Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Saul, the Zealous Pharisee

One of the appointed readings for today’s Daily Prayer is taken from the Acts of the Apostles where we read:
And Saul approved of their killing him.
That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city* of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah* to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.
Now a certain man named Simon had previously practised magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place. (Acts 8: 1-13).
Saul was a zealous Pharisee.  Saul was well trained in the faith of Israel, God’s chosen people, set apart from all other nations.  As a zealous Pharisee, Saul was willing to kill if that was necessary to preserve the purity of the faith.  His willingness to do so is made clear in today’s passage.  Bishop N.T. Wright notes that Saul was born, raised, and educated at the city of Tarsus as revealed in verse 11. Tarsus was a wealthy university city that was famous for being a center of learning. There Paul studied under the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), the same Gamaliel that stopped the Jews from killing the Apostles in Acts 5:33. Now there is an obvious difference between the reaction to the new belief of Christianity between Gamaliel and his student Saul. Gamaliel responded by a peaceful action and wanted to leave the outcome of this group to the judgment of God (Act 5:38-39), Paul resorted to terrorizing and persecuting the church (Acts 8:1-3). There were two main camps of the Pharisees: the Shammaites and the Hillelites. These groups debated on the strictness of personal observance of the Torah in the midst of Israel being ruled from outside forces. The Hillelites believed in a policy that was fine with foreign rule as long as they could freely practice Judaism where as the Shammaites believed that the Torah demanded that Israel be free from foreign rule. And this freedom could be accomplished by any means necessary—even violence. … Saul, resorted to violence to fend off the Christian movement (Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-2). … Saul began to see the danger of the Christian movement and its ever increasing strength. He saw them growing so much that he left the example of his teacher and followed the path of the Shammaites to deal with the followers of “the Way.” Saul (who would be named Paul at the time of writing these things) would later testify to his passion in persecuting the church as “zealous” (Gal 1:14, Phil 3:6). It could be said that Saul began seeing himself in the same heroic line as Phinehas (Num 25:1-9) and Mattathias (1 Macc 2:23-26) who displayed their zeal for God by slaying those that openly defiled God’s commandments. Thus, when Paul is shown in the first part of this narrative he is “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). For his passion against those that defiled the Torah is great enough that he used violence to set things right. And in his mind the Christians called for such a response.  Charlie Albright, The Conversion of Paul, Renewing Thoughts (April 23, 2010).
Yet after Saul encounters the Risen Christ, after his conversion Saul, now Paul, is able to re-imagine Judaism in a new way; he is able to become a zealous Christian and spreads the Good News giving his very life in service to his Lord, Jesus. 
Let us pray:  Gracious God, you are able to open the hearts of us all to adhere to your will.  Give us the grace to be like Paul, to be able to set aside our own way of looking at things, our own agenda, to be open to your will for our lives, and to preach your Gospel purely.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.
Please pray for those gathered in Salt Lake City at the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church.
Please remember everyone on our Prayer List, especially those who are ill.
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Chester J. Makowski+
St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church
Galveston, Texas 77550

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Original Odd Couple: Sts. Peter & Paul

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Today the Church remembers the deaths of Sts. Peter and Paul, perhaps the original odd couple of the Church.  Peter was the hard working fisherman who had the ability to stick his foot in his mouth whenever possible.  Paul was the educated Pharisee who was zealous. At first, Peter wanted to keep the “Jewishness” of the new Christian movement.  Paul rethought Judaism and how Jesus fulfilled it and he became the Apostle to the Gentiles.  They differed in their views and approaches, yet both worked tirelessly for the Gospel and they both gave up their very lives for it.  They knew that they were both united in Christ, made brothers by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  That is something that we as a Church should remember in our day.
Let us pray:  Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Summer Art Camp for the Kids!  We have a week of summer fun and learning starting the 20th of July.  Please spread the word.  Last year we had 16 children.  Let’s try for 30 this year!
Please remember everyone on our Prayer List, especially the ill and those who have no one to pray for them.
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Chester J. Makowski+
St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church
Galveston, Texas 77550

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Birth of John the Baptizer: A Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness, "Prepare the Way of the Lord!"

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Today the Church remembers the birth of St. John the Baptizer.  James Kiefer writes:
Our principal sources of information about John the Baptist are: (1) references to his birth in the first chapter of Luke, (2) references to his preaching and his martyrdom in the Gospels, with a few references in Acts, and (3) references in Josephus to his preaching and martyrdom, references which are consistent with the New Testament ones, but sufficiently different in the details to make direct borrowing unlikely.
According to the Jewish historian Josephus (who wrote after 70 AD), John the Baptist was a Jewish preacher in the time of Pontius Pilate (AD 26-36). He called the people to repentance and to a renewal of their covenant relation with God. He was imprisoned and eventually put to death by Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great, who was king when Jesus was born) for denouncing Herod's marriage to Herodias, the wife of his still-living brother Philip. In order to marry Herodias, Herod divorced his first wife, the daughter of King Aretas of Damascus, who subsequently made war on Herod, a war which, Josephus tells us, was regarded by devout Jews as a punishment for Herod's murder of the prophet John.
In the Book of Acts, we find sermons about Jesus which mention His Baptism by John as the beginning of His public ministry (see Acts 10:37; 11:16; 13:24). We also find accounts (see Acts 18:24; 19:3) of devout men in Greece who had received the baptism of John, and who gladly received the full message of the Gospel of Christ when it was told them.
Luke begins his Gospel by describing an aged, devout, childless couple, the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. As Zechariah is serving in the Temple, he sees the angel Gabriel, who tells him that he and his wife will have a son who will be a great prophet, and will go before the Lord "like Elijah." (The Jewish tradition had been that Elijah would herald the coming of the Messiah = Christ = Anointed = Chosen of God.) Zechariah went home, and his wife conceived. About six months later, Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary, a kinswoman of Elizabeth, and told her that she was about to bear a son who would be called Son of the Most High, a king whose kingdom would never end. Thus Elizabeth gave birth to John, and Mary gave birth six months later to Jesus.
After describing the birth of John, Luke says that he grew, and "was in the wilderness until the day of his showing to Israel." The people of the Qumran settlement, which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, sometime use the term "living in the wilderness" to refer to residing in their community at Qumran near the Dead Sea. Accordingly, it has been suggested that John spent some of his early years being educated at Qumran.
All of the gospels tell us that John preached and baptized beside the Jordan river, in the wilderness of Judea. He called on his hearers to repent of their sins, be baptized, amend their lives, and prepare for the coming of the Kingship of God. He spoke of one greater than himself who was to come after. Jesus came to be baptized, and John told some of his disciples, "This is the man I spoke of." After His baptism by John, Jesus began to preach, and attracted many followers. In fact, many who had been followers of John left him to follow Jesus. Some of John's followers resented this, but he told them: "This is as it should be. My mission is to proclaim the Christ. The groomsman, the bridegroom's friend, who makes the wedding arrangements for the bridegroom, is not jealous of the bridegroom. No more am I of Jesus. He must increase, and I must decrease." (John 3:22-30)
John continued to preach, reproving sin and calling on everyone to repent. King Herod Antipas had divorced his wife and taken Herodias, the wife of his (still living) brother Philip. John rebuked him for this, and Herod, under pressure from Herodias, had John arrested, and eventually beheaded. He is remembered on some calendars on the supposed anniversary of his beheading, 29 August.
When John had been in prison for a while, he sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask, "Are you he that is to come, or is there another?" (Matthew 11:2-14) One way of understanding the question is as follows: "It was revealed to me that you are Israel's promised deliverer, and when I heard this, I rejoiced. I expected you to drive out Herod and the Romans, and rebuild the kingdom of David. But here I sit in prison, and there is no deliverance in sight? Perhaps I am ahead of schedule, and you are going to throw out the Romans next year. Perhaps I have misunderstood, and you have a different mission, and the Romans bit will be done by someone else. Please let me know what is happening."
Jesus replied by telling the messengers, "Go back to John, and tell him what you have seen, the miracles of healing and other miracles, and say, 'Blessed is he who does not lose faith in me.'" He then told the crowds: "John is a prophet and more than a prophet. He is the one spoken of in Malachi 3:1, the messenger who comes to prepare the way of the LORD. No man born of woman is greater than John, but the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John."
This has commonly been understood to mean that John represents the climax of the long tradition of Jewish prophets looking forward to the promised deliverance, but that the deliverance itself is a greater thing. John is the climax of the Law. He lives in the wilderness, a life with no frills where food and clothing are concerned. He has renounced the joys of family life, and dedicated himself completely to his mission of preaching, of calling people to an observance of the law, to ordinary standards of virtue. In terms of natural goodness, no one is better than John. But he represents Law, not Grace. Among men born of woman, among the once-born, he has no superior. But anyone who has been born anew in the kingdom of God has something better than what John symbolizes. (Note that to say that John symbolizes something short of the Kingdom is not to say that John is himself excluded from the Kingdom.)
Traditionally, the Birth of Jesus is celebrated on 25 December. That means that the Birth of John is celebrated six months earlier on 24 June. The appearance of Gabriel to Mary, being assumed to be nine months before the birth of Jesus, is celebrated on 25 March and called the Annunciation, and the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah in the Temple is celebrated by the East Orthodox on 23 September. … John is the last voice of the Old Covenant, the close of the Age of Law. Jesus is the first voice of the New Covenant, the beginning of the Age of Grace. Accordingly, John is born to an elderly, barren woman, born when it is really too late for her to be having a child, while Jesus is born to a young virgin, born when it is really too early for her to be having a child. John is announced (and conceived) at the autumnal equinox, when the leaves are dying and falling from the trees. Jesus is announced (and conceived) at the vernal equinox, when the green buds are bursting forth on the trees and there are signs of new life everywhere. John is born when the days are longest, and from his birth on they grow steadily shorter. Jesus is born when the days are shortest, and from his birth on they grow steadily longer. John speaks truly when he says of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
Of course, it is to be noted that … the Scriptures do not tell us that Jesus was born on 25 December. The symbolism of the dates is used by Christians, not as evidence, but as material for the devout imagination.
Let us pray: Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Please remember everyone on our Prayer List.  We pray now especially for the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah until 3 July.  The vote for the new Presiding Bishop takes place this Sunday.  There are candidates:
         The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal, Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio
         The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina
         The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut
         The Rt. Rev. Dabney T. Smith, Bishop of the Diocese of Southwest Florida
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Chester J. Makowski+
St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church
Galveston, Texas 77550

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Eve of St. John the Baptiser

Today is the Eve of St. John the Baptizer, and the appointed reading is taken from Luke’s Gospel where we read about John’s father:


In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.


Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’


Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. (Lk. 1:5-23).


Sometimes, even when confronted with God’s truth, we don’t believe it, even if told to us by a heavenly messenger like Gabriel.  How many times in our lives are we confronted with God’s truth, and because we are uncomfortable with it, or because we just don’t want to believe it, we ask in our arrogance, “How can that be?  That’s impossible.”  After all of these years, and what God has revealed to us of Himself in Scripture and in the person of Jesus, we should know by now that nothing is impossible with God.


Let us pray:  Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we may see you hand in all your glorious and wonderful works, the impossible that you do in our lives, through the One John the Baptizer foretold, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Please remember everyone on our Prayer List, and let us give thanks for all of the gifts that God has bestowed upon us.


Your servant in Christ,


Fr. Chester J. Makowski+

St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church

Galveston, Texas 77550

Monday, June 22, 2015

St. Alban

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Today the Church remembers the life and ministry of St. Alban.  James Kiefer writes:
There were probably Christians in the British Isles already in the first century. However, Alban is the first recorded Christian martyr. The traditional date of his death is 304, during the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian; but many scholars now date it as around 209, during the persecution under the Emperor Septimius Severus. Alban was a pagan, and a soldier in the Roman Army. He gave shelter to a Christian priest who was fleeing from arrest, and in the next few days the two talked at length, and Alban became a Christian. When officers came in search of the priest, Alban met them, dressed in the priest's cloak, and they mistook him for the priest and arrested him. He refused to renounce his new faith, and was beheaded. He thus became the first Christian martyr in Britain. The second was the executioner who was to kill him, but who heard his testimony and was so impressed that he became a Christian on the spot, and refused to kill Alban. The third was the priest, who when he learned that Alban had been arrested in his place, hurried to the court in the hope of saving Alban by turning himself in. The place of their deaths is near the site of St. Alban's Cathedral today.
Let us pray:  Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Alban triumphed over suffering and was faithful even unto death: Grant to us, who now remember him with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Please remember everyone on our Prayer List, especially those who were murdered at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and their families, and for healing in our Nation.
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Chester J. Makowski+
St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church
Galveston, Texas 77550

Friday, June 19, 2015

150th Anniversary of Juneteenth

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One of the Psalms appointed for the Daily Prayer of the Church today is Psalm 9. As you read it, reflect on the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, and the horrific murders at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina:
         He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High,
                  abides under the shadow of the Almighty.
         He shall say to the Lord, "You are my refuge and my stronghold,
                  my God in whom I put my trust."
         He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter
                  and from the deadly pestilence.
         He shall cover you with his pinions, and you shall find refuge under his wings;
                  his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.
         You shall not be afraid of any terror by night,
                  nor of the arrow that flies by day;
         Of the plague that stalks in the darkness,
                  nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.
         A thousand shall fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand,
                  but it shall not come near you.
         Your eyes have only to behold
                  to see the reward of the wicked.
         Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
                  and the Most High your habitation,
         There shall no evil happen to you,
                  neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.
         For he shall give his angels charge over you,
                  to keep you in all your ways.
         They shall bear you in their hands,
                  lest you dash your foot against a stone.
         You shall tread upon the lion and adder;
                  you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.
         Because he is bound to me in love, therefore will I deliver him;
                  I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
         He shall call upon me, and I will answer him;
                  I am with him in trouble; I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
         With long life will I satisfy him,
                  and show him my salvation. (Ps. 91:1-16).
There is hope in the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.  Those who believe in God the Father, and the redemption of his Son Jesus Christ, have hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We know that God has the victory; evil and violence, although they try to do their worst, have fallen to the power of God.  Those who lived as slaves had their hearts filed with the hope of freedom.  Those who were murdered as they met in Church know that they have fallen asleep in Christ, and that they will rise with Christ.  We live in that between time, that time after the death and resurrection of Jesus, but before everything is finally set to rights.  We live in hope.
Let us pray:  Gracious God, you have brought your people from the land of slavery into the light of freedom.  Let us not take that freedom for granted; rather, let us live as builders of your just and right kingdom where there is no more pain, no more suffering and every tear is wiped away.  We ask this in Jesus’ name who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever.  Amen.
CALENDAR REMINDER:  Sunday 21 June at 10 AM, we celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Juneteenth and Father’s Day at St. Augustine.
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Chester J. Makowski+
St. Augustine of Hippo Episcopal Church
Galveston, Texas 77550