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07.30.17 Prayer by the Book Romans 8:26-39 Sermon Summary

by on August 1, 2017

Three texts have done more to shape the English language over any others. With the church’s cultural decline, we are at risk of losing two of them.

Summary Points

  • The three texts that shaped the English language
  • Brief history of the Book of Common Prayer
  • Two benefits to using a prayerbook
  • How to pray using the “collect” prayer form

You know these phrases:

  • “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
  • “To be, or not to be; that is the question.”
  • “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse.”

The King James Bible, Shakespeare, and the Book of Common Prayer: If you love the English language, you recognize these fundamental sources. Even though the popularity of the Bible and the Prayerbook is waning, their influence upon contemporary English is still profound.

The Book of Common Prayer came about during the reign of Kind Edward VI, who was the son of King Henry the VIII. Henry was the monarch in England who severed the Church of England from Roman Catholicism by having himself declared Supreme Head of the Church in 1534.

Mostly Henry was interested in divorcing his wife Catherine of Aragon, from whom he got a special dispensation from the Pope to marry in the first place. Of course, the Pope could not reverse himself so he refused to grant an annulment of the marriage.

Generally speaking, Henry remained mostly Catholic in this theology. Earlier he had received the Pope’s commendation as “Defender of the Faith” for his writings against Luther. Around Henry there were committed Roman Catholics and true adherents of Reform. Among the latter was Thomas Cranmer, who exercised enormous influence upon young Edward.

Cranmer produced the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. The principles guiding its development were: That it reflect the whole Bible; replace Latin with English; offer simpler rubrics (liturgical instructions); and facilitate uniformity of practice.

Cranmer was a student of Zwingli, and so the eucharistic theology of the BCP was memorial. It denied the real presence of Christ at the Table, and rejected any hints of sacrificial theology (the idea that Communion participated in the unique sacrifice of Christ).

But despite the theological nod toward Zwingli, the BCP was still based on the Roman Latin Mass, translating words and phrases and ordering worship in ways that made the eucharistic theology ambiguous. Thus while some applauded the work as an example of Reform, others accused it of camouflaging Catholicism.

So in 1552 Cranmer offered a revision following the consultation of other Reformers including Martin Bucer, John a Lasco, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and John Knox. The 1552 edition was unambiguously Zwinglian.

But it didn’t last long. In 1553 Queen Mary 1 came to the throne and returned England to Roman Catholicism. She executed Cranmer along with nearly 300 other Protestants. (Our vodka drink is named after her.)

But then, in 1559 Elizabeth 1 came to the throne. She had a long reign characterized by astute political acumen. She returned to the Edwardian reform movements, including a revision of the BCP. She removed the harsh Zwinglian rhetoric, allowed the ambiguities to remain, and was able achieve some unity and stability. The BCP continues to undergo change, but since 1662 it has been largely the same.

What can we learn from the BCP about reform in the church?

First, sacramental theology really matters. Sacramental theology asks the question, How do we think God is present? Is God present only in miraculous revelations like speaking voices, ecstatic experiences, or theophanies? Is God’s historical presence limited to the Incarnation in the natural life of Jesus? Is God present only as a matter of memory or faith?

Second, we too easily underestimate the importance of prayer. There are some people who can offer an eloquent prayer, but it’s the only prayer they know. Others can’t find another way to address the divine other than “Father God, . . .” I’ve heard people with “prayer ticks” who “just wanna” this and “just wanna” that. These people never took the time to learn how to pray, and as a result they have limited their experience of prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer, along with other compilations of prayers, helps form us as Christians and as the church. When we disagree with someone’s prayers (as I hear regularly from my congregation), it stretches us. We realize others experience God and exercise faithfulness differently than we do. We’re invited to broaden our perspective and deepen our relationship with God.

And though “the Spirit helps us in our weakness, because we do not know to pray how we ought,” resources like the BCP can bring us quite a ways further in our spiritual life.

As a practical step, I want to share with you a prayer form characteristic of the BCP. It is called a collect, which is pronounced “KAH-lekt.” You can remember it through the words, “You, who, do, that, to.”

There are five parts to a collect.

  1. Name (“You”): Because we pray to a personal God, this address should be personal. It can also be creative and imaginative. It may preview the rest of the collect.
  2. Attribute (“Who”): We pray because we trust God’s faithfulness in the past to continue in the present to us. We recite an attribute of God which forms the basis of our request below.
  3. Request (“Do”): Here our prayer becomes personal to us. Here we ask God to do whatever we feel led to offer.
  4. Result (“That”): We pray for a purpose, for a reason. We don’t take time praying for inconsequential things, so here we state the result of God’s answering our prayers.
  5. Praise (“To”): When we conclude our prayers “To the glory of God” (In the many ways we can say this), we profess our final trust in God who may not answer our prayer as we’ve offered it. Even so, we praise God.

Solomon’s prayer, except for the concluding doxology, contains the parts of the collect.

  1. He addresses God as, “LORD, my God” (which is significant, because at this point in his life Solomon was practicing polytheism—the all-cap “LORD” is the proper name of Israel’s God).
  2. He reminds God of his steadfast love for his father David.
  3. He asks for wisdom, the knowledge between right and wrong.
  4. In order that he may lead faithfully.

Here’s an example from the BCP from the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Day):

O God, who hast caused this holy night to shine with the illumination of the true Light: Grant us, we beseech thee, that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon earth, so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven; where with thee and the Holy Spirit he liveth and reigneth, one God, in  glory everlasting.

The BCP has at least one collect for each Sunday, and many more for other occasions. I encourage people to write their own collects—daily, or with regards to whatever issue they are facing. I have found it to be immensely helpful. Practicing writing collects can lead anyone to the ability to pray spontaneously in public or private whenever the need arises.

My prayer is that as you practice writing collects, and begin to use compilations of prayers like the Book of Common Prayer, you own life will become a book of common prayer, that is, words shared and actions displayed that demonstrate your dependence upon God, and that cause others to offer thanks.

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