The Prophets as Lenten Guides

I am helping with a catechetical project, one of whose topics, ‘the prophets,’ fell into my basket. To jog my memory I read The Message of the Prophets by Gerhard von Rad (which, by the way, is an excellent book). While I didn’t set out to read it as a Lenten spiritual discipline, it turned out to be that! 

We come up against things over which we have no control, and we resist! It frustrates us, especially that particularly American part of us which would make a plan to set about changing whatever needs to be fixed. But sometimes it can’t be fixed. Sometimes you can’t get there from here. Sometimes there is nothing for it but to wait, of which charism some of us have a short supply.  Reality proves recalcitrant, and. It is then our inner selves with which we have then to come to terms.

At the heart of the prophetic message to the exiles was this: God’s arm may to some seem short, and others may wonder where He has gotten to. But in fact He is the Lord of a far wider expanse than you and I can imagine. He reigns over all nations and all history, and He has placed us where we find ourselves, particularly in its frustrations and intransigences, to be his witnesses. The synagogue of the people of God is in a neighborhood of Babylon, since He stakes His claim of Lordship there too. There we are to plant vineyards, to marry and to be given in marriage. Exile is where we learn how vast His Lordship is! He has the power to make us grateful for the constrictions within which we hear this expansive Word.

Secondly, the particular profile of the prophets is to announce that God is doing a new thing! The old has worn out and proved futile. But this new thing God is doing follows the very shape and purpose of His promise of old. For God the radically new is His making good on His promise of old. For us the two are opposites, but not so for Him. The exodus to freedom, the law that frees, the atonement for sin, the dry bones come to life: in Jesus all these receive their ‘Yes.’

Finally, what is required of us: to be witnesses, watchmen, disciples of His Word, ‘near to you, in your mouth and in your heart.’  Where being a watchman may lead you cannot tell, nor I, but it is our imperative, enough and more than enough. It is what Christ puts in your hand, today, as Luther liked to say. Then you and I can exercise our prophetic ministry, wherein, confined though we be, we can confess that ‘Jesus is Lord.’



Anglo-Catholic Missions in Africa and Why they Matter


I had the pleasure of offering a presentation on this topic last week at the historic Church of the Advent in Boston. Here I will give you a precis of the talk. This is valuable not least because of the strong Anglo-Catholic history of our own diocese.

  1. We think of the high church movement pertaining to liturgical, spiritual and doctrinal renewal. But at its origins it was also a missionary movement.
  2. Its story, however, cannot be told without saying something about its counterpart, the evangelical revival. While sometimes they competed, they also goaded each other forward.  Both served to remind the 18th and 19th century Reformation traditions that the Church is inherently missionary (in the case of Anglo-Catholicism by recalling the rich history of the evangelization of the pagan peoples of the British Isles in the Middle Ages).
  3. However, the new missionary fervor was related to several features of the times. First it was the era of private voluntary societies, of the Church Missionary Society (low) and the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (high). There was space within the institutional Church for initiative. Secondly, in both west Africa (the triangle trade) and the east (Islamic) the horrors of slavery provoked the conscience of Christians in England. In today’s parlance you might say that evangelism and racial reconciliation were linked.
  4. Already the rise of Churches planted by the missionaries made people realize that our tradition would become a global one, and that this would lead to disagreements needing to be worked out. A controversy over Bishop Colenso of South Africa and his heterodox views a century and a half ago led to the idea of a worldwide synod of bishops to adjudicate questions. The Anglo-Catholic bishop of Toronto, John Strahan advocated for this, but more evangelical bishops were leery- one of the ironies of our history.
  5. Missionaries were important, but sometimes we focus too much on them. They got things right, and wrong, but the on-the-ground evangelization of Africa was accomplished by local lay evangelists. Furthermore the Mothers’ Union’s key role reminds us that the heat of the day was often borne in Africa by women in ministry.
  6. We are grateful for this inheritance, but we are in a new era in which these ‘younger Churches’ are emerging into global leadership, difficult though this sometimes is. And we can note the frequent cross-pollination of the traditions. I(Though the example is not African), I remember Sunday morning at the Cathedral on St. Vincent, as liturgical as it can get, followed by a revival meeting led by the same priest in the evening. Likewise bishops in the global South have been pursing ‘holistic’ mission, of witness and service, before such a term came into vogue in the West. We too are looking for new forms of ‘evangelical and catholic’ , holistic ministry,, as means of the work of the Holy Spirit.




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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.