Sunday, July 4, 2010

An Object Lesson on July 4, 2010

Homily for Proper 9 Year C 2010
The Episcopal Church has set aside July 4 of each year as a day of prayer for our nation. Proper Psalms, Lessons, and Prayers were first appointed for this observance in the Proposed Prayer Book of 1786. They were deleted, however, by the General Convention of 1789, primarily as a result of the intervention of Bishop William White. Though himself a supporter of the American Revolution, he felt that the required observance was inappropriate, since the majority of the Church’s clergy had, in fact, been loyal to the British crown.
Writing about the Convention which had called for the observance of the day throughout “this Church, on the fourth of July, for ever,” White said, “The members of the convention 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 to the American revolution the adoption of this service; although, by the use of it, they must make an implied acknowledgment of their error, in an address to Almighty God. . . . The greater stress is laid on this matter because of the notorious fact, that the majority of the clergy could not have used the service, without subjecting themselves to ridicule and censure. For the author’s part, having no hindrance of this sort, he contented himself with having opposed the measure, and kept the day from respect to the requisition of the convention; but could never hear of its being kept, in above two or three places beside Philadelphia.”
It was not until the revision of 1928 that provision was again made for the liturgical observance of the day. Since 1928, however, this observance has been an official day on the Church calendar. For the last decade, we have held a special service on the fourth day of July, here at St. Mark’s, in observance of this special day. At these services, we have sung hymns--musical prayers--asking for God’s blessing upon our country and giving thanks to God for the many benefits we enjoy as citizens of this country. We have offered up prayers to God for ourselves as citizens, and for those who serve us in the government--Administrative, Judicial, and Legislative.
The service has become part of the community’s celebration of this day. We have had nearly as many persons from the neighborhood as we have had members of this parish in attendance.
This year, however, we will have no special observance. I figured since the day of the observance this year, did not fall on the fourth of July, that no one would attend. This year, the observance of Independence Day, falls on the fifth day of July. So, I canceled the service. It is hard enough to get people to come to a special service for our nation when it falls on the fourth of July. I knew it was pointless to attempt it on any other day. Next year, however, when the fourth day of July falls on a Monday, we will once again liturgically observe Independence Day.
As for today, our nation and its founding, rest heavily upon our hearts and minds. We will, therefore, include in our prayers (both sung and said) particular petitions for our country and its citizens. I am particularly aware of those members of our parish who cannot be with us today, because their service to this nation has taken them to Afghanistan or Iraq. While they are continually in my prayers, on this day, I am very aware of the burden upon my heart that concern for their welfare has created.
We have many prayers to make, as we contemplate the state of our union. Environmental diaster on our southern coast, an economic crisis in its third year, two wars that are proving very difficult to end. While our petitions are many, so are our thanksgivings. Even in economic crisis, we enjoy a prosperity others can hardly imagine. We enjoy liberty and freedom few in the history of the world have ever known.
All of this, however, is but prologue to my sermon--a sermon for when “Proper 9 of Year C” happens to fall on the fourth of July. In fact, the sermon is not on the “propers”--as is typical. The sermon is, rather, a meditation on the annomoly of it being Proper 9 of Year C on the fourth of July, 2010.
As many of you know, all Feast Days appointed on fixed days in the Calendar, when they occur on a Sunday, are
transferred to the first convenient open day within the week. There are some exceptions to this rule. Easter and Christmas are such exceptions. Given the importance of the observance of the Lord’s Day, few other observances are to take precedence.
Now I know that this rather strict adherence to the rules of the Church calendar sometimes annoys you. I remember being chastized a few years ago when Holy Week fell during March Madness. I was asked, “Can’t you plan Good Friday on another day?”
I had to explain that I lacked the authority to do so. To change the Church calendar is “above my pay grade.” But we can learn a great deal about ourselves when such conflicts arise. What are our priorities? What are our values? Is the object of our worship the creator, or merely some part of the creation?
Today is an object lesson. Is today the Lord’s Day or is it Independence Day? What we learn from the Church calendar is that the observance of Independence Day does not take precedence. We enflesh that rule by the choice of readings and collects for today. But, I ask myself--how do I enflesh that rule in my life--not just my liturgical observance? Maybe the answer is easy for you, but it is not for me. Historically, it has not been easy for persons of conscience.
As I indicated earlier, most clergy of the Episcopal Church were loyal to the English throne during the Revolutionary War. At their ordinations, they had taken a vow of loyalty to the King and they took their vows seriously.
Those who take their faith and their allegience to any earthly realm seriously must always struggle with the tensions such convictions bring. Its why Rome fed Christians to the lions two thousand years ago. Christians said their ultimate loyalty could never be to the state. Its why Bonhoffer was imprisoned and killed. He said his ultimately loyalty was to God, not his country. Even today, in too many places, governments continue to persecute Christians precisely because we refuse to give our ultimate loyalty to any earthly power.
I suppose their are persons who worship America. Some of them may even think of themselves as Christians. We can’t forget that the vast majority of the citizens of Nazi Germany were church-going Christians. Most clergy, both Catholic and Protestant, supported Hitler and his government. But I don’t know any personally who worship America (at least not of which I am aware). But what we say and what we do are not always in sync. So, I wonder, in the living of my life, when the Lord’s Day conflicts with Independence Day (as it were)--what will I do?

Too Good to be True?

The Sunday Telegraph has reported the openly gay Dean of St. Albans Cathedral will be the next Bishop of Southwark .

The story is hard to believe.

The process for the selection of a Bishop is very different in the Church of England than in the Episcopal Church: a committee nominates, the Prime Minister signs off on the nominee and the Queen appoints. The Archbishop of Canterbury chairs the committee ("The Crown Nominations Commission"). If the Dean of St. Alban's is the nominee, then the role of the Archbishop in his selection will be an interesting story.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Rowan Williams (the Archbishop of Canterbury) favored Jeffrey John (Dean of St. Alban's Cathedral) to be the nominee. That Johns would be favored by Williams is hard to believe.

John was nominated to be the Bishop of Reading in 2003, but was asked by Williams to "stand down" before he could be consecrated as Bishop and installed at Reading. If the story in the Telegraph is true, Williams has changed course.

Further, Williams has been critical of the Episcopal Church for consecrating two openly homosexual persons as Bishops. Again, if the story in the Telegraph is true, Williams has changed course.

Williams' position on openly homosexual persons serving as Bishop has, however, been complicated. Before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Williams supported the full inclusion of homosexual persons into the full life of the Church. As the Archbishop of Canterbury, however, he has opposed the consecration of openly homosexual persons to be bishop. Apparently, Williams laid aside his personal convictions in this matter and followed his understanding of the dictates and duties and obligations of the office of Archbishop of Canterbury.

Given this history, the story in the Telegraph is hard to believe.