1662: Costly Faith

In our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we’ve been journeying back in time together through the history of our Church with increasingly older editions of the Book of Common Prayer.

We tackled 1928 and 1789, and today we work our way through the 1662 edition of the Holy Eucharist in the Church of England.

The stories of the Tudor dynasty during the Reformation are well-known by most of us–Henry the VIII and his short-lived wives, Cranmer and Edward and Elizabeth, Luther and all the rest.

Heads were getting chopped off left and right, palace intrigue both political and sexual ruled the day, and it all makes for very good television for us now.

But what a lot of modern Americans don’t realize is that the events leading up to the prayerbook we’re using today, the 1662 edition, are equally dramatic and gory.

To understand this story, we have to remember that religion, politics and violence were virtually inseparable in this time and place.

During Elizabeth I’s reign, Via Media Anglicanism took solid hold with what is now called the Elizabethan Settlement.

Famously claiming that she did not seek windows into men’s souls, Elizabeth presided over an end to heresy laws, which allowed people more individual freedom of religious conscience than had ever existed before in England, all within a stable state Protestant Church, independent of Rome.

Many people longed for a return to Catholicism, the familiar faith of their forebears. But many others felt that Protestantism in England was lukewarm, and agitated for a far more Calvinist, Presbyterian, reformed Church of England.

Add in major conflicts over the role of the monarchy and whether its occupants were fit to lead and fair in their dealings with Parliament, and you have a recipe for violent armed conflict.

The English Civil War, which was actually a series of three wars, broke out in 1642 and raged until 1651.

King Charles I was ultimately tried and executed, and a Protectorate was formed under Oliver Cromwell.

Eventually the monarchy was restored, but never again with absolute rule. All subsequent monarchs would have to share power with Parliament.

During what’s called the Interregnum, the period between kings when Cromwell and his associates were in charge, the ultra-Protestants were in power.

These super-Protestants were called Puritans, whom you may remember from Thanksgiving pageants at school.

The Puritans considered the Church of England to be far too Catholic, and that’s where we get our connection to the prayerbook.

While the Puritans ruled, as you may have read in the front of your bulletin, use of the Book of Common Prayer was illegal.

You would be fined 5 pounds the first time you were caught using it, 10 pounds the second time, and the third offense could result in a year in prison.

As everyone I’ve told about this this week has said, “Wow! That escalated quickly!”

This was happening right around the 100 year anniversary of Cranmer’s first 1549 Book of Common Prayer.

Cranmer had been martyred because he so firmly believed in the faith he was building with his fellow reformers, and in that 100 years, his prayerbook had already become the words of the heart to many English believers.

And we obviously love it today, as we’re taking an entire month to examine its history in our worship together.

But would we go to jail for it? Would we die for it like Cranmer and others did?

And remember, they weren’t risking life and liberty out of idolatry for a book.

They were willing to sacrifice themselves because the prayerbook was a symbol of their most deeply held beliefs.

The prayerbook was the trigger for the fine or jail or execution, but they were actually being punished for their faith. And many, many of them bore the punishments with astonishing courage.

Would we be willing to do the same?

We are so profoundly privileged to live in a time and place where we’re not undergoing violent religious persecution, and that’s not the case for others around the world, and sometimes for members of minority faiths in our own country.

What would we do if we were asked to count the cost of our faith?

Because we do have a costly faith and a costly salvation.

It cost the very life of our Savior Jesus Christ for us to once and for all believe that we are loved by God.

Remember that the crucifixion was not necessary to change God’s mind about us, it was necessary to change our mind about God.

And what it is all too easy for us to stumble into in our own immense privilege is a loss of the sense of the costliness of faith.

This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”

What does our faith demand of us?

What are we willing to give to show where we stand?

The people who prayed using the prayerbook we’re sharing today were willing to give up their money, their freedom, and their lives. Would we do the same?

What may surprise you is that we actually are being asked to give up our money, our freedom and our lives, albeit in very different ways than our ancestors.

We’re being asked to give up our money right now in our Annual Fund Campaign.

The 17th century Anglicans were asked if they were willing to pay for their choice to use the Book of Common Prayer.

We’re being asked if we’re willing to pay for our choice to expand and amplify the ministry we’re doing together in this community.

We are being asked to give up our freedom as well.

The 17th century Anglicans were asked if they were willing to go to jail for how they prayed.

We’re being asked if we’re willing to accept the curtailing of freedom that goes with being in Christian community.

We’re not free and independent agents if we’re committed Christians. We give up some of our choices and our free will for the sake of our own spiritual development, and for the health of our church.

We freely choose to not let our tempers, our greed, our small-mindedness and our fear run rampant. We voluntarily accept strictures on our impulses and give up a little freedom because we know it will help us to grow in love.

And our lives. The greatest and most important sacrifice of all.

The Reformation-era Anglicans were asked if they would give their lives for their faith.

We’re actually being asked the same question.

No one is going to haul us off to the executioner’s block, but God is asking us every day: do you trust me with your whole life? Do you give yourself entirely to my care and guidance?

Is the whole of the Body of Christ more important to you than your own personal agenda?

Jesus gave his life for you. Will you give your life to him?

It’s the universal question of discipleship, and we have to answer it in as literal a sense as any of our ancestors in faith.

I want you to think about the costliness of faith this week, particularly as you ponder the connection between the historic liturgies project and our Annual Fund Campaign.

It’s all too easy at this time of year for our conversation to focus entirely on the details of the budget or tired old clichés around stewardship.

And although the numbers of the business of the church are important and valuable, they mean nothing without the real spiritual meaning of our giving.

Financial giving to the church is about something far higher. It is about identity. It is our opportunity to stand up and be counted, to bear some of the literal cost of being in a community of faith.

What I want to emphasize here is that giving out of guilt, shame, scarcity or even duty is a false path.

When I talk about how brave our ancestors were in the cost of faith, I don’t want you to hear that as a shaming of you if you don’t increase your pledge this year.

Rather, I want you to hear it as an opportunity to stand with these ancestors by courageously giving of your money, your freedom and your life with the conviction and joy that they had.

This isn’t about preserving an institution. We’re not talking about this to keep the doors of St. Francis In-The-Fields Episcopal Church open, the lights on and the heating bill paid.

If I thought that were the only motivation for our Annual Fund Campaign, Father Davies would already have my resignation letter on his desk.

I think I can speak for him as well when I say that we’re here talking with you about giving because we know it is a call to something higher.

Financial giving is tied to our spiritual journey in profound ways.

In fact, if you are considering increasing your pledge this year out of fear, scarcity, guilt, or shame, I want you to tear up your pledge card.

I only want to you increase your giving to the church if you understand that we are doing this together out of bravery, thanksgiving, and joy.

And we’re doing it because we know it will deepen our faith and our love and our chance to pour ourselves out to the world in need. Any other motivation lacks integrity.

Jesus says in our gospel text today, “Give to God what is God’s.”

And the three things we hold most dear—our money, our freedom, and our lives—are being asked of us in profound and literal ways because we’ve chosen to be Christians.

So what will we do?

We’ve prayed all month in the words of the saints who came before us.

And I see our journey through history and the sacrifices of our Anglican forebears as a deeply necessary reminder that the stakes of the spiritual life are actually very, very high.

Because we get uncomfortable talking about money and voluntary restrictions on our freedom in church, we can be guilty of trivializing all of it to lessen the intensity.

And that is a deep disservice to the people who were willing to die so that we could inherit the beautiful faith we try to live out today.

Remember that old line from bank hold-ups in movies? “Your money or your life.”

It’s actually, “Your money and your life,” or rather, “Your money, your freedom, and your life.”

There is nothing more important in the world than whether or not we, we as individuals and we as community, learn to love.

And learning to love costs.

Do you say yes to the cost?




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