Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I pray this collect because I believe I need God’s help in living according to God’s will. I need all the help I can get from any source.
But I am uncomfortable even suggesting that God or anyone else should take the responsibility that is mine.
If Jesus is my friend rather than my slave master, surely Jesus does not want any of his friends caught in unhealthy dependency. Sometimes it’s too easy to say, “I’m sorry. Forgive me.” It is more challenging not to behave in ways that require forgiveness.
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
What a grim way to die! Absalom’s fate makes me glad I am bald and too old to ride on horseback.
The narrative captures the tension well. David orders his soldiers to do battle with the rebels his son Absalom leads, yet urges them, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.”
They did not deal gently with him, Joab’s armor-bearers struck down Absalom from the tree where he was entangled by his hair and then killed him. The Cushite tells David that he hopes the same fate will come to all who rebel against David.
The anguished father wails to his dead son, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"
It’s hard enough to have your son die before you do, but harder still to be the instrument of the son’s death while the son is trying to bring death to you.
Nathan the prophet earlier warned David that his own house would rise up against him as penalty for his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah her husband.
What went round has come round.
“With God there is plenteous redemption.”
Even the Old Testament, wherein God seems much more austere than in the New Testament, proclaims God’s redemption is not in short supply.
I am amazed by the judgmentalism of the religious right in the Anglican Communion. On Standfirminthefaith.com, one of their cyber strongholds, over 140 recently mocked me unmercifully because of a public letter I had published. That we have difference of opinion is fair enough. I would not want to be part of a church that did not welcome the challenges of disagreement, but at Standfirminthefaith.com disagreement quickly yields to character assassination. Click here to see the series.
Many were furious that in my public letter I had stressed, “I have been baptized!” Martin Luther used that statement almost like a mantra when he was depressed. It became a bedrock of assurance when the church attacked him for his reforms. Those who object to my use of it proclaimed that such assurance is not available to me. My baptism cannot be of no worth because, they insisted, “You must repent.” They never asked whether I do repent, but presumed to damn me to hell because obviously I have come to conclusions different from their own.
I do repent daily, for ‘sins known and unknown,’ I pointed out, but they did not blink in their fury.
How sad it must be to live in fear that God may not really have set your sins as far as the east is from the west. How sad to live uncertain whether you will actually be damned to hell for something that you do not believe to be a sin. Perhaps that fear is what drives some to be more exercised by someone else’s sins than their own?
God’s is not stingy, nor vengeful. God‘s redemption is “plenteous.”
My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the LORD, *
for with the LORD there is mercy;
Micah begins his short list of all that is required of us with, “Love mercy.” It’s easier to behave mercifully than to love mercy: it takes a character change, a new life in the spirit, if one is actually to love mercy.
In my papers there is a thick folder labeled “Episcopal Snide.” In it I have collected many abusive letters sent to me by bishops, especially in the first decade or so after I founded Integrity in 1974. Some items in the collection are so over-the-top as to be comical, as when Bishop James P. Dees, then Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Orthodox Church, accused Ernest and me of causing a tornado
Yet, Dees was for most people a certifiable nut. He was an ardent segregationist who left the Episcopal Church with a smattering of followers who agreed with his view that it was not Orthodox to allow black people go to church with white people. He also had a congregation in South Africa during apartheid. The Macon Herald, a newspaper of the John Birch Society, quoted Dees. Dees was one of the more 'prominent' members of the Society. At its peek during the period of desegregation the Herald had a circulation of over 100,000 people all over the South.
It wasn’t pleasant to know that that many people, including many of our neighbors, actually believed we had caused the tornado. When the respectable Atlanta Constitution called me about the accusation, I affirmed, “That’s queer power” -- my favorite line in all that I have written. After all, we had taken the steeple off the white Baptist Church, not off the black Baptist churches. A friend call to ask us to come kiss in her back garden so that her greens would grow; and our next-door neighbor, my dean, called to say that the college had a new opening in agriculture where my command over the weather might be most welcome.
If you don’t use your funny bone, it will atrophy! Humor can help us through tough times better than all the worry in the world.
Another snide letter was more sinister. It came in the early 1990s from a very fine bishop on Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning’s Council of Advice. The letter in no way accorded with the writer’s fine, and as far as I can tell, well deserved reputation.
Shortly after receiving the abusive letter, I was a dinner guest of a straight couple with whom I had collaborated on several projects in the Diocese of Newark. They were most upset when I characterized some of things in the letter, but their faces turned ashen when I identified the author of the letter.
“Louie,” one of them said, “____ is one of our dearest friends. He is the most supportive bishop we have ever had. We worked several years in his diocese.”
“I am so sorry I mentioned it,” I said, anxious not to disturb them further.
“No, Louie, we love you and value you; we also love and value our friend. I find it hard to believe he would have written such a letter. May we see it?” the spouse asked
“Of course,” I responded.
They were astounded a few days later when I showed them the letter with the bishop’s letterhead and signature. “This is not the guy we know and love,” they insisted, in great confusion.
“That’s why they call it a phobia,” I explained. “Evil has no specialized address except yours and mine. This irrational attack is the backroom of your friend’s life. He’s beating up on me because he feels no one of any importance will ever know or care about it.
“I grieve to be the one who showed the letter to you. Do not let it define your friend’s character. Most of us have such a room. With God’s help some keep it tiny, and some are disciplined enough never to go there. Love your friend, he needs your love as much as I do.”
Saint understood. He told Christians at Ephesus: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
John 6:35, 41-51
It is difficult for me to read this passage because music in the back of my head almost drowns out the text with the Jeremy Young’s hymn “Eat this bread, drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry.”