First of all, check out my new substack—Demotivations with Anne. As far as I can gather, if you click somewhere and put in your email, whatever I write there will be delivered directly to your
spam inbox. I’m not sure exactly how it will shake out, but I’m thinking right now that I will post here on Stand Firm on Sundays and Wednesdays, continue to put up links and the podcast on Patheos on Mondays, and post on Substack Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Super expensive access (maybe two or three or four dollars a month? I’m not sure yet) will buy you one of those three posts and a video. For now, everything is free. Stand by for updates as I Figure It All Out.
Like Israel shuddering under the wroth of Elijah the Tishbite, I am hesitating between two opinions. It is the perfect moment to dive into the annual war amongst all Christians about whether the observation of a holy lent is a decent and justifiable thing to do, especially by kicking off the festivities with the Imposition of Ashes. That’s some sort of liturgical innovation! explains the party of the first part. You shouldn’t wait until Lent to confess your sins. The party of the second part responds that you can have my ashes when you come over here and take them.
But, as much as I long to give you forty reasons to indulge in the practice of Lent, I think I will let that go for this morning and comment on a few of the prayers—or should we say “prayers”—released by the Church of England in their “Living in Faith and Love” document. Remember, they’ve explained, these are just prayers, they don’t have anything to do with marriage. You shouldn’t think that they’ve changed any theology or anything. You can pray these prayers and nothing bad will happen to you. I’ve pulled out four. The first is called “A Prayer of Thanksgiving.”
Gracious God, from love we are made and to love we shall return. May our love for one another kindle flames of joy and hope. May the light and warmth of your grace inspire us to follow the Way of Jesus Christ, and serve you in your Kingdom, now and for ever. All Amen.
That’s cute—“from love we are made and to love we shall return.” Is that a reference to death? Or is this the kind of “love” that people “vow” when they say “till love do us part” when what they really intend is to be promiscuous and faithless but still want the party and the presents?
By contrast, I will be going to church twice today to hear the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” God, who is Love, did make me. But my first ancestor was made by God of dust, and when he sinned, he went back into the dust, and so will I. The power of my feelings of affection for other people will not save me from death. Only repentance and faith in Jesus who gave up his life for mine can make me live both now and forevermore.
The prayer goes on to ask for “our love for one another” to “kindle flames of joy and hope.” I mean, I just wouldn’t bring fire into it, if I were the C of E.
The second prayer is called “For the fruit of the Spirit.”
Almighty God, you send your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of all your people. Open the hearts of N and N to the riches of his grace, that they may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. All Amen.
I know this is confusing and hard, but the fruit metaphor in the New Testament isn’t where you look at someone’s life to figure out whether or not they are “bearing fruit,” like if they are happy and drink ethical coffee, and then know that their relationship is blessed by God. That’s the wrong way around. Rather, you look at their life to see if they have obediently conformed themselves to Christ’s commandments in the scriptures. “If you love me,” said Jesus before he died, “you will keep my commandments.” Those commandments can be known–you can crack open the bible and read about them if you want. “Good fruit” can only come from a “good tree” which is an obedient one. Very often people bearing good fruit look sad, beset, anxious, and grieved. They are bending themselves, however painfully, to the way of the cross which is the way of life. They are discovering “love, joy, and peace” are quite astonishingly different experiences than they had previously imagined.
The next one is “For companionship.”
Gracious God, who taught us through your Son that love is the fulfilling of the law: give grace to your servants N and N, that they may be companions in joy and comfort in times of trouble; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. All Amen.
Just to be relentlessly repetitive, your definition of “love” has to be gotten out of the Bible, and not shellacked over it. Observe the slippery language. Jesus himself, in his life and death and resurrection, fulfilled the Law. You can’t “fulfill the law” with any of your relationships. Again, God is love—the Bible does say so—but the love is Agape, the pouring out of the self for the other. It is not eros. It is not about sex. It does not in any way rejoice in wrongdoing, like making up “prayers” that bless same-sex relationships that God, who is love, does not in fact bless.
And finally, because this is the world we live in now, a prayer “For grace to live well.”
Faithful God, giver of all good things, give N and N wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their life together. May they dwell together in love and peace all the days of their life, seeking one another’s welfare, bearing one another’s burdens and sharing one another’s joys; through Jesus Christ our Lord. All Amen.
God, who is faithful, is not going to give N and N—if they are two men or two women who desire to live together romantically and have sex with each other—“wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their life together.” Their lives will be disordered because they are giving up themselves to a reprobate mind, to do that which the scriptures have commanded them not to do. For the church to offer a blessing over this is a great and terrible sin. It is an act of hatred, not love.
I think our Lenten argument doesn’t go far enough. It is not whether or not we should impose ashes on the forehead and try, for forty days, to walk in the way of the cross. The question is whether we should introduce sackcloth into our liturgical ceremonies.
Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash