Sunday, February 18, 2018

Washing SIn Out of Lent

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that the Revised Common Lectionary regularly chops up the Psalm selections for Sunday Eucharistic readings leaving out imprecatory verses or other lines that might make Sunday morning pewsitters uncomfortable. This Sunday is no exception. While repetition is one of the most important means of communication, the lectionary editors decided that for the first Sunday in Lent, the congregants would not hear the word "sin" referenced four times in the Psalm. Verses 1-9 were all that will be heard today in many churches.

Psalm 25 Ad te, Domine, levavi 
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;my God, I put my trust in you; *let me not be humiliated,nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *for you are the God of my salvation;in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *remember me according to your loveand for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; *therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right *and teaches his way to the lowly.
9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

At least "sin" was mentioned once, but remember that it pertains only to the sins of youth, and "sinners" was in there but left the door open for people to not consider their own sins and only the sins of others.

In the verses that will not be heard today, we get a dose of things that might make some people feel bad,

10 For your Name's sake, O Lord, *forgive my sin, for it is great.
11 Who are they who fear the Lord? *he will teach them the way that they should choose.
12 They shall dwell in prosperity, *and their offspring shall inherit the land.
13 The Lord is a friend to those who fear him *and will show them his covenant.
14 My eyes are ever looking to the Lord, *for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.  
15 Turn to me and have pity on me, *for I am left alone and in misery.
16 The sorrows of my heart have increased; *bring me out of my troubles.
17 Look upon my adversity and misery *and forgive me all my sin.
18 Look upon my enemies, for they are many, *and they bear a violent hatred against me.
19 Protect my life and deliver me; *let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you.
20 Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, *for my hope has been in you.
21 Deliver Israel, O God, *out of all his troubles.
My sin is great, I am alone and in misery, sorrows, troubles, adversity, sin, I am hated, all which should be heard when reading this psalm that prays for deliverance from these things. 

I am troubled that they are not.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Prayer Book Society and the UndergroundPewster: Part 3

Three weeks ago  it was my privilege to attend the Prayer Book Society USA's two and a half day 2018 Conference in historic Savannah Georgia. Part 1 and Part 2  of my brief reports can be found by clicking on the links.

Friday began at 8.30 a.m. with Morning Prayer in the Chapel.
The first session was presented by Dr. Stephen Blackwood, President of Ralston College and was titles,
“(Being) Made for Eternity: Liturgical Patterns and Habits of Soul”
My notes were as follows:
We are made in the image of God, and we are being made for eternity.
The experience of time = repetition, rhythm, recollection, memory
Moral and immoral character comes through repetition and memory
Aristotle: frequency becomes nature
Liturgy forms us through repetition and recollection
(As a certain pewster pointed out, that is why it is so important to get liturgy right)
Fatal flaw of the three year lectionary cycle is that there is no temporal rhythm.

Next  up was Dr. Jesse Billett, Trinity College, University of Toronto on,
“The Twentieth-Century Baptismal Revolution: Is the Classical Prayer Book Really Obsolete?”
He had a helpful handout but began with an apology for citing Ruth Meyers about how the 1979 Book of Common Prayer created a "Baptismal ecclesiology"which led to the demise of Confirmation, catechism, the ministry of all the baptized, and social activism among other things.

He then proceeded to give a history of how baptism has been interpreted in Anglican tradition through the ages including the Puritan attack on infant baptism and Confirmation in 1572 and Hooker's defense of both practices.

Next he discussed "baptismal regeneration"and "gifts of the Spirit" and how the 1662 Prayer Book dealt with those issues.

Finally he quoted Roland Palmer on infant baptism,

"Why baptize small children who cannot understand? Baptism is a gift from God, and you do not have to understand in order to receive a gift. No parent would say 'You cannot give my baby a hundred dollars because he does not understand money,' but rather, 'Thank you, we will take care of the gift and teach the child to use it as he has need of it.' Christian parents want their children to be in God's family from the start, not to wait until they have wandered away and fallen into great sin, and then win them back. They can receive the gift, and then can be taught that they possess that gift, and how to use it by repentance and faith." Roland F. Palmer, His Worthy Praise: On Worship According to the Book of Common Prayer (Canada 1959) (Toronto: Anglican Church of Canada, 1959; rev. 1963), 106-107

The afternoon sessions began with The Revd. Dr. Paul Avis  of the Universities of Exeter and Durham presenting,
“ ‘Not a Synod, only a Conference’: The Lambeth Conference and the Councils of the Church”
Concilliatory is ancient and goes on forever
1. Representation: who should speak for the church
2. Constitutionality
3. Consent: all must agree to accept the rules
4. Eucharistic Communion

Next up was Dr. Michael Hurley of Cambridge University
‘On the Virtues of Re-Reading’
Dr Michael Hurley first gave us an exercise which was to read a poem. He then asked for our impressions and he then listed some of his student's critiques when they first read it. Most panned it, but at least one appreciated it more after re-reading it several times. We then re-read it, and with his guidance we all got more out of it. A good Prayer Book should bear re-reading just like the Bible bears re-reading. Good literature or good poetry should make you want to re-read it. This could present a problem for new or novel liturgies which if they turn out like modern praise music will lack sufficient depth to draw people back.

We ended up the afternoon with a Breakout session called,
"The Plans for the “Comprehensive Revision” of the 1979 Prayer Book(An overview after the PBS Dallas Colloquium last Fall):
With Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff, Dr. Jesse Billett, and William Murchison et al.

The Prayer Book Revision update predicted that there would be two major forces battling it out for a voice at General Convention 2018. One side feels that the task is too difficult and that alternative liturgies should just be added to existing extra-Prayer Book resources.
The other force is demanding total revision. Some representative sound bites of the arguments were read to us. These were quite pythonesque: funny in a frightening way.

That evening there was a  closing Conference Eucharist.

Thus endeth the third day.

On the fourth day, this pewster rested.

I would encourage more lay participation in meetings such as these. A Prayer Book Society gathering will not turn you into a "Conference Christian", but rather into a more grounded Anglican.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!

This Sunday's Gospel reading (Revised Common Lectionary) is from Mark 9:2-9. In it, we hear about the Transfiguration of Jesus.
 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

The seemingly simple instructions from God, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Seems to be the most difficult of God's commandments for humankind to accept and to follow.

What a different place the world would be if all the people would listen to Jesus.

Imagine all the people...  

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Prayer Book Society and the UndergroundPewster: Part 2

This is a continuation of my notes from the recent meeting of the Prayer Book Society USA. For Part 1 click here.

We began Thursday with Morning Prayer and Eucharist (in the Chapel) with the readings for the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul.

The morning sessions began with a brief introduction by Dean McKeachie as he reminisced about days of change in 1991 when after the Convention of the Diocese of Maryland rejected a resolution asking the diocese to affirm Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, the "Baltimore Declaration" was penned. The path to that point might be in part due to prayer book innovations.

The first speaker of the day was The Very Revd. Dr. Laurie Thompson III, Dean of Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge PA who presented,
"The Offertory & Pelagius: Did the Prayer Book Tradition protect us from an ancient heresy re-opened in the 1979 BCP? How can we maintain a right balance in our views of self-offering?"
He began by talking about Trinity School for Ministry and how, in a time of seminary decline, Trinity is having to expand because of high enrollment.

He started the main part of his paper by stating that the older Prayer Book protected us from heresy and that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer created openings for heresy to creep in.

He then suggested that in many Episcopal churches the bread and the wine are carried towards the altar by lay persons who are then given the collection plate(s) and who then proceed to collect the monetary offering. The problems with this are as follows: for one thing, the bread and the wine should not be considered gifts from us. "We" do not offer God the elements. Even though they have not been consecrated yet, the impression may be given that we are doing so. The Pelagian sin is "Me do it". Secondly, the collection of alms should have no relation to the bread and the wine, and lastly, we do not need redundant processions whose intent is just to encourage lay participation.

The offering is something that comes from God (the Doxology) and not from our own self idolatry.

So how do we offer up our selves? He suggested that the bow-tie is the way to resolve the polarities in life. Bow-ties fix the world if they are knotted with the knot of thanksgiving. I am not so sure about that one.

Laurie Thompson also related a story about the time he served on the Standing Committee for Liturgy and Music (SCLM) of the Episcopal organization. The scariest thing we learned was that 50% of the members of the SCLM had zero theological education at that time. (Is it any wonder that the SCLM came up with a liturgical resource for same-sex blessings).

 The next paper presented by The Revd. Dr. Paul Avis of the Universities of Exeter and Durham was,
“Knit together in one communion and fellowship: What does the liturgy tell us about the Church and its Unity?”
Liturgy is a source of doctrine: Christology, Salvation, Ecclesiology (?)
Liturgy is an expression of what the Church is.
Liturgy is the Epiphany of the Church.

Three ecclesiological axioms,
1. The fact that the Church celebrates its liturgy confirms that it is a worshiping community. Worship is a form of witness.
2. The fact that the Church celebrates its liturgy tells us that the Word and Sacrament are at the center of the Church's life.
3. The fact that the Church celebrates its liturgy tells us the mystery at the heart of the liturgy is Jesus Christ himself.

Why include the Psalms in liturgy? Jesus prayed the psalms; he died with the psalm on his lips.
What are the functions of Daily Morning and Evening Prayer?
1. Worship
2. Teaching: the Church as "school".
3. Intercession

The Eucharist: "The source and summit of the Church's work" (Vatican II). The one thing we should all agree on. At this point he touched on broken communion, and which he did not think could be easily justified.

The Conference "Luncheon break" was a comfortable two hours which allowed ample time to stroll to an oyster bar near the river and get back with time to spare for the afternoon session which started with,
 “Catholic apologetics: retrieving older precedents”.
Presented by Dr. Christopher Wells, Editor of the Living Church. My notes are sketchy at this point as he gave a history of Thomas Aquinas and his "Summa" in which the importance of argument was, shall I say, argued? The talk left me wondering if we can have Prayer Book revision when we live in an age on emotivism in which it appears that we have lost the ability to argue.

After a short break for tea we heard from Dr. Paul Julienne  of The Joint Quantum Institute, University of Maryland (retd.) on,
“Renewing the Christian Imagination: Inhabiting the City of God in a Secular Age”
He is referring to Augustine and "The City of God". Briefly, Dr. Julienne discussed God's city and the secular city. Two loves define the two cities. In God's city, there is love of God even to the contempt of self. In the secular city, there is love of self even to the contempt of God.

The last session.
"Being "Reasonably Anglican" and "Prayer Bookish": Religion without tears?"
Presented by The Revd. Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff, International Advisor to the PBS pointed out the obvious, that you can't be Anglican without the historic Prayer book and its prayers of confession.

Following this we all went over to the church for a Festal Choral Evensong.  The sermon was delivered by The Rt. Revd. Michael Hawkins, Bishop of Saskatchewan. It was a lovely service.

This left plenty of time to get to our dinner reservation and more oysters!

Thus endeth the second day.  I'll finish up next week.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Giving it your all

This Sundays reading is from 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 in which St. Paul paints a picture of how he must be humble in his ministry,

"If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings."
Paul became all things to all people. Or did he? I don't think he became an idol worshiper to get along with idol worshipers. I don't think he became a fornicator in order to appease fornicators, and he certainly did not take on the appearance of a homosexual in order to convert the homosexuals. By becoming all things to all people, I think he meant that he was open to speaking and meeting with all sorts of people in the spirit of love, even to those in the grips of sin, his main intent was to proclaim the Gospel to as many people as possible so that some might be saved, and he did it free of charge. That is what we should mean today when we say we need to, "Meet people where they are at."

Shouldn't we all be reaching out to those who have not heard the Gospel and to those who hold it in contempt?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Prayer Book Society and the UndergroundPewster: Part 1

Last week it was my privilege to attend the Prayer Book Society USA's two and a half day 2018 Conference in historic Savannah Georgia. I was there last year as well, and while this year's attendance was smaller than last year's, I think the overall quality of the papers presented was better than those I heard in 2017.

We met at St. John's Episcopal Church in Savannah whose keeping and teaching of the Faith allows me to use the word, "church" in the same breath as the word "Episcopal", something I have not been able to do of late. St. John's has stuck to the 1928 American Prayer Book and the 1940 Episcopalian Hymnal for use in worship, and this makes them an odd duck in the Episcopal organization. Their average Sunday attendance of 400 souls in 2016 is very healthy by Episcopal standards, but it is down from over 500 in 2006.

I took some notes which I will share with you over the next few weeks.

The theme for the 2018 Conference was, "The Prayer Book: Doctrine Liturgy and Life"

Beginning on Wednesday afternoon, the Presidential Address,
“The Ancient Catholic Lectionaryat the heart of a Reformed Liturgy”.
was delivered by the Revd. Fr. Gavin Dunbar, President of the Prayer Book Society. He spoke about the ancient origins of lectionaries. Continuous reading of the Gospel may have been the custom with the exception of Easter when a "proper" lesson fitting the season would be selected. In post-Nicene Rome, the Bishop selected the scripture. By the end of the 6th century, non-continuous reading was becoming common with scriptures befitting each liturgical season. By the 8th century, readings, chants, and prayers were formalized as seen in the Romano-Frankish lectionary. The Papal court was one exception.

Everything changed in 1970 after an entirely new Roman Catholic lectionary, the OLM, was introduced. The Common Lectionary (CL) began being adopted by Protestant churches and found its way into the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer in 1979. In 1992 the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) was published and is used by many denominations and Episcopal churches today..

The aim of the CL and the RCL was to increase the amount of scripture read by creating a three year cycle instead of the earlier lectionaries' one year cycle. What we lost was continuity and repetition as well as significant chunks of teaching (as documented many times on this lowly blog). The RCL also disconnects the Old Testament reading and the Epistle from the Gospel selection leading to a lack of cohesiveness and teachable points. One example of the loss of chunks of scripture is the loss of much of Romans Chapters 1, 2, and 3 which contain teachings on condemnation without which there is little need for the instructions on justification by faith to be found in subsequent chapters. "The RCL presents a buffet service of the Bible, the quantity is larger but the quality is not so good."
In summary, the RCL is like a multipurpose kitchen gadget that tries to do a lot of things well but does not do any of them well enough.

This was followed by,
"Justification in Anglicanism and the Prayer Book"
delivered by the Rt. Revd. C. Fitzsimons Allison, Retired Bishop of South Carolina. Fitz described the definition of and the importance of repentance. Repentance is "a renewal of love" (Ashley Null) and is a change of heart not a change of mind. We cannot understand justification without repentance and vice versa. Older Prayer Books contained a stronger message of the need for repentance. When this language is removed or watered down as we see in the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, we can easily fall under the spell of the Pelagian heresy. To quote Fitz, "Pelagianism is the banana peel on the cliff of Unitarianism."

The idea that we do not need to have the requirement for repentance recited on a daily or weekly basis in our Prayer Book puts us in the same position as the secularists, "They are not led by God to think they might be wrong".

Following Evening Prayer (1928) there was a reception at the adjacent Green Meldrim House which was General William Tecumseh Sherman's headquarters when the Federal army occupied Savannah during the Civil War .

Following that,  those who didn't get their fill at the reception retreated to their favorite restaurant for dinner.

Thus endeth the first day.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Beginning of Wisdom

This Sunday's Psalm 111, "Confitebor tibi", gives thanks and praise to God for all that he has given his people in the past and the legacy that He has left for future generations, but there is one verse that seems to be out of place. Let's see if you can spot it,

1 Hallelujah!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.

2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.

3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.

4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.

5 He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.

6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.

7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.

8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.

9 He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.

My attention was drawn to verse 10. In part because it is so familiar to me, and in part because it seems to interrupt the psalmist's recitation of God's gifts to us.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" is also to be found in Job and Proverbs,
"And to man He said, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding.'" Job 28:28
"The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Proverbs 9:10
Twenty-three more related verses to the fear of the Lord and wisdom can be found at the "Knowing Jesus" pages.

I was reminded this week of Adam's sin of trying to gain the wisdom of God by eating of the forbidden fruit. We can never attain the fullness of God's wisdom in this life, but at least we have been given a beginning. The last of God's gifts that the Psalmist recites actually comes from the beginning of mankind. It is the beginning of wisdom, the fear of the Lord, a remarkable gift, and something Adam only discovered in his shame after he tried to grab the entirety of God's wisdom in one bite.

So maybe it is not so out of place after all.