Thursday, Second Week in Lent

By Matthew B. Harper

1 Corinthians 6:19 – Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?

Paul begins this passage by quoting the Corinthians, and then rebuking them kindly. Are all things good and legal for us as Christians? Yes. The sin comes from how we use them and if we corrupt them. Anything on this earth can become an addiction and destroy, and that is the danger.

I know many men in here whose lives have been destroyed by their addictions to drugs and alcohol. Yet Paul tells Timothy in a letter to him to enjoy a drink of wine from time to time. Is there a conflict in this? Not at all. For Paul reminds the Corinthians that all things are permissible, but not all good, and we should not be dominated by anything. Alcohol, (like drugs, sex, money, clothes, food…) is not in and of itself evil, but to be dominated by an addiction for it is. For it is to be in subjection not to God, but to something of the world. The evil comes not from any one substance, but from our usage of it. The responsibility is upon us, as believers, to allow the spirit to help us discern the proper usage for God’s gifts.

Christ has purchased freedom for us but that does not mean that we are to indulge in anything we please with wanton abandon. We are to test all things by the spirit of God. Above all we are not to allow ourselves to become in subjection to the addictions to anything other than God. All things are permissible, but not all things beneficial, and our only addiction should be to God.

That it may please thee to illumine all bishops, priests, and deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living, they may set it forth, and show it accordingly, We beseech thee t hear us, good Lord” BCP 150

Second Sunday in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Genesis 22:2 – He [God] said, “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him there as a burnt offering…”

The Burnt offering was the offering given at the Temple to pay for the sins that had been done. It was the blood sacrifice given to cover a multitude of sins.

Abraham was a tremendous man of God, but every time I read this I wonder if he was such a great father! The bible is clear, Jesus is clear, that nothing is to come between us and God. Not our spouses, not our parents, not even our children. So I admire Abraham’s faith even if I question if mine would be so strong. Jesus spoke to his disciples about the coming crucifixion. He told them quite openly of his coming suffering and death.

After the resurrection we find Paul writing to the Romans to teach them of how God did give his only son to pay for our sins. Abraham Loved God more than his family, and this was why he was willing to obey God and sacrifice his son. And God loved humanity so much that he was willing to sacrifice his son. God gave Abraham relief, and Isaac was spared; but we did not give God relief, and Paul preached Christ crucified. I can hardly fathom the great love of God, and it leaves me humbled and grateful.

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from thy ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy word, Jesus Christ thy Son, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen” BCP 166

Saturday, First Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Mark 2:27 – Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

One of the greatest gifts we have in the modern church, the gift of the Liturgy. Our book of Common Prayer contains prayers and orders of service that date back to the first days of the Apostolic Fathers. It has been changed and revised over the years to meet our changing needs, but that is only the evolution of something rooted in our foundation in Christ.

But we cannot become a slave to ritual. One thing I learned, even as a young child, is that the liturgy and ritual is to help us, not God. God does not need the right words, or the right orders of service, to do God’s work. As a child at Shrinemont summer camp I remember celebrating Christmas in July. How could this be, I wondered. But December 25 is just a day; Christmas is any day that we celebrate the birth of our Lord; just as we celebrate Easter with every prayer, and every praise. So we had Christmas in the middle of the summer.

Since then I have seen classrooms, gymnasiums, and prison visiting rooms turned into chapels, and seen communion given with water and Ritz crackers, and God has done God’s work.

I miss the liturgy. When an Episcopal priest celebrated communion with me simply hearing the words I know so well was a gift, and a blessing. But I know that all of our Prayer Book, and all of our Theology, is subservient to God, not the other way around.

Today is Saturday, the day of the Jewish Sabbath, and Christ is Lord of the Sabbath.

By the mystery of thy holy incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and submission to the Law; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation, Good Lord deliver us.” BCP 149

Friday, First Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Mark 2:14 – and as he was walking along, he saw Levi…sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him. “Follow Me.” And he got up and followed him

Levi was an unpopular man. Levi was a Jew, and he was a Jew who worked with the Roman oppressors. The tax booth, or ‘customs-house’ in some translations, was a place known for injustice and abuses of power. It was often common that such a position would have to be bought, knowing then that you could become rich profiting form your fellow Jews. Levi would have been seen as a traitor to his own people. But Jesus calls him, and immediately he answers.

John Calvin, writing on this passage, writes: “[Levi was selected] that he might be an example of Christ’s undeserved goodness, and might show in his person that the calling of all of us depends, not on the merits of our own righteousness, but on His pure kindness. [Levi] therefore, was not only a witness and a preacher, but was also a proof and illustration of the grace exhibited in Christ.”

And of all the passages in the bible, this story (in Matthew, Mark, and Luke) is one of the most special to me. Why? Because in modern English we don’t use the word ‘Levi”, we use the name ‘Matthew”. And when I hear the Lord calling my name, it resonates in my soul. Matthew followed the Lord on his ministry, wrote a Gospel that stands today, and was eventually killed for his faith. When I think of all of that, I can only pray that I have the same courage in following Christ as he calls to me in my life.

From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared, Good Lord deliver us” (BCP, 149)

Thursday, First Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Mark 2:5,11-12 – When Jesus saw their faith he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven…I say to you stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up…so that they were all amazed and glorified God

These friends were willing to do anything to get the paralyzed man before Jesus. They climbed on top of a house, cut a hole in the roof, and lowered the man down before Jesus. And Jesus saw their faith. Jesus did not reward them for the work they had done any more than he reprimanded them for cutting a hole in the roof. It wasn’t because of their hard work that he tended to them; it was because of their faith.

And Jesus clearly sets his eyes on the priority, the forgiveness of sins. Jesus knew the man would walk in this life or the next, so his priority was in making sure that there was a ‘next’ for this man. Jesus only heals him right then as a secondary thing, and as a demonstration to the unbelievers that he did have the authority given to him by God to do such things.

It is humbling to think of the majesty of giving movement to a man paralyzed, and then to realize that it is only secondary in the eyes of God to the forgiveness for our sins. I know that any of us would go to great lengths if we could help a friend who was paralyzed regain their movement, but we are more reluctant to go to the same lengths to bring a friend before God. We need to realign our thinking to that of God’s.

From lightening and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine, Good Lord deliver us” BCP 149

Wednesday, First Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Psalm 119:67 – Before I was humbled I went astray, but now I keep your word

There is something powerful in being humbled before God and man. Most of us come to the faith full of arrogance. We think ‘wow, God is really lucky that He’s got me on His side’. And we look at churches thinking only of what they can do for us. And when we are in our pride, we go astray from God. We do not trust the Spirit, and we argue away the scriptures. We put ourselves above our own consciousness, and above God. And then we are humbled. God may humble us, or the world will humble us if God does not get to it first.

One common thing about every major prophet and servant of God, throughout the whole bible, is that they were all first humbled before God and man. Some, like Moses David and Paul, were murderers; some, like Peter, denied Christ before man; and some, like the leper in today’s Gospel, suffered from a horrible disease. As humans we are too much in our pride, and we cannot approach God in this way. We must be humbled before we can truly come to God with an honest heart. It is only when we are humbled, when our pride is replaced with repentance, that we can experience the redemptive power of God. The former warden of the prison I am now at once said: “A man must know he is lost, before he can be saved.” And then we, like the leper, can be healed.

And when that happens we can, like the leper, run forth and proclaim God to all who would hear.

From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word and commandment, Good Lord deliver us.” BCP 149

Tuesday, First Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

Mark 1:17 – And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

When God called forth men to serve him in earthly ministry he did not choose the wise, the learned, or the successful. When Christ came he did not choose men of wealth or power. Only God can judge what is in the true heart of man, and who will serve God’s glory to the fullest.

The reason for this is that teaching and faith comes from God, above all. God raises up those who would be raised up. The poor of the world have the least to lose for their faith, and the most to gain. They are less encumbered by the things of the world and the things of the flesh. What the world sees as loss and poverty, the Lord sees as freedom from the things that ensnare us. When we know that we have nothing outside of God, then we can be more faithful to God. The poor and lost are more willing to risk it all for God, and to accept what God has to give.

God calls whom God wills, and God calls to us wherever we are, whatever we are doing. The only thing that separates us is how we respond to that call. These fishermen dropped everything that they had and followed Christ; later they would be the Disciples Simon and Andrew. They would minister for Christ all of their life, and they would be killed for their faith. God called, and they gave their lives to answer.

Where is your wisdom from? When God calls you, what is it that holds you back? Whatever it is, put it to death this lent, let it be crucified with Christ, so that you might be resurrected anew.

From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord deliver us.” BCP149

Monday, First Week in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

1 Corinthians 1:10 – Now I appeal to you … by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

There are many divisions within the church today. These divisions are not much understood, and it seems strange to non-Christians that we divide ourselves into denominations. We have so many “non”-denominational groups that they have become their own denomination. In prison there is no greater rift in Christianity than between the Catholics and the Protestants. Both groups seem to take a perverse pleasure in denying the Christianity of the other group. Within the Anglican Communion we have seen much upheaval in the last forty years, and much division.

This seems to stand in such sharp contrast to the words of Paul, who urges us to stand together in the faith and have no divisions among ourselves. And when groups come from the outside I see this truth in their ministry to the men in here. The styles of worship and the words they use to describe their relationship with God may vary, but their love and ministry in the work of the Lord do not vary. They stand firm on the promises of Christ, and minister in God’s Love, and the men in here see the truth in that. There may not always be unity of sentiment, but there is unity of affection.

When it really comes down to what the truth is, we stand united in God’s Love. And that is what Paul was talking about.

From all blindness of heart; and pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity, Good Lord, deliver us.” BCP149

First Sunday in Lent

by Matthew B. Harper

1 Peter 3:18-19: For Christ also suffered for the sins for all… in order to bring you to God. … In which he also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.

Christ first became known at his baptism. It should come as no surprise to any Christian that right after he made himself known, he was tempted. It always seems to be the way the world and the devil works that as soon as we try to step out in God, or to make a change for the better, that we are challenged twice as much

In times when we feel that we are struggling for a good cause, it is reassuring to think of Christ’s suffering. It is true that Christ suffered in his innocence, and we suffer in our guilt; but suffering is suffering no matter the cause. Christ bore the temptations, and all of his later suffering, in the same way: with the word and will of his father.

If you are fasting this lent, then today is coming at a time when you are feeling the loss the greatest. If you are taking up new holy habits, then today is still a day when you need special encouragement to keep it up. Whatever your need, find the strength in the same place Christ found it, in the Word and Will of God.

And if you suffer, know that the suffering is nothing new to Christ, and that all of our purpose comes through his suffering. It was only after Christ went through the temptations of the Devil that he began his earthly ministry.

“Almighty God, make speed to help thy servant who are assaulted by manifold temptations; and; as thou knowest their several infirmities, let each one find thee mighty to save; through Jesus Christ thy Son out Lord. Amen” BCP166