Saturday, July 3, 2021

The Fourth of July: Liturgy, Patriotism, and Partisanship


William White, First Bishop of Pennsylvania

July 4th is a Feast Day in the Episcopal Church’s calendar. That might not seem revolutionary, but it actually is (pun intended). 

During the American War of Independence, Church of England clergy in the American Colonies found themselves facing three possible actions: they could stay loyal to the Crown and risk fines, injury, or imprisonment, they could betray their oath to the King in the name of Independence, or they could stay and accept the changes while only grudgingly embracing the revolution. Many thousands chose the first and left for Canada, England, or elsewhere. Another group was “all in” with Independence. Those who did not support the revolution but stayed had to find a way to survive in the newly-independent nation and the brand-new Episcopal Church. Hard feelings were everywhere and memories were long (indeed, Pamela and I knew a priest and his wife in New York whose families were on opposite sides of the American Revolution: it was still a sore subject in the late 1980s). 

 

Early on, there was quite a lot of pressure to make July 4th a Feast in the Episcopal Church’s Calendar. The thought was that, just as the Church of England had a holiday celebrating the accession of the monarch to the throne, the new nation needed a church feast celebrating independence. This is called patriotism. It was also gratifying for some to rub the noses of the clergy who had “lost” in their disappointment, making them say prayers, preach, and lead liturgies celebrating a cause they didn’t really support. This is called partisanship.

 

One of the key pro-revolutionary figures in the early Episcopal Church was The Rev’d Dr. William White, who became the first Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania. He was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. He had been chaplain to the Continental Congress. He had “cred” with the Revolutionaries. When discussion at a church convention about an Independence Day Feast was taken up, it was expected White would encourage the observance of an event he so clearly supported and for which he had risked so much. Such was not the case, however.

 

White wrote this about the attempt:

 

The members of the Convention wanting to force this observance seem to have thought themselves so established in their station of ecclesiastical legislators, that they might expect of the many clergy who had been averse of the American Revolution the adoption of this service; although, by the use of it, they must make an implied acknowledgement of their error, in an address to Almighty God….

 

White rebuked those who, in their triumph, gloated over those who had lost. Once he wrote this, the energy for the 4th of July Feast Day in the liturgical calendar collapsed. It was not included in our calendar until over a century later, in the 1928 revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

 

Today we would say White’s judgment was wise for a number of reasons. First of all, the American Revolution had only partly lived out the ideal of the Declaration of Independence. Race slavery was incompatible with its ideals and its retention was one of the clearest signs that national failure and hypocrisy was as much the issue as independence and liberty on July 4th. White, who would not own enslaved people (unlike our first Bishop, Samuel Seabury), also ordained African-Americans (Absalom Jones and William Levington) to ministry, and was conscious of this profound discrepancy. 

 

White also knew that when you are right you don’t have to prove it by being belligerent. Such tactics are those of a weak person or cause. His refusal to “get on the bandwagon” for the July 4th Feast Day was a refusal to descend into the narrowly partisan, smugly self-certain aspect of faith. He held strong views and wasn’t shy about sharing them, but he remained convinced the Gospel’s force was blunted—not sharpened—by adopting mean-spirited, partisan tactics.

 

Finally, White understood that liturgy is not the place for mockery or invective. Our address to God in prayer must rise above self-serving ends or the gratification of unworthy aims. Liturgy must glorify God and increase love of neighbor—not contempt for neighbor. That remains true. The 4th of July prayers in the BCP pray God’s grace to make our nation a truly just and equitable land, not a smugocracy of self-delusion.

 

William White’s commitment to a truly Christian approach in political life meant he was free to see the real needs present and to act with regard to them. He worked tirelessly over his long life to bring the Gospel to those in need: persons with disabilities, in prison, or women who had experienced abuse (the first such institution in the United States). When most every other white clergyman fled Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever outbreaks of the 1790s, Bishop White stayed to minister to the sick. He was a true Christian.

 

The Church today is faced with a major decision: to follow the logic of partisanship and retreat into the shadows of the “culture war,” taking pot-shots and allowing the Cross of Christ to be merely a tool used by humans for political advantage, or to confront the cruelty, injustice, and selfishness of our society with the words and power of the risen Christ.

 

Some want the Church to be apolitical, by which they mean uninvolved. Others want the Church to ally itself with one or another political party, by which they mean subordinated. Neither represents Christ’s way of challenging the powers of this world while remaining firmly anchored in the love of God. Christ was involved, and so must we be. But his involvement always means loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves—not descending in a race to the bottom of disrespect and partisanship.

 

There are few easy answers in the matter of Church and political life. I look to the example set by Bishop White as a better way to live in response to the challenges of faith and politics: we practice the Gospel by taking personal risks and making personal sacrifices for the safety of others and a more just world. We link our worship to our actions, becoming more Christ-like as we live. We become more truly “revolutionary” this way rather than more partisan and mean-spirited. When we gather on Sunday, July 4th, we will pray for our country, give thanks, and—like Bishop White—labor on that it might become the kind of nation it has long proclaimed: a land “with freedom and justice for all.”

 

Brandon+

 

The Collect for Independence Day:

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Prayer, Fasting, Mercy: "These Three are One."


This sermon is by St. Peter Chrysologus (c. 380 -- c.450), bishop of Ravenna. It is a wonder of beauty, economy, and insight. Use it as a guide for your Lenten journey and you won't go wrong:

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

           Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

           When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practise mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

           Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, a threefold united prayer in our favour.

           Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

           Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

           To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

           When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
            Amen.

Friday, January 15, 2021

An Earnest Pleading before Christ

This prayer, called an "Obsecration," is a pleading of God's mercy in the face of human sin. In the midst of a world bent on its own destruction, it is tempting to turn our backs in either indignation or disgust. Yet, the Christian faith embraces the Cross of Christ, and in so doing, intercedes for the world. Such pleading also confronts us with the truth of our own complicity, leading us to repentance and amendment of life. This prayer is especially suitable for Fridays throughout the year, as well as in Lent, Holy Week, and as an examination of conscience.

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Lord, by this sweet and saving Sign,

Defend us from our foes and thine.


Jesus, by thy wounded feet,

    Direct our paths aright:

Jesu, by thy nailed hands,

    Move ours to deeds of love:

Jesu, by thy pierced side,

    Cleanse our desires:

Jesu, by thy crown of thorns,

    Annihilate our pride:

Jesu, by thy parched lips,

    Curb our cruel speech:

Jesuby by thy closing eyes,

    Look on our sin no more:

Jesu, by thy broken heart,

    Knit ours to thee.


And by this sweet and saving Sign,

Lord, draw us to our peace and thine.


- Richard Crashaw, and others.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

St. Leo the Great on the Feast of the Epiphany


This excerpted sermon on the Epiphany by St. Leo the Great illustrates a number of features of classic Christian faith. It shows how deeply imbued with the Holy Scriptures all true teaching and preaching in the catholic faith must be. It delivers a message both of hope and of clear direction for how to savor this feast and how to apply it—in this case, by taking a lesson from the star that guides the Magi on their way, to help others come to their destination in God. It is a fine example of what faithful preaching has always been (and must always be), so human hearts may be nourished in the unique and joyful message of Salvation.

May your Epiphanytide celebrations continue the theme of joy and possibility begun at Christmas. Keep the whole season after Epiphany until Lent as a time of intentional thanksgiving for being led by faith into God's nearer presence while on earth and for the promise of meeting our Lord "face to face" at the end of the ages.

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The loving providence of God determined that in the last days he would aid the world, set on its course to destruction. He decreed that all nations should be saved in Christ.


A promise had been made to the holy patriarch Abraham in regard to these nations. He was to have a countless progeny, born not from his body but from the seed of faith. His descendants are therefore compared with the array of the stars. The father of all nations was to hope not in an earthly progeny but in a progeny from above.


Let the full number of the nations now take their place in the family of the patriarchs. Let the children of the promise now receive the blessing in the seed of Abraham, the blessing renounced by the children of his flesh. In the persons of the Magi let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not in Judaea only, but in the whole world, so that his name may be great in all Israel.


Dear friends, now that we have received instruction in this revelation of God’s grace, let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the merciful God, who has made us worthy, in the words of the Apostle, to share the position of the saints in light, who has rescued us from the power of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. As Isaiah prophesied: the people of the Gentiles, who sat in darkness, have seen a great light, and for those who dwelt in the region of the shadow of death a light has dawned. He spoke of them to the Lord: The Gentiles, who do not know you, will invoke you, and the peoples, who knew you not, will take refuge in you.


This is the day that Abraham saw, and rejoiced to see, when he knew that the sons born of his faith would be blessed in his seed, that is, in Christ. Believing that he would be the father of the nations, he looked into the future, giving glory to God, in full awareness that God is able to do what he has promised.


This is the day that David prophesied in the psalms, when he said: All the nations that you have brought into being will come and fall down in adoration in your presence, Lord, and glorify your name. Again, the Lord has made known his salvation; in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.


This came to be fulfilled, as we know, from the time when the star beckoned the three wise men out of their distant country and led them to recognize and adore the King of heaven and earth. The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.


Dear friends, you must have the same zeal to be of help to one another; then, in the kingdom of God, to which faith and good works are the way, you will shine as children of the light: through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
from Sermo 3 in Epiphania Domini, 1-3. 5: PL 54, 240-244.
St. Leo (c. 400 AD - 461 AD) is commemorated on November 10th


The Collect of the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Blessing your home this Epiphany


 

Epiphanytide Prayers 

for God’s Blessing on a Home

Also known as "Chalking the Doors" this service may be used during the first weeks of the New Year. Chalk is used, along with candles and holy water (obtainable through church).

 

[The electric lights are dimmed in the room where the opening section of the service is to be celebrated. Candles are lit and arranged on a table, around which participants stand. Holy water may be placed in a bowl or other container for use at the service’s conclusion.]

 

All: + In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Leader: Peace be to this house.

 

AllAnd to all who enter it in this year of God's favor and grace.

 

Leader: The Magi came from the East to worship the Lord Jesus.

 

All: And falling at his feet and beholding the radiance of his glory, the glory he had with the Father before the world began, they gave him precious gifts of mystic meaning.

 

Leader: They presented him with gold because he is the world's only true King, the one merciful Lord worthy of our gifts, our service and our vows. They blessed him with incense that sweet-smelling smoke might evermore rise up from our altars to the Throne of his majesty, worshipping and blessing and magnifying him, the one, true God. They offered him myrrh because it would soon anoint his immaculate body, preparing it for his burial.

 

A Reading from the Gospel according to Matthew: (2:1-12)

 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

 

AllOur Father....

 

Leader: Gracious God, you revealed your Son to the nations by the brilliant Star of Bethlehem. O Uncreated Light, Morning-Star of Epiphany and the world's New Dawn, lead us, warm our hearts, fortify our wills, enkindle our devotion to you, enlighten and illumine our inward vision. Lead us, guide us all the days of our earthly pilgrimage until we are received into your glory. We implore your great mercy through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

[With chalk, the leader makes this inscription on the lintel of the main entrance: 20+C+M+B+21. The letters stand for the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The numbers are for the year of our Lord. If holy water is to be used, it is brought forth for use at this time. If holy water is not used, the bracketed portion of the following prayer is omitted.]

 

Leader: Eternal God, we ask that you send your blessing to be upon this home. [Let the sprinkling of this holy water recall for us the gift of baptism, our consecration to Christ's service. May it drive far from this house and all who enter it all snares and assaults of the enemy. Wherever this water is sprinkled may safety be guarded and hospitality be made manifest.] Grant that faith, charity, and good health triumph over evil in this house. May your Word always be cherished and obeyed here. We give praise and thanksgiving to you, and to your Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[Holy water, in the sign of the cross, may be applied to the door. All may then bless themselves with holy water; holy water may be applied to the doorway of each room in the house; those present may sing appropriate Epiphanytide hymns as they move from room to room.]