Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Quean Lutibelle’s parody post-it:
Do some good works today!
Thanks, Thomas Cranmer, for the reminder.
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
In John 15:15, Jesus tells his disciples, "Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me." If that is true, one of these must be true:
- The Father had told Jesus precious little, or
- Those who wrote the Gospels left out a lot, or
- Those who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures knew precious little
because the god of Jesus is radically different from the god of Hebrew Scriptures, and Jesus never accounts for those differences. Jesus' god is much more loving, much less militant, much more accessible....
The god Job imagines in chapter 23 is far more rational than the god we see when we step outside Job’s personal point of view. We know why Job is suffering. “I was just showing off to the Devil.”: that’s what God admits in Robert Frost’s Pulitzer Prize winning poem, A Masque of Reason, or “The 43rd Chapter of Job.”
Job’s torture was not merited. In Frost’s ‘chapter,’ God confesses:
There’s no connection man can reason out
Between his just deserts and what he gets.
For some readers, the writer of Job makes the same point, and in doing so, as one of the oldest books in the bible the Book of Job stands in stark contrast to the views of most other primitive cultures. Primitive cultures typically assert a strong connection between what happens to us and what we did to make it happen:
- Your young child dies: what did you do to bring this curse upon yourself?
- You’re born gay: who brought this abomination upon your family?
- You keep walking in the same direction even after a black cat crossed your path: why are you surprised that a truck ran over you?…..
In Chapter 23 Job says he is quite prepared to make his case before God if God will just show up to hear him. We who watch the drama know that Job’s defense has little to do with why God is bringing on the torture. Rhetorically the Book of Job (if not always the character Job) counterstates prevailing superstitions: it denies that there is always a cause-and-effect relationship between our behavior and what god brings upon us (or allows to be brought upon us).
Both Job and the psalmist are troubled with God for not showing up or paying attention.
I frequently have the same problem and am comforted to know that our spiritual tradition allows, even expects, us sometimes to yell at God.
The psalmist notes that God has not always treated people this way:
Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.
They cried out to you and were delivered; *
they trusted in you and were not put to shame.
Why, then, have you forsaken me!
Growing up gay, I learned to master self-pity. Every heterosexual was blessed. They desired someone and the entire culture promoted a healthy expression of those desires. All movies and books celebrated hetero-affections. My kind of love was almost never mentioned, and if it was, it was in regard to someone being arrested or fired or run out of town. If a queer appeared in a novel, he was a good queer only, if like Faulkner’s Quentin Compson in The Sound and the Fury, he had the common decency to commit suicide or the good sense of a Tennessee Williams to become “The Poet of the Damned.”
Psalm 22 was perverse ‘soul food’ for my self-pity:
But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
scorned by all and despised by the people.
All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,
"He trusted in the LORD; let him deliver him; *
let him rescue him, if he delights in him.
I have often wondered whether heterosexuals see themselves in this psalm at all, and if so, how. Are they merely the outside observers?
Jesus saw himself as inside the psalm. He recalled it by heart while hanging on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Recently an arch conservative priest and a colleague in the House of Deputies warned me publicly:
As a priest, I am called to guard my life and my doctrine so that I will save both myself and my hearers. I simply must remain faithful to the Lord first and foremost.
If I were your pastor, and I am not, I could not with a good conscience sanction your understanding of marriage, or your chosen expression of it. I would be concerned for you and your relationship with the Lord--35 years of commitment not withstanding. I would challenge you to take steps toward bringing your life into accord with the plain teaching of the Scriptures.
That does not mean that I do not and will not continue to love you and remain committed to you in the Lord.
I find it much more threatening to face this priest’s judgment than to face the judgment of God:
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Where are the literalists when we really need them? Why will no one likely tell rich members of their congregations that their riches threaten to keep them from God’s realm?
And who are the rich? Most of us find it easy not to call ourselves rich, as almost anyone can point to many who have more wealth.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one needs to make more than $20,000 a year.” That was not far from what she made.
At St. Andrew’s School in Delaware in the 1960s one of our students came up to me crying at the end of graduation. “What is wrong?” I asked.
“My Dad gave me only a 2-engine jet and I had asked for a 4-engine jet,” he whimpered.
“Surely you don’t expect me to cry with you. How many people on the planet can never expect to afford a trip in a jet?”
“But with a 4-engine jet I would be able to deliver so much more aid to them.”
Smugly I went out to a fine dinner that evening riding in my white Galaxy convertible with rich red interior.
Who then can be saved?
Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."