Canterbury Cap and All

Posted by admin on January 15, 2012 under Sermons |

As most of you know, I describe St. Paul’s very often as a place that is both wonderful and crazy. And lest you think this is a judgment from afar, I realise very much that I am crazy, too. Just last month, for example, I ordered a new piece of liturgical clothing, which I received in the mail from England a few days ago. It is something that is not worn very often any more in the Anglican Communion. I brought it, today. So, I am going to wear it.

Father Markus in a Canterbury Cap

It is a Canterbury Cap, the Anglican answer to the Roman biretta. It is a way for me to show my loyalty to the See of Canterbury even though I am probably the only clergyperson in the whole diocese, who owns one of these.

Told, you I am crazy!

And, yes, it looks a bit funny…

Yet, religious practitioners use headgear to mark their rank and status. And priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, monks, nuns, or shamans also use hats to give solemnity, gravity, and earnestness to rites and rituals. When I look at old edgings of clergy wearing Canterbury Caps I agree: these were solemn, grave, and earnest people who took their faith and their vocation rather seriously.

Thomas Cranmer in a Canterbury Cap

And after reading today’s lessons from the First Book of Samuel and the First Letter to the Corinthians, I think you might agree that it is highly appropriate to wear one of these today. These texts put me into a state of solemnity, gravity, and earnestness. There is no pussyfooting around here. These two biblical texts raise very serious matters. And as crazy and silly as it may look: The Canterbury Cap will stay on (and will probably become a more permanent feature here at St. Paul’s) as a reminder that what we are dealing with in our lives as Christians is serious, is nothing short of matters of life and death: spiritual life and death as much as physical life and death.

Yes, of course, I realise, with this cap, I am fishing for reaction: your reaction. And I realise that for some of you it might just be too silly. Add to this the “odd” bulletin cover and I might just have pushed it too far. This is just inappropriate, right? Just like the amount of water I use at baptism. Or my messing about with the liturgical furniture. Or the rather weird messages on our notice board. Or my orange- and salmon-coloured clergy shirts. I can hear the voices already: “The younger generation really does not have any respect anymore!”

I am used to this criticism. My generation of clergy has been accused of this for a long while. We keep hearing it as we refuse to leave a church that does its best to show us the way out.

The thing, though, is this: I do what I do, because I do have a deep love for the traditions of our church, our beloved Anglican Church, and, more importantly, because I do profoundly love and embrace the traditions of our faith. GenX clergy use what many call “disrespectful means” to further God’s mission in the world – and to prophetically reveal what is wrong in the church. We do it for the love of the church – even though many of us believe that all is not well in the church and that there are specifically two things that need fixing:

Firstly, many in the church remain mere naval-gazers and get their knickers in a twist about the wrong issues. We get upset about hymn-selections, spelling-mistakes in publications, the properness, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality of people in leadership positions, or the liturgical changes that must occur as time moves on. Meanwhile, we forget that the real battlefields are out there, beyond the walls of our sacred spaces. There are real struggle and fights happening on our streets and in our alleys. War has been declared on life by a society that gives a rat’s-ass about God and about justice and peace: Too many of our sisters and brothers have no idea who they are or whose they are as they shut their ears, eyes, and hearts to the love-song of the Creator. Too many of God’s children die a miserable or lonely death, live under deplorable conditions, or are exploited and oppressed. Too many of our neighbours suffer from addictions or abuse their bodies in all kinds of ways.

The apostle Paul might sound like a moralist, and he sure has been misused by many of our co-religionists in this way. But, in a more mystical understanding of today’s reading from the first letter to the Corinthians, God declares through the apostle Paul: I care about what and who you are. I care about every aspect of your life. I loved you into being, every bit of you. And I call you, each and every one of you, to celebrate and honour life, to celebrate and honour your spiritual as much as your bodily existence.

Therefore, ministry that is concerned with the body, that is: ministry that feeds the hungry, that clothes the naked, that welcomes the stranger, that visits those who are captive and stands with those who are oppressed, that houses the homeless, that advocates for those without a voice, that provides ways out of addiction, that celebrates in joyful and ecstatic ways our sexuality, while affirming faithfulness and commitment – all these ministries are as important as the saving of souls. All these ministries reflect the spirit of today’s reading from 1 Corinthians.

The second “thing” that – according to many of us GenX clergy – is killing the church is the nonchalance among certain ordained and lay leadership in a generation before us. What some identify as “openness” and “inclusiveness” many of us see as a non-commitment and non-avowal to the radical claim of the Gospel. This does not mean we want to be exclusive. Far from it! God’s call is inclusive as it affirms every ethnicity and gender-identity, and as it upholds the validity of same-gender love. Furthermore, we must respect, listen and indeed learn from those with other worldviews.

However, the tendency amongst some to sugar-coat the Gospel, to avoid complying to the outrageous outspokenness of God’s prophets, to castrate mission by avoiding the spiritual claims of Jesus, and to make it all nice and cosy – all this really doesn’t help the church – and it doesn’t help our neighbours either.

In a post-modern world, when the modern polarity of conservatism versus liberalism really doesn’t hold sway and really doesn’t matter anymore, what are needed are not watered-down versions of the Gospel. What are needed instead are bold affirmations of God’s radical and holistic call in the Gospel. What are needed are new ways of being Samuel, whom we meet in today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. Eli’s time is over! We need a new way of being, which is radically dedicated to the call and the prophetic insights of the Gospel.

Yes, it is difficult, hard, unpopular, and counter-cultural to fully commit to our triune God, to celebrate Jesus as Lord, and to affirm that the Gospel has a radical and holistic claim on our lives. But without embracing this claim we will find ourselves in trouble!

And not just ourselves.

Just look at the reading from the first book of Samuel.

After all was said and done, Eli had had to listen to some harsh words. And I know these words make many of us cringe. But I am still wearing my Canterbury Cap. And in the spirit of the cap’s solemnity, gravity, and earnestness let’s not ignore these words and dismiss them, but let’s face God’s self-revelation in our sacred text.

So, why then, are Eli and his kin condemned?

One chapter earlier, we discover that Eli’s sons had eaten the best part of the sacrificial animal, the parts that were reserved for God. From a modern perspective this might seem petty – a violation of an outdated, antiquated, and obsolete rule that surely has no bearing on our lives any more, right?

If this were just about following rules, I would wholeheartedly agree.

However, the deeper truth of this story is this: The selfish appetites of Eli’s sons led them to abuse their power and the trust given to them not only by God, but also by the people they serve. The sons of Eli failed God not because they violated some weird law, but because they lacked commitment to God and to their neighbour and because they put their needs and desires above everybody else’s needs and desires.

The first book of Samuel is deeply concerned with the abuse of power by the first kings of Israel, an abuse that prevented the poor and marginalised from claiming their God-given rights and their place in the assembly. In this context, the abuse of power by Eli’s sons has implications that jeopardise justice and peace for all. A lack of commitment to God’s call not only threatens our relationship with God, it also threatens the well-being of the commonwealth. This is why God’s judgment comes so quickly, so swiftly, and so seemingly unmercifully.

God’s call is not just for our own sake, but God’s call happens also for the sake of the welfare of all.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus also calls. Jesus calls his first disciples. And these disciples do not pussyfoot around. They answer with all of who and what they are – despite the dangers, despite screwing up, despite the ridicule, and despite the sacrifice.

Yet, in the end, Jesus’ call will bring healing – and not just for the disciples, but for us, for you and me, for every aspect of our lives, and, ultimately, Jesus’ call will bring healing for the peoples of the earth. The divine call is never about mere individualistic salvation of the soul, but it restores to sacredness our entire being and goes forth from the one being called into a searching and hurting world.

Jesus calls each and every one of us and every aspect of our lives: Canterbury Cap and all.

[The Reverend Markus Dünzkofer delivered this sermon on January 15, 2012.]


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