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St. James
Episcopal Church

Father George's Daily Office blog

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Faithful Questions, “Why do bad things happen?”

Thursday, November 16, 2017  by George Roberts

Why do bad things happen?,” is our question for this week in our continued spiritual exploration called Faithful Questions. More people have claimed a loss of faith (or at least a diminished trust in God) because they view God as having either caused or allowed their suffering, or that of someone that they love.  And explanations fall a bit (or completely) flat in the face of someone who has, or is, suffering. Some say that suffering is the cost of free will; if God allows us the freedom to choose the good or the evil in our lives then the frequent choice of evil, or the bad, is going to result in suffering. The reality is that there is really no satisfactory answer for why people suffer but the authors of Faithful Questions share an idea that is tremendously rich and, I think, helpful for all of us.

Rabbi Irving Greenberg offers his connection about suffering and, for him, it is the only way to make any sense of suffering: God does not cause suffering nor does God “allow”, per se, suffering. God, says Rabbi Greenberg, suffers with us (pp. 118 – 120, from his essay, “Easing the Divine Suffering”). God loves us so much that He suffers when we suffer, when we ache and struggle, God does, too. “For God so loved the world that He have His only begotten so…” (John 3: 16a). “God with us,” Immanuel, write our authors, means that God came among us, Incarnate, so that we would be saved from being alone. Jesus broke the final barrier between His mercy and His children (that’s us) – death - and in doing so promised that He would never desert or leave us. God is not absent in the darkness; God is not absent in our pain…God is ever with us, even in our suffering. We cannot choose life unless we are free to do so. In other words, God cannot fix the world He created and allow us to be autonomous creatures at the same time. Our suffering can be immense and most of it we humans could eradicate, if we chose to live into the goodness of God. But let us never forget that our God is with us, “even to the end of the age.” 

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Does God answer prayer?

Thursday, November 9, 2017  by George Roberts

Faithful Questions (we still have copies), our continuing formative series, tackles an important question this week: “Does God answer prayer?” And the authors try to get to the heart of it by asking another question, first: what is prayer? We are called to come to the understanding that God is not a “vending machine” that we put our prayers into and receive the prescribed response. God is not a voicemail that we leave our messages (prayers) on and maybe he will get back to us, maybe not, but at least we have left the message. Our prayer life is, actually, in recognition that we desire a relationship with God and that our prayer, which must be part of our daily life for us to truly engage in it, is part of an ongoing conversation with the One who made us.

So, we cannot only come to God with our needs, what we want. We are called to come into conversation and relationship with God in our joy, as well as our pain, seeking counsel and advice but also strength and hope. Jesus prayed, in the garden of Gethsemane, “Lord, if you will, let this cup pass from me. But not my will, but your will be done” and then “the angels attended to Him, and he prayed more earnestly” (Matthew 22: 41-44, edited). Jesus was not spared the trial of His Passion and crucifixion, as a result of His prayer, but He did receive God’s presence and strength in His time of need. Sometimes, when we pray, we feel nothing but silence but if we persevere, and listen, God will speak to us in ways both clear and mysterious. We could say much more about prayer but let us remember, if nothing else, that our question plea might be, “O Lord, hear my prayer,” knowing that He does and desires for us to know Him more clearly and dearly. As the ghost of Christmas Present says to Scrooge, upon their meeting, in A Christmas Carol, “Come closer, and know me better man!” Prayer is that invitation.

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Blessed Lord, who gave us the Word

Monday, October 30, 2017  by George Roberts

October 30, 2017, Faithful Questions

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, p. 236)

Faithful Questions, our ongoing series, begins Chapter 5: How Should I Read the Bible with the above collect. We are all challenged by holy scripture is one way or another but it can be intimidating to open the Bible and just begin reading. Do we treat it as a manual for life, a guide to better living, a devotional resource or wellspring of inspiration for life? The authors conclude that the Holy Bible is “all of these things and more!” Chapter 5 in Faithful Questions goes into some detail of what is in the Bible by breaking it down into parts and sections (more on this, perhaps, later in the week). But the Collect above says that scripture is “for our learning.” And what are to learn? One thing that we learn is that God loves us, completely and, even though God may sometimes be tempted, our God will not leave us or abandon us. Another thing we learn is that God does have expectations of us and that we inevitable fall short, often in fact, of said expectations. Finally, we see in the pages of Holy Writ, with the exception of Jesus, flawed people come into contact with God and, when they turn to God, they are healed in myriad kinds of ways. God loves, God commands, and God heals. May we think on who God is to us and how our courageous exploration of the Bible may open up our hearts and minds to new ways of thinking of and praying to the God who made us. 

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The Greatest Commandment

Thursday, October 26, 2017  by George Roberts

We continue to be in conversation with each other through the Faithful Questions series by Forward Movement. This week the authors tackle the age-old question, “What do we have to do?” to be the kind of followers that God through Christ calls us to be. One of the conclusions they come up with to the daunting question, “What now?” is Jesus’ response, in Matthew 22: 34-40, this week’s Gospel.  He says, “You are to love the Lord you God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it. You are to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Last week, in my homily, I mentioned how we might live into God’s blessing, how we might love each other and God more fully: by continuing, through our lives, to explore and listen to the promises we make at Baptism. In Baptism, we promise to “strive for peace and justice and respect the dignity of every human being; that “we will continue in the apostle’s teachings, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers:” and finally, we will “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.” Loving one another is no easy feat in our everyday lives. People often test us, making it difficult to even see their humanity, let alone act toward them with love. God give us strength to be faithful questioners and not only of God, but of ourselves, as well.  God grant us the wisdom and strength to keep our promises, trusting that God always and forever keeps His promises to us.

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The death of our Savior sets us free

Thursday, October 19, 2017  by George Roberts

“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the Cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…” (BCP, p. 101).

As most of you are aware, we have been utilizing Forward Movement’s wonderful exploration called Faithful Questions. The premise of the series is that questions about faith, even doubts, are an indispensable part of our faith journey, if we wish for our faith to deepen and grow. Our current chapter asks the potentially vexing question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” Yesterday, in my blog, we tackled certain aspects of Jesus’ death. But, for today, I wanted to steer us toward the results of Jesus’ sacrificial death which was, after all, for us.

St. John Chrysostom gave a famous Easter sermon that is still read on Resurrection Sunday in many Orthodox churches. St. John was Archbishop of Constantinople at the end of the 4th Century and was known for his preaching and his resistance to the abuse of power by those in authority (both state and religious). One of the highlights of his sermon the Easter sermon was the universal nature of the salvation Jesus brought to us in His sacrificial death.

“To one and all the Lord gives generously…Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord…First and last alike receive your reward. Rich and poor rejoice together! Let no one lament persistent failings, for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the death of our Savior has set us free…”

There are many difficult questions for those of us who wish to walk as yet by faith, if not by the sight of our Lord Jesus Christ. But we need not fear the questions because there is not a right answer much of the time, there is only trust in the Risen One who sets us free with His love. 

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