Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I have long used this collect in private prayer, not limiting it just to this place in the lectionary cycle. The changes of the world seem to become ever swifter and more varied as I grow older, and I do gain comfort in my faith when my heart is more surely fixed where true joys are to be found.
Yet looking at the collect analytically, as opposed to praying it, I am uncomfortable with where it takes me in my relationship with God.
Does this collect pass the buck to God for what is really my own responsibility, namely my own will and affections? Does God ever promise to bring into order our wills and affections? Did God not give us freedom to make our own choices?
What if I do not love what God commands? What if I do not desire the rewards that God promises?
I was brought up by Christians who taught me that homosexual affections are unruly. I prayed fervently that I would desire females, not males. Playboy magazine was founded in 1953 when I was a senior in boys prep school. I remember the enthusiasm with which classmates welcomed it: it did not do a thing for me. Try as hard as I could, I could not obtain the grace to love what others told me that God commanded nor desire what others desired spontaneously with no work at all. My heart was fixed on Jesus, for sure, a Jesus whom I supposed at that time that I offended by not being wired heterosexual. Like saint, repeatedly I cried out in anguish, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Jeremiah proposes a way out that I had not discovered in my anguish: a new covenant rather than the old covenant of the law, by which we pleased God by doing only what we were told. The old covenant failed for everyone, for no one could fulfill it.
The new covenant is written on our hearts; it is granted to us, not something we win by good behavior. No longer do we have to be told to know God: we already do, from the least to the greatest of us. God already has forgiven our iniquity; God already has forgotten our sins.
My Samaritan ancestor once said to a rabbi, “You Jews say we should worship God in Jerusalem. My people say we should worship God on this holy hill. Who is right.”
The rabbi proclaimed a faith truly radical: the place does not matter. The denomination does not matter. The time is coming and now is when those who worship God are the ones that worship him in spirit and in truth. Those are the worshipers that God seeks. Even if they are lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered? Yes.
Even those who take sexual life commitments to be wrong if homosexuals make them should take note: God has already forgiven homosexuals even as God has already forgiven you. Like other Christians, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered pray, “Forgive my sins, known and unknown.” It is wrong to expect us to pray: “Forgive my sins, known and unknown -- but only if I measure up to heterosexuals‘ expectations for me”?
Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16
This portion of the longest psalm in the bible models behavior expected under the old covenant:
How shall a young man cleanse his way? *
By keeping to your words.
With my whole heart I seek you; *
let me not stray from your commandments.
It sounds easy to do. Jeremiah noted that that covenant was easily broken.
As Episcopalians we make much of priesthood. As an Anglo-Catholic, I do so even more. Yet Jesus never went before a Commission on Ministry, nor before a bishop. His peers and his enemies recognized him as a rabbi, a teacher, but not as a priest.
If I were into wearing buttons, I’d like one that proclaims: “JESUS IS A LAYMAN” -- Perhaps with a picture of Melchizedek, the enigmatic guy that showed up before Abraham as a priest without portfolio or established credentials. No one ever served Communion more fully than Jesus. It is his body and blood which make it Holy.
And his mother celebrated the first Eucharist for the nine months Jesus was in her womb. What glorious priesthood God ordained her to perform!
The Greeks come to inspect Jesus for themselves. Jesus is aware that most do not know his credentials and proclaims this is time for those to be revealed, for him to be “glorified.” With high drama, with a voice that some take to be thunder, God proclaims that he has glorified Jesus’ name and will do so again.
His glorification is decidedly unconventional. It foreshadows his death, his three days in the tomb, and his resurrection.
“Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” Even lgbt persons? Yes, even lbgt persons.