Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Most Rev. Thomas Cranmer

Today is the commemoration of The Most Rev’d Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.  Archbishop Cranmer was the architect of the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), and thus the primary influence on all Anglican liturgies that followed.  His prose is still, though edited, found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (TEC), and the ordering of the daily offices, an effective combination of the Benedictine hours, remains the standard within the Communion.  Examples of Cranmerian prose may be found in the Prayer of Humble Access (BCP 337) and the Postcommunion Prayer (BCP 339 & 366).

This morning, in honor of Archbishop Cranmer, Amy and I prayed the daily office using the form in the Book of Common Prayer 1549 (it may be found online here).   

During the office, I was struck by the rubrics (printed instructions traditionally printed in red) that require the minister to say the Creed and Lord’s Prayer in a loud voice and in English.  In the era of its use, the liturgy was just being introduced in English, and many of the people had not been catechized in the basics of the faith.  It was good to read a reminder that a minister is to teach the faith (once delivered), and that liturgy is catechetical.

Now more on the Archbishop.

On this date in the year of Our Lord 1556, Mary I, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, burned him at the stake.  According to the official publication of The Episcopal Church (Holy Women, Holy Men), the primary reason for his death was his subscription to Lady Jane Grey’s claim to the English throne over Mary’s.  His reforming work seems to take second seat, thus grudgingly giving him a martyr’s death.  Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, describes his death as a martyr’s death at the stake.  His Grace was known in a time of weakness after his arrest and imprisonment (which lasted three years) to have made two recantations of his reformed positions, however, he recanted those recantations and this led to his burning.  During his final hearing, he stated:

Forasmuch as I am come to the end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life to come, either to live with my Master Christ for ever in joy, or else to be in pain for ever with wicked devils in hell, and I see before mine eyes presently either heaven ready to receive me, or else hell ready to swallow me up: I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith, without any colour or dissimulation; for now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have said or written in the past.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And I believe every word and sentence taught by our Saviour Jesus Christ, His apostles and prophets, in the New and Old Testament.

And now I come to the great thing, which so much troubleth my conscience, more than any thing that ever I did or said in my whole life, and that is the setting abroad of a writing contrary to the truth; which no here I renounce and refuse, as things written with my hand, contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death, and to save my life if it might be; and that is, all such bills and papers which I have written or signed with my hand since my degradation; wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished there-for; for, may I come to the fire it shall be burned first.

After he was taken to the stake:

And when the wood was kindled, and the fire began to burn near him, stretching out his arm, he put his right hand into the flame, which he held so steadfast and immovable (saving that once with the same hand he wiped his face), that all men might see his hand burned before his body was touched. His body did abide the burning with such steadfastness, that he seemed to move no more than the stake to which he was bound; his eyes were lifted up into heaven, and he repeated “his unworthy right hand,” so long as his voice would suffer him; and using often the words of Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” in the greatness of the flame, he gave up the ghost.

I have heard it argued that Archbishop Cranmer was a great political operative, schemer, opportunist, and survivor, and that while he was a leader of the Reformation in England, it was impossible to know where he really stood.  That may be true, but in the end, when it mattered most, His Grace , by the grace of God, found his courage, confessed the faith once delivered, and placed his trust solely in the Lord.  May we be given the same courage in the day of decision.

The Collect for Thomas Cranmer

Merciful God, through the work of Thomas Cranmer you renewed the worship of your Church by restoring the language of the people, and through his death you revealed your power in human weakness: Grant that by your grace we may always worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.         
(Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A word from Fleming Rutledge

An excellent rumination on the meaning of "Justification" in the Pauline Corpus.  Hie thee hence!

BTW I have seen the houses she mentions in the article.  Some are beautiful, some are wierd, and the project, like the Gospel is quite controversial.  Or at least, so the residents of the lower ninth told me.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Yesterday's Message

I wanted to post this yesterday, but was OBE (overtaken by events).  This was the reading from 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 from the Daily Office yesterday:   

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

It brought to mind the scandal of Christians and churches who sue each other.  What is the witness to the wider world that we offer when we go to the secular courts to redress our “wrongs”.  I am not talking here of criminal cases, but civil ones.  That term in itself is interesting, as I have yet to meet parties to a civil case who were actually civil to each other, but I digress.

In The Episcopal Church we are suing congregations, and dioceses, that have decided to opt out of our denomination.  Some have been asking for an accounting of how much money we have spent on these legal proceedings, and while no official document has been released, the consensus is that it is in the millions of dollars. Frankly, I find this to be an embarrassment.  Suing for property, why not rather be wronged?  That would have been a better witness to the world.  Besides, in a time of budget crunches, and I believe the proposed triennial budget forecasts further cuts (including youth and young adult ministries, is this wise stewardship?  Doesn’t it take funds away from mission, including the vaunted Millennium Development Goals that the Presiding Bishop called us to focus on during this Lent?  Could we not negotiate?

Lest one think I am not even handed, I ask the same question of those who departed.  How many millions have been spent in counter suits and responding to the current lawsuits?  How many churches could have been replanted, how many youth sent on mission, how many projects started to help brothers and sisters in the 2/3s world?  Why not rather be defrauded?

My guess is that old human problem, one of the seven deadlies, and a temptation for all of us, even me as I write this post:  PRIDE.

On another note, I often hear that The Episcopal Church is democratic, and then I turn around and hear we are hierarchical.  Which one is it?  Is democracy only at the General Convention level? Is it only at the Diocesan level?  Is it only for church governing elections?  How are we both?  If we are democratic in our governance, tell me why 51% majority at General Convention for anything trumps a 51% majority in the local congregation for affiliation?  If we are hierarchical, why do we vote at all?  Seriously, these are not “gotcha” questions, I am asking for help to discern the balance.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Curious Editing of Genesis

Yesterday, the Revised Common Lectionary expurgated several verses from the first reading.  In one sense, this is not unusual, as the Psalms are editorialized quite often in the RCL by leaving out verses.  However, over the next several months the only edit, meaning left out verses, that occurs in the RCL is on the Seventh Sunday of Easter.  All right, there is editing on the Great Vigil, but I think that is of a different order (think shortening for times’ sake).

Here is yesterday's reading from Genesis from the lectionary (17:1-7, 15-16):               
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Here are the missing verses (8-14):               
And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

On the whole, I am not a big fan of expurgating verses from the middle of a suggested text, and I am well aware of the argument that the lesson could be expanded ad infinitum. Yet that slippery slope would mean, in this case, reading the whole Abraham cycle.  So why was this editing done?

Before I tackle this question there a few thoughts on lectionaries I want to put on the table.

1.       A lectionary is systematic way of presenting readings for the liturgy that are, mostly, cohesive.

2.       A lectionary is never value neutral; it always has a theological point.

3.       The theological agenda of the lections supersede the textual division.

4.       Agendas are not always negative, but must be analyzed.

5.       Psalms in the lectionary have traditionally been edited for singing, not for agenda driven purposes.

6.       A surface study of the RCL indicates that edits occur mainly on verses concerning judgment and violence.  This also influences the editing of the Psalms.

7.       Liturgy is catechetical.

8.       Most of what the average Episcopalian knows of the Scriptures and their content is appropriated through the Sunday Liturgy.

So why this edit? I have several ideas. 

First this is an uncomfortable passage, and would make preaching on this text difficult.  Look at what is stated. We have the gift of land, which means that the current population will be dispossessed, and that gift will be held in perpetuity.  We have the “cutting” of the covenant in the flesh of the male members of the household.  Circumcision is never a pretty topic for a sermon, although for jokes it has ample use.  The topic of slavery is also found in this text. 

In short, for those who would pay attention, there are all sorts of issues in which we could be caught up, and these might make it difficult to listen to anything else in the liturgy.  I can respect this, and if this is the reason the verses were expurgated, I can understand.  However, since most of our people do not attend Bible study, or even read the bible at home, are we not doing them a disservice by trying to keep them safe from “hard” passages?  Do we not also dismiss their intelligence and ability to discern, or frankly adopt a patronizing attitude towards them, if the lectionary editors, “our betters”, make a decision of what we can handle, and what we cannot?  Are we that elitist? Would it not be better for folk to wrestle with the reading instead of trying to show that all is sweetness and light?  I believe that discerning people can read the bulletin and realize when the reference is listed that verses are missing.  That does communicate something, does it not?

Overall, I hope the reason for the edit is the above, as the second is not very attractive.  It is possible, that the edit was made because the lectionary elites have determined that the passage is of no current use to the church.  We do not circumcise, we are not concerned with the land, and we do not keep slaves (thankfully), so we leave out the verses as being remnants of the past.  Abraham’s covenant continues through the Church, yet these particular verses no longer have theological merit and weight.  If this is the reason, it is a dangerous slippery slope that leads to expurgating any verses a committee may determine past which we have evolved.  Both theological progressives and traditionalists should be concerned about that possibility.  Again, why should we not wrestle with these?

If none of the above is operational, I posit a third reason for the edit, that it is too prescriptive.  Yes, this is related to the first two, but I think it is more subtle and spiritually damaging.  It is also related to point six above.  I know that we have established in Christianity that circumcision is not the sign of the covenant among us Gentiles, yet in these verses; there is a direct behavioral response that is required of the individual to partake fully in the covenant community.  In other words, God requires something from us, and if we do not obey, we are cut off from the covenant community.  This is both acceptance and judgment.  While we, by our works, are not made a covenant people, by our lack of obedience we may be put out of the covenant.  As a culture, we do not like judgment.  That is true at least for ourselves, but we love to see it executed on others.  Could it be that the editors of the lectionary have fallen into the trap of what Bonheoffer called cheap grace, and therefore, these verses, which hold no such thing, are expunged from the reading?  I really hope one of the other possibilities is the reason for the edit.

What are your thoughts?

As I let this sit before posting, I found that The Underground Pewster has posted his thoughts on the edit from a layman’s perspective.  If you wish, hie thee hence, and see what you make of it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Quick Hits

1. Was yesterday really the last day of February?  It was 56 degrees and I prepped both motorcycles for the season.  In fact, since my day started later I was able to ride the Vulcan to the office.  Unfortunately, by 5PM the wind had picked up (a great cross-wind) and cold weather was returning.

2.  In order not to lose them from my mind, I will post two comments I made during our Lenten Study on Tuesday.  We are using The Eucharistic Life from the Center for the Eucharist.   "We do not confect the Eucharist, it confects us", and "We do not have to "get" the Eucharist (point to head) to "get" the Eucharist (point to heart)".

3. Remember our Lord's teaching in Matthew 25 about giving drink to the thirsty?  Our Lord may enjoin it, but the police do not.  A church in Metarie, LA was "cited" for passing out water to thirsty onlookers during the Mardi Gras parade.  It seems they did not have a permit.  Wait for it.... Yes, it appears that Jesus' commandment takes second place to bureaucracy.  Can't have renegade water giver outers can we now.  "From the detestable enormities....Good Lord, deliver us."

4.  I just got a mailing from 815 Second Ave, New York, NY (National Church Headquarters), The Episcopal Church, announcing the Good Friday Offering.  Every year the Good Friday Offering is supposed to be sent to The Episcopal Church to support the work of the Diocese of Jerusalem.  Every year.  Every year, every registered mission and parish receives a letter announcing the offering, the good things being done in Jerusalem and the Middle East, and stating that if we want more information, or envelopes, log onto The Episcopal Church website. Every year, every church, and we all have email right?  This year, we had two copies of the letter inside.  One in English. One in French.  French?  Yes, that seems to be the second largest language group in The Episcopal Church (read Haiti as the largest diocese), but not really useful here in Central Illinois.  Yet, why not Spanish, if we are truly inclusive on our languages?  Why two copies and not three?  Of course, all this at a time when the budget at 815 is significantly in the red.  This is great stewardship, but next time send us an email packet.  BTW, how about this for efficiency?  Ash Wednesday was last week.  The letter, um letters, came today.  Dated for Epiphany 2012.