We Are Remarkable To God

This week, our liturgical calendar commemorates the Apostle Matthias. He took the place of Judas, who killed himself. Judas betrayed Jesus, probably the worst action ever done in the history of the world.

So, where first there were 12, then there were 11. And the Church faced a problem. The perfect number 12 – the number of the tribes of Israel – was lost by one who refused to stand in the mercy of Christ. Was the Church to enter Pentecost, and the great mission of proclaiming Jesus and his resurrection, now one man short? Something had to be done.

They came together, and Peter takes charge. He stands up among the company of the 120 present and explains the problem. He reaches back to Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 to justify forgetting Judas, so that another might take his place.

Peter outlines the qualifications. It must be a man who has been with the other disciples from the beginning – from the baptism by John until the day of Jesus’ ascension. And it must be someone who saw the risen Jesus. This list turned out to be only two in number.

And, we know little of either of them – except that we know three times as much about the one who was not chosen as we do about the one who was chosen. The one who was not chosen had three names. The one who was chosen had only one name.

And then they prayed. Joseph, also known as Barsabbas and Justus, and Matthias were the eligible two disciples who fit the qualifications. They prayed, “You, Lord know the hearts of all – you show us which one You have chosen to fill the open spot of minister and apostle from Judas, who went his own way…” But nothing happened.

So, they cast lots. They gave God some raw material to work with. The lot fell on Matthias. He replaced Judas. And that’s the last thing we hear about Matthias – nothing else.

Now, it might seem that the disciples made a mistake. God appointed another apostle, and it was not Matthias. God appointed Saul, who became Paul.

The early Church did not even number Matthias among the list of apostles until much later. He was simply called a witness. But, eventually the Church accepted both the man the apostles chose, and the one God chose. And they left the odd number of 13 for someone else to decipher.

So, Matthias may seem unremarkable to us. But he is remarkable to God. In history, he is a footnote. In the memory of the Church, he is a mystery. In the mission of the kingdom, he is anonymous. He seems only remarkable to God.

And, I dare say, that I am the same. Sure there may seem to be a lot of people who know my name while I am alive. And, my two sons will remember me, and maybe also my grandchildren. And, my wife will have memories of me. But, then I will be done – the unremarkable Rev. Bruce A. Jackson, B.A., J.D., is ultimately remarkable only to God.

And, most of us are the same. We are all mostly names with stories largely anonymous, known well to the Lord…but known hardly at all in history.

We are the ordinary who are extraordinary only because of the riches of God’s grace in Christ – remarkable in the mercy of His love and forgiveness – remarkable in the miracle of God’s work through Christ to teach us faith – and remarkable in the mission that is ours for one brief, shining moment while we live and then it passes on to others…as it did with Matthias.

That was enough for Matthias. And, I am learning to appreciate that it is enough for me in my anonymity. Being known to God should be enough. In my youth, it was not enough. But, as I age and (hopefully) mature in the faith, I am closer and closer to understanding that it is enough.

We all need t be remembered only by the Lord to be a success. Matthias was not chosen because he had some accomplishments that made him worthy. He was chosen because Jesus had made him worthy.

And, each of us is already a remarkable foundation for service to God in Christ’s name. Like Matthias, we only need to pray that we make ourselves available for service in Christ’s name and his mission. By God’s grace, that is what makes each one of us – with Matthias – truly memorable, and truly remarkable.

 

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Bruce A. Jackson

The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist

Glendale, Arizona

The Cross – Our Holy Foolishness

On September 14 each year, we celebrate Holy Cross Day. We actually commemorate the cross. Yes, the cross upon which our Lord Jesus died.

The commemoration of the cross as special goes back some 1700 years to the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Helena, mother of Constantine, sponsored an archeological dig in Jerusalem. During the dig, what was believed to be the actual cross upon which Jesus was crucified, was uncovered. And it became known as the True Cross.

Miracles began to be attributed to this “True Cross,” and it became venerated and celebrated all over the then Christian world. Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulcer over the area where this cross was found.

Little pieces of the cross were distributed all over Europe. People began wearing what they felt were little parts of the cross around their necks for blessing and for protection. This began the practice and fashion of wearing a cross around one’s neck.

The cross gained greatly in the fashion world. Today, it is even “cool” in parts of our culture to wear one. But, we must not forget that the cross was really a terrible thing.

Way back in the Book of Deuteronomy, it says anyone who hung on a tree was cursed. It also said that the corpse of executed criminals should be hung on a tree for all to see because it was the worst possible punishment imaginable.

The Romans came along and used the cross to torture and execute those they deemed the lowest kind of criminals. These included thousands of Jews – among them, Jesus.

The Roman Emperor Caligula once crucified Jews in an amphitheater just for entertainment. After a slave rebellion – which was the inspiration for the famous movie Spartacus – the Romans crucified 6,000 slaves and lined the Appian Way with them to remind everyone of the consequences of rebellion.

The details of death on the cross seem too horrible to be depicted in front of children. It’s no wonder the Roman poet Cicero said that even to SPEAK of crucifixion was beneath a Roman citizen.

Crucifixion was no way for anyone to die – especially not the Son of God. In fact, it was considered so despicable, so dishonorable, that the earliest Christian depictions of the cross actually covered it up with someone praying with their arms out or vines – turning it into a tree of life. They could hardly draw it – much less wear it.

And that is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that the cross is considered foolishness to the world. It was considered foolish by Jews and Gentiles alike that the Son of God could be killed on a lowly and despicable cross – and killed in such a terrible way that he could be so powerless, so weak.

That’s not how a god, or a Messiah, or a king was supposed to behave. They’re supposed to kill and subdue their enemies. Yet, we believe that’s just how God came to us – first as a helpless baby, then nailed helplessly on the cross. But, what seems foolish to the non-believing world is really the wisdom, the power, the salvation, and the love of God!

I’m sure, even today, non-Christians may respect us. I’m sure that they respect our choices in the main, and respect our intelligence. But, there may be a part of their view of us that goes: “That Rev. Jackson seems like a pretty smart guy. But does he really believe that this guy who died on a cross 2,000 years ago is God’s Son?”

It can seem as foolish today as it did a couple thousand years ago. And yet…and yet…what appears as foolishness, is the very power of God. You see, when I walk into a hospital room… when I talk to people in crisis…when I prepare a family for a funeral or memorial service…when, from Christ’s church, I give food to the hungry….when I put the names of people on our prayer list…it doesn’t seem foolish at all.

It doesn’t seem foolish because we believe that – thanks to Jesus’ death on a cross – God is present in our weaknesses. God is there in the midst of death, and in its aftermath of mourning and grief. God is present in the everyday brokenness of our lives. And He turns that brokenness into something sacred.

When we are cursed, or feel cursed, Jesus is there because he became cursed on a cross for our sake. Whenever someone is tortured…whenever someone is executed…God is there, and God knows the pain.

Jesus did not come to be with us in some sort of alternate life where we are all rich and smart and perfect. Jesus did not come to pluck us out of this life. God came to be with us in THIS life, with all its suffering and trials.

Jesus came and Jesus died so that – by his resurrection – he might turn this cross – this symbol of death – into a symbol of life…turn this means of execution into a means of liberation…turn this thing of horror into a thing of hope.

He came so that these crosses that hang around our necks and over our hearts are no longer  burdens, but are blessings. He came so that our message of hope in Christ crucified might be a blessing for others.

Thanks be to God for this glorious, holy foolishness!

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Bruce A. Jackson

The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist

Glendale, Arizona

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Lenten Contemplation On Temptation

We are well into the season of Lent. Among our scriptural guides, as we journey through Lent, are the accounts of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan – temptations that occurred following his baptism, and before the beginning of his ministry. The accounts are found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew and Luke document three (3) distinct temptations, while Mark says only that Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

Temptation is the enticement to do something – especially something wrong – by the promise of pleasure or gain. In the case of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, Satan was trying to entice Jesus away from doing what was going to be required of him. Satan wanted to turn Jesus away from God by testing him – tempting him – just as Satan tries to tempt us away from God and deeper into sin.

Jesus was required to set his face to Jerusalem and the cross. For forty (40) days, Satan threw enticements at him in the wilderness to try to make Jesus give in and turn away from God’s requirements.

Lent is the time when we follow this journey of Jesus to the cross. We follow him as he is tempted – as the devil tries to steer him away from God’s declared path. And, we see Jesus come though with his faith renewed. We see him come through determined and resolute to follow God’s way.

But, what does temptation mean for us? Are we tempted in the same way that Jesus was? Does God put temptations in our paths to see if we will do the right thing and follow Him?

Actually, God does not tempt us individually. He allows the sinfulness of the world to tempt us though. This sinfulness turns us away from what is required of us by God. And what is required of us by God is not very complicated.

God has given us – through Jesus – two (2) commandments, found in chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel, which we are to follow. First, we are to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. Second, we are to love out neighbors as we love ourselves.

But, the temptations of this world can lead us into following lesser gods. They can lead us to follow the gods of self, of greed, of power, of racism, of sexism, and of misogyny. These lesser gods tempt us to ignore, be jealous of, or despise our neighbor. They lead us into dwelling only on our own selves, on our own perceived needs, on our own desires.

The devil isn’t so blatant as to tempt us with obvious demons. He comes at us in subtle, more devious ways. He tempts us into thinking that we don’t need the grace of God. He tempts us into thinking that we can live a good life by our own efforts. He tempts us into thinking that it’s all about us, rather than it’s all about God.

We can be tempted into thinking that we can find security in gated communities, in exclusive memberships, in gun possession, in money and investments, in upwardly mobile jobs and careers.

We can be tempted by the demon of self-righteousness – to look down on others – to being judgmental and critical – thinking less of others because we see them as different – or they don’t fit into our preconceived notions of who or what they are, how they should act, who they should marry, or what their roles should be.

But, as always, our model should be Jesus. He didn’t fall into sin in that wilderness. By resisting temptation, he was empowered to return to Galilee with the message of the Kingdom – with the message to repent and believe in the Gospel!

Jesus now goes into the wilderness of our lives. And he won’t let us down. Through faith in him, we have forgiveness for our sins. Through faith in him we have God’s presence in our daily walk. Through faith in him we have the strength to resist temptation at every turn.

As we travel through our forty (40) days in the wilderness during Lent, let us make sure we engage in intense prayer, and in study of Christ’s Word. By doing that – and with God’s grace – we can learn to face temptation, and not let those lesser, would-be gods keep us from our Lord’s requirements.

With God’s grace – and with the teachings of Christ – we can turn to loving our neighbors and ministering to them – no matter where they are, where they come from, what labels we put on them, what their sexual orientation, or what they look like.

And, by doing that, we can look forward to that glorious day when our Savior salutes us in heaven with the praise of “well done, good and faithful servants.”

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Bruce A. Jackson

Rector, The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist

Glendale, Arizona

www.stjohnsaz.org

 

LENTEN CONTEMPLATION ON TEMPTATION

 

We are well into the season of Lent. Among our scriptural guides, as we journey through Lent, are the accounts of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan – temptations that occurred following his baptism, and before the beginning of his ministry. The accounts are found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew and Luke document three (3) distinct temptations, while Mark says only that Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

 

Temptation is the enticement to do something – especially something wrong – by the promise of pleasure or gain. In the case of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, Satan was trying to entice Jesus away from doing what was going to be required of him. Satan wanted to turn Jesus away from God by testing him – tempting him – just as Satan tries to tempt us away from God and deeper into sin.

 

Jesus was required to set his face to Jerusalem and the cross. For forty (40) days, Satan threw enticements at him in the wilderness to try to make Jesus give in and turn away from God’s requirements.

 

Lent is the time when we follow this journey of Jesus to the cross. We follow him as he is tempted – as the devil tries to steer him away from God’s declared path. And, we see Jesus come though with his faith renewed. We see him come through determined and resolute to follow God’s way.

 

But, what does temptation mean for us? Are we tempted in the same way that Jesus was? Does God put temptations in our paths to see if we will do the right thing and follow Him?

 

Actually, God does not tempt us individually. He allows the sinfulness of the world to tempt us though. This sinfulness turns us away from what is required of us by God. And what is required of us by God is not very complicated.

 

God has given us – through Jesus – two (2) commandments, found in chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel, which we are to follow. First, we are to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. Second, we are to love out neighbors as we love ourselves.

 

But, the temptations of this world can lead us into following lesser gods. They can lead us to follow the gods of self, of greed, of power, of racism, of sexism, and of misogyny. These lesser gods tempt us to ignore, be jealous of, or despise our neighbor. They lead us into dwelling only on our own selves, on our own perceived needs, on our own desires.

 

The devil isn’t so blatant as to tempt us with obvious demons. He comes at us in subtle, more devious ways. He tempts us into thinking that we don’t need the grace of God. He tempts us into thinking that we can live a good life by our own efforts. He tempts us into thinking that it’s all about us, rather than it’s all about God.

We can be tempted into thinking that we can find security in gated communities, in exclusive memberships, in gun possession, in money and investments, in upwardly mobile jobs and careers.

 

We can be tempted by the demon of self-righteousness – to look down on others – to being judgmental and critical – thinking less of others because we see them as different – or they don’t fit into our preconceived notions of who or what they are, how they should act, who they should marry, or what their roles should be.

 

But, as always, our model should be Jesus. He didn’t fall into sin in that wilderness. By resisting temptation, he was empowered to return to Galilee with the message of the Kingdom – with the message to repent and believe in the Gospel!

 

Jesus now goes into the wilderness of our lives. And he won’t let us down. Through faith in him, we have forgiveness for our sins. Through faith in him we have God’s presence in our daily walk. Through faith in him we have the strength to resist temptation at every turn.

 

As we travel through our forty (40) days in the wilderness during Lent, let us make sure we engage in intense prayer, and in study of Christ’s Word. By doing that – and with God’s grace – we can learn to face temptation, and not let those lesser, would-be gods keep us from our Lord’s requirements.

 

With God’s grace – and with the teachings of Christ – we can turn to loving our neighbors and ministering to them – no matter where they are, where they come from, what labels we put on them, what their sexual orientation, or what they look like.

 

And, by doing that, we can look forward to that glorious day when our Savior salutes us in heaven with the praise of “well done, good and faithful servants.”

 

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Bruce A. Jackson

Rector, The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist

Glendale, Arizona

www.stjohnsaz.org

 

LENTEN CONTEMPLATION ON TEMPTATION

 

We are well into the season of Lent. Among our scriptural guides, as we journey through Lent, are the accounts of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan – temptations that occurred following his baptism, and before the beginning of his ministry. The accounts are found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew and Luke document three (3) distinct temptations, while Mark says only that Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.

 

Temptation is the enticement to do something – especially something wrong – by the promise of pleasure or gain. In the case of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, Satan was trying to entice Jesus away from doing what was going to be required of him. Satan wanted to turn Jesus away from God by testing him – tempting him – just as Satan tries to tempt us away from God and deeper into sin.

 

Jesus was required to set his face to Jerusalem and the cross. For forty (40) days, Satan threw enticements at him in the wilderness to try to make Jesus give in and turn away from God’s requirements.

 

Lent is the time when we follow this journey of Jesus to the cross. We follow him as he is tempted – as the devil tries to steer him away from God’s declared path. And, we see Jesus come though with his faith renewed. We see him come through determined and resolute to follow God’s way.

 

But, what does temptation mean for us? Are we tempted in the same way that Jesus was? Does God put temptations in our paths to see if we will do the right thing and follow Him?

 

Actually, God does not tempt us individually. He allows the sinfulness of the world to tempt us though. This sinfulness turns us away from what is required of us by God. And what is required of us by God is not very complicated.

 

God has given us – through Jesus – two (2) commandments, found in chapter 12 of Mark’s Gospel, which we are to follow. First, we are to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. Second, we are to love out neighbors as we love ourselves.

 

But, the temptations of this world can lead us into following lesser gods. They can lead us to follow the gods of self, of greed, of power, of racism, of sexism, and of misogyny. These lesser gods tempt us to ignore, be jealous of, or despise our neighbor. They lead us into dwelling only on our own selves, on our own perceived needs, on our own desires.

 

The devil isn’t so blatant as to tempt us with obvious demons. He comes at us in subtle, more devious ways. He tempts us into thinking that we don’t need the grace of God. He tempts us into thinking that we can live a good life by our own efforts. He tempts us into thinking that it’s all about us, rather than it’s all about God.

We can be tempted into thinking that we can find security in gated communities, in exclusive memberships, in gun possession, in money and investments, in upwardly mobile jobs and careers.

 

We can be tempted by the demon of self-righteousness – to look down on others – to being judgmental and critical – thinking less of others because we see them as different – or they don’t fit into our preconceived notions of who or what they are, how they should act, who they should marry, or what their roles should be.

 

But, as always, our model should be Jesus. He didn’t fall into sin in that wilderness. By resisting temptation, he was empowered to return to Galilee with the message of the Kingdom – with the message to repent and believe in the Gospel!

 

Jesus now goes into the wilderness of our lives. And he won’t let us down. Through faith in him, we have forgiveness for our sins. Through faith in him we have God’s presence in our daily walk. Through faith in him we have the strength to resist temptation at every turn.

 

As we travel through our forty (40) days in the wilderness during Lent, let us make sure we engage in intense prayer, and in study of Christ’s Word. By doing that – and with God’s grace – we can learn to face temptation, and not let those lesser, would-be gods keep us from our Lord’s requirements.

 

With God’s grace – and with the teachings of Christ – we can turn to loving our neighbors and ministering to them – no matter where they are, where they come from, what labels we put on them, what their sexual orientation, or what they look like.

And, by doing that, we can look forward to that glorious day when our Savior salutes us in heaven with the praise of “well done, good and faithful servants.”

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Bruce A. Jackson

Rector, The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist

Glendale, Arizona

www.stjohnsaz.org

Remembering MLK’s Legacy Gift

This week marks the annual commemoration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. King is honored with a national holiday every year since 1983, when President Ronald Regan signed the holiday into law.

But, as with so many commemorative holidays, remembering King can sometimes slip into a numbing routine – especially since the holiday honoring King occurs right after our new college football national championship game, and in the middle of the NFL playoffs, just before the Super Bowl. So, King’s holiday can become, to many, a routine holiday marked by store sales.

But, we Americans should always pause to remember King’s greatest legacy gift to us. It wasn’t just his achieving a seat on a bus or at a lunch counter for a minority of us with darker skin tones. It wasn’t even his awakening call to a majority who were comfortable living in constricting isolation – almost oblivious to the near catastrophic rot seeping through the pores of our nation. Actually, King’s greatest legacy gift was his ability to masterfully lay bare the Body of Christ and to challenge the entire country to live in it.

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote: “For just as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we are all baptized into one body…” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

That simple scriptural message has been in front of us for 2,000 years. Yet, we obviously need regular reminders. We forget that there were no ghettos in the Garden of Eden. There were no man-made legislative distinctions that sought to define something called “race.” We are all children of Eve – all of common stock. So there are no re-runs of the story of Calvary, with separate white, black, or brown casts. Jesus died once, and he died for all. In him, we are all risen. And, we are all risen together.

Jesus told us directly to “love one another.” And, he didn’t qualify that to mean being polite acquaintances of each other when we happen to find ourselves in close proximity at some rare gathering. Jesus never commanded that we merely tolerate one another. And he certainly didn’t mean for us to pacify or patronize each other with government sanctioned, mid-winter holidays. He said, LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Neither the racist degradation of a Birmingham jail, brutality suffered at the hands of mobs and local law enforcement, nor his bloody martyrdom on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee could shake King’s allegiance to Christ’s message of love.

On King’s memorial is inscribed some of his words about love: “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses love; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

King kept reminding us to revisit Jesus’ brilliant insight and articulation on bonds that are closer than brotherhood…we are one…the beloved of God, our Father. And we are united in the Body of Christ.

King may be considered as a formative figure in the modern fight for human rights. His prophetic voice was that of a democratic revolutionary. And it was a voice that reverberated with the great call of “liberty and justice for all.” His life and teachings modeled the radical gospel of love.

At the core of King’s message was a community commitment to an ethic of love- a love that was inclusive of friend and foe alike. This is a love ethic that is grounded in the Gospel of Christ. He wrote: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

For more than fifty (50) years, King’s legacy has somewhat guided our sense of civic, if not moral, justice. His enduring lessons transcend mistaken and warped perceptions of pigmentation and multiculturalism.

When we pause to honor King’s legacy, we are actually honoring the notion of the universal, loving community. And, in doing so, we are verifying our commitment to the church’s first love – the social, ever compassionate, and loving gospel of our Savior, Jesus the Christ.

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Bruce A. Jackson

Rector, The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist

Glendale, Arizona

http://www.stjohnsaz.org

Martyrs And Heroes of South Sudan

This coming Sunday, November 9, 2014, our church is blessed to welcome The Rt. Rev. Hilary Garang Deng Awer, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Malakai, South Sudan. Bishop Hilary has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Sudan University for Science and Technology. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary, and received further theology training at Bishop Gwynne College. He has also received an honorary doctorate from Virginia Theological Seminary.

Bishop Hilary was ordained to the priesthood in 1987. He then served as a parish priest in Juba, Khartoum, and Portsudan. In 2003, he was consecrated as the Bishop of the Diocese of Malakai.

Our church has, previously, sent financial assistance to Bishop Hillary’s diocese to help priests who have been displaced by the awful oppression they have suffered as a result of the ongoing war in Sudan. Bishop Hilary is coming to thank us, and to share with us insights into the current situation there.

The third century North African teacher, Tertullian, once wrote: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” In no place is that observation more apt than in Sudan, Africa’s largest geographic country – and a land long torn by violence.

Much of the trouble began with British policy in the late 19th century. The British arbitrarily divided the vast country between a Muslim north and a multi-ethnic south. They thus limited Christian missionary activity largely to the south. This artificial division created enduring problems.

After Sudan gained independence in January, 1956, three civilian governments, and three military dictatorships ruled during 50 years of civil war. During the 1980’s, Sudan’s internal armed conflict assumed an increasingly religious character, fueled by a northern dominated Islamic government. That government imposed authoritative political control, Islam as the state religion, a penal code based on Sharia law, and restrictions on free speech and free assembly.

On May 16, 1983, a small number of Episcopal and Roman Catholic clergy and lay leaders declared that they “would not abandon God as they knew Him.” Possibly over 2 million people – mostly Christian – were then killed in a two decades long civil war, until a Comprehensive Peace Treaty was signed in January, 2005.

But the conflict and mayhem did not stop – even after South Sudan gained independence in 2011 – and it continues right up to today. During these years, as many as four million southern Christians have been internally displaced, and another million forced into exile in Africa and elsewhere. Bishop Hilary has moved his wife and children to Uganda, as he continues his call in South Sudan.

Yet, despite the total destruction of churches, schools, and other institutions, Sudanese Christianity – which includes four million members of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan – has both solidified as a faith community, and gradually expanded at home and among refugees, providing steadfast hope in often desperate settings.

Twenty-two of the twenty-four dioceses exist in exile in Uganda or Kenya. A majority of the clergy are unpaid. Only 5% of the population of South Sudan was Christian in 1983. Today, over 85% of its 6 million people are now mostly Episcopal or Roman Catholic.

Within all the tragedy, there is a remarkable depth in the faith of Sudan’s Christians. A faith rooted deeply in the mercy of God has renewed their spirits throughout the years of strife and sorrow.

We will joyfully welcome Bishop Hilary, and will benefit from his wisdom. And may we continue to pray for, and support, the brave people of South Sudan, in their steadfast adherence to the Good News of the Gospel,

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Bruce A. Jackson

Rector, The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist

4102 West Union Hills Drive

Glendale, AZ, 85308

www.stjohnsaz.org

St. Francis of Assisi

Our church’s annual commemoration of St. Francis of Assisi will take place this coming Sunday afternoon, with a Blessing of the Animals service. St. Francis grew up in privilege. And, yet he embraced poverty. He wanted to be a soldier. But, he ended up being a voice for peace. He was worldly in his youth. But he later embraced a mystical relationship with the divine. Ultimately, he embraced a philosophy of being in communion with all people and other creations of God, although he particularly identified with the poorest and humblest of the human condition.

St. Francis has long been the focus of reflection and a source of inspiration. His call for a life of voluntary poverty in a community of service, plus his life of prayer and meditation, has inspired many to join cloistered orders, seeking a closer relationship with God

Francis has also inspired generations to reconsider the relationship of humanity to the physical world. His life served as an example of respect for all of creation. One can even find an echo of his ideals in the modern models of the hospice movement.

In this moment in history, where we seem to be endlessly staring into the face of war – where we have become desensitized to violence, with many feeling the answer is to possess personal arsenals of lethal weapons – and where racial hatred continues to haunt us, Francis serves as an example of the alternative of the peaceful way of dialogue.

In his day, Christians waged war on Muslims in the Holy Land – a conflict we know as the Crusades. In 1219, during the Fifth Crusade, Francis travelled to Damietta in Egypt to meet with the Sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kamil. Francis hoped to convert him. That didn’t happen. But, he and the Sultan found common ground and became friends. Francis approached the Sultan in peace, not war. And, his approach caused a temporary diminution in the bloodshed.

He insisted that no Franciscan speak poorly of Muslims or the Koran. This was a great early expression of interfaith respect and dialogue.

Francis is often credited with the saying: “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” Whether or not he actually coined this phrase, he certainly lived it. While he effectively preached the Gospel, he let his actions supplement, and even elevate, his words. Francis knew that we can preach the Gospel nonstop. But, if our actions are not in accord with it, then our words mean nothing.

We must strive each day to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. St. Francis’ example should make us reflect on whether we are living authentically – whether our actions and ways point back to a loving God in Christ, or to something else. Since, we are called to bring others to the faith, we must remember that they will only come to the faith by the faith they see living through, and in, us.

St. Francis’ witness of peaceful dialogue as an alternative to violence and war gives us a very relevant model to explore and to apply. And, as the earth – the only home we have in our pre-heavenly existence – becomes more and more in peril, Francis’ love for all of creation should be part of our call to action in preserving, and caring for, God’s gift of this earthly home.

Your brother in Christ,

The Rev. Bruce A. Jackson

The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist

Glendale, Arizona

www.stjohnsaz.org