A Site Map...

I thought you might like to know where things are...

There are four sections in this blogsite:

1. “Saint Joseph-behind-the-Walls” – including everything from our gathering hymns to our Scripture lessons to my homily to the blessing. (By the way, the Fellowship of Saint Joseph-behind-the-Walls is the little fellowship of Anglican believers behind these walls, to which I am Vicar).

2. “Prayers-behind-the-Walls” – including the prayers updated and used each week by the Brothers (Inmates) of The Fellowship of Saint Joseph-behind-the-Walls.

3. “My Ministry-behind-the-Walls” – my personal reflections (as I attempt to be of use to Inmates, Staff, and Volunteers) on what it means to be a prison chaplain.

4. “My Memories-behind-the-Walls” – the Archive of all that I’ve written and posted on this blogsite.

Please feel free to e-mail me at fr.todd4you@yahoo.com with any comments or questions you may have. May God bless you as you read and as you pray with us!

A Word about Sunday’s Mass...

The Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 9, 2010

(Will be updated shortly...)

Father Todd Boyce, Vicar
The Fellowship of Saint Joseph
Sunday, May 9, 2010

Our Gathering Hymns...

“Christ Is Risen! Shout Hosanna!”
Christ is risen! Shout Hosanna! Celebrate this day of days!
Christ is risen! Hush in wonder: All creation is amazed.
In the desert all surrounding, see, a spreading tree has grown.
Healing leaves of grace abounding bring a taste of love unknown.

Christ is risen! Raise your spirits from the caverns of despair.
Walk with gladness in the morning. See what love can do and dare.
Drink the wine of resurrection; not a servant, but a friend. Jesus is our strong companion. Joy and peace shall never end.

Christ is risen! Earth and heaven nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, demonic chorus: “Christ is risen! Get you gone!”
God the First and Last is with us. Sing Hosanna, every one!

Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!
Lord, we lift up your Name, with hearts full of praise!
Be exalted, O Lord our God! Hosanna in the highest!

Glory! Glory! Glory to the risen King!
Glory! Glory! Glory to the risen King!
Lord, we lift up your Name, with hearts full of praise!
Be exalted, O Lord our God! Glory to the risen King!

“Gloria in excelsis Deo”
Glory to God! Glory to God in the highest!
Glory to God; peace on his earth; good will to men!
Praises and blessing, worship and glory, be unto you,
O Lord our God, our heavenly King, Father Almighty!
Glory to God! Glory to God! Glory to God on high!

Only-begotten Son of the Father, the Lamb of God,
You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us!
You take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer!
You sit at God the Father’s right hand, have mercy on us!
Glory to God! Glory to God! Glory to God on high!

Glory to God! Glory to God in the highest!
Glory to God; peace on his earth; good will to men!
Holy are you! Alone you are Lord, with th’Holy Spirit!
+ You are most high in the Father’s glory! Amen! Amen!
Glory to God! Glory to God! Glory to God on high!

Lessons from Sacred Scripture...

A Lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures
‘21Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! 22Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield. 23Be glad, O sons of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord, your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. 24The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25I will restore to you the years which the swarming locust has eaten; the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter; my great army, which I sent among you. 26You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the Name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.’ Joel 2:21-27 RSV

Worshiping God with a Psalm: Psalm Sixty-seven
(musical refrain in italics: “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.

May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations.

There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his Blood.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind; and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. The earth has brought forth her increase; may God, our own God, give us his blessing. May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

If our love were but more simple, we should take him at his Word; and our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of our Lord.

A Lesson from the Epistles
‘10And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal. 12It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed. 14And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 22And I saw no Temple in the city, for its Temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, 25and its gates shall never be shut by day – and there shall be no night there; 26they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. 22:1Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; 4they shall see his face, and his Name shall be on their foreheads. 5And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.’ Revelation 21:10-12, 14, 22-22:5 RSV

A Lesson from the Gospels
‘18[Jesus said,] “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. 19Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. 20In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23Jesus answered him, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my Name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe.”’ St. John 14:18-29 RSV

The Vicar’s Homily...

“The Journey to a Place called Joy: Where Joy has Withered, Love can Sprout Surprises”

Given the Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 9, 2010

(Will be updated shortly...)

Father Todd Boyce, Vicar
The Fellowship of Saint Joseph
Sunday, May 9, 2010

Our Communion Hymns...

“Open My Eyes, That I May See”
Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see;
open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth thou sendest clear;
and while the wave-notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see;
open my ears, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Open my mouth, and let me bear gladly the warm truth everywhere;
open my heart and let me prepare love with thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God thy will to see;
open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!

The Blessing and Dismissal...

The Blessing
May the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the Blood of the eternal covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight; and the blessing of God Almighty, the + Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you now and for ever. Amen.

The Dismissal
Let us bless the Lord. Alleluia.
Thanks be to God. Alleluia.

“Sometimes a Light Surprises”
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
it is the Lord who rises with healing in His wings.
When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again
a season of clear shining to cheer it after rain.

In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
the theme of God’s salvation and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow we cheerfully can say:
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.

It can bring with it nothing but he will bear us through;
who gives the lilies clothing will clothe his people, too.
Beneath the spreading heavens no creature but is fed;
and he who feeds the ravens will give his children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear;
though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;
yet God the same abiding, his praise shall tune my voice;
for while in him confiding I cannot but rejoice.

Unfairly Tainted?

I sat in an office today, having a conversation with co-workers. We were laughing, exchanging the kind of news more often shared among neighbors than co-workers, and I cracked a joke that turned the mood in the room to unease. I made reference to my clerical collar, and, with a grin on my face, asked if it were possible to get into trouble while wearing such an outfit (because people so often stiffen and stifle any sense of humor around a priest, I often use self-deprecating humor to set them at ease).

As I did this today, a man I very much respect (one of our Officers) looked at me and asked a simple question, “Have you seen the news lately?” The smiles turned to gaping mouths. The laughter ceased, and the mood changed instantly. Of course, he was making reference to the irreparable harm done to so many children by certain Roman Catholic priests.

I immediately disavowed any connection with the Roman Church and stated my long-held belief that, while Rome gets many things right, celibacy for all priests is a violation of clear Biblical doctrine – a violation that has been visited upon countless children. I explained that I’m an Anglican or Anglo-Catholic priest, and that I am a very happily married man.

I shared with those present that, from time to time, when I go into public while wearing my clerics I do get the occasional “dirty look” from a passerby. It makes me want to wear a sign stating: “I’m not Roman Catholic, don’t blame me.” We all laughed a nervous laugh, and I left the room to attend to my duties.

Yet, as I passed through three gates to find my way back to the Chapel Library, my mind settled on something I hadn’t thought about. Nearly one third of all Inmates in American prisons are serving time for sexual crimes – including the Inmate population in Kentucky. These are men to whom I minister. These are men who, like all human beings, are grasping for hope and some form of redemption. And these are men who, again, like all human beings, are capable of great wrongs and have given proof of that capability.

Is my collar – my outward identity as a priest in God’s Church – unfairly tainted by its sad association with such a great evil? Should I writhe in indignation when I catch sight of that mistrustful glance? Should I point the finger of blame at brothers who clearly need help, or at the bishops who failed to get them the help they needed? (Please understand that I in no way seek to absolve of responsibility these or any other men judged guilty of sexual abuse – I mean only to ask the less obvious question: “Am I without sin?”)

My Lord was unfairly accused – he who knew no sin. When he hung upon the cross did he point at me and say, “There’s the culprit, now leave me alone”? Of course not. Yet, he also said that any man who leads one of his little ones astray will suffer untold agonies. I wonder if those agonies might not come in the form of feeling the effects of what they have wrought, just as Jesus felt it upon the cross? I wonder whether the mercy shown them in their contrition and repentance – if there be any – will involve the healing of the sexual abuse that so many abusers themselves have suffered.

Unfortunately, in the course of my duties, I often have to access information I would rather not see. Thus far, the Lord has given me the graces I need to not let it affect my work of helping, counseling, and walking with the men in my care. This much I know: I have read about the torments of hell and I have been placed among the demons to help sift out and save the souls of men created in God’s Image.

So, am I tainted – am I, along with my collar and my identity as a priest, tainted by association? Yes. Can I let it bother me? No. I work and pray and worship in a place where demons and angels contend continually and openly for the souls of men. I don’t have time to let it bother me. After all, the collar I wear is an outward and visible sign that I am a prisoner for Christ.

Please pray for the healing, restoration, salvation, and sanctification of all victims of sexual abuse – many have left Jesus because of what has happened to them. Please pray for the healing, restoration, salvation, and sanctification of all sexual abusers – many are unrepentant and many are trying to cling to Jesus without allowing him to transform them.

Father Todd Boyce, Vicar
The Fellowship of Saint Joseph
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Father-heart of God...in Me?

I don’t know what it is that God is wanting from me. I’m being stretched in places that I never would have guessed at, and pushed in places that – until now – I would have left alone. While I know that God has a purpose for everything he puts us through, I’ve had a difficult time swallowing some of the things I’ve gone through recently.

Before the call to full-time prison chaplaincy came into my life – and let’s face it, it wasn’t my choice – I thought I was doing just fine as a pastor. In fact, after eleven years of building a congregation from three people to eighteen families with moderate to high involvement in the parish, I thought I knew something about parish ministry – so much so that I was ready to plant a new Anglican parish in Mt. Sterling.

Ha!!! “Pride goeth before the fall!” From the moment that Emily informed me of Chaplain Stilson’s impending retirement – and from the moment her flock lovingly encouraged me to look into the possibilities – I knew my dreams were dead. Grudgingly – even angrily – I submitted my resume and filled out the lengthy application. With a sickness in my heart, I went to the interview. And with a feeling that can only be described as grief, I heard the words, “You’ve got the job!” My plans had completely vanished.

After having gone through the first part of training and orientation, my first full week of being on duty in the prison came during Christmas of 2008 – I spent Christmas Eve and Day, as well as New Year’s Eve and Day at the prison. And while there is no earthly reason for it, I couldn’t wait to get out of bed and go to work! As I came to understand my remit from the Department of Corrections, I began to see challenges and opportunities that were previously invisible to me.

Having been a church member who was put to work – as a candidate for ordained ministry – in two large congregations – one with more than 900 members and another with more than 2,200 – I saw first-hand what a senior pastor does and what he has to juggle. I’ve said, over and over again, that I never want to be in that position. Surprise!!! I’m one of two Chaplains overseeing the spiritual care of 1,751 Inmates and 372 Officers and Staff. I’m one of two Chaplains overseeing a Volunteer Program that numbers 63 Certified Volunteers and 912 Non-Certified Volunteers. I’m one of two Chaplains overseeing 7 major religious events each year in our prison. I’m one of two Chaplains handling the day-to-day needs of the Inmates – death notices, emergency notices, and counseling. And, in a few months, I’ll be the only Chaplain doing this – due to the impending retirement of my lone colleague.

The challenges were nice – for a while. The rapid pace was nice – for a while. Rising to the challenge was nice – for a while. The amazing support from the administration for my celebrating the Mass and engaging in some of the Inmates in discipleship was wonderful – for a while. Even my supervisor’s amazingly generous assertion – he’ not a Chaplain, by the way – that it’s a God-thing for me to be a prison Chaplain was wonderful – for a while. But I still needed to see the whole picture.

You see, if we look at each of those nice/wonderful things as a mountaintop experience, there must needs be a corresponding valley experience. Over the past year and a half, I’ve had plenty of both. In addition to that, I volunteered to take on more and more of the administrative and pastoral duties, knowing that my colleague will be retiring. I had no other choice. I needed to know what I’m made of while he’s still there to help me. And in the process I discovered something that every man deeply wants to know about himself, and something he deeply fears.

I discovered that I’m up to the challenge. I’ve run the course in a couple of practice laps, and discovered that I can to do it. I can juggle the meetings, the grievances, the requests, the need for patient teaching – applied to both Inmates and Volunteers, the oddball situations, the shocking occurrences – I’ve been both mooned and flashed, the heart-breaking situations – telling a man that his little son has died and he can’t go to the funeral, the implementation of massive new programs – the Kosher program gave me the title of Rabbi Todd, planning and publishing on a weekly basis my own worship/discipleship material for the Fellowship of Saint Joseph, and much more.

The frightening thing has been something small, by comparison. Nevertheless, it shook me to the core over the past couple of months. It was this simple, little question: “Do I want to do this for the next twenty years?” It was all coming to a head one morning on my way into work. As I crested the hill to turn into the prison driveway, I looked up at the prison. There’s a ten story tower that dominates the facility – it’s amazing what you can see from up there! In an instant I realized that I had to see everything I’m doing from God’s perspective – looking down, if you will, from above.

Up to that point, I thought I knew – quite well, actually – the theological underpinnings of my priestly ministry. In that moment, however, I came to realize that I knew nothing if I did not understand the Father-heart of God at work within my ministry. If a priest is called “father” because he’s the head of a local family in Christ – not because he’s trying to be God – then hadn’t I better take that title seriously?!?

Up to that point, I had been looking at all the jumble of duties as – at worst – distractions from my real purpose for being in prison and – at best – the price to pay for ministry there. The fact is, those are the duties of a father in Christ. A true father tends to the needs of his family – however odd-ball or sorely needed. My preaching and disciple-making must flow out of my family-tending. My celebration of the Sacred Mysteries in the holy Mass is meaningless if I have neglected the needs of the family to whom I am ministering. In fact, such celebrations actually mock God’s redeeming purpose if I find myself ignoring the daily needs of his children placed in my care.

As I drove up the long hill to Post One, to enter the parking lot, the breath was taken out of me. I knew what I had to do. I had to make the choice to see my work in that prison as an integrated whole. Only then could I serve, as “Father Todd”, the men and women in my care; only then could we receive the wholeness God has in mind for us. Please pray for us!

Father Todd Boyce, Vicar
The Fellowship of Saint Joseph
Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Archived Homily: “The Journey to a Place called Joy: Why Opening the Door for Love will Bring Glory to Jesus”

Some time ago – as I was out and about, taking care of errands – I stopped off at McDonald’s to grab some lunch. I went into the drive through and placed my order. A young lady read back what I ordered and asked if it was correct. Then she asked me one more question. She wanted to know whether I’d like to donate a dollar to the Ronald McDonald House. It caught me off guard. I wasn’t used to that kind of question coming from the little box in a drive through line. I hadn’t ever thought about what I could share by going to McDonald’s. I’d always looked at it as a way to please myself. It never occurred to me that my desire for cholesterol and calories could end up helping someone. Then I felt guilty. Deep down, I knew I shouldn’t be forking over four dollars for fast food. I was on my way home to a refrigerator filled with leftovers. I began feeling conflicted and angry. When the voice in that little box asked for a donation, I wanted to throw the money and drive away. Instead, I stared at the speaker box. “Why can’t I just enjoy myself without having to save the world?” I muttered under my breath. I paused for what seemed an eternity. I finally realized there was no answer but yes. “Yes,” I told the young lady, “I’ll donate a dollar.” It was my ‘guilt-offering’ for gluttony and greed. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I still did it for all the wrong reasons. Guilt should never be the motivation for giving. Yet, on that day, in that place, in my heart, it was guilt alone that motivated me. I pulled forward to pay the four dollars I owed for my junk food – plus the one dollar donation. A young lady wearing a smile on her face handed me a heart-shaped piece of paper and a pen. She asked me to sign my name on the heart so they could display my donation in the restaurant. “Great,” I thought, “now my guilt is written on my heart and displayed before the whole world!” But then – after she handed me my change – she gave me a sticker that read, “I shared some love today!” Despite all my guilt – all my wrangling, all my selfishness, all my gluttony – God used me. He gleaned something from me. He took something – something I otherwise wouldn’t have thought twice about – and showed me how I could make it into a gift of love. There are situations in each of our lives that are pregnant with the possibilities of sharing love in Jesus’ Name. The problem is, we usually never see them – unless they hit us in the face. We walk by them without so much as a glance or a single thought. Most of the time – when we miss them – it’s not even because we’re being selfish or greedy. It’s because we just don’t see them. We’re in a frame of mind that’s focused on our routine – and, to be honest, we never see God’s possibilities because they never cross our line of vision. The sad reality is that our routines keep us isolated from those who need our love. The gift of love is never possible where life as usual is uninterrupted. The disciples had gotten used to their routine with Jesus during the three years of his public ministry. His gift of love – the cross, the grave, the resurrection – jarred them out of their routine. Life as they knew it was no longer possible. And so they grieved and sulked and hid themselves away. And when he appeared to them – beginning on Easter Sunday – his Presence with them was like the voice in that speaker box at McDonald’s. Yet – as we know from Scripture – they were slow to warm up to the risen Jesus. They were bewildered – in shock. Perhaps they were even responding as I did that day at McDonald’s. Perhaps they didn’t want – or thought they couldn’t stand – any more self-denial and prying open of their minds. But, Jesus – as he met with them during those forty days – told them things and asked them questions. He asked them – as he had before the cross – for their hearts and for his Name to be written upon them. He asked them – in the afterglow of the empty tomb – to see the possibilities of sacrificial love. He asked them to love him more than anything else, and to love each other as he had loved them. Today’s Gospel lesson makes this abundantly clear, doesn’t it? Jesus – at the last supper – prepares them for the disruption not of a lifetime, but of all eternity. He tells them to love each other. He tells them that he’ll be leaving them soon, and that they can’t follow immediately where he’s going. And he tells them that this departure – this disruption – will bring glory to his Name. So let’s take a deeper look at today’s Gospel lesson. It takes place just before the momentous events of the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. I think we can break it down into three parts: 1. The command to love each other – and all the world – as Jesus loves us; 2. The insight that we’ll have to rely on Jesus as he works behind the scenes; and 3. The prophetic word that our opened hearts will lead to Jesus being glorified. In God’s way of looking at things, what does his command to love really mean? Well, we know that it’s not just a warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s an ongoing action that requires sacrifice of self. It’s saying ‘yes’ to something for the sake of another even when we don’t feel like it. May I suggest that it is – at the very least – the embracing of God’s disruptions of our little routines? After all, doesn’t this kind of love begin by having our line of vision moved so we can see the needs we’ve been blind to? If that’s the case – and I think it is – then what do we have to do? We always want to ‘do’ something, don’t we? But this is where we have to be very careful – careful not to get ahead of Jesus, and careful not to lag too far behind him. The disciples – Peter, in particular – struggled with this one. Peter tried to get out in front of Jesus. Instead of letting the disruption happen – instead of beholding the wonder of it all – Peter tried to make plans. But Jesus responded with the assurance that soon the disciples would follow. For now, they must wait. Isn’t waiting what we’re forced to do when our routines are disrupted? Don’t disruptions – by definition – mean that we have to step back and wait to see what’s going to happen? That’s the way it worked for me in the drive through. I couldn’t possibly see what God was up to at first. He knew that I had to work through my emotions – that I had to re-arrange my thoughts. More importantly – beyond what I could see – he had to arrange the miracle that was about to happen. You see, just as he called me to wait and to wonder, he called the disciples to do the same. The disruption of the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection catapulted them into forty days of questions and reflecting. “Can I understand this?” they must’ve asked themselves. “What does this mean? How do I make sense of this and where do we go from here?” We think of Easter as solving all the questions, but we forget that limited human minds have to sort those questions out before they can move forward – before they can embrace God’s answers. By the time the forty days were up – as we’ll see in two weeks on the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension – Jesus had ushered them through those questions. In fact, his answers enabled them to rejoice at his departure into the clouds and to anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because their hearts had been touched by seeing what was previously hidden. The disruption of the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection touched the edges of their lives – the fringes of their souls. And whenever the edges are touched by love, the heart is likely to follow. God tells us, in our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures today, that we are to be holy as he is holy – that our hearts are to be as his. Love and holiness are inseparable. Where we wouldn’t give a second thought about taking all that’s been given to us, God disrupts and tells us that we ought to do it his way – that we ought to allow him to do something unseen and holy at the edges of our lives. So, what’s the hidden thing that he wants to do in and through us? He wants us to be jarred into God-like sacrifice. Just as Jesus immediately changed his direction and emphasis as soon as the bleeding woman touched the fringe, the edge of his garment, so he wants us to grow to the point wherein we can stop on a dime and allow his love and power to go out from us as soon as our ‘edges’ are touched. Let’s not forget the nature of the transformation in the disciples from Easter Sunday to the Ascension to Pentecost. God’s disruption in their lives took them from not getting it to bewilderment and questions to rejoicing in the truth to being filled with the Holy Spirit to saying “I have no silver or gold, but I give you what I have; in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Is there any doubt, as we read in the Revelation to Saint John today, that the journey to a place called joy will end in this kind of rapture? Is there any doubt that the Bride of Christ is truly decked out in the fine linen of the righteous deeds given to her by her Groom? Who gets more joy out of this process of disruption and waiting: Those who are disrupted or the recipients of the fruit of disruption? Maybe I should ask the question this way: Were the children and families benefitted by my donation any more blessed by God’s disruption to my routine than I was? I doubt it. But this I know for sure: Jesus got the glory because of it. Brothers, our lives have been disrupted for one reason or another. As we sit here today – as we approach the Lord’s Table to receive his precious Body and Blood – let us dwell on the fact that Jesus is at work behind the scenes and that love and blessing and glory will come of it. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Father Todd Boyce, Vicar The Fellowship of Saint Joseph Sunday, May 2, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Archived Homily: “The Journey to a Place called Joy: The Hammer of God’s Answers falling on the Anvil of Our Questions”

Brothers, have you ever been afraid of the unknown? Have you ever asked God to stop rocking the boat? Have you ever encountered a problem so big that there was no human solution for it? I remember, as I was growing up in Michigan in the early 1980’s, the fear and anxiety that gripped so many of the people I knew – especially my family. My father worked in the automotive industry for almost all of his career. He was a human resources manager with various companies and could see what was beginning to happen in the early 1980’s. I remember him watching with interest the news reports about climbing unemployment – especially amongst the big three auto makers and their suppliers. I remember him saying to my mother – at various points – that he needed to get his resume out “just in case.” I remember the rumors and reports about robots completely taking over automotive manufacturing. I remember – quite vividly – living with the fear of not knowing what was going to happen next. More to the point, I remember the scenarios that crept into my mind and how I assumed it would all play out. We have a tendency to do that, don’t we? We have a tendency – when we’re afraid – to let our imaginations get the better of us. We let them build a scenario that usually turns out to not match reality. And that – it just so happens – is the biggest obstacle most people face when we think about God. We hear about God’s invitation to new life and we focus on the blessings and the miracles. Then we hear about his call to holy living and self-denial, and we allow our imaginations carry us away from Jesus. We don’t even stick around long enough to let God describe the joy that’s gained through self-denial and living for Jesus. We allow our questions to loom larger than God’s answers. We allow the shear volume of our questions to drown out God’s answers. And, let’s face it, our questions usually – though not always – have something to do with fear: The fear of having to surrender this or that; the fear of being pushed too far; the fear of losing some sort of comfort. We might think that by asking all sorts of questions we can somehow change God’s answers. We might think that our questions will raise an issue that God hasn’t thought about. Or, we might think that our questions will show God that he doesn’t love us enough. But in most cases, our questions only serve to show us the absurdity of our imaginations. You see, the Bible tells us that even before we ask a question, God’s already answered it – he’s already met our need. If that’s the case – and it definitely is – then there’s no way we’re going to change his answers, or raise an issue he hasn’t thought about, or show him to be less than loving toward us. It’s amazing what our feeble imaginations can trick out of us, isn’t it? We can become so paranoid about any threat to our comfort level that we close our eyes, put our fingers in our ears, and shout at the top of our voices until we think God has given up. We do all this based on what we assume. We do it based on what we think might be the case. We do it without any proof or any basis in reality. Once upon a time, I was privileged to serve as a musician for the Saint Matthew A.M.E. Church in Lansing, Michigan. One of the first things I noticed about the A.M.E. Church was the logo they use: It’s often referred to as the “Cross and Anvil”. In front of the cross there sits an anvil, and for the longest time I saw that logo as a symbol of God wanting to pound something out of me – something I didn’t want to surrender. Years later, I discovered that the A.M.E. “Cross and Anvil” meant something completely different to what I had imagined. Far from signifying God beating down the human person, it represents God’s attempts to make us free. You see, on that anvil – through the power of the life-giving cross – the chains of African-American slavery were broken. On that anvil of questions about human freedom God lowered the hammer of his answer and broke the chains of human slavery – not the men and women held in slavery. Likewise, God wants to lower his hammer on the chains that bind us, setting us free to experience to joy he intends for us. You can imagine how embarassed I was, having thought that the “Cross and Anvil” were a symbol of God’s desire to pound me rather than free me. Yet, when we pepper God with so many questions that we can’t hear his answers, aren’t we assuming that his answers are aimed at hurting us instead of freeing us? The only way for our questions to be answered is by laying our chains on the anvil – and that requires faith. Jesus was asked, in today’s Gospel lesson, to reveal himself. The men asking the question were desperately afraid of his answer. If the truth is told, they wanted to use his answer to destroy him before he could destroy them. The funny thing is that his answer would have brought them joy, not destruction; freedom to worship God in spirit and in truth, not despair. The even funnier thing is that Jesus had been answering their question – even before they asked it – by the miracles he was working. But – like you and I have often done – they had closed their eyes, put their fingers in their ears, and tried to shout him down. What’s so sad about this is the fact that they had made their imaginations their “shepherds”. So, when the true Shepherd showed up, they wouldn’t allow themselves to follow him. You can almost hear the hurt and pain in Jesus’ voice as he tells them, “…but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” Do you belong to his sheep? Are you following a false shepherd, created in the imagination of your heart? Have you allowed fear to lead you astray from the one Shepherd who alone can lead you into all joy? Before you answer that question, think about Moses and the joy he was forced to surrender because he allowed his imagination – his own fears and frustrations – to shepherd him away from the living God. Moses lost God’s promise – God’s answer – because his question interrupted and blocked what God intended. To put it another way, there are consequences for questioning when we should be listening. The consequence is losing God’s gift of joy. As we continue our “Journey to a Place Called Joy” this Easter season, this issue should be on our minds. The last Sunday we were together we explored the gap between what we’re able to see and what God is promising. Today we’ve taken that a step further by asking ourselves whether we trust God enough to start listening. That’s a big step to take. Our Lord’s first disciples – those who were gathered in the upper room, those who walked with him on the road to Emmaus, and those who saw him standing on the lakeshore – had to come to the place where they decided whether or not to trust this man who triumphed over the tomb. Saint Paul says as much to the Jewish congregation gathered in Antioch. Near the end of his message in that synagogue, Saint Paul shares how the people of Jerusalem, and their leaders, failed to recognize who Jesus was – the implication being that they chose to close their eyes and stop up their ears in the face of the truth, just as we read in the Gospel today. Then the Apostle says something that every believer must place at the center of his being. He says, “Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” He drew the proverbial line in the sand with that statement, didn’t he? The acceptance or rejection of that statement determines whether or not we will allow the hammer of God’s answers to fall on the anvil of our questions and set us free. When we look inward and see the things that haunt us – just as the disciples did between Easter and Pentecost – or when we look at the world around us and ask where the hope is, we have to make a decision. We have to make a decision to listen to the voice of Jesus as he ties together the story of his suffering with the story of his victory; we have to make a decision to listen to him as he binds our questions to his answers. One of the things I admire about Baptist preachers is that they often – very often – draw a line in the sand and ask their flocks to make decisions in response to the Gospel. That’s healthy. And so I ask us, this afternoon, to likewise make a decision – a decision to listen to God as ardently as we’ve questioned him. In a few moments we’ll have the opportunity to act on that decision. We’ll approach the Altar to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus – the Sacrament of his Covenant with us, his answer to our questions made real. Each time we do so, we’re telling him – and ourselves – that we hear him, that we love him, and that we trust him. Brothers, I pray that we will continue in the journey to a place called joy. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Father Todd Boyce, Vicar The Fellowship of Saint Joseph Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Archived Homily: “The Journey to a Place called Joy: Bridging the Gulf between God’s Promises and What We Can See”

John Lennon penned some words that used to disturb me a great deal – that is, before I walked through a place in my life that I hope never to see again; before I experienced first-hand the kind of doubts, fears, and imaginings that can push one to the brink of disbelief. He wrote, “Imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try. No hell below us; above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today…” I’m told that Mr. Lennon, at one point in his life, thought about inviting Jesus into his heart. Apparently, he did not. A song about trying to see hope in the lack of a heaven speaks volumes. But we share something in common with John Lennon, don’t we? You and I are sitting here because, at one point in our lives, we thought about barring Jesus from our hearts. We allowed – at some level – our doubts to inform our imaginations. Like Mr. Lennon, we might compose our own song. It might go something like this: “Imagine there is a heaven; it’s not easy, given what we see. There is a hell below us; above us a glory that seems so far away. Imagine all of us living in joy and peace, if you can…” Sometimes it’s very difficult to see the connection between God’s promises and our present circumstances. Sometimes it’s very difficult to walk in joy when our hearts are filled with hopelessness. There’s something so bleak about the lyrics of either version of that song, isn’t there? There’s something so very mournful and sad. There’s something so very “Upper Room” about those words; for only a soul struck to the core with grief could write them. The fact of the matter is this: On that Resurrection Day, some two thousand years ago, the disciples of Jesus were hurting deeply. In fact, hurting doesn’t begin to describe it. There’s something more going on; something like emotional paralysis, deep depression, or – dare I say it? – spiritual suicide. Brothers, imagine with me – if you will – a house in the heart of Jerusalem. While the city around it bustles in the festivity of Passover, this little house is dead and dark. The shutters are closed, the doors are locked and bolted. Within its walls there’s silence mixed with the occasional sound muted sobbing. This is beyond a wake or the gathering of a family in the midst of untimely grief. This is self-imposed imprisonment. This is the jerking away of hope in a perceived dawn of despair. And so the imagining begins. When we’re hurting, we imagine all sorts of things – even about God. And lurking within the hearts of those disciples there was – no doubt – a desire to survive; a desire to make sense of things by means of human rationalization. We can almost hear the panicked voices: “Maybe he wasn’t telling the truth after all. Maybe we made him into something more than he was supposed to be. Maybe God doesn’t love us. Maybe God forgot about us. Maybe God is cruel.” Can you see it? Can you see how their fear, their loss, their doubt in the face of what seems like the cruelest of jokes could push them to write a song of their own – a song about the death of their faith? We so often gloss over what the disciples went through during those fifty days between Easter and Pentecost, that we lose sight of the quiet miracle taking place. We want to go from Good Friday to Easter and straight on to the triumphant building of the Church. We forget that between Easter and the birth of the Church at Pentecost, there were days of grieving and healing, bewilderment and fear, timidity and hope. Our Lord Jesus stepped into that upper room quietly and tenderly. He came among them gently, as a bridegroom to his sobbing bride. Tears became the language of vulnerability. Words would not, or could not, come forth their lips to meet Jesus’ greeting of “Peace be with you.” So, patiently, he showed them his hands and his side, and greeted them again. And though they were happy to see him, no words are recorded. Perhaps they trembled. Perhaps they stared in wonder. Perhaps they sobbed all the more. Perhaps they fell at his feet in worship. So often our fears about God are registered in a self-imposed imprisonment of the soul – in a song that starts somewhere deep within us, asking us to imagine that God messed up, or that he’s forgotten us, or that he’s chosen to be cruel. The unspoken dilemma of so many people is what they share in common with the disciples gathered in that upper room: “Jesus promised this, that, and the other thing,” they might say. “There’s no way it can happen now. It’s all over. God has failed.” Corrie ten Boom – a woman whose testimony literally changed my life – tells the story of how her sister Betsie woke her one night to share a vision the Lord had given her. Corrie and Betsie were imprisoned in the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany, near the end of Word War II. The vision Betsie shared with her often-doubting sister was one in which they would open a home for people deeply wounded by that war. It involved –according to the vision – global travel, sharing their testimony of God’s love and healing. Within days, the sister to whom the Lord had given that vision was dead; and the sister who had doubted so often, and so intensely, was left to trust that the Lord to make it happen. In the writings she left for us, Corrie tells – again and again – about her lack of faith; about the pain in her heart; and about the Lord’s gentle patience in helping her along, until, at last, she began to see what he could do. True to his word – given through Betsie – he provided a house to which those severely harmed by the war could come. He began to send her throughout Europe, and then all over the world with his message of healing, restoration, and trust. What I love about our sister, Corrie, is that she freely admitted her doubts and, when God stepped in, she never hesitated to give him the glory. Step by tiny step she learned to believe and, in the process, received the healing she needed. We see the same story with Job, don’t we? Job questioned God. Job offered his lament. Like Corrie and like the disciples – and like us, if we’re honest – Job went into his own version of self-imposed imprisonment. As important as the question is about what Job did next – or what Corrie, or the disciples did next, or what you and I will do next – is the question about what God did next. God rose up in his majesty and glory to beautifully, powerfully, and poetically remind Job of his care and of his love. He met Job where Job was at – just as he met Corrie where she was at, and the Disciples where they were at. Even though, in Job’s case, the Lord thundered out his reminders, there’s something of tenderness in his words that gave Job pause to reflect – to stop imagining and start reasoning. Then, as now, the Lord held out his hand as to a shaken child. Then, as now, the Lord sought to comfort his beloved. Job’s response is beautiful in its humility. He says: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” I don’t know whether it’s our fear, or our pride, or our despondency that often keep us from saying this kind of thing nowadays – perhaps it’s some combination of all three. But it seems that we should learn to say it more often – not because we’re unworthy worms, but because honest self-assessment in the company of a loving God can bring healing. Job tells us that, in his ignorance, he couldn’t see. Corrie ten Boom reminds her readers over and over again that the Lord had to show her the way. The Disciples needed to see Jesus over and over again – during those fifty days between Easter and Pentecost – just to take the tiniest of steps toward a place called joy. So why are we so intent upon leaps and bounds when Jesus – in most cases – wants to lead us one step at a time? Is it because – as the Psalmist testifies – such things are too wonderful for us to comprehend? If the men and women whose examples the Lord has lifted before us had to take tiny steps in order to follow him, why should we not be content with the gentle nudge rather than the awe-inspiring revelation? If we had been in the upper room on Resurrection Day, the chances are slim indeed that we would have had the faith of even the lowliest among the disciples. Brothers, our Savior is patient and kind. He’s with us every step of the way. As we journey with the disciples from their tentative reception of Jesus on Resurrection Day to the triumphant proclamation of Pentecost, I think we’re going to discover a patient love we’ve never allowed ourselves to see. As we sit here today, there are things in each of our lives that don’t make sense – there are circumstances that don’t match up to the promises God has made. In the silence of our hearts, there exists the temptation to sing a song of an imagined God who got it wrong, who failed miserably, who left us when we needed him most. That temptation grows all the more powerful when we think – quite falsely – that the disciples suddenly went from despair to joy, or that Job didn’t have to work through things – step by step – with God. Even in one of the most spectacular revelations of God to man – the revelation given to Saint John by our Lord Jesus – we see the necessity of our human nature to take things slowly. Jesus blares the trumpet – so to speak – and announces in a fantastic manner a vision that’s beyond human comprehension. John falls down – as though dead – at the feet of Jesus. And in his tender mercy, our Lord says to him, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living One; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” You can almost feel the gentle touch of his hand on his shoulder, can’t you? You can sense the willingness of Jesus to take things at the pace he knows John can cope with. Such is the case with each of us. He knows our every weakness. He knows our every failure. And yet, he’s tailored an individual class in discipleship to fit each of us – as though we were his only focus, his only concern. Brothers, if you persist in this journey to a place called joy, you will find the wholeness and healing for which every man longs. You will find the songs of imagination replaced by songs of grateful victory. So, I invite you to walk – in the coming weeks – with our Lord and his first disciples as they show us how to bridge the gulf between God’s promises and what we can see. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Father Todd Boyce, Vicar The Fellowship of Saint Joseph Sunday, April 11, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

Archived Article: “Unexpected Grace!”

It’s amazing how something so very simple – something you and I take for granted each day – can be transformed into an instrument of God’s grace. It’s amazing how a simple handshake can be turned into something extraordinary. But that’s what happened today. I was asked to go to one of the Segregation Dormitories today to meet with an Inmate who’s been in some trouble inside the prison. What you need to know about this Inmate is that he, like thirty percent of all prison Inmates, has some psychological/psychiatric problems. I took some literature to him this afternoon. I didn’t have as much time to speak with him as I would have liked – I never do. A week ago the Officers in his dorm wheeled a desk chair down his walk – the corridor in which his cell is housed – so I could sit outside it and talk with him. We talked through the tray-slot in his cell door as he sat on the floor inside. The question he asked me was so very normal, so very routine that I was struck by the sweetness of it. He asked me, almost with a sense of shame, whether holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays made me think of loved ones. “Is that okay?” he asked. I thought to myself, with growing emotion, “What kind of a life is lived that makes one of God’s children ask whether it’s okay to be sentimental, even teary-eyed and wistful? What kind of power can imprison a man and alienate him from the normal and God-given gift of bittersweet memories?” As we talked, I let go of the rest of my schedule for that day and focused on what the Lord was doing between this brother and myself. We talked about the joy the Lord has given us in knowing so many special people, and how, when certain dates roll around, it’s a bittersweet joy to remember and give thanks for them. We talked about how certain things – a whiff of Cologne de Emeraude, the sound of a back door closing, a certain phrase, the words of a beloved hymn – can make so many memories rush back. We sat there, not in a prison, but on a front porch, sipping our iced tea and rocking in our chairs as the birds flew by. We sat there, the three of us, as the Lord touched us and gave us laughter, smiles, and some tears. We talked with the Lord about the sweetness of all this and asked him to make it more present, more real for us. We parted with his benediction and grace knowing that we could make it through another week, until we’d meet again. We met again today – Tuesday, December 1, 2009. And while I couldn’t talk with him today like I wanted to, we exchanged our smiles and greetings. I gave him a copy of Decision Magazine with a picture of George Beverly Shea on the cover. He looked at what he’d already read from the material I’d given him last week, and with a look of earnest compassion asked whether it would be okay to share it with the other guys on his walk. I smiled back and said, “Absolutely!” We shook hands through the tray-slot in his cell door – something so simple and yet filled with so much of God’s grace. I saw it happening in front of me, as though in slow motion. I was caught off-guard and stunned by how much it meant. As I slammed the tray-slot closed – it takes a little force to do so – and walked away I was still smiling. You see, every Sunday I talk about how our Lord Jesus comes to us in the preaching of his Word and in the sharing of Holy Communion, about how he takes the simple things of life – bread and wine and holy words – and gives us a matchless treasure. It’s amazing to me how the reverberations of that miracle show up all over the place during the week – even in a simple handshake. It’s amazing to me how those of us who are privileged to offer our Lord to the world very often find ourselves receiving him from those we’re called to help. What astounding grace is at work in this place, this prison! What abounding hope, and what love still beating within so many hearts! What an amazing God who knows no boundaries and who comes to sit with a prisoner and a priest on a concrete floor! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Praise his holy Name! Father Todd Boyce, Vicar The Fellowship of Saint Joseph Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Archived Homily: “When the Past Pops Up: Why the Lord Reminds Us of His Call, Watches Our Reaction, and Helps Us Deal with It”

Well, Brothers, I’ve done it now! The events of the past week in my own life provide the backdrop for today’s homily. Evidently, the Lord painted a bull’s eye on me and said, “Okay, son, here’s the message; now preach it!” So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to share with you what’s been going on and what the Lord is trying to say. But first, there’s something you need to know about me. I have a past, and every so often the Lord brings it up that I might deal with it, learn from it, and both give and receive healing and forgiveness. You see, from the moment I was old enough to apply for a credit card, I’ve had trouble with spending money and not meeting my obligations. That little problem continued well into my twenties and wasn’t finally fixed until I married a wonderful woman named Emily. But the damage that was done was deep and it was profound. For whatever reason – and I can honestly tell you that I’m still not sure why, I found it easier to run away from my debts, even though it was ruining whatever shred of a good reputation I may have had. The fact of the matter was this: I had a very deep character flaw. My behavior and attitude were not matching my words, let alone the image I projected of myself to others. I was living two lives, and I didn’t want people to see the side of me that looked very much un-saved and un-caring. Over the years – especially the last nine years, Emily has gently, lovingly, and consistently helped me clean up the mess I made. Never once has she condemned me for what I had done. Yet I knew, by her steady witness and commitment to the Lord, that the secrets I had kept and the actions I had undertaken were wrong. Bit by painful bit, we’ve cleaned up the effects of my past. We’ve sought to undo the damage that I had done. And all the while we’ve clearly understood that the motivation for doing so is the realization of my forgiveness in the Lord. Out of gratitude for his forgiveness – and for my wife’s patience and gentleness – I have sought to “do right” by those I had harmed. I guess that’s why the events of this past week were so hard to swallow. You see, my past popped up and bit me; and not only that, it did so in an area that I thought had been completely cleaned up and made right. It turns out that I have some more restitution to do. I’m ashamed to tell you that I reacted very bitterly. I threw around threats of taking my business elsewhere, I demanded explanations, I felt hurt and vilified – even justified in my bitterness. When Emily did some digging, we found out that the money I owed to this business originated from a debt created more than eleven years ago. This debt of $280.00 had somehow gotten lost in my attempts to make things right. Even more importantly, it’s sudden appearance revealed another work that the Lord wants to accomplish within me: He wants me to be more humble. He wants me to receive his messages with maturity and grace. He wants me to rejoice in his correction of my soul. The day after I received word of this hidden debt, I began to feel uneasy about my self-righteous response. That night – as I began looking at Scripture lessons for today’s Mass – I saw how wrong my response had been. I began to see myself in the crowd that wanted to hurl Jesus over the cliff. I saw his eyes looking at me, wanting me to “get it” and to continue growing up. I immediately sent an e-mail to the person most hurt by my self-righteous response and I told her how very sorry and embarrassed I was. I also knew – at that moment – what I would be sharing with you today. Yes, I’m forgiven; and yes, the Lord has put away my sins as far as the East is from the West. But the effects of those sins still abide in this fallen world, and even when our past pops up in front of us – as it will from time to time – the Lord graciously steps in to make use of a teachable moment. So, let’s take this teachable moment from my life and learn from it what our Lord has in mind. We read in the Gospel according to Saint Luke that Jesus had some difficult things to say to the congregation in Nazareth. He grew up among them and he is God, so he knew – from two different perspectives – the pasts of his listeners. He knew their pasts from the perspective of one who would have heard the rumors and seen the attempts to cover them up while a boy in their midst; but he also knew their pasts from the intimacy of a much deeper perspective – that of God. And so, as he reminds them of their sins and hardened hearts – by making reference to the God-led actions of Elijah and Elisha – they respond with self-righteousness. The reason that Jesus could not do a mighty work in his hometown – according to Jesus – is the same reason that Elijah and Elisha weren’t able to do their mighty works in and among God’s chosen people: The hearts of the people in Nazareth were hardened by hiding and secret-keeping and self-justification. We know that by the virulence of their reaction to Jesus’ words. In order for Jesus to work in the human heart, sin must first be dealt with. In fact – Biblically speaking, the removal of sin is the first and greatest of Jesus’ miracles within the heart of each believer. But when we – like those in Nazareth – put up the defense of outrage and indignation when Jesus points out our flaws, no miracle is possible within us. No fervent prayer – except that for a softened heart – can be answered in our lives. No hope can be entertained for a brighter future. No, indeed. For anything good to happen in the ‘Nazareth’ of our hearts our defenses need to be down and we need to listen willingly. Just look at what happened when Jesus began to point out the pasts of those in the congregation – and remember, he did so in the context of announcing the Good News of healing, restoration, and freedom. They responded in a rage of self-defense. He forced them to think about their sins. He forced them to remember their imperfections, and rather than trying to destroy their own sinfulness, they tried to destroy the One – the only One – who could help them. The first lesson that comes to us in this teachable moment is that we were created for more than our fallen human nature permits us to see. Just like the people of Nazareth, the purpose for which we were created involves so much more than self-justification of our self-centeredness. We were created to give glory to God and to enjoy him for ever and to share him with all the world! We were created for a higher purpose than our flesh – in and of itself – permits us to see. In today’s lesson from the Prophet Jeremiah, the Lord speaks to him and says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you (set you aside for a holy purpose); I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Imagine that! The Lord – even before Saint Jeremiah was conceived in his mother’s womb – already knew what he wanted Jeremiah’s life to be about. His gifts and talents were created for a purpose. The Lord knew that his fears and doubts would be answered by faith alone – not self-justification and running away in anger or fear. Indeed, our Lord graciously answered Saint Jeremiah’s doubts with words of promise. Does that mean we’re all called to be prophets? No. But it does mean that there’s a calling on each of our lives – a calling that’s hindered, and even destroyed, by the hardness of our hearts. There’s a calling on our lives that can only be discovered when we willingly and humbly respond to the Lord’s teachable moments. If we strike a defensive posture when he approaches us, how are we going to learn. Likewise, if we try to cover up our failings by declaring the truth that our sins are forgiven, never more to be dealt with – which is quite true – then we risk closing off an avenue of God’s grace and growth. It’s not up to us to decide when our Lord is done teaching. Saint Paul reminds us today that if we make the Gospel a creature of our own comfort and pleasure – without remembering the broader purpose of the Gospel – then we have become like children in our thinking. He reminds us that behaving as mature believers not only involves intimacy with the Lord – the kind of intimacy that allows his teachable moments to happen – but a godly concern for those around us. One of the things that distresses me about the state of the Church today is the hording to one’s self of the spiritual riches of God. There are all kinds of preachers who teach about God wanting us to be rich in material things, in spiritual gifts, and in self-indulgent – and even unbiblical – behavior. They make the pursuit of God into a hedonistic adventure in which we answer to no one; for in the subjectification of our relationship with the Lord we accomplish nothing but the loss of teachable moments. The truth of the matter is that we are given spiritual riches and right thinking as a tool to prod us along and edify those around us. And so, as I think about my missteps this past week and the teachable moment that arose out of them, I begin to see that God’s call on my life – as a believer – is to become a transparent vessel of his love. Why transparent? Because my family in the Lord and those who surround me in the world need to see how great is the grace of God. I no longer need to have any shame at the work taking place within me. My work of reparation – of cleaning up my mistakes and repairing the damage that was done – is evidently not over. The truth is it won’t be until the day I die. As long as the Lord is showing me my mistakes and the damage caused by them, and as long as his call on my life is to be open to him and to freely share the truth about his work within me, I can’t throw him over the hill. So, how is it with you this afternoon? Are there places in your life where the Lord is trying to share a teachable moment? Are you trying to throw him over the hill by telling him – like Saint Jeremiah did – that you can’t endure the lesson, even though you were created for that purpose? Perhaps you recognize the teachable moment and are listening, but – like some in the Corinthian Church – are focusing on just Jesus and you, forgetting the Church and the world around you? Brothers, if the past is popping up in your life, give some serious thought to letting the Lord teach his lesson. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Father Todd Boyce, Vicar - The Fellowship of Saint Joseph - Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Archived Homily: “The Wine of Transformation: How the Contemplation of Heaven Changes Us”

Brothers, there are some sermons over which I labor. There are some that the Lord shows me in an instant. And there are some that – well, there’s no other way to put it – bubble up within me. Sometimes the Lord will use a movie, a bumper-sticker, a song, or a funny story to show me how to preach the text at hand. This time he used a wonderful little novel, “The Enchanted April,” to show me an aspect of today’s Scripture lessons that I’d overlooked. One night last week, as I lay in bed reading that novel, it struck me – deep down – that it’s really okay to enjoy – even to get lost in – the beautiful things of God and his creation. I have to tell you, that simple, little notion took my breath away. How many of us forget – or have never heard – that it’s okay to enjoy God; that one of his deepest desires for us is the kind of fellowship that’s too deep for words and too profound for anything but awe and reverence. A couple of years ago Emily and I were given a copy of a movie based on Elizabeth von Arnim’s novel “The Enchanted April.” Though I don’t think the author was a believer, her story has a profound fixation on the transforming power of heaven. Picture, if you will, four souls trapped in the dreary drabness of late winter. One after another, they see an advertisement for a villa in southern Italy – a villa described as a little bit of heaven. One after another – each for their own reasons – they ponder an escape from the dreariness of winter and their daily lives. Unfortunately, their ponderings have more to do with escape from dreariness than with the beauty that awaits them. You see, just like so many of us – just like the Israelites of old, and just like the people of Jesus’ day – these four ladies can’t see the forest for the trees. There’s a profound difference between escaping from something and running to embrace something; between concern for meeting our needs and allowing ourselves to be surprised by beauty and joy. Contemplating the list of our needs and contemplating the One who lavishly meets those needs are not the same thing. The difference between the two is whether we wear God down with our lists or allow him to speak to us; whether, in the final analysis, we allow God to surprise us. These four ladies – as they contemplate their journey to Italy – aren’t focusing on the grand beauty and surprising joy that await them. No, they’re clawing at the edges of their dreary, boring, and loveless lives. In fact, they’ve made up their minds that they’ll each control as much of the villa and their time there as possible. Not only do they want their list of needs met, they know exactly how they want them met. What a shame that they’ve left no room for surprise, no room for beauty and joy and love! So – and I must ask this question – are most of us not in the same boat? Are we not so focused on our needs and how we want them met, that we’ve left no room for God to step in and surprise us? The truth of the matter is this: We’ve become so insulated, independent and self-sufficient that we’ve squeezed God and each other right out of the picture. At worst, we think, “Jesus is okay, as long as he meets my needs.” At best, we think, “Jesus, stand by until I need you.” Once our four ladies arrive at the Villa in Italy, they go about the business of staking out their territory and guarding it jealously. The walls of emotional protection are up in full force. There’s sneering, there’s building of barricades – literally! – and there are plenty of unspoken, nasty thoughts. It sounds like some days around here, doesn’t it! It wasn’t bound to last for long, though. Once the realization sets in with one of the four that they’ve landed themselves in a sort of heaven, she begins to change. As she contemplates the beauty of what she can only describe as heaven – the flowers, the sunshine, the azure blue of the sea, the singing of the birds – her heart begins to open. She undergoes a radical transformation of temperament and receives a willingness to share. She realizes – in her own way – what the Gospel commands of us: That we are to be light in the darkness and love to the unlovable. Within a day of arriving, this gentle soul drops her guard, takes on a saintly patience for her companions, and invites the partner of her loveless marriage to join her in Italy – all because she recognizes that ‘heaven’ has changed her and will change those around her. She insists on being patient as, one by one, they all watch her in her contemplation of beauty and joy. And, one by one, ‘heaven’ works on each of them as they are transformed – as they contemplate ‘heaven’s’ beauty and joy. As it is in this little villa, so it was in Cana of Galilee. Our Lord was born into the world of time and space – a world full of men and women as unchanging in their fallen human nature as he is steadfast in his love, beauty, and purity. In today’s Gospel lesson we see our Lord at a wedding feast. (By the way, I find it interesting that the beginning and ending of Jesus’ public ministry are both marked by a wedding feast. But more on that later.) We all know the story. In fact, we might know it a little too well. When we think we know things we miss the point, we overlook the beauty and the joy that are inherent. We’ve come to think of the happenings in Cana as being performed without any forethought – even done reluctantly and in haste – the only purpose being to save the reputation of the bridegroom. How little we know! How small our minds! How horribly attached to our lists of needs we must be to assume that our Lord’s only purpose was to re-supply wine for a wedding reception! But the picture changes radically when we allow ourselves to contemplate heaven, doesn’t it? We see the Lord of heaven and earth bringing forth beauty and joy as he surprises the servants, the steward, the bridegroom, and us! If the contemplation of beautiful flowers and sunshine in an Italian villa can radically transform a soul, how much more should the real transformation of water into wine jumpstart our own transformation? So let’s take a moment and contemplate the intervention of heaven into our world. Why turn water into wine? Why do it at a wedding feast? Come on, now, contemplate it with me! Look behind the words and our own neediness and see what’s really happening! Just as Jesus calls us to be salt that brings ‘flavor’ to the world around us – just as he calls us to be filled with the divine ‘flavor’ that was made bland and ordinary by human sin – so he takes the water that sustains ordinary human life and changes it into flavorful wine. And not only that, he does it in the context of a wedding feast – a feast celebrating the union of two becoming one. Now keep on contemplating with me! It’s no accident that Jesus does all of this at a wedding feast. We’re told in both Scripture and Tradition that when the body of Christ gathers to celebrate the Lord’s Supper it’s a foreshadowing of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb at the end of time – the consummation, if you will, of the marriage of the Church to her heavenly Groom. We’re also told in Scripture and Tradition that the first service of Holy Communion in the Church – the first foreshadowing of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb – takes place in the Upper Room as Jesus gives his precious Body and Blood to the disciples. Do you feel your eyes opening? Is there a feeling welling up in your souls reacting to this contemplation? I hope so, because there’s more to come. You see, the transformation of water into wine begun in Cana comes to its completion in the Upper Room when Jesus transforms the wine of the Passover meal – the Marriage Feast of the Lamb – into his most precious Blood. And that Blood is our new life in Christ. It’s the covenant of our forgiveness in him. Without it we are dead, ordinary, bland, and terminally self-centered. Without the precious Blood of Jesus – which we receive at every Mass, through the miracle that takes place in our midst – we’re utterly incapable of beauty and joy. Beneath the appearance of all that is ordinary, loathsome, and dreary is the hand of him who is extraordinary, beautiful, and loving. Beneath the appearance of water was wine; beneath the appearance of wine is the precious Blood of our Savior; and beneath the appearance of our desperate longings is the beauty, joy, and love of Jesus attempting to break through. Even beneath the appearance of punishment in this place is the grace of God’s love, transformation, and restoration. We have only to contemplate it, embrace it, and listen to it. How do I know this to be true? Because God has promised it. Speaking through the Prophet Isaiah, he tells us that he’s not going to rest until our contemplations are fruitful and his vision for us comes to pass. His relentless love is contemplating us as he makes this promise. He says: ‘For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch…You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed “Forsaken,” and your land shall no more be termed “Desolate;” but you shall be called “My Delight Is in Her,” and your land [shall be called] “Married”…’ (selected verses from Isaiah, chapter 62, RSV) Talk about a vision to be contemplated! And yet, Jesus takes this deepest of desires and shows it to us in what – we wrongly assume – is a simple little miracle. We’ve taken a miraculous sign from him and – because of our sinful neediness – we’ve turned it into nothing more than a last-minute trip to the local liquor store. Jesus’ purpose in all this is to awaken within us his truth. He desperately wants his Bride next to him. He wants her to see what she can be and to experience and share it to the fullest. Just like the lady at the villa whose contemplation of ‘heaven’ caused her eyes to be opened, her list of needs to be dropped, and her heart to be opened for sharing, so we who have contemplated this miracle of Jesus must be very vigilant against the smallness and ordinariness of life trespassing on the beauty and joy of Jesus. The Blessed Mother said, “Do whatever he tells you.” I couldn’t agree more! When you feel the weight of your list of needs growing; when you look around and see only dreariness and sadness; when you open your eyes and fail to see, take a moment and do what he tells you. Take a moment and remember the beauty and joy beneath your burdens. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Father Todd Boyce, Vicar The Fellowship of Saint Joseph Sunday, January 17, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Archived Homily: “Why? Because the Need Is so Great!”

Brothers, we’ve made it through another Christmas; we’ve witnessed the birth of our Savior, the coming of the Magi, and, today, we witness the Baptism of our Lord. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. Yet, even in the midst of that tiredness, I’m excited about today because – like the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity and the Feast of the Epiphany (the coming of the Magi) – there is a great truth to be shared in the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. My soul thrills at the thought of recounting not only the circumstances of our Lord’s baptism, but the reason for it. Mankind’s desperate need – our need for redemption, which is the restoration of hope, joy, love, and peace – is the sole reason that Jesus came to earth, born in human flesh, to suffer and die for us. And, if we pay attention closely, we can see him putting together the final pieces of his plan to meet our needs – we can actually watch as thousands of years of preparation come to completion in the birth and manifestation (revealing) of our Messiah. What we’re witnessing in Scripture today is not some isolated incident. It’s actually one more piece of the puzzle being placed in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. We readily understand the how the birth of Messiah plays into God’s plan of salvation; we easily grasp where the cross fits in and how the empty tomb punctuates the Good News. But we tend to forget – or gloss over – puzzling pieces like our Lord’s baptism. It’s almost easier to say, “Isn’t it nice that he did that? He took some time out of his busy schedule to show us what we ought to do when we join the Church.” But it’s so much more than that. It’s much more than a vague symbol or an indication of Church protocol and etiquette. It’s more than a grand, theatrical introduction of Jesus to the world. And it’s more than Jesus being obedient an obedient Son. There’s also something it’s not: It’s NOT Jesus – the sinless Lamb of God – seeking forgiveness for some secret sins. No, it’s the putting into place of a vital and necessary piece of God’s plan to meet mankind’s deepest needs. Because Jesus did what he did – by allowing John to baptize him – baptism itself became much more than a symbol of our sins being washed away. Because of our Lord’s baptism, our baptism became a REAL washing away of sins, a REAL lifting of burdens, and a REAL indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Without Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan there would be no way for us to die with Christ, and so be raised with him. Our Lord’s baptism anticipates his death and resurrection, and it applies the power of the cross and the empty tomb to the lives of those who are covered in that holy flood. So what, exactly, happened in Jesus’ baptism? If he didn’t need to have sins forgiven, then why was he baptized? The answer is both simple and profound: In the same way that Jesus took the Seder/Passover meal and fulfilled it’s meaning by feeding us his precious Body and Blood, so he took the waters of baptism and fulfilled them by imbuing them with his innocence and purity. In other words, because Jesus stepped into the Jordan and was baptized, he made the waters of baptism (the waters set aside or consecrated for use in baptism) for ever capable of washing away our sins. I’m so thankful that our Lord opened this door of grace for us. I’m so grateful that he took ordinary water and still makes it do something extraordinary. But I’m especially thankful that he saw our hurts and our longings and gave us a way to have our deepest needs met. You see, the baptism of John – before Jesus entered the Jordan – was just a symbol. John was preaching that God’s people needed to repent of their sins and be baptized as a way of showing their repentance – as a symbol of their repentance. The people who heard John preach were indeed convicted of their sins, but the door of God’s grace was still shut – that is, until Jesus showed up. People were asking themselves whether John might not be the Messiah, the Anointed One. John emphatically denied this and pointed to the Messiah who was coming – whose baptism would be not only with water, but with Holy Spirit and fire. But why the Holy Spirit and fire? Because fire refines and consumes, because fire represents the passionate desire of God to save his children and because fire is itself a symbol of the Holy Spirit who breathes new life into each believer during baptism. This combination of consecrated water, the flame of God’s love, and the Presence of the Holy Spirit is the grace of God that brings about forgiveness and new life in each believer. The crowds listening to John wanted – like so many today – to be freed from their past: From addictions, from condemnation, from bitterness, and a host of other things. But until Jesus put in place the missing puzzle piece, they were bound in oppression. Can’t you just see the picture? A crowd of people – a growing crowd wanting redemption; wanting hope and joy and love and peace – gathering round to hear this prophet of the Lord. And into their midst – as into our midst – walks Jesus. He already knows each of them by name and can recite everything about them. He looks at them – as he looks at us – and has compassion on them and allows himself to be baptized. Why? “To fulfill all righteousness.” What’s the righteousness that Jesus is talking about? Well, it’s the right ordering of human lives according to God’s plan. Among other things, it’s the free-flowing of his purity, love, and innocence into our hearts. It’s the filling of our deepest needs. It’s the healing of our souls. Over the past few weeks I’ve witnessed and heard more than I care to say. I’ve been asked to pray with and for a couple whose marriage is ending; I’ve been asked to tell people that a loved one has died; I’ve seen that horrible look of loneliness on the face of one who’s surrounded by people; I’ve seen the toll that a child’s illness is taking on his parents; and I’ve seen, again and again – as you do – that lost look on the faces of so many. These are the people for whom – if you will, the reasons why – Jesus did what he did. These are the people who need the hope, the joy, the love, and the peace that can only be found in Jesus – the same Jesus who applies the gift of salvation to our lives through his baptism. I know how they feel – these people who feel lost, alone, and desperate – maybe you do, too. I know that there’s only one way to meet their needs and ease their pain. It’s the same way my pain is eased and my needs are met: In Jesus. I thank him that the flood of his hope, joy, love, and peace overflow within me. I see him at work within me each day. I feel his proddings; I see his hints; I feel, from time to time, his rebuke. I want to rise up and shout the Good News. I want to do something to reach out to those who are in need. But this begs a question, doesn’t it? Since we are called to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” we surely have a role in the ongoing work of Jesus. If we’ve gained forgiveness and new life because of the Spirit’s work in our baptism; if our needs have been so splendidly met by our Lord, then what’s to keep us from sharing in his work? In a word: Ourselves. We get tied up in navel-gazing. We forget that it’s not always about us. We forget that – as baptized believers – we share in the ministry of Jesus. You see, Jesus also did what he did – allowing himself to be baptized – because he knew that his Spirit coming to live in each baptized believer would multiply his Presence in this world. Are we not the Body of Christ? Are we not his hands, his feet, his love, his tools of grace? If so, then it’s time we take much more seriously the meaning of our baptism into Christ. Because we’ve been made one with him, Jesus desires – even needs and expects – us to be in deep fellowship with him. That means prayer – especially the kind of prayer that focuses on listening to him. That means worship – the placing of our emphasis on him rather than us. And that means self-giving service to others – the kind of love in action that seeks out those who are in need and puts the priority on helping them. Dear Brothers, how is it with you today? Are you living out the truth of your baptism – the truth of your re-gained purity in Christ and your unity with him – in a way that gratefully demonstrates its full meaning to him and to his world? Are you progressing along the road of self-denial and genuine love? Are you increasingly aware of the needs of God’s children and how he wants you to join him in meeting those needs? Most importantly, are you growing in intimacy with our Lord? May God grant you the strength to ask and answer these questions, and to live in the blessing of your baptism. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Father Todd Boyce, Vicar The Fellowship of Saint Joseph Sunday, January 10, 2010 The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord