used, and some baptisms were administered. In 1637, the Scottish Book of Common Prayer added a proper collect for Easter Even, possibly prepared by Bishop Cosin. The 1662 BCP included this collect which connects Holy Week-Easter themes with baptism.

Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.
In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
Good Lord, deliver us. (1928 BCP, The Litany, p. 55)

But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Galatians 6:14, KJV)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thursday before Easter, commonly called Maundy Thursday

Although Christians often speculate about various meanings of the Lord's Supper, the basics are beautifully stated in the following two collects.

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, did institute the Sacrament of his Body and Blood; Mercifully grant that we may thankfully receive the same in remembrance of him, who in these holy mysteries giveth us a pledge of life eternal; the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen. (1928 BCP, p.152)

Grant, O Father, that when we receive the blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, coming to those holy mysteries in faith, and love, and true repentance, we may receive remission of our sins, and be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (1928 BCP, Offices of Instruction, p. 295)

Thanks be to God for this great and holy gift!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Lent and Special Devotions

As heirs of the so-called magisterial or moderate Reformation, Anglicans have retained the basics of the church calendar including Lent. We have seen Lent as a useful tradition to encourage repentance, voluntary devotion, and preparation for Easter. At the same time, in Articles of Religion XI, XII, XIV, and XXXIV, Anglicanism has also stressed Christian freedom with regard to human works and traditions. While the Prayer Book has provided general rules about observing Lent since 1662, traditions about fasting, penitence and special devotions must not become legalistic. Such things cannot make us righteous before God. Human traditions cannot earn spiritual merit.

Anglicans and all Christians are called to live in Christian freedom, not as slaves to man-made rules. Christ Himself has the unique and infinite merit needed by all humanity, and through faith in Him, we are set right with God. Lent like every other observance is meant to call us to repentance and to faith in Jesus Christ. Any special devotions we have during this season do not earn righteousness and must not obscure the work of Christ; they are merely external practices meant to recall us to the central truths of the Gospel.