28 April 2009

Homily for Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter


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


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

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

· 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.

17 April 2009

Discovery Channel Season Premiers!

I love The Discovery Channel. Some of my favorite TV shows are on this network, including Mythbusters and Deadliest Catch. Both shows have recently returned (Mythbusters last week and Deadliest Catch this week), and the network has added a new series, Pitchmen, to its Wednesday night lineup...

DEADLIEST CATCH - I hate crab. I won't eat them, and I have no idea why I like this show, but I am absolutely addicted to it. Every year when the Blessing of the Fleet is offered, it get a bit choked up... in the midst of such a rough and tumble occupation, God still gets a nod (even if it is, at times, somewhat prefunctory). Lots of drama appears in the works for this season, with Captain Keith whacking his head on 500 tons of crab boat, Captain Phil sitting out King Crab season, and the looming October date (next episode) when a distress call hits the fleet. I just can't get enough of this show, and Season 5 looks to be one to top all!

MYTHBUSTERS - This week Adam and Jamie built a boat out of a substance called Pykrete (basically a frozen blend of wood-pulp and water) while the Build Team tested the myth of a snow plow cleanly slicing a car in half (with the occupants walking away). Not quite as good as last week's premier, a two hour Demolition Derby special... but watching Adam and Jamie on the high seas in, basically, a paper mache boat was priceless!
PITCHMEN - New from Thom Beers (creator/producer of Deadliest Catch) is Pitchmen, which sounds absolutely insane but which was absolutely hilarious! Pitchmen follows Billy Mays (of OxyClean fame) and Anthony Sullivan (Stick-up Bulb, anyone?) as they work with inventors who think they have the next great invention that can be stocked at $19.99 or less.
But wait! There's more!
Pitchmen goes behind the scenes as the pair film 'direct response' ads, interview potential clients, and share their secrets to invention success. I have to admit, when I first heard about this show, I thought it was going to be completely worthless, but one whack of the hammer with Impact Gel and I was sold on the show. I wonder what "AS SEEN ON TV" item I'll get if I order the inevitable DVD set...
All in all, a great week for The Discovery Channel... looking forward to more as this season goes on.

Homily for Friday of Easter Week

Acts 4: 13-21
Portions of Psalm 118
Mark 16: 9-15

In 1937, as the Nazi movement was on the rise in Germany, a Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book entitled “The Cost of Discipleship”. This book, focuses on how grace is lived out in the midst of the Christian Church today.

One of the most important parts of the book, considered a Christian literary classic of the twentieth century across denominational lines, deals with the distinction which Bonhoeffer makes between "cheap" and "costly" grace.

Bonhoeffer writes: “…cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

To put it even more clearly, cheap grace reduces the Gospel to: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness." The main defect of such a proclamation is that it contains no demand for discipleship.

In contrast to this is costly grace, of which Bonhoeffer writes: “…costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’”

In our Gospel reading today, we are given an overview of the events that followed the Resurrection of Christ. In it, we are reminded of the Resurrection proclamations of both Mary and the Disciples who were on the Road to Emmaus… proclamations that were ignored, rationalized, or otherwise disregarded by the others; that is, until our Lord shows up himself and replaces rationalization with realization, and begins the process of conforming his followers to his image by the working of the Holy Spirit. (We will hear a more detailed account of some of these events in our Gospel reading this coming Sunday.)

When Christ appears to his disciples in the Upper Room on that first Easter evening, he offers them, in Bonhoeffer’s words, “a gracious call to follow Jesus… a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit.” Here is a cadre of men who ran at the moment of Jesus’ greatest trial, whose guilt and pain must have been overwhelming. They were totally unworthy on the basis of their own merits to receive such a gracious calling on their lives – it is only on account of the love of their Master that they did, indeed, receive the calling; one that was destined to utterly transform their lives.

Compare the response, particularly of Peter… poor Peter!... in our Reading today from Acts with his response when our Lord was facing immanent arrest: instead of striking out with a weapon of this world, Peter abides in the embrace of God, accepting reproach for the sake of the Gospel. Peter, John, and the rest of Jesus’ followers – in the wake of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – transition from skeptics to convicted preachers who call all of us to embrace, not cheap grace, but costly grace – grace that may, eventually, require of us the ultimate price in this world.

That is uncomfortable to think about these days. Bonhoeffer realized that. He argues that as Christianity spread, the Church became more “secular”, accommodating the demands of obedience to Jesus to the requirements of society. In this way, he writes, “the world was Christianized, and grace became its common property.” The problem is, there is nothing common about grace. At times and in places throughout Christian history, the gospel has been cheapened, and obedience to the living Christ was gradually lost beneath formula and ritual, so that –in the darkest days of the Church’s history - grace was literally being sold for worldly gain.

The example of Peter and John in today’s reading from Acts, reminds us that the Gospel often will result in little earthly gain – save gaining a mantle of suffering or a crown of Martyrdom. This isn’t a result of cheap grace; a grace that can be bought or sold with ease… it is a result of costly grace, the grace of God won for us on the cross, and poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit – a grace that is intended to conform us more and more to the image and likeness of God revealed to us in the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

14 April 2009

Homily for Tuesday of Easter Week


  • Acts 2: 36-41
  • Portions of Psalm 33
  • John 20: 11-18

In our Gospel reading today, Mary Magdalene falls down at the feet of her master when he reveals himself to her. “Rabboni!” she cries out… “Teacher!” Mary falls down before the creator of heaven and earth, seeking to follow him ever-more-deeply. But a question is posed – to Mary and to us: by what means do we draw closer to Christ? The plain answer is: by the working of the Holy Spirit.

It is the power of the Spirit, poured out upon all flesh, that makes possible our conversion to Christ, for us to come to the Waters of Baptism, and for us to – if I may paraphrase Peter - “save ourselves from this generation which has gone astray.”

During this Easter Season, as we reflect on both the Resurrection of our Savior and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we will hear many bold and noble accounts of how the power of the Holy Spirit filled the first Christians with courage, strength, conviction, and faith. We too can experience those same benefits today in our own lives when we trust the Holy Spirit to be our guide, our keeper, and our strength.

We do this first and foremost by being ever-conscious of our sins and failings, and by trusting completely in Christ, whom we know to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Revealing our sins to us and placing our entire life into God’s hands is not a simple matter however, and they are both things that, left to our own devices, we could never do alone.

In the book of the prophet Jeremiah (17:9), we are taught “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…” In the same passage, we are taught that we will be rewarded according to our deeds. If our hearts are desperately wicked, though, of what good will our deeds be? The answer, left to our own strength and abilities, is: absolutely no good whatsoever.

But thanks be to God that we, the people of God, who confess Jesus Christ and trust in him for our salvation are inheritors of the promised indwelling of the Holy Spirit, strengthened against sin and for all good works, so that we may gather together and sit at the feet of our Lord, truly listening to the teaching that is able to save our souls. To Christ our Teacher, our merciful Savior and Risen Lord, be glory, as is justly due, now and forever. Amen!

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

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