News, views, notes, and quotes

Signs of the Times  •  17 October 2017 •  No. 140

Special edition

Processional.A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” University of Texas Trombone Choir.

Above: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia.

Invocation. To commemorate the International Day of the Girl, watch this remarkable video (2:57) of Beyoncés “Freedom.”  (Open a second tab to follow along with the lyrics.)

Call to worship. “The earth and all its environs were marked from the beginning as the Dwelling Place of abundance. In this once-and-future land the arrogant are humbled by the countenance of Truth. / Holy the Name, whose might is manifest in mercy. Prosper the work of every generous hand.” —continue reading “Prosper the work of every generous hand,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 90

Dirk Willems (see illustration at right) was a 16th century Dutch Anabaptist who is most famous for escaping from prison, turning around to rescue his pursuer—who had fallen through thin ice while chasing Willems—to then be recaptured, tortured and killed for his faith. Wikipedia

Hymn of praise (which gets my vote for a modern Reformation hymn). “If I Had a Hammer,” The Weavers.

One way to understand the Protestant Reformation (and maybe our own age as well) is to turn to the oft-cited quote from Anglican Bishops Mark Dyer, popularized in the writing of Phyllis Tickle:

        “The only way to understand what is currently happening to us as 21st-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every 500 years the church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale," when “the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered in order that renewal and new growth may occur." —see more at Tom Roberts, National Catholic Reporter

The Reformation is typically divided into two wings from the 16th century: the “Magisterial” Reformation (think Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, etc.) who were supported by their respective existing political institutions, and the “Radical” Reformation, a diverse collection of movements commonly designated as Anabaptists, who were very nearly killed off (by Reformation and Roman Catholic authorities) after a generation. The bodies known now as Mennonites, Brethren, Amish, etc., are among the Anabaptist heirs.

Near the end of seminary training, I made a listing of what had been the most important books in my theological education. As one reared in deep-water Baptist tradition, I was shocked to recognize that more than two-thirds of my “most important” guides were Roman Catholic authors. . . . I now say that while my ship of faith has many sails, its mainsail is that legacy flowing from the anabaptist outburst of the 16th century. —continue reading “My ship of faith has many sails: What it means to live into particular religious identity in the midst of spiritual plurality

Reformation as “democratizing access to the holy.” “Much of the history of the church is the story of the unfolding details of who gets to say and do what in the life of the believing community. It is the story of an increasingly complex bureaucracy detailing who gets to approach God on behalf of the people and approach the people on behalf of God. The early baptist impulse was to say that the unlettered and the unwashed also testify to the work of the Holy Spirit. The unanointed, the unlettered, the non-ordained also have access and also are called to speak to the difficult choices involved in following Jesus.” —continue reading “The baptist impulse: Notes toward a renewal of baptist identity

Confession. “We have divided Jesus into at least 41,000 denominational pieces when there is actually only one Jesus vine and, through the ages, billions of branches, because we . . . are the branches Jesus is referring to.” —Rev. Mari Larson, “Lutherans and Catholics Jointly Commemoration Reformation’s 500th Anniversary," The Catholic Key

Right: Dissenting Czech theologian Jan Huss, declared a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415 in Constance, Germany.

¶ “If anything signals the ‘overness’ of the Reformation, it has to be the appearance of Pope Francis at the Lutheran World Federation’s [LWF] formal inauguration of the year leading up to the October 2017 anniversary of the 95 Theses. This festive worship on October 31, 2016 featured the startling image of the pope—whose office was not infrequently identified by Luther as that of the Antichrist—processing up the aisle of the great cathedral flanked by Bishop Munib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, and Martin Junge, general secretary of the LWF.” —Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, “Is the Reformation over? Yes and no,” Christian Century

Hymn of supplication. “O God of earth and altar, / bow down and hear our cry, / our earthly rulers falter, / our people drift and die; / the walls of gold entomb us, / the swords of scorn divide, / take not thy thunder from us, / but take away our pride.” —Iron Maiden, “O God of Earth and Altar” (click “show more” to see all the lyrics)

THIS is the profound failure not only of the Magisterial Reformation but of the church as a whole, in effectively removing the actual life and teachings of Jesus from the Christian story (from John Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, 1545)
        Question 55: “Why do you leap at once from [Jesus’] birth to his death, passing over the whole history of his life?”
        Response: “Because nothing is treated of here but what so properly belongs to our salvation, as in a manner to contain the substance of it.”

Words of assurance. “Thou, greatest solace in all suffering, / Help us to fear neither shame nor death, / that we do not despair / before the enemy sues for our life. / Kyrioleis.” —lyrics to Martin Luther’s Pentecost hymn “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord”

Left: Martin Luther’s burning of the Papal Bull excommunicating him

¶ As with most all historical naming, the date of 31 October 1517 as “Reformation Day” is biased. Dissent against the Holy Mother Church had already been underway for a century. The choice of this date comes because one of the most identifiable and volatile acts occurred that day.

        “A simple act . . . but it triggered an epic era of political and religious convulsions that changed the shape of Europe” when “a monk named Martin Luther walked to a church in the German town of Wittenberg and nailed his 95 theses to its wooden doors, lighting the fuse of the Reformation.” —Harriet Sherwood, “After 500 years of schism, will the rift of the Reformation finally be healed?” The Guardian

        New technology was a key factor. “The Protestant Reformation had a lot to do with the printing press, where Martin Luther’s theses were reproduced about 250,000 times, and so you had widespread dissemination of ideas that hadn’t circulated in the mainstream before.” —Nate Silver, author and statistician

Luther was a prolific and eminently-quotable writer. Here are a few of my favorites:

        • “Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in spring-time.”

        • “As long as we live, there is never enough singing.”

        • “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

        • “You are not only responsible for what you say, but also for what you do not say.”

        • “I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels.”

It’s also true that Luther had some horrendous things to say about women, e.g., that women had but two roles: wife or prostitute. And even worse things about Jews, urging in “On the Jews and Their Lies” that “Jewish synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes burned, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and ‘these poisonous envenomed worms’ should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. . . . [W]e are at fault in not slaying them.Wikipedia

Professing our faith. “If you preach the gospel in all its aspects with the exception of the issues that deal specifically with your time, you are not preaching the Gospel at all.” —Martin Luther

Hymn of resolution.Give Me Jesus,” Danny Gokey.

Short story. For a short (8:17) video telling the story of Martin Luther’s revolt against the church’s practice of selling “indulgences” (to help speed one’s way, after death, from purgatory to heaven) to help rebuilding St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, see “An Introduction to the Protestant Reformation,” Khan Academy.

For a summary of the major characters of the Protestant Reformation, see History World’sHistory of the Reformation.”

¶ For a brief survey of the four currents within the “Radical Reformation”—the Protestant reformers who carried on the church’s reformation without official sanction from governing authorities—see “The Reformation Era,” Christianity Today.

Left: Oil painting after the etching La Pendaison (The Hanging), from Les Grandes Misères (“The Great miseries of War”), one of a series of 18 etchings by French artist Jacques Callot. The art depicts the destruction unleashed on civilians during the Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-1648), sparked when the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II attempted to push back the advance of Protestant rulers, primarily those of Sweden, France, Spain and Austria, with most of the conflict occurring on German soil. The “Peace of Wesphalia” treaty ending the wars reshaped the religious and political map of central Europe and set the stage for the development of the modern sovereign state.

Preach it. Harold Bender, the Anabaptist scholar, writes that the notion of following was the key distinctive of the Anabaptist movement's birth in the 16th century. By and large the radical reformers were in agreement with the magisterial reformers, but felt they hadn't pushed the Reformation far enough. The notion of ‘salvation by grace alone’ was good but not sufficient. . . . Nachfolge Christi—following Christ—was the insistent refrain from the Anabaptists. They insisted that any idea, any cognitive affirmation, about God is tested by the way it transforms the shape of our lives. —continue reading “Trust and obey: Reflections on living in the Spirit

Can’t makes this sh*t up. President Trump declared the week of Oct. 15-21 National Character Counts Week in a proclamation Friday. "We celebrate National Character Counts Week because few things are more important than cultivating strong character in all our citizens, especially our young people," Trump said. USA Today

Call to the table. “When three of us began daydreaming about a starting a new congregation . . .  one of the things we immediately imagined was worship centered around communion. This tangible ritual act—of re-membering in the midst of a dismembered world—is poignantly expressive of our theological vision.” —continue reading “Eucharistic conventions: Why we practice these (somewhat) odd manners at the Lord’s Table

The state of our disunion. “Forasmuch as experience hath plentifully and often proved that since the first rising of the Anabaptists, about one hundred years since [a gross, willful, or ignorant misrepresentation], they have been the incendiaries of the Commonwealth, and the infectors of persons in matters of religion.” —“Act of the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony law November 1644

Best one-liner. “We must make the invisible kingdom visible in our midst.” —John Calvin

For the beauty of the earth. “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world, that is not intended to make us rejoice.” —John Calvin

Altar call. “Even if we were not sinful by nature, the sin of having private property would suffice to condemn us before God; for that which he gives us freely, we appropriate to ourselves.” —Swiss Protestant reformer Huldrych Zwingli

Benediction. “We should ask God to increase our hope when it is small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and raise it up when it is overthrown.” —John Calvin

Recessional.Never Turning Back,” Street Choir Festival at Jubilee Square in Leicester, made up of 30 choirs across the UK.

Lectionary for this Sunday. “For the nations shall tremble, the earth shall quake, at the stirring of Holy Intent. For the Beloved awakes to the cries of the poor, to the mourning of land and sky.” —continue reading “Nation of frivolous piety,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 99 & Isaiah 1:15

Lectionary for Sunday next. Prosper the work of every generous hand,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 90.

Just for fun. A Calvinist arrives at St. Peter’s gates and sees that there are two queues going in. One is marked “predestined,” and the other is marked “free will.” Being the card-carrying Calvinist that he is, he strolls on over to the predestined queue. After several moments an angel asks him, “Why are you in this line?” He replies, “Because I chose it.” The angel looked surprised, “Well, if you ‘chose’ it, then you should be in the free will line.” So our Calvinist, now slightly miffed, obediently wanders over to the free will line. Again, after a few minutes, another angel asks him, “Why are you in this line?” He sullenly replies, “Someone made me come here.”

Just for fun #2.Monty Python—The Adventures of Martin Luther.”

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Featured this week on prayer&politiks

• “Prosper the work of every generous hand,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 90

• “My ship of faith has many sails: What it means to live into particular religious identity in the midst of spiritual plurality,” a short essay

• “Eucharistic conventions: Why we practice these (somewhat) odd manners at the Lord’s Table,” a short essay

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