June 16, 2019

2019 June16

Trinity Sunday - Year C
Commemorating the 1st Book of Common Prayer 1549

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

By show of hands, how many of you believe the Church to be a source of cultural, social and ideological change? As we commemorate the Book of Common Prayer 1549, with its outdated language and undeveloped theology, the Church as a source of cultural, social and ideological change may not be obvious.

 

Anglicanism is often spoken of in the context of rebellion: “Oh! That’s the church that Henry VIII created because he wanted a divorce!” That’s like saying the United States was “created” because some people didn’t like a tax on tea. Both statements represent only minor elements of the history, context and conditions in which the respective peoples lived. The English Reformation, like the American Revolution, was a struggle for independence, sovereignty and liberation of thought. Both paved the way for cultural, social and ideological change like had never been experienced before. Both shaped the way we in this building worship today.

 

The Book of Common Prayer
1549 stands as an emblem of that
Innovation.

 

I want to declare upfront that in no way am I advocating that we return to the BCP 1549; we are simply commemorating it since its anniversary – which is on a moveable feast – occurred on the actual date of its promulgation.

 

Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 1549
would have been the first
widespread use of English for
Holy Communion.

 

Prior to that date 470 years ago, the service would have been in Latin, and the text of the Mass was not consistent around Europe.

 

The BCP 1549 was a model of liturgical creativity and reform. It drew upon the Western Church’s liturgical tradition, and therefore maintained continuity. Yet, its use and incorporation of Scripture was considered refreshing and innovative. Believe it or not, this made the English liturgy distinct from the Roman liturgy. The BCP’s content was (and still is) mostly biblical! The texts drew from Scripture, and its mandate to utilize the lectionary – or schedule of bible readings – was structured such that the entire Bible was read through once a year. Within that, the New Testament was read 3 times a year, and the Psalms once a month. In going forward, the BCP went back to Scripture, and with sermons to go along with it, a social and cultural shift emerged, and the Bible became dominant in the lives of the English. The BCP was an Innovation which looked back on Scripture and the traditions of the Church in order to move the Church forward.

 

Thomas Cranmer was the chief architect of the BCP. The book “The Church in History” states:

 

Cranmer’s “ultimate aim was to reform the Church in order that the pure Word of God might affect the reform of individuals after the image of God and thus of the society in which they lived, extending from the king at Westminster to the lowliest plough-hand at Aslocton [Cranmer’s hometown in rural Nottinghamshire]. All stood in need of salvation.”

 

The Innovation which probably is the greatest legacy of the BCP 1549 is the use of the English language. One of the 39 Articles of the Church of England, and a foundational tenant of Anglicanism worldwide is encapsulated in the 24th Article (page 872 in the BCP 1979):

 

Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth. It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have public Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments, in a tongue not understanded of the people.

 

It wouldn’t be for another 418 years that the “Primitive Church” (aka the Roman Church) would allow regular celebration of the Mass in the vernacular of the people. Widespread worship in English in 1549: That’s Innovation! The Book of Common Prayer put the liturgy and the Bible into the hands of the people. And as literacy slowly grew, so did the common person’s understanding of the Love of God within a Book of Common Prayer which emphasized Holy Communion in God and in the community. That’s Innovation and cultural, social and ideological change.

 

Now that Cranmer brought the liturgy to the People, the liturgy could be what it is: the Work of the People. The word comes from the Greek from lēitos ‘public’ + -ergos ‘working’. The church’s public working is the worship of God, in which the life of Christ is active by the power of the Spirit. When we engage in liturgy as the people, we express the church’s identity and mission in a public and social event, and we fully engage our lives, faith, thoughts, feelings, hopes, needs, and salvation in Christ through our engagement with the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. We express our call to invite others into this relationship with God, and we serve the needs of our community and the world. Because our lives are not static, but dynamic, and liturgy requires our whole selves, there is a great potential for Innovation through liturgy. Liturgy includes actions and words, symbols and ritual, scriptures and liturgical texts, gestures and vestments, prayers that are spoken or sung. Together we make the Sacrament. Therefore, it is always fresh, and can be a launching point for Innovation.

 

The BCP brought the work of the
people into the hands of the
people. That’s Innovation.

 

So, that’s the Book of Common Prayer as Innovation. The Church has actually been a source of cultural, social and ideological change since the time of the Apostles. To varying degrees throughout our history, the Church has been a driving force in social work, healthcare and education. In Europe and the United States, this eventually led to state-funded support for these issues. That’s Innovation.

 

The Work of the People and the Church as Innovation is not lost on us today. We must always be asking ourselves as the St Stephen’s family: Where is our liturgy – our Work of the People – leading us next as a church family?

 

Yes. We Episcopalians understand that our liturgy, our beloved Book of Common Prayer – now v1979, not v1549 – can be difficult for the first-timer. It does, however, bring together a full engagement of our lives, faith, thoughts, feelings, hopes, needs, and salvation in Christ through our participation in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, in a public and social event. Cramming all of that into 40-to-75-minutes is going to be a little awkward, no matter how you package it.

 

Now, how can we in this congregation go forth from here to be a source of cultural, social and ideological change? Our roots give us a firm foundation on which to build. Currently, The Episcopal Church, on the national level, is offering us new ways to engage with faith. The Way of Love (www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love):

 

“is an intentional commitment to a set of practices. It’s a commitment to follow Jesus: Turn, Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest.”

 

Beloved Community StorySharing (www.episcopalchurch.org/beloved-community-storysharing) is a:

 

“Campaign [that] seeks to help faith communities and individuals to share and receive stories of faith, race, and difference and to become more effective healers, reconcilers, and ambassadors of Christ in the world.”

 

Both innovations are encouraged to be deployed:

  1. within the congregation,
  2. between different Episcopal congregations near and far, and
  3. with friends, family, neighbors, faith communities, and civic partners.


The other amazing aspect of these innovations is that they are not new. Like the BCP 1549, they reach into our Scriptural history. From the time of Jesus, from the time of the Prophets, from the time of Creation, we have been called to follow a Way of Love, rooted in God’s love for us and for all Creation. And since the dawn of time, peace between peoples and individuals has been manifested through sharing stories of self and community.

 

The Presiding Bishop is the front man for these innovations, and he expects us to be the hands and feet who do this work in the world. Jesus’ innovation was to use the Apostles to spread the Good News of the work of God in the world through Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus takes all that is His and gives it to the Disciples; we are to find both traditional and innovative ways to continue that work.

 

So, here we are this morning worshiping in an old language with an expression of an undeveloped theology. In the 21C, as we continue the worship of Jesus with more contemporary language and a more developed theology, we have built upon our biblical, Apostolic and English roots. We bring both the past and the present into our Work of the People as we strive for full inclusion of all God’s people, and endeavor to live out the wisdom of the Prophets who encouraged the ancient Israelites to care for the widow, the orphan, the resident alien and the environment.

 

That, too, was another of Cranmer’s Innovations. With the Book of Common Prayer, he emphasized that we receive salvation through our faith (as Paul states at the beginning of our second reading), expressed in our worship, but our worship compels us to do God’s work in the world. This drew from both the Protestant and the Roman theologies of Justification, respectively. Our 21C worship and the state of the world around us draw us into that need for balance.

 

The Book of Common Prayer and its various revisions have given Anglican Christians around the world 470 years of connection. Words and phrases have rolled off the tongues of the faithful in every generation. Snippets repeatedly popped up in the plays Of Shakespeare, and provided inspiration for the poetry of John Donne and George Herbert.

 

The BCP is as much a work of
literature as it is one of liturgy.

 

On the surface, it seems as if commemorating the BCP 1549 is archaic and a thing of the past. But all we need to do is scratch the surface to discover that it was an innovation of its time which influenced and changed culture, society and the ideologies of generations to come. The BCP was not only a way of worshiping, it was a way of being Church. Today, The Way of Love and Beloved Community StorySharing are innovative ways of being Church and expressing the Gospel to others. And all of them – the BCP 1549, our current BCP 1979, The Way of Love and Beloved Community StorySharing – draw upon the old ways of scripture and tradition in order to innovate and revitalize our relationships with God.


We, the Church can be a source
of cultural, social and ideological
change!

 

As we discern how to Welcome, Worship and Work for, with, to and among the people of San Luis Obispo, the history and outcome of the BCP 1549 teaches us to stay grounded in our Biblical and Creedal roots as we find ways to proclaim the Gospel afresh in this and in every generation.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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