Tag Archives: decision

History and Divine Necessity

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Biblical Text: Luke 13:22-35
Full Sermon Draft

A lot of people these days claim “history” on their side. We are urged to “be on the right side of history”. I’m convinced this is actually derived from a Martin Luther King quote.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

I first heard this quote modified about 15 years ago to drop the moral universe and replace it with history (Here is an example of that substitution). In fact I was surprised (and delighted) when I looked up the actual quote and its context to find moral universe. When you look at the context, which this sermon does, King’s moral universe is very defined. Where history, especially when it is claimed as a moral imperative, is always relative to the speaker, a moral universe is rooted in a larger context. King’s larger context, as the larger quote displays, is the bible, the faith and the Words of the Lord.

And that is the bedrock of the text. The only person who history is relative to is Jesus Christ. To understand the moral universe we much decide who we say Christ is. It is necessary, it is a divine necessity that Jesus continue his course. That fox Herod has no authority to stop it. Now there are a whole lot of things that we might think the divine necessity applies to or should apply to, but none of those are what God says it does. God applies that necessity to the cross. The one who had actual complete freedom chose the cross. The action is why King’s statement is true. The entire moral universe is defined by the love of God. A love that desires to gather his children under a crucified wing.

We sang a hymn new to the hymnbook and modern this morning that captures this mystery. It is paired with a pretty melancholy tune in the Lutheran Service Book, but no one would say that the combination is anything other than a tough contemplative song. For a people who might be more used to the modern praise song with snappy riffs, happy cords and simple refrains, In Silent Pain the Eternal Son (LSB 432), might just be the antithesis. What is really captured by it is the fact that the most glorious sight in the universe is a set of scars…that a body derelict and still on a cross is the definition of necessity and love.

1. In silent pain the_eternal Son
Hangs derelict and still;
In darkened day His work is done,
Fulfilled, His Father’s will.
Uplifted for the world to see
He hangs in strangest victory,
For in His body on the tree
He carries all our ill.

2. He died that we might die to sin
And live for righteousness;
The earth is stained to make us clean
And bring us into peace.
For peace He came and met its cost;
He gave Himself to save the lost;
He loved us to the uttermost
And paid for our release.

3. For strife He came, to bring a sword,
The truth to end all lies;
To rule in us, our patient Lord,
Until all evil dies:
For in His hand He holds the stars,
His voice shall speak to end our wars,
And those who love Him see His scars
And look into His eyes.

Pastor’s hate weddings…

I sat on this one for a few days because I know what I’m going to say will be snotty, snippy, catty or just bad.

Here is the link to the open letter/article by a Viv Groskop in the UK Guardian. Her former Vicar (Anglican Pastor) is leaving the Anglican Church for Rome, and she wishes him God-speed. (I’ve block-quoted the entire thing at the bottom because I don’t know how long the link will work.)

Here is her money quote…

I would not describe myself as a religious person but I do have some sort of faith. I grew up singing in the choir in the church where I got married (sorry, blessed). Over the years, though, any belief I once had has dwindled away to next to nothing because there is no way to express it casually or on a part-time basis. You’re not that welcome at church services unless you want to become a regular member of the congregation – and you’re not that welcome at your own wedding if the person you want to marry is divorced…I would like to see the Church of England be more inclusive not only towards women priests but towards people like me – people who rarely attend church, often question their faith, but who are, essentially, supportive of the church…That there is no room for fellow travellers, you either believe or you don’t, the church is your life or it is not. But this is completely unrealistic in modern society. In any case, the church I grew up in was about more than religion: it was about community, ritual and a sense of belonging. Where can you go for those now?

What Mrs. Groskop wants is a religious social club. I can recommend one, the masons. They are usually a fine and upstanding group that does good things. They have some rituals, especially at funerals. They like to get together and support each other business wise. The masons are everything that Ms. Groskop wants. What they are not is the church of Jesus Christ whose founder said things like: everyone who has, more will be given, but the one who has nothing, even that will be taken away (Luke 19:26), and whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matt 10:38), and destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19). Jesus was an all or nothing kinda guy who didn’t take to kindly to pious ritualistic religion.

Now, you can say that her Vicar seems to have been a little overbearing. Maybe a two word phrase rhyming with lompus lass might be in order. But he told the truth. Ultimately we are all asked to answer the question Jesus put to everyone – “who do you say that I am?” If you are going to say Lord, can you at the same time say, but I don’t want to see you except for that cute Christmas Eve fire service and for a blessing, excuse me a wedding or two or three…

On our wedding day we virtually ran back down the aisle the second the ceremony ended. “I thought you were going to trip up, you were in a such a hurry,” I remember one guest saying. Why the rush? Because it wasn’t really a wedding at all, but a blessing – and throughout the ceremony the vicar had not let us forget it.

My husband had been married before and, in the Church of England, remarriage is at the vicar’s discretion. Our vicar had decided against it. Throughout the ceremony he referred repeatedly and pointedly to “new beginnings” as opposed to just “beginnings”. He insisted that there be no exchange of rings, because we were, technically, already man and wife. (We went to a registry office five days earlier.) I spent most of the ceremony fiddling with my headdress because I had been told that I shouldn’t be wearing a veil (too bridal for a blessing). It was only at the last minute that the vicar relented and allowed my father to walk me down the aisle. And did I mention that it was not a beginning but a new beginning? I can still remember seeing, out of the corner of my eye, friends and family in the congregation cringing.

It did not come as a huge shock, then, to discover this week that the same vicar who married us is now seeking to defect wholesale – with his parish – to Rome. Father Stephen Bould of St Peter on the East Cliff in Folkestone may be the first to leave the Church of England following Pope Benedict XVI’s offer of “safe harbour” to disaffected Anglicans.

The irony wasn’t lost on me. In the 10 years since I married – in Bould’s previous parish in Somerset, where I grew up – I too have become disaffected by the church. But I’m not exactly rushing headlong to Rome. Instead, I’m more likely to consider signing up for a meditation course. Which is, I think, sad, but fairly typical of people like me.

I would not describe myself as a religious person but I do have some sort of faith. I grew up singing in the choir in the church where I got married (sorry, blessed). Over the years, though, any belief I once had has dwindled away to next to nothing because there is no way to express it casually or on a part-time basis. You’re not that welcome at church services unless you want to become a regular member of the congregation – and you’re not that welcome at your own wedding if the person you want to marry is divorced.

Around the time I got married I convinced myself that the Church of England’s stance on remarriage was impressive: I told myself that I approved of the fact that my husband’s first marriage wasn’t going to be swept under the carpet; that the church had more respect for marriage than to pretend it doesn’t matter how many times you do it. But over time I’ve changed my mind.

Ten years on I’m disillusioned for the opposite reasons to the angry Anglicans. I would like to see the Church of England be more inclusive not only towards women priests but towards people like me – people who rarely attend church, often question their faith, but who are, essentially, supportive of the church. It’s not as if you’d ever be turned away from a service, but there is a clear message on high days and holidays. Always the hopeful raised eyebrow: are you coming back on a regular basis or not? How serious are you? In today’s Christian Britain you are either atheist or God Squad. There’s no inbetween.

Those, like Bould, who look to Rome would say this is right. That if you want to marry in our church, you follow our rules. That there is no room for fellow travellers, you either believe or you don’t, the church is your life or it is not. But this is completely unrealistic in modern society. In any case, the church I grew up in was about more than religion: it was about community, ritual and a sense of belonging. Where can you go for those now?

Perhaps if more take the road to Rome it will help. Anyone who wants a doggedly principled stance towards the Christian faith knows where to go. But while parish priests bicker about who is more biblically correct, they should beware. A whole new generation is heading to the nearest yoga class.