Two Cheers for the Reformation!

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On a recent Sunday, we Celebrated the Feast of Christ the King.  But for many of our Christian neighbors it is known as ‘Reformation Sunday.’  What would such a designation mean to us, and to what extent would it be of value to us?  I am referring to more than simply liturgical style, since some of our readers pray in a way that seems to compel the question, while others do not.  For what it is worth, throughout much of Anglican history, our Church as a child of the Reformation was self-evident, but it is not so today.  Can we in our week-to-week Christian lives reclaim this legacy?  I want to offer two ways we can, and one aspect which makes this more problematic.

It is surprising for us to hear what worship was like in Europe just before the Reformation in the 16th  Century. The altars were hidden behind rood screens, the words of institution inaudible to most believers, the priests considered a breed apart (though people were aware, not least for satirists, that they didn’t deserve this!)  Worship accessible to all, the Scripture comprehensible in language:  all Churches nowadays, including the Romans, are children of the Reformation. Likewise the idea that we all have vocations, in church and the world, lay or ordained, derived too from the Reformation, is common currency.  An important aspect of our Book of Common Prayer is making the offices, Morning and Evening Prayer, available to all and not just to monks or priests.

I would call the second hurrah ‘seeing the forest for the trees.’  Luther and those who came after in the 16th  Century believe that the Church had always to grasp the nettle, to put the first thing first once again, to recall what Jesus called ‘the one thing needful.’ They were not the first to do this; such is a feature of all movements of renewal, including those before the 16th Century. The action of God ‘while we were yet sinners,’  called ‘grace’, which is alone sufficient to save us, is given the central place.  The Scriptures make this plain to anyone willing to listen, i.e. they are with respect to what matters most ‘clear.’  And the Church can have a good deal of latitude in ordering its life so long as it doesn’t lose sight of these (though it is always on the brink of doing just this).  This need to go ‘back to the source,’ to hear again the one thing needful is today shared by all Christians, however different their sense may be of how exactly to do the reclaiming.

 In these ways we should all rightly be sons and daughters of the Reformation. But in another we need to struggle against its legacy. We are too prone to settle into our own denominational ghetto, too prone to accept these differences as if they were competing franchises. We as Anglicans in particular, heedful of our divided history, have at our best made the search for the restoration to unity central to our identity.  In this way too, Reformation is our common legacy, but in this case as something to overcome (which incidentally the Reformers themselves realized).  May we bear all three features in this season.



King of Kings and Lord of Lords

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For Anglophiles and royal watchers, this is a good time of year. Not only is the “Downton Abbey” movie in theatres but “The Crown” series has returned to Netflix. I confess to being a fan. One story line common to both that comes up from time to time is the theme of “monarchism versus republicanism,” that is, the political movements that favor a king or queen as head of state as opposed to vesting sovereignty in the people. In short, it raises the question about who is in charge, who calls the shots, who makes decisions, the monarch or the people?

Choices about who is in charge have consequences. One of the clear statements of the early church was the slogan: “Jesus is Lord.” This was not only a religious proclamation but a political one as well, for if Jesus is Lord then Caesar is not. If one’s ultimate allegiance is to Christ, then Caesar is threatened, and Christian faith is considered treasonous.  But not only is Caesar intimidated, so too are our egos. It goes against our self-centered nature to give up control.

This coming Sunday, the last before Advent, is known in some quarters as “Christ the King” Sunday. The concept of sovereignty and royal language is utilized in the Collect for the Day: “Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule” (BCP 236). As we move into a new church year in preparation for the great feast of the Incarnation at Christmas, this might be a good time to ask ourselves who our sovereign truly is. Who or what calls the shots in our lives? Jesus reminds us that we cannot serve two masters, that we will “be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Choices must be made; loyalties checked and reoriented, but it is well worth it. Remember also these words of Jesus: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Who do you allow to be in charge of your life?


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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.