Archive for the 'Liturgy' Category

The war on Halloween. Really?

October 31, 2014

I follow the headlines. Sometimes that is all I can take.Now is rather late in the game to find out that me and my Satanic buddies have been trying to destroy Halloween. Take it from me, getting rid of Christmas has been a full-time job. This is a shocker.

Just in case some of you still do not understand the Lynch humor, that first paragraph is intended in a sarcastic way. It is what is technically referred to as a “joke,” and I am going someplace with it.

Actually, Halloween has been in trouble for quite a while. In fact, the only real use it seems to serve in neopagan America is to mark the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. The biggest problem, of course, is the threat of poisoned candy. While this is nearly impossible, we are such hopeless frady-cats that children must be shielded from all possible risk. I am told that kids do not go freely from house to house. Things have changed a lot. It is a shame to lose such a fun and playful date.

The real enemy is November 1, but hardly anybody observes All Saints Day. This year the “red-letter” day falls on Sunday, but even liturgical churches like mine will probably not say a single collect or sing a verse of “For All the Saints.” They forget, if they ever knew.

UPDATE: I have erred and fallen short. Of course, All Saints Day is on November 1 which fell on Saturday. The Anglican church I attend did indeed recall the day on Sunday morning and even sang “For All the Saints” with the Gospel readings. I was wrong in fact and by failing to have sufficient faith in my fellow man.Mea culpa.

All Saints Day surpasses the modern idea of spirituality. On November 1, we remember flesh and blood humans, just like ourselves, who struggled with the forces of darkness. The day celebrates holy people who now stand in the blessed perfect light of the Triune God. There is nothing abstract about it. Real people in the presence of the Creator God The Church Triumphant.

Here is the Collect.

O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through* Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Robin Williams, suicide and Hell #robinwilliams #suicide

August 12, 2014

Two close friends have committed suicide, so this is no theoretical conversation to be conducted over cigars and Brandy. The wounds are still very raw. Knowing that I can never “recover” from another’s final act of desperation has taught me the depth of suffering that must be experienced by those who end their own lives.

Our society takes questions concerning life too lightly and suicide is generally seen as one more private decision for which each private and sovereign individual has exclusive responsibility. If that is the way you see it, no amount of argument is likely to prevail against so mighty a fortress. Before I give this to you straight, let me urge you to read every last word. This is no easy thing and I do not approach it lightly, nor in the spirit of judgment.

Suicide is a grave public sin. It is an offense against God’s generosity and an insult to those whom we should hold dear. According to the authoritative 1662 edition of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, those who have laid violent hands upon themselves are not to receive the public funeral service of the church which is due believers. Such persons are denied burial in a church graveyard. When I was in first grade (1956?), the parent of a fellow student died. There was never another word said, but I learned later that the secrecy surrounding this death was because it involved suicide. There was once a very strong public attitude opposing this awful act, but we have changed.

You are probably saying right now that you are mighty pleased that our attitudes are much more enlightened and that we are not bound by the cruelty of a previous time. You are, to some extent, correct in your understanding. Let’s walk through this and sort things out.

The Prayer Book editors were correct to put a high sanction against the taking of one’s own life. They did not know it all, however. There are real facts concerning mental illness that are known and understood. To sanction a formerly depressed member makes as much sense as punishing somebody for having diabetes. There is a pastoral issue at work here and things will get a little dicey. Somebody who is known by his clergyman to be under a doctor’s care, getting therapy or taking drugs is plainly ill and entitled to the public rites accorded to those who are joined to the Body of Christ. While that probably does not apply to Mr. Williams public profession (I am deliberately being excessively generous), It could. His medical situation certainly tells us that the decision-making process was not working correctly.

Murder-suicide is another area and you can probably imagine how one might want to escape responsibility for taking life. No person who has done such a thing should receive a funeral or burial by the church. How can one say that the departed is laid to rest “in sure and certain hope” of the resurrection, except that they do not believe the words in the first place. Let us be clear that a minister may conduct services designed to comfort family and friends of non-believers and those who have committed serious public sins, but they should not pretend that the deceased is a believer or commended “in sure and certain hope.” As the church enters a difficult phase, it is most necessary to publicly profess the apostolic faith and to maintain integrity.

No matter Robin Williams’ attitude toward God, the Lord above is full of grace and mercy. None of us are fit to judge another person.

Passing on the Faith: Anglicanism’s advantages

August 1, 2014

One of my projects involves providing parents the theological and cultural background to help young people fit into the increasingly unfriendly American scene. I have been involved in planning a number of very exciting Sunday school classes on the topic. Such gatherings seem to be deliberately designed to be anything but exciting and rarely useful, but this was the big exception. One thing that made the programs “work” was the inclusion of college students and those who have graduated within the past decade. They were great! There were also a number of “expert” speakers on psychology and culture. All the  presentations were relatively brief. You might try it at your church. I can help.

One thing did get left out, and this might not apply to your congregation. It is my belief that Anglicanism has a tradition and set of practices that makes it especially relevent to these darker times. Anglicanism as we know it from the middle 1500s has passed through a good deal of persecution and civil war. Sometimes, to our great shame, Anglicans have represented the heavy hand of oppression. Who do you think the Pilgrims were running from anyway? In the United States around 1790 what group would be more excluded than the Church of England?

Anglicans have kept a catholic liturgy alongside a Reformed theology. Anglicans have a sense of the essentials and can also recognize the “extras.” At least, thoughtful Anglicans have this capability. Our capacity for disagreement and “tension” is almost scandalous. Clear thinking Anglicans are in possession of the skills to nurture and spread the gospel in the good times as much as the bad. This is what I am trying to teach. One does not have to be grumpy or nostalgic to be a traditional Anglican. It only takes a little knowledge and the Holy Spirit’s leadership.

Virginia church may look Anglican, but it’s fully Baptist

August 1, 2014

Here is the story of a Baptist church plant that is both liturgical and sacramental. What do you think. Give it a read and make a comment. We’ll rap.

Virginia church may look Anglican, but it’s fully Baptist | Virtueonline – The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism.

The Sacred Page: God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day

May 28, 2014

Our Roman Catholic friends have some fine analysis of Ascension Day, which is properly celebrated on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter. Not many RC jurisdictions celebrate the correct day, moving it over to the following Sunday. Anglicans use the same readings which are discussed in detail on the Sacred Page blog.

The Sacred Page: God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day.

And, by the way, I double-dog date my Anglican clergy friends to read the traditional, and amazingly beautiful, Collect for the feast.

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

 

Christian life and the sacraments

May 5, 2014

A former vice-presidential candidate is in some trouble because of a comment that many have taken to be disrespectful of sacraments. Some have called the statement blasphemy, but that seems unlikely. It was in poor taste and disrespectful, both of which fall well inside the American understanding of permissible free speech. I am not worked up against the offending party and you can scroll immediately down to find out why. This is about a religious idea and not part of the wide world of vicious political attacks.

Those of us who attend churches with a “high” sacramental comprehension find that this outlook leaks into every aspect of our world. There is no need to call the plumber. It is a good thing. Many believers cringe at the word, apparently fearful that admitting to such things as sacraments might turn them into Roman Catholics. It is not a biblical word, but has to do with “mystery.” It is a “sure and certain” sign that God shows his favor toward believers. This gets pretty deep. Roman Catholics and some protestants (Anglicans and Lutherans, for example) do not quite agree on the finer points. God uses his stuff (bread and wine, or water) as symbols to show the good things he does.

This is foundational in worship that celebrates the Light of the World with candles, rising prayer with incense, and strengthening with oil. In Baptism, the believer is buried with Christ and rises with him. The old man is put to death and the new person rises from a watery symbolic grave. It’s in the Bible (Rm 6). In Communion, Christians are fed with the “bread of life.” We become one with Christ and he dwells in us.

The sacramental idea is that we live in a good world in the care of a good God. This is not a naive viewpoint. Sacramental Christians watch the 10 o’clock news and we know that things are a mess. God took on our human form to bring peace with man. Jesus lived in a real human body, had real friends and enemies, ate regular food, experienced pain, died a human death and ascended bodily into heaven. He is coming back to reign over this earth and his people are coming with him. That is the Christian hope.

In the meantime, the Church’s job is to preach the word of God and rightly administer the sacraments. This is a demonstration of God’s work in the world today. God deals with his people in his church and we do his work in the world by living out the gospel. Sacraments remind us of God’s generosity, so it is a little unnerving to hear them misused.

 

 

The rise of two saints and the demise of authority #JPII #JohnXXIII

April 27, 2014

Can this be me? Is it possible to be sticking up for the heavy-fisted oppressors of the meek. When that hamy hand falls hard, it hurts. When one is robbed of livelihood and reputation by the sinister forces that seem to control the means of survival, it is final. There is no human court of last resort. The wrongful verdict stands and the weak is brought low by the strong. The self-centered world of individual purgative is a garden of delights for the wealthy and well established, but lesser individuals just suck it up. That is why endorsing the notion of authority comes with all the comfort of a sudden leg cramp. This really hurts. One reason we hate authority is that it is so frequently abused.

For those of us who believe in the church, authority is an idea that is held up with the highest optimism. After all, the church is the body of Christ. It is his living presence in the world. Should the church not, therefore, behave itself with as much kindness as is possible when dealing with fallen humans? Should the church not be an example of justice properly understood and mercy for those who turn from evil? Instead, we find bishops devoted to covering up the criminal misdeeds of clerical child molesters. It is not just the Roman Catholics either. The female students at presumably orthodox evangelical schools are not safe from the lewd advances of professors, but these so-called Christian educators are secure from any hint of scandal. There will certainly be no real consequences for the sexually immoral instructors. And then there are the regular crooks and liars. Let us not forget the greedy! They all bring such shame upon the church.

God knows that the wheat grows amongst the tares until the day of judgment when angels will toss the bad ones into the flames of eternal damnation. The church is a very human organization. Sometimes, God must be completely speechless at what the disordered body parts of Christ are doing to his faithful people and the disrepute we bring upon him in society.

Much has already been said about the two newest arrivals in the heavenly court of officially designated saints. Perhaps they get smoking jackets and admission to an exclusive club. You know. It is something similar to the cool digs enjoyed by those who have several times hosted Saturday Night Live. These deceased bishops of Rome are probably good guys and deserve to be luxuriously rewarded. The question of the day is this; among all God’s people, could we have done better? Do John XXIII and John Paul II really set a fine example?

I am not a Roman Catholic and if you want to know what I think of the Church of Rome, check out the 39 Articles of Religion. Still, the Pope occupies an important role as the most important Christian in the western church. These two men have done a great deal of harm to the religious institutions. One may not believe in certain aspects of Roman doctrine (check the Articles!) but, darn it all, Christians need the Roman Catholic Church. Who else can muster an intellectual army that defines and defends our commonly held beliefs? There is no other similar international organization of believers.

John XXIII was wrong. There is no need to open the windows to worldly influences. The people of the church meet the world in everyday life and attests to the resurrection of Christ by the quality of their good works. The worship of the church is directed to the Almighty God who has made us all and became one of us so that we might be saved. Worship is about salvation. It has nothing whatever to do with how one feels, whether we enjoy the music, whether the sermon has satisfied the high standards of lay critics. The decline of Roman Catholic ceremonial is the first movement in the fall of Christianity.

Now, there is a distinction that must be made here. Ritual performed for its; own sake becomes mere entertainment and is meaningless. The Roman failure is not the use of ritual, but the inability or unwillingness to teach the meaning of liturgical worship. All of the little gestures mean something and have a historical context. Anglicans are equally as guilty of tearing down liturgical worship. Since Gregory Dix was an Anglican, my people may be more guilty. Dix took the liturgical movement forward into outright consumerism. The older rites of churches following ancient patterns were centered on the idea of salvation. The newer rites are centered on human experience of worship.

The concept of teaching authority is very much part of this conversation, first, because liturgy teaches theology and, second, liturgy reveals the dignity and respectability of the church. There is an unworldly quality to liturgy when it is correctly presented. This quality is what the world needs to approach the wicked influences that surround us. Liturgy is part of the active work of God on earth through the agency of the body of Christ. Genial John XXIII started the ball rolling on the destruction of his own ancient style of worship, and the subsequent harm done to the rest of Christianity.

And then there is JPII. He did much to change the world in a positive sense. Give him credit for going after the godless Commies. What a shame that his record is so marred by mediocre appointments and the criminal conspiracies to protect pedophiles. It may be that many will be thrilled by the elevation of these men, but no amount of spinning can conceal the sorry record of devaluing an essential expression of Christ’s presence.

 

“The Good Wife” and life’s sudden changes #goodwife

March 25, 2014

Among the many unwholesome habits that drag my soul down to the depths, television gluttony is near the top. It is a moral cesspool, and open sewer of depravity. If you have not pulled Sunday’s episode up for viewing, stop here. Major spoilers to follow.

There is HGTV, Hell’s Kitchen, Survivor, Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, and maybe next year it might be time for Chicago radio! Ah, but that was back in the day! The Good Wife seems to be culturally hip, even featuring an openly bi-sexual character. The mythical attorneys and their clients live in a make-believe world of privilege and power. The heroine, Alicia Floric played by Julianna Margulies, is constantly faced with personal reinvention and extreme multitasking.

The writers have put together plots which are often wrapped up in ways that we would not expect and the humans are very human. This part, it seems to me, is the most appealing aspect of the series. Nobody turns out to be completely good or bad. Just like in “real life,” they are all a misshapen fallen mix of various qualities.

The scenes around the break-up of Lockhart-Gardner are classic suspense. The scripts are typically fresh and devoid of cliché, and so it was with the demise of Will Gardner. From another court room, we hear shots, many shots, ring out as Will’s client faces his own uncertain future. It all comes down to a shoeless corpse in a draped area of a hospital emergency room. No matter that it was an expensive shoe and the corpse is impeccably attired for the day’s work. The perfectly tied knot would be the last knot for the named partner. The expensive shirt is now nothing but evidence. Life thrives brilliantly one moment and is ungraciously extinguished in the next.

The Book of Common Prayer petitions, “Make us, we beseech Thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of human life.” (1928, 316) While entirely fictional, Will Gardner’s life was certainly short, but he had no idea what uncertainty might await. A missing shoe says it all. Perhaps unknowingly, the writers have focused on an essential part of understanding our own lives. We are not in control.

Faithful Christians are reminded of the last four things; death, judgment, heaven and hell. Mr. Gardner, being the product of an active imagination, faces none of the above, but each is a sure future of our final encounter. Christians believe that there is a personal judgment immediately after death. If there is not an element of dread involved here, you have not been thinking about it.

If this were a moment for blowing dust of the volumes of books with page upon page of lined columns and each infraction noted with date, time, and place, each one of us would be damned. Ps. 130 cries out to God that, he he marks our inequities, no one can stand. God is not the head bookkeeper, unless you insist on it. Followers of Jesus depend on grace, that is God’s unearned favor. Judgment involves faithfulness in following Jesus. It is a measure of the required cross carrying. The judgment recorded in Matt 25 revolves solely around our recognition of Jesus in fellow human beings. Following Christ is not about rule keeping, but allowing our lives to be so completely altered that rules become unnecessary.

The Great Litany of the Anglican tradition pleads,

  From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death,
Good Lord, deliver us.
(1928, 54)

The Sacred Page: The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple: Thoughts on the Sunday Readings

January 31, 2014

Sunday is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Commonly Called The Purification of St. Mary the Virgin. In the traditional observance, this day has precedence over the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. Since probably neither of the two Anglican churches in Little Rock will be celebrating this liturgical event, you might well wonder, why bother?

Of course, it’s not a heaven-or-hell kind of thing, but the church calendar has a particular richness that instructs the believer in the Christian faith. It is the old Anglican idea of lex orandi, lex credendi. The law of prayer is the law of belief. This is one way liturgy teaches theology. It cannot go without saying that good liturgy teaches good theology, and poorly conceived liturgy teaches poorly conceived theology. My Roman Catholic neighbors do a better job of presenting liturgy.

John Bergsma over at the “Sacred Page” blog has a comprehensive commentary on the feast day. He is a Roman Catholic scholar, but his lengthy essay contains nothing offensive. The readings in the Roman Missal turn out to be the same as the traditional Anglican lectionary. Dr. Bergsma’s excellent piece does suffer from a small imperfection in the biblical citation of Luke 2:22. (A PhD theologian makes a typographical error! Thank you, Lord!) Read it all at the link below.

The Sacred Page: The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple: Thoughts on the Sunday Readings.

Epiphany 2014: Where will wise men find Christ today? #Epiphany #evangelical

January 7, 2014

We call them Magi, a term strongly suggestive of Magic. These were intellectuals and are presumed to have been interested in philosophy, astrology, astronomy, science and all the other things that occupied smart people of that era. They were from Persia (modern Iran) and that would make them pagans. The Magi of Matthew 2 are not holy men waiting for the Savior of Israel, but commonplace stargazers and secular experts. They did not chose God’s way, but the Eternal selected these individuals to make a long journey in search of the new King.

Commentators speculate that the trip from Iran took about six weeks and was made with a substantial number of servants and attendants. It was a big deal when these well-set foreigners showed up at Herod’s front door in Jerusalem looking for a King. The Romans appointed Herod to rule over Palestine, and this business about some newly arrived monarch was profoundly upsetting. This development had the potential to cause all sorts of unrest and was not the kind of information an ambitious and blood-thirsty tyrant would want to get back to the real bosses in Rome. That bunch does not play around with trouble-makers. Herod had good reason to take the arrival of Magi from the east with the greatest apprehension.

The wise men are said to have observed a star and connected that to the rise of a King. There are plenty of modern theories suggesting that the star of Bethlehem was some sort of natural occurrence, but that does not exactly seem to fit the New Testament account. The light described by biblical writers is said to have moved. Could it be that the star was a divine vision intended only for the Persian visitors? Either way, they came by faith in accordance with God’s leading.

The right thinking people did not have a clue. Angels did not appear and there were no heavenly vision for the religious leaders that counted out how many steps were permissible on the Sabbath, got everybody to tithe, and cleansed the land from idolatry. The religious authorities were probably good enough people who cared a little too much about the little details. Today, we might call them ritualists. They had a certain way of looking down the nose at certain classes of people. They hated the Romans, forgetting the need to love these obnoxious Gentiles so much and live out such grace in the worship of the true living God, that the occupying army would have been stricken in conscience and left the worship of useless idols.

The Magi came by faith. They came to see the rising King. Today, when the stranger from far away, the enemy, the atheist, the seeker, or the downtrodden social outsider comes looking for Jesus, what will they think of the church that claims to follow in his way? The church is the body of Christ. It is his physical presence among the people of all races and the critical observer of all social and political trends.

This raises a critical Epiphany season question. When the intellectuals and spiritual seekers of the world come looking for Jesus in his church, will they be guided by a bright shining light, or smoke.Will the church be healing the sick, reaching the poor, and declaring the good news? The good news of Jesus is the forgiveness of sins. That makes it possible for man to enter into a right relationship with the Triune God. When Christians present themselves to God as dead to sin and alive as instruments of righteousness (Rm 6:13), things begin to change.

The Old Testament foreshadows a time when the world will seek out the Divine. The visit of the Persian wise men marks the first stumbling step toward altering the rebellious course of humanity. In the church, we continue to invite lost humanity to the community of shared love, cross carrying and burden sharing. The lost are drawn to the church in the same way the Magi were summoned to Bethlehem. They followed the mysterious heavenly light. Modern people are equally led by a mystic star.

Jesus reminds Christians that, ““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, ESV).