6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
The story is told of a distinguished lady who was refined and elegant, especially in her language. After years of persuasion, her less-than-elegant husband finally convinced her to accompany him on a camping trip, so she composed an email to the campground where they would be staying, asking for a reservation. She wanted to make sure the campground was equipped with what you and I would call a “Porta-Potty.” However, she just couldn’t bring herself to write the word “potty” in her email. After much deliberation, she finally came up with the more refined sounding “Portable Commode,” but when she typed it, she thought even that was too much. So she rewrote the entire email and this time referred to the portable commode merely as the “PC”. “Does the campground have a nearby PC?” is what she actually wrote.
The campground owner, when he received the email, couldn’t figure out for the life of him what the woman was talking about. That “PC” business really stumped him. After worrying about it for awhile he showed the email to several campers, but they had no idea what a PC was either. So the campground owner finally came to the conclusion that this obviously refined lady must be asking about the local Presbyterian Church. He sat down and replied to her email as follows…
“Dear Madam, I regret very much the delay in answering your letter, but I now take great pleasure in informing you that a PC is located nine miles north of the campground and is capable of seating 250 people at one time. I admit it is quite a distance away, if you are in the habit of going regularly, but no doubt you will be pleased to know that a great number of people take their lunches along and make a day of it.
They usually arrive early and stay late. It is such a beautiful facility and the acoustics are marvelous; even the faintest sounds can be heard throughout the facility. The last time my wife and I went was six years ago, and it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time we were there. I would like to say it pains me very much not being able to go more regularly, but it is surely no lack of desire on my part. As we grow older it seems to be more of an effort, particularly in cold weather. If you decide to come down to our campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time you go, sit with you, and introduce you to all the other folks (remember, this is a very friendly community).”
Today’s sermon is about an entirely different distinguished lady, no less refined and elegant, but associated with the Presbyterian Church in quite a different manner.
Anne Vaughan Locke was born in England sometime around the year 1533. She is not related to me in any way, other than the fact that we both share the same last name, and a strong admiration for John Calvin and Reformed theology.
Anne was born into a very well-connected Protestant family. Her father was a merchant and an early supporter of the Protestant Reformation in England. Her mother was a silkmaiden (think “clothes designer”) for Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr, both wives of King Henry VIII.
Because of his position, Anne’s father was able to provide her with a classical education far beyond what was typical for women of her era. As a young girl, she became proficient in Latin, Greek, French, and Protestant theology.
She married Henry Locke, the son of another merchant. Both Henry’s father and Anne’s own father passed away right around this time, and they inherited a substantial amount of money and property from each parent. Much of that money would later be used to fund the earliest days of the Presbyterian movement in Scotland.
But Presbyterianism didn’t quite exist yet. In order for that to happen, a young Scottish preacher named John Knox would need to travel to Geneva Switzerland to meet and study with the great church reformer John Calvin, who at this point at the height of his influence in Europe.
Sometime in the year 1553, that young Scottish preacher, John Knox, knocked on the door of the Locke household. He had recently been appointed as a chaplain to the young King Edward, the Protestant son of Henry the VIII. Knox lived with Anne and Henry Locke for about one year, until King Edward died at the age of 15. He was succeeded to the throne by his Catholic sister, Queen Mary, known by Protestants as “Bloody Mary” for burning 280 of them at the stake.
Clearly, it was no longer safe for John Knox to be in England, so he said his goodbyes to the Locke family and left for the safety of Geneva, Switzerland, where he finally met and studied under John Calvin. Knox kept up his correspondence with Anne Locke, and urged her to come with her family to Geneva, which she did four years later. During her time in Geneva, Calvin granted her access to his manuscripts, and she translated several of his sermons into English, sending them back home to support the Reformation in England and Scotland.
Anne returned to England in 1559 when Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne and proclaimed England a Protestant nation once again. John Knox returned to Scotland and launched the Reformation there. He continued his correspondence with Anne Locke until the end of his life, and she continued her financial support of him and the fledgling Presbyterian church.
Back in England, Anne Locke published a collection of sonnets based on Psalm 51 (today’s scripture reading) that became influential in several ways. Psalm 51 became a favorite text of Protestant and Presbyterian congregations, and has been set to music multiple times in every hymnal from that time to the present day. Anne Locke was not the first English poet to use sonnets, but she was the first one to write and publish an entire series of sonnets around a central theme. She also broke with the most popular format of her day–the Petrarchan sonnet–and instead used and popularized a new format, a new rhyme scheme that was picked up 40 years later by another young poet named William Shakespeare. Today we call this format the “Shakespearean Sonnet” but it probably should have been called the “Locke Sonnet.”
We don’t know exactly when Anne Locke died. She was still writing and translating in 1590, and the last work we have from her is a translation of a book written by a Reformed Belgian theologian, Jean Taffin, called “On the Marks of God’s Children and Their Consolation in Affliction” — which, of course, is also the subject at the heart of her favorite Psalm and her most famous work.
In many ways, the history of the Reformation that gave birth to our church, our denomination, reads (and looks) like a bearded men’s club. That’s not too surprising for the 16th century (or many centuries after).
But in an era that did see strong and powerful women like Mary and Elizabeth reigning as queens of England, exercising authority over the life and death of their subjects, I’m grateful that the Reformation also has the example of someone like Anne Locke, who used her keen intellect, her artistic skill, and the resources God gave her to connect, support, inspire and challenge the men around her as an equal (or likely better) in the service of God.
There’s a distinct possibility that if John Knox had not knocked on the right door in 1553, had not begun that lifetime of correspondence, and if Anne Locke had not braved the flight to Geneva, had not worked so diligently to introduce the sermons of John Calvin to an English speaking world…then you and I might not be sitting here today, under the banner of First Presbyterian Church of El Paso. That, and the words of Romeo and Juliet might sound just a little bit less sweet to the ear.
I want to end the sermon today not with my words, but with hers–with one of the Sonnets from that famous sequence she wrote. In this sonnet, Anne Locke describes a wall (something we know a thing or two about in 21st century El Paso). But this is an entirely different kind of wall, not made by human hands, and not made to separate or divide. It is God’s wall of protection around his heavenly city of Zion, the new Jerusalem, which for Anne Locke, for John Knox, and John Calvin, represented the “new church” they believed God was bringing about in their time.
This idea, this church, was a precarious thing, always under threat of attack. But they believed passionately that God would protect his church, and his children, for generations to come.
And 500 years later…we’re still here, by the grace of God.
Show mercy, Lord, not unto me alone:
But stretch thy favor and thy pleased will,
To spread thy bounty and thy grace upon
Zion, for Zion is thy holy hill:
That thy Jerusalem with mighty wall
May be enclosed under thy defense,
And builded so that it may never fall
By mining fraud or mighty violence.
Defend thy church, Lord, and advance it so,
So in despite of tyranny to stand,
That trembling at thy power the world may know
It is upholden by thy mighty hand:
That Zion and Jerusalem may be
A safe abode for them that honor thee.