21 December 2007

CNN's Roland Martin on Christmas

I remember referring to CNN as the Clinton News Network (or, at times, even the Concocted News Network) back in the 1990's, but of late, CNN has been showing a marked conservative swing with the likes of Glen Beck, Nancy Grace, Lou Dobbs, and others sounding off - and at times making even George W. Bush look positively liberal.

Today CNN columnist Roland Martin put up an outstanding post on Christmas that I hope all of you will take a moment to read.

20 December 2007

Saint Ignatius of Antioch

Today the Church commemorates Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Born in Syria, Ignatius converted to Christianity and eventually became the bishop of Antioch. In the year 107, Emperor Trajan visited Antioch and forced the Christians there to choose between death and apostasy. Ignatius would not deny Christ and thus was condemned to be put to death in Rome. During his journey to Rome, he wrote several letters to the various Christian Churches, exhorting them to faithfulness in Christ and teaching them the truths of the faith. Ignatius was martyred by lions in the Circus Maximus.

17 December 2007

Saint Olympias of Constantinople, Deaconess

The early Church showed great concern for widows. St. Paul recommended that they not remarry, especially if they were older women. The local churches took care of unprovided widows, and set for them the special role of praying for the needs of the whole People of God. By the fourth century, at least in the East, some widows were given a more official role in the Church, being consecrated as deaconesses. Deaconesses frequently lived together.

Olympias of Constantinople, born about 361, came to be considered a model of widows and deaconesses. Orphaned, but an heiress through her father, she married Nebridius, prefect of Constantinople. The marriage was good, but Nebridius died before very long; and Olympias, though perhaps not yet twenty years old, was left a widow. Naturally, a number of suitors were interested in marrying such a wealthy young woman. In fact, Emperor Theodosius pressed her to accept a kinsman of his own. However, Olympias declared to one and all that she intended not to remarry: "Had God wished me to remain a wife," she said, "He would not have taken Nebridius away." Theodosius was angry about this, and put her and her property under the guardianship of the city prefect until she was thirty. The widow then wrote to Theodosius suggesting that he go farther, and distribute her estate to the Church and the poor! That frank letter struck Theodosius. He saw that he was dealing with no ordinary young widow, but with a strongly spiritual character. So in 361 he restored her property to her.

Olympias then asked the bishop of Constantinople, St. Nectarius, to consecrate her as a deaconess. He did, and she established a large home where she invited other young women to reside who wished to serve God in a special way. Her community thus became in many ways like what a religious order would be in later centuries. It was a center of prayer and charity. An orphanage and a hospital were subsequently added. Deaconess Olympias became admired and praised throughout the Near East for her charities: "a wonderful woman ... like a precious vase filled with the Holy Spirit."

Olympias had to suffer much along the way, however, especially because of her loyalty to St. John Chrysostom. John had succeeded Nectarius as bishop of Constantinople, but in 404 he was exiled by the Emperor for political reasons. Because Olympias refused to acknowledge the interloper whom the Emperor had named to replace Chrysostom, she herself was exiled and her house of charity was padlocked. Nonetheless, she continued to act as an agent of the absent Chrysostom, who held her in the highest admiration.

Chrysostom died in the year 407, still in exile. St. Olympias died, aged about forty, in 408. She was enshrined in Constantinople where, it is said, "She had become so celebrated for her great goodness that her very name was considered worthy of imitation, parents hoping that their children would be built on a like mode."
What does Olympias have to say to our day? That even now widows can find widowhood a second vocation for serving God and neighbor.

Pre-empted Sunday Homily

Well, blowing and drifting snow and other weather-related factors led to the cancellation of services yesterday in the parish I was scheduled to celebrate and preach at. I decided to put my homily notes and other material together in an accessable format for those who had planned to be there, so I now share it with you.
Please note that St. Paul's EOC makes use of an adapted version of the Revised Common Lectionary, and not the Lectionary of the Synod of Saint Timothy.

Year A

Prayer of the Day
God of glory and compassion, at your touch the wilderness blossoms, broken lives are made whole, and fearful hearts grow strong in faith. Open our eyes to your presence and awaken our hearts to sing your praise. To all who long for your Son's return grant perseverance and patience, that we may announce in word and deed the good news of the kingdom. We ask this through him whose coming is certain and whose day draws near: your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

First Reading - Isaiah 35
Our Old Testament reading employs the language of recovering an ecologically ravaged land with fruitful vegetation. Isaiah's words today, however, have nothing to do with global warming. They go far deeper than any ecological project – they reflect God's commitment to provide for renewal among his people, quenching their spiritual thirst and nurturing them on their journey of faith. Give your attention to the Reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

Second Reading - James 5: 7-11
It's great to know that God will quench our thirst and protect us on our journey of faith, but there will be times when we feel challenged as we wait to see indications that the promise is being met in our lives. Just as so many believers have experienced ‘dark nights of the soul’, we too will have our good days, our bad days, and – yes, at times our ugly days, as we struggle through this world. The good news, as our second reading tells us today, is that with patience and endurance, we will come through our difficult and heart-rending days, praising God because he did provide for our needs while we were making our pilgrimage through this world. Give your attention to the Reading from the Letter of James.

Gospel Reading - Matthew 11: 2-11
Note: I rarely type out complete sermons, so I am putting my various notes and thoughts together rather hastily and outside of the context of the Divine Liturgy. Nevertheless, I hope that something in the following material will be beneficial to you as you continue your Advent pilgrimage.
From the day of the fall, our sinful nature has been the driving force behind every disaster that has befallen us, for at the time of the fall, the universe itself was shaken. As the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Romans tells us: "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned."
Death –spiritual death– characterized in many respects by a lack of personal unity with God, creates a spiritual desert in which we must walk. In the Old Testament, we see how, time and time again, the Israelites put worldly advantage, idolatry, or personal gain before their relationship with God. The fruitful (spiritual) pasture God wished to lead them to became a parched desert land because they chose to put their trust in idols and, ultimately, in themselves.

But Isaiah sees a time in the future when the people will seek God anew. He sees that as a day when the 'wilderness and desert will be glad…', when, 'the wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.' This is improbable in the minds of the people Isaiah is preaching to, they have lived in the midst of their land for many years. It was a constant, an unchanging feature of their lives. But Isaiah isn't prophesying about the Hebrew equivalent of reversing global worming. He is prophesying about personal relationships with God as we travel the pathway of faith through this life.

Remember the words from Romans: "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world."
Every destructive impulse in the universe finds, as its source, sin. This is true of physical natures just as much as it is of spiritual ones. Satan's influence... sin. Our predilection to do as we please... sin. Our desire to take care of our own needs and ignore the needs of others... sin. We struggle with it every day, and as believers - Christian believers - we often times become far more aware of our shortcomings and failures than others. We are called to ask ourselves "Why remain bogged down in sin? Why not take courage and abandon sinful ways?"

The prophets of the Old Testament ask similar questions... "Israel, will you ever find the backbone to do something about your broken relationship with God?"

Someone had to forge a pathway to God... one that extended part of the way. Indeed, it is this pathway that John the Forerunner paved for Christ in the deserts in his own day. And yet John himself had his own worries and fears. Was this Christ the one who was to be the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies? Would he make the wilderness blossom? Jesus' response to John's question was simply to point to the actions that came about as a response to faith. One can aptly say that the wilderness metaphors of Isaiah's prophecy can be applied to the blind suddenly seeing, the lame being enabled to walk, and the dead being brought to life. The ecology language of Isaiah is turned into a spiritual ecology by Jesus, who reassures John the Baptist – giving him the courage to stand firm in his faith and convictions, ultimately leading to his martyrdom at the hands of Herod Antipas.

Our reading from the letter of James teaches us that we too can find the same confidence in God as we walk through our own spiritual deserts. All too often, we feel parched and alone in the wilderness; we feel a need to draw closer to a source of refreshment and grace. Sadly, even those of us who call on Christ will sometimes try to justify using material goods – a new car, the latest DVD, a trip to the movies – to make up for what is lacking in our relationship with God.
This isn't to say that there is anything intrinsically wrong with any of these items, but when we use them to bring great joy, instead of finding our joy and peace in the person of Jesus Christ, well… we have a problem. The joys of the material world are fleeting and brief; the joy of the knowledge and love of God in Christ Jesus is eternal. It will support us even when the car is wrecked, the DVD won't play, or the theater is sold out. It will sustain us when we loose a loved one, and it will be our anthem when our joy is complete and full. Finding joy in Christ will also help us to ensure that we are good stewards of our finances and all of creation.
How much of our time, and how much energy do we expend, all seeking the joy and happiness that only Christ can really bring?
If contemporary environmentalists really want to do something about global warming, man-made climate change, and the other 'impending' ecological disasters they continue to predict with increasing urgency, then perhaps they should begin including mentions of Jesus Christ in their words, for truly, only Jesus Christ is able to lovingly redirect us to find joy in a relationship with him, to rejoice in the beauty of creation, and to be good and faithful stewards of all creation.

Isaiah knew that.
James knew that.
John the Forerunner knew that.
We must know it too.

15 November 2007

My Bible Recommendations

I've been asked on many occasions about my favorite Bible translations (and why I prefer them).

5. The New English Bible - There is just something unique about the NEB translation. It was one of the first modern versions to use the paragraph style layout (with verse numbers moved off to the margins) which, I feel, makes the Bible much more friendly to modern readers. The text itself was quite well done, though I'll admit that in retrospective review, I find more issues with it as time passes. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable, relatively accurate, and classic translation. Its successor, the Revised English Bible, meets with a bit less success - but is still a nice edition. Of particular note in the REB is the success of the poetic portions of the Duterocanonical Books.

4. The Jerusalem Bible - This was, for much of the late 1960's and early 1970's the Catholic Bible of choice for many reasons. Its style was distinctly literary (which shouldn't come as a surprise since Tolkien was on the editorial board) and paid close attention to the structure and sense of the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts. While not exactly a part of the Jerusalem Bible project, the Grail Psalms have very similar qualities, making it -quite possibly- the best poetic scriptural text in existence today. I have no comment on its successor, the New Jerusalem Bible, as I have not seriously used or perused it.

3. Revised Standard Version (Second Catholic Edition) - This is a recent publication of Ignatius Press, who elected to update the text of the original Catholic edition of the RSV with a new, contemporary English spin. It is, in essence, a Catholic version of Crossway's English Standard Version (see #2). It succeeds in most respects, though it could have done with some better proofreading. It is an indispensable source for the Duterocanonical Books, and the text of the Deuterocanonicals is well translated in this edition.

2. English Standard Version - This is, in many ways, the 'anti-NRSV' (New Revised Standard Version). Featuring gender language that is very much masculine (in keeping with the original text) and serving as a strictly literal translation of the original Greek, the ESV is, in my opinion, the best current text to study for the absolute literal interpretation of the Biblical books. That doesn't mean that it is the best Bible out there, but its accuracy is pretty much rock-solid.

1. New Living Translation (Second Edition) - I absolutely hated the first edition of the NLT. It probably had something to do with being a KJV, well - not quite 'only-ist' but pretty close. I had no idea a second edition was out, until my Bishop (thanks +Chuck!) suggested the NLT Second Edition (and he made sure to emphasize getting the second edition). I got my first copy back in May and it quickly became my preferred Bible for public proclamation of the Word. While I still prefer the Grail Psalms for Liturgical usage, and the Second Edition will not have any of the Deuterocanonicals (probably due to poor sales of the first edition's Catholic version), I have found the NLT Second Edition to be the most effective Bible I own today for all-around use.

10 November 2007

Creating a New Christian Calendar

Is it time to develop a new Christian Liturgical Calendar?
The Bible itself is repleat with reasons to believe that our commemoration of the Nativity on 25 December is wrong. That's not to say it is sinful to commemorate the Birth of the Lord on that day - as I doubt we'll ever know for certain in this world when Christ was actually born... but I feel pretty comfortable with some answers I have recently discovered; answers that could compel us to revise our Liturgical Calendars... and for the better.

Inspired by the Hebraic roots of Syriac Christianity and the Jewish learning of a bishop I respect, I have been delving deeper into the question of how we celebrate the Liturgical Year. I have a strong desire to see the Liturgical Year as a time of learning. We know the early Church read the Scriptures as they had them in course and exposited them in the midst of the assembly.

If we were to look at some alternate dates for our Feasts, we might well have an excellent Liturgical Calendar that would allow us to reclaim this ancient practice.

Such a calendar would be based on two poles that fall about six months apart. These are the Birth of Christ and his Resurrection.

When was Christ born? It is my belief that the best avaliable evidence tells us that it was 29 September 2 BC (15 Tishrei 3760), which was the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles that year. What a magnificent day for our Savior to Tabernacle among us (as John 1 teaches)! An alternate date, especially if adopting an earlier Crucifixion date, would be 29 September 5 BC (15 Tishrei 3763).

What about his death? Two options present themselves, but I tend to favor 3 April 33 AD (14 Nisan 3793). The other option would be 7 April 30 AD (14 Nisan 3790). In both of these years, 14 Nisan fell on a Friday, permitting Christ to eat the Passover on the day of his death (remember, Hebrew days were strictly from sunset to sunset). The Synoptic vs. Johannine issue rears its ugly head here, but an adequate explanation is that there were several varying calendars in use among the varying sects of Jews in Jesus' time.

Now, how does this help us with celebrating the life of Christ?

If we are able to teach the life of Christ chronologically during the first portion of the year (about six months), and about the growth of the Church (chronologically) in the remaining half of the year, we would be well on our way to developing a deeper understanding of how the life of Christ unfolded and how the Church grew and explained her teaching in an ever-increasing sphere of influence.

Perhaps for some this is too radical, but my proposal for consideration would be:

29 September - The Nativity of our Lord
Sunday on or after 7 April - The Resurrection of our Lord (7 April is the Median Day between the two possible Resurrection Sundays in 30 and 33 AD, 5 and 9 April.)

This has the virtue of remaining relatively simple in relation to the complex Lunar calculations and extra months that would require a significant alteration to Lectionary Cycles.

Readers thoughts are, as always, welcome.

UPDATE: I have worked out the following Cycle of Feast Days surrounding the Incarnation, Pascha, and Pentecost for a calendar in keeping with my above-noted suggestions. In this I also include the 29th of February leap day as a day outside the calendar, kept as a day of special praise for the Trinity. All other days are considered Ordinary Time.

15 Days

September 22 The Holy Trinity
September 23 The Annunciation of the Forerunner
September 24 The Annunciation of our Lord
September 25 The Visitation of the God-bearer
September 26 The Nativity of the Forerunner
September 27 The Ancestors of Jesus Christ
September 28 The Annunciation to Saint Joseph
September 29 The Nativity of our Lord
September 30 The Presentation of our Lord
October 1 The Visitation of the Magi
October 2 The Holy Innocents
October 3 The Return to Nazareth
October 4 The Finding of our Lord in the Temple
October 5 The Ministry of Saint John the Forerunner
October 6 The Theophany of our Lord

February 29 Praises of the Holy Trinity

14 Days
Begins on the Sunday between March 31 and April 6
Ends on the Saturday between April 13 and April 19

Palm Sunday
Holy Monday
Holy Tuesday
Holy Wednesday
Holy Thursday
Holy Friday
Holy Saturday
Bright Monday
Bright Tuesday
Bright Wednesday
Bright Thursday
Bright Friday
Bright Saturday

11 Days
Begins on the Thursday between May 16 and May 22
Ends on the Sunday between May 26 and June 1

Ascension Thursday
Pentecost Sunday

09 November 2007

Anglican-oriented Books for Sale

As some of you may know, I spent a few years in a Continuing Anglican Church body. As I have recieved an offer on my old house and I am moving into a smaller place, I am getting rid of a lot of my books. Most of them went to the local Half Price Books store, but I have a few that may be of special interest for those Anglophiles in the blogosphere.

1) The Altar Service Book for the 1892 Book of Common Prayer
This is a duplicate copy (I had mine rebound and will hang on to it), and it is in fair condition. Binding is a bit worn and the pages have browned a bit, but all the text is still legible. Someone tried adapting it to use as a 1928 Altar Book, but I removed all of their paste-in's (they are inside the front cover). Book was printed in either 1907 or 1917. Black and White text.

2) The Altar Service Book for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
The binding has a bit missing, but the previous owner managed to cover it pretty well. Pages have darkened very, very slightly. This copy includes the Revised Lectionary from 1923. Black and Red die-printed. An excellent find.

3) The Book of Common Prayer 1979 (hand sized edition)
In fair condition. Black and White hardcover (red binding).

4) The Collects of Thomas Cranmer by Barbee and Zahl
Excellent condition, includes dust jacket. Meditations on the Sunday and Holy Day collects of the Book of Common Prayer.

5) The South African Rite and the 1928 Prayer Book by Hinchliff (Alcuin Club Phamphlet XVII). Paperback. Topic obvious.

6) Sermons Preached in Saint George's by Rainsford
Hardback collection of Sermons.

7) Notes on the Round Table Conference, Fulham, 1900 by Dimock.
Hardcover in good shape. Book is about the Ritualist Controversies. Specifically this book delves into the Doctrine of Holy Communion and its Rutual Expression.

8) Lambeth Conference 1948: Encyclical Letter from the Bishops together with Resolutions and Reports.
Paperback in fair condition.

9) The Renewal of Anglicanisim by McGrath
Paperback. A Hopeful Vision for the Renewal of Anglicanisim

10) The Life of Thomas Cranmer by Maaynard.
Hardcover with Dustjacket. Unique. Includes Catholic Nihil Obsthat and Imprumatur.

I will also soon have avaliable:

One blue chasuble and stole
One violet chasuble, stole, and maniple

If you have questions on any of these items, please contact me via e-mail.

All proceeds go into my funds to purchase new Eastern vestments.

08 November 2007

Homily from June 2002

Eucharistic Homily for the First Sunday after Trinity
2 June 2002

Preached at Saint Alban's Parish by Father Robert Lyons

Today in our Gospel, we hear the familiar parable of the beggar and the rich man, and we see what appears, on the surface, to be a fairly clear statement regarding what happens to a man when he dies. However, in the many years that have passed since the day when Jesus taught that parable, Christians have managed to add to or take away from the strictly biblical teaching about the intermediate state of the dead between their earthly passing and their eternal judgement.

In truth, what we believe about what happens to the Christian soul after death may be less important than what we do not believe.

To be certain, we believe that we shall all pass away according to the flesh, and at the last, great day we shall be judged eternally by our heavenly Father. Some of us will enter life everlasting with God, others shall be cast into utter darkness and horror for all eternity. However, if we look with honesty at ourselves, we will admit to some concern about what happens between our physical death and the general resurrection.

Justin Martyr, writing early in the history of the Church, is very clear about what was taught in the Church. He explicitly states that the souls of the godly are in a good place, and the souls of the ungodly are in a bad place; there to stay until the judgement day. He also stands just as explicitly against those who would teach that one went straight to heaven or hell upon their death. He warns his fellows not to account as Christians those who would say that there was no intermediate state of the dead.

However, what is that state of the dead? The Eastern Orthodox Church simply says it is a place of waiting. Many refer to their stance as "soul-sleep", though such terminology is not strictly appropriate. Many of us are familiar with the dogmatic statements of our Roman Catholic brethren who believe in the existence of Purgatory, a place where satisfaction is made for the forgiveness of sins through the celebration of Masses and the obtainment of indulgences. Neither of these explanations can be entirely satisfactory. Certainly soul-sleep is not an acceptable position to hold, for as it is written in the Apostolic Constitutions, "Let us pray for our brethren who are at rest in Christ." This, however, is not to be confused with praying that someone who has died would receive salvation. Such a thing is impossible. One must be saved before they die. However, we can offer prayer for the departed, so long as we do not dogmatize the benefits of such prayers.

We would be wrong as Primitive Christians to accept the Roman doctrine of Purgatory, with it's accompanying prayers for the departed to be set free from the time of purgation, for we accept the primitive theological definition that Jesus Christ's sacrifice upon the cross was made, as we say in the Eucharistic Prayer, "for the remission" of sins. This is very different from forgiveness.

Let us say that a man steals a hundred dollars. You forgive him, but you still as for your hundred dollars back. Indeed, the man should comply and return the money. It is not so with the remission of sins. Christ's remission was full and complete. No work that we can offer will please God so much as Christ's sacrifice. His death was specifically intended not simply to forgive the sin, but to pay the price for the sin. He remitted the payment due for sin, so that we would not have to.

We must further consider the fact that those who have passed beyond the veil of this life were never believed to be knowledgeable about the state of this world. Tertullian, writing before the third century, states that the saints in Paradise are cut off from knowledge of this world by a "sort of enclosure." If one wishes to believe that those who have died are praying for them in their state, that is acceptable; but the Christian walks a fine line when he takes his prayers to the saints instead of making his prayer through Christ to God in the power of the Spirit.

With all these negatives, what can we affirm about the time between our deaths and our resurrection?

First, we can affirm that we will know our eternal destiny. In our Gospel today, the rich man realises that he is damned, and seeks Lazarus to go to speak to his family and to help them to avoid the same fate. Once we pass the chains of the flesh, we have passed into our eternal reward or punishment.

Second, we can affirm that our prayers are in some fashion helpful to those who died, though not in the doctrinal sense that surround prayer for those in Purgatory in the Roman Church.

Third, we can affirm that we should have little to fear if we, day by day, seek to repent for our sins and walk closer to Christ. We are empowered to do this by making use of the Rite of Reconciliation, and also by making every attempt to receive the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist as often as possible; certainly every Sunday and Holy Day. In doing these things, we will strengthen our souls against sin, repent of our sins sooner, allow the Spirit of God to work in our lives more effectively (to the end of avoiding sin) and, at the last day, upon our deathbed, we will be able to die with the knowledge that, having had the price for our sin paid by Christ upon the Cross, we are going to our rest, to await the day of the General Resurrection and Judgement.

Homily from August 2002

Editor's Note: This is the third homily of this series of recovered texts.

Eucharistic Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
4 August 2002

Preached at the Primitive Episcopal Mission Station in Indianapolis, Indiana by Father Robert Lyons

In our Epistle reading today, taken from the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians, we are given food for thought on the role of the Gifts of the Spirit in the life of the Church. In reviewing this selection from our Lord's Holy Word, we are called to mind the fact that all of us who have been baptized into the Body of Christ are called to be full partakers of the Gifts of the Spirit, and to make the use of them that God would have us make.

In the first verse, Paul describes his desire to teach the truth to the Corinthian Christians. He says,

" 1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant."

By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul understood that we must seek the right knowledge of the spiritual gifts in order to live a life in which we make the best use of those gifts. Paul wants to ensure that the people of God realise that there are guidelines and rules associated with the Spiritual Gifts, and that God does not allow his gifts to be used for ill, for show, or for other purposes that are contrary to their institution.

Paul continues,

"2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led."

Sadly, the Corinthian Christians were, at the time of Paul's writing, something of a sad lot. Evidently, they had little regard for the truth of the Gospel, and Paul reproves them for it. Paul is making a comparison in this second verse, one that must have cut straight to the bone of the Corinthians. He is chiding them for allowing the spiritual gifts to become empty, dumb idols, by comparing their state after receiving the Spiritual gifts to their state before receiving them. Paul's implication is clear: the Gifts of the Spirit were being misused by the Christians at Corinth; and because God's word is relevant for all times and all places, we must by extension look about our world today, and admit that there are congregations who equally have allowed the Spiritual gifts to become lifeless, dumb idols - replacing a true commitment to Jesus Christ.

Verse three presents an interesting clause to put the entire reading into perspective. Paul writes,

"3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."

Indeed, we believe this to be the truth. And yet we see so many Christians today who have allowed the working of the Holy Spirit to be neglected in their lives. Even a man who has committed evil and has not repented can say that Jesus is Lord, because God pours his spirit out upon all flesh, seeking, that he might find. The fact that one can proclaim that Jesus is Lord in the power of the Spirit is little proof of holiness or salvation. The use of what may appear to be the Spiritual Gifts are no more proof than a profession of Christ as Lord. Indeed, the true measure of professions and the spiritual gifts' effectiveness are to be found in the fruits of profession. . . and in the fruits of the Gifts.

We continue in verse four:

"4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit."

Today, we live in an era where the true test of the Gifts of the Spirit are not the fruits of the use of the Gifts, but in the reception of the gifts alone. There are places where, if you do not speak in tongues, you are considered unsaved. This is not a biblical doctrine, but it is indeed a doctrine of the Devil. Paul clearly states in this verse that there are differences of Gifts. The gifts that I receive are appropriate to my place and my role in the ministry of God's people. Those gifts may match with the gifts that each of you have received in some cases. In other cases, they will not. The diversities of gifts allow us to fulfil complimentary roles in the Body of Christ. Not all the parts of the body are fingers, or eyes, or arms, or legs. We all have a unique role to play, a role that the Spiritual Gifts compliment. The Holy Spirit does not form us on a cookie-cutter style assembly line. Just as we are unique creations in the womb, we are unique creations in the Spirit when we are born again.

Verses five and six reiterate the point:

"5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all."

To reiterate his statement in the fourth verse, Paul explains that differences in the roles we play do not change the love of God towards us, for we have received, as the foundation of all gifts, the greatest gift of all: the gift of forgiveness. By grace, we have been forgiven of our sins. We can do nothing to merit that remission and forgiveness of our sin-debt. Yet, when we accept, on faith, that we have been forgiven, we become conduits of God's love to our hurting world, each of us according to the plan God has put into action for us. We are called, each one of us, to a unique position of ministry in the Body. Yet, we are all united to the same Lord. There is no difference in our salvation, nor in the blessing we receive. . . the difference is only in the way we are called to share the gifts and blessings of God with others. Verse seven shows us why.

In verse seven, Paul says,

"7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal."

Each Christian will face new and unique challenges and calls to ministry in their life. The Holy Spirit's gifts are given to man so that he may find himself equipped for the situations that will arise, according to the plan that God has for him. So often, many who seem to lack certain Spiritual gifts will lament the fact that they do not seem to have them. I have heard of people praying and fasting for weeks, sometimes for months, just to get a gift of the Spirit - tongues, often; or prophecy. As a dear friend of mine once told me, "You can fast for a century, and if God's plan doesn't include what you are asking for, you are wasting your time." God indeed bestows upon us certain gifts . . . gifts that are appropriate and necessary for our walk with Christ and for the encouragement of others, and ourselves. Note the particular order that is conveyed. Christ's needs in this world take the priority. If the Gospel message is to be properly communicated, it will be accompanied by signs and wonders - that is certain. However, those signs and wonders will be the signs and wonders deemed appropriate by the Godhead, not by us. God knows what we need to witness to Christ, and we are granted gifts that will, first and foremost, meet these needs. Second, these gifts, as a part of God's will, flow for the purpose of encouraging others. The conveyance of faith and the continual encouragement of the faithful is a very important part of our walk with God. But note that in such a case, the gift is still being used for the benefit of others. Spiritual gifts, while often conveying some personal benefit, are intended to help others, not ourselves.

Now, in verse eight, Paul changes the tone of his discussion on the Gifts. Instead of describing the use of the Gifts, he describes the Gifts themselves. Taking together verses eight to eleven, we hear:

"8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will."

Notice that the gifts herein listed are not listed in any particular order of preference. How can we be sure of this? Because the principal gift, the gift of faith, is not listed first. If we take seriously the biblical and ancient belief that Faith is a gift of God, bestowed by grace, and that faith is necessary for the true exercise of the other Spiritual Gifts, then we must accept that the gifts of the Spirit are all placed upon what approximates an equal footing. Each gift is then given as needed, and exercised as desired by God, for the purpose of building up the gift of faith in others, in obedience to the call of God on our lives.

Far too often, individuals will use the appearance of spiritual gifts to cover the fact that they have an absence of any of the Spiritual gifts. Most of us will readily admit that we have met men and women who claim to have one (or all) of the Gifts of the Spirit, men and women who indeed demonstrate that they have no such gifts, but only the appearance of gifts. It is, quite frankly, easy to convince someone that we have a gift of tongues. One of the reasons that the Scriptures command us to have an interpreter when we speak in tongues in public is to prove out the truth of the Gift that is being exhibited. Yet, false interpreters also spring up. Even the safeguards that the Bible puts in place are circumvented by men and women who, I believe, are desperate to be noticed and to be accepted as having the Spiritual gifts.

Sadly, gifts such as words of wisdom or knowledge, prophecy, and discernment of spirits are just as often abused. . . the result being rents and tears in the Body of Christ from people making false accusations and making "divine" proclamations about the spiritual, physical, or emotional state of another Christian. It's no wonder that the Charismatic movement has more detractors than supporters. The visible witness of the modern Charismatic movement is just as much one of backstabbing and abuse as it is one of Godly love. This is the exact same problem that Paul addressed back in verse two.

Does this mean that the Gifts of the Spirit are, as many would claim, dead? Absolutely not. In my work in the hospital, I have seen miracles, bona-fide miracles. I have seen the lame walk, the blind see, the wounded healed. I will attest to the fact that God's gifts are still active in the world today, in their intended form. They are powerful witnesses to the glory of God. Yet, today, we are faced with the problem of so-called Charismatics who are abusing the gifts of the spirit for personal glorification. This is a blot on the public face of the Body. Each of us is harmed when televangelists, crusaders, even local pastors claim to work miracles that later turn out to be frauds. They are falling into the sin of allowing the Gifts to be hollow. . . just like the Corinthian Christians, whose use of the gifts appeared to be hypocritical.

Indeed, the ancient Church had many of the same problems that we face today. Writing around the year 180, Irenaeus illustrates this fact. He writes:

"It behooves us to flee from the Gnostics as we would from Satan. The greater the display with which they are said to perform miracles, the more carefully we should watch them, as having been endowed with a greater spirit of wickedness."

However, this is not to say that there is no genuine working of the Spirit, because, as he would write later in the same work,

"Those who are truly His disciples, receiving grace from Him, . . . perform [works] in His name, in order to promote the welfare of others, according to the gift that each one has received from Him."

Irenaeus indeed believes that there is a true and fruitful use of the Gifts of the Spirit, but those gifts are never for self-gratification or for personal glory. . . they are always to be used to assist others. In his writing, he went on to describe some of the Gifts that he had witnessed, and the power that was show to all, believer and unbeliever alike, through the right use of those Gifts. We, today, must be certain that we are using the Gifts of the Spirit for Christ's purposes, not our own.

What does all this mean for those of us who seek daily to make the fullest use of the Spiritual Gifts? It means, quite frankly, that we must always evaluate our use of the Spiritual Gifts against the use the Corinthians made of them. We must not use them in an empty, hollow, self-serving way. The use of the Gifts that we engage in must be biblical, spiritual, and beneficial to others, not just to ourselves. God's gifts are never intended to be self-serving, but are intended to be shared with others. We must faithfully seek to use God's gifts in fidelity to God's word, and in obedience to the example set for us by Paul's writing to the Corinthian Church.

Scripture Quotations from the King James Bible. Irenaeus' Quotations adapted from "The Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs", edited by David Bercot.

Homily from Christmas 2002

Editor's Note: This is the second in this series of recovered homilies.

December 25, 2002

Preached by Father Robert Lyons at the Hospital Chapel

On this most holy occasion, as we gather together in this tiny chapel to celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Christ, I would like to offer a phrase for your consideration. A lovely woman introduced it to me a few months ago, and it is a phrase that brings me comfort each time I hear it. "Everything is Grace."

At this time of the year, we celebrate those things that, in everyday life, we often take for granted. Our families and friends, our good health and our good fortunes, and even our own salvation. Yes, many of us, myself included, find ourselves reflecting on the important things at this time of the year, and realizing just how much we have taken for granted. Too often we forget that each and every gift we have is an extension of the grace that we have received from above. There is no greater time to re-connect with that reality than today, as we commemorate the greatest gift of grace that we have received, that of Christ Jesus the Lord.

Today, as we sing our songs of celebration and praise, we also reflect on the fact that each and every gift that God has bestowed upon us is foreshadowed by the gift of his Son. It truly is grace. . . everything that we have, is it's byproduct.

Sadly, this day, many people are experiencing a false joy from presents, kisses under mistletoe, or too much egg nog. For them, grace does not enter into the equation. Christmas must never be about these things to the Christian. Christmas must be, as all things, an experience of grace. That being said, please don't presume to go home and nuke your tree and the presents you bought this year. . . just be sure that if you choose to follow that particular set of customs, that the true focus is Christ, and not the latest Elmo toy.

This Christmas is also grace for those who are ill or dying. The gift of another day for them is a gift of time for repentance, faith, understanding, or self-surrender. It's priceless, and I ask you to pray for our patients and our staff here at Wishard during this season.

This Christmas most likely will also hold memories for you. May your memories be grace, may your faith be strong, and may your joy grow ever more complete as we participate in hearing God''s word and receiving his Sacrament on this Christmas Day. . . a day where we are called to remember that every gift of God, on every day of the year, truly says to us, "Everything is Grace."

Have a most blessed Nativity, my friends. Merry Christ-mass.

Homily from 2003

Editor's Note: The following is the first of several hold homilies I am posting on this blog since I was able to locate them in spite of several computer crashes. I rarely write out a full homily, but when I do, I like to share them. Enjoy.

4 May 2003

Preached by Father Robert Lyons, Presbyter of Saint Alban’s

First Reading: Isaiah 29: 9-14
Gospel Acclamation: Psalm 16: 8-11
Gospel Reading: Luke 24: 36-49

Confusion reigns in our first reading from the prophecy of Isaiah, as people cannot understand the prophecy of God. God, speaking through his prophet, warns us that there are people who “draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips,” but at the same time, he tells us “their hearts are far from me.”

How many times have we experienced the reign of confusion within our souls? How often have we come to praise God, but known in our hearts that we were only giving him lip service, and not the true service of our hearts? I would dare say that we have probably come to this realization more often than we would like to admit to ourselves – or to others! Sadly, when our praise of God is only found upon our lips, when that praise is not resident in our hearts, we fall into the trap of relying upon the wisdom of man instead of the grace of God. Indeed, this trap is a deadly one, because our reading says that, “the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” It is not enough to speak and praise the Lord; it is requisite upon us as redeemed, sanctified Christians to open our hearts and souls to God, and to praise him in every aspect of our lives. . . in every fiber of our being. When we do not allow ourselves to fully worship and praise God, when external factors come between God and us, we find ourselves in a quandary, much as the disciples did in our Gospel reading today.

If we would only trust in the promises of God, if we would follow David’s example and, “set the Lord always before” ourselves, then we indeed would never be shaken, and we would rejoice. Sadly, even the disciples – in those tumultuous days between Good Friday and Pentecost – did not fully comprehend or understand what was going on. Their joy was not full, their doubt was strong, and their fear was great.

In today’s Gospel reading, we read the account of one of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples. They were fearful, but they gradually came to belief. At that first Pentecost, they were strengthened to proclaim the risen Lord, whom they had met face to face. You see, the wisdom of the world – explained that Jesus was dead, buried, and out of the collective consciousness of the Jews once and for all. The high priests went to some expense to ensure that neither of the guards on Jesus’ tomb would tell anyone what had occurred, preferring instead to spread the story that the disciples had taken the Lord’s body by night. It took great convincing, through signs, miracles, wonders, and even ordinary mundane activities – such as consuming a piece of broiled fish – to come to a threshold of belief; a place where the evidence was too great to ignore for the disciples. And yet, Isaiah’s prophecy stood: the chief priests and the scribes could not understand the prophecies; they could not accept the truth of the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. Indeed, it took many intimate encounters with the resurrected Lord to come to a place where they could not only begin to grasp the truth, but proclaim it with joy. It took the presence of the Holy Spirit to bring this about.

Confusion is not a commodity that was restricted only to Isaiah’s day. Confusion reigns supreme today in the hearts of many who call themselves Christians. The praise of God is on their lips, but the truth of God is not in their hearts. They see, but they close their eyes, they hear, but cover their ears. When hardship comes, they have no idea what to do or say, because they cannot understand the basic truth of the Christian life. Why? If I may humbly submit my opinion on the topic, it is because they do not make the most of their experience with the risen Lord.

As we gather together to break open the Word of God, and to share in the one Bread and Cup at his table, we experience an intimate encounter with Christ. In his word, he instructs us to salvation, and in his most blessed Sacrament, he gives to us the grace to transform our hearts and minds – for we are truly meeting the Christ who came into this world to die for our sins. When you receive of the Eucharist, you are experiencing an encounter with the Lord that should, no must, transform your life! If your sins are troubling you, you must take care of them – and I humbly suggest a good confession to you as a means to do just that. If sorrow is holding you back, turn your sorrow over to the Lord, the one who is a specialist at turning sorrow to joy. If you leave here today with no hope or joy, you have only yourself to blame.

Recently, upon visiting in another congregation, I noticed something that warmed my heart. A woman who had just received her Lord and Savior in Holy Communion was walking back to her pew, and she had one of the most peaceful smiles upon her face that I had ever seen. She knew that her Lord had just come to take up his home within her afresh. As I saw her, I immediately took a piece of paper out of the bulletin and wrote these words, words that I hope will bring you great peace.

“When you leave this place today, you should be radiant with joy. No matter how terrible the music, no matter how bad the preaching, no matter how horrible you felt when you came in: for here, in this place, at the Table of the Lord, you have met the Christ face to face.”

06 November 2007

Microsoft Word 2007 - Guh!

Well, I just got a new laptop computer. I have been without one for over a year, and have been looking forward to getting one for some time. I find laptops to be far more comfortable for me than desktop units. It's a nice enough unit, and I am starting to get used to the Windows Vista interface, but...

I'd like to have a conversation with the programming genius at Microsoft who (re)developed the Microsoft Office platform - specifically Microsoft Word 2007.

Let me tell you, I am going to have to entirely re-learn MS Word from the ground up. To make matters worse, many fonts that were native to Word in the past are now totally gone - meaning that an extremely long Liturgy Book I had been busy editing now needs to be entirely reformatted to take a new series of fonts into account.

I have never been so displeased with a word processing application in my life.

It's been a decade since I last used Corel WordPerfect with any regularity... but I just might look into it again now. I may not be a computer programmer, but I have never felt stupid when using a computer before. Tonight, I throw up my hands in disgust and admit it... right now, MS Word 2007 owns me.

Visit me on YouTube!

Tonight I had the chance to complete editing on my first online video, which has been posted at my YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/FatherRobLyons. This is a trial run for what I hope will be an ongoing series of reflections entitled "The Primitive Catholic Faith". I think I need a better writer... and a wardrobe consultant may be in order too!

05 November 2007

Fire on the Altar

Three posts today, three title links. Hrm...

Anyway, on Saturday morning a fire was set on the Altar of Immaculate Conception Parish in Auburn, Indiana, following a break in where several offices and classrooms were pillaged. An undisclosed amount of money was also taken.

The interesting thing is that this is not being investigated as a hate crime.

Artificial plants were covered with an accelerant, set on the Altar, and lit on fire... and its not at least a candidate for investigation as a hate crime?

Creation Museum Drawing Large Crowds

My thanks to Bishop Chuck Huckaby for forwarding me a link to a story in USA Today (click on the post title to view the article) on the overwhelming success of the new Creation Museum near Cincinatti, Ohio.

Kristen and I had the chance to visit the facility back in late August, and we really enjoyed ourselves. The only real complaint I have is that the planners underestimated the popularity of the facility and thus the path through the exhibits is far too tight. My suggestion: go early (and, if possible, on a weekday), see the entire museum first, then go to the not-to-be-missed planetarium show.
I'm not much of a museum/exhibit person, so I don't know that Kristen and I would ever tour the entire museum again (well, not before we have kids, anyway), but I would go back for the Planetarium show and the gift shop.

The Creation Museum is run by Ken Ham's "Answers in Genesis" ministry, an Evangelical Protestant group dedicated to "defending the Bible from the very first verse." The museum, thankfully, shows little Evangelical bias (save for the blurb about the Reformation in the tour). Their most recent edition of "Creation" magazine, however, had about as much to do with the Reformation as it did with Creationisim.

Just a side note to the editors of "Creation"... Catholics (yes, even Primitive Catholics!) and Orthodox Christians believe in a literal six-day creation too! Perhaps you might want to tone down some of the Protestant rhetoric in your articles. I would wager that if we compared the ancient Church to both Catholic/Orthodox and Protestant worlds, the former would come closer to the theology of the ancient Church than the latter.

What Does Dark Chocolate Have to do With God?

My friend, Latif Gaba, posted an outstanding article on his blog last week, and you can read it by clicking on the title to this blog entry.

In short, if you have ever really enjoyed a dark chocolate tasting, you might have a bit of an idea about how to understand Sacramental theology.

Yes, you heard me right... dark chocolate as an analogue to the Eucharist may seem a bit strange... but if you read the article, I promise you that you'll understand. (Unless, you prefer milk chocolate, in which case, I am afraid that the article might not be of that much help to you at all.)

Editor's Note: In searching for an image for this post, I was unable to find a decent picture of an 80% cacao tasting square. Rest assured, dark chocolatiers (and theologians!), the more intense the experience, the better!

27 October 2007

Review of "Q&A"

My review of the new Star Trek: The Next Generation novel "Q&A" is now up over at TrekMovie.com.

Feel free to pop over and have a look-see.

26 October 2007

Transubstantiation Unsubstantiated

In a recent series of postings on a mailing list I am a part of, a discussion got started on the topic of Transubstantiation, a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the way in which Christ is present in the Eucharist. In the process, an article from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was quoted. One portion of the document really got my dander up...

That portion, and my response, follow.

Does the bread cease to be bread and the wine cease to be wine?
Yes. In order for the whole Christ to be present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—the bread and wine cannot remain, but must give way so that his glorified Body and Blood may be present. Thus in the Eucharist the bread ceases to be bread in substance, and becomes the Body of Christ, while the wine ceases to be wine in substance, and becomes the Blood of Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas observed, Christ is not quoted as saying, " This bread is my body," but "This is my body" (Summa Theologiae, III q. 78, a. 5).

This is just plain lousy theology. First, it limits God based on our understanding. Second, it works against reinforcing the Dogma of the Incarnation because it promotes displacement theology - the idea that when God moves in, humanity (or, in this case, breadanity) moves out. This is in direct conflict with the Dogma of the Hypostatic Union, which states that God united with Man in the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is true God and true Man. The man did not have to move out to make room for God, and if he had, then Jesus Christ couldn't bridge the gap between God and us.

A theology of Transubstantiation, as explained above, does far more violence to Christological truth than most any other dogmatic view concerning the Eucharist - except possibly the concept of blessed memorial (a concept that denies the plain words of Jesus).

Further, whoever prepared this particular response, while rightly quoting Thomas Aquinas, missed the boat... namely Saint Paul. Paul was able to speak of the consecrated Eucharist as bread and cup... heck, the modern Roman liturgy does too, paraphrasing Paul (When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death Lord Jesus, until you come again). Thomas Aquinas may have been a learned, pious, and holy man, but he really overstepped what was needed and appropriate with much of his writing. This is one glaring example of that fact.

25 October 2007

Thought Provoking...

I happened to run across the following quote today.

"Separation of Church and State becomes problematic when the State is one’s church. No moral judgement outside its parameters will be permitted."

22 October 2007

How Should Christians View the Old Testament?

"We further affirm our belief that the Old Testament is not contrary to the New, for in both the Old and New Testaments eternal life is offered to mankind through Christ." from Article Four: The Scriptures (CC-SST)

Indeed, the statement from the Synod of St. Timothy's Articles of Religion (which is drawn from the Anglican 39 Articles of Religion) is true and accurate. But what does it mean? This is a matter that many Christians study and discuss. I'd like to share some of my views with you today.

1) The Old Testament is a reliable source of historical information.
In spite of the many contemporary scholarly assaults on the reliability of the historical information contained in the Old Testament, I accept its historicity as genuine and valid. Far from disproving the Old Testament, science has an uncanny knack for proving the truth of Scripture (including many Old Testament 'fables') more often that it disproves them.

2) The Old Testament is a reliable source of prophecy.
Obviously, as a Christian believer, I see the Old Testament as the prophecy of Christ. From Christ's presence in the Creative act (see Genesis 1:1 in Hebrew), to the promise of a redeemer in Genesis 3, to the Burning Bush, the Prophetic voices, and even the visitor in the Firey Furnace, Jesus Christ is testified to throughout the Old Testament.

3) The New Testament is the fufillment of the Old Testament.
Let's take a look at this concept more deeply. The New Testament takes Old Testament principles and morphs them into something greater. While the New Testament is not contrary to the Old, the New Testament supercedes the Old in matters of faith and morals. As a result, things that we see in the Old Testament do not set precidence for Christians of the New Testament. War, a common occurance in the Old Testament between Israel and other nation-states, is transformed into a spiritual reality. Christians are not to care for the changes and chances of this world's nations, for they are soldiers of God's Kingdom against the forces of Satan. We have a different battle to fight. The Death Penalty, once demanded for many immoral and sinful acts, was commuted by Christ himself when he pardoned the woman caught in the act of adultery. The genuine death penalty that exists is no longer a civic concern but a spiritual one - the ultimate separation of the evil from God's eternal love at the day of Judgement.

4) The New Testament and its covenant supercedes the Old Testament and its covenant.
The Church is the Israel of God. No DNA lineage or national identity can lay claim to being God's Chosen People. Only the Church, called by Christ's name, washed by Water and the Spirit, and earnestly seeking Christ the Savior can rightly be called the Israel of God. This belief, often called supersessionism or replacement theology, is an integral part of the message of the New Testament. This is not a form of anti-Semitisim, though sadly many people have twisted it to become anti-Semitic. All people, Jew and Gentile, have access to God through Christ Jesus.

Indeed, the Old Testament is not contrary to the New; it is a foreshadowing of it; but its morals and practices have been given new and deeper meaning by Jesus Christ in the Gospels and throughout the New Testament.

20 October 2007

Jury Duty in Indianapolis (Updated)

So Indianapolis, Indiana has a wonderful idea to inspire cooperation with jury duty. The idea? Jail time if you don't show up.


Just one problem. They forget about those, such as myself, who cannot in good conscience participate in a jury in any fashion.

Back in July when this potential change was first announced, I wrote to the county's Jury Duty office. Their response? In essence, "too bad".

Today's Indianapolis Star (click the title of this post to read the IndyStar.com article) has outlined, however, the new rules. You show up for jury duty, or you'll get called to court to get a new jury duty date. You fail to show up a second time, fines and/or jail time for you.

This may be a good idea from a civic perspective, but the civic perspective fails to take into account people who absolutely object to participating in the system... people like me.

Now, people don't seem to understand my insistence on not responding to a summons for jury duty. Let me try to explain. First, let me outline my view on clergy participation in civic life...

Christian clergy, in imitation of the primitive Church, and as an example to their own flocks:
-should refrain from pledging allegiance to any nation
-should refrain from saluting the emblems of any nation
-should refrain from service in the Armed Forces of any nation in any capacity
-should refrain from holding any elected office
-should refrain from endorsing or opposing any candidate for elected office
-should refrain from permitting the use of sacred space for governmental purposes
-should refrain from permitting elected officials to speak on political matters on Church grounds
-should refrain from serving on any civil jury
-should refrain from taking any oath
-should refrain from disclosing any information gained under the seal of the confessional
-should refrain from filing a lawsuit against any Christian believer
-should refrain from casting a ballot in a federal, state, or local election
-should in all other respects obey just laws
-should give all due cooperation to officers of the law as Christian obedience demands, within the confines permitted by Christian conscience
-should pay the taxes due in the location of their residence

Extreme? Sure... but it absolutely reflects my commitment that the Church has no business participating in the state, and the state has no business participating in the life of the Church.

I realize not all Christians share this view (though look at where that has gotten us!), but it is definately my viewpoint based on study of the Church Fathers, and of Scripture itself.

As far as jury duty goes, well... I have no right to sit in judgement of another human being. Even moreso, I have no right to give the impression that I have the right to sit in judgement of another human being. Some have pointed me to 1 Corinthians 6:2 as justification for participating in judicial proceedings. To them I say, balderdash! I may be called to sit in judgement by God at the end of time, but my conscience will not allow me to sit in judgement of a human being at the order of another fallen, flawed, fallible human being - no matter what his title.

Others have asked why I don't just go to the courthouse on Jury Duty day and tell the judge how I feel and seek a dismissal. Again, I answer, because it would signal that I, as a priest of God, endorse or accept the idea of Christians participating in secular trials. I can never accept such a view, nor can I in conscience consent to give such an appearance.

So, where do things stand?

I have again written to the Jury Duty office seeking clarification on my situation - which is more than I am comfortable with... but which I feel is far better than giving public witness to the idea that a Christian (particularlly a priest) can be called by the state to stand in judgement of others.

If this policy isn't amended, then may God give me wisdom to make the best choice, and show mercy to anyone who tries to force me to violate my conscience and faith.


I decided to attempt to make an end run around the Jury Pool Office and write directly to the Presiding Judge of the County and to the Judge in Charge of the Jury Pool. Here is the text of my letter, directed to judges Zore and Stoner:

I am writing to you today after reading an article in the Saturday, October 20th online edition of the Indianapolis Star concerning new enforcement rules for jury duty in Marion County. Because of your position and a quotation from you in the article, I felt it would be appropriate to contact you.

When the new enforcement rules were first noted in the Star over the summer months, I contacted the appropriate office at the City-County Building because of my personal concern over this issue. The response I got was very disheartening. Now that these rules have been crystallized, I feel I have no option but to bring my concerns to the attention of a judge proactively, before I am placed in a position where I must violate my conscience or face civil sanction.

As a Primitive Catholic, my faith compels me to abstain from sitting on a jury, taking any oath, or acknowledging in any way that right of any human being to sit in judgment of another. I recognized that not all Christians hold to the same interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures, but my faith will not permit me to cooperate with the civil judiciary system by sitting on a jury, or by giving the appearance that any human being –particularly a priest of the Church- has the right to sit in judgment of another.

When I tried explaining this to the individuals in the office that handles jury duty, I was dismissed offhand without a genuine response to my concerns. While I have sent them an electronic mail message again this afternoon, I hold little actual hope that they will respond any differently than the last time.

My allegiance is to God alone, and not to the State. As a Christian it is my duty to obey all just laws of the State, but compulsory service to the State (in this instance, through Jury Duty) requires me to compromise my faith to suit the State. I cannot in good conscience respond to a request to sit in judgment of a fellow man, or to give the impression that I have even the right to do so (more the less the ‘responsibility’). To that end, I am asking that you and your fellow judges make provision for people such as myself to proactively opt-out of jury duty on religious, moral, or ethical grounds.

04 October 2007

What Would Jesus Do... the Iraq War

A very compelling reminder of why we cannot, as Christians, assent to the slaughter of innocents in a time of war.

The Legacy of Sputnik

Fifty years after a beach-ball sized hunk of metal 'beep-beep'ed its way around the globe, instilling fear and terror in some, and wondrous hope in others, what is the legacy of Earth's first artificial satellite, Sputnik?

As a man of faith, I have often been asked what God thinks of spaceflight, and it is my belief that God has given us a magnificent sense of wonder and inquisitiveness. We must use it to the fullest advantage that we can, and that extends to exploring space.

Spaceflight today is entering its painful adolescent state. Still in some ways childish (spy satellites, anti-satellite weapons, etc...), while at the same time trying to be mature (observation telescopes, geological study satellites, missions to the planets and beyond). We are still growing into our identy as a spacefaring people.

People of faith must be involved in this great endeavor, however. To go to the stars without acknowledging God's creative hand and his awesome granduer in the fabric of space does only a disservice to people of faith who might seek to foreswear spaceflight as some evil, demonic attempt to build a modern Tower of Babel.

Space is the future of humanity (at least until the Lord returns), and we need to -as people of faith- be ready to move into the future with the rest of our species.

At the same time, the deep call of both God and space should renew our goals to set aside our petty, pathetic differences here on earth. The killing needs to stop, borders need to be torn down, warfare needs to cease, and the poor, orphaned, downtrodden of our civilization need -desperately!- to be cared for. Some say that the money for space should be spent on the poor. I agree, to an extent... but I'd prefer to see the money we use to build guns and bombs to kill (largely) the poor turned to helping them stand and exist in a modern world where everyone has an acceptable standard of living.

In a way, I think Saint Francis would be proud to share his feast day on the western calendar with the launch of Sputnik... for as Sputnik causes us to think of that newly-expanding frontier of Space, a part of the creation that Francis loved so much, so it forces us to think about the rest of his message - one where we live in harmony with nature and with our fellows.

Just some thoughts on this day, October 4th... the fiftieth anniversary of the 'beep' that changed the world.

03 October 2007

Does God Really Forgive Sinners?

Today the question was posed on a list I frequent:
Should mistakes in someone's past automatically preclude them from the opportunity to accomplish any good in the future?

According to a clergyman... any future good works are forever overshadowed by the mistakes of the past. Indeed, even false accusations, it appears, should cause an individual to be shunned forever.

I thought I would share an expanded version of my response...

The immediate response I think of is found in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 which reads,
"Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (NLT)

Paul's basic message? Well, you were sinners once, but you have been washed clean.

Jesus (and Paul!), of course, requires us to change our ways... we have been called from darkness and self-preoccupation to the light of existence in the community of faith. God truly meets us where we are and walks with us through our struggles as we strive to become better than when we first encountered him.

When Jesus encountered the woman who was about to be stoned for committing adultery, he challenged the crowd (particularly the popular religion-mongers who had caught the woman) by seeking a sinless person to cast the first stone at her. Everyone dropped their stones and went home. They were all sinners. He then turned to the woman and said, "Go and sin no more." (John 8: 11b)

He sent the woman away forgiven, with a call for her to never do it again.

There will be difficult times on that walk. The apostles can tell you about difficult times. Peter calls Jesus the Messiah, and then -after a brief interlude- is called Satan by the very man he glorified by his declaration. In fact, Peter went on to deny Jesus... and yet Jesus reversed the denial and turned it into a threefold affirmation of Peter's call to serve - and it turned Peter inside out.

So, the next time someone tells you (any of you!) that God holds the sins we have repented of against us, challenge them to show you some New Testament proof. Next time someone tells you that God does not have abundant mercy, kindly request some evidence of the claim.

(Finally, just point to the Montanists if the individual in question needs some proof of a condemed heretical sect that practiced shunning to the degree this individual is advocating.)

23 August 2007

Saint Isaac of Nineveh

Commemoration - August 23
Isaac of Syria is a 7th century saint known for his strict asceticism and ascetic writings.

St. Isaac was born in the region of Qatar on the western shore of the Persian Gulf. When still quite young, he entered a monastery with his brother. His fame grew as a holy man and teacher. He was subsequently ordained bishop of Nineveh, the former capital of Assyria to the north, but requested to abdicate after only five months. He then went south to the wilderness of Mount Matout, a refuge for anchorites. There he lived in solitude for many years studying the Scripture, but eventually blindness and old age forced him to retire to the monastery of Rabban Shabur, where he reposed and was buried.

15 August 2007

The Dormition of the God-bearer

Feast - August 15
The Feast of the Dormition or Falling Asleep of the God-bearer (Theotokos) commemorates the death of Christ's mother. Mary died as all people die because she had a mortal human nature affected by the corruption of this world. The Church proclaims that Mary needed to be saved by Christ just as all of us are saved from trials, sufferings, and death of this world. On this feast we seek the grace to emulate the example of Mary’s holy life of humility, obedience and love.

Morning Prayer Reading
Genesis 28: 10-17

Divine Liturgy Readings
Philippians 2: 5-11
Luke 11: 27-28

Evening Prayer Reading
Ezekiel 43:27 – 44:4

14 August 2007

Some Further Thoughts on Confession

Just some musings I posted elsewhere... thought they might go good here as well.

Sin is not just between us and God. When we sin -literally miss the mark- we harm our relationship with God and cause damage to our fellow man, even if we fail to recognize that fact. When we convince ourselves that 'confessing directly to God' is good enough (and certainly it is good... just not quite good enough) then we loose the valuable experience of humility that comes with the Confessional experience.

In the ancient Church, such confessions were public... everyone knew what you did, because you confessed to everyone. History tells us that the greater and greater influx of people to the Church, coupled with the harsh discipline of the Montanists and Donatists, lead to the end of public confession of specific sins and into the privacy of what we today consider Confession.

I am of the mind that there should be no specific Confession of Sins in Christian worship. These confessions are general, and sins are never general. Sins are always specific. Further, the liturgical texts (when properly employed) serve to paint a strong balance between sin & God's righteous anger and forgiveness & God's abundant mercy.

Further, to avoid the humiliation (that's what it is) of confessing our sins is a manifest refusal to take up our cross and be humiliated like Jesus.

Finally, Confession of sins needs to be thought of less juridically and more compassionately. The confessional act is a spiritual hospital for the sin-sick soul. We need the grace of the Great Physician, ministered by his residents, nurses, care-techs, etc... to avoid it is like not going to the hospital for a burst appendix.

Confession isn't very pleasant... but hell is even more unpleasant. When we fail to comprehend how our sins harm others, and fail to acknowledge them in utter humiliation, we fail to learn from our sins and avoid them in the future...

That's stubborn pride, and as we all know, pride goeth before a fall.

10 August 2007

Saint Laurence

Deacon and Martyr
Commemoration - August 10

Prayer - Almighty God, who called your deacon Laurence to serve you with deeds of love, and gave him the crown of martyrdom: Grant that we, following his example, may fulfill your commandments by defending and supporting the poor, and by loving you with all our hearts, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Biography - Laurence (or Lawrence) was chief of the seven deacons of the congregation at Rome, the seven men who, like Stephen and his companions (Acts 6:1-6), were in charge of administering the church budget, particularly with regard to the care of the poor.

In 257, the emperor Valerian began a persecution aimed chiefly at the clergy and the laity of the upper classes. All Church property was confiscated and meetings of Christians were forbidden. The bishop of Rome, Sixtus II, and most of his clergy were executed on 7 August 258, and Laurence on the 10th.

The accounts recorded about a century later by Ambrose and the poet Prudentius say that, as Sixtus was being led to his death, Laurence followed him, saying, "Will you go to heaven and leave me behind?" and that the bishop replied, "Be comforted, you will follow me in three days."

They go on to say that the Roman prefect, knowing that Laurence was the principal financial officer, promised to set him free if he would surrender the wealth of the Church. Laurence agreed, but said that it would take him three days to gather it. During those three days, he placed all the money at his disposal in the hands of trustworthy stewards, and then assembled the sick, the aged, and the poor, the widows and orphans of the congregation, presented them to the prefect, and said, "These are the treasures of the Church." The enraged prefect ordered him to be roasted alive on a gridiron. Laurence bore the torture with great calmness, saying to his executioners at one time, "You may turn me over; I am done on this side."

The spectacle of his courage made a great impression on the people of Rome, and made many converts, while greatly reducing among pagans the belief that Christianity was a socially undesirable movement that should be stamped out.

09 August 2007

Saint Matthias

Feast - August 9

Prayer - Almighty God, who in the place of Judas chose your faithful servant Matthias to be numbered among the Twelve: Grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be ordered and guided by faithful and true pastors; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.

Readings - Acts 1:15-26 and John 15:1,6-16

Biography - After the Ascension of Our Lord, His followers at Jerusalem chose a replacement for Judas. The man chosen was Matthias, "and he was numbered with the Eleven." Apart from the information given in the first chapter of Acts, nothing is known of him. It would be a mistake to conclude from this that he was a failure and a bad choice as an apostle. We know as much as we do about Peter and Paul because Luke (a travelling companion of Paul) wrote extensively about them. About most of the other apostles (those belonging to the original twelve and later ones like Matthias) we know little after Pentecost on an individual basis.

06 August 2007

Apostolic Succession

The following is a posting of a response to a question on "Primitive Catholic Fellowship", an e-group I moderate on Yahoo! Groups. The question, in a nutshell, is "Why bother to have Apostolic Succession?"

Apostolic Succession is composed of two very important elements.

1) Apostolic Truth
2) Apostolic Recognition

As you have already stated, Apostolic Truth is vital for any community of faith.

Apostolic Recognition (or the historic Episcopate), referring to the laying on of hands as a means of transmitting authority for mission and ministry is a second matter. While there are several citations in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, one only really needs to read the Scriptures in this instance to find a strong case for it.

First, the fact that there is at least a two-fold ordained ministry in Apostolic times is attested to in the Acts of the Apostles. At first, the Apostles operated as the only 'set apart' ministers of the Church. The twelve quickly replaced Judas (and the Greek word episcopos is used in Acts 1:20 to describe his vacated position) and after Pentecost they began to minister. After a time, the selected seven to serve the Church, laid hands upon them, and they became the first deacons (Acts 6: 1-7). It becomes clearly obvious, however, that they had a different ministry than the apostles/overseers. For example, they could baptize, but they could not impart the Holy Spirit (resuting in James and Peter having to go to Samaria to pray over those baptized by Philip (Acts 8: 14-17).

Now we come to the case of the Apostle Paul. For many, Paul is the absolute proof that Apostolic Succession is un-necessary. In fact, he states in the introduction to 1 Corinthians that he is, "chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ." This man, the great Apostle to the Gentiles was unquestionably chosen to minister as an Apostle by Jesus Christ directly...

So it's funny that the Holy Spirit moves in Acts 13, commanding the prophets and teachers of the Church of Antioch to 'dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them." Jesus alrady called him to be an Apostle to the Gentiles... to preach the good news of repentance and mercy... so why the prayer? Why the setting apart?

The leaders of the Church at Antioch were established themselves by the apostles. They, in turn, recognized the call of God on Paul and sent him forth to lead a missionary effort. The Church participated in the ministry set in motion by God. Paul, a man who stated he was beholden to no man for his authority, submitted to the laying on of hands in obedience to the Holy Spirit's calling, in order to do the will of God.

Why? We'll probably never know. At the risk of sounding like I am trying to cop out of the discussion, it is something we simply cannot understand.

Are there Ante-Nicene references to Apostolic Succession, both doctrinally and through the laying on of hands? Yes. Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Origen, and even the Apostolic Constitutions speak of the practice. But if you don't accept it on this Scriptural basis (as well as the other Scriptures that could be brought into play on the topic), then there really isn't a point in quoting the ANF, is there?

Now, to take a moment to debate the merits and long-term effects of Succession...

Obviously the tacticle succession hasn't been effective against preventing heresy. Plenty of people have the historic episcopate and are wallowing in the bog (so to speak). When the Church got split up, first in the Montanist and Donatist eras, and later in the politicization of the Church, the episcopate was comprimised. Thus, all kinds of people claim (and do have) the tactile succession, but have erred greviously in their manner of living or in the content of the faith they profess. The laying on of hands is not an insurance policy against heresy, mainly because it has been used as a weapon since the early 300's.

On the other hand, while I'd take the Apostolic Faith over any mere line of bishops any day, we would be absolutely foolish if we refused to accept the laying on of hands if it was offered to us. Why intentionally deprive ourselves of both sides of Apostolic Succession?

Let us also remember, we cannot take the ministry upon ourselves. As a child I felt a calling to the priesthood, but I couldn't ordain myself. Someone has to examine candidates, train them, and then recognize them through some means... if one could simply delcare themselves ordained, then Simon Magus would have needed nothing other than to be a faithful Christian in order to recieve the apostolic power to confer the Holy Spirit. Or, even more to the point, the Samaratans of Acts 8 wouldn't have needed Peter and John to lay hands on them... or even Philip to baptize them. All they should have needed to hear was the preaching by Philip, and then they could have handled the rest of it themselves.

In closing, is someone outside of the historic episcopate doomed? Surely not. However, why would someone want to refuse the gift of continuity through the laying on of hands to compliment the apostolic teachings of the early Church? God raised up Paul, but Paul still allowed himself to submit to the Church's earthly means of being set apart for ministry.

Who are we to argue with God... or Paul?

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

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