For all the saints in your congregation, today is a crucial moment to
name both the importance of the saints--that great cloud of
witnesses--and the source of saintliness, our “one instructor, the
Messiah” (Matt. 23:10).
Many of the issues before us in this election year were present at the founding of the nation, as I learned from Joseph J. Ellis’s American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. I have never read such a clear explanation of the conflict between what Ellis calls the “spirit of ’76” and the “spirit of ’87.”
In many church traditions, this Sunday is Reformation Sunday—a time for
trumpets and triumphalism, for remembering where we Protestants got it
right and for justifying our salvation with a vigorous singing of
Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” We may even believe that it is
we who are the prophets like Moses, the ones whom God knows face to
Noting that Jesus’ interlocutors in today’s gospel reading were truly
amazed at his answer, Stanley Hauerwas comments that it’s too bad
Christians have not been equally amazed. Rather than being amazed that
Jesus has come to usher in God’s reign, we are preoccupied with the
politics and rulers of the world.
Reflecting on the “disestablishment” of the mainline Protestant churches, Walter Brueggemann once observed that those churches and their members are for the time being living in a kind of exile. He offered the further challenging and comforting observation that though exile entails humiliation and suffering, it is not necessarily a bad place to be.
James Fenimore Cooper Jr. and Margaret Bendroth are rummaging through church attics and basements in the New England states, especially Massachusetts, looking for records of early American life. Some churches are reticent to part with old documents, but the two historians point out how vulnerable the documents are and offer to keep them in a climate-controlled rare book room at the Congregational Library in Boston. Among their findings: a church in Middleboro possessed an application for membership submitted in 1773 by a slave (New York Times, July 29).