31 December 2009

Some Comments on Weekly Communion


"If we celebrate Communion every week, it won't be as special."

Those of us who practice weekly (even daily!) celebrations of the Lord's Supper are often confronted with this argument by our Christian brothers and sisters who are less Sacramentally inclined than ourselves. To be certain, nothing rises the ire of eucharistically-centered folks quite like hearing this statement, so I would like to offer some reflections on why this is such a common agrument against weekly Communion and how we can begin, slowly, to change the view.

First, we need to charitably recognize that every denomination has its own distinctives, which ultimately lead them to focusing on certain elements of the overall Christian experience. Those who come from Catholic, Orthodox, and certain Protestant backgrounds (orthodox Lutheranism and the Restoration Movement among them) tend to value the regular celebration of the Eucharist because they have been catechized in the meaning of both the acts of worship with which we surround the Sacrament and the meaning and significance of the Sacrament itself. They look back to Scripture and see the examples of regularlly celebrating the Supper which permeate the New Testament, and in a desire to remain faithful to that example, they incorporate a Sacramental aspect to worship on a regular basis.  We cannot expect those from other denominations to understand the significance of this when they have not been instructed in it.

Second, we need to consider how Christian congregations practice Communion. In keeing with the ancient principle of 'lex orandi, lex credendi' (the law of prayer is the law of belief), the way we celebrate the Lord's Supper will instruct the people just as much as any catechetical class or pastoral conversation ever will. Celebrations of the Sacrament that feel like 'optional extras', which are carelessly led, or which are somehow separated from corporate worship (i.e., 'if you want Communion after the service, please go to the small chapel and wait there for the pastor') will all lead individual believers to develop a similar mindset concerning the Supper.

Communion is, at times, seen as something that can be dropped or cut back for the sake of time. During the summer, while on vacation, we attended a congregation on what was arguably the hottest day in a decade in the town we were in. They had a wonderful worship bulletin with everything laid out. Just before the service began, the pastor came out and said, "Good morning. As you can tell, it's terribly warm this morning, and because of the threat of thunderstorms, we can't really open the windows. As a result, we will be omitting certain parts of the service today."  We still sang every verse of every hymn. The pastor's sermon was still about 25 minutes long. And yet one reading, the Psalm, the Creed, and most all of the Communion portion of the Liturgy were hacked out on the fly. In the end, after the collection was taken (during a hymn with nine verses), the pastor went to the Altar, uncovered the vessels, said the customary verses and responses before the Eucharistic prayer, and then just read the Words of Institution and began delivering the Sacrament. By cutting out the Preface, Sanctus, Prayer of Consecration, and Lord's Prayer, he saved himself about 3 minutes... perhaps four depending on the musical setting of the Sanctus. The Sacrament was the easy cut, because its celebration wasn't as important as making sure that the sermon was full length and that every verse of every hymn were sung. (In other words, at least in my humble opinion, the pastor was willing to exchange his words for the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ.)

Whenever Communion is celebrated - whever the frequency - it must be a vital, living part of our worship experience. It must be a heartfelt, significant reason for joyfully recalling all that our Lord has done for us. We must instruct people on the blessings of the Supper, and we must be honest about how to prepare for its celebration. We who celebrate on a regular basis must never give the appearance that we are doing something out of a rote apathy, but must show the change that regularlly communing with our Lord works in us. It is only these actions which will ensure that we have any collateral to lay down in the discussion about the benefits of weekly Communion. It is, indeed, a temptation to simply retort "Yea, perhaps we should stop preaching every week while we are at it!", but in the end it is only the transformational quality of weekly Communion and strong, Biblical teaching on the Sacrament that will soften hearts and bring them regularlly to the Holy Table of our Lord.

31 October 2009

The Week that Was


It's late on Saturday night, and I am up with little Clare for the first shift of the evening while Kristen gets some much needed rest. Today was our first day on our own, as Kristen's mother left this morning to go visit some other family. We had a very good and balanced day. And now, as things are quiet in the house (well, mostly, I just started some laundry and dishes), I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the week that was, and particularly on what I have learned in that week.

This week I have learned...
that there are worse things in the world than being pooped and peed on
that Grandma makes great cookies, and an even greater encourager
that babies, while delicate, aren't quite as fragile as a soap bubble
that, as odd as it feels to have a real family surrounding me, it's an amazing experience
that even wiping spit from a baby's mouth can be a moment of pure joy
that our dog is amazingly tender toward Clare
that you have to be able to think outside the box with your baby, no matter how demerited you are to do things a particular way
that mothers are the most awesome people on the planet
that my wife is even more beautiful than the day I met her

And the most important thing I have learned this week...
"Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap." (Luke 6:38a NLT)
God has filled me with a great joy in my little one and my wife. May those of you who are parents, or who hope to become parents, find his joy and his blessing in your lives as well.

27 October 2009

Welcome Home, Clare Adele!


Clare is now home... mother and daughter are doing fine. Photos are now available at this link.

I cannot express to all of our family and friends how joyful and happy we are, and how thankful we are for their prayers, love, and support. God has been gracious to us beyond our deserving, and has blessed us with this wonderful gift. Please continue to pray for Clare's health and growth, and for our being good parents.

Not much else to say now... we are both very tired, and I think we are giving some consideration to sleepy time for ourselves.

26 October 2009

Welcome to the world, Clare Adele!


This morning at 9:31 (or 9:36, we are still trying to sort that out), my wife Kristen gave birth to our first daughter, Clare Adele Lyons, weighing in at 7 pounds, 9 ounces, and measuring 20 inches in length. Cannot upload photos from where I am, but photos will be forthcoming in a few days. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers.

24 October 2009

Because I Think You Need a CoCo Fix


Offered without commentary, mainly because I happen to think everyone on the planet could use a CoCo fix right about now. Poor little thing doesn't know just how topsy-turvy her life is about to become... or does she?

A Rocket To Nowhere


Next Tuesday, NASA plans to launch a test version of its new Ares I booster skyward on a suborbital mission to evaluate the flight characteristics of the planned replacement for the current Space Shuttle. This new rocket, the first stage of which is based on the solid rocket boosters currently employed for the Shuttle, is intended to loft a new spacecraft, known as Orion, into low earth orbit sometime in the next five years (or is it six... I've lost count with all the delays).

Orion is a great idea, and I wholeheartedly support sending human beings back to the Moon, and eventually on to Mars and beyond, but America's space program is at a low-point, similar to that of the post-Apollo era. Between the launch of the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975 to the launch of the first Shuttle mission in 1981, NASA experienced lagging timetables, technical issues, and slashed budgets (to be fair, the slashed budgets predated the cancellation of the Apollo project) as it prepared to deploy a fundamentally flawed and compromised launch vehicle.

NASA again faces tough times as a political leader with too many irons in the fire to give due consideration to spaceflight has spun the future of the American space program off to a commission and a White House panel to essentially determine the path forward for NASA's manned space program.


NASA chief Charlie Bolden, a retired astronaut, has ordered engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center to look into the fesiability of alternatives to the Ares project, including the Jupiter launch system, better known as Direct. Will it be too little, too late, to save the American space program? Possibly. Commercial space flight is a wonderful notion, and depending on the definition of commercial space flight, it may be somewhat practical. However, if by commercial spaceflight one means hitching a ride with companies like Space X, Rocketplane Kistler, or Orbital Sciences, the plain fact of the matter is that their systems arcitecture is neither robust nor mature enough to support a manned space endeavor. Mounting Orion on an existing EELV (evolved expendable launch vehicle) in the Atlas V or Delta IV Heavy can only marginally be considered 'commercial' as NASA is already contracting with them to launch various missions into deep space.

Hopefully, some day - perhaps even in my lifetime - inexpensive, reliable access to space will be a realized dream, but NASA isn't going to accomplish the dream with the Ares I system. It is already over-budget, under-performing, and way, way off on its timetable. Even the test next week won't feature a full-up first stage, because one hasn't been produced yet. Staying with Ares is a supreme mistake, but so is abandoning or curtailing manned space exploration altogether. Here's to hoping that the Obama Administration will make an intelligent choice at the recommendation of the people who really know how to accomplish the mission. Otherwise, the Ares IX test flight will truly become the 'Rocket to Nowhere' and an absolute waste of taxpayer money that could have been better spent on alternative methods to achieve the Project Constellation goal of Moon, Mars, and Beyond.

23 October 2009

Annoying Misconceptions

Earlier in my presbyteral career, I spent about four years as a member of a now-defunct traditional Anglican Church which was, essentially, a low-to-broad Church body. The bishop I served under had at least conversational relations (and some very close relations) with bishops and clergy in other jurisdictions that were, broadly, in the traditional Anglican camp.

In those days, I was certainly a bit of an outcast in my own body – always the highest churchman on the block (with the chasuble to prove it), but I also retained an inordinate love for things like John Michael Talbot music, modern translations of the Bible, and so on. As a result, I in those days often encountered criticism of my views on music and Scripture. Of late, as I have expanded my reading and studies anew in a more Reformed Catholic direction, I have found there remain two supremely annoying misconceptions among the world of traditional Christianity in general (and in Anglicanism in specific).

The first misconception I that irks me is the idea that contemporary Christian music is incapable of being spiritually uplifting and moving because it is, supposedly, ‘indistinguishable’ from secular music. While it is utterly certain that much that passes for modern Christian music is somewhat offensive to my aesthetic senses, I don’t see the use of secular beats and rhythms as reasons to disregard contemporary selections. Myself, I rarely hear organ music that I actually care for; I’d prefer a guitar any day. It doesn’t matter the song – “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “One Bread, One Body” both sound more meaningful to me on a guitar or even a piano than they ever have on an organ. This isn’t to say that organs are bad (well, that well-played organs are bad – I’ve heard plenty of awful organ music over the years!), but it isn’t meaningful to everyone. Biblically, we see (particularly in the Old Testament) a wide variety of instruments employed in praise of God. While I am not likely to care that much for drums, bass guitars, cymbals, and tambourines, I cannot discount them when the music is offered with a pure heart and spirit.

The second misconception that bugs me more, however, is the notion that the King James Bible is the only valid Bible, and that both Biblical readings and Liturgical usage must be in ‘ye olde English’. I have no beef with people who prefer classical English. Its cadences are un-matched (and I doubt they ever can be matched with the modern tongue), and its memorization qualities are readily apparent (mainly because of cadences!), but comprehension is nearly always lacking, and the grammatical structures – particularly in liturgical texts – are foreign to English as it is used today. Does this mean that Churches employ classical English will grow better than those which employ contemporary linguistics? No, I don’t think so – though I have no data to back up this claim. I don’t know that either side will grow better or worse, but I do know that it is impossible to look at classical English texts for contemporary English use without a severe re-visitation of some of the vocabulary and a remediation in structure away from the rhetorical English commonly used in older prayers and texts.

Additionally, words change their meaning over time, and theological hairsplitting is often lost on individual believers. The simple example of sheol, hades, tartarus, and gehennah all being translated as hell in the King James Bible gives an immediate and readily apparent example of how basic Biblical truths can be quickly covered up by a bad translation. Contemporary Bibles aren’t always better – my beloved New Living Translation, even in its second revised-revised edition, still manages to screw up the status of Joseph and Mary’s relationship before Jesus’ birth (they were not engaged!).

Translations are just that – translations, attempts to convey truths from one language into another. Some translations are deliberately laced with falsehoods (the New World Translation comes to mind), but most preserve the spirit of the Gospel Message intact, in spite of occasional (or even significant) errors in translation. The King James text is certainly filled with problems, and I get a laugh when people tell me they are using the original, God-preserved Bible and point to their KJV. I go on to ask them exactly which version of the KJV was ‘preserved’ – the 1611 original? Perhaps the 1801 revision? Or is it the Third Millennium Bible produced in the late 1990’s? All of these Bibles unquestionably preserve the truth of God’s Word, but to proclaim that they are the single God-preserved biblical text for English-speaking Christians is patently absurd.

Beauty is often in the eye of the beholder, and I find beauty in a guitar and an NLT Bible. Others find it in the KJV and an organ. Still others will find them in other senses and settings. Now matter where you find beauty, I pray that your beauty contains the depths of God’s majesty and glory, and enables you to worship him in spirit and truth. At the same time, I pray that you won’t rush to un-Church those who disagree with your position; for wherever the Gospel of Salvation is proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly ministered, wherever Jesus is exalted and the moral, ethical, and theological imperatives of Sacred Scripure are proclaimed - Christ is present there.

New Review at TrekMovie.com


My review of James Swallow's new Star Trek: Titan novel, "Synthesis, is now  online at TrekMovie.com.. A very enjoyable book, with only one significant annoyance (detailed in review). This is Swallow's second major Star Trek novel, and it's an amazingly well-written book. Having thought about it for a while, I have to say I think his previous book, set in the Deep Space Nine storyline, was more powerful, but "Synthesis" does not dissapoint.

22 October 2009

Quite Possibly the Best Response I Have Seen


Father Chris Larimer at the Adiaphora blog has quoted Bishop Jeremy Taylor in response to the recent invitation by the Roman Church to Anglicans who find themselves deeply concerned about their future. You can read his post at this link.

I must admit that I strongly agree with Bishop Taylor's comments, in their temporal context, but today, I am not so sure. One cannot be sure what one is getting into these days when entering an Anglican/Episcopal Church. Sadly, while some contend truly for 'the faith once delivered', others have abandoned it for what I have come to describe most of mainline Christianity to be: Humanism with an object of affection.

Options for Anglicans committed to the truth and authority of the Scripture are avaliable, but they require of the potential adherant a strong sense of the place of tradition and reason in the life of the Church and her approach to Biblical understanding.

Ancient (i.e., patristic) tradition gives us a framework to understand the genesis of how we explain what the Bible teaches, since the patristic environment was the one into which the Gospels first began to circulate. This tradition is a strong guide to Biblical understanding, but it must be remembered that it is a guide to it, not a guarantor of it.

Reason, however, is a lousy expositor of Scripture. Certainly a regenerated reason has its place - it can be a strong help in seeing how various texts and traditions can be brought to bear (both for ourselves and for others), but unregenerated reason is automatically suspect when it comes to making heads, tails, or anything else out of the Word of God.

Anglicanism needs a fresh, clear-minded reformation, and Rome will not be its source. If you are considering a new spiritual home for yourself or your congregation, you might wish to check out (shameless plug!) the Reformed Evangelical Synod of America and speak with our Bishop.

20 October 2009

Review: "Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?"


Let me be honest about something up-front. I am too young to actually recall the United States Football League. For me, the only professional football I was aware of in the mid 1980's was the National Football League. I got whatever game was on CBS or NBC at the time, and I don't recall becoming aware of Monday Night Football on ABC until the year the Indianapolis Colts played the Denver Broncos in the Hoosier Dome on Halloween Night. My cable television did not have ESPN (my grandmother could only afford the most basic package we got), and even though USFL games were broadcast on ABC, I was probably too busy playing football in the middle of the spring to ever bother to notice that there was another football league on the tube.

Now, twenty-five years later, the USFL is often heralded as an 'ahead of its time' innovator in professional football, instituting the two-point conversion, instant replay on challenge, and other features now taken for granted by fans of the NFL. Like the American Football League, the USFL brought something new to the pro game that hadn't been seen before...

ESPN Films, as a part of their thirtieth anniversary celebration, aired Mike Tollin's documentary "Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?" tonight. The hour-long program was not aimed necessarily at those with an in-depth knowledge of the USFL or its ignominious fate, but at those football fans who, in 1987, probably didn't give the USFL a second glance. Detailed in the program are the origins of the spring league, insight from many of its great players (Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, and Steve Young among them), and a basic-but-insightful overview of the league's legal battle with the NFL that ultimately secured its fate.

While the material covered isn't groundbreaking, it certainly puts a human face on an intriguing idea which has come and gone, and which, sadly, seems to have yet again come and gone in the demise of the Arena Football League, which is now in bankruptcy proceedings. On the whole, it was an interesting hour, and for those who love the game of football but know little of this portion of the history of the pro game, it is a rewarding watch.

For more information on the documentary:
http://30for30.espn.com/film/small-potatoes-who-killed-the-usfl.html

One thing that is not mentioned in the documentary is an attempt on the part of some California businessmen to resurrect the USFL. I am not talking about the United Football League (UFL) which began play about two weeks ago, but something which seems to be attempting to recreate the original USFL model. Having watched a UFL game, I strongly doubt they will even finish their season.

For information on the 'new' USFL:
http://www.newusfl.com/

Welcome, Finns!


Just got home and pulled up the visitor stats... I have no idea why, but in the past few hours, I have seen quite the influx of Finnish visitors to the site. Welcome! Anyone care to tell me what has prompted your visit? I am excited that the appeal of this site may be a bit broader than I realized, but it just took me by surprise!

The Common Cup is Relatively Safe


As the fears surrounding H1N1 and the Flu Season again call into question the age-old Christian practice of using a common cup in the celebration of Holy Communion, I want to share a few words of wisdom from, of all places, the British secular government's health agency...

"Bacteriological experiments have shown that the occasional transmission of micro-organisms is unaffected by the alcoholic content of the wine, the constituent material of the cup or the practice of partially rotating it, but is appreciably reduced when a cloth is used to wipe the lip of the cup between communicants. Nevertheless, transmission does not necessarily imply inoculation or infection. Consideration of the epidemiology of micro-organisms that may be transmitted via saliva, particularly the herpes group of viruses, suggests that indirect transmission of infection is rare and in most instances a much greater opportunity exists for direct transmission by other means. There is substantial evidence that neither infection with hepatitis B virus nor HIV can be transmitted directly via saliva so that indirect transmission via inanimate objects is even less likely. ..Currently available data do not provide any support for suggesting that the practice of sharing a common communion cup should be abandoned because it might spread infection."


"The Hazard of Infection From the Shared Communion Cup"
Public Health Laboratory Service
Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre
London, U.K.

Rob+ adds: It is far more likley to get sick from allowing people to dip their own bread into the common cup than it is to drink from the common cup itself. If you are going to practice intinction, please ensure that communion ministers are trained in how to do so, and have very, very thuroughly washed their hands before distributing the Sacrament.

19 October 2009

My 2009 NFL "Favorites" Ranking


I've been asked by many people about my favorite NFL teams. Here's the list, ranging from favorite to least favorite.

My Favorite Teams

AFC - New England Patriots
NFC - New Orleans Saints

My Second Tier Favorites
AFC - San Diego Chargers
NFC - Arizona Cardinals

Likeable Teams / Teams I Want to Like
  • Miami Dolphins
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Houston Texans
  • Cleveland Browns*
  • Detroit Lions
*I like most of what Cleveland has to offer. I can’t stand Eric Mangini as coach.

Either Way Teams
  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Green Bay Packers
  • Seattle Seahawks
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Minnesota Vikings
  • Denver Broncos
  • Atlanta Falcons
  • Cincinnati Bengals
  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Tennessee Titans
  • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Buffalo Bills
  • Chicago Bears
  • Carolina Panthers
Teams I Generally Despise

  • Saint Louis Rams
  • New York Giants
  • Washington Redskins
  • New York Jets
  • Philadelphia Eagles
  • Indianapolis Colts
  • Dallas Cowboys
  • Oakland Raiders

18 October 2009

Trinity XIX Homily


My homily for today is now posted at the Reformed Evangelical Synod of America's website. Click the link above to have a read!

Saints Win... Now, about those Patriots...

Well, the New Orleans Saints managed to blast the New York Giants back into the last decade... now it remains to be seen what the Patriots do with their game, which is being played in wet, sloppy snow and throwback uniforms. Sweet! This is what football is all about!

Welcome to StellarCross - Generation 4


Welcome to the new layout and format for StellarCross.org. I have been maintaining this site since 2002 across a couple of different platforms (AOL, an independent web-host, and Blogger), but it has always maintained a content centered on topics that carry my interest. All of my old posts will remain avaliable via Blogger, though I am still trying to figure out the best way to put them into place. I may eventually host them here, or I may leave them on the final iteration of the last StellarCross site and leave them be. Either way, the count starts fresh and I welcome you to continue to stop by to keep an eye on my thoughts and reflections on faith, space, and science fiction (among other things!).

Blessings to you and yours,
Rob+

17 October 2009

Major Changes Ahead


As visitors may have recently noticed, I am significantly displeased with my Blogger template. Sadly, at the moment, I think there are a series of problems going back some ways (to when I migrated from a 3 column site to a 2 column site) that are adversely affecting site performance. Thus, I am going to start from scratch and transfer the StellarCross domain to a new blog in the coming days (or weeks, depending on how Clare affects the planning of said transfer). Please bear with me. This site and its contents will not disappear; it will remain available as a link on the new StellarCross.

13 October 2009

My Take on Health Care Reform


The way I see it, the viable options for health care reform are either Darwinian or Draconian. James T. Kirk, meet your no win scenario.

23 September 2009

How the Confession of My Sins Kept me in the Church Part II

How the Confession of My Sins Kept me in the Church Part II

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15 September 2009

The Legacy of John Calvin

The Legacy of John Calvin

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Evidence for Infant Baptism in the Early Church

Evidence for Infant Baptism in the Early Church

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12 September 2009

My New Assignment - Mission in Johnson County

Effective September 4, 2009, I have accepted a call from Bishop Chuck Huckaby to formally establish a mission congregation of the Reformed Evangelical Synod of America in the Indianapolis metro area. We will be worshipping, for the time being, in my residence on Sunday mornings at 10:30 AM. For more information, to ask questions, or to let me know you are interested in joining us for worship this weekend, please drop me a line. Click here to send me a message.

You can also visit the mission website for more information.

27 August 2009

Monnica of North Africa

Monnica of North Africa

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26 August 2009

What are you doing?

I suppose it was inevitable. The question "What are you doing?" was finally brought up concerning my recent postings about the Diocese of Saint Andrew. So, to clear a few things up...


The Diocese of Saint Andrew is the formally adopted name for the episcopate of my bishop, +Chuck Huckaby of Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. For some time, I served under him on my own, but as more clergy and postulants have drawn to his vision of ministry, it became appropriate to consider a more formal structure for those interactions. The past several months have been filled with preparing the path for formally launching our diocese for the benefit of the Church and the People of God.

Some will note that there seems to be something of a distinctly Protestant touch to the website, and might question my article on that site about being both Catholic and Protestant. I think the article speaks well for itself. I stand for the truth, the singular truth, which Christ has revealed to his people through Scripture in the Church.

Others might ask, "what about your primitive convictions?" Indeed, it has been a year filled with deep prayer on these matters. My identification as a Primitive Catholic remains strong, and I believe it is the most accurate way to describe my faith and the faith which I preach; but as several very difficult attempts to generate a 'critical mass' of Primitive Catholics found themselves torn apart very quickly, my spirit became convicted that this was not the right time to continue pursuing such an ideal. My bishop is a kind and caring servant, and he knows the convictions of my heart. He has never forced me to abandon them, and has been more than accommodating to my Primitivist views. I am certain that he will continue to be so.

And thus, it is with a mix of regret and excitement, that I move to fully embrace the work that the Diocese of Saint Andrew has embarked upon.

Please keep me in your prayers!

The Scriptures: God

The Scriptures: God’s Word or Man’s

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25 August 2009

Catholic and Protestant: Harmony and Coexistence

Catholic and Protestant: Harmony and Coexistence

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The Quiet of Late

I've had a few e-mails wondering about my quietitude of late. It stems from a recent vacation to Traverse City, Michigan and the preparations requisite to welcome a little one into the world; but it also relates to some exciting developments in the Synod of Saint Timothy.

The Diocese of Saint Andrew (which is a part of the Synod) has completed its work of revising the Book of Common Prayer in contemporary English, and the results have been published for interim use over the next three years. The new edition of the Book of Common Prayer can be purchased through a link at our diocesan website.

Speaking of diocesan websites, the Diocese of Saint Andrew now has its own website at www.dioceseofsaintandrew.org. It is in the building phases now, but some content has been uploaded. It's been a busy few months as we have prepared the 'full court press' for our diocese, but it is my hope and prayer that what we have set forth will be a blessing to church planters who hold to the ancient, orthodox Christian faith.

Finally, a small core group is coming together in the Indianapolis metro area in prayerful contemplation of formally moving forward with a new Church plant in the near future.

Please keep Kristen, Clare and I in your prayers.

09 July 2009

Confessions of a Liturgical Schizophrenic

Anyone who has visited my home and looked at my office knows that I am a liturgical geek. I love the Liturgy of the Church. I have so many books on Liturgy that it boggles my mind how I managed to find them… and, without attempting to sound too vain, I can usually find what I am looking for in them in just a few moments. (Go ahead, test me sometime!) I have altar and pew books of the west and the east… Maronite, Anglican, Roman, Ambrosian, Byzantine, Methodist, Armenian, Lutheran, Moravian… and probably several more. I have book upon book that gets into the history of the liturgies, their evolution, their textual sources. I just love the Liturgy.

Virtually every liturgical tradition in the Christian Church has something of appeal, something that speaks to my soul. Sometimes its the comprehensive view of salvation history provided in the Byzantine and Syriac Eucharistic prayers. At other times it is the noble simplicity of the liturgies of the Latin tradition. I’m hard pressed to find a liturgy in Christendom which I cannot find value and worth in.

And therein lay my problem...

From the time I picked up my first liturgical textbook, I have been a liturgy addict. Recently I was sharing with a friend the various liturgical rites I have celebrated in over the past 12+ years of presbyteral ministry. I present them here, in order:

The modern Roman Rite (June - October 1997)
The 1928 Book of Common Prayer (October 1997 - December 1997)
The Anglican Missal and The Anglican Breviary (December 1997 - January 1999)
The Anglican Missal and the 1928 BCP January 1999 - May 1998)
The 1929 Scottish Book of Common Prayer (May 1998 - May 1999)
The 1892 Book of Common Prayer (May 1999 - July 2001)
The 2001 Primitive Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (July 2001 - January 2003)
Various Local Use Liturgies based Western Rite sources (January 2003 - December 2004)
Western Rite Liturgy of the Synod of Saint Timothy (December 2004 - December 2005)
Eastern Rite (Syriac) Liturgy of the Synod of Saint Timothy (December 2005 - March 2007)
Divine Liturgy of the Evangelical Orthodox Church (March 2007 - June 2008)
Various Local Use Liturgies based on Eastern and Western Sources (June 2008 - Present)

These are the rites I have consistently celebrated during that time. This does not count the other rites I have celebrated, sometimes as a one-off or on occasional visits to congregations with other rites. The consistent tally, however, amounts to twelve different liturgical schemes. Granted, several have a family relation (from October 97 to January 03 I used variations on the classical BCP), but of late I have realized that I have never really firmly solidified my personal liturgical spirituality. Why?

First, while my Theology has become much more entrenched and rooted over that time, my ability to find liturgies that reflect my beliefs has expanded immensely. I see things in many liturgies that both serve to enhance and detract from my beliefs. This becomes a problem, however, because it approaches what could easily be identified as ‘cafeteria’ Christianity. Most who know me know that this doesn’t describe my beliefs, but looking at the listing of liturgical jaunts I have taken, I am not sure if you could tell that.

Second, being a liturgist, I find that it is in celebrating various rites that I truly come to understand their beauty, significance, and vitality. This is troublesome because this requires one to impose their own liturgical desires on a congregation (something I think I can be safely accused of having done in the past).

There is, however, a vital need for providing a spiritual foundation that is well rooted which consistent liturgy is key to. When one doesn’t consistently practice a specific liturgy (whatever liturgy it may be), one isn’t growing in a system - they are pool-hopping. While the occasional visit to a liturgy that differs from one’s own can be an outstanding thing, practicing a regular merry-go-round with the Liturgy is quite another thing indeed.

And so, it is with a heavy heart that I have to admit to myself and to many others that I am a liturgical schizophrenic. My mind and heart are touched by so many things that they haven’t really formed a particular attachment to anything. Further, such a practice has increased in me a discord when it comes to the rites and ceremonies of the Church, the Church Year’s composition, etc. I desperately want to see something better – the best Liturgy ever – and yet I realize each time I think I find something great, that something greater still lay just beyond the horizon, waiting to be discovered.

Myself, I know I need to settle down and embrace a specific liturgy and ritual, and I need to do it soon. It needs to be a liturgy and ritual that I share in common with others (even if it is only with my own diocese), and one that will allow me to focus not on how to make the Rite better, but on how to direct my energies to bring people to the Rite so that they may be brought into full communion with our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the Word.


(N.B.: I have also celebrated from, at least once: the 1979 BCP, the Celtic Episcopal Rite, the Antiochian Catholic Rite, the 1954 South African BCP, the 1549 BCP, the 1962 Canadian BCP, the Book of Common Worship of the Church of South India, the 1926 Irish BCP, the Maronite Rite, the Syro-Malabar Rite, a Trial Use Eucharist from Prayer Book Studies IV, the 1662 BCP, the Anglican Service Book, the Lutheran Book of Worship, Renewing Worship, Service Book and Hymnal, With One Voice, Hymnal Supplement 98, Christian Worship, Christian Worship: Supplement, An Australian Prayer Book, the Old Catholic Missal, and I could probably think of some more if I really tried. That alone is another 22!)

05 July 2009

A Eucharistic Bread Recipe

For many years I have struggled to find a manageable Eucharistic bread recipe that is unleavened, tastes halfway decent, and has an acceptable texture. I also have wanted to try to maintain a connection with the Semetic traditions that our faith came from, and so flatbreads seemed like a good place to start experimenting. The result isn't a wafer, nor does it look like most Eucharistic breads I have seen, but it is true to the Semitic traditions our Lord would have followed (well, except that I use T-Fal... I don't have the kind of cookware they did!) The following is, I hope, the fruit of my labors.

Father Rob's Eucharistic Bread

Ingredients
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 to 1 1/2 cup of warm water

Sift together the two types of flour several times to get it as fine as possible.

Add 1 cup of warm water.

Stir mixture until the dough pulls away from the side of the mixing bowl. If necessary, add more warm water.

Stir until relatively smooth.

Knead by hand for 5 minutes.

Shape dough into a log, and cut into thin sections (usually 10-20, depending on what sized breads you are making).

Use your hands to form balls out of the dough sections.

Cover dough-balls with a damp towel and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat a non-stick skillet or griddle over medium-high heat (you will need to experiment with your stove to determine the best setting for your cookware). Do not use oil!

Remove one dough-ball at a time and, by hand, strech and pinch the dough out as flat and thin as you can get it while keeping it relatively round.

Place formed loaf on to the skillet/griddle surface.

Watch carefully for lighter colored dry areas to emerge (approx. 30 seconds),

Flip the loaf with tongs and repeat.

Flip a third time, pressing lightly after the flip on areas that are still dark and shiny (indications of higher moisture content). Also, watch for puffing during this stage.

If you made your loaf too thick, you may require several flips. It is better to flip repeatedly in 30 second intervals for several minutes than to attempt to get them all done on one side before flipping.

When done, transfer to a wire cooling rack... do not set them on a plate, as they will absorb steam and get mushy.

Let set at least 15-20 minutes, then wrap in a paper towel and transport to Church.

I haven't tried freezing and reheating these yet, so I'll update this post when I do.

Let me know how these work if you try these!

19 June 2009

Review: "Opening Prayers: Collects in Contemporay Language"

In the past several years, many resources have become available to those desiring to provide a more thematic approach to the praying the Scriptures of the modern three-year Eucharistic lectionary (i.e., the modern Roman lectionary and its various cousins, including the Revised Common Lectionary). "Opening Prayers" from ICEL and the Canterbury Press fits the bill.

To be sure, there are a few collects that could still use some tweaking to make them more chant friendly or to allow them to flow a mite-bit-better in the American idiom (these prayers were originally drafted in the UK), but on the whole it provides a refreshing take on praying the Scriptures that is deeply rooted in the appointed readings of the day.

These collects are not mere reassignments of existent collects (not that there is anything wrong with such an approach) - the are all, each and every one of them, completely new. As such, they will probably not appeal to liturgical purists who want to tie the historic collects of the western liturgy into the new lectionary. (For such a resource, I would recommend a copy of the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary which assigns the historical collects to the three year lectionary based on similarities of theme, or the "Propers of the Year" volume from the Lutheran Service Book (LCMS, Concordia Publishing).)

"Opening Prayers" manages to balance mild horizontal inclusive language (phrases like 'sons and daughters' and 'your children' are used and feel just right) with unswerving confessions of God in traditional idiom. It avoids issues that plague the collects of Revised Common Lectionary Prayers and Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Leaders Desk Edition), both of which suffer from (the former moreso than the latter), at times, vapid texts which carry little inspiration and bear utterly musical or repetitive qualities whatsoever. (ELW has some gems, 'diamonds in the rough' that need to be polished to shine brightly, but RCLP has nothing worthwile).

Several of the collects in particular stand out: the Easter Vigil and Trinity Sunday collect for Year C are the two best in the book, with Ordinary Time 27b coming in a close third. One outstanding feature is that, while a basic conclusion is used in Ordinary Time, one with thematic implications is generally used (with a few exceptions) throughout specific seasions. Thus, the doxological conclusion of collects in Advent have an emphasis on Christ 'whose coming is certain, whose day draws near'. In Paschaltide, Christ our 'Passover and peace' is praised... outstanding features that one might miss with a cursory glance.

If you are looking for a series with collects for the three-year lectionary, this is the volume for you. Laypersons will find it to be a stimulating way to prepare for the Sunday service, or to integrate the preceding Sunday's readings into one's daily prayer life during the subsequent days. Clergy will find it a rich treasure to enhance their experience in the modern lectionary, one which may help their own spirituality find new ways to comprehend what is the length, breadth, depth, and height of the love of God made manifest to us in Christ Jesus.

09 June 2009

It's a girl...

Kristen and I had the second ultrasound of the pregnancy today, and our little lady, Clare Adele, was staring back at us. We are officially at 20 weeks plus 1 day today, with our due date still holding at October 26th.

Looking at Clare's little fingers and toes, her spine, rib cage, her heart (pumping away like crazy)... seeing her hiccup (or cough, or whatever she was doing) is just an amazing witness to the glory of God and his love towards us.

We rejoice in all he has blessed us with, and I ask for you to continue to pray for Clare's safe keeping and delivery, for Kristen's continued good health and good spirits, and for the wisdom on both of our parts to be good, loving, and - most importantly- godly parents for our little one.

07 May 2009

REVIEW: "Star Trek"

The wait is over…

Star Trek roared onto movie and IMAX screens tonight as the film received it’s general release. While I am preparing an article for my column over at TrekMovie.com on the film’s adaptation by Alan Dean Foster, I wanted to present my review of the film here in greater detail. The following review is broken down on several levels, and will be spoiler-laden. Reader beware. All assessments are on a five point scale.

MAIN STORY – 1

If you’ve seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, you’ve seen a lot of this movie. Nero (Eric Bana) is a Romulan miner whose wife (among billions of others) is killed when a supernova wipes out Romulus. This sets in motion a desire for pure revenge that will only be quenched when Spock is made to equally suffer for his perceived sins. Just bare Bana’s chest and you have a near clone of Khan. Such a pity to rely on the ‘horrible baddy with personal vendetta’ line to bring about a new era in Trek.

ACTING – 3

Most of the acting in Star Trek is very good, though a few folks stand out. Karl Urban (McCoy) easily walks away with the best performance of the film, with Zoe Saldana (Uhura) coming in a close second. Both Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) deliver good performances that bode well for the inevitable sequel. Chris Hemsworth (Kirk, Sr.) delivers an outstanding –if all too brief – performance as Kirk’s father, with Jennifer Morrison (Kirk’s mother) doing an equally amazing job. Their work together in the first major pivotal scene in the film is some of the best acting in the entire flick, and will almost certainly make any fan get misty-eyed. Ben Cross (Sarek) would be a very welcome retention in any future film. His work was very much his own, but also very much what one would expect from the father of Mr. Spock. Winona Ryder’s take on Spock’s mother was fair enough, though given the amount of her screen time that was cut out of the film, it’s hard to make a good judgment on her work in the role from what we see.

Bruce Greenwood’s portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike is something of a 50/50 proposition. While I accept that the movie’s function was to get people to accept a new cast and crew for a new series of Star Trek adventures, Pike really winds up with the short end of the stick. Greenwood plays well a role that comes across feeling very compromised due to the story’s service of Kirk and Spock. As a major fan of Christopher Pike, I was terribly disappointed with how he was used, but find myself immediately and instantly placing Greenwood’s Pike in place of Hunter’s (no disrespect intended to Jeffrey Hunter, as his Pike was excellent, but there was something a little extra about how Greenwood played the part.)

Simon Pegg's (Scotty) performance was acceptable, if not a bit over the top; and John Cho (Sulu) was also acceptable. While Sulu was given more to do this time out, I still feel more could be done with his part in the future. Turning Pegg and Cho into deeper characters will only help their roles in future films.

Leonard Nimoy’s (Spock ‘Prime’) was touching to see on screen, even if it suffers from the direction of the film. He still has the acting chops to pull off the most endearing role in Star Trek history, even after forty-five years (the first pilot, “The Cage” was shot in 1964).

Bana (Nero) and Ayel (Collins, Jr.) are simply cardboard cutout villain and henchman, who could easily have been played by anyone else. The fact that they won’t be in a sequel is no great loss. And, since continuity is now totally open to reformulation, I look forward to finding a way to jettison Anton Yelchin’s Chekov, mainly because he was basically a 1st season TNG Wesley Crusher with a wery, wery bad Wussian accent. I like Yelchin. I hate his take on Chekov.

SCIENCE – 1

Besides getting some technical advice on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and reminding the special effects artists that space is a three-dimensional environment, what the heck did the filmmakers bother to hire a science advisor for? The science is awful. There are so many inconsistencies in the ‘science’ of this new Star Trek that it would make your heads spin to just think about it. How did Nero and Spock get thrown back in time? A black hole you say? Really? And what about this red matter business – one little syringe full and ‘poof’, you get a black hole? Warping from Earth to Vulcan in, what, an hour or two? Seeing Vulcan destroyed from light years away while standing on Delta Vega? Delta Vega (regardless of its location) back to earth in under ten minutes? ‘Transwarp Beaming”? Come on! This Star Trek outing isn’t Science Fiction, it’s just fiction.

THE LOOK – 3

I love the more formal (gray and red) academy uniforms, and even the Kelvin era uniforms look pretty good. I don’t care for the new take on the TOS uniforms, the Apple Store bridge, the Titanic-esque engine room, the fan blades everywhere, and the hideous outfits that the Admirals at the Academy were wearing (as well as that horrible TMP-esque business that Pike wore at the end of the film). Admittedly, however, the new uniforms tend to blend out in wide shots, only becoming truly annoying in close-ups. Oh, and the moon boots, they have to go. The Vulcans are well designed, and their planet is amazing. San Francisco appears to be a bit busy, but otherwise OK. Nero’s ship, the Narada, is just plain crazy looking, and the crew is all decked out in typical baddie attire.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT – 0

A Nokia car phone… A Budweiser at the bar… I don’t want product placement in my Star Trek. Epic Fail.

SPECIAL EFFECTS – 4

This is a summer action flick, it has to have great SFX. While I still hate the use of CGI, it is pretty good in this film (though, ironically, I prefer the CGI in “Nemesis” better). Some scenes are very obvious (long shots of the fighting on the drilling rig in painful particular), but for the most part, the CG is pretty seamless with the live action. The Narada was an overkill, future Spock’s ‘jellyfish’ was about the most annoying ship I have ever seen in a Star Trek film or episode, and the transporter effect was abysmal. My opinion of the new Enterprise softened a bit, though I still think improvements could have been made to the ship…

DIRECTION, EDITING, and PACING – 2.5

For the most part, director J.J. Abrams did a very good job, as long as you don’t mind lens flares. My main objection to his directing style centers around his use of Nimoy’s Spock, who seems constantly rushed in every scene. Is this a direction or editing issue? I can’t tell, but it limit’s Nimoy’s effectiveness in the role. A particularly bad decision is the mind-meld sequence between Nimoy and Pine that simply fell flat with me. The misuse of Nimoy's time on screen is a absolute disappointment.

OVERALL – 2.5

The movie is a fun action flick, and I’ll definitely go and see it again; but I, both as a fan and as a person who wanted to see a complete reboot, find the film to be a disappointment. That being said, the ending of the film aboard the Enterprise sets us up for an adventure that can be worthy of the Star Trek name in the future. I think that Orci, Kurtzman, and company can deliver such a film now that the business of re-establishing the Star Trek universe has been completed.

MY NEW RANKING OF TREK FILMS:

As it stands this morning, after seeing Trek XI once...

  • 11. Nemesis (F)
  • 10. Generations (D-)
  • 09. Insurrection (D)
  • 08. The Voyage Home (C)
  • 07. First Contact (C)
  • 06. "Star Trek" (The new film) (C+)
  • 05. The Final Frontier (B)
  • 04. The Search for Spock (B)
  • 03. The Wrath of Khan (A)
  • 02. The Motion Picture (A)
  • 01. The Undiscovered Country (A+)

I am sure this will change in the future.

04 May 2009

What do I have in common with the Discovery Channel's Wednesday Night Lineup?

Well, while watching this week's DVR'ed episodes of Mythbusters and Pitchmen, I realized I have a deep connection the Discovery Channel on Wednesday nights...



I was born in Alameda County, California, where the bulk of Mythbusters is shot.


When I was six months old my grandmother took me in, and we lived in Pinellas County, Florida, where the bulk of Pitchmen is shot.





If any Discovery Channel executives are reading this blog, you are welcome to contact me for my guest appearances on these programs.

28 April 2009

Homily for Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Readings:

Acts 7:51 – 8:1
Portions of Psalm 31
John 6: 30-35


How often throughout human history have people felt more than free to reinterpret God’s own words to suit their purposes? In our own day we see such practices running rampant, but it is important to remember the old adage that I so often use when illustrating points in my homilies: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Yesterday we heard the beginning of Stephen’s prosecution at the hands of the Jewish Sanhedrin. Today, Stephen speaks up and convicts the lot of them of opposing the Holy Spirit; effectively challenging and rewriting the teachings of Scripture to suit their desires. “They were stung to the heart,” records the Book of Acts, but being stung resulted not in repentance and contrition, but in “grinding their teeth in anger” at Stephen. Stephen would go on to witness to his Savior through the blood of martyrdom for his refusal to revise the Gospel to suit the prevailing opinions of powerful people.

And yet, it is not only the powerful whom we must exhibit a consistent witness before. In our Gospel reading today from the sixth chapter of John, we hear the beginning of the heart of the Bread of Life discourse, which finds its roots in response to the request of the people, “Sir, give us this bread always!” Jesus responds to them: “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall thirst again.”

Though we won’t hear it in our setting this week since Friday’s readings will be pre-empted for the Feast of Saints Philip and James, Jesus goes on to tell the multitude that has followed him: “I am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” And then, even more clearly, “Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This seemed like a pretty nasty idea to at least some of Jesus’ followers. “This sort of talk is hard to endure” they said… their faith suddenly slacking off in the wake of Jesus’ words. “How can anyone take it seriously?” they ask.

For over fifteen hundred years, the vast majority of Christians took Jesus at his word… that he had given his true flesh and blood to us under the forms of bread and wine in the usage of the Lord’s Supper. And yet, in the sixteenth century, a new teaching began to surface. It was impossible, the purveyors of this new teaching claimed, for Christ to be present both on earth in the Eucharist and in heaven at the throne of God. Thus, the Eucharist was just a symbol, and there was no presence of Christ. “Besides,” some of them would argue, “that’s cannibalism… that’s nasty… that’s awful!” What a poverty! The very seal, the means of grace, in which the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ is communicated to us becomes a shell for those who would reject the plain words of Christ “This is my body… given for you” and “This is my blood… shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus did not give us a symbol, he gave us his Body and Blood. To ignore his clear words in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, and in the various narratives of the Last Supper is tantamount to rejecting all of his work outright, for through the Sacramental means of grace that God pours out on us the grace and strength of his work.

And so we are left to wonder why so many other basic Christian doctrines are being denied today; why groups like the Jesus Seminar can find such an audience. We are so convinced that the Word has no authority that we freely renegotiate what it means. Sadly, this trend began five hundred years ago in the name of restoring the Church to what it once was. But when you attack the power of Baptism and the Eucharist, you must attack the authority and power of Scripture. Thus, if you can redefine the Sacraments, you can redefine the Scriptures which establish those sacraments… and then all hell breaks loose in the Church.

Today’s Church must accept the conviction of rejecting the plain word of Scripture, as was inspired by the Holy Spirit, and then must determine how the sting in the hearts of her leaders is going to affect them: do we recover the primal place of Word and Sacrament, purely preached and ministered, in our congregations and ministries, or do we continue to embrace a Gospel that denies the very basic beliefs and practices of the Christian faith in the name of inclusively and kindness?

Surely it is a question we will not be able to answer for anyone else, but you… what do you believe? How will you choose? Will you embrace God’s Word and Sacraments at face value with faith, or will you reject what Christ has spoken about his own creation and sacraments for the sake of substituting your own belief, one more palatable to you?

Those who refuse to accept Christ at face value, no matter how much they may like elements of his Gospel, will ultimately drift away (regardless of what they call themselves on the door of their building or what kind of clothing they wear). No number of fish stickers on the back of their cars will ever change the fact that when we reject the plain Word of God, we reject God.

May God have mercy on us, and strengthen us to confess the pure Gospel and receive the Sacraments in purity of belief and of heart… and when we falter, when we fear, when we find it impossible to believe, let us cry out to God, “Lord, I want to believe… help my unbelief!”

27 April 2009

Homily for Monday of the Third Week of Easter

Readings:

Acts 6: 8-15
Portions of Psalm 119
John 6: 22-29





Every good and perfect work flows out of faith. In a world where signs on public transportation state “You don’t have to believe in God to be good”, this concept stands as a strong counterbalance to what we read about in the closing words of our Gospel reading today.

Why did Stephen, the first Martyr of the Early Church, perform such great works? Our reading from Acts tells us that it is because he was ‘filled with grace and power” – a grace and power which he possessed not on his own account, but only on account of his faith in Christ.

Now, you would think that in our Gospel, which follows in the wake of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, that the crowds would have had some measure of faith. And yet Jesus points out to them “You aren’t looking for me on account of the miracle, you are looking for me because you aren’t hungry anymore.”

What a stinging rebuke – and yet it is a rebuke that will go on to illustrate the power of the flesh of the Son of Man and of his blood. In the reading appointed tomorrow, we will get more deeply into this portion of John 6, but suffice it to say Jesus is setting his massive following up for a major decision, all stemming around the veracity of his words.

Do we today accept Jesus at his word? Do we side with him when confronted with a society and a race that is so far gone from its original righteousness, or do we conform and compromise our message for the sake of ease?

Over the centuries, the Church has had the chance time and time again to compromise her message, her proclamation of Christ… but even in the darkest hours of Church history, the Truth has always been proclaimed somewhere, somehow – for indeed, even when sinners proclaim the Gospel, it is the power of the Word and it retains the power to change people’s lives. This change effects faith in people, and faith brings us to performing the good works of God.

24 April 2009

Homily for Friday of the Second Week of Easter

Readings
Acts 5: 34-42
Portions of Psalm 27
John 6: 1-15


Fear is a constituent element in our lives. From the moment of our birth, the primal cry of the infant is one of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of going hungry, fear of being dropped, fear of being abandoned… fear often undergirds many elements of our day to day life, and, ultimately, for many, fear forms the basis for our relationship with God.

To be certain, the sins we commit should make us fearful when we consider our relationship with God… our sins are like scarlet when compared with the prefect righteousness of Jesus Christ. And yet today, the words of the Psalmist call us to a transform our fear through the simplicity of trust.

Look at our other readings:

In our passage from Acts, some of the Apostles have been brought before the Sanhedrin and, in spite of preaching the Gospel that Christ has handed them, the find themselves flogged and ordered to stop preaching the Gospel. What a miserable situation! And yet, as we are told by Luke, the author of Acts, “The apostles for their part left the Sanhedrin full of joy that they had been judged worthy of ill-treatment for the sake of the Name.” Here the leaders of the infant Church had been brought before what is, in essence, the Supreme Court of Israel… and they lost their case. Imagine the despair that they might have had – but no! Most certainly the words of the twenty-seventh psalm rung in their minds and hearts with every lash of the whip: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the refuge of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Compare and contrast this with their reaction in our Gospel when, just a few years before, they were confronted with the impossible task of feeding over five thousand with five barley loaves and two dried fish. “What’s the use!” they cry, “Even with two-hundred days worth of wages, we couldn’t begin to even give them a bite!” Jesus works a wonder, feeds the multitude, and the people marvel – but soon enough things will be back to the way they were. Faith will falter, followers will doubt, and they most certainly won’t be willing to hang around for a flogging or worse.

So what compelled Jesus’ followers to transform from a rag-tag band of vagrants and vagabonds to the bold preachers of truth and witnesses of faith that we celebrate so often in the Scriptures and in the Church’s Calendar (as we will tomorrow on the Feast of Saint Mark)?

The Holy Spirit, cleansing the heart, strengthening the mind, and compelling the soul to follow where Christ has trod is the answer – for the Spirit inspires us to trust in the Gospel, and to sing with joy the words of today’s Psalm… the Holy Spirit further emboldens us to seek, in the wake of our reception of God’s mercy and reconciling love, a place in the eternal kingdom where we may contemplate the beauty of the Lord and sing his praise.

The final verse in today’s Psalm selection so wonderfully sums up how the Apostles and Disciples undoubtedly viewed their situation: “Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”

Are you courageous in waiting? Are you stout-hearted? Do you allow anything to draw you away from Christ? Do you trust in anything or anyone except Christ to rescue you from your sins and bring you to that dwelling-place secure?

If so, fear and trouble will surely follow you; but if you trust in the Lord, and embrace the indwelling Holy Spirit, you can grow, day by day, in the grace needed to transform adversity to joy – even in the face of persecution, hatred, and death.

May God give us this grace, now, always, and forever. Amen.

21 April 2009

Still Not Happy...

So I am still completely unhappy with the site setup, but having tooled around for a bit with WordPress, I am unimpressed with how complicated and un-intuitive the format over there is... so, anyone got:
A) Tips on a better template for this site?
B) Any idea why my Blog Post setup isn't taking hold?

Homily for Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

Readings:
· Acts 4: 32-37
· Portions of Psalm 93
· John 3: 7-15

Last Wednesday was tax day. Around the country, thousands of American citizens gathered at so-called “Tax Day Tea Parties”. While a broad range of grass-roots anger brought everyone out, one of the themes I kept seeing on signs and in the words of participants was an opposition to the adoption of Socialism in the United States.

Participants pointed at the failures of the European and Canadian systems, as well as the fall of the Soviet Union, the recent capitalist upsurge in China, and even the status of Cuba as proofs of the failures of socialism.

Imagine the shock they must feel if, today, they are sitting in Church and they heard this Scripture read. They find a place where Socialism did work. It was the Christian Church.

In our first reading today, drawn from the fourth chapter of Acts, we have just about the most perfect example of voluntary socialism that we have ever seen… complete with the amazing result “…nor was there anyone needy among them…” Stop for a second and consider that. There was not a single needy person in the Church at Jerusalem. Wealth was freely and joyfully redistributed! Can you fathom that? How could this possibly occur?

The answer is not a mystery, at least, not to those of us who have bothered to listen to the words of our Lord. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks boldly to Nicodemus about how we can be transformed into the image and likeness of God – by the power of the Spirit.

We who believe that the Son of Man has been lifted up for our salvation know that when we conform our lives to his example – something that occurs when the Holy Spirit indwells within us and is allowed to transform us – great things can happen. Imagine a Christian Church today where no member goes without basic human needs and services… I’m not talking about some kind of Prosperity Gospel knock-off; I am talking about THE GOSPEL and the example of the Apostles and Church Fathers who found that their calling to proclaim the gospel included a calling to relieve not only suffering from sin but from worldly anxieties as well.

In stark contrast to the prosperity Gospel:

THE TRUE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL is one that says our sins are forgiven through the gracious work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

THE TRUE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL does not promise us perfect health in this life, a new Cadillac if we just pray the right way, or the exchange of a one-hundred dollar ‘seed offering’ for a one-thousand dollar ‘harvest return’. That is the Gospel of hucksters and cheats who seek to make the message of Jesus palatable to a perverse and materialistic generation.

THE TRUE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL is one that says that we are called to be transformed into the image and likeness of our Savior and Brother, a likeness that is filled with compassion and concern for those less fortunate than ourselves.

THE TRUE CHRISTIAN GOSPEL is one that requires us to live sacrificially – not because we are atoning for our own sins, but because living sacrificially is the first step to meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate than ourselves.

The Tax Day protestors were right about one thing – Government sponsored socialism is a questionable (at best) proposition. But Socialism is not a questionable philosophy. It is the only one that has ever enabled the Church to be what it is called to be in response to the social end of her Gospel mandate. Christian Socialism must not be a political movement, as it has been in the past. Christian Socialism is a gospel lifestyle made manifest in the lives of believers – those who have been reborn by water and the Spirit.

May God give us the grace to accept this teaching, and the boldness to live it out; in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and by the power of his all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit.

20 April 2009

A New Look to the Site

You may notice a new view of the site... decided to change templates after nearly two years. Not sure if I like this one, but I think I'll stick with it for a while. I am still thinking of moving to WordPress, but I don't much care for the interface there. I also need to revise the header here on the site, but that will have to wait for another day.

18 April 2009

An Update

As my regular readers know, Kristen and I bought a house late last year in the midst of both a tumultious housing market and a bit of personal tumult (in the guise of our apartment building catching on fire in early November). During Advent and the Christmas season I was pretty good about keeping up on things around the blog, but when January hit I started getting a bit sporadic. So, I figure, it's time for a bit of an update for everyone...


THE NEW HOUSE - We have started to put our touches on the place, though Kristen and I have both discovered that we hate painting with a passion. Nevertheless, we have our bedroom and a guest bathroom completely painted, and a wonderful accent wall downstairs in our formal living/dining room (which we are both quite proud of!). I just got back from buying a lawn mower this morning, as well as grass seed for a second round of sewing (our front yard is sodded, but the sides and back were bare). Our first round of seeding took better than Kristen expected, but we definately need more. So, it's out back today to take care of that little chore, and then out front when Kristen gets back from her Supper Club Brunch to do the mowing bit.


COCO - Another late 2008 addition to the Lyons household was CoCo, a black lab mix puppy (she was 5 months old the day we got her). Now going on 9 months old, CoCo has blossomed into a Nylabone-chomping, fun-loving pooch. A lot of that is thanks to her puppy classes - from which she is just about to graduate (2 weeks!). As I blog, she is standing behind me on the second story, peering out the loft-office window at the world around us. She is wonderful in the car, has a sweetly-mischevous disposition, and seems to love kids, which is a good thing because...


BRENDAN or CLARE (we don't know the gender yet) is on his or her way into the world. Me and the Missus found out that we were expecting just as Lent began (making this a particularlly good Lent to work on patience and self-denial!), but we have not shared it too openly since there is always the chance of miscarriage or other issues coming up. We are now closing in on the 13 week mark of the pregnancy, the heartbeat is loud and clear, and Kristen and I have already had the awe-inspiring chance to see our baby (at less than 9 weeks) in the ultrasound. We saw its heart beating away (174 beats per minuite) and the ultrasound technician pointed out that the baby was moving! Talk about speechless! It was so amazing to see. I can't wait to meet our little one at the end of October... please keep his or her safe development in your prayers.

MINISTRY TRANSITIONS - Lent was also a time for other transitions, in particular a ministry transition. After consultation with my bishop, with a light to finding ways to minister and potentially establish a congregation in our new home-town, I am transitioning back to the Western Rite (actually started the transition on the Fifth Sunday in Lent). I am still in discernment on some other matters related to my ministry (though I definately plan to remain at the hospital), and Kristen and I are preparing to start a Bible Study (as a bit of a precursor to establishing a local ministry) sometime around Pentecost. I am currently using the LSB Three Year Lectionary at the recommendation of my bishop, together with the Daily Lectionary and Psalms as published in The Treasury of Daily Prayer.


I think that about catches everyone up for the moment... enjoy your weekend. It's gorgeous here today, and I hope that you have a wonderful day - even if the weather in your neck of the woods is on the crappy side.

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

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