Sunday, 12 November 2017

Common Prayer: Medicine Hat Catholics and Lutherans Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation—an Homily

Jesus must be the first word out of my mouth as I speak to you this afternoon—Jesus, the first and living Word—capital W (John 1.1), the Name above all Names (Phil 2.9). Jesus is our shared Saviour and Lord. Jesus is our shared imperative, our distinctive, our centre. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the life, our hope, our peace, our salvation, and, as we were just reminded in the reading from John 15, our true vine (John 15.1) in to which we were all grafted in our baptism (another thing we share, by the way). Let’s worship him…

O Come Let Us Adore Him
We’ll give You all the glory
For You Alone are Worthy. 

The Reformation. Picture, if you will, a 500 year old theological minefield, dotted here and there with great names and events, great joys and accomplishments, great sorrows and tragedies. And a little group of Catholics and Lutherans gather here on the edge of it here in Medicine Hat and say to each other, “Who will venture out onto that minefield to speak to us on November the 12th?” I know, let’s send an Anglican! Anglicans are expert at navigating through theological minefields. They’re so polite! And, if he is unfortunate enough to step on one of those mines, none us will be hurt and we won’t have to be mad at each other. So, here I am. 

I am honoured beyond words to have been asked to address you in name of Jesus, our shared Lord and Saviour—you are both parental denominations for us Anglicans. Catholic and Protestant. We like to think we Anglicans got the best of both your worlds. You guys went at it for a time, we joined in here and there depending on Henry VIII’s marital status at the the time, and whether the Queen was Mary or Elizabeth, (that was the conflict part of the journey) then, after the dust had settled, we moved in and helped ourselves to your best bits. And we Anglicans have been, as some have said (rather unkindly, I thought) loving Jesus with a slightly superior attitude ever since. We consider ourselves to be Catholic, only English Catholic rather than Roman Catholic. And Protestant—Thomas Cranmer drew, too, from Luther and the other reformers when he composed our Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The via media—middle way between Catholicism and Lutheranism—Queen Elizabeth I called us. 

I’m not going to talk about the conflict part of the Reformation this afternoon. It happened. There was goodness in it and there was not. Whenever the Spirit moves, so do the World, the flesh and the devil, usually in opposition and mayhem. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has and will continue to redeem it in the power of the Holy Spirit—that we are here this afternoon working on bringing communion out of the conflict attests to that. 

I’m more concerned about what we do now, 500 years later. How shall we know Jesus more clearly, love Jesus more dearly and follow Jesus more nearly here and now, in the time and place the vinegrower chose to place us—Catholics, Lutherans, (and I’m going to include Anglicans and all the rest)—followers and worshippers of Jesus all—divided and yet, one.

Jesus tells us. Even in the few verses I read from John, chapter 15, there is much to mark, learn and inwardly digest. First, this reminder: Jesus is the True Vine (John 15.1). There can only one True Vine—sola vinea. In other words, through Jesus come all the nutrients we need to stay alive as Church and individuals. That’s good. I like that. And I like the image of God the Father as the vinegrower that comes with it, I can picture him wandering through the vineyard with his watering can, (not bothering to pull the weeds, of course, the Bible says they should be left until the final harvest)—the breeze of the Holy Spirit riffling his hair, the leaves on the vines gently swaying—a lovely pastoral image—Lutherans and Catholics all together in the sunshine being lovingly tended and looked after. 

As the butterflies flutter and the bees buzz, Jesus continues, 
My Father removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. (V2)
Here’s where we venture out on to that minefield I mentioned earlier. Did Jesus have denominations in mind when he used the branches image? Some Catholics thought for a while (maybe some still do) that, because of the Reformation, us Protestants were “removed” from the true vine—and some Protestants thought the same of them. It’s got to stop! Removal didn’t, and won’t, happen because, and as long as, we’re still on the Jesus vine—despite our differences—and we’re still bearing fruit, not as much as the vinegrower would like, perhaps, but bearing. Which brings me to where I have take another step in that minefield.   

Pruning—the root of the Greek word here refers to pruning and cleansing. There has been and there will continue to be pruning—often with sharp things which can seem unreasonably painful at the time. But we all need it. The abundant life which comes to us through Jesus, the one true vine, comes so we will bear fruit in witness and service. That’s the point of the true vine having branches like us. 

What’s fruit for? Reproduction. How does that work? Fruit is usually sweet and a delight to the eyes (Gen 3.6). Why? So people and animals will eat it and the seeds will be distributed so new plants will grow and more fruit produced (No need to go further with that idea just now). Our Father , the vinegrower, wants us to be sweet and tasty so the people around us will be drawn to taste and see how good the LORD is (1 Peter 2.3). How do we get sweet and tasty? 

“Abide in me,” Jesus said, “as I abide in you.” Abide—remain; stay; reside; wait for; continue to exist; keep on—in Jesus. Abiding in Jesus is the essence of the post-conflict communion upon which you’re working. We’re none of us sweet enough on our own. For, 
4 …Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
How shall we abide in Jesus, so? 

We present ourselves to be fed from the one true vine at Holy Eucharist. Regularly and frequently. That’s something we all do. I’m sorry we’ve painted ourselves into some awkward corners which prevent us from doing that together—for now. The day will come. We’ll either work it out, or the LORD will make it happen miraculously. 

We, all of us, have rich traditions of daily prayer and Bible reading. All we have to do is use them. Take hold of that which it truly life (1 Tim 6.19)! Savour the sweetness of our Saviour in Scripture and prayer! That is our life-line through which we abide in and feed on Jesus, the one true vine, and are sweetened up for the sake of those around us. Worship, read and pray for unity, for winsome and irresistible witness and for service that is sweet and shining with the light of Jesus. 

Do it as individuals—from now on to mark this anniversary, or for Advent and Lent. Do it in community. Like this. There are other stirrings, too. I was at a gathering at Victory Lutheran on a Tuesday evening a couple of weeks ago where a group of Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals and an Anglican prayed for revival and reformation in our city. 

Another thing. In your, and our, common witness, service and growling unity, I think we all need to be more intentional about using his name, Jesus. In this post-Christendom, post-modern age, we can no longer just let the name of Jesus be implied in what we say and do. There is power in it. We need to develop the habit of using his name, Jesus, in our lives and conversations, to wield it as what it is, the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph 6.17). 

You might have to work at it at first. A good place to start could be to prepare an answer for the time when someone asks you why you go to mass? Think up a response which uses his name. For example, “I meet Jesus there and he feeds me.” Consider how you could turn that into an invitation. Why do you bother reading the Bible someone might ask? “Because, just like Martin Luther said, ‘the Bible is the cradle in which Christ is laid.’ The Bible brings Jesus to me.” Why would you bother shoveling my driveway? “Because Jesus loves you and I follow him.” If you’re really brave, you can add, “If you’d like to know more about Jesus, I’d love to have you come to church with me as my guest!”

The thing is, you have all you need. Your abiding in Jesus, the one true vine, happens in and draws on a wonderful, long, rich, tradition of faithful saints—giants of the Christian faith—running all the way back to Jesus himself. Men and women of deep prayer and simplicity, mystics, martyrs, people of great learning. Feed on Jesus through them. Allow his sweetness to infuse and transform you, but don’t just sit there. Bear witness. Find ways to serve and bless. 

Finally, something Bishop Henry, the last Roman Catholic bishop of Calgary told us Anglican clergy at a conference once. “If you’re saved, inform your face!” As you bear your common witness and serve others, smile! Jesus is the best news in the world. 

And now I will finish as I began, with the one who is our one true vine, without whom we can do nothing, the one with the sweetest and the most beautiful Name there ever was. Jesus. 


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