Archives: Proper 24

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!” Continue reading

Enlightenment: Alone and An Idiot On the Far Shore

Are you serious about your spiritual journey?

Do you really want to have a meaningful life?

What are you willing to go through in order to really be transformed? To learn to love?

“Who doesn’t want a meaningful life?” we might ask.

But even Jesus cautions us to think twice.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?,” Jesus asks in the Gospel of Luke. “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

Honestly, I think it’s probably better that we don’t really know how demanding and challenging the spiritual life is when we first start out, or else we might really think twice about pursuing it!

Do you remember the first time you started to think seriously about deeper things?

If you were raised in a faith tradition, it might have been in adolescence when you first started to say, “Wait a minute: how can Moses have written the first five books of the Bible if they tell how he dies?”

Or, “How could they have gotten two of literally every kind of creature on the ark? Did they get two gnats? Two mosquitos? Two flesh-eating bacteria? And what about the fish? The flood wouldn’t have bothered them at all, so are there a bunch of descendants of sinful, unredeemed fish and clams and stuff from Noah’s time who didn’t perish in the flood?”

These were the surface questions that started to trigger more meaningful ones, like “Who are these people we’re supposed to be emulating? What am I supposed to do with my life? And will the faith I’ve been taught really help me find out?”

If you were not raised in a faith tradition, it was probably one of two things that triggered your first existential crisis: a bad break-up or your first philosophy class in college. (The two have more in common than you’d think.)

You were either badly jilted and mourned your suddenly meaningless existence, or started reading Kant and Hegel in class and thought for a heady half-hour at a coffee shop with your friends that you were the first person to seriously consider moral relativism.

And then enjoyed looking down your nose at your poor, deluded, stodgy parents who just believed a bunch of out-of-date boring stuff. (Insert nostalgic sigh here.)

What I’m getting at is that a meaningful life requires some engagement of your spiritual self, and any spiritual path you take, if pursued with integrity and energy, will eventually take you some really tough places. Continue reading

The Pharisees’ Dwight Freeney Complex

Jesus is just in no mood to be trifled with in this Gospel.

He is a busy man and he does not have time to fool with a bunch of sneaky Pharisees who have a bad attitude.

You can just feel his frustration when he says, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?”

The Pharisees are a bunch of grown men, and more than that, they are religious professionals who presumably have duties to which they are supposed to be attending.

And yet they find time in their busy schedule to waylay Jesus in the street, an upstart rabble rouser who they’re really not supposed to be acknowledging, and try to trip him up verbally into either alienating his supporters or being arrested by the Romans.

It would be like if Dwight Freeney, all-star defensive end formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, saw a high school freshman quarterback at the mall and tried to sack him.

It’s overkill, it’s inappropriate and it’s just tacky. Continue reading

How to Be an Unjust Vessel of Grace

Our epistle today from 2 Timothy tells us that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”

That does sound like Paul, doesn’t it?  Bless his heart.

You can practically hear him harrumph at the end of that.  Paul can be a great theologian when he’s not getting too hung up on gender roles, but he does get a wee bit stuffy and uptight-sounding from time to time.

The word “inspired” comes from roots connected to the word “breath.”  The breath of God, the wind of the Holy Spirit, can blow through any verse of scripture and breathe new life into it, but it is up to us to open our hearts and minds to that inspiration by applying our holy gifts of creativity and imagination to these old stories that we have heard a thousand times before.

Take for example our gospel lesson, the story of the widow and the unjust judge that Luke tells us Jesus related to teach us about the need to pray always and not give up heart.

The widow convinces the unjust judge to change his mind and grant her justice because of her annoying persistence.

Whom do we usually cast in the role of the unjust judge?

God. Continue reading