Since seminary I’ve been researching the history of the marriage liturgy and Christian approaches to marriage (I’ve written two essays here: Love That Has Ends Will Have an End & History of the Marriage Liturgy), especially the ways in which Christians have dealt with existing relational patterns and have either baptized them or critiqued them. Many people fail to realize that much of the structure of marriage promoted for so long by the Church was not a means for the social control of women–far from it–it was a means of protecting women and providing protections for them in societies where they had little to no recourse (the double consent formula of “I will” and “I do” in the marriage rite of the Book of Common Prayer is just one example of this, as is the prohibition against clandestine marriage).
One thing is quite obvious: in our society there is no way that Christians can avoid the question of cohabitation. I attempt to approach the topic as a missionary would. The difficulty, however, is the number of people who would self-identify as Christian, yet still cohabitate with no clear expectation or plan for marriage. The consequences of this way of organizing family life are far reaching. Marriage is indeed, much more than a “piece of paper.”
To the article below, i would simply add the observation that the Church did indeed recognize some concubinage as equivalent to marriage–namely those relationships that were committed and monogamous and blessed by by the Church but, because of the difference in social status of the partners, could not be contracted as a legal marriage. This allowance, it should be noted, was one which encouraged commitment and recognized the sacramental nature of the unions in a manner that called into question the legal limitations imposed upon them by the Roman state.
The piece from Salvo below discusses many of the problems with the current trend toward cohabitation. It is but one example of the ways our society encourages transitory and unstable relationships.
In ancient times, there was an option for a man who desired a regular sex partner but did not wish to marry her. He could take a low-status woman as a concubine. He could enjoy her company as long as it pleased him, and he could dismiss her at any time. The man made no promises and signed no contract; consequently, the concubine had few legal protections. Any children that she bore would have an inferior legal status.
The early Church fought long and hard against concubinage. It insisted that such a sexual relationship, without the permanent and total commitment expressed in marriage vows, was immoral and unjust. Over the course of a thousand years, concubinage retreated into the shadows of social disapproval.
In the past 40 years, it seems, concubinage has come to light again under a different name. Like ancient concubinage, contemporary cohabitation is a deliberately ambiguous relationship. The partners make no promises and have no legal obligations to one another. The arrangement has no specified duration and can be terminated at a moment’s notice. Those who cohabit tend to be of lower social status. Their children, on average, do not fare as well as children born to married couples.
Christ the King Sunday
November 20, 2011
Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46
Collect of the Day (Proper 29):
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; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
Commentators who reflect on our Gospel passage have referred to this as a “word-picture of the last judgement.”1 It occurs in the midst of a section of Matthew’s Gospel known as the “eschatological discourse.” In other words, it is in the midst of a section that deals with the last things–the events that will bring in the summation of history and includes the final judgement. This particular section deals with the judgement of the nations (both collectively and as individuals I believe). It is a passage in which Jesus picks up on many of the themes of the prophetic tradition not only in terms of the judgement, but the reason for such judgement.
A partial understanding of the background for this passage can be found in the reading from the book of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24), in the sense that Ezekiel represents a portion of the prophetic tradition. In commenting on this passage, theologian and pastor Walter Brueggemann notes that Ezekiel is pondering how it is that his society has come to such dire straights, being the subject not only of military destruction but of deportation, and attempting to shine a light into the future. Ezekiel does this “under the metaphor of ‘shepherd.’ The image of ‘shepherd,'” Brueggemann notes “is much used in the biblical world for ‘king,’ an image that permits great elasticity in his interpretive commentary.” (read it all)
For Ezekiel, exile has become Israel’s lot because of a failure of leadership: they are the victims of bad kings, kings who looked to their own desires rather than the needs of their people (Ezek. 34:1-9).
The whole people suffer the consequences of their leaders’ selfishness and poor judgement and there is only one solution: God himself promises to become king over his people. “I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep” (Ezek. 34:22).
Unlike the rulers Israel has been burdened with in the past, God’s dominion works for the common good. “God will not be self-indulgent as the previous kings have been, but will be fully and attentively concerned for the vulnerable flock that is Israel” (Brueggemann).
In what appears to be a strange twist however, Ezekiel tells us that God’s direct rule will be exercised through a human ruler, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken” (Ezek. 34:23-24).
It is this theme of the promised shepherd/prince that is picked up in our Gospel lesson, except this is no longer a rule limited in scope to the people of Israel, but rather a dominion of dominions for a ruler over all the nations: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left” (Matt. 25:31-33). The hope presented by this passage is the promise that God will set things right, not only for the people of Israel, but for the whole earth. The time of half-measures has ended and God himself, incarnate in the Son of Man, will exercise dominion over all the world, and the sheep (those who do the will of God) and the goats (those who do not) will be judged according to their actions and divided, being set either at the right hand (a place of honor) or the left (a place of judgement).2
While this passage is clearly about Christ’s Lordship over all the world, the judgements rendered are profoundly personal. What has been done in service of the people has been done for the King of All. There is a solidarity expressed here as Christ says, in the person of someone else that you have met: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was naked, I was sick, I was in prison, and in each case the righteous provided the need, while the unrighteous did not–neither really knew what they were doing.
In some ways this passage stands as a bookend to the sermon on the mount, especially the beatitudes. If the beatitudes proclaimed God’s blessing on those at the margins of society, then this section demonstrates to us the way that we are called to serve our King.
In the previous portions of this section of Matthew’s Gospel, we have been exhorted to be faithful, prepared, and to use the resources (talents) we have been given rightly and in the service of others. But if we were wondering about the application of these expectations, it is made clear here that we are to prepare for Christ’s return”by living the imperative to love one’s neighbors, especially the marginalized,” and it is for this that we will be judged in the end.3
There are a few things for us to keep in mind as we reflect on this. the first is that those people labeled “righteous” are surprised. They were not trying to force God’s hand or win anything for themselves. They were simply fulfilling the call of human charity.4 That said, because they were caring for the people of God–people made in the image of God–they were showing honor directly to God as well.5
The second thing to consider is that the tradition finds in these acts six of the seven traditional “acts of mercy,” (the seventh being the burial of the dead). At the same time, as St. Anthony the Great notes “Feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, and visiting the sick are mundane acts. In this sense ‘virtue is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing.'” 6
Finally, in this passage, Christ is not only indicating his solidarity or unity with the downtrodden or needy, but with the whole of humanity. The acts of mercy for which people receive honor are many of the same acts that defined Jesus’ presence among the people during his earthly ministry.
In other words, Christ is King over all, but the King who shows his people how to serve. When we serve others, Christ is active in us, serving Christ in others. These acts of mercy–both in the giving and in the receiving–reveal the unity of humanity made in the image of God and therefore called to display that divine character by caring for it in others. And so, we see one of the ways in which Christ, in Paul’s words, “fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23).
Today is Christ the King Sunday, and today we are reminded that Christ’s Kingship:
It puts in check all earthly so-called kings. Christ is the King. The one, the only, the ultimate. All others who would presume to claim authority for themselves or even to exercise it by virtue of their office must see how they square up with the example of Christ.
The kingship of Christ makes the abuses perpetrated by other rulers all the more apparent. And it demonstrates the call of the Kingdom on all our lives.
If God became incarnate in Christ for all of humanity, then how can we value one another any less.
If Christ cared for the ostracized and the alienated. If he dined and conversed with the tax collectors and the prostitutes of his society, then how can we wall ourselves off.
If Christ offered healing to the sick, mercy to the afflicted, hope to the hopeless–then how can we possibly desire to offer them anything less.
If we believe that Christ shows us what it means to be truly human–humanity without the stain of sin–then how can we say that striving to be truly human can mean striving for anything less than being like Christ.
If we truly believe what we profess today, that Christ is indeed King over all, then how can we do anything less than strive to find ways to serve Christ in others.
We know where to begin. Jesus said: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you comforted me, I was in prison and you visited me.
The New Oxford Annotated NRSV: Matthew 25:31-46 : The judgement of the nations. 31: The Son of Man, 8.20n. 32: 24.9; 28.19; Isa 66.18; Joel 3.2 . 33: Right, the auspicious side, while left was the bad or unlucky side. The distinction between sheep and goats ma reside in the fabrics the two produce: goats produce dark hair, which was used to make ill-omened sackcloth (11.21n.), while white wool was a sign of prosperity, p 1784 NT [↩]
The Oxford Biblical Commentary, p. 878, “The concept of service to Jesus through service to others goes back to Prov. 19:17: ‘Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.’ What is new in Matthew is the Son of Man’s identification with the needy.” [↩]
(St. Anthony the Great, quoted in the New Oxford Biblical Commentary, p. 879). [↩]
As in other areas of interest, there are many people in the WordPress world who are interested in the study of scripture, who write about it on their blogs and want the ability to automatically link to scripture citations and references without laboriously going to their preferred bible site to manually create a link.
Over the years the WordPress community has offered up several plugins to achieve this. I’ve used Scripturizer and its successor The Holy Scripturizer myself for a number of years. The Holy Scripturizer is no longer being developed however, and even when it was being actively developed there were several limitations, at least from my perspective. Primarily, there were three functions that I could never quite get to work correctly with either of these plugins:
The ability to link to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible
The ability to display a tool-tip of the NRSV on the site
The ability to cite the books of the Apocrypha, which make up part of the “stepped-canon” of Anglicanism.
One of the other scripture plugins that has been out there for a number of years is the RefTagger from Libronix, the makers of Logos Bible Software (which I highly recommend, especially for you PC users). The main limitation of RefTagger had been that, unlike the Scripturizer plugins which at least linked to the NRSV text, RefTagger did not even do that, as the NRSV and a number of other version were not an option.
Recently however, I became aware of a change. RefTagger now links to the site Biblia.com for its scripture references. Biblia (a nicely designed site by the way) has a number of translations that were not previously available. In particular it offers the NRSV with Apocrypha. The RefTagger plugin still did not natively support references to the NRSV, but unlike the Scripturizer plugins, the fix/modification was relatively simple. I simply added the NRSV to the code as follows:
With that simple change, I solved the problem that has been irritating me for several years and made it possible to reference the NRSV text, with the tool tip functionality and reference the Apocrypha.
I’ve since seen that Biblia.com also has the text of the Cambridge Paragraph Bible (KJV-Apocrypha) so I may be adding that version in at some point, but for right now I’m simply glad to be able to cite all the readings that arise in our lectionary in a version that we actually use in worship.
For example, the first reading from the common of a Theologian or a Teacher:
So folks, if you use WordPress and would like to add this capability to your site, simply download RefTagger and make the adjustments above.
There is serious debate taking place among Episcopalians about what is commonly called “Open Communion.”This means that we should invite all persons present at a Eucharist to receive communion even if they are (a) not baptized or (b) a member of a different faith community.I would like to suggest that our current discussion about communion might be moved to another level if we consider our present situation in light of, and contrast to, that of Bishop Cranmer’s.
Cranmer’s problem was definitely not ours.Nothing reveals this more than the fact that baptism was never a concern in the matter of the reception of the communion.He could assume that everyone in an Anglican Church, indeed the Nation, was baptized.His concern was whether the baptized were actually Christian.From his theological viewpoint he had many in the Church who were “sacramentalized,” but not evangelized.They were at best “cultural Christians.”
We must all remember as members of a highly liturgical church that one of our most vulnerable areas is that liturgy, once it becomes familiar, can also dull our senses to what is actually happening.For Episcopalians the prophetic words that “these people honor me with their lips, but there hearts are very far from me” could have direct application to us.
In contrast to this, Cranmer made his invitation to confession – the prerequisite for receiving communion.Remember the words?
“Ye who do truly and earnestly repent of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith and make your humble confession to almighty God devoutly kneeling.”
Where is baptism in all this?Cranmer’s concern was that the baptized person look inwardly at one’s own heart and examines oneself as to our willingness and intention to receive the Lord’s Supper with a right attitude and disposition.Now, personally I am a Cranmerian when it comes to this issue.
Consequently, I think the emphasis on baptism leads us in the wrong direction.Mostly, what I hear now in Episcopal Churches, or read in the bulletin is something like this: “We welcome all baptized Christians (which should be “baptized persons”) who wish to receive communion to come forward and to the altar rail and join us.”I think all of us clergy rightfully avoid the awkward addition from the House of Bishops directive “who are able to receive communion in your own church.”
From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin
A timely corrective for evangelicals.
Christopher Benson | posted 11/08/2011
Everyone loves an iconoclastic thesis, the kind that elicits a flabbergasted response of “Oh, really?!” Three immediately come to mind: in an essay on military service, theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas argues that gays (as a group) are morally superior to Christians (as a group); in God’s Battalions, sociologist Rodney Stark argues that the Crusades were a justified war waged against Muslim terror and aggression; and in Defending Constantine, theologian Peter Leithart argues that the heresy of Constantinianism should not be named after the historical Constantine.
Add this eyebrow-raising thesis to the mix: in From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism (a book whose title and subtitle should have been switched), historian Darryl Hart argues that “the evangelical temperament is inherently progressive.” Despite being the largest single voting bloc in the Republic Party, evangelicals—owing to their religious and moral idealism—are no more fitted to traditional conservatism than an armadillo is suited to Antarctica. Currently a professor at Hillsdale College, the premier academic enclave for conservatives, and prolific author of such books as A Secular Faith: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State, Hart offers a historical account of evangelical political reflection since World War II.
Focusing on the evangelical intelligentsia rather than the rank-and-file, he considers “the reasons that representative born-again Protestant academics and pastors give for political participation, their understanding of the good society, or the value of the American polity.” The literary evidence that Hart marshals is impressive. He takes us through the writings of young progressives in the 1970s (Richard Pierard, David Moberg, Mark Hatfield, Richard Mouw), historical revisionists (Peter Marshall, Jr., Francis Schaeffer, Donald Dayton), correcting historians (Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, George Marsden), fundamentalist “party crashers” in the 1980s (Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson), faith-based pundits (Chuck Colson, Ralph Reed, Marvin Olaskey, James Skillen), leftist evangelicals (Jim Wallis, Randall Balmer, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider), and “heroic conservatives” (Michael Gerson, Joel Hunter, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren).
Hart then turns to traditionalist conservatives (Russell Kirk, Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, Mark Henrie, Patrick Deneen) for an alternative to the “redemptive utopianism” that prevails among evangelicals. In Hart’s account, latter-day evangelicals, for all their internal differences, closely resemble their revivalist ancestors, stitching a patchwork quilt of American exceptionalism and providential benediction, patriotism and piety, evangelism and social action. “Deep within the soul” of members of the Religious Right, Hart observes, beats “the heart not of a Burkean conservative but of a Finneyite activist.” If we follow the levels of reading in How to Read a Book, Hart has reached the highest level as a syntopical reader, placing multiple books in relation to one another and constructing a new and perceptive analysis on the subject. However, I do question how much can be extrapolated about the political ethos of evangelicalism—a remarkably pluriform movement—from literary evidence alone.
According to Hart, evangelicals forged a third way between the accommodationist posture of mainline Protestants and the separationist posture of fundamentalists. They found their political calling in the postwar years when the character of the United States was tested in the crucible of secularity. Animated by a transformationalist vision to reclaim America as the new Israel or redeemer nation, evangelicals developed a parallel universe with all of its insularities, myths, and propaganda, leaving them bystanders to the arguments and institutions of modern conservatism. Traditionalists, anti-communists, and libertarians shaped the conservative outlook between 1950 to 1965 as they debated the future of the American republic.
Some thoughtful comments from Fr. Robert Hendrickson, of Christ Church New Haven reguarding the results of the National Survey of Youth and Religion. I commend them to you:
Identity Crisis Part II
So, having put up results from the NSYR study of youth and religion, I have gotten some interesting responses. They ranged from “Oh my God, the Church is dying” to “These numbers are really suspect” to “We are Episcopalians, we don’t do Church the way these other denominations do.”
None of these is especially helpful.
To allow our young people to grow up without clear teaching means that we cede faith to those who continue to use it for political or personal gain because those are the loudest voices or we risk them drifting aimlessly between self-exploration, astrology, reincarnation and the like without a firm foundation so that when life’s trials come they do not have a spiritual and moral footing that will hold them fast.
The study notes that “The majority of adolescents reported remaining at the same level of religiosity, and when adolescents did report a change in their overall religiosity, a higher proportion of them reported becoming more religious than becoming less religious.” In other words, there are opportunities for us to draw young people deeper into the life of faith. They are not rejecting the faith so much as having it presented to them in such a slipshod manner that it is irrelevant.
The survey results bear this out. Read again these results:
“…while 93 percent of Presbyterian Church (USA) teens and 91 percent of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America teens report that their churches usually feel warm and welcoming, only 69 percent of teens whose parents are Episcopalian say the same.”
“65 percent of Church of God in Christ teens and 57 percent of both Assemblies of God and Southern Baptist teens say that church is a very good place to talk about serious issues…while only 31 percent of Episcopal teens agree that church is a very good place to talk about serious issues.”
“less than one-half of Episcopalian teens who attend church more than a few times a year (46 percent) say that church usually makes them think about important things.” (by far lowest and the only group under 50%)
We have the lowest percentage of respondents that say our churches are welcoming to them. We have the lowest percentage that says that church is a good place to talk about serious issues. We have the lowest percentage that says church makes them think about important things. If we are serious about intellectual engagement with the faith then the numbers would bear this out. We would have young people who felt challenged and believed we talked about serious things and made them think about important things.
Using the events at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London as a lens through which to view the conflict, Luke Bretherton over at Fulcrum (moderate Evangelicals in the C of E) brings into focus the battling anarchisms represented by the Occupiers and Bankers (or rather, some–maybe many of each)
If the Occupy movement bears the mantle of one form of anti-statist, anti-capitalist school of anarchism that stretches back to the anarcho-syndicalism of Proudhon and Sorel, many of the bankers seem driven by an alternative stream of anarchism, what Murray Rothbard, a student of Ludwig von Mises – the grandfather of neo-liberalism – called ‘anarcho-capitalism’. This stream is equally anti-statist but pro-capitalist. It is no less a millennial vision of the end of history than that embodied in the TAZ or witnessed in the worship at the Cathedral. It sees the best of all possible worlds as an apolitical socio-economic realm that spontaneously organizes itself and provides material prosperity for all through the free decisions of individuals in the marketplace. In this vision it is government and regulation that must be resisted and defeated if the new time and space when there will be prosperity for all is to be ushered in.
[Note: Staggering to think of the long term consequences of this degree of joblessness over such a long period.]
WASHINGTON (AP) — The jobs crisis has left so many people out of work for so long that most of America’s unemployed are no longer receiving unemployment benefits.
Early last year, 75 percent were receiving checks. The figure is now 48 percent – a shift that points to a growing crisis of long-term unemployment. Nearly one-third of America’s 14 million unemployed have had no job for a year or more.
Congress is expected to decide by year’s end whether to continue providing emergency unemployment benefits for up to 99 weeks in the hardest-hit states. If the emergency benefits expire, the proportion of the unemployed receiving aid would fall further.
The ranks of the poor would also rise. The Census Bureau says unemployment benefits kept 3.2 million people from slipping into poverty last year. It defines poverty as annual income below $22,314 for a family of four.
Above all things, good policy is to be used, that the treasure and monies in a State be not gathered into few hands; for, otherwise, a State may have a great stock and yet starve. And money is like muck, not good except it be spread. This is done chiefly by suppressing, or, at the least, keeping a strait hand upon the devouring trades of usury, engrossing, great pasturages, and the like.