The Grace of a Guarantee

Sermon notes & Background research for Proper 13 A 2014, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Romans 9:1-5

Recording (Note: the delivered sermon differs from the text, as this is more background information etc… and the sermon is delivered without notes in most instances):

The Wandering Jew by Gustav Dore. A Medieval legend about a Jew who taunted Christ, and was then cursed to walk the earth until the second coming.
The Wandering Jew by Gustav Dore. A Medieval legend about a Jew who taunted Christ, and was then cursed to walk the earth until the second coming.
When I was in High School one of my close friends shared a story with me, about something that had happened to him when he was in elementary school. More accurately, it was about something he did while in elementary school, and its repercussions. A female classmate of ours had come up in conversation because of some recognition she was receiving, and he mentioned to me that they had once been friends in elementary school, but that he had said something to her that resulted in her slugging him. No… it was nothing like that… remember, it happened in elementary school. You see, our classmate was–is–Jewish, and as a naive elementary school student, when he heard this revelation one day, he blurted “But Jewish people don’t believe in God…” at which point, he received due penalty for his sin, in the form of a fist to the face.

I didn’t witness the event, but I got a good laugh out of his recounting of it. And I gave him a hard time about his ignorance, but of course, I couldn’t tell you when exactly I came to an awareness of the details–including the theism or non-theism-of other religions. And I can even see, based upon his protests, how he could’ve come to that conclusion, so closely was Jesus identified with God in his upbringing, and then also hearing that Jews do not share our faith in Jesus. But as humorous as this particular event is to think about on one level–probably more so for me, since I know the parties involved–it points to something dark at the heart of our own faith.

In many–ok, most–cases, religions are ambivalent about other faiths. Inter-faith dialogue is really still in its infancy. But religions that developed out of a particular faith, especially when the parent faith rejected the new insights or ways of considering the divine, tend to have particularly fraught relationships with their predecessor and sibling religions. This has certainly been the case with Christianity and Judaism. Episcopalian theologian Ephraim Radner, who teaches at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto has highlighted what this tension has meant for Christians:

The Jew, quite distinctly, becomes a “heretic” and the “heretic” becomes a “Jew.” In other words,intra-Christian discord becomes completely coincident with apostasy and/or the denial of Christ, and Christian division is read in terms of religious antagonism in a strong modern sense. Those who “call themselves Christian”—“heretics”—are in fact the same as Jews and Saracens…1

As Radner notes, this polemic gets mapped on to intra-Christian divisions, so that every time someone who says of Roman Catholics “They leave Christ on the cross,” also negatively compares the Roman Catholic Church to Judaism, this more fundamental division is revealed. As one commentator put it: “The point Radner is driving home here is profound. By showing how Jews came to be understood as heretics and later Christian heretics become to be understood as as Jews (i.e. apostates), Radner is suggesting that Christians have been so bad to each other because we were so bad to the Jews. Thus, the inability to handle division and conflict internally, or inability to see the conflict as internal, is a result of how Christians have understood themselves over against their Jewish religious ancestors and neighbors.”2

All of this challenging history makes my friends comment, and others like it, ominous, even if they are not particularly informed by the tradition. They come out of this context, and so, they have an edge to them that we cannot deny. That edge is provided at its root, in large measure, by this section of Romans (chapters 9-11). From the beginning, many Christians have used the phrase “The Rejection of Israel” to describe this section of Romans. It is a phrase that cuts in two directions, but by far the sharpest is in the direction of claiming that God has rejected Irsrael/The Jewish people. The reality is however, that Paul is emphasizing that God has not rejected the Jewish people, but that a portion of the Jewish people have rejected Christ because of a misguided reading of the Torah.

Continue reading The Grace of a Guarantee


  1. Radner, Ephraim (2012-01-15). A Brutal Unity (Kindle Locations 2065-2068). Baylor University Press. Kindle Edition. []
  2. Furry, Tim. “Radner’s BFB, Part I” from Theology Studio. Radner offers many pertinent thoughts on this matter–pick up the book!–here are a few that really hit home: “But just as in Rwanda it is inescapable that a central element of the violence was that Christians killed, not simply that killers “happened to be” Christians, so, in the case of the Holocaust, there is a consensus that we must face the fact that Christians killed Jews and that these identities given in terms of violent hostility were not only self-consciously defined but carefully supported by religious arguments and traditions. There is no longer any question but that elements of Christian theological understanding and practice—and not only discrete (and somehow Christianly uninformed) acts by Christians—motivated these killings, if in ways that were hardly exhaustive.”
    Radner, Ephraim (2012-01-15). A Brutal Unity (Kindle Locations 904-909). Baylor University Press. Kindle Edition. []

Worshipping as the whole body of Christ, part II

sufferlittlechildrentocomeuntomeSeveral months ago I posted some thoughts inspired by a little research on the history of English (primarily, though not intentionally) church architecture. I was interested in looking at the way children were or were not welcomed in worship by our predecessors. I think this is important because I have a feeling that many of the issues the church is facing today come, at least in part, from a sort of social or institutional amnesia. We’ve forgotten what it means to play, learn, converse, and therefore, worship, in a multi-generational setting.

This lack is exemplified in nothing so much as the drive to program for children and the difficulty in finding adults willing and able (whether because of schedules or lack of formation on their part) to volunteer to lead such programs.

In my first post, Worshipping as the whole body of Christ, I made the following statement: “All of this makes me wonder what our past might be able to tell us about our future of incorporating all ages in our worship.”

While several months have passed, I am no less interested in reflecting on this question, and trying to come up with some “traditioned innovations” that might help us–at my parish, St. Joseph of Arimathea–or elsewhere, to face the question of properly passing our faith on to our children (and our adults, might I add!).

In keeping with this interest, I recently picked up (or rather, downloaded, then picked up my Kindle) the book When Children Become People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity. There’s a lot of interesting information in this book, and I heartily commend it to you.

Of particular interest to the question of how, in the early Church (or let’s just say the church of the first four centuries) children participated and were nurtured in the faith, is the description of the role children played in worship.

First, Bakke indicates that children were indeed present during the service, and took part in it. They were lectors (readers of scripture), they sang the responses–with particular emphasis on the Kyrie, which in at least some settings, they sang first, followed by the adults–joined in hymns and were cantors. While many of the functions of lector, in particular, were reserved for boys, the fact of such participation is, I think, the important lesson to take. And such participation began at an early age. Justinian passed a law setting eight years old as the minimum age of a lector, for example.1

Bakke sums up children’s participation in the worship of the early church by writing the following:

From the mid-third century, and perhaps from the New Testament period onward, children received the sacraments: in a wide geographical area, they were baptized and took part in the Eucharist. This implies that they were regarded as subjects with needs of their own and with the capacity to receive the same spiritual gifts as adults. The fact that they received baptism and communion also shows that they were perceived as full members of the community. Children’s active participation went further, however. The sources tell us that they played an active part in hymn-singing, that they were cantors, and that they had a special responsibility in praying the Kyrie eleison. They also read scriptural texts in the liturgy. In other words, they were visibly present and made their own contribution to worship. 2

In looking at this list, the questions arise: in what ways could children be involved in our worship today? How can such liturgical involvement translate to a better grasp of scripture and the Christian traditions?


  1. “It is in any case indisputable that boys served as lectors from a very early age. This is confirmed by a decree promulgated by Justinian in 546, which laid down the minimum age of eight for those who were to assume the office of lector.153 The need to establish a minimum age may be related to the desire of ambitious parents-or (perhaps more likely) poor parents-to ensure a future career in the clergy for their sons.”
    O. M. Bakke. When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity (Kindle Locations 3827-3829). Kindle Edition. []
  2. O. M. Bakke. When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity (Kindle Locations 3898-3899). Kindle Edition. []

What I’m reading: On “The pious fellowship”

“A culture of stalwart respectability builds an impenetrable wall against truth-telling. In most mainline churches people drop out, at least for a while, when life gets messy. An impending divorce, an adulterous affair, chronic depression, a job layoff, a child in trouble with the law: all these commonplace occurrences drive people from the church just when they most need the grace of the sacraments and support of the community. Pastors find themselves tracking down the lost sheep. And why do they disappear? Because the missing members are ashamed or confused, fearful that their neighbor might “judge” them or think ill of their failures as spouses, parents, and solid citizens. Someone might even think them guilty of sin. When Bonhoeffer asserts “The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner,” he goes on to observe that as a consequence of this suffocating pretension “everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.”

Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confession, Julia Gatta and Martin L. Smith, p.6-7

Worshipping as the whole body of Christ

I was trying out a new search engine the other day. Actually, it was a digital library, and it is pretty cool. You should check it out. It’s part of the Digital Library Project, and is called HathiTrust Digital Library, and it has some great texts available. As I was satiating my curiosity about their holdings, by searching for random topics, I did a search for the term “Anglican.” One of the texts that popped up was Anglican Church Architecture  with some remarks upon ecclesiastical furniture by James Barr, architect, published in 1842.

As I skimmed it’s pages, my eye was caught by an earlier illustration. It was a floor plan, and a good example of some common elements one is likely to see in village churches in England.  Take a look:

Haseley Church, Oxon.
Haseley Church, Oxon.

I wonder what you notice about the lay out?

When I looked at it, the first thing I took note of was the tower, and the porch which serves as a main entrance to the church building. I noted that the font is located at the entrance of of the church, and that the pews are shorter at that side of the nave to accommodate it. I noticed that the vestry (vesting room, not the group of people that we name by the term) was sort of tacked on, seemingly as an afterthought. The position of the reading pew (B) right in front of the pulpit (C) struck me as interesting, but indicative of a particular time frame; my understanding is that the clerk would sit there and lead responses during the service.  Then I noticed the pews that were sideways at the front of the church, around the pulpit. But there were also pews running sideways in the chancel area. Generally speaking (assuming there aren’t transepts) pews oriented that way tend to indicate the presence of a choir. But, in my experience, the choir is almost always seated in the chancel area. So where would the choir sit here?

Then I noticed it on the key. Letter H. Referring to the pews in the chancel. Do you see it? Children’s seats.

Now, when I brought this up to Anna, she had the same initial thought that I did: perhaps they had a boys choir. But then I thought that it would make more sense, even if it was a boys choir, to actually refer to it as the boys choir or even just choir. Also, the word children has always been inclusive of both sexes, so add to that the fact that at this date the Church of England would not have had children’s choirs consisting of boys and girls. So, could it be that the chancel area was reserved for the seating of children?

What would be the possible benefits of this?

Folks who study congregational development and children nearly universally suggest that children sit toward the front during the service so that they can see the action. Perhaps that was part of it. Sitting in the chancel would’ve given the children a good view of what happened in both the liturgy of the word and during communion. There may have been another benefit, in that, while they would be able to hear the sermon because of their proximity, being positioned behind the preacher may have made the noise from fidgeting and the occasional whispered comment less likely to carry into the nave.

Still, I was curious. I had never heard of or seen anything like this before. So, I started to dig a bit. I ran across another, modern text: Buildings, Faith and Worship: The Liturgical Arrangement of Anglican Churches 1600-1900. I searched this book, and found several references to children. In discussing the design and renovation of congregations in England during the 19th century, he notes that of the parishes in this region “Most had seating for the congregation provided by open benches rather than box pews; some had stalled chancels but for children rather than choristers […]” (page xxiii). In another text, I saw reference to a parish church that was renovated in in the 1680’s and put small box pews in the chancel for children.

All of this makes me wonder what our past might be able to tell us about our future of incorporating all ages in our worship.

 

Diversity’s Limits at Dartmouth | The Living Church

Dartmouth exposes their own ignorance, and demonstrates that in the realm of supposedly competing rights and goods, the ones that make or leave us most comfortable inevitably win out.

Randall Balmer details the sad situation:

“The president of Dartmouth, also a good and decent man, rescinded Tentatenga’s appointment as dean of the Tucker Foundation on August 14. He apparently thought — mistakenly, it turns out — that he was striking a blow against homophobia, but instead he succumbed to specious arguments tinged with racism.

What will happen with the Tucker Foundation? I’m typically a glass-is-half-full guy, but in this instance I’m not sanguine. The administration will appoint a task force, which, after a decent interval, will recommend that Tucker cede its religious bearings to the various affiliated chaplaincies and thereby rid the college of the “divisive” influence of religion on campus. At precisely the moment when Dartmouth needs to hear voices of conscience to help us navigate the shoals of diversity and globalism in the twenty-first century, the college will designate a student-services type as administrator. Then, sadly, the one place on campus that “educates Dartmouth students for lives of purpose and ethical leadership, rooted in service, spirituality, and social justice” will be diminished.”

James Tengatenga, the Anglican bishop of Southern Malawi, will not be the next chaplain and dean of the Tucker Foundation at Dartmouth College; the offer was extended and then later rescinded this summer. What does this unfortunate episode tell us about the limits of diversity at an elite liberal ar…

Read it all: Diversity’s Limits at Dartmouth | The Living Church

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Prince George christening: story behind the bishop’s ‘medallion’ – Telegraph

Thank you to the Telegraph for answering this question.

I wouldn’t mind that hanging on a wall, but I wouldn’t wear it…

Prince George christening: story behind the bishop’s ‘medallion’ – Telegraph

A large plate worn at Prince George’s christening by Dr Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, was a giant clasp holding his robe together

Read it all: Prince George christening: story behind the bishop’s ‘medallion’ – Telegraph

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$20,000 Bathtub And $482,000 Closets Are Just Tip Of German Catholic Iceberg

What is it about the Roman Catholic Church in Germany… corruption was worse there before the Reformation too. Interesting that it’s the Pope trying to reform it this time…

“BERLIN (RNS) The $20,000 bathtub and $482,000 walk-in closets ordered by “Bishop Bling-Bling” — the moniker of Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the now-suspended bishop of Limburg — have scandalized the German public.But Tebartz-van Elst, 52, is only the latest German clergyman to run into trouble since Pope Francis took the helm of the Roman Catholic Church. Francis temporarily suspended the bishop on Wednesday while a church commission investigates the expenditures on the $42 million residence complex.As the new pontiff tries to reform the way the church does business, German dioceses, which reportedly include the world’s wealthiest in Cologne, are chafing under the new direction as membership numbers continue to dwindle.“Tebartz-van Elst is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Christian Weisner, spokesman for the German branch of We Are Church, an organization advocating Catholic Church reform. “There is a real clash of cultures between Germany’s current cardinals and bishops — nominated under John Paul II or Benedict XVI — and Pope Francis.”Since becoming pope, Francis has repeatedly urged the church to strip itself of all “vanity, arrogance and pride” and humbly serve the poorest in society. Under Francis, priests living in luxury are no longer merely unseemly, but a scandal.”

BERLIN (RNS) The $20,000 bathtub and $482,000 walk-in closets ordered by “Bishop Bling-Bling” — the moniker of Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the now-suspended bishop of Limburg — have scandalized…

Read it all: $20,000 Bathtub And $482,000 Closets Are Just Tip Of German Catholic Iceberg

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Good

If we’re going to talk about dark nights of the soul, we have to understand where the term is coming from. St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila didn’t mean dark like dark = bad, as much as … Continue reading →

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Idol

Good thoughts on Idols

Much has been made of the fact that Jesus was put to death by the religious leaders of his time. Many have talked about how the people in Jesus time were so wrapped up in their idea of who the … Continue reading →

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Halloween and the Power of Evil | First Things

I couldn’t put it much better than commenter KAS did:

“In many cases, these dilemmas could be solved if evangelicals understood the ecclesial significance of such holidays (holy days) and celebrated them accordingly. Halloween means something entirely different when observed in tandem with All Saints Day (which, in turn, is richer alongside All Souls Day).

The evangelical problem is that such the culture has de-linked such holidays from the liturgical calendar and there is, for them as well, no liturgical tradition to fall back on. To cite another example, my evangelical friends act for all intents and purposes as if Christmas begins and ends on December 25th. Those in liturgical traditions anticipate the arrival of Christmas during Advent and treat it as a 12-day festival concluding on Epiphany — and with other mini-feasts embedded in the calendar.

It is somewhat amusing to me, then, that evangelicals often decry secularization.”

There are big banners hanging over the streets of our local business district, announcing a Spooktacular celebration on Halloween. I wonder whether the local Evangelicalsthere are three congregations…

Read it all: Halloween and the Power of Evil | First Things

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