O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your lovingkindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Note well the terms under which God’s foundation for governing us is secure: it is a foundation of God’s loving-kindness, not a foundation of power to control the wind, the fire, earthquakes… As Elijah discovers in today’s reading from 1st Kings, God is not in those, but in the “sound of sheer silence.”
In the severe controversies which beset the Anglican Communion, look for evidence of loving-kindness across the divisions. Better: manifest God’s loving-kindness ourselves towards those who disagree with us or despitefully use us. Let God’s will be done here on earth right now. Do not wait for heaven.
1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
My parish, Grace Church in Newark, celebrates the mass with great dignity and care. The Gregorian settings soothe the soul. The young organist is a genius in his mastery of the music and in his mastery of the Cassavant.
We are currently searching for the successor of our rector, who has announced plans to retire early in 2011. He has been a good rector and his will be a hard act to follow. The vestry is serving as the search committee and has surveyed the membership towards preparing a parish profile. It is not surprising that in response to “What things about Grace Church do you value most and wish to see preserved?” several responded with variations on “the silence.”
Much of our silence is quite intentional. Visitors are sometimes likely to wonder whether a reader has lost her place or is perhaps momentarily incapacitated when at the end of the reading the reader stands in place for about 50 seconds or more. Most of the regulars do not use that time to locate the next hymn or to peruse the announcements in the service leaflet: we are encouraged to use the time to reflect on what we have just heard as “The Word of the Lord.” The service leaflet reminds people to expect the pause.
Mother Teresa was once asked what she said to God when she prays. She responded, “I just listen.” “And what does God say to you?” the interviewer asked. “God just listens too.”
In the midst of many storms in my own life -- tornadoes, winds, fire -- I have often at Grace Church experienced the “sound of sheer silence.”
Psalm 42 and 43
It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
-- William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was not only a poet, but also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine. He well understood death, not only physical but spiritual death.
So does the psalmist today understand spiritual thirst. Many die every day because they have not diagnosed as such the great longing they feel for God. We who have had our thirst quenched are obligated to reveal where we have found living water.
As the deer longs for the water-brooks, *
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God; *
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
I well understand the longing to have exact lists of what to do and what not to do as a way of disciplining our behavior to conform to the “what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will” -- as St. Paul puts it elsewhere (Romans 12:2).
To the Galatians Paul makes it clear that no ideal rule list, no exact discipline, can save us.
Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Unless you are a lesbian or transgendered Christians? Do such folks make a special class who do require disciplinarians? The majority of bishops in the Worldwide Anglican Communion think so, and the current Archbishop of Canterbury, who, when Archbishop of Wales, used to argue for the full inclusion of lgbt persons in the Church, now says that he is constrained to demand obedience to the discipline set forth by the 1998 Lambeth Conference -- no lgbt bishops, no blessing of lgbt unions, no equal status in the communion for those who would persist in consecrating lgbt bishops and blessing lgbt unions. Many argue that an Anglican province should lose equal status even if it merely argues for changing the restrictions.
Yet scripture announces no lgbt exception when Paul proclaims:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
There is no longer straight or gay, black or white, Arab or Jew, slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of us are one in Christ Jesus. And if we belong to Christ, then we too are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
But perhaps we should only whisper this good news lest we alarm the heterosupremacists.
Why are there swineherds in Israel in the first place? Is there a Jewish black market for bacon and pork loin?
Not likely. Jews may well be employed as swineherds, as was the Prodigal Son for a season. But Jewish swineherds in Israel then and today serve a gentile market. Nearby is Caesarea Philippi, conclave of the Roman Occupation.
Quite apart from the drama for the Jews when Jesus casts out the demons from the man so long held captive by the demons, imagine the drama not recorded here when the swine herders must explain to their bosses what happened to an entire herd of swine. I wish that a good story-teller would take on the challenge of writing that addendum to Luke’s account.
Some Christians treat homosexuality as similar to demon possession. Christians who find themselves not wanting the lgbt body chemistry with which they find themselves may also feel that they have been “possessed” -- if not by demons, certainly by strong forces that exercise a will hard to resist. The more ones immediate religious community condemns behavior to which you are privately compelled, the more you are likely to feel wracked with spiritual pain: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.” -- as St. Paul puts it in Romans 7:19-20. The divided self courts schizophrenia and or hypocrisy, especially if your name is Ted Haggard.
A friend who is a psychologist was brought up in the Church of Christ in the South. That body forbade pianos and any other musical instruments. Faith for them was joyless. Yet my friend was ebullient and manifested a kindness and a generosity that seemed to me almost inexplicable, given the austerity of her rearing.
“How did you ever re-wire all those circuits?” I asked her.
She smiled gently: “I didn’t. I walked into another room.”
“You must be born again,” Jesus told Nicodemus.
“You mean I must enter again my mother’s womb,” Nicodemus, incredulous, replied.
“No, you must be born of a new spirit. Get a life!”
Check the Yellowpages or Google for a herd of swine upon which Jesus may hurl all the demons that possess us and prevent us from being whole?