True Religion

Every year, at about this time, I feel compelled to preach the same sermon I’ve been preaching for fifteen years.  This prayer we pray on Proper 17 always manages to get stuck in my craw.  It is unlike anything else in our Book of Common Prayer.  Specifically, it is the petition that God of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things might increase in us “true religion.”  Every year, I wonder to myself, what exactly does that mean?  What are we praying for?

The word, religion, appears only eight times in the Prayer Book.  Two of those times are in the Rite I and Rite II versions of our Collect for today.  How is it that a word that gets so little airtime in our one-thousand-page statement of faith, can be a central request in a prayer we pray on an annual basis?  What does it mean to ask God for an increase of “true religion”?

       These questions are increasingly important, I believe, in a world that is becoming more and more secular.  According to Pew Research Center’s 2021 National Public Opinion Reference Survey on Religion, for the first time since their survey work began, more Americans said that religion had somewhat, little, or no importance in their lives than those who said religion was very important.[1]  Increasingly, religion, specifically Christian religion, carries all kinds of negative connotations.  In March, The Episcopal Church published a study that showed while most Christians see themselves as giving, compassionate, loving, and respectful, a majority of non-religious Americans see us as hypocritical, judgmental, and self-righteous.  A plurality of those in other religious traditions felt the same.[2]

       It isn’t a stretch to suggest that Christians, no matter their denomination, are failing to shine a positive light on our religion.  In 1549, when Thomas Cranmer was editing this Collect for inclusion in the first Book of Common Prayer, he had similar feelings about the religion of Roman Catholicism.  Rather than translating the original prayer, “increase in us religion,” he added in the word “true” to differentiate what he thought he and the other Reformers were creating from all that had come before.  True religion, as opposed to the impure religion of Rome, was what Cranmer hoped for the Church he would leave behind, but nearly 500 years later, it would seem we still have a long way to go.

       As we seek after true religion, the first question we have to ask is what exactly is religion?  In the year 750, when this Collect was first written, religion connoted “faith as the lived experience of love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, and trust; a way of life; …”[3]  The lived experience of love.  Devotion.  Trust.  A way of life.  These are terms that defined religion, or what Thomas Cranmer might call “true religion” in its earliest form.  Nearly thirteen hundred years after this prayer was first written, religion has come to mean something entirely and, I believe, quite unhelpfully different.

       The first definition when you Google religion is “the belief in a worship of a superhuman controlling power,” which bears little resemblance to “lived experience of love, devotion, and trust.”  The late Wilfred Cantwell Smith, comparative religion scholar at McGill and Harvard universities, argued that religion underwent a significant change of meaning following the Reformation.  Christian writers began using the word “religion” more frequently during the seventeenth century to signify a system of ideas or beliefs about God.  Throughout the following centuries, Smith says, “in pamphlet after pamphlet, treatise after treatise, decade after decade, the notion was driven home that religion is something that one believes or does not believe, something whose propositions are true or are not true… In modern times, religion became indistinguishable from ideas about God, religious institutions, and human beings; it categorizes, organizes, objectifies, and divides people into exclusive worlds of right versus wrong, true versus false, ‘us’ versus ‘them.’” [4]

Unfortunately, the modern understanding of religion is nowhere close to the meaning of religion that the original authors of this prayer had in mind.  If we are going to take our Collect for this week seriously, then how do we begin to reclaim some of that olde time true religion?  Conveniently, our lectionary helps us with the passage from Hebrews.  As the author of Hebrews brought this sermon series to an end, their goal was to leave the congregation with some practical and pastoral advice for living out this life of faith – that is how to be religious – and it all depends on love.  “Let mutual love continue,” the preacher writes, exhorting the congregation to care for one another as if they were members of the same family: showing philadelphia, love like a sibling, to each other by sharing resources, cooperating with each other, and showing compassion and ongoing commitment to our siblings in Christ Jesus.  True religion doesn’t stop at the doors of the church, however, nor does our call to love only include those with whom we share a community of faith. The preacher goes on to admonish the congregation, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.”  That word, translated as hospitality is philonexia or “love of stranger,” and it was a foundational tenant in the religion that developed following the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The preacher goes on to describe true religion as that which cares for those in prison and those who are being tortured for their faith.  True religion means maintaining a faithful commitment to one’s spouse if they have one.  True religion means not letting the love of money replace the love of God, love of neighbor, love of sibling, or love of stranger that is our true calling in Christ.  The sermon wraps with these words, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

This morning, our annual ministry fair is happening out in Surface Hall.  Through those doors, you’ll have the chance to hear about much of the good that is being done in the name of Jesus inside and outside of these walls.  Christ Church does a pretty good job of living into the true religion of Hebrews 13, but the hard truth is that none of the programs we do will matter to God if we do not have love underneath it all.  What is most important, at least as far as the preacher of Hebrews and the preacher of this sermon are concerned, is that the motivation for everything we do is love.  The Diocese of Ohio has taken on a slogan that I think sums this true religion thing up quite well.  “Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Change the world.”  Increase in us true religion, O God, and teach us to love you, love our neighbors, love the stranger, and change the world.  Amen.



[3] Wilfred Cantwell Smith, quoted in Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion, p. 97

[4] Ibid.

More True Religion

       A new Vicar began her ministry in a small, rural parish on bright Sunday morning.  The hymns were glorious, and she preached a wonderful sermon.  During communion, there were so many people that they almost ran out of bread and wine, but the Lord provides, and all were fed from the bounties of Christ’s grace.  She went home exhausted, but excited for what the future held.  The next morning, she headed to the office where she was met by an older parishioner who was clearly troubled.  “What’s the matter?” the Vicar asked.  “Well, I’m afraid you didn’t do communion right yesterday,” the parishioner responded, “It just didn’t feel like church.”  “Oh?” she replied, “It wasn’t right?  How so?”  “Well, before each pass down the altar rail, our old Vicar would always stop and pray for every person kneeling at the rail to receive.  It was so good to know our priest cared for us and prayed for us each by name.  It just felt like you rushed through it, like you didn’t care.”  An accusation like this would shake any good priest to their core, and the young Vicar took it quite seriously.  She decided to call her predecessor to see what she could learn about his habit of prayer for the congregation.  He was an older gentleman, whose mobility issues had finally caused him to retire.  She explained the situation to him, and he laughed as he replied, “I wasn’t praying.  I stopped each time to touch the radiator.  I had to discharge static electricity, so I didn’t shock the daylights out of the first person at the rail.”

       This anecdote, or one like it, has been shared in seminary liturgy classes for decades.  It is an important reminder that human beings, especially those of us who take our faith seriously, make meaning out of all kinds of things, even things that maybe weren’t intended to have meaning.  This story comes to mind every summer when Proper 17 rolls around.  In the Collect of the Day we pray that God might increase in us “true religion.”  I’m reminded that religion is a powerful word, filled with all kinds of meaning, and that even though all of us might call ourselves Episcopalians, each of us has our own understanding of what our religion truly is.  Every one of us has developed our own system of religious actions, those things that are important to our life of faith.  For some, church isn’t church without music.  For others, they can’t imagine church without communion.  There are even a few of you who wish we used incense every Sunday.  I know you’re out there.  The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to rethink our religious habits and to adapt them based on what we think is and isn’t safe.  Beyond the intensity of the last 17 months, the reality is that all of us are constantly updating our understanding of our own religion based on the circumstances of our lives, whether it is raising children, a job that requires work on Sunday, or our taste in music.  Heck, even the word religion itself has changed meaning considerably over the years.

       Its use in this week’s Collect is emblematic of that shift.  The first written edition of this prayer is found the Gelasian Sacramentary, a prayer book compiled around the year 750.  Some form of this prayer has been in use for almost thirteen hundred years!  When it was first written, the prayer simply asked that God might increase religion in us, but during the English Reformation, Thomas Cranmer, the author of the first Book of Common Prayer, decided that he needed to be clearer about what kind of religion we were praying for.  Rather than the bad religious practices of the Roman Church, Cranmer thought we ought to pray for the true religion that he was in the process of creating.  This change can be seen as an early step in a long evolution for the word religion away from what it had meant in 750, which religious scholar William Cantwell Smith defines as “faith as the lived experience of love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, and trust; a way of life; … or… a particular way of seeing and feeling the world.”[1]  Since the Reformation and the rise of modernity, religion has become a more cerebral exercise.  At its most extreme, religious practice has the danger of becoming nothing more than seeking some kind of pure theological ideology.  Today, when we pray for an increase in true religion, it can feel more like we’re praying for our particular set of ideas to be better than those of the Baptists or Presbyterians, when, in truth, when this prayer was written, it was a prayer asking God to increase in each of us an awe for creation, wonderous and joyful worship, and trust in the God who calls us to see and feel the world in a particular way.

       That particular way of seeing and feeling the world is summed up nicely in all three of our lessons this morning.  In Deuteronomy, the whole premise of the book is that wandering Hebrews were nearing the Promised Land as Moses was nearing the end of his life.  Before they entered the land, Moses had one last chance to impart all the wisdom he had received from God.  He’ll spend the next twenty-six chapters reminding them of how God hoped they’d live their lives, but before he started, his advice was simple.  Remember.  Remember that the Lord calls you to a particular way of living in this world.  Remember that you didn’t get here all on your own, but that the Lord has brought you to this place.  Remember to teach this to your children, lest they forget.  As disciples of Jesus, we may not be called to live by the full law of Deuteronomy, but in the exchange between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus reminds us that no matter how we live out our religion, we’re called to do it not so that our actions might be seen by others, not to puff ourselves up, and not to burden those around us, but rather, everything we do should be a response to the love that God has shown us.

       It can be hard to know how we should live out our faith; hard to know exactly how it is that God would like us to see and feel the world around us, but thankfully, we have James.  The Letter of James never minces words.  It is a series of admonitions to disciples and church leaders alike on how the life of faith might be lived out day to day.  The Bible is rarely as clear as it is in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  Our primary call as disciples of Jesus is to care for the needs of the world and to keep ourselves away from sin.  In the long run, it doesn’t really matter if you genuflect or not, if you like Bach or not, if you watch church in your pajamas or dress in your finest and get here by 8.  No, the true religion to which we are all called is, once again, summed up in this way – show your love of God by putting God’s will first, and show your love of neighbor by caring for their needs.  That’s a true religion I think we can all get behind, and one that I will gladly pray for more and more of.  Increase in us true religion, o Lord, for the honor of your name.  Amen.

[1] Quoted in Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion, p. 97

What True Religion Looks Like – a sermon

You can listen to my sermon for Proper 17C on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it below.

I was visiting with a parishioner this week who is the proud owner of a Top 10 Reasons to be an Episcopalian t-shirt.  The list was supposedly put together by the late comedian, Robin Williams, and it contains some great lines.  “Male and Female God created them; Male and Female we ordain them.”  “Free wine on Sundays.”  Perhaps the most important thing on that list is “No snake handling.”  One of the great things about the Episcopal Church is that if you asked 100 Episcopalians to list their top 10 favorite things about the church, you’d get 100 different lists.  My list, for example, would include some very nerdy things like the fact that on a fairly regular basis we get to say prayers that have been prayed by Christians for hundreds of years.  The Collect for Proper 17 happens to be one of those prayers.  It is first found in the Gelasian Sacramentary, a book of prayers compiled somewhere around the year 750.  That’s close to thirteen-hundred years ago!  It has, of course, been translated, edited, and updated through the years, but by and large, the prayer that was being used in 750AD is still being prayed to this day.

It is easy to tell that this prayer is old because it uses a word that is very unpopular these days; asking God to “increase in us true religion.”  The original version simply asked that God might increase in us religion, but during the English Reformation, Thomas Cranmer, the author of the first Book of Common Prayer, decided that he needed to be clear that we weren’t praying for more of the bad religious practices of the Pope in Rome, but the true religion that he was in the process of creating.  Over the years, as the Reformation played out in ideological battles and actual wars, the idea that religion as a set of things you do gave way to the idea that religion as a set of things you believed. Religion these days means a systematic understanding of God and the Church, which doesn’t seem very exciting, honestly.  It is no wonder, then, that today we find a growing group of people who wish to call themselves spiritual, but definitely not religious.  Spirituality seems to be about the things we do, the prayers we pray, and the practices of faith, while religion has become associated with closed minded ideologies of right versus wrong, true versus false, and us versus them, and so, when we pray this day for an increase of “true religion” it can sound kind of silly.

I’d like to propose to you, however, that there is a reason that this prayer for an increase in religion has stuck around for more than twelve hundred years.  If we look at what the word religion meant in the year 750, what we are praying for is not so much a set of ideas to believe, but rather a relationship into which we enter.  According to religious scholar Wilfred Cantwell Smith, religion originally meant “faith [as a] living, subjective experience including love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, trust, a way of life, an attitude toward the divine or nature, or… a particular way of seeing and feeling the world.”[1]  If we are praying this morning not for our particular set of ideas about God to be better than the ideas of the Baptists or the Lutherans, but instead for an increase in awe, worship, and trust in the God who calls us to a particular way of seeing and feeling the world, then this prayer makes a whole lot more sense.

If we are going to really pray for an increase in true religion, then we ought to understand what that particular way of seeing and feeling the world looks like.  Thankfully, this week’s Lectionary is rife with examples.  Beginning in the lesson from Sirach we hear that true religion means a life of humility.  To have too much pride is to walk away from God, the author notes, because pride was not created by God. To see the world the way God sees the world is to put ourselves in the proper perspective that God is God and we are not.  That lesson recurs in this morning’s Gospel passage, which reads like an Emily Post guide to table etiquette.

As Jesus looked around that dinner party, why do you suppose he felt the need to offer these correctives?  Every dinner party he had ever attended would have been the same.  The host would sit at the center of the head table, and as dinner was being served, guests would jockey their way to sit as close to the host as possible.  The closer you were at table, the closer you were in life.  It was while reclining at the dinner table that business deals were made, marriages were arraigned, and proverbial backs were scratched.  Maybe it was the fact that this dinner was at the home of a leading Pharisee and the guest list was full of religious people that made Jesus snap.  This jockeying for position isn’t the way to follow God.  Instead, Jesus tells the guests that they should take the lowest seat; suggesting the radical idea that in the kingdom of God humility is prized over power, prestige, and pride.  The same is true for his message to the host.  To invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind meant not only to invite those who could not invite you back, but it also meant to invite those who couldn’t scratch your back in business or politics.  When the table was surrounded by the least and the lost, there were no deals to be made and no political capital to invest.  Instead, the meal would be about fellowship, companionship, and a glimpse of the kingdom of God.  True religion means living with humility and caring for all of God’s children.

Finally, the lesson from Hebrews offers the most comprehensive teaching on what true religion really looks like.  As the letter comes to a close, the author lists all sorts of different ways to live out the life of faith: continue in mutual love; show hospitality to strangers; remember those imprisoned and tortured for their faith; keep your marriage vows; don’t fall in love with money; be content with what you have; follow the Godly example of your leaders; give praise to God; do good; and be generous.  The list can sound daunting, but it really all flows forth from the first word, “let mutual love continue.”  Instead of using agape, meaning self-sacrificing love and the usual word for love in the New Testament, the author chooses to call us to philadelpia, brotherly love.  As fellow disciples of Jesus, we are all adopted into the family of God as brothers and sisters.  We are a family, whether we like it or not.  Like any family, we will have our ups and down, but ultimately, we are created to love one another.  Sometimes, family is easy to get along with. Oftentimes, family is that long estranged cousin who finally comes to visit or that problematic nephew who can’t seem to stay out of jail, but no matter what, true religion means loving, caring, and supplying for the family of God.

It may be an old prayer.  It may even seem outdated, but the fact of the matter is that when we pray for an increase of true religion, we are praying to be more like Jesus; to see the world as God sees the world; to love our sisters and brothers the way God loves them; and to bring forth the kingdom of God right here and right now.  That’s a prayer I can say with integrity and I hope you can too. Take this prayer home with you, say it every day this week, maybe even twice a day, and keep your eyes open for where God might be inviting you to increase your true religion by sharing his love with a world that desperately needs it.

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: … increase in us true religion … and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[1] Quoted in Diana Butler Bass, Christianity After Religion, p. 97

A collect for our times

On Sunday morning in Episcopal Churches around the world, celebrants, on behalf of their congregations, will ask God “the author and giver of all good things” to, of all things, “increase in us true religion.”


Religion is a rather unpopular word these days.  According to the good folks at Pew Research, “The phrase “spiritual but not religious” [SBNR] has become widely used in recent years by some Americans who are trying to describe their religious identity. While Pew Research Center does not categorize survey respondents in such a way, our surveys do find that the U.S. public overall appears to be growing a bit less religious – but also somewhat more spiritual.”  If this really is the case, then why would we pray such an outdated prayer?

Marion Hatchett tells us that this Collect is first found in the Gelasian sacramentary from roughly 750.  During the English Reformation, it took on new life when Thomas Cranmer edited it to ask God not merely for an increase in religion, but an increase in true religion (Commentary, 191). This made all sorts of sense in the 1540s and 50s as the English Continent was at war because of the perceived flaws in the religious practices of the Bishop of Rome as opposed to the true religion of the Reformers.  As years went by, however, the tendency to associate religion with action waned, and as Diana Butler Bass notes in her Christianity After Religion, by the 17th century, religion was more about a system of ideas and beliefs about God, such that by “modern times, religion became indistinguishable from systematizing ideas about God, religious institutions, and human beings; it categorized, organized, objectified, and divided people into exclusive worlds of right versus wrong, true versus false, “us” versus “them” (97).  If this really is the case, then why would we pray such an outdated prayer?

Continuing with Butler Bass, I would like to suggest that this prayer is, in fact, not outdated, but rather a perfect collect for our times as we redefine what it means to be religious away from a  system of beliefs, but a way of living one’s life in devotion to God.  Drawing on the work of Wilfred Cantwell Smith in his 1962 Book The Meaning and End of Relgion, Butler Bass suggests that in contrast to the modern understanding of religion, the Latin root, religio, actually refers to “faith – living, subjective experience including love, veneration, devotion, awe, worship, transcendence, trust, a way of life, an attitude toward the divine or nature, or… a particular way of seeing and feeling the world.”  If, on Sunday morning, we are praying not for our particular set of ideas to be better than the ideas of the Baptists or the Lutherans, but instead for an increase in awe, worship, and trust in God who calls us to a particular way of seeing and feeling the world, then sign me up.  In fact, I’d bet we could get a lot of SBNRs to join us in that prayer.  It is, I would argue, the perfect collect for our times.

A Den of Robbers – Monday in Holy Week

As hard as it is to believe, Holy Week is upon us.  In just a few short days, we’ll be in the midst of the Paschal Triduum, remembering those final acts of love and devotion that brought salvation to the world.  At Saint Paul’s, we remember this week by walking with Jesus day by day through the Gospel of Mark.  As such, I’ll be reflecting on those daily lessons here at Draughting Theology.  Today’s lesson is Mark 11:12-19: Jesus Clears the Temple.



I’ve always been interested in the fit that Jesus throws in the Temple.  In the Synoptics, it happens (roughly) on Monday in Holy Week, while in John it comes right at the beginning of his ministry.  John’s version has Jesus upset that the Temple has become an emporium, while the Synoptics all have Jesus quoting Isaiah 56:7 in his admonition: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

The word translated as “robbers” comes from the word for “to plunder.”  As in, the Temple has become a place where people who don’t belong are taking what is the rightful possession of someone else.  The money changers, the sacrifice salesmen, even the priests themselves have forcibly removed the God of all creation from his holy Temple and are taking the religious devotion of the people as profit for themselves.

This point was brought home to me in the Psalm appointed for Morning Prayer today:

Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, *
but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; *
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51 is read on Ash Wednesday, and to read it again today makes for a nice bookend to Lent, but it also strikes as a harsh reminder for church leaders that God desires much more than our going through the motions.  As we encourage our people to walk the Way of the Cross, it isn’t about what they might get out of it. it isn’t about having good numbers to write in our service books.  Instead, it is about the opportunity to contemplate on those might acts, by which we have been given immortality through Jesus Christ.  By meditating on the love of God that took Jesus to the cross, we might find within ourselves something stronger than burnt-offerings: a broken and contrite heart.

True Religion?

This Sunday, as with every Proper 17 Sunday, we will pray that God might increase in us “true religion.”  Three years ago, when this collect happened to also join the lessons appointed for Proper 17 in Year B, I took the opportunity to preach on the subject of true religion with some help from my friend and professor, Diana Butler Bass, asking the question, “what is true religion?”

I’m pretty sure we aren’t praying for more expensive jeans

Three years later, I still find myself asking that question, especially in light of the lesson from James, which ends with these words that seem to capture the yin and the yang of religion, “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Scholars are uncertain about the etymology of the word “religion.”  The more popular understanding says that it comes from the Latin, religare, which means to tie or to bind.  That is, true religion means to be bound to a way of life.  In the Christian expression, that means to follow the Way set forth by Jesus of Nazareth in his life, death, and resurrection.  Others, however, follow Cicero and suggest that religion comes from relegere, which means to read over again.  Again, from a Christian point of view, this means that true religion is found in the practices of Christianity: prayer, scripture reading, fasting, and even attendance in worship.

The word translated as religion in James is equally troublesome, however it probably carries a connotation that fits more with Cicero than with common understanding.  Robertson suggests it comes from thermoai, which means to mutter forms of prayer, and that the author is using it ironically.  True religion, then, isn’t merely showing up at Church, saying the right things, and going through the motions, but rather, true religion is following in the Way of Jesus.  This doesn’t preclude prayer, study, and regular church attendance, but it means sharing the fruit the grows from those practices: love, compassion, charity, and self-control being chief among them.

So this Sunday, as we pray that God might increase in us true religion, keep in mind what you are really praying for: the chance to listen for God’s will in prayer, Biblical study, and worship AND the opportunity to live out God’s will in acts of love and kindness throughout the week.  True religion is a 24/7 job that can only be done with God’s help.

[Don’t] Add it to the List

SWH and I use the Grocery IQ app to keep track of our every-growing grocery list.  Our phones are synced so that each time one of us updates by either adding or subtracting an item, it is updated, in real time, on the other persons phone.  Most days you’ll hear one or the other of us say, “Add it to the list” about some ingredient, household cleaning product, or snack item, the need for which came up in conversation. This sort of addition is presumably OK in God’s eyes, but we hear in both the Track 2 Old Testament and the Gospel lesson that God isn’t too keen on our adding things to his list of commandments.

As Moses prepares the people to receive the 10 Commandments that God has provided for their life in the Promised Land, he warns them not only that they shouldn’t forget what the Lord is requiring of them, but also that they mustn’t “add anything to what I command you.”  As Jesus is getting flack from the religious authorities for his disciples’ poor personal hygiene, Jesus reiterates this point, “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

To be fair, the tendency to add rules to God’s law is a natural one.  We need to have more rules for a couple of reasons.  First, it is almost impossible to believe that God requires so little of us.  Jesus sums up the Law in two commandments.  Two.  TWO!  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is one, and love your neighbor as yourself is the other.  Never mind that these two laws are impossibly to live up to all the time, it is in our human nature to make things even more difficult.  We’ve got to know what God thinks about dancing, drinking, card playing, and sex, and if we have time, we’ll maybe consider the hundreds of times God talks about money.  So we pile things on and make things harder than they need to be.

Which leads me to the second reason we add rules to God’s list: we need to know who’s in and who’s out.  Never mind that God has already been clear that he loves his whole creation, we can’t imagine that God would love them, so we make rules to exclude.  Have you noticed that we rarely make new rules for ourselves to live up to, but they always for someone else.  Which means we violate Commandment #2 in our pursuit of more rules.  Oops.

Maybe this week’s Lectionary offers us an opportunity to get back to the basics of discipleship.  Maybe we’d do well to remember that the two Commandments of Jesus require a lifetime of work to accomplish.  Maybe we should offer our neighbors (and ourselves) just a bit more grace and refuse to add anything else to the list.

Origin Story – An Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge

This week’s Acts 8 BLOGFORCE Challenge is seeking out the stories of how you came to be a Christian and an Episcopalian.  The fun, or perhaps quirky, twist being that the 120 word abstract should sound like a superhero origin story.  You can find out more by clicking the link at the bottom of this post.  Without any further ado, I offer you my origin story.

I was a senior in High School and it was Young Life Banquet time.  My YL leader, Flecth, had asked several of us to share our testimonies at the tables of some of YL Lancaster’s biggest donors.  I remember feeling some strange mixture of trepidation and relief as I prepared my story.  I was terrified because my story of how God found me is pretty boring.  I was relieved because I didn’t have to tell my friends’ parents and my parents’ friends about the day I woke up in the middle of a corn field with a needle sticking out of my arm and saw Jesus standing in front of me.  I feel a similar strange mixture today.

I grew up as the quintessential first child.  To this day, I am a ruler follower ad nauseam.  When I was 16, I spent three weeks in Germany with my high school German class.  There is no legal drinking age in Germany, but I still only drank once while I was there, and I still feel guilty about it.  The Church and the moral life to which she calls us has been a part of me for as long as I can remember.  After the youth group at Saint Thomas crashed and burned as I entered into high school, I spent several years bouncing between the CMA church’s youth group and Young Life.  I remember pulling my Saturn over on Manheim Pike one Friday morning to write down the date and time I had invited Jesus into my life, but the truth is, he had always been there.

My entrance into The Episcopal Church happened when I was three years old.  My dad had been transferred from R.R. Donnelly’s home base in Chicago, IL to a brand new plant built to produce TV Guides in scenic Lancaster, PA.  As the story goes, the Realtor my parents used to find a new house was a saintly woman named Jeanne Ritter.  After selling them the perfect house for a family with two small children, Jeanne said something like, “I go to Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Church.  You should try it out.”  They tried it out, and it stuck.

Though I attended an Episcopal Church with my family from early on, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be an Episcopalian, to be imbued with the rhythm of life and the words of the Book of Common Prayer really until I entered the discernment process.  It was there that I learned what all those words I could say by heart: from the opening acclamation to the dismissal; really meant.  I guess that’s why I have such a passion for liturgics, Church history, and general church-nerdery these days.  I want everyone to know how these words that seem rote to the outside observer can be living, active, and offer so much more than the rules and guilt that are so often associated with Christianity.

My origin story doesn’t have superhero qualities to it, but I’ve come to realize that that’s OK.  God enters our lives in all sorts of different ways, but most often, it is by way of a simple invitation.  Thanks be to God.

How Much Should I Make The Check Out For?

As I noted on Tuesday, this Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a bit sticky for Episcopalians, especially those who hold Episcopal Office and like the color purple, but as I’ve reflected on this text this week, I’ve come to realize a group for which this lesson is even more difficult to hear and preach.

The ELCA has Bishops too!

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Lutheran Bishop are the group most likely to find difficulty with the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  Not only to they like that purple-ish color their Episcopal brethren and sisteren are so fond of, but the guy who got the whole thing started, Martin Luther, was the guy who coined the phrase of “sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia,” Only Scripture, Only Faith, and Only Grace.  With a clear nod to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (2.8) which reads, “we are saved by grace, through faith.”

If you read the lesson carefully, it sort of sounds like Father Abraham is espousing some sort of works righteousness.  As in, Lazarus suffered and that suffering earned him passage to the bosom of Abraham, but Dives ignored the poor, which earned him a ticket straight to Hades.  The observant listener will quickly pull out their checkbook and ask, “how much do I need to give to get to heaven?”

The challenge grows when coupled with the tail end of the lesson from First Timothy, which reads, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

The savvy preacher will figure out how to allow their parishioners the time to write their checks before reminding them that Luther was, in fact, right; that we are saved by the grace of God and faith in Jesus Christ; that nothing we can do (i.e. no matter how big the check), we cannot earn our way into heaven.  Still, it is a tricky lectionary this week, full of chances to slip down the slope of good old fashioned Medieval Popery.  Good luck preachers.  I’ll be praying for you.

The love of money

Can we clear something up?  “Money is the root of all evil,” is not an ancient proverb.  It isn’t an old saying.  It is just a bad paraphrase of what “Paul” actually said to “Timothy” toward the tale end of his “first letter.”  The actual saying that people are trying to recall when they ignorantly say “money is the root of all evil” is “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…”  Yet, that isn’t even the whole sentence.  We’ll get to that in a minute, let’s look at this piece of text a little more closely.

Philarguria – the Greek word translated “love of money.”  Prior to looking this up, I assumed it was two words, but there it is, a single word that means “a greedy disposition love of money, avarice, covetousness.”  It is a pseudo-hapaxlegomenon, appearing in the Canon only here in 1 Tim 6.10.  It also shows up in the Apocryphal book 4th Maccabees in a section that sounds like it could have been written by an Enlightenment philosopher or perhaps even Richard Dawkins, subtitled in BibleWorks as “The Supremacy of Reason”, “In the soul it is boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice;…”  It obviously has roots in philos, which is one of the four Greek words that gets translated as “love” in English Bibles.

Rhiza – the Greek word translated as “root,” which has deeper connotations as it also can mean shoot or offspring.  The love of money is a basis of and chief provider for

and here’s where my Greek transliteration gets fuzzy

Panaton ton kakon – the Greek phrase (very loosely transliterated) that is translated as “all kinds of evil,” but is more literally “all the evils.”  An internet meme waiting to happen.

The Young’s Literal Translation captures it best, “a root of all the evils is the love of money…”

It is a pithy saying and one that is easily repeated and often misquoted, but the deeper question that goes unaddressed in remembering only half of 1 Timothy 6.10, is “why?”  Why is the love of money a root for all the evils?  The answer is “in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”  As I said in last week’s sermon, the pursuit of wealth is quite possibly the single strongest opponent to faith in God.  It distracts us from the work of the kingdom, which, more often than not, invites us to give our stuff away, to share it with our brothers and sister, and, most assuredly, calls us to care for the poor, outcast, widowed, and orphaned.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. The love of money takes our attention away from God’s dream and focuses it squarely on ourselves. As Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame (and my doppleganger) is prone to say, “Well, there’s your problem.”