Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday, November 30, 2008, Advent 1

© 2008 by Louie Crew


Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

At an annual meeting of the parish, the agenda is distributed with this item in first place:
The vestry has decided to change the name of the parish as a strategy to evangelize the community. Our current name has grown much too familiar. It does not make a clear statement about who we are and what we are about in the first decade of the third millennium. We need a new name to attract more people as we revitalize.

Henceforth, we will be known as ‘The Episcopal Church of the Second Coming.’

Please help us invite all of the town to join with us in vigilant anticipation of Jesus’ arrival in glorious majesty.
“But Episcopal Churches don’t use names like that!“ someone protests. We name churches after Saints, or after God (the Holy Family, Holy Trinity, Christ Church,….) or after attributes of God (Grace…) or events in the life of God (Church of the Resurrection, Church of the Nativity, Church of the Ascension…).”

“But the Second Coming is an event in the life of God!” the senior warden counters.

“If people in this town want to emphasize the second coming, there are plenty of Pentecostal and fundamentalist congregations to choose. Episcopalians have never courted that share of the market, nor the music that comes with it!” the head of the Altar Guild replies.

“We build our churches expecting them to last for generations. All those other details are metaphors for the end of life for each one of us individually, not a mass exodus and resurrection on Pay TV!” shouts another parishioner.

Isaiah 64:1-9

It would surely help with evangelism if God made an appearance in person now and then, and an occasional miracle would help too. We can use the Psalter to praise God’s mighty works in the past, but that is not close or urgent. Isaiah puts it:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence--
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil--
to make your name known to your adversaries
We will call Church Insurance, God, so don't hesitate. Puleeze put on a show, or at least make an appearance! Our wells are mostly invisible underground, but we have some fine malls with fountains to serve as a good venue.

Others find it difficult to to believe that God is showing up all along by incarnating highly unlikely persons and settings, and only for those who have ears t to hear and hearts to understand:
Lutibelle Imitates a Straight Male Prayer

God, I can't pray just now,
though you're the ruler
of the universe.

Some people
have been saying that you
might not even be a real man,
might be instead an androgynous mutation.

Forgive me for my difficulties
in paying attention.
I do find it distracting
if I don't know for sure
what's under that robe
you're wearing
and whether those whiskers are fake.

It was difficult enough
when those black children
started coloring you black.
Before long
even sissies will be saying
that you lisp
or go about in drag.

God, I think I'm about to lose
my religion,
and you'll
just have to thunder again
if you're going to get me back.

--from Quean Lutibelle’s Pew by Louie Crew

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

The psalmist also wants God to show up and fix all the problems. Psalm 80 suggests that God hasn’t shown up lately and notes that seeing God‘s countenance helps a lot with being saved.

Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

The psalmist admits that maybe we have angered God, but how long is God going to stay away? :

O LORD God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?

As in many other psalms, the psalmist turns to self-pity:

You have fed them [us] with the bread of tears; *
you have given them [us] bowls of tears to drink.

You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

When the world took me to be straight, I was embarrassed by the psalms, especially this refrain that ‘our enemies laugh us to scorn.’ Once I came out, I understood, especially when I came out as a gay Christians.

When I came out of the closet, the psalms so clearly spoke for me about my own oppression that at one point I foolishly wondered how those who are not oppressed could see anything for themselves in psalms that complain of enemies.

I under-estimated the power of empathy: this psalm has the potential to put everyone into solidarity with all who are laughed to scorn, and not just with our own oppression.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

I suggest that we hold onto this gentle opening of 1st Corinthians. Six chapters late, as Saint surely knows already, he’s going to scold several in the church in Corinth, particularly for their sexual immorality, but he begins the letter by buttering them up rather than by battering them:
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind-- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark 13:24-37

One of my husband’s favorite t-shirts says, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” It is interesting to watch reactions to it when he wears it public. A few seem almost to panic, as if fearing God might accidentally strike them while punishing Ernest on the spot. Some glare at him. A few smile or snicker.

In 1989, I returned to teach at a college where I had taught 18 years earlier and found the college much fallen in its energy and its mission. It had gone from teaching survivors of the worst sorts of racism, mainly first generation blacks from the rural south, to being a place for unambitious idlers who had moved into the middleclass. Students no longer had interest in academics. The new president insisted that the faculty give good grades to all to keep up the enrollments.

I shared my frustration about this shift with a dear friend in nearby Charleston, Near the end of the meal, my friend smiled gently, reached across the table, and took both my hand in his. “Louie, let go of some of your frustration, my friend. We have only a short time together, and only a short time on this earth. I doubt I‘ll make it to 40, and I know how precious each moment is.” My friend lost his battle with AIDS six months later. He was 39.

People who have survived a near-death experience also sometimes stress that they learned from it to revise their priorities, to live fully now, the only time we are guaranteed.

Did Jesus forfeit some of his omniscience in becoming fully human? Jesus told his disciples that “this generation will not pass away” before the eschaton.
Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake-- for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake
Saint too counseled the Corinthian Christians to expect the “Day of the Lord” and be ready for it.

381 years later a second council at Nicea approved as part of the creed: “He will come again in glory, to judge the living and the dead, and his Kingdom will have no end."

Now. almost 2000 years since the resurrection, no Church is called “The Episcopal Church of the Second Coming.”

For now, it seems Advent is it.

"Behold, I come quickly"

Even so come, Lord Jesus.




See also

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