Saturday, August 29, 2009

This could be the worst sermon ever preached

H/T to Clayboy

How to preach? Do not worry about the maths of the Bible and its verses (which are a human aid to reading the text). God's mathematics are embedded in the beauty of the cosmos and its myriads of atoms, not encoded into Scripture. Generally trust Bible publishers and translators. Understand that some parts of the published Bible, such as Mark 16:9-20, are worth reading even if we are not sure whether they are original to the hand of the author of Mark's Gospel.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Some things money cannot buy

Mark Chamberlain and I have returned from a lovely trip to the West Coast, leading two training sessions on preaching (Greymouth one night, Westport the next). Some feedback suggests the sessions went well. Particularly appreciated was the fact that we did not do all the talking! Apart from some discussion, some input via some excellent YouTube clips researched by Mark, on each night we had several preachers give five minute excerpts from sermons (followed by some appreciative feedback).

It was a great privilege to hear these sermon excerpts. The range of preachers included those new to the task and those very experienced. Among many things we reflected on, one thing stands out for me: there is no substitute for experience. Money can buy training videos and books. It can pay for the travel costs and stipends of people such as Mark and me (thank you to various trusts). But money cannot buy experience when it comes to preaching. So ...

... vicars and priests-in-charge, please, appropriate to your parish, make as many opportunities available to your lay preachers as possible ... lay preachers, take up all the opportunities you are given!

Monday, August 17, 2009

The role of the Virgin Mary in devotion

By some standards I am a bit too Protestant when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary. All Protestants including myself should honour and respect Mary in accordance with what Scripture teaches us about her, from being the one marked out by God to bear Jesus Christ, God incarnate, to the one who demonstrated in various ways before and after Jesus' birth that she was a singularly devoted servant of God. But this biblically grounded honour and respect is extended in the case of Mary (compared, say, to devoted servants of God such as Paul or Mary Magdalene) in some Christian traditions to a veneration of and a trust in a human person which, well, raises questions for me. The essential question being, is this extension supported by Scripture? In the communion of the saints in the days before Pentecost, for example, in the words of a great saint of my childhood and youth, the first Christians prayed with Mary and not to (or through) her (Acts 1)!

Well, be that as it may, I happily draw attention - a few days after Mary's feast, 15 August - to two reflections on Mary. One is by Bosco Peters, Anglican priest and Liturgy's presiding compiler, the other by Catherine Fox, ex-Baptist, clergyman's wife, and novelist.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The power of the read Word of God

Mark Thompson (Sydney) has blogged about a lecture given by Ashley Null (the world's foremost expert on Cranmer) in a series on repentance in classical Anglicanism. Mark writes (italics mine):

"I have always thought that Cranmer's emphasis on the unadorned reading of Scripture, the prominence of the lectionary in his liturgical reforms etc., was a product of his commitment to the clarity of Scripture (a commitment he held in common with the continental reformers, especially Luther). No doubt that is true but there is another stream that feeds this river.

In line with Fisher and Reuchlin, Cranmer apparently accepted an essentially neoplatonic understanding of Scripture. The Homily on Holy Scripture reveals his conviction that the Holy Spirit imparts saving grace through the administration of Scripture. God works supernaturally through Scripture to change lives. At one point he is even able to describe Scripture as 'the most holy relic remaining on earth' [This, in Cranmer's Preface to the Great Bible].

Hooker apparently held similar views. This reinforced the conviction that the centrepiece of Christian liturgy is the bare reading of Scripture. Scripture is read without comment or gloss, not only because it does not need them by virtue of its own clarity, but also because Scripture in and of itself is a means of grace. This stands somewhat in contrast to the 'Puritan' stress on the centrality of exposition and preaching."

Now, here is a question: how effective is Scripture as a means of grace when it is poorly read?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Two arguments for the use of the RCL, and an important suggestion

Bosco Peters is continuing an important series of posts on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), the second posted here.

I endorse all he says there, but wish to draw attention here to three matters (especially to colleagues, lay and ordained, in the Diocese of Nelson): two arguments for the use of the RCL in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, and a suggestion in respect of Bible teaching in parishes.

Two arguments

An obvious argument is that it is a matter of our church's canons that we use the lectionary. On page 409 of NZPB, for example, the rubric or liturgical instruction is "The appointed readings follow", which means that lectionary readings are to be used. By itself this rubric is not an argument for the use of the RCL because our church permits the use of a two year lectionary cycle as well as the three year RCL. But there are good arguments for the RCL being the better of the two lectionaries (e.g. because it offers a more comprehensive coverage of Scripture), so the combination of the rubric and the advantages of the RCL combine to be an argument for its use.

Bosco Peters introduces a very important second argument when he says,

"I think there is always a danger from some to turn liturgy into rubrical fundamentalism – always following the instructions of our liturgies to the letter solely because these instructions are there. I am far more interested in understanding the reasoning and principles underneath our rubrics (liturgical instructions). This post, hence, will look at some of the advantages of following the lectionary as well as examining some alternatives."

The importance of this introduction, of course, is that it explicitly proposes an argument with more depth and breadth of vision than a "these are the rules, keep them" argument (which the first argument above could be interpreted as being). Bosco goes on to make the argument that there is no better system than the RCL for systematically reading and preaching through as much of Scripture, as efficiently as possible, in the course of worship services.

His subsidiary argument is that some schemes for reading and preaching through Scripture, despite language and appearances to the contrary, are in reality inferior to the RCL. To give one example (following Bosco, but in my own words): a scheme for preaching through the Bible one chapter per week would take 1189 (chapters) divided by 52 weeks = 22.87 years. Even allowing for, say, avoidance of 305 chapters because they were repetitive, extremely boring, or pointless (e.g. all the chapters of Esther make just one point so one would not need to preach on each chapter), this scheme would still take 17 years!

Another argument of Bosco Peters is worth noting, but I do not think it is quite as compelling as the first two for evangelical Anglicans who, almost by nature, are not drawn to get excited about conformity with the larger community of Christians. This argument is that when we follow the RCL we join with the majority of the Christians of the world in reading the same passages on the same day. (Personally I like this argument very much: it is spiritually exciting to know that this particular 'unity-in-Scripture' is being shared around the world; and it is very Anglican to engage in as much 'common prayer' with other Christians as possible).

An important suggestion

It could be objected by some evangelical Anglicans that preaching according to the RCL exposes the congregation to a series of short passages of Scripture, as well as compelling the congregation to hear three passages of Scripture each week, when the better value for expository preaching might be to have one reading, and for it to be a whole chapter. Thus an adherence to RCL might mitigate against a form of deep and learned expository preaching at length in the course of Sunday worship.

Bosco Peters' suggestion is that we take up a bigger vision for the exposure of God's people to God's Word:

"The Sunday Eucharist ought not to be the only encounter that Christians have with the scriptures. Christians ought regularly to be encouraged to read a book as a whole, for example. Mark’s gospel, our focus this year for example, takes only little more than an hour to read. A Christian community can provide other opportunities for encountering the scriptures in a deeper way – not just individually or in small groups, but online. I am amazed when communities are not providing online resources and discussions to facilitate the deeper, ongoing, systematic, continual working through the scriptures to complement what is provided Sunday by Sunday in their common worship."

In other words, if the vicar wants to preach through Ezekiel chapter by chapter, other opportunities exist such as a Sunday night preaching service or a midweek lunchtime or evening Bible study meeting.