Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I consider justice more important to the quality of a marriage than romance. Romance is delightful and for the most part easily experienced. Justice is much harder to effect, for the demands of justice directly confront me with my own selfishness. How do we spend our time and our money? Does the marriage allow each partner the space and resources needed to grow into the fullness of his possibilities?
The theologian Carter Heyward has said:
Early in our marriage, I said to Ernest, “Please tell me when you think that I am not doing my share of the domestic work.”
“I won’t,” he said, albeit gently. “That would give me an additional role. I refuse to be your monitor; I prefer to be your husband. I will work hard to do my share and any additional work that you might leave undone. I want you to monitor your own work and give accounting not to me but to yourself.”
This wisdom is missing from the assumptions of the writer of today’s collect. The collect invites us to concede to God the responsibility for “bring[ing] into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners.” Yet is it not our responsibility to bring into order our own unruly wills and affections? God made us free agents so that we might freely choose to take that responsibility. Jesus called us his friends, not his servants or his slaves.
So often lgbt Christians are told, “God’s ways are clear. You have been excluded for 4,000 years. Even if the Episcopal Church, UCC, and the Unitarians vote to include you as ministers and to bless your relationships, do you seriously believe you can reverse 4,000 years of tradition? Mind you: we are not trying to be unkind to you; we are just telling you for your own good who God is and how God behaves.”
Yet in Scripture God says, “I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
If God makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, if God
brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior and makes them lie down, unable to rise, if God extinguishes them, quenches them like a wick,….cannot God also redeem lgbt Christians and rejoice in the diversity we manifest in God’s creation?”
Dare we call unclean anyone whom God has made?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people
Verse three is written in the third person. Verse four repeats the same point in the second person.
Then they said among the nations, *
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.
What fine antiphony!
Psalm 126, like today’s passage from Isaiah, declares God active in change. We are not to be stuck forever where we find ourselves. God does restore fortunes. Those who sow with tears may indeed reap with songs of joy. Those who carry the seed weaping, later bring the harvest rejoicing.
Saint allows himself to be amazingly vulnerable in this self-assessment: While stressing that he has not yet reached his goal, he reveals, however slightly, some uncertainty about the goal as well: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
“if I may attain the resurrection from the dead”? Only if? Is the outcome in doubt?
“attain it?” Elsewhere Saint has proclaimed eternal life the free gift of Christ, not something we have to attain. What does he think he has to do to attain it? What works could possibly substitute for his faith?
“somehow I may attain it”? Only “somehow”. Why so vague?
I am enormously grateful for Saint’s willingness to share this vulnerability, his momentary uncertainty. It seems a brief lapse in faith, which elsewhere he calls “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Saint begins this passage pointing out his impeccable credentials as a Jew who lived confidently under the law, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”
The law does not count for Saint; grace does. As he reassesses the choices he has made, he determines: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
For Saint faith is God‘s free gift, not something we achieve, yet as he shows here, faith is not easy: it is hard work. He “strains.” He “presses on.”
I am enormously grateful that Saint did not undertake to write a systematic theology. We who strain and press on are enormously blessed that even he did so too, and was willing to say so.
Western culture allows very little of the public sensuality which is specific to Mary’s oblations -- both olfactory and tactile . Most in our culture would look on with disdain were a woman to perfume a man’s feet with her hair at our dinner tables. We think it bad form; Judas thought it outrageously expensive.
“The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” You better believe it! She used a whole pound of pure nard, with apparently a larger stash for later. The guests must have carried the fragrance home with them. We who are Anglo-Catholics probably have a lower bill at the dry cleaners than most other church goers, what with the finest of Holy Cross incense, but a whole pound of nard used on the feet of only one guest in a small room!
Jesus probably still smelled it on himself when he hung on the cross a few days later, evidence of Mary‘s devotion. He hints as much when he rebukes Judas for censuring Mary: “"Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”
I like John’s parenthetical explanation that Judas’ concern for the poor was deceitful. “(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) How many times do we all profess concern for the poor not backed up by the way we spend our money?