Psalm 17: 1-7, 16
Eavesdrop on this prayer:
Despite a great many prayers to You we are
continually losing our wars. Tomorrow we shall
again be fighting a battle that is truly great. With
all our might we need Your help and that is why I
must tell You something: This battle tomorrow is
going to be a serious affair. There will be no place
for children. Therefore I must ask You not to send
Your Son to help us. Come Yourself.
This is the prayer of Koq, leader of the Griquas tribe, before a battle with the Afrikaners in 1876. Because we come from a different culture, we might enjoy Koq's different assumptions about Jesus as God's son. Koq's prayer tells us more about himself than about God. So do our own prayers oven reveal much about ourselves.
Try this exercise. Begin with the assumption that the church is being attacked and needs to be defended. That's not hard to assume given our current serious divisions. Assume also that we cannot be safe on our own but need help. Again, that's a reasonable assumption. Next, indicate how would you fill in the blank in this prayer to ask God to defend us:
Let your __________, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help.....
a) Let your power and might, cleanse and defend...
b) Let your righteousness and judgment, cleanse and defend...
c) Let your honor and glory, cleanse and defend...
d) Let your gentleness and kindness, cleanse and defend...
e) Let your greatness, cleanse and defend...
This is today's Collect. The answer is "none of the above." The collect does not assume our defense will come in the thunder and lightning power of God, nor in God's absolute holiness, nor in God's gentleness.... but in God's "continual mercy."
The writer of the collect wants us, like Koq, to consider the enormity of what we face and also to consider, unlike Koq, that our security lies not in God's power but in God's mercy. Note the writer assumes that we need not only to be defended but also to be cleansed.
In today's culture the word mercy does not have much currency, even in the church. How often has "mercy" been the focus in our current divisions? Has the relatively wealthy and powerful Episcopal Church asked the other 37 provinces to have mercy on us? Have the powerful primates of those provinces spoken to us with any hint of a disposition to be merciful, even before we know we have the need and even before we have the humility to ask? Has the Archbishop of Canterbury behaved with any mercy before Geoffrey John or +Gene Robinson?
Jesus mocked those who pray loudly in public telling God how much better they are than other people. Jesus praised the despised tax collector who alone quietly muttered to God, "Have mercy on me, a sinner."
Have those in the Communion struck a better bargain? Have we in the Episcopal Church?
The good news: God's "property is always to have mercy" (BCP 337).
Portia stresses in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice: The quality of mercy is not strained.
Bishop Akinola, have mercy.
Bishop Orombi, have mercy.
Bishop Rowan, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Mercy, mercy! Mercy me.
The Psalm and the Epistle
The psalmist assures God, "I am not lying."
Paul assures those to whom he is writing in Rome, "I am speaking the truth in Christ -- I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit."
If all hearts are open to God, if no secrets are hidden from God, what's the point of assuring God, "I am not lying"?
Why does Paul say "the truth in Christ" instead of just "I am speaking the truth"? Does the truth become something else, gain a higher status, have a different standard of proof, when it becomes "the truth in Christ"?
If you were on the witness stand in a murder trial, would you have more or less credibility if you were to say, "Your honor, I speak the truth in Christ: I saw the defendant stab the priest in front of the confessional"?
St. Paul is not known for brevity, yet today's epistle must be the shortest selection from him in the lectionary. The whole passage runs only 106 words in 3 sentences plus the "Amen." It is less than half the length of Paul's longest sentence in the bible (255 words: Ephesians 1:3-14).
In this short passage, the great missionary to the Gentiles, the one some Jews accused of destroying the unity of Judaism, tells Gentile converts of his great concern for the Jews. The Jews have cut themselves off from Christ, he stresses, not "I have cut myself off from them."
Great is his agony that other Jews are not accepting Christ. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people"
In our current divisions, each side says, "You caused it. You have left the true faith, namely Anglicanism as we understand it."
Is not Anglicanism large enough to embrace contrary understandings of what it is? It has done so from the beginning up until now.
Almost all of the first Christians were Jews. By the end of the first century, few were. Was that Judaism's loss or gain? Was that Christianity's loss or gain.
As a sophomore at Baylor 53 years ago, I hit rock bottom, with deep depression that lasted weeks at a time. I did not find adulthood easy to enter. I had lost my faith. I saw myself as simply conditioned (today we would say "socially constructed") to be a Baptist studying for ministry. In no way had I exercised the free will we Baptist proclaimed as one of our chief distinctives. I had not been exposed to Buddhism, Taoism, Communism, Islam, Hinduism..... by informed practitioners of them. I offered only the feeble substitute of having gone to services occasionally at the Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches in my small Alabama hometown.
But much deeper: I was disturbed that strong same-sex longings were not going away or even abating as I fervently asked God to make happen. The longings became even more intense the more I tried to suppress them. Prayer was not working.
One afternoon when I was almost suicidal, Jim Pippen, my dearest friend dropped by. He was another ministerial student and close prayer mate. I had long ago confessed to him my same-sex longings. He had not fled but had even more closely valued me for trusting him. He listened to me for a long time, and then we prayed. In his prayer he told Jesus that he grieved at my great distress and asked, if it were possible, for God to take my distress and put it upon him.
Obviously Jim could not replicate the causes of my distress, so he could not assume my depression, but in a way that 53 years later I still consider quite profound, the suicidal parts of my depression lifted. This straight friend loved me, loved me enough to want to take on my pain so that I would not have to endure it.
Of course Paul cannot in his own person enact the sacrificial atonement he understood Christ to have performed.
In their empathy, my friend Jim Pippen and St. Paul acquired a new understanding of their own entitlements that was quite a revelation to them. Jim understood heterosexual privilege protected him from my particular vulnerability. Paul understood, as he had not before, that the Law, the great staple of Judaism, was not going to get anyone into heaven; only grace will.
Theologian Norman Pittenger was a great admirer of Troy Perry, the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, an international ministry that from the beginning intentionally welcomed lbgt persons. When Norman spoke at the first convention of Integrity (in Chicago at St. James Cathedral, summer of 1975), Norman told me, "Louie, God has raised up Troy Perry, as he did the prophet Isaiah, to be a witness to the establishment's un-love."
Troy did not wait until the established churches fully welcomed lgbts. Others told him, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." LGBTs are not welcome here; let them try another parish in another town.....
"No," Troy Perry said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
"The established church has but five loaves and two fish."
And Troy said, "Bring them here to me." Then he invited the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Troy looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to those for whom the established church offered so little. The MCC gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Queer! for Christ's Sake