Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
In the epistle for today, Saint wants Christians to live in contrast to the those who are tossed about from doctrine to doctrine by people’s trickery: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
In a very different context, Nathan the prophet “speaks the truth in love” to David -- harsh truth, saving truth: “You have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house….”
David might have protested, “No, Lord, I have not despised you. I have just disobeyed you, and for that I am truly sorry.” Indeed, in the version Samuel gives, “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD’”; but David does not deny that he has despised God. His behavior indicts him. We confirm out attitudes about others not by the love we profess but by the love we enact.
So many Christians tell me, “I have nothing personal against lgbts.” But their behavior belies the claim. They allow our taxes to pay for benefits accorded to their relationships but not accorded to ours. Most rarely stand up for us when their friends revile us, and persecute us, and say all manner of evil against us. They confirm their attitudes about us not by the love they might profess, but by the unloving behavior they enable and sometimes even participate in.
Our neighbor's a fag and bakes good cakes,
as parents are careful to warn children.
But he's just an undertaker,
so there ain't much way
he could harm no living thing.
He even married wunts,
to a widow schoolteacher;
but their maid let out
how the two lived in separate parts
of the house right from the beginning,
and the teacher, being sickly,
conveniently upped and died real soon.
I think those boys were wrong to beat him up
when he wrote the paper about Anita.
A little sugar in his gas tank
or a few discreet breathing calls
oughta been enough to keep him scared
to make another public move.
We ain't got nothin gainst queers, really,
long's they don't do nothin or tell nobody.
We never have let the Baptists
tell us how to run our lives.
-- Louie Crew, 1978
- Rural Gays and Lesbians. An anthology edited by James
D. Smith and Ronald Mancoske. NY: Harrington Park Press, 1997.
- Gruene Street March 1997. An online journal
- Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 7.3 (1997):
- Parva Sed Apta 2007
Two weeks ago, on the 7th Sunday after Pentecost, when we first encountered King David as a voyeur, I mentioned this psalm, noting
This dark side of David is familiar. After he had wronged Bathsheba, he sent her husband Uriah to the front lines so that he would have the best chance of being knocked off, as he was, and then in Psalm 51 David has the audacity to pray to God, “Against you and you only have I sinned”! What chutzpah! Ask Uriah's survivors.
Be very careful if your Confessor gives as your penance the recitation of the 51st Psalm. Don't apologize just to God; go and make things right with the one you have wronged.
I learned about asking for forgiveness the hard way. When I was in the first grade I stole a nickel from a fat girl who lived “on the other side of the tracks.”
My parents were horrified when I bragged about it. I had to fetch my own switch, but the worst part was afterwards: they put me in the 1939 black Chevrolet, drove to the other side of the tracks, and said I must confess what I had done, give back the nickel, and tell the girl that I was sorry. If they did not hear every word of it while sitting in the car, I would have to tell her again.
I have never stolen a thing since. I cannot claim any virtue for that fact: I don’t have anything to do with it: I have never even been tempted to steal again. "Thou shalt not steal" was dramatically inserted into my spiritual DNA.
Unfortunately my parents pedagogy did not have the same efficacy for many other temptations.
I founded Integrity in 1974 as a newsletter, titled Integrity: Gay Episcopal Forum. In the first issue, dated November 1974, I called for the creation of chapters and indicated that I would put subscribers in the same area in touch with one another. I noted that Ernest and I knew very few gay people and none that were gay Episcopalians in our tiny town Fort Valley, Georgia. [Later we met a few.]
By mid-November a priest named Tyndale and a layperson named Wycliffe each called from Chicago. Neither knew the other, and I put them in touch. With Reformation names like theirs, the Holy Spirit was saying something very powerful to me. Others called from Chicago and a group of 6-8 met in Wycliffe’s apartment to found Integrity’s first chapter in December. That chapter hosted our first national convention at the Cathedral Church of St. James in the summer of 1975.
In the early days of Integrity, my salary was especially low as a professor at a small state college for black students. I saved money by taking all trips on buses rather than airplanes, and I would routinely write a bishop or two en route to set up appointments to talk about the new ministry. I spent the summer of 1977 at the University of Texas as a fellow for the National Endowment for Humanities. When I returned to Fort Valley from Austin, I got off the bus in Jackson, where I had an appointment with Bishop Duncan Gray, Jr. He graciously received me and listened patiently to my story.
Late in conversation, he said, “I have made strong commitments to Civil Rights that I won’t dilute by being your public advocate; but your ministry is very important and I sense that God has a hand in it. I have long known that some good gay priests serve faithfully in the Diocese of Mississippi, and for the most part they have given me less trouble than some of their straight counterparts.
“But you need to know something about leadership,” he continued. “You need to hold yourself to a higher standard than you might feel necessary as a private citizen. You need to think of the consequences of your behavior on those whom you serve, not just of the consequences that you might be willing to bear for yourself.”
Bishop Gray was giving the same counsel that Saint gives to the Christians at Ephesus in today’s readings: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
I can’t begin to describe the power of what this man -- a Bishop!, like me a Southerner! and a Christian -- was saying to me.
I asked him to bless me and knelt as he laid his hands on my head to ask God to be with me.
As gay male of my generation, I had been brought up to think of myself more lowly than it is healthy to think. I had easily thought of myself as a worm, as creature of little worth if those who liked me really knew who I am. Bishop Gray treated me as a joint heir of Jesus Christ. With that spiritual birthright, one wants to take responsibility.
Jesus understands the dynamics of the crowd. Many come along for the show, for the impressive miracles, for the lovely stained glass, for the miles of organ pipe well played…… ‘What sign are you going to give us? Are you going to do the manna trick that Moses did in the wilderness?’
‘Moses didn’t do it; God did,’ Jesus correct them.
And then in a rhetorical switch that John often uses, the tale shifts from narrative to metaphor. It does so in ways less disruptive than would have seemed appropriate in the synoptic Gospels. The synoptics were written nearer the time of Jesus. John is writing decades later, when the meaning of Jesus’ life, not just the narrative of its details, focuses attention.
Manna and real bread shift to spiritual sign and symbol: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
People don’t talk to each other like that. John has Jesus interpret himself in ways that the disciples did not understand until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Rather than say about him, “Jesus is the bread of life,” John puts the words into Jesus’ mouth: “I am the bread of life.”
Rhetorically it works. Small wonder John was known as John the Evangelist.