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Prayer

How to Be an Evangelist Everyday

~Fr. Michael

There’s a lot of talk these days about how the church needs to evangelize the world around us better if the church is going to survive.  Books get written about it and we have conferences where we are told how badly its needed, and maybe get some coaching on how we might do it better.

As we were singing Evensong at the Cathedral on the eve of St. Luke the Evangelist these 1600 year old words were set before us from the days of the Fall of Rome.  They were written by Augustine, a North African who went to Rome to study, and later watched the city disintegrate.  He wrote this to encourage Christians in such times, and his words have a clear message for us who seek to be witnesses for Christ in the twenty-first century.

As there are many kinds of persecution, so there are many kinds of martyrdom. Every day you are a witness to Christ. You were tempted by the spirit of fornication, but feared the coming judgment of Christ and did not want your purity of mind and body to be defiled: you are a martyr for Christ. You were tempted by the spirit of avarice to seize the property of a child and violate the rights of a defenseless widow, but remembered God’s law and saw your duty to give help, not act unjustly: you are a witness to Christ. Christ wants witnesses like this to stand ready, as Scripture says: Do justice for the orphan and defend the widow. You were tempted by the spirit of pride but saw the poor and the needy and looked with loving compassion on them, and loved humility rather than arrogance: you are a witness to Christ. What is more, your witness was not in word only but also in deed.

Who can give greater witness than one who acknowledges that the Lord Jesus has come in the flesh and keeps the commandments of the Gospel? One who hears but does not act, denies Christ. Even if he acknowledges him by his words, he denies him by his deeds. How many will say to Christ: Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy and cast out devils and work many miracles, all in your name? On that day he will say to them: Depart from me, all you evildoers. The true witness is one who bears witness to the commandments of the Lord Jesus and supports that witness by deeds.

How many hidden martyrs there are, bearing witness to Christ each day and acknowledging Jesus as the Lord! The Apostle Paul knew this kind of martyrdom, this faithful witness to Christ. This is our boast, he said, the witness of our conscience. How many have borne witness in public but denied it in private! Do not believe every spirit, he said, but know from their fruits whom you should believe. Be faithful and courageous when you are persecuted within, so that you may win approval when you are persecuted in public. Even in those unseen persecutions there are kings and governors, judges with terrible power. You have an example in the temptation endured by the Lord.

In another place we read: Do not let sin be king in your mortal body. You see the kings before whom you are made to stand, those who sit in judgment over sinners, where sin is in control. There are as many kings as there are sins and vices; it is before these kings that we are led and before these we stand. These kings have their thrones in many hearts. But if anyone acknowledges Christ, he immediately makes a prisoner of this kind of king and casts him down from the throne of his own heart. How shall the devil maintain his throne in one who builds a throne for Christ in his heart?

 

Into Greater Silence

~Fr. Michael

The Hebrew word “Selah” has no direct English translation.  It is often completely omitted from English translations.   It occurs mostly in our Bible in the Book of Psalms, which we know was a worship book used in the Jerusalem Temple and Jewish Synagogues of Jesus’ time and beyond.  It is likely that it is a liturgical and musical instruction, akin to our modern ‘rubrics’ that means something like “Stop and listen.”  

Every now and again, some minister somewhere makes a suggestion about how we approach our worship that seems to catch fire.  Maybe a congregation has tried a new kind of music and everyone likes it, and it catches on in neighboring churches too; maybe a minister has the congregation participate in a new way and after a few tries it becomes a really positive experience so they work spread the idea around.  There are lots of examples of this:  fifty years ago, nobody passed the Peace at church, Ashes to Go has become a multidenominational and international approach to Ash Wednesday, Cursillo and its various offshoots have spread throughout the church, the Great Vigil of Easter has been given much greater prominence in recent years in the Episcopal Church.  The liturgy grows and changes as the church grows and changes, and as Anglicans and Episcopalians, we are aware of that, we have gotten used to that reality and have made space for it with a Book of Common Prayer that has evolved with us over the centuries. 

Some liturgical innovations have potential for lasting a long time in the church, some of them have short life spans; some of them are universally well received, and some are controversial.  These days, many things are presented as novel approaches to the way we worship are just re-introductions of things that the church has done in some other time or some other place.  Jesus speaks in Matthew’s Gospel that “…every scribe trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is like the master of a house who brings out of his treasury things old and things new.”  So both imaginative innovation and historical exploration provide a good balance for guiding us how to try out new ways of praying and worshipping together.

One such liturgical idea that seems to have caught fire around the church recently has done so quietly:  increasing our time for silent prayer in our common worship.  It might not be something that pops up in casual conversation among worshippers, but there is a groundswell of advice and earnest pleading from theologians, liturgical scholars, monastics, mystics, and seasoned pastors alike, that there is a need to offer more silent chances for prayer in worship.  At last year’s clergy retreat, we heard a long reflection from Bishop Neil Alexander about increasing silence; there was a moving presentation at the Dean’s conference the year before about the importance of a pause for silence throughout our more verbal praying; monasteries are attracting many more guests than in previous years as people are attracted to the devoted silence that such spaces offer.  Our Monday morning group at the cathedral just completed a study of Inwardly Digestthe Book of Common Prayer as a guide to Spiritual Life, where Fr. Derek Olsen laid out a provocative case for maintaining significant pauses in worship.  In short, the message seems to be coming from all sides.

There are several places in our regular Eucharistic worship where silence is suggested by the rubrics, and one place where it is ordered:  after scripture readings, after bidding prayers during the Prayers of the People, after being bidden to confession, and at the Breaking of the Bread, which is not listed as optional.  These are particular moments for reflection that are suggested by our liturgy, and I have heard suggestions from some of you that we do not make enough of the moments of silence.  In addition to the points listed in the BCP, there are increasing calls for a period of silent prayer after being bidden to pray and the reciting of the Collect at the start of the service.  The argument goes that the original purpose of collects (which literally means “read together”) was to focus and direct and formalize all of the community’s conversations with God that had been filling the silence beforehand; and that to elide that silence is to effectively shut people up when they should be talking to God.   

So, having absorbed all that, I would like to propose an experiment for our common worship together, that we make more spaces for silence.  There might be a tendency to see pauses in our worship as problems:  maybe it feels like the pacing is off; maybe you’re worried that someone lost their place or is having a mental lapse.  But I’d like to ask for everyone to be patient with the experiment long enough to see how the experience of some silence feels.  The hope is that, rather than being distracted by the silence and having your mind wander to other thoughts like to-do lists or petty details, we can all use the time to slow down, take a breath, and open up ourselves to the presence of God, and the possibility of communication with God.  As the Psalmist charges us: Selah—stop and listen.

 

 

Building a Temple with Living Stones

~Fr. Michael

The Cathedral has been a profound delight for me to pray in since I first visited here to discern the call to be dean some six years ago. Like many people who come to visit, I was rather overwhelmed by the simple grandeur of the High Altar, and the maelstrom of light and color in the windows that surrounds you as you pray. From the lofty rafters to the very shape of the building, everything in the Cathedral is designed to help focus the heart and mind on God.  Our church is truly something to celebrate. 

As much as all of us love this building and its space, I think the best way to celebrate it is to reflect on why the Cathedral, and other churches like it, were built.  They were built in order to help people change and grow, and that we might grow in the knowledge and love of God as we gather to worship.  The best way to celebrate this wonderful heritage is to strive to be the Church with the help of this Church building.

Solomon admitted that the temple could not contain God since not even the heavens can contain God. But through the hearts of people who worship there, God can assuredly be accessed.  Jesus warns about the risks we face with trying to contain or control access to God, though.  He knocks over tables and chases out money changers from the Temple.  Ever since the church has been keen to avoid needing this kind of warning, but it hasn’t always been successful.  So what is the right balance?  How can we use the gift of our spaces to help us to not be so dependent on our spaces, but on God alone?

Peter gives us a powerful image for how we can be the church: “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” (1 Pet. 2: 5) In being living stones, we imitate Jesus who was the fulfillment of the “stone rejected by the builders” mentioned in Psalm 118. This reference is used many times in the New Testament, often by Jesus himself. It means that the life and teaching of Jesus that was rejected by nailing Jesus to the cross has become the basis of a whole new culture and way of life in Jesus. We are called to be living stones built by the Holy Spirit into a new temple supported by Jesus, the cornerstone.

 Stones are solid and we are meant to be solid in our commitment to Christ and to each other. It is the solidity of stones that makes them strong enough to support each other. We need to be as strong as that if we are going to support one another. But Peter is not describing ordinary stones, which are rigid, and hard, and cold.  Ordinary stones are dead, but Peter is describing living stones, filled with vibrancy, and the ability to resonate with one another. Unlike dead, rigid, stones, living stones are permeable to each other and most importantly to Christ. 

May our Cathedral Church open us to each other and to Christ so as to transform us into living stones receiving life, stability, and purpose from the rejected cornerstone.

 

6th Easter 2017

~Fr. Michael

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be ever acceptable in thy sight oh Lord my strength & my redeemer.

How many of us when we were children heard our parents say that if we were good kids and loved them, then we would obey and follow what they told us to do?  If you have been a parent how many of you have had similar expectations of your children?  How many of you ever disobeyed your parents? or as a parent were disobeyed?  It seems hard to avoid, like a natural circumstance, and perhaps that is why Jesus says, “if you love me, you will obey my commandments.” to remind and make a special point to his disciples that they need to do as Jesus says. 

During the last couple of Sunday’s, the Gospel has reminded us that we are both like children and sheep in God’s keeping.  And as such, He cares for us, watches over us and prepares a place for us in His Heavenly Kingdom.  It is likely that these words were very comforting to the disciples of Christ who expected Him to return to earth during their lives!  However, we are now two millennia on, and it is clear that Jesus is not returning to us right away.  Who then can comfort and protect us?

What then is the Holy Spirit and how do we know that she is with us?  We first hear about the Spirit in the opening lines of Genesis when the earth is a formless void and Spirit moves over the water of earth’s surface.  But it is God who forms the earth and her people.  Later we hear of the Spirit as it descends upon Jesus as John baptizes Him in the River Jordan.  So why does Jesus ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to be with His followers and ultimately with us?  Is it that Jesus knows that the Church will spread beyond Judea and therefore need the Spirit who is nowhere and everywhere at the same time?

In John, just before today’s reading, Jesus has given his disciples a new commandment; to love one another as he has loved them.  When Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This is one of those commandments!

So how do we love our neighbors?  As deacons, each of us is called specially to bring the cares of the world into the Church — the Body of Christ, and we are also called to bring the concerns of the Church out into the world.  So, if Jesus says to us, “if you love me you will keep my commandants”, and if we know that after loving God and serving him through worship and prayer, we are called to love our neighbor what does that look like?

Here in this parish it may mean providing a hospitable welcome to visitors, or during coffee hour where we renew our bonds with one another each week.  We have so many other ways we reach out to the community — to deepen our Faith, put our  Faith into Action, and live out the Gospel message daily.  Here are a few examples:

  • At Community Table we serve food, because I was hungry and you fed me — we need more help to continue in this ministry see Russ to volunteer!
  • Our foodless pantry — I was naked and in need and you provided for me — we are always in need of cash and more supplies — see Barb, by the way I am stealing this idea wherever I land!
  • Beacon House, needs people to spend the night and serve dinner a few times a year, also see Barb.  
  • Our Prayer Shawls — I was sick or in prison and you visited me and gave me comfort — see Becky to volunteer or donate.  
  • Sojourner House — I was a stranger, a sojourner in a strange land and you welcomed me — Sojo needs help also, I used to go in the evening at 9:30pm, do some dishes, wash the towels, help people get their belongings etc.  I was always home by 11.  I am hoping some folks here may step into that role once  a week perhaps, its only 90 minutes and you truly get more out of it than you are required to give!

In whatever way, you respond we are called to serve the people whom these agencies serve because they are children of God.  Unlike some of our current political leaders, there is no virtue in wealth and privilege in and of its self.  You are not a blessed person because you are rich — period!  There is only virtue in HOW you use the gifts that GOD has given you.  No one wakes up one day and wants to be homeless, hungry, dependent upon the charity of others.  No one as a child dreams of a life of addiction, mental illness or physical challenge or disability!  Anyone who believes a recent political comment, where there was an implication that if you have any preexisting condition you have not led a good life—needs to examine their own beliefs because their thinking is currently antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.

When I wandered into this place in August of 2006 I expected to have a similar experience as I did at St. Luke’s in Racine.  I went every week for 3 years, everyone was very friendly but no one really talked with me, no one invited me to do anything but join the choir, which I declined — and I was fine with that, I’m deeply introverted, and it was easy.  I will admit that I loved this place right away, it looked right, Bruce reminded me of one of my parents very good friends and English professor; but I never intended on getting involved — and then that little voice which I had been running from for so many years, the Spirit, started to speak again — or, was I just listening better?  you should do more, you should volunteer to help with this that and the other, and well, here I am.  The Holy Spirit is speaking to you too — she is not saying be like Charles, or Jim, or Ken or Michael, or Jay…but be who and what you are — but you must listen.  Remember, that Paul reminds us that each of us is called to serve God in a variety of ways according to the gifts with which we have been endowed.  Are you listening?  Am I?  Soon I will need to listen again more closely and see where I am guided to a new parish, to new opportunities to volunteer or become involved. 

Finally, on a personal note let me thank you all for your love and support through my journey here it has meant the world to me—please know wherever I go and whatever I do, I will take this place and all f you in my heart forever!

AMEN

 

 

April:  Fools for Christ

~Fr. Michael

April has a peculiar tradition.  We make jokes and play pranks on April first, because it’s “April Fool’s Day”.  Most people suppose this is just a silly recent phenomenon, maybe something that some joke shop somewhere invented to increase sales.  But, it’s actually very old, and like many things in our culture that are very old, its history begins with the Church.  April the first is kept as a feast of fools all over Europe as well as in the Americas.  In France, Italy, and the Low Countries, it’s referred to as ‘April Fish Day’ and pranks often revolve around fish jokes.  England and France have huge charity appeals on April Fool’s Day that revolve around workplace pranks or public jokes that people can sponsor.  So where did all this come from?  Once upon a time, the Church kept the only calendar that everyone used, so, feast days (which were days off work) and festivals were based on important religious festivals.  For most of European Christian history, the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25 marked the new year, and the Church sponsored a week long feast to ring in the new year that provided a welcome break from the privations of Lent.  Each day of the week came with a special blessing for the year ahead, and at the end of the week, on April first, was the day the ‘fools’ were blessed:  All Fool’s Day.  There is, of course, some argument about  variations on this in different times and places.  Some suggest that as the New Year was moved to the Feast of the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus on January 1 (one week after Christmas) the people who maintained their celebrations on April first were ridiculed and mocked as fools.  Some suggest that the end of the New Year’s feast meant a return to the sack-cloth and ashes of Lent, and the practice of being ‘fools for Christ’ as Holy Week and Easter approached.

There is literary evidence of the latter.  Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ from 1392 contain a reference to April Fools, as do several other noteworthy books of the next hundred years.  It seems that the idea of being a fool, or playing a fool had religious connotations of humility and piety.  There is also a considerable set of cultural traditions around being a ‘Fool for Christ’ that have not survived much to modern America.  From the earliest years of Christianity, particularly in the Byzantine Empire, and later in Russian Orthodoxy, being a Fool was a kind of holy vocation.  A “Fool for Christ” would strive to live a sort of mendicant, beggar  lifestyle; they would do silly or outrageous things that were meant to shock people out of dependence or excessive love of worldly things; and they were often seen as a sort of prophetic voice, especially when they challenged the powers that be in the their communities.

The idea is that the Christian vocation is at direct odds with the way the world does things, and so the world is bound to see the Christian faith as foolishness.  This idea is articulated in the Bible by St. Paul, who states the theme over and over again, but nowhere so clearly as in the First Letter to the Corinthians:  

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)

"For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness." (1 Corinthians 3:19).

As Christians, we are called to do foolish things all the time.  We do them because Jesus shows us that through them, we are brought into the wisdom of God, which is entirely different from the ‘Everyone for themselves’ mentality that we’ve been taught by other people.  We do foolish things like give without counting the cost, visiting and spending time with people that our society counts as throwaways, helping people to get well or better, even though we might risk sickness or poverty for ourselves.  We do them because Jesus showed us that they are the best way to really enjoy the gift of life that we all share; and the way to really learn to be ourselves, full of a humility and joy that has been the puzzlement of people who were ‘in it for themselves’ ever since the Jesus first pioneered the path. 

This Lent, this Holy Week, this Eastertide, maybe God is calling you to try a little foolishness.

 

Service Schedule

DUE TO THE COVID-19 HEALTH CONCERNS ALL SERVICES AND ACTIVITIES HAVE BEEN SUSPENDED IN ORDER TO COMPLY WITH THE STATE OF WISCONSIN REQUIREMENTS AND THE HEALTH AND WELLBEING OF OUR COMMUNITY. 

Sunday
Rite II Eucharist – 9:00 am, Cathedral

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