Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen..
This collect manifests humility in spades: 'We are ignorant.' 'We are weak.' 'We are unworthy.' 'We are blind.' Whew!
Are we really?
Is that the self-understanding of someone who attends closely to Jesus?: “I have not called your slaves (or servants), but friends.”
Do you want to be friends with someone who expects your default approach to be “I am ignorant. I am weak. I am unworthy. I am blind”?
Is that how you expect your friends to approach you?
Some prefer to be dummies before God. It’s much easier to put the onus on God to make all things right rather than take responsibility for making them right ourselves.
I love the sonorous language of the collect. At 72 I am weary enough to enjoy retirement from many of the challenges that used to engage me. As a gay person of my generation, I know too much about humility. The word comes from humus, ‘dirt’. Thousands in the church have told the world that I am ‘low down, dirty, despised, queer, faggot‘….that my marriage is not to be blessed, that folks like me should never be consecrated as bishop….
On this Sunday, I shall privately substitute my own collect:
Jesus, gentle brother, wise and compassionate, thank you for being our friend. Help us as we struggle to discern what the world needs. We pledge to adjust our own needs to accommodate the needs of others, near and far, in your name, God’s name, and the Holy Spirit’s name. AMEN
2 Samuel 7:1-14a
I spend a lot of time visiting churches, all over the country, but especially in my diocese. See God’s Real Estate in the Diocese of Newark. Many of these were grand when built, and most reflect the builders’ expectations the kind of dwelling that they thought God might like to live in, given what they could afford. The wealthier often built versions of their own homes. After all, most of the Tiffany glass for homes as well a churches was made in Newark, and Tiffany built its manager a home, fitted with fine glass, two blocks from where my husband I lived when we first moved to New Jersey. The 19th-century factory looked much like the dirty old churches built in that period until recently when a developer bought it and made it into condominium, with steep stairwells and expensive price tags.
One or two generations after building God a house, the congregation often finds it difficult to keep it fit for God to live there. The slate roof is expensive to repair, and few sweeps are around to clean the chimneys or the belfries. Rusted wire often covers the glass and statuary to protect from vandals and vermin. The place is too cold or too hot much of the year. The toilets often are not accessible to those with special needs, and the plumbing often looks like it came from a junk yard. Still, the costs of upkeep stretch the parish budget so that mission to the world outside the church is dramatically reduced -- perhaps grocery bags for the poor who arrive before the daily ration runs out, and some money to the rector’s discretionary fund for the hard core cases.
Small wonder that Samuel hears God saying that God got along well enough in tents for generations, thank you very much. David’s new prosperity is not reason enough to put the God into fancy digs. Besides, David’s character is suspect, and God prefers to have any fancy house for himself to be built by David’s son Solomon. So there!
Samuel is of course more diplomatic in telling David than I am. He attributes all of David’s military success to God. I personally doubt that God is in the business of killing our enemies, nor does God want us to kill them either. But monarchs are powerful, and Samuel understands how to survive.
One of the advantages of many voluntary societies within the church is that we don’t have to be significantly in the real estate business. We can pitch our “tents” where anyone will have us, and pay rent when required. O to be sure, when Integrity/New York City died in one of its recent incarnations, the convener at that time, a lawyer, gave much effort to the legal desertification required of the state, and he had to find an appropriate home for a treasure trove of vestments which some of the most distinguished vestment makers in The Episcopal Church had made for the chapter; but that was done fairly painlessly. Within four or five years, younger lgbt Episcopalians in New York City discovered that they needed to connect and applied for certification from the national board, and meeting strict requirements, were certified and are now meeting and thriving.
Parishes desperately need to be like Gideon’s scouts, and like God in this reading, lean and able to move quickly to new exigencies.
And try selling your notion that decrepit and dirty old buildings are “God’s houses.” You won't attract many of those who haven’t darkened your doors yet.
Those who win the battles get to write the history of them. This psalm is propaganda. I will stay quiet in my pew when the congregation recites it.
Some dictators require everyone to display their picture in their homes. David, as the best known of the psalmists, managed to get this psalm into the Book of Common Prayer of his day so that anyone challenging his authority would be warned that God is own David’s side.
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.
Remember that at one time you lgbts were called ‘Sodomites,’ ‘defilers,’ arsenokoitai (‘temple prostitutes‘); ‘unnatural….’ by those who are called heterosexuals. Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Christianity, and strangers to the new covenant of love, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both straights and lgbts into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
The entire history of Christianity is marked by its further extension, one by one, to groups previously excluded.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
When we make the Episcopal Church safe for sinners, we too will experience crowds like those Jesus drew everywhere he went in Mark’s story.
Self-righteousness is a paltry substitute for the loving, life-giving presence of Christ in our lives.