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AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING

I have been reading a good deal about the Elizabethan, Jacobean and early Caroline church recently. The clergy by and large were not a very literate lot and thus were under constant attack by the Puritans who wished for a more reformed Church of England, more biblical preaching and less “ritualism.” Few of the bishops were much better with some notable and splendid exceptions. The Puritans dreamed of a pure church, a gathered church. “Anglicans” inherited the ideal of a “parish” church which embraced the whole community. This vision, of parson and parishioners ready to serve all who will accept their ministry in the community, rather than the paradigm of a “membership” church remains at the heart of Anglican self-understanding although TEC has fairly recently opted to stress a denominational model and ironically more and more embraces the Puritan model of church ministering to adherents of a brand of religious thought, left, middle or right.

It is now understood, for instance, that Lancelot Andrewes began his defense of the church as opposed to the idea of gathered communities of true believers before Hooker wrote his seminal “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.” Andrewes believed that what really mattered was not that sermons were orthodox -many were not through bad training and ignorance – but that the Liturgy was daily celebrated with its essential round of lessons, feasts and fasts in the context of the Christian Year. Naturally he and the leaders of the “Anglican” Church wished for a better trained clergy. It would take two hundred and fifty years before the first seminaries emerged, first in America. Whether that experiment in an elite priesthood has been entirely successful is an open question!

It was in such a context that the Word was to be heard, read, marked and inwardly digested, rather than in sermons which often were rants on the same old subjects of predestination and election. “Revivalism” and the notion of individual conversion had not yet taken off as it were. When people hark back to the Edwardian and early Elizabethan church as a pattern for Evangelicalism, they often pick up the baggage of Victorian revivalism and Georgian evangelicalism on the way. Of course, as a wonderful preacher Andrewes did not discount preaching anymore than did George Herbert. But the emphasis was not that of the Puritans and sectarians.

It is in this vein that I have hope that while the Liturgy is daily, or at least weekly celebrated (not just the Eucharist) within the same round of lessons, feasts, fasts in the context of the Christian Year, God will not entirely remove the candlestick from our midst

A COMMENT ON "NEW CREED"

To my astonishment “Stand Firm” commented on my ditty entitled “New Creed.” I replied to the comment and link in these words:

I think what I want to say is that my comments on my friend’s list of popular mantras -if only I could say who he is! – isn’t the sort of blither that I find when discussing the faith with the parsons I meet around TEC in everyday life. That, I believe, is the injustice of the whole thing. TEC isn’t what some of its leadership and most vocal “sound byte” parsons, purple or not, would have the world believe it to be. It isn’t even that which its House of Bishops sound as if it well could be. The tragedy is that so many have been cowed by the suggestion that to oppose those who advance an odd religion is to be a bigot or a moral coward. The peddlers of the new religion have not won their battles by using cogent argument and logical deduction let alone Holy Scripture, but by serving a diet of sentimental twaddle and moral blandishment.

Yet if surveys are to be believed 70% of our communicants have no part or parcel in this agenda. They love their parish church and the name “Episcopal”, distrust the diocese, largely because dioceses are often run by purveyors of packaged programs which seldom work and of regulation upon regulation which have no basis in Canon Law – ask a search committee – and disown many of the policies of HQ. The term “815” is not often looked upon with devotion.

The tragedy is, as I say, that the faith and devotion of our parishioners, the ones who keep the doors open and pay the bills is discounted and the sound and fury of a small elite is judged by Anglicans abroad to be that which ordinary Episcopalians believe. It ain’t so, except perhaps in hot house parishes to be found largely on the East and West coast of this country.


A COMMENT ON "NEW CREED"

To my astonishment “Stand Firm” commented on my ditty entitled “New Creed.” I replied to the comment and link in these words:

I think what I want to say is that my comments on my friend’s list of popular mantras -if only I could say who he is! – isn’t the sort of blither that I find when discussing the faith with the parsons I meet around TEC in everyday life. That, I believe, is the injustice of the whole thing. TEC isn’t what some of its leadership and most vocal “sound byte” parsons, purple or not, would have the world believe it to be. It isn’t even that which its House of Bishops sound as if it well could be. The tragedy is that so many have been cowed by the suggestion that to oppose those who advance an odd religion is to be a bigot or a moral coward. The peddlers of the new religion have not won their battles by using cogent argument and logical deduction let alone Holy Scripture, but by serving a diet of sentimental twaddle and moral blandishment.

Yet if surveys are to be believed 70% of our communicants have no part or parcel in this agenda. They love their parish church and the name “Episcopal”, distrust the diocese, largely because dioceses are often run by purveyors of packaged programs which seldom work and of regulation upon regulation which have no basis in Canon Law – ask a search committee – and disown many of the policies of HQ. The term “815” is not often looked upon with devotion.

The tragedy is, as I say, that the faith and devotion of our parishioners, the ones who keep the doors open and pay the bills is discounted and the sound and fury of a small elite is judged by Anglicans abroad to be that which ordinary Episcopalians believe. It ain’t so, except perhaps in hot house parishes to be found largely on the East and West coast of this country.


SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN EPIPHANY

And now for something more serious. You may also read this sermon, as it was written for “Sermons that Work”, a service of the Episcopal Church. http://www.episcopalchurch.org/sermons_that_work.htm

January 13, 2008 – First Sunday After the Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord – Year A [RCL]

Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17


“Covenant” is an interesting word. Mind you Episcopalians hear so much about the “Baptismal Covenant” nowadays that it is in danger of becoming one of those pious slogans often used and seldom contemplated.

When The Book of Common Prayer was revised in the 1970s, some of the leading thinkers in our church were developing a new emphasis on baptism and its place in our faith. A new emphasis doesn’t mean something newly invented. In the sixteenth century some of our Anglican reformers who had spent time in exile in Switzerland eating chocolate and cheese and listening to a preacher called John Calvin came home and talked and preached a lot about Covenant. Anglicans were reminded that all are called into God’s new world.

Even then there was nothing new about it all. The Old and New Testaments are full of language about God’s agreement with human beings. Of course the word “testament” means “covenant” and the word “covenant” is something like our word “will.” The only difference is that God isn’t dead, and we still get to inherit. In a manner we can’t fathom, a manner that makes us gasp with mental pain, we know that Jesus sealed this covenant when he died on the cross “for our sins and for the sins of the whole world.”

Today’s gospel is about Jesus’ encounter with his cousin John the Baptist at the River Jordan. John would horrify our ushers if he turned up in church today. He wore a smelly old camel skin, didn’t cut his hair, probably only washed when he waded in the Jordan — more a stream than a river — and ate an extraordinary diet.

Even worse, John the Baptist was blunt. Yes, we all say that we like blunt people. No we don’t! We may know where we stand with them, but who wants to stand feeling guilty? John had been telling off every part of the community and urging them to “repent”; literally to turn around and walk in a new direction. He even told off the equivalent of bishops, priests, vestries and even General Convention. In the end, his bluntness cost him his head.

Jesus meets this wild-looking preacher at the river and asks to be baptized. John doesn’t want to do it. He knows that his cousin needs no baptism, doesn’t need to turn around. He knows that his cousin is “good.” The word “good” and “God” in English are closely associated. The translation is telling.

As Jesus is baptized a voice is heard by some, and they believe that they are hearing God, and God is acknowledging that Jesus is in a unique manner God’s son.

What has all this to do with a covenant? Probably all of you have been baptized. When water was poured on your heads, God adopted you. You are now children of God and heirs of God’s world, God’s kingdom.

On each of our foreheads there is an invisible sign, marked in holy oil, which signifies that we have been adopted by God and become members of Christ. In the Christian vocabulary, the word “member” doesn’t mean someone who joins, but rather, as St Paul reminds us, it means someone who is joined to Someone. Like the limbs and organs of a human body, we are joined to Jesus and to each other.

Being joined to Jesus in a sense means that we share in who Jesus is. Jesus is described as being, among other things, prophet, priest, and king.

The Covenant means then that first, because we are joined to Jesus, through baptism, we are to be members of a “prophetic” community. That doesn’t mean that we go around making up new things. A prophet is someone who says “This is what God says.” We learn what God says in the scriptures, and above all, as we seek to live as Jesus lived. We belong to a forgiving, loving, caring Jesus-community. Our job is to tell the world that God is love and God is forgiveness. Telling also means living, and living means being practical and demonstrating where we are what a loving, forgiving, caring community looks like.

The Covenant means that because we are joined to Jesus through baptism we are members of a “priestly” community. Priests represent people to God and represent God to people, normally in Jewish and Christian tradition in rituals and meals. As priests, we say to the world, “Here is God loving you through Jesus.” We say to God, “Here is the world yearning to be loved through Jesus.” In the Eucharist we bid those whom God loves to eat and drink with God and to receive God’s Son through the Spirit.

The Covenant means that because we are joined to Jesus through baptism, we are members of a “kingly” community. Kings, or at least good kings, rule the earth for God and for everyone. Jesus is the Good King. In Jesus we are to care for the earth, guard it from exploitation, and in Jesus we are to care for all beings, human and animal, and love and serve them sacrificially.

So that invisible mark on our forehead shows that we are Covenant people. Yet two other points must be remembered. Alone we cannot be or do any of these Covenant things. Alone we “err and stray.” We are to act like God’s people, and when we fail we are to repent and ask God to forgive us and renew us. Secondly, we need feeding if we are to grow in strength. If Baptism begins our Covenant life, in the Eucharist we receive Jesus into the very core and fiber of our beings as we dwell in Him and He dwells in us.

Inheritance is one thing, a very wonderful thing. God’s Covenant tells us that we have inherited God’s Word, God’s sacraments, and God’s world. Yet we must also listen to John the Baptist. Unlike Jesus, we have need to turn around and walk in God’s ways all the days of our lives. Only then will we receive the Baptismal Covenant with thanksgiving. So be it.

NEW CREED

A friend of mine, a priest who is also a blogger, by no means a traditionalist, made this comment to some of us yesterday after reviewing some of the blither posted to the Bishops/Deputies email list on the subject of the old adage, “Hate the sin and love the sinner”, a catch phrase which is no longer PC because it suggests that some may sin..

“I agree — the small number who hold influential
positions within the power-structure of TEC hierarchy have succeeded in
clouding the minds of many in the middle with the Kool-Aid of
pseudo-scholarly sentimentological nonsense that has constricted the
Episcopalian vocabulary to about six memes:

1. Inclusion
2. Celebrate
3. ‘living into’
4. ‘Baptismal Covenant’
5. prophetic
6. justice”

I must be honest and say that this is an expurgated version of the good priest’s comment, but you get the point.

One might express the above in the form of a new Creed or perhaps a new Anglican Covenant.

We believe in Inclusion, the first and foremost virtue as long as we do not include those who believe that the calling to be a Christian involves embracing a chaste lifestyle or that when we fall, we are to confess our sins, and seek absolution; outmoded and stigmatizing habits not to be countenanced in our Brave New World. We believe in including all religions in equality and suspend judgment about any elements in other religions which may be perhaps unfortunate, poor dears!

We intend to celebrate every cause that comes along as long as we don’t use the word “sin” or imply that anyone sins except for those who are branded by their refusal to accept our latitudinarian lifestyles. We intend to doubt every article of the Creeds and to accept every article of the belief-systems of other religious groups.

We proclaim that we are living into a new world in which the poor and the down trodden will become holy through the atoning offerings of MDGs and all jealousy, envy, hatred, malice and wickedness will no longer be recognized because none are PC.

We believe in the Baptismal Covenant that rite of the church which makes us all automatically good, moral, kind but please not holy. We believe that through this Covenant -see we do believe in Covenants – we are ushered into the tasteful upper middle class glory of Episcopalianism, a religion peculiar to the United States and not to be confused with Anglicanism or the Anglican Communion, a group of churches run by tyrannical and undemocratic prelates.

We believe in being prophetic by which we mean our right as ordained leaders to shout aloud or write books about anything which contradicts the experience, faith, doctrine, discipline and worship of Christians who came before, and particularly of the teachings contained in Holy Scripture.

We believe in justice the sum of all the law and the prophets which means we believe that every person is free to believe and do what their conscience tells them to do without interference from church or state. We do not believe in mercy unless we are the recipient.