April 1, 2009

F.D. Maurice Homily

There is something quite profound about the church celebrating the life and ministry of Frederick Denison Maurice on April Fool's Day.  For me there are equal parts joy and trepidation in honoring this man with whom I hold both strong agreement and deep disagreement.

F.D. Maurice was born in 1805, the son of a Unitarian minister.  In 1827, when he should have received his law degree from Cambridge, he instead had to refuse the degree as he could not subscribe the the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.  Only confessing Anglicans could receive a degree from Cambridge, and Maurice most certainly was not a confessing Anglican in 1827.   Over time, however, his thoughts and opinions changed so that he was ordained an Anglican priest in 1834.

As I said, on one hand, I love F.D. Maurice.  In 1843 when Karl Marx penned his famous line, "Religion is the opiate of the Masses," Maurice wrote, "We have been dosing our people with religion when what they want is not this but the living God."  Perhaps growing out of his long and varied history with the Church of England and the requirement to sign off and agree with every jot and tittle of the doctrine of a religion in order to even receive a degree for his studies, Maurice knew better than most that strict religion is, in fact, very different from one's worship of and encounter with the living God.  He saw the liturgy as the meeting point of time and eternity, the place where God and humanity could meet, if only for a moment.  He saw worship as the fountain from which humanity drew its strength.  Maurice understood how the line could get fuzzy - when liturgy is where we encounter God it can be hard to discern between God and liturgy.  He wrote, "I do not think we are to praise the liturgy but to use it."

This side of F.D. Maurice makes me want to stand up and cheer.

But as Randy Travis wisely reminds us, "On the other hand..."  On the other hand F.D. Maurice is the source of much angst for me.  My undergraduate degree is in Business Administration and I am a fan of capitalism and the Adam Smith's invisible hand.  As noted earlier, Maurice and Marx were contemporaries.  At least as far as I can tell, they occupied two sides of the same coin.  Maurice founded the Christian Socialist Movement which saw itself as a key player in the pending conflict between "unsocial Christians and unchristian  Socialists."  A conflict that didn't really pan out.

This side of F.D. Maurice makes me very, very itchy.

What we stand to learn from F.D. Maurice, however, has nothing to do with our agreement or disagreement with his writings about liturgy, his opinions of the church, or his politics and economics.  Or maybe it has everything to do with that.  What the life and ministry of F.D. Maurice teaches us is the breadth and length and height and depth of our own tradition, and more importantly, the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge.

As followers of the King of kings, we are called to his service, to the best of our abilities.  Some are called to be teachers.  Some are called to be doers.  Some are called to work for justice.  Some are called to offer charity.  And all have a place within the glorious mess we call the Church.  At the altar we have the opportunity to partake of the fountain of life in the Body and Blood. We find ourselves nourished and renewed in order that, for the 1st, 50th, 300th, 10,000th time we return to the world.  We are sent forth from this place filled with the peace that surpasses all understanding, freed from sin, blessed by God ready to serve the Lord in his various incarnations.  Or, as our baptismal covenant says, "To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves."

Love him or hate him, F.D. Maurice is a piece of our tradition.  Agree or disagree with his theology, politics, or economics, he was loved by God, gifted for service, and is remembered for his "passion for justice and truth."  It may be April Fool's Day, but perhaps the most foolish thing of all is to forget that in Christ the triumph of the kingdom is assured, despite our differences, or perhaps, even, because of them.

Drink from the water of life this day so that you might be prepared for the service of the Lord in the minutes, hours, and days to come.  Amen.

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