Tag: Lent

Ash Wednesday

An Ash Wednesday homily by the Bishop of Fort Worth, Ryan Reed.

Every Ash Wednesday, we are confronted with the fact that we are all broken people, living in broken world. The silent procession, the somber liturgy, the stark plain sanctuary, the ashes, the litany of penance: all of these remind us of the truth of our sinfulness, our brokenness, and our rebellion against God and his will for us.

In the early 20th century, an English newspaper editorial asked the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” G. K. Chesterton mailed in a two word reply: “I am.”

We begin the journey of Lent with the difficult task of looking at our own guilt and sin. The journey begins with ashes and the terrible reminder that we are fallen.

The ashes serve as a sign of remorse and repentance and take us face to face with our own brokenness. We are confronted by our own individual rebellion against God which our first parents have imparted to us. With these same ashes we are also confronted with our mortality. We are but dust and to dust we shall return. To quote the rockband Kansas, “All we are is dust in the wind”.

The journey of Lent begins with the harsh reminder that we are held captive to sin and that not one of us can escape the consequence of sin. Unless the Lord returns first, we will all die.

But the journey of Lent doesn’t end there. We will gladly cheer the arrival of our king into his city, and then, just days later, at the drop of a hat, we will shout for his death. We will stand by as he is beaten and whipped, mocked and spit upon.

We will watch as he struggles to make it to his place of execution: as he walks the way of the cross, and we will hear the distinct sound of iron striking iron as the spikes pierce his hands and his feet. We will stand in the crowd as many mock him and laugh at him. We will watch as his mother cries in pain and the most perfect thing in all creation, the man named Jesus writhes in agony. And as he breathes his last, the world will grow dark.

On the surface, this is not a journey that any of us really want to take. When we look at the cross of Christ, we see the wrath of God in all its holiness, and we see the horror and the consequences of our sin. We see the perfect justice of God meted out for our rebellion, as the blood of Jesus drips into the ground.

When we look at the cross, we see the wrath of God. But there are two sides to the cross. When we look again, we also see the love of God in all its holiness. So on the surface, we may not want to take this journey, but deep down inside, we would not miss it for anything in the world.

We start this journey on Ash Wednesday in humility and repentance, recognizing that God loves us so much that he would send his son to die for us, so that if we are willing to believe in him, we might not only be forgiven, but discover eternal life.

We put on ashes knowing that only by the grace of God have we become his children. During Lent, we journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem, as he reveals to us God’s will for his people. We rejoice at his triumphal entry and crown him with many crowns. We sit quietly in the upper room as Jesus demonstrates for us what is at the very heart of the Trinity: a perfect self-giving love which he shows us as he washes our feet. He calls us to share that same sacrificial love for each other. He then institutes a new Passover meal which will allow us to share fully in him even as he comes fully into us.

We walk with Jesus along the way of the cross, adoring him for the love he shows us and thanking him for the suffering that has removed the stain of our shame. Thanking him for taking the place that was rightfully ours.
We stand with Saint Mary and Saint John at the foot of the cross in awe that God loves us this much. And we look through the cross to a tomb where the most surprising, most amazing thing in all of creation will happen.

We stand with the women before the tomb and hear the most incredible words ever uttered by man or angel. And we come to know more fully that sin and death have been crushed and destroyed. We discover that light has overcome the darkness and that victory belongs to God. And for all of that, we will rejoice.

As the prophet Joel says, now is the time to blow the trumpet and declare a fast. Now is the time to fall on our knees in repentance because God is coming with blessings in his hand.

As we begin this journey of Lent, we look upon the cross and realize with St. Paul that now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. We have an opportunity, if we use this gift of Lent, to ensure that our hearts are in the right place. To ensure, as Jesus tells us, that we are storing up treasures not here on earth, but in heaven.

We begin this journey kneeling before the altar and receiving ashes in the sign of the cross. Ashes that remind us we must repent and that apart from God we are nothing.

Ashes in the sign of the cross remind us also that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. The sign of the cross which tells us that Jesus has conquered sin on our behalf. A cross that points beyond itself to an empty tomb in which Jesus now offers us divine life.



Resisting Temptation to The Last Breath

Via Forward in Christ:

By Ray Sutton

“This is the great work of man; always to take blame for his own sins before God, and to expect temptations until his last breath.” St. Anthony the Great

So wrote St. Anthony the Great, considered to be the father of monasticism both East and West. Having inherited enormous wealth after both his parents died, Anthony was orphaned. Then one day he heard the words of Jesus Christ from St. Matthew’s Gospel, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions” (19:21). He sold and gave away all that he had.

Subsequently he entered the monastic life. At the time the way to do this was to live in community with other monks. Instead, Anthony of Egypt or Anthony of the Desert, as he is also referred to, chose life in a cave to live as an ascetic. There he engaged the hermitic (hermit or life alone) tradition of monasticism. 

In his life of solitude, Anthony also discovered spiritual warfare as he had never known it before. He fought virtually every kind of demon of temptation. St. Athanasius, his good friend, records and preserves St. Anthony’s teachings in the classic biography of his life, the Life of St. Anthony. Thus began the influence of St. Anthony on saints East and West.

Perhaps the most famous bishop and theologian in the West to be influenced by St. Anthony was St. Augustine; in the Eastern Church he is recognized as Blessed Augustine. The famed Bishop in North Africa, also considered to be one of the four Doctors of the Church, learned about St. Anthony from his friend Ponticianus. 

Ponticianus shared a story with Augustine about two of his friends who had discovered Athanasius’ Life of St. Anthony. These two read St. Anthony’s Life together. One of them, an Imperial Inspector, found himself blurting out in the midst of their reading, “Tell me, please, what is the goal of our ambition in all these labors of ours? What are we aiming at? What is our motive in being in the public service? Have we any higher hope at court than to be friends of the Emperor… But if I should choose to be a friend of God, I can become one now.” It was then that he discovered through St. Anthony’s life that all his worldly ambition was nothing compared to friendship with God. Both men were converted from their reading of St. Anthony’s Life.

Upon learning of what happened to the two about whom Ponticianus related, Augustine read St. Athanasius’ Life of St. Anthony. He writes in his Confessions of how at one point as a young, nineteen-year-old, he had prayed his legendary prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence but not yet.” After reading St. Anthony’s Life, he began to realize the time of “not yet” had come to an end. 

Shortly thereafter, he sat outside the Cathedral in Milan listening to St. Ambrose preach on the Epistle to the Romans. There on a bench he heard a child singing a song in the background, tolle et lege, which means “take up and read.” Looking down he saw a text from Romans. He read it and the rest as they say is history. Augustine converted, returning to the faith of his mother, Monica, who had prayed for him all during his sojourn resisting the call of God on his life.

Significantly, both the Eastern and Western traditions on resisting temptation emerge from St. Anthony. In the West, St. Augustine forges a path in his own autobiography, Confessions. Combined with his other commentaries and writings, he develops a theology and way of fighting sin and temptation on which others would build. From Dante to C.S. Lewis, we learn much about the techniques of old Scratch, the Devil. 

As for Lewis in particular, while studying at Oxford I joined the C.S. Lewis Club that often met at Pusey House, where I was doing most of my own doctoral research. I recall one evening that a speaker said, “Lewis provides in his writings perhaps the most extensive insight into the struggle with evil of any other in the Western Tradition of Christianity.” He went on to explain that Lewis had lived on the other side in the world of evil for much of his life. When he converted, he brought with him the detailed insights of the dark kingdom’s intrigue that entices so many with Faustian promises. Indeed, and he was given the gift of prose with which to communicate his insights about the ways of the Evil One with stories for children young and old. All of his writings if read carefully, are a tour de force on the corporate and individual ways of temptation.

In the Eastern Church, however, we find a tradition that provides perhaps the best analysis of the actual process of temptation. It is most clearly sketched in a work called the Philokalia. It is written by the 12th century St. Peter of Damascus, based on a collection of writings going back to the Church Fathers and other Eastern monastics. The process of temptation presented in the Philokalia builds primarily on a text from the Epistle of James in the New Testament. James writes:

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. “ (ESV)

James explains clearly that God is not the author of temptation; Satan is. God allows temptation as part of our testing. The classic example is Job. In the first chapter of this massive Old Testament book we learn that Satan had to ask permission to tempt Job. God gave it for the purpose of perfecting Job. The desired end for God was as James explains, “to receive the crown of life,” the ultimate reward for any believer. And as St. Anthony explains, temptation continues to our last breath. Temptation is endemic to our life in Christ just as it was part of His.

However, temptation is not sin. The fact that one is tempted does not mean he or she is weak or that a sin has been committed. Yet, temptation is the beginning of what can give birth to sin, to use James’ analogy. The Eastern Fathers and Desert Monks in the Philokalia provide us with a lucid development of the process. It is: 1. Provocation/bait; 2. disturbance/interaction/coupling; 3. assent; 4. captivity; 5. Passion. Sometimes disturbance and coupling are separated into two explaining why some will speak of six steps into the plunge into sin. The following is a simple explanation. I’ll explain them as a fivefold process combining 2 & 3.

First, temptation begins with provocation or as is sometimes called, bait. Fleeting thoughts or a surprising, unexpected situation enters the horizon of our journey with God. Satan is always ready through his minions, demons, to put bait on the hook to lure us into sin. Even when we’ve placed ourselves in a dangerous context, a target rich environment for sin, Satan takes advantage to offer temptation. He’s always ready to do this even if we’re not, and often especially, least expecting it.

Second, once the bait has been cast, a disturbance in our soul erupts leading to a coupling with sin. The thoughts and desires aroused are entertained. We begin to dwell on the sinful by forming images in our mind. We play with the image. We think we’ll be “okay” just for a moment to find pleasure in it. We often begin to experience emotional arousal over the images. This is a critical moment when we cross over into the beginning stage of sin.

Third, we give into conscious assent. This is sometimes described as the onset of seduction. We continue to find pleasure in the sinful thoughts. At the same time the soul may become further disturbed and even struggle. Then if not resisted, one decides to take action on the thought. Assent is given.

Fourth, the struggle continues to the point of becoming captive. A rationalization begins to provide a way to continue into some kind of action. No doubt by the grace of God we can choose to break free. If not, we become captivated to the point of being a prisoner to evil desire.

Fifth, passion overtakes us. The thoughts that have been enticing and increasingly envisioned begin to control us. They even start to form a habit. There may be a back and forth. But by being allowed to stay around too long in our thoughts, hearts, and lives, too persistently, and by being too passive to the temptation, the desire becomes a passion dominating our existence.

St. Maximus the confessor summarizes: “First the memory brings some passion-free thought into the intellect. By its lingering there, the passion is aroused. When passion is not eradicated, it persuades the intellect to assent to it. Once this assent is given, the actual sin is committed.”

The Good News of the New Testament is that Grace is greater than all our sin! Jesus Christ is Lord. He is the Liberator clad in His glorious armor to fight for us. But we must make a conscious choice to resist and to fight. We have a conscious choice at every stage of the temptation. St. Paul tells us to put on Christ and His armor (Ephesians 6). If we will, we can resist temptation.

Again, St. Maximus summarizes well the help that God will give to those who resist. He says, “Some temptations bring men pleasure, some grief, some bodily pain. The Physician of our souls by means of his judgments applies the remedy to each soul according to the cause of its passion” (The Ascetic Life and Four Centuries on Charity). 

The hope we have is perhaps best stated by St. John Climacus, “The sea is bound to be stirred up and roused and enraged, so to cast out of it again on to the dry land the wood, the hay, and the corruption that was brought down into it by the rivers of the passions. Let us watch nature, and we shall find that after the storm at sea there comes a deep calm.” In this life we taste of those intermittent calms. But to end where we began, the ultimate calm will not come according to St. Anthony until we take our last breath.

God help us to stay in the fight against the world, the flesh and the devil until we breathe our last. And then there will be calm as never known beside the still waters of heaven.

The Most Rev. Ray R. Sutton is the Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) and the Ordinary of the Diocese of Mid America.

God takes our gift and multiplies it out

By Bp Paul Hewett

Ps. 52: 1-2, “Why boastest thou thyself, thou tyrant, that thou cant do mischief; Whereas the goodness of God endureth yet daily?”

When St. John Vianney was the Cure´d’Ars in 19th century France, an orphanage he founded had access to a granary. The nuns who took care of the orphans went to St. John Vianney one day to tell him that the granary was empty. The Cure´d’Ars told them to go back to the granary, and the nuns did, and upon returning to it, they found it full of grain. Christian hope is not wishful thinking or cheap optimism. Christian hope is the conviction that God is going to have His way.

Arthur Michael Ramsey, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, had a way of answering people who often ask the question, “How does a good God allow so much suffering and hardship?” This is called the problem of evil. He turned the question on its head. “How can there be so much good, if there is no God?” The goodness of God endureth yet daily. It is His goodness which lasts. So we can be surprised by the good, and how much of it there is, and not just scandalized by the bad.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching a large crowd of hungry people, and he asks the Philip a hard question: “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” to solve a seemingly impossible problem. Philip answers the question logically, and Andrew steps in to present a lad who has a picnic lunch. Jesus knows what He is going to do, but He makes us face difficulty, hardship, pain, obstacles and suffering. We see our inadequacy without Him. Our faith is not to be cheap optimism but solid realism.

So the apostles acknowledge the boy’s picnic lunch and point to its small size. We have a tendency to give up too soon. Spain gave up in California in the 1840’s, just as gold was about to be discovered. If Spain had kept California just a year or two more, the west coast would be theirs today! After Pentecost there will be no more “buts,” “but what are they, the five loaves and two fish, among so many?”

God takes our gift and multiplies it out. “We make a living by what we earn, but we make a life by what we give.” Jesus whole life points to His ultimate sacrifice…the ultimate release of the ultimate life. He is the ultimate force multiplier. God is the one who makes things come out right in the end, but only as we face the Cross. Then the desert can become fruitful and blossom. “The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead shall also quicken our mortal bodies…” God is known as the Master of the Impossible. The feeding of the multitudes foreshadows the Resurrection … the impossible possibility. “The goodness of God endureth yet daily.”

Today Jesus gives us Himself as the Bread of Life. He takes what we offer, and gives us Himself. When we receive Him in Holy Communion, we receive all three Persons of the Trinity. In Jesus, God becomes our food. So when we face trouble and pain, He is with us and in us to help us carry it, and to redeem it, and to bless others by it. When Mother Teresa first went to Calcutta, it is said that she had 3 cents in her pocket. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. “The goodness of God endureth yet daily.”

Some religions, including secular humanism, seek to avoid pain, or to make one immune to pain, so that one will not feel pain. The Christian faith is not medicine for suffering, but a perspective to suffering. Go through it and out onto the other side, to transfiguration and resurrection. Our trials can make us spiritual alchemists. We learn to turn adversity into gold.

The pagan view is “if you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross.” The Gospel view is “because I am the Son of God, I remain on the Cross.” There is no other way to radiance, to spread so much light and life to the world. We kneel here in what Thomas Merton called “the tremendous poverty which is the adoration of God.”

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 26, 2017 at 9 am at the
Cathedral Church of the Epiphany, Columbia, SC

Bp. Ackerman Speaks on Temptation and Sin

Bp. Ackerman speaks on Quad-Cities Radio on the themes of Lent based on Luke 4:1-13.  Check it out here!

The Temptation of Jesus

1And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led about by the Spirit in the wilderness 2for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days; and when they had ended, He became hungry. 3And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” 4And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE.’” 5And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7“Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” 8And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 9And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10for it is written,


12And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST.’”

13And when the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from Him until an opportune time.