Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Timely Old Sermon

About a year and a half ago, I was asked to preach at the Service of Renewal of Ordination Vows for my Diocese. I ran accross my notes again today and found its message is just as timely as it was then. It was just what I needed to hear again. Hope so for you too... JR+

I speak to you in the name of the Living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

My brothers and sisters, I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here with you and to share with you what I believe God has placed upon my heart. In this very room, hundreds of years of experience in ministry, prayer, and faithful service come together to remember our own corporate calling as ordained ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To be honest, for me to be asked to preach today is a truly humbling moment; and there is one word that comes to mind: FEAR!

But that’s OK too! Fear is a big part of ministry, as we all know. Fear comes to us in many ways:

* Fear of our acceptance among peers,
* The real fear that next year YOU may be asked to preach on this occasion.
* Fear of wondering if our dreams and desires for the people we serve will be received,
* The fear in wondering if what we do in the service of Christ will make any difference (that’s called Gethsemane!)
* Fear in walking with our God and walking into places where He calls us to go… We know that as FAITH...

… And yet the fear that leads us to faith leads us also to courage – courage to face the unknown and to do the great things God has called each of us to do.

Nearly a year ago, when I began my ministry at All Saints’ in Bakersfield, I began with a well known passage of scripture “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And that “Fear of the Lord” is all about “Awe” – not a sense being scared – but knowing the awesome power of the true God – the one God – who leads, guides, and inspires us to do great things in His holy name. And I am certain that each one of us in our ministry experiences have witnessed the great actions of God! Those moments when God was so real and present that you knew He was doing a “great thing.” (Holy is His Name!)

Think back to your own ordination day – the first one (perhaps your only one) – when all of us who are ordained began as deacons. Some of us were deacons for a seemingly short time; others of us were to find this as our life’s vocation. Still others of us are searching out our next calling. Yet, ALL of us began as servants – willing to go where God called us!

What were your dreams then? What were your fears then? Maybe there were dreams of wearing a “purple shirt” someday? (God forbid! At least for me.) Or maybe to have widely spread respect – or power? Or maybe if not these things, simply to serve Jesus Christ faithfully no matter what?

What was the good work that began in you to bring you to THIS very moment? And if you or I were to know then what we know now – would we still answer before a bishop and the people we serve the question: Do you believe God has called you … as a deacon… as a priest… as a bishop? And answer: “I believe I am so called”? I hope your answer is still YES! For, unfortunately we all know there is a difference between being a “so called” deacon, priest, or bishop – and being REAL! The difference of course is how the Kingdom of God is measured: not by power or position – but in abiding, obedience, and service. Whatever our dreams may once have been – God’s desire was first to make us servants – as He did his own Son – and as His servants we are his friends.

Perhaps even more importantly are the questions: What are your dreams now? What are your fears now? If there is one thing for sure, the culture we live in, the times we experience, the “world” (as St. Paul speaks of it) is a place that masters the art of fear! And St. Paul reminds us “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Elsewhere, in Ephesians, in another very popular “ordination” proper, we are told:

Eph 4:14 - 15 (NRSV) We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

Doctrine of course is something we are steeped in – from our seminary educations and our own personal journeys. But as we are also well aware, there are plenty of moments that happen – God moments – that our seminary educations didn’t prepare us for...

* Like when the wafer falls down the cleavage of the low-cut blouse.
* Like when an elderly woman’s denture slips out into the chalice – and she walks away!
* Or like the time when you are visiting another parish – and the rector intending to make a very important illustration regarding Good and Evil comes out wearing a black cape and a Darth Vader helmet – and someone from the congregation calls out, “It’s bishop Spong!”
(That by the way was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard!)

But there are other moments too…
* Like when someone responds and gives their life to Christ, or
* When our presence at a hospital bed, or in a living room, brought comfort and healing.
* When we anoint the sick and they actually get better!

Or when through our preaching and teaching a new understanding of God is understood.
Or when we prayed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – and they received Him.
Or even new insights into the mystery of God – like the time when a father brought his child to me after Eucharist. And the six-year old asks, “When you break the bread I see sparks fly. How do you do that?”

These things happen not because we are good, but because God is good! It is in these moments when our priesthood – whether we are laity, Bishops, Priests, or Deacons – the priesthood of ALL believers – shines. Why? Because as Jesus says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you!”

It is clear in God’s Word that God desires of us both maturity and variety. God wants for ALL of His children to mature in faith; and by the power of the Holy Spirit to discover and mature in the variety of gifts He has created in and bestowed upon us:
* Prophecy in proportion to faith
* Ministry in ministering;
* The Teacher in teaching
* The exhorter, the giver, the leader, the compassionate… And the healer, the evangelist, the pastor, and even… the apostle.

So we come here today to renew our vows – to renew our various calls to ministry – as servants of the One True God – in His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. This calling does not come to us because we earned it, or desired it, or chose it originally; but because Jesus chose us first.

None of us can do that alone – we were not meant to. To be made new means at least to make sure that we are nourished by the Source – the Vine – who is Jesus Christ. The “power word” in our Gospel is “abide. Jesus says “abide in my love” just as He abides in His Father’s love. What does that mean?

My Greek Lexicon defines “abide” as "meno": to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy):—abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand…

Whichever, word works for you let that be your encouragement to stay and abide in Christ – and keep on, keepin’ on. Or as St. Paul would say (in the Message paraphrase translation):

I appeal to you brothers and sisters….
…. Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.[1]

[So] let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. [2]

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply... Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, 12cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.[3]

And by the Love of our Heavenly Father, the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, may THAT be true for us today and in the days to come.


[1] Rom 12:1 - 2 (TMSG)
[2] Rom 12:6 - 8 (TMSG)
[3] Rom 12:9 - 13 (TMSG)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Levels of Persecution

One of the things I’ve often heard about the Christian Faith is that God never promised us a "bed of roses.” Meaning, when you give your life to Christ one isn’t automatically protected from life’s difficulties. In fact, many new Christians often find that life gets “harder” rather than easier for a couple reasons:

1) Suddenly we are faced with making changes in our lives, like giving up self-destructive activities and patterns (yes, I’m talking about sin) as we allow Christ to reshape us; and as we take on new patterns of discipline: Church attendance, daily prayer, daily Bible reading, and service to others. All of this is hard work.

2) Satan is not happy about your giving your life to Christ and will do anything to thwart it. Suddenly we find out there is “Spiritual Warfare” going on – and we are the battlefield. When we “were safely in Satan’s camp” he could ignore us (for the most part), but now that we’ve infiltrated his territory (as a Child of God) he starts to step up the attack!

We need to understand that “persecution” is part of the Christian life experience – Jesus even tells us we are to expect it! He tells us that we will be called upon to witness our faith in various ways. In Mt. 24:9 Jesus tells us the world will hate us because of Him. In Mk. 13:9-13 Jesus tells us that we will be brought before “councils” as a testimony or witness of Him. We may even be betrayed by our own family members! (And there are numerous other passages, too.)

Yet, even so, Jesus promises to be with us, to send the Holy Spirit to speak for us, and most of all to bless us! From the Sermon on the Mount we hear:

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt. 5:11-12)

None of this is surprising to those of us who’ve been Christians for a while; however, the fact is that all of us are going to face persecution. So if we are to expect persecution what can we expect? As I see it there are four levels of persecution:

Level 1: Personal Witness:
When we proclaim Jesus we face the fact that there are those who won’t like it. At this level we can risk losing friends and relationships and even jobs when we stand up for Christ! We may be called “intolerant bigots” or religious fanatics. We risk being made fun of and isolated because of our beliefs. The risks here are real and personal. When they occur they indeed hurt our feelings, and can cost us financially (like being fired) – but rarely at this stage do we risk our personal safety.

Level 2: Judicial Persecution:
This next level turns from personal inconvenience to actual legal and official retribution. This is where we may be sued or taken to court because of our Christian convictions. The risks here are possible loss of personal freedoms. Gag-orders, jail time, loss of property, loss of professional reputation and the like are the next risks. Again, this is more serious and costly than Level 1, but rarely life-threatening.

Level 3: Life Risking Persecution:
This is the kind of persecution we begin to associate with the early church and in other countries even in our day and age. This level involves prison and torture. This is the kind of persecution where we might be beaten, deprived of food, and begin to really fear for our lives. Real suffering becomes reality – indeed we become “prisoners of war” in a Spiritual battle.

Level 4: Martyrdom:
This highest level means the loss of life as a testament of the Gospel. We remember those early Christians who were butchered in the forums of Rome; and we remember that even today in numerous places in the world, real people are killed on a daily basis (with or without due process of law). As this is the highest form of persecution, so too is it the highest form of witness to Christ. Martyrdom almost always backfires upon those responsible. Cases in point: the greatest time of growth in the Christian Church was when it was persecuted; and, examples like the Ugandan Martyrs who refused the sinful advances of the king, were put to death horribly, and yet influenced many to become a Christian testimony – whereas today the Christian Faith is incredibly strong there.

Most of us here in America – the land of freedom of speech and religion – know only of levels 1 and perhaps 2. That at least is good news – for the moment. But let’s be honest – we are undergoing persecution – yet, even so let’s not forget to pray for others in the world who have it worse off than we do! As we remember our own Christian witness may we all remember that persecution is indeed expected and part of our Christian lives. But also, let us remember that persecution finds us – the Holy Spirit will indeed place us in locations and situations where we may give our testimonies – nevertheless, we shouldn’t seek out persecution or tempt it in others. As St. Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15-16:

“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

How helpful do we find the (TEC) folks in Stockton?

Just when you though it was safe in church...

An New Blog... A New Day!

Well, hello everyone! Welcome to what I hope is a rich resource for you ... and some fun for me! If you've stumbled here by accident, well, welcome anyway.

To introduce myself (as I haven't done a profile yet) I'm Fr. John Riebe, an Anglican Priest and Rector of All Saints' Anglican Church in Bakersfield CA. And if you are wondering further, I'm also one of those "Anglican Hooligans" who've joined the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone!

I hope to say some more about that later for those who are interested. But from time to time I hope to add a bit of fun just to keep things as light as possible. If you're looking for news, well you should go over to my two favorite blogs (yes I read them too) BabyBlueOnline and Standfirm.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you'll come back again.

God Bless All!