Archive for February, 2009

Ash Wednesday Homily


The Gospel reading in the Daily Office for Ash Wednesday is Luke 18: 9-14:

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Today is Ash Wednesday. The day takes its name from the Ashes which will soon be imposed on our foreheads. The Ashes are a sign of penitence. But more than that, they are a stark reminder that we are dying. The words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are spoken as they are smudged by a priest on your forehead. The purpose of this ritual is to remind you of your frailty…of your mortality…of the extent of the damage sin has caused in your life and in creation.

Tonight’s service is therefore a very somber one. But don’t miss that in this solemnity there is a central and beautiful song of the glorious hope we have in Christ. For example, the ashes are imposed in the sign of the cross – because the cross is where the Living God did something on our behalf that we could not do for ourselves – he died an innocent man and suffered the penalty for our sins. Three days later he rose from the dead, conquering and defeating man’s certain enemy – death itself.

If ashes are a symbol of the reality that we are dying, the fact that they are placed on your heads in the figure of a cross is the POWERFUL reminder that those who put their hope in Christ have a glorious promise of eternal life in him.

So we’re in Lent – a forty day season for prayer and repentance, for fasting, for consuming less so we can give more to those in need. This is the season to go deep in God’s word.

I encourage you to take this bulletin and keep it with you during this Lent to reflect on the image of Christ in the wilderness, to review the words we will say tonight, to remind yourself that you’re in this together with your brothers and sisters as a community, so as to remember to pray for one another. All of this for his glory, that we may know him fully as our Lord.

The Old Testament reading for Ash Wednesday from the prophet Joel opens with the words, “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me.” “Yet even now, return to me.”

Returning to our Father is what Lent is all about. Returning to our Father. That phrase immediately reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son – the young man who took for granted the love and goodness of dwelling in Father’s presence, demanded his inheritance. Receiving it he left home for a foreign land. He squandered everything he had – living life on his terms. Coming to his senses one day, in the middle of nasty dirty pig sty, this young man realized the blessing of his relationship with his Father, so he went home, hoping his father would take him in and let him be a servant in his house. And what happens, the Father’s outside on his porch and he sees him coming from a long way off, he runs out in compassion to meet his son, before the young man can utter a word, the Father embraces him and kisses him. The son asked for forgiveness from his father but only after his father had run to him and lovingly welcomed him. So you see it wasn’t the young man’s words that moved his father from his porch. It was the change in his son’s heart to return home. The father knew his son’s heart had been changed, simply because he was coming home. What a captivating image of Lent.

Well, what hinders our hearts from changing? What keeps us from returning?

In our Gospel reading for tonight from Luke 18:9-14, our Lord speaks directly to us about this issue. In it, we are confronted with two familiar characters: the Pharisee and the tax collector. It’s a parable you may have heard before. The Pharisee – the religious leader, who has committed his life to the preservation of Jewish faith and service to God – has gone to the temple to pray. Coincidentally, a tax collector – a man considered a cultural scourge in his own land because he extorted money from his own people to give to the Romans – has come to the temple to pray as well. They are both doing something commendable. They are both going to the place where God is.

If you’ve read the story before, you may remember what happens. The Pharisee “standing by himself” – which implies he specifically positioned himself in a place where others could see, standing in the orans position, (verse 11 – 13).

And Jesus says it was the tax collector – not the Pharisee – who went home right with God.

Keep in mind that this is not one of Jesus’ pointed critiques at the religious leaders of his day. It’s a parable – a story with a spiritual lesson. He is tells this parable to identify something in our lives that hinders our ability to be in relationship with God.

You see, Jesus rightly assumes some things about us. He rightly assumes that if we are not attentive, we will begin to trust in our own righteousness as we stand before God. By trusting in our own righteousness – our own abilities and strengths / what we’ve done FOR God, we forget about the reality of our sin. By forgetting about the reality of our sin, we hinder our ability to experience what God our Father has done FOR us through his saving power and loving goodness.

Jesus also rightly assumes we will use and abuse others as we trust in our own righteousness. You see, he is illustrating the principle that if you want to know who you are, you must use some sort of standard to gauge or measure yourself. The Pharisee measures his rank before God by looking downward. He chooses to look at the sins of the bad tax collector to affirm his own place – his own superiority. Anyone who looks downward and measures oneself by the weaknesses of others immediately becomes prideful and arrogant and what does Jesus say about the Pharisee? He was not justified before God.

The tax collector models the repentant aspect of Lent for us. During this season, let us take time to be alone with God and to ask the Holy Spirit is to work in us, to deal with us, to enable us to measure ourselves upward not downward. When Jesus Christ becomes the standard, we realize in no uncertain terms how far flung we are because of our sin.

These are the moments when we like the prodigal son come to OUR senses and realize we’ve still got mud on us from the pig sty. This is where true repentance happens. This is where humility is born and bred in us. Then and only then can our hearts heed the call to return to God.

So tonight and through the season of Lent, remember: it’s more than the words of the prayers printed on these pages. Anyone literate in the English language can read these words. The question is do our hearts line up with these words.

Our father sees our hearts. He is watching. He is  ready. “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me.”

Grant us, Almighty God, that by observing Lent we may grow in our knowledge and love of you. Give us strength and courage to face the reality of our sinfulness and to return to you in humility and love.


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In many cultures, there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the River Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself what it meant to be Jesus.
During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.

  • If you had to bet everything there is on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would bet your money and why?
  • When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and who do you see in it that you most deplore?
  • If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in 25 words or less?
  • Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you happiest?
  • Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?
  • If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are, but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become.”

– Frederick Buechner

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I read this on the MSNBC blog yesterday and was moved to prayers. Hope it moves you too.

By Karim Hilmi, NBC News
BAGHDAD  — Concrete blast walls and armed paramilitaries carrying AK-47 assault rifles still guard the street leading to Baghdad’s Virgin Mary Cathedral. But despite the danger that comes with being a Christian in Iraq, Father Azeria Warda Benyameen refuses to accept any bodyguards. “I believe the mighty God is the supreme protector and He gives life and He is the only one who takes it,” Benyameen says with a smile.

Benyameen, who is in his late fifties, is the church’s senior priest. He offers sermons and services in Aramaic, the ancient language that drew fresh interest when it was featured in Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”

Although he isn’t convinced Baghdad is secure he refuses allow the terror attack to drive him out of the capital’s Camp Sarah neighborhood.
“Security stability is not yet 100 percent achieved in Baghdad and government needs to exert more efforts to get rid of armed groups, murderers and sleeping terrorist cells,” Benyameen said.

Attack in 2006
During the sectarian violence in 2005 and 2006, many churches were targeted by suicide attackers and car bombs. As part of the Old Eastern Church in Iraq, Virgin Mary Cathedral was no exception.
In September 2006, a guard was killed, 10 civilians were hurt and the cathedral and nearby homes suffered “huge damage” after a car bombing.

However, since the implementation of Baghdad security crackdown in March 2007, the situation has improved with sectarian murders dramatically reduced and the number of suicide attacks which plagued the city also diminishing.

Benyameen believes these developments have convinced a small number of Christians, who had been displaced by violence, to return to their homes.

“Many Christians were forced to leave the country to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey in hope to emigrating to their final destination in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe and many of them are now settled in these countries,” he said.

Benyameen said the church used to give lessons in the Chaldean language and the history and principles of Christianity to about 300 children every summer holiday. The number has now dropped to about 50 students each year.

“The church used to receive a congregation of 500 believers every Sunday and holy occasions but now only 50 persons attend such ceremonies,” Benyameen added. “This might give you a statistic concerning the drop in the number of Christians in Iraq.”

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Confession in Stowe Missal

O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.

We have sinned, O Lord, we have sinned, spare our sins, and save us. You who guided Noah over the flood waves, hear us. You who with your word called Jonah from the abyss, deliver us. You who stretched forth your hand to Peter as he sank, help us, O Jesus Christ.

Son of God, you did the marvelous things of the Lord with our fathers, be favorable in our days also. Stretch forth your hand from on high.

The Stowe Missal (or Sacramentary) is a liturgy dating from 6th or 7th Century Ireland. It is one of the oldest Celtic liturgies known.

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Missional Church

As most people know, I have a deep love for liturgy and worship. I love the church and dreaming of it being the fullness of him who fills all in all. However, since Winter Conference I’ve been challenged with the charge to be more missional. How can I live my life in such a way that embodies disciple-making. It’s so easy to settle in and get comfortable. How can I live in such a way that I attend to the Harvest that is around me?

Here are some ideas I have popping around my synapses:

  • Work in a local coffee shop one day a week. Meet people there. Make myself at home.
  • Open our doors more than we do to share our lives with people.
  • Do not be ashamed of the Gospel. Talk about the work God has done in your life.

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How the Spirit of God has been poured out on on men!

What a rich and full week spent with brothers and sisters in the Gospel. Monday and Tuesday were spent with Rev Dr Mark Quay and Rev Noland Pipes of the Anglican School of Ministry studying Liturgics. It was great to review some things I’ve covered before and learned on my own. I was reminded again just how beautiful the Great Litany is – the oldest liturgy we have in the English language. What a wonderful liturgy to be used during times of penitence and seasons of preparation. Again, I was reminded how Eucharistic prayer A has a Crucifixion – Resurreciton theme. Eucharistic prayer B is Incarnational. Eucharistic prayer C tries to encapsulate both. Eucharistic prayer D is an adapation of the Anaphora of St. Basil.

After the class was over, Winter Conference began with a bang. One of my favorite moments in the year has to be going into the vesting room and reuniting with my brother and sister clergy, many of whom I have not seen since the year before. The joy is palpable. It is always great to see old friends and make new one’s.

The worship service on Wednesday night did not disappoint. It was an amazing experience to process in, to see the the people of the Anglican Mission come together in all their diversity – Charismatics, Evangelicals, and High-Churchers. All of us together, worshiping the Living God, caught up in the liturgy and songs together. What a beautiful testimony of God’s faithfulness. Who could have guessed we would be where we are now nine years after ++Tay and ++ Kolini consecrated +Rodgers and +Murphy.

All in all, it was an encouraging time. I left feeling renewed and challenged. I was renewed in my sense of calling to serve Christ in this context. I was challenged to consider the question, “Am I really living missionally?”More on that in the next post!

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