Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lancelot Andrewes

Almighty God, you gave your servant Lancelot Andrewes the gift of your Holy Spirit and made him a man of prayer and a faithful pastor of your people: Perfect in us what is lacking in your gifts, of faith, to increase it, of hope, to establish it, of love, to kindle it, that we may live in the life of your grace and glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the same Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I Timothy 2:1-7a; Psalm 63:1-8; Luke 11:1-4               

Today is the Feast of Lancelot Andrewes, who died on this day in 1626. What follows is a manuscript for the homily I preached today at a "Fresh Start" gathering of new clergy in our diocese, at the Cathedral chapel. 
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Lancelot Andrewes was the favorite preacher of King James I. Or at least that is the first line of his bio in Holy Women, Holy Men – so it must be true, right?

Now let me just say this before I get myself in trouble, I was an English major and I am a huge fan of that great "plagiarist" T.S. Eliot, and so by extension (knowing that he stole some of his best lines from Lancelot Andrews in “The Journey of the Magi”) I too am a big fan of his preaching.  

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a Journey, and such a long journey:
The way deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

Brilliant. I would love to listen to preaching like that every week. So it is not my goal to diss this great divine of the Church. I know, as HWHM goes on to say that Andrewes was “a distinguished biblical scholar, proficient in Hebrew and Greek, and was one of the translators of the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.” And I know that as we prayed, he was a “man of prayer and a faithful pastor.”  

Even so: I got myself stuck on that opening line: the favorite preacher of King James I. I don’t know about all of you but I loved when people would meet me at the door after worship and say, “loved that sermon…” And, conversely, I carried it all week when someone would say, more or less, “are you out of your mind?”

Over time, though, here is something I learned: I became a better preacher because of the people whom I challenged, and who challenged me back, than from trying to meet the expectations of the Rich Simpson Fan Club who would sometimes prop me up six feet above contradiction.

So I got to wondering what old Lancelot would have said to his peers in a Fresh Start group about having the king as a fan of his preaching. Was it a joy or a concern? I wonder if it made him hesitate to preach boldly, to preach those really tough texts. What did he do with the prophets? What did he do with Elijah when was railing against Ahab? Choose to ignore those texts and preach I Timothy?

Walter Brueggemann says, in effect, that as pastors and preachers we don’t have to be prophets. But we do have to be scribes. That is, we don’t need to rail against “the man” but we do have to be faithful to the breadth and depth of the Christian tradition. We are required to give voice to the prophets, not just the easy words of I First Timothy about praying for our leaders. That’s what we promised to do in our ordination vows.

We don’t need to be Jeremiahs—one of those was enough. So we can even say to our congregations, “you know, I’m no Jeremiah, but let me introduce you to him because Jeremiah would want us to consider this…” I think that is what Brueggemann means when he says we preachers are in the business of standing with the people among whom we serve to offer an alternative script. It’s a delicate hermeneutical task, one I’m pretty certain will still, on occasion, get us into trouble with even the most devout of the rulers of this age.

Today’s gospel reading—so familiar to us—would, I imagine, make any of the rulers of this world squirm in their pews if preached boldly: asking for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven and in so doing getting clear who it is we serve. To pray this prayer, and really mean it, is to be living toward an eschatological reality that challenges all of our ideologies.

I wonder how it is we preachers can keep all this in mind, and not let either our fans or our detractors dictate the message that has been entrusted to us: a message that still is meant to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, a message that is not meant to gain us fans, but make disciples by helping the invitation of Jesus to be heard across the centuries: take up your cross to follow Jesus.  

We prayed today as we remembered this “holy man” that God might perfect in us what is lacking in the gift of faith, to increase it, and of hope, to establish it, and of love, to kindle it, that we may live in the life of God’s grace and glory…

May it be so!


  1. When I was ordained my bishop presented to me a Bible in which he had inscribed, "Preach the word in season and out." I have done that in a number of contexts, which got me to wonder: Is it easier to preach the prophetic or challenging word for new clergy as the congregation is getting to know them, often in the context of a so called honeymoon period? Or is it easier for a trusted well liked long tenured priest? Or is it easier for a priest who has no role, no followers, no leadership at risk? What about a lay leader? I have faced all of these contexts, and I think the basic question is a good one. Thanks for the provocative message Rich.

    1. Thanks, Rick, for your thoughtful response. I am not sure about the answers to your questions but I suspect it is "easier" when you are a trusted, well-liked, longer-tenured priest than when you are new because the relationships matter; although the danger is that being "well-liked' can become it's own idol. I love the words of your bishop, for sure, and maybe they hold within them the best answer to your questions:hard or easy it can and should be done by "all of the above." Peace and good.