Today we honor John Wyclif. Born around 1330, John was educated at Oxford. He served as a parish priest, but spent most of his vocation teaching theology and philosophy at Oxford and was celebrated for his academic achievements. In 1374, Wyclif defended the Crown during a dispute with the papacy about finances. This stance gained him a group of powerful patrons who were able to protect Wyclif. This protected status gave him the freedom to try out his theological views, many of which were at odds with the medieval church. Many of Wyclif’s ideas became the fodder for the reform movement in the following centuries. In fact, later reformers like John Hus and Martin Luther acknowledged a debt to Wyclif.
Wyclif’s ideas may not seem radical now, but that is because they are a part of our Anglican identity. Wyclif believed believers could have a direct, unmediated relationship with God, not needing intervention from the church or a priest. He believed the national church should be free from papal authority. He believed scripture should be available in the language of the people – and he translated the Vulgate into English. He even questioned transubstantiation, which eventually gained him some enemies.
What I love about this feast day for Wyclif is that we get this lovely passage from Hebrews. The lesson opens up with this line: “The word of God is something alive and active.” So often we think about Holy Scripture as a static collection of books. We might try to understand a passage, but often forget that Holy Scripture is alive and active. Or perhaps we do not forget, but we long for scripture to be static and still, because if Holy Scripture stays the same, we can be comfortable and avoid change.
Once, when I was visiting a friend at Trinity Wall Street, she told me that the clergy have a lot of freedom there. Because their funding comes from their huge investments, they are not dependent upon pledges for support. And because they are not dependent upon pledges, they never have to worry about someone becoming upset and taking their pledge away. I imagine that the clergy are much like Wyclif in his day – free to explore new concepts and ideas, and to challenge the status quo. We know that when Wyclif did that, the church was transformed – it became alive and active like the Holy Scriptures. That is our invitation today, too: to consider how our own faith life might become more alive and active, how the Holy Spirit might be working in us in new ways and to jump into the unknown. Amen.