Vatican II: Hear the Difference

The 20th century was a period of great liturgical renewal and reform, especially between 1955 and 1980. In the United States alone, those twenty-five years saw two new Lutheran hymnals (and a move towards liturgical unity across the Lutheran denominations), a revised Book of Common Prayer, and the first official vernacular translations of the Roman Catholic liturgy.

The liturgical changes came as the result of a surge in historical research beginning in the 1800s. Indeed, Lutherans of a certain age will remember the old Common Service Book, used for some four decades (1918-1958), but the basic order of service was put together in the 1880s.

In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, liturgical scholars were part of the driving force behind the Second Vatican Council and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. The resulting changers were staggering. The chalice was restored to the laity, the priest turned towards the people (versus populi, as opposed to facing east, ad orientem), and the Mass was celebrated in the language of the people. Continue reading “Vatican II: Hear the Difference”

No Authority Except from God: On Romans 13

Question: How are we to understand Romans 13?

This text has been in the headlines a lot over the past few weeks following the Trump Administration’s decision to separate immigrant children from their parents at the Mexican border.

In response to the vocal  and unified religious opposition against family separation, Attorney General Sessions cited the Epistle to the Romans, specifically directing his comments to “our church friends”:

I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later echoed the Attorney General’s remarks:

I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.

For what it’s worth, here’s the relevant text from Romans 13:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due.

So how do we understand Romans 13? Does it give governments carte blanche to act without opposition from the Church?

Short Answer: To again quote Saint Paul, “BY NO MEANS!” Continue reading “No Authority Except from God: On Romans 13”

United Methodists File Charges Against AG Sessions

Some six hundred members of the United Methodist Church have submitted a petition to have Attorney General Jeff Sessions brought under church discipline for his part in the on-going zero-tolerance immigration policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents. The group, made up of both clergy and lay persons, accuse Sessions of child abuse, among other things.

While “church discipline” varies greatly from denomination to denomination, the United Methodist has a complex system in which members of the denomination are subject to the denomination’s Book of Discipline, the Church’s primary governing document. (The Discipline is part statement of faith, part canon law.) In the UMC, such disciplinary actions start with pastoral conversations at a local level. Usually, they also end at the local level. However, on very rare occasions, they may result in a church trial and possibly expulsion from the denomination.In a quote to the United Methodist News Service, the pastor who started the petition says:

I hope his pastor can have a good conversation with him and come to a good resolution that helps him reclaim his values that many of us feel he’s violated as a Methodist….I would look upon his being taken out of the denomination or leaving as a tragedy. That’s not what I would want from this.

The Rev. William Lawrence, a Methodist historian, says that he has never heard of similar charges moving beyond the local level.

The bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, of which Session’s home parish is a part, has publicly criticized the policy forcibly separating immigrant families, saying in part:

I implore Congress and the current administration to do all in their power to reunite these families. Changes to these laws need to be addressed starting today. Let us join our voices in prayer for the separated families, for those working to end this injustice and for our nation’s leaders.

I, for one, pray that the Attorney General hears the cries of the immigrants and the Church’s prophetic voice, that he feels his heart strangely warmed, and falls on his knees in repentance.

A Mighty Shrub

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; St. Mark 4:26-34


Grace to you and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who has sown the seeds of the Kingdom. Amen.

Is it any wonder that Scripture makes such frequent reference to trees? They are signs of abundance and long life, and for good reason. Even a humble acacia tree of fifteen feet would soar above its desert surroundings and be the tallest object in a small Israelite town, a landmark that lasts for decades. A sycamore, that preferred perch for Zacchaeus, could easily grow up to sixty feet tall. The ancient economy depended on trees which provided timber for building, fuel for burning, and fruit for eating. Precious commodities like frankincense and myrrh come from trees.  These majestic plants were so important to life across the entire ancient world that they took on sacred characteristics in societies from Scandinavia to India.

But in the ancient Near East, no tree loomed quite as large as the mighty cedars of Mount Lebanon. Continue reading “A Mighty Shrub”

Faith Leaders United: End Family Separations

As previously mentioned, the US Government is, at the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, implementing a plan first proposed in March 2017 by then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly to separate families detained while illegally crossing our southern border.

Faith leaders from a wide variety of backgrounds have publicly spoken out against this immoral step. Continue reading “Faith Leaders United: End Family Separations”

A House United

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; St. Mark 3:20-35


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who unites us into one holy family. Amen.

“Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod.”

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Diet of Worms

These are the opening words of the papal bull, Exsurge Domine (the Latin phrase that leads off the document) signed by Pope Leo X threatening to excommunicate Martin Luther in the year 1520. When Luther refused to recant, he was formally excommunicated a year later at the Diet of Worms. Continue reading “A House United”