June 28, 2015

God has never been still...

Proper 8, Year B, RCL
June 28, 2015
On the occasion of using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer at Christ Church, New Bern

We find ourselves in a different place today than we did last week. And a different place than we will be a week from now. That’s Ok. Because God does not call us to be still or to stay in one place. We are taking a trip in the way-back machine today to celebrate our worship from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which was the official Prayer Book of Christ Church from her founding in 1715 until just after the American Revolution. You may have noticed a few things that are different from how we are used to worship:
·         I started at the altar, not in my usual seat.
·         We said the Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of the service. We will say it again in a more familiar location later, but that notion of leading with the Lord’s Prayer is a good way of opening our eyes to the differences!
·         We have already had the welcome and announcements, as well as the Creed. These are pieces that usually follow the sermon, but under the order of worship in 1662, they came before.
·         We will say the Gloria at the end of the liturgy instead of at the beginning.
·         You’ll notice in a few moments that the Prayers of the People are shorter than we are used to hearing. They are said by the priest as a prelude to the Prayer of Consecration over the bread and wine. The words may sound very familiar, especially if you regularly attend a Rite I service.
·         The Prayer of Consecration will sound a little different as well, but I’ll get to the how and why on that in just a minute.
Among the several ways that we are breaking with a “traditional” 1662 liturgy is that we decided to use electricity. We thought burning candles would make it a little warmer than necessary, especially if we aren’t using the A/C.  And of course, when this service was being used at Christ Church, it is highly unlikely that lay people would have read any of the Scripture or assisted with the chalice. And you can bet your bottom dollar that it wouldn’t have been two women serving at the altar!
Using this liturgy today is a great reminder that God is not stagnant. God may be unchanging and unchanged, but God is never still. God is always moving. We have certainly come a long way in the 300+ years since its introduction. And yet, we have never lost sight of our roots, of being grounded in Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, of our top priority of being a place where people come to know the Risen Christ through liturgy and worship.
Let me give you a quick history of how we have traveled the over 450 years since the first Anglican Prayer Bookin 1549. (And forgive me if I leave out your favorite detail or I miss a date along the way. My research time was drastically cut this week…)
The first Anglican Prayer Book, authorized by the still-forming Church of England, was in 1549. It was rather hastily put together, drawing on several other Reformation-era liturgies in Germany, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe that were breaking away from Rome.  There was an edict from the King, a guy you may have heard of named Henry VIII, called the Act of Uniformity, declaring that any and all clergy in the Realm of England must use the Book of Common Prayer no later than Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 1549. As this first prayer book was coming off the presses and being assembled, Thomas Cranmer was already working on the revisions. About three years later, another Act of Uniformity was issued, this time, calling on all clergy and parishes to be using the “new” Book of Common Prayer no later than All Saints’ Sunday of 1552. The changes were subtle yet distinct. There was clarity of teaching around Baptism and Confirmation as well as some distinctions around serving communion and who could and couldn’t receive it.  Marion Hatchett, former liturgy professor at Sewanee and the man who wrote the commentary on the current prayer book, said, “Generally, it made explicit what had been implicit in the 1549 version.”  I would venture to say that the revision from the 1549 to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer may be the only one that did not bring about panic or the wringing of hands in the ranks of the faithful.  Time moved on and people got used. England was still a bit of tumultuous place, but that’s another story for another time. There were some slight revisions in a 1604 Book of Common Prayer, mainly to appease the Puritans, whose numbers and influence were growing in England at the time.
The Book of Common Prayer took a little hiatus in 1645, which is really a nice way of saying that the political situation in England was such that the book was banned from use and replaced by something called the “Directory for the Publique Worship of God.”  As Shakespeare would say, though, “A rose by any other name…”
The English Monarchy was restored in 1660, and a new Book of Common Prayer was introduced two years later. It is still the official source of the liturgy in much of the Church of England and the commonwealth nations although many of them have published other Prayer Books.
We fast-forward to the European settlement in what is now the United States of America. One of the ways the English kept their colonies in check was by sending priests (usually ones who had misbehaved in some way, i.e. John and Charles Wesley) but never ever sending a bishop. See, a Bishop could ordain more priests and thereby promote the independence of the colonies. So when the American Revolution broke out in 1776, Anglican Churches, like Christ Church New Bern, were suddenly without support and often without clergy. In order to be ordained in the Church of England you had to sign an oath of allegiance to the Crown. (And you still do if you’re going to be ordained over there!) So most Anglican clergy in the US during that time either went back to England or went to Canada or went into hiding. But God was not still in all those years. Those that were left got together in Philadelphia in 1785 to work on the forming of a new church. The first order of business was to figure out how to get a bishop. They elected a priest named Samuel Seabury from Connecticut to be consecrated a Bishop. I think actually Sam Seabury drew the short end of the stick to have to travel back across the ocean to beg for someone to ordain him. Remember that part about signing an oath to the Crown? Any bishop in England would have been guilty of treason for ordaining someone who didn’t sign that oath. So, and here’s where it gets a little dicey, Seabury went to Scotland, where they had some bishops who were more than happy to make Bishop for America, especially if that meant sticking to the English! But before the Scots would make Seabury a bishop, he had to agree to something kind of radical: He had to include the Holy Spirit in the Prayer of Consecration at the Eucharist. Now, there are some mixed tales about how Seabury actually felt about this, but for the most part, he said, “Great. Let’s do this thing.” He didn’t have time (nor the inclination, I’m guessing!) to go back to the States and confer with the other clergy. So he’s made a bishop, he sets sail for Connecticut and proceeds to work with other clergy on writing a Book of Common Prayer for the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America. And in that Prayer Book, we call upon the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify the gifts of bread and wine. Up to this point in the Anglican tradition, they simply gave thanks for the bread and wine as a memorial to Christ. Now, we actually called up on the Holy Spirit to remind worshipers of Christ’s presence in Communion. See, God was moving then, changing us and changing how we worship. The first Prayer Book was launched in 1786 and was horribly received, so its more famous successor, the 1789 Prayer Book, is widely held as the first American Prayer Book. The have been three other revisions to the American Prayer Book since 1789. In each of those revisions was the recognition that our understanding of God and who God is and how God acts in the world was changing. That doesn’t mean that when the 1892 Prayer Book was published there weren’t people clamoring for the good old days of the 1789. And when the 1928 Prayer Book came out 26 years later, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. I mean, the 1928 Prayer Book calls for “expediency of worship.” I’m sure you can imagine the debate that raged around that statement! Many long-time Episcopalians remember, often with heartburn and angst, the issues surrounding the introduction of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (someone just this week told me it would always be “the new Prayer Book” to them). If any moment in our Episcopal history shows us how God is always moving, it is with the radical shift of theology that came from with the 1979 Prayer Book. Eucharist was to become the norm for weekly worship, not Morning Prayer. We’ve done pretty well with that one. Baptism of adults, not infants, became the norm, too, but we haven’t done so well on that front. Instead of just re-introducing a woman to the parish after childbirth, we actually had prayers for the child as well, and added some prayers for the adoption of a child, too. Eucharistic Prayer C is a personal favorite, but I will be the first to acknowledge that it is possibly the furthest branch from the root that is the 1662 Prayer Book.  
I could (and I might) do a whole teaching series on the changes in the Anglican/Episcopal Prayer Books over the past 450+ years. I think that we find a couple of common threads. The first is that for human beings, even though we are formed in the image of God, change can be hard. Change can mean that what we grew up with is no longer the same; what was dear to us may no longer be there or looks and feels and sounds very different. For some of us, that change can be more than hard; it can be downright painful. The second thread we’d find is that God has been at work in all of these changes. It may have been difficult to see, or we may have been blind to how God was at work, but God was and continues to be there.  Since the dawn of creation, God has never been still. God continues to be revealed to us in new and fresh ways. The church has not always been able to see that as quickly as we probably should in no small part because we become more concerned about preserving the institution than we do about seeing and proclaiming how God is at work in the world. The good news is that the Church has figured out that we should admit to the mistakes we have made. God allows us to grow from those mistakes, especially the ones for which are brave enough to publicly repent. There was no clearer sign of that blessing than yesterday in Salt Lake City, Utah, where the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is gathered. In the latter part of the 1700s and early part of the 1800s, The Episcopal Church at best was silent on the issue of slavery because it was a secular matter, and we didn’t need to be messing those issues. At worst, our bishops and priests endorsed slavery, telling slaves that through Baptism, they were given freedom through Christ, and so they need not worry about their freedom in this world. That’s not to discount the vast number of churches and clergy later in the 1800s who helped facilitate the Underground Railroad and who preached from pulpits just like this one that slavery was an institution that needed to be ridded from our shores. In 2008, The Episcopal Church held a very public repentance of our complacency and our contributions to slavery in this country. It was met with a wide array of responses, of course, from “why do we need to bother with this?” to “what took you so long?” But we admitted that we had not been  open to how God was moving in our hearts and in our lives.  Yesterday, the House of Bishops overwhelmingly elected on the first ballot the Rt. Rev.Michael Curry to be the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Curry’s ancestors worked in the fields of North Carolina as slaves.
If there is anything to be learned from our history, especially, in how we worship, it’s that God is always moving and never still. I hope and pray that we will never lose sight of that.

Commentary on the American Prayer Book by Marion J. Hatchett (HarperOne, ISBN-13: 978-0060635541)
The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0195297621)

June 21, 2015

David wasn't an underdog, and Goliath still exists

Sunday, June 21, 2015
Proper 7, Year B, RCL

With thanks to Malcolm Gladwell.
In Memorium to Emmanuel AME in Charleston, SC.

Every time I hear that phrase, I think it should be said in a Howard Cosell kind of voice. I would venture to say that it's one of the most common Biblical phrases uttered in a secular setting. In the modern era, we tend to use it more with political show-downs or sports match-ups. Usually, of course, the Goliath in question comes out victorious. The last notable win by a "David" was in the 2014 Men's NCAA Basketball tournament when the mighty Blue Devils of Duke were felled by the Bears of tiny Mercer University. There was pandemonium and joy for about 48 hours in Macon, GA, until their next game when they got beat (by Tennessee!).
There is something about an underdog that we love, isn't there. Maybe it's part f our American story. Maybe it's because we see the underdog as giving each of us hope, encouragement.
Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist and best-selling author. His latest book is called David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Part of his premise is that we have completely misjudged  the David and Goliath story from 1 Samuel all these years. He gave a lecture on this subject a couple of years ago as the book was about to come out. In it, he says...
Well, let's start there with the phrase "All David has is this sling," because that's the first mistake that we make. In ancient warfare, there are three kinds of warriors. There's cavalry, men on horseback and with chariots. There's heavy infantry, which are foot soldiers, armed foot soldiers with swords and shields and some kind of armor. And there's artillery, and artillery are archers, but, more importantly, slingers. And a slinger is someone who has a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and they put a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball, inside the pouch, and they whirl it around like this and they let one of the cords go, and the effect is to send the projectile forward towards its target. That's what David has, and it's important to understand that that sling is not a slingshot. It's not this, right? It's not a child's toy. It's in fact an incredibly devastating weapon. When David rolls it around like this, he's turning the sling around probably at six or seven revolutions per second, and that means that when the rock is released, it's going forward really fast, probably 35 meters per second. That's substantially faster than a baseball thrown by even the finest of baseball pitchers. More than that, the stones in the Valley of Elah were not normal rocks. They were barium sulphate, which are rocks twice the density of normal stones. If you do the calculations on the ballistics, on the stopping power of the rock fired from David's sling, it's roughly equal to the stopping power of a [.45 caliber] handgun. This is an incredibly devastating weapon. Accuracy, we know from historical records that slingers -- experienced slingers could hit and maim or even kill a target at distances of up to 200 yards. From medieval tapestries, we know that slingers were capable of hitting birds in flight. They were incredibly accurate. When David lines up -- and he's not 200 yards away from Goliath, he's quite close to Goliath -- when he lines up and fires that thing at Goliath, he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most vulnerable spot between his eyes. If you go back over the history of ancient warfare, you will find time and time again that slingers were the decisive factor against infantry in one kind of battle or another. So what's Goliath? He's heavy infantry, and his expectation when he challenges the Israelites to a duel is that he's going to be fighting another heavy infantryman. When he says, "Come to me that I might feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field," the key phrase is "Come to me." Come up to me because we're going to fight, hand to hand, like this. Saul has the same expectation. David says, "I want to fight Goliath," and Saul tries to give him his armor, because Saul is thinking, "Oh, when you say 'fight Goliath,' you mean 'fight him in hand-to-hand combat,' infantry on infantry." But David has absolutely no expectation. He's not going to fight him that way. Why would he? He's a shepherd. He's spent his entire career using a sling to defend his flock against lions and wolves. That's where his strength lies. So here he is, this shepherd, experienced in the use of a devastating weapon, up against this lumbering giant weighed down by a hundred pounds of armor and these incredibly heavy weapons that are useful only in short-range combat. Goliath is a sitting duck. He doesn't have a chance. So why do we keep calling David an underdog, and why do we keep referring to his victory as improbable? (http://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_the_unheard_story_of_david_and_goliath)
So why do we keep calling David an underdog? Last week's lesson on David, the won where Samuel anointed David, the youngest of his brothers, as the next king over Israel, reminds us that it is God's selection, not seniority or rank, that makes the most difference to God. Israel wanted, and got, a king so they could be like other nations. Now, God has broken with human tradition and expectation and chosen (again!) the youngest to become the greatest. in this subtle way, God is reminding Israel that they are indeed not like other nations, that they are chosen and set apart.

In a similar way, when David takes down Goliath, God is reminding Israel that their fear and trembling in a time of crisis is not helpful; their faith in God is. If we read the story closely, David never has any doubt that he would defeat the giant. It is certainly the winners who get to write history and we don't know the emotions that were running through this scene, but this amazing show of faith and courage reminds both ancient Israel and 21st Century New Bern what is possible if we truly believe that God is with us, and that God has given us talents beyond our wildest imagination. David, having been anointed and full of the spirit of God, knew that God had given him a talent no one, let alone Goliath, would have expected.

Israel trembled in fear for 40 days, Scripture tells us, because they tried to fight like they were Philistines. They were smaller, less-equipped, and less-funded. And clearly less faithful. But David comes along and he rejects Saul's armor, not only because it didn't fit him, but because it wasn't who he was. He was a shepherd, not a warrior. He faced Goliath the only way he knew how: by using the talents God had given him.

This past week, nearly 70 children (and a small army of volunteers!) experienced Vacation Bible School, starting and ending each day in this very space. The theme was Everest, and they talked about conquering life's biggest challenges with the help of God, and that God has the power to comfort, heal, provide, forgive and love. With those things, we are equipped by God to face any mountain or giant that may be in our path.

There is a Goliath in our culture that we don't seem willing to have an honest conversation about, an Everest that we seem unwilling to attempt to climb. We saw the wretched sin of racism rise up and taunt us this week. Only, instead of being on the other side of the valley, it marched into a church and claimed nine innocent lives, reminding us that it is as much a sin of the present as it is a sin of the past.

We, as a community of followers of Jesus Christ, just like those at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, we have a chance to show our faithfulness in God, just like David, to help us defeat this giant. If we truly believe that God is as powerful as we say, and if we truly believe that God equips us with things around us, just like David, to take down the Goliaths in our midst, then we will do it. And if we believe that we are on God's side in all of that , then we are never, ever, ever, underdogs, and we will always slay the giant.