Life, death. Light, dark.

Feast of Jeremy Taylor

Proverbs 7:1-4       John 3:11-21

“My child, keep my words and store up my commandments with you; 
 keep my commandments and live, keep my teachings as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers, write them on the tablet of your heart.”

Passing on the Christian faith from generation to generation is at the heart of the life and work of the Christian church. But this fundamental task requires much more than passing on biblical and doctrinal information. Passing on the Christian faith to others involves the work of the Holy Spirit, who gives birth to trust and confidence in the creative, redeeming, and renewing power of God.

We are called to be witnesses to the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are called to tell God’s story as we share our own faith stories through our teaching, mentoring, and ministering with and for children, youth and adults in our church communities. And in the year 2011, this is not an easy task. We find ourselves in a culture that is not always open to hear the radical message of Jesus: to wear our faith on our sleeve, our hands, our hearts – outwardly as well as inwardly.

As it was and is to our Jewish brothers and sisters, the Shema is at the core of their relationship to God . . . to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. Marking it on our foreheads and our doorposts. It was probably the underpinnings of Jesus’ religious education as a child in the home of Mary & Joseph. As Jesus grew to adulthood, he deepened and broadened that commandment to include and love your neighbor as yourself. And perhaps almost 400 years ago, Jeremy Taylor, for whose life we mark today, grew up with the same mantra as a child.

Bishop Taylor is remembered as one of the “Caroline Divines,” those Anglican theologians and writers of the mid-seventeenth century who wrote with great passion and belief. He wrote what we might call a manual of Christian practices entitled, “The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living”, published in 1650. Some of his chapter headings resonate as timely topics for us today: Care of our Time, Holy Living, Purity of Intention; the Practice of the Presence of God; Christian Sobriety; Of Christian Justice; of Christian Religion. Some of the actual writings are a bit puritanical, but he spoke to the centrality of putting God at the core of who we are. Isn’t that what we are called to do today?

In many ways, Jeremy Taylor lived in a time similar to ours. Yes, he didn’t have globalization, an unstable stock market, Facebook, sports on Sunday, or a culture that spoke of being “spiritual, but not religious.” But he did live in a time in which the Church (which was also the State) was caught in a political as well as religious struggle. The son of a barber, who somehow was educated at prestigious schools and ordained at the ripe old age of 20, he was known for his preaching. But was also known as a spiritual guide and director, someone people came to see from far and wide for advice and counsel.

The period of history in which he lived was not one of stability. The mid-1600s was a time when the Church was caught in the midst of a Civil War in England. Soon after he was ordained, he was chaplain to Archbishop William Laud and King Charles I. Soon the Puritans came into power forming the Commonwealth; those who were supporters of the king’s cause and the episcopacy found themselves imprisoned. It was an unsettling time full of risk of death for many, depending on “what side” you were on – whether it was with the Puritans or the “papists.”

The context of our Gospel today is also one of tension and taking sides. The verses before our reading is of Nicodemus coming to see Jesus in the middle of the night. What we just heard was Jesus’ response to him. It is a message of light found in the midst of darkness, of new life and new sight. Following Jesus brings us clarity of vision. We are called to be witnesses for Christ.

Taylor was a witness for Christ, and was repeatedly imprisoned for it. Would we follow in his footsteps in our proclamation of the Gospel? How are we imprisoned within ourselves by being hesitant in sharing the Good News of Christ?

A quote that is attributed to Jeremy Taylor is one that we can carry with us today. “A religion without mystery must be a religion without God.” It is what I believe those in our communities (within and outside the church) are hungry for – mystery. We can find just about anything we need to “know” by googling it. But we seek that mystery – that wonder, awe, and mystery that Nicodemus was searching for.

Knowing Christ, we have the peace that passes all understanding. The Christian hope that we will be reconciled to God in Christ. In the meantime, we are called to preach the Gospel and go about the work of reconciliation in the world. Like Nicodemus, and perhaps Jeremy Taylor, we know our days are numbered – but our time is not the same as God’s time. We seek rebirth. We seek to be the apple of God’s eye. And through Jesus we know we are. We are loved. It is what we hope for our children, and our children’s children.

One of the prayers for the Visitation of the Sick as found in the Book of Common Prayer (p 316 in the 1928 American edition) was written by Taylor. It reads as follows:

O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered; Make us, we beseech thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of human life; and let thy Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days: that, when we shall have served thee in our generation, we may be gathered unto our fathers, having the testimony of a good conscience; in the communion of the Catholic Church; in the confidence of a certain faith; in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope; in favour with thee our God, and in perfect charity with the world. All which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

Homily preached by Sharon Ely Pearson at Christ Church Cathedral, Lexington, Kentucky at the joint Christian Formation Day  of the Dioceses of Lexington and Kentucky. August 13, 2011

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