Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
If you’re wondering why things are a little different this morning, it is because we are using the worship service from the 1604 Book of Common Prayer.
This year is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and we thought it might be illuminating, maybe not edifying, but illuminating, to reach into the past and worship like our spiritual ancestors worshipped 400 years ago… if we tried to replicate the 500 years ago it would look more like a boxing match than a worship service.
That said, here is what I’m hoping for today: that we can observe what is the same and what it different, and notice what was kept and what was thrown out, and then, wonder what we would keep and what we would throw out not necessarily from our worship, though maybe, but more importantly from our vision of God; looking to see where it connects or doesn’t connect in the world around us.
This matters because, as I have said before, right now, we are in the midst of another Reformation. I’ll say more about that in a minute. But during the last Reformation 500 years ago, because the church was not self-reflecting as it trudged through change, sometimes it threw out the baby with the bathwater. And while that baby, in most cases, was retrieved it took a while and a lot of thrashing around.
If you’ve been to a cathedral in England, you know what I’m talking about. In many of these ancient places the only stain glass widows that remain are the ones that were too high to shatter. They were broken by silly men who thought change in the church would come about by breaking windows. And while that was unhelpful, the Reformation did bring about some very important changes like: encouraging people to read the Bible; saying the mass in the vernacular; spending more time teaching the faith. Indeed, 500 years ago the church needed a Reformation.
So, we step into the past this morning with the assignment of observing what is the same, and what it different, and then wondering what we would keep and what we would throw out, and where our vision of God meets the needs and desires of the world.
We are in the midst of a Reformation. And you might be surprised to know, that Epiphany, this little neighborhood church in the Pacific Northwest, ensconced in secular Seattle, sits at the vanguard of this Reformation. We are a vital and growing and dynamic outpost of the kingdom of heaven, and other churches wonder about us.
I get calls every so often asking me what we are doing. And my answer is simple… we train to live our lives as God imagined our lives could be lived, and we are looking for the beloved in the other. And oddly, it seems, that is enough to inspire Reformation in the church, at least our church… training to live as God hopes we could live, and looking for the beloved in the other. If I were to tack a title onto this Reformation, I’d call it: “The Beloved Reformation.”
As we participate in this 1604 service you may notice are two things (at least they jumped out to me): First, the dominant role of the priest. Second, the male chauvinist language. I’m glad to report that both of these aspects of our worship service, for the most part, in the Episcopal Church have changed; and yet, the underlying cancer from which they come has not yet been irradiated from our culture.
The Harvey Weinstein revelations this past month are an example of the long tail of male chauvinism and its partner, the abuse of power. My hope is that the Weinstein case proves a flashpoint that ignites the final fire to burn away the dross of sexual harassment, discrimination and prejudice. I pray, more and more, that women stand for it no more. I pray, more and more, that men stand for it no more. I pray we talk about it; we call it out the minute it happens; we name it, and tell the little boy who proclaims it to cut it out; to grow up; or to get out of our way.
And we can do this because, as Paul says in his first letter to the Thessalonian’s, “With full conviction as imitators of Jesus we have the words, and power, and presence of the Holy Spirit on our side.” And because that is the case, we are unstoppable, and we are unafraid. How can that be? Very simply – we know that we are beloved by God; God is on our side; and a Reformation is at hand. And you know what else we know? That when we accept our belovedness, we can see more clearly the belovedness in the other. That is what makes us powerful. That is what makes our Reformation unstoppable…we know that the one we are encountering; the other, they are beloved by God just like we are. God is on our side. AND God is on their side. I am beloved by God. You are beloved by God. They are beloved by God. Belovedness is the mechanism for Reformation in the world today.
Every five hundred years or so there is a Reformation. The tectonic plates of religion shift, and the earthen crust of dogma cracks, as the hot lava of spiritual renewal roils up and seeps across the land, changing everything. And then over time the lava hardens, and becomes so sharp and brittle that you can’t walk across, and when this happens a new Reformation takes place again.
I don’t know how far back this pattern goes back, but I do know there was:
Abraham, and five hundred years later there was Moses, and five hundred years later there was King David, and five hundred years later there was The Babylonian exile, and five hundred years later there was Paul, and five hundred years later there was The fall of the Roman Empire and beginning of the monastic movement, and five hundred years later there was The split between the Latin church in Rome and the Orthodox church in Constantinople, and five hundred years later there was The Protestant Reformation, and five hundred years later you are sitting here at Epiphany in Seattle…and where we are now, we call the Beloved Reformation. What do you think?
And here is the most critical thing about this Beloved Reformation…it is not about winners and losers, it’s not about insiders and outsiders, it is not about being right or being wrong; or breaking windows. If it is, then it isn’t a Reformation, it is a war; it is a power struggle; it is base and crude and sad. But here is the reality; war and power struggles always seem to accompany spiritual Reformations. Look around – maybe that is how we know we are in the midst of a Reformation right now.
And so how do we respond? Beginning, of course by knowing that God is on our side and acknowledging that God is on their side as well. And so how do we respond? By owning that I am beloved, and you are beloved, and they are beloved by God. If that had been Weinstein perspective, imagine how much better the world would have been. And further (I believe this) that the films he made would have been even greater than the ones he actually produced. My only hope for him now is that he realizes he too is beloved by God.
So, let’s return to the 1604 service, and look at what was kept. You’ll see:
The Lords Prayer; the Prayers of the People; the dignity of the Eucharist; and the pattern of the Word followed by the pattern of the Table. We still read the Bible. We still keep the silence. We still collect an offering, and we still sing for the glory of God.
Why do we do these things? Paul reminds us in Thessalonians today: “For we know, brothers and sisters, beloved by God, that God has chosen you…not only in word, but also in power and by the Holy Spirit to be full of conviction. So be imitators of Jesus…and in that way be an example to all” (paraphrase)
That is the most important thing to remember in this Reformation, it must always be led by example. Jesus is our example, and by him, we become an example to many. I don’t care what you believe particularly…which is why I say, “Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you have a place at Epiphany.” But I do care how you act. And when you act badly, I do expect you seek reconciliation. Why… because I care about your spiritual journey, and your relationships, and the health of our community and the well-being of this city. I believe that by our actions we inspire the Beloved Reformation. Things are going to change; the question is what part will you play? The question is what role will Epiphany play?
And so, as we are drawn into this Beloved Reformation we keep the worship, the prayers, the scripture, and the sacred meal, as we leave behind the dross of division made known by harassment and discrimination and prejudice.
In 500 years someone may be celebrating the anniversary of our Beloved Reformation from the vantage point of the very pews you are sitting in today. And they may spot a little of our goofiness, but I pray they see more of our goodness. I pray they say YES, those were the people who spiritually reinvigorated the church through the belovedness they knew in themselves and the belovedness they saw in others. You are beloved, and this is our Reformation.
What if this is a Reformation? What role do you imagine Epiphany could or should play?
What might this Reformation mean for you personally, on your spiritual journey?
How would you describe to another person the belovedness that God has for you?
What do you do on a daily basis to own your belovedness?
What do you do on a daily basis to call out the belovedness in the other?