St Andrew’s by the Lake Sermon Notes 2019 07 28 Rev David Howells
Where did the Anglicans come from?
Article 24 of the Articles of Religion in the book of Common Prayer. (p707)
“It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have public Prayer in Church, or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understanded of the people.”
In the early church, once it spread out beyond the linguistic, cultural and religious context of Judaism, worship began, not on the Sabbath (Saturday) but on the Lord’s day (Sunday), the day of the Resurrection.
We know little of how this was structured. People gathered, at first openly in public places, but with the growth of persecution against these rowdy and revolutionary “Christians”, they met indoors. It is guessed at that it would be very much like a prayer meeting, with a “check in” readings, story-telling, teaching sessions, lots of prayers and a good deal of singing.
In the face of official persecution the church blossomed and grew. Cutting a long story very short Constantine, the Emperor, realized that this religion knew no borders, spread like good news, and could not be stamped out. He also realised that this could unite his disparate, multicultural empire under his control. Whoever controls people’s eternal life controls their obedience in this life!
Christianity got re-organised around centers of military and political control with Bishops located in palaces next to Governors, in slightly bigger palaces. Latin, an official language that no one actually spoke, became the language that similarly united the Empire. Church, State and higher education were in sync.
Then, many centuries later, ordinary people began to get their hands on the Bible. It even got translated, illegally, into local languages. Ordinary people began to read it in the words they spoke and dreamed in. Printing presses made a new copy in a few hours, not 6 years of pen and ink.
The Reformation was the dis-re-organized church taking control away from the ruling elite and handing it back to God. God didn’t have to be filtered, or edited by a hierarchy of people with allegiances to authority. People could read it and (shazam!) they felt God’s voice in their hearts.
Anglicanism began with King Henry 8th needing to secure his succession through a son, and, as everyone then knew, infertility couldn’t be a guy’s issue (!) so ..the succession of wives, all of which cost a great deal of money to help the Pope see his way to a ‘Yes”. Henry began to realize that an English Church, unhooked from abroad, would let him get on with a kingdom united in him as head of state and of church. Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop in 1553 as Henry’s religious fix-it man. But Cranmer was much more than that. He was onboard with getting people finding God without having to go through the old system of control that the church had put over what God could and couldn’t say. He felt that people, ordinary people, could speak to God in their own language, and God’s holy Spirit, could speak to them. Directly! But he also thought that some structure, some order and decency, and some beauty and mystery of sacraments, in short, the best of the old RC system, was not to be thrown out altogether.
Under Cranmer our Book of Common Prayer (Common as in Commoners...ordinary folks) was written. Now anyone who could read had access not only to God, but to the best of the church. Prayers that were well written, supportive, encouraging. A Cycle of worship that reflected the seasons and the story of Jesus’ s life. It had everything you needed from cradle to grave, to celebrate love and to be honest about conflict, sinfulness and reconciliation. And it was for Terry the farm labourer, as well as for Jennifer the Abbess at the convent. And with these new printing presses, people could hope to afford to have a copy.
Ever since then Anglicans have kept alive this belief that there is a healthy marriage of each person’s individual relationship with God, and the value of being supported in your practice of faith by worship that is beyond what any of us could do alone. It is collective and private. It is open to change and it treasures tradition. It tries to hold the anarchy of the Holy Spirit as sacred, and the need for community to have order and security, predictability and stability.
Always, we know we cannot edit God. God will speak through our efforts only when they are “understanded of the people” . As a church we will be faithful only when we listen to the changes our people are experiencing. God, we believe, has not finished with us, but is still unfolding ever more beautiful layers of grace and love. We have to sometimes be silent, empty, unknowing. It is uncomfortable as well as freeing. We wait, in trust, and believe that, directly, God’s Spirit, will enter us. We also have a community with long wisdom in which to work out how to put God’s nudges into action.