O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
How refreshing to remind ourselves as well as God that when God created human beings, as with all of God’s other creations, God looked upon us and said, “It is good!” -- St. Augustine to the contrary notwithstanding.
The collect reclaims the assertion of Psalm 139, “I have been marvelously made.”
St. Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin asserted that we were all tainted as descendants of Adam, that something is fundamentally sinful and wrong about us. Scholar Karen Armstrong has noted: "Western Christians often regard the doctrine of original sin as essential to their faith. But the Greek Orthodox of Byzantium, where Rome did not fall, have never fully endorsed this doctrine, do not believe that Jesus died to save us from the effects of the origina sin, and have asserted that God would have become human even if Adam had not sinned" (from A Short History of Myth, page 156).
God did not make a mistake in making us, nor did we inherit fallenness. Jesus would have come quite apart from a need to get “fix” us.
The doctrine of Original Sin flies in the face of Jesus’ preference for friends -- publicans, drunkards, outcasts, sinners. He reviled the studiously religious charging that they killed the spirit of the faith by taking laws more seriously than people.
Jesus still does enjoyed our company. He shared our humanity and delights in it.
Be whole! Rejoice!
Jeremiah speaks of God’s great in-gathering:
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
At no time in history have so many people been as dispersed from their points of origin as at this time. Millions are in flight from genocide, persecution, famine, disease. Millions sleep in temporary shelter and own only what they can carry.
In the last two decades I have frequently been a personal reference and an advocate for lesbians and gays seeking asylum. A friend from Sierra-Leone finally got refuge status when she documented that her father tried to murder her when he learned that she is a lesbian. She fled on short notice just before he was to be released from prison. She is thriving the the U.S. She completed undergraduate education in record time with top grades and is now blaizing a trail through graduate school -- all on a full scholarship.
A brilliant Russian friend still is struggling to keep his green card so that he can live in the United States: he would have no trouble if his spouse were a U.S. female; but his spouse is a U.S. male physician and professor at a major medical school.
A straight Anglican friend spent six years in prison conditions at the Port Elizabeth detention center behind the Newark Airport, where INS warehouses those who arrive without visas and appeal for political asylum. My friend committed no crime, except to believe Emma Lazarus' poem on the Statue of Liberty, "Send Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses....." As a law student he had backed an opposition candidate in the Congo: he got out in short order, with only a few hours' notice when his family learned of a plot to murder him.
At great risk to themselves, his family spent most of their life savings to get him on the plane as a stow-away.
When INS finally granted him asylum, they gave him no credit towards residence for the years he had spent in detention: INS has declared such detention facilities not to be on USA soil, regardless of what all maps of New Jersey say.
He quickly got a job with a company that cleans carpets, and he lives in a tiny room above the business. Shortly after he was released, a woman whom he knew in detention was released to a half-way house with her small son; in the same half-way house were several sex offenders out on probation. Horrified, the young man from the Congo took in the woman and her son. He gave them his bed. He sleeps on the floor.
I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth
Please, God, ASAP!
Psalm 84 or 84:1-8
I regret that those who compiled the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) give the option of omitting verses 9-12 of Psalm 84. Verse 11 has long been a favorite of Integrity, the international Anglican ministry of lgbt persons, which I founded in 1974:
No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
Contrary to the popular misconception, integrity is not the special provenance of used cars sales personnel. Integrity names wholeness. One cannot be whole unless one integrates sexuality and spirituality in healthy ways. I named the organization "Integrity" to reclaim what the church systemically violated for generation after generation
The RCL also gives the option of omitting verse 9:
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
The main point of the psalm is to rejoice in being in God’s house. True enough that point is quite well made by the end of verse 8, but the final third of the psalm amplifies that point powerfully. The speaker appears to be of modest means. He refers to “my own room” as if he has only one, where as the temple is vast.
My parish, Grace Church in Newark, is a gorgeous place, a Richard Upjohn building. We have a very fine organ -- a Cassavant -- and Joe Arndt, our organist, only 24, is a genius. Our Anglo Catholic liturgy is done carefully and naturally, without italics. The preaching is nourishing. The congregation is a rainbow of the many cultures represent in Newark.
One day at Grace Church is better than many in my own room (but without some of the creature comforts).
We make no effort to trap God on our altars, however. Our most significant ministries are outside this building when we have been fed by the Spirit in this place.
Saint is a master of nurture and encouragement. It is a shame that we do not have diaries from members of the congregations to whom he wrote his epistles. Sometimes Saint bears the mark of classic passive aggression, especially when he is writing to the Corinthians about some of their behaviors that displease him. He suggests that the Christians in Ephesus haven’t even begun to know “what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”
Nor have we.
I grow weary of the efforts of the Anglican Communion to devalue the faith of lgbt Christians like me because thereby those who excoriate lgbts cut themselves off from the immeasurable greatness of God’s power to love and transform us, even an old quean like me.
I do not need a seal of approval from my adversaries, but they risk the scorn of Jesus, who routinely stood on the side of the marginalized and the despised over against the religious purists who consider themselves better than others. Many of the leaders in the Anglican Communion quickly condemn those whom they do not know. They readily take their views from crude stereotypes that have little or nothing to do with the reality of our faith and our calling.
I suspect we know these details because Mary repeated them to the disciples years later, much the way that all mothers store treasured narratives of the childhood of each child in the family. The narrative preserves enough of the consternation of the parents at the boy Jesus for breaking away from them and not keeping them informed of his whereabouts. "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety."
Jesus seems unconcerned about their worries, even a bit sassy: "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" Would his reply satisfy you if your child had failed to keep you informed and you were worried sick after three days of trying to find the child!? Not likely, except with the benefit of hindsight from many years later.
I find it significant that his parents did scold him, but also respected the strength they found in his character.
Being the Holy Family is a tough assignment. Being a good family is a tough assignment.