The Way of Christ: Episode Three

Sacraments

The Sacraments
Q. What are the sacraments?
A. The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

Q. What is grace?
A. Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

Q. What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel?
A. The two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.

Other Sacramental Rites

Q. What other sacramental rites evolved in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
A. Other sacramental rites which evolved in the Church include confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, and unction.

Q. How do they differ from the two sacraments of the Gospel?
A. Although they are means of grace, they are not necessary for all persons in the same way that Baptism and the Eucharist are.

Q. What is Reconciliation of a Penitent?
A. Reconciliation of a Penitent, or Penance, is the rite in which those who repent of their sins may confess them to God in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution from the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer 1979, p. 857 & 860

If you are or plan to be a member of the Episcopal Church, you should probably read the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer.  It is short and easy to read, but difficult to absorb because the ideas involved are big ideas and every word is loaded.  But this little section (plus a little more) gives us a vital entrance into two important issues for every Christian. Sacraments

Sacraments hold a unique place in the arguments of the Church universal.  There isn’t much beyond the divinity of Christ that has been fought over more.  The Anglican position is that there are two Sacraments given by Christ and five sacramental rites given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The first two we have already discussed, but the other five deserve some consideration as well. 

Confirmation is the adult affirmation of the faith where one takes responsibility for the faith assured by one’s parents and godparents.  Ordination is the rite wherein people are set aside for certain roles within the baptized life of the Church: specifically deacon, priest, and bishop.  Marriage is pretty self explanatory.  The final two we will consider below.

Suffering and Confession

Sin has consequences. Many of the consequences of sin are simply invisible to those around us, but some sins are not.  Confession and excommunication are often paired with the phrase “notorious sins.”  It was a reality for much of the Church’s early life that Christians lived out their faith in very small communities, and so sins were quickly known and publicly confessed.  This practice continued in the Western church until sometime in the sixth century as a general practice, but became the domain of small subsets of the church, mainly monastics and very small communities. We rarely see public confessions of a religious nature today. 

We probably should have some public confessions, as there are some sins that cause horrific harm to communities, but we leave most of that to the courts, separated from the church’s life.  The other reality is that we are not likely to know everyone on a Sunday morning in a modern church, and so it would be an odd non sequitur in most cases.  

So we confess, when necessary, to a priest as both a representative of the body of the Church and of God. As a priest, my job is to offer assurance of God and the community’s forgiveness.  

Two things become vitally important in that scenario: the penitent’s genuine recognition of harm and desire for change and the church’s genuine forgiveness.  These two things are not in the priest’s control. It is necessarily a very pastoral moment.  I cannot say enough that confession in our church is called Reconciliation for a reason. The goal is not the blotting out of past wrongs, but rather the coming together of two parties.   

Our hope in reconciliation is not forgetting but of healing, and healing recognizes that real injury and pain have happened. We seek to do what we can to help with the process and to help each other avoid that injury and pain in the future.  

We have a weird definition of sin that most of us carry around.  We “forgive and forget.”  But forgetting is rarely ever possible, especially for egregious sins that cause real harm. What we want is healing and amendment of life. It is a more involved and deep commitment. But we believe in sin and its consequences; we believe that suffering matters because human beings matter to God. And so we don’t deny and move on, what I think most of us have learned with “forgive and forget.”  We take our time to heal and amend. 

God, however, is not harmed.  God is bigger than our ability to harm, though his world, people and hopes may be damaged. We sin against God when we sin against these things, so we confess to God as well as to each other. God is able to forgive us and gives us the freedom in Christ to begin again and to choose other futures, one way to think about redemption.  When we confess our sins, we are making a statement about what we believe about God, that he is willing and able to heal us and set us free.  That is why the phrase, “Lord, have mercy” is a cry of faith.  We trust the goodness of God. 

We learn to trust that goodness and grace in the sacraments, which become in our practice acts of trust, statements of belief, and cries of hope.

Reading for the Third Sunday in Lent, 19 March 2017:  John 4:5-42

Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Reading John 4:5-42  Samaritan Woman at the Well - Ideal Disciple

Get to know you question: What keeps you from following Jesus? 

Read John 4:5-42 one time.  After a minute of silence ask:

What separated the woman at the well from Jesus?  Why does she and her village overcome those things?  What do the disciples of Jesus experience in this story?

Read John 4:5-42 a second time.  After a minute of silence ask:

So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay (Greek “abide”) with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”  What does it mean for Jesus to abide with you? What does it mean that Jesus is the Savior of the world?

How does Jesus abide with you?  How do you abide with Jesus?  

How is Jesus the Savior of the world? 

Teaching:  Discipleship and Witness

Reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, 26 March 2017:   John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”