O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Early in our marriage, but well after the ‘honeymoon’ was over, I realized how difficult it is to behave justly towards Ernest, given my own selfishness and my decades of learning how to mask it even from myself.
“Please tell me when I am not doing my fair share of the work of our life together,” I urged Ernest. “Tell me if I miss my turn to buy the gas, clean the bathroom, wash the dishes……”
“I don’t want to monitor your behavior,” he replied gently, “but only my own. I want you to take responsibility for yourself, and I will do my best to take responsibility for myself.”
Very likely God would like to say the same thing to us when we pray the collect today. The collect makes us sound so honorable. It implies we want to do what is right, but the collect sets us up with a ready excuse when we do not: “I asked God to show me what is right about….[women’s ordination, racial integration, lgbt marriage, undocumented citizens…….], but God never gave me a clear answer. I tried. I really did.”
“I don’t want to monitor your behavior and tell you what to do at every turn,” God might gently reply to our collect. “I will monitor my own behavior to see that I am generous and patient even to a fault. And I want you to take responsibility for yourself to be the same.”
Amos does not think of himself as a prophet but as a ‘herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees.” Prophecy is not his profession, as he sees it, but his faithful response to God’s command.
When we experience dramatic insight, it is often difficult to claim it as our own. Often it arrives as if revealed, from outside us.
In my classes on the Bible As Literature, I have often begun a class with a ‘wake-up’ exercise before getting into the meat of the day’s reading. In one such exercise, I begin by giving each student ten 3x5 index cards. “On every card, at the top right, use the same numeric code that only you will know as your own. End the numeric code with “M” or “F” to indicate your gender.
“Next, put on each card one of 10 things that are wrong with Newark (or Rutgers, or New Jersey, or the United States….). Do this quickly without editing your thoughts.”
As soon as students are no longer writing, I then ask them to rank items in their list, on a scale of 1 to 10, “1” being the most egregious or most urgent, “10” being the least egregious or least urgent.
When they have finished, I collect the cards, shuffle them, divide them into four stacks, and then give a stack to each of four groups of the students.
“This is Lesson One in Prophecy 101,” I explain.
“But we are not prophets,” I imagine many of them thinking. “We are merely students. I am a major in _____ (sycamore trees? Tending herds?)”
“Take your packet and write a monologue for God to use in speaking to Newark (or Rutgers, or New Jersey, or the United States….). Use the text on the cards as a prompt, but edit where you think you can make it more forceful or cogent as you imagine God might say it.”
Later we can look at any one of the biblical prophets and compare their own rhetorical strategies with those of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, or, as in today’s reading, Amos.
Many of the prophets do more than tell what is wrong; like Amos they name dire consequences to follow if the people do not repent. My students need no prompt to imagine dire consequences.
And many of the prophets, like Amos, get into trouble with those most indicted by their judgments.
In recalling this assignment, I find myself longing for an Amos or a Jeremiah to speak the truth to BP, Halliburton and Transocean about oil spills; for an Amos or a Jeremiah to speak the truth to all three branches of our federal government.
It is extremely important to us as Christians not merely to hunker in the security of our sycamore trees. Prophecy is not nearly so hard to understand as it is to do. Speaking truth to power takes courage, especially if you do it really well.
Psst! Be sure that someone sings the psalm in hopes that the congregation does not pay critical attention to the words of it. If you must say it instead of sing it, intone it so as to draw attention to your manner rather than to the theology.
Be grateful that this is mid-summer, and many will be on vacation.
Otherwise, you might risk letting far too many people notice that Scripture itself does not proclaim just one God, but a “council of heaven” where Yahweh “gives judgment in the midst of Gods.”
It is not altogether clear whom Yahweh addresses when he accuses, “How long will you judge unjustly and show favor to the wicked?” The nearest grammatical referent for “you” is “the gods” with him in the council of heaven. It appears these other gods have great power and they exercise it unfairly.
God then prophesies to these rival gods,
Now I say to you, 'You are gods, *
and all of you children of the Most High;
Nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, *
and fall like any prince.
For right now, there are many gods, but at the last judgment only one will survive?
As the French would say, “C’est tres interessant.”
Elsewhere, Saint is quite outspoken that we are saved by faith, not by any good works, not by our obedience to the law. Here, as in many other places, he points to good works favorably, not as a means of grace, but as evidence that we have already received grace. Good works, according to Saint, are a very good measure of the Spirit at work within us.
Good works are the fruit of the Spirit.
Saint particularly rejoices in the strength of the Colossian Christians, who are “prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father.” Any present suffering is quite worth the costs when God has enabled us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
General Theological Seminary included me in a 2009-2010 lecture series "Identity, Community and the Church." Specifically I was asked to compare the life of lgbts in The Episcopal Church now with the way that it was in 1974 when I founded Integrity. I tried to balance my personal experience with the corporate experience as more and more of us organized to share the good news of God’s love of absolutely everybody. I pointed to the steady additions of protections of lgbt persons now in the canons
I told of being laughed at by several on the switchboard at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in the summer of 1974 when I called asking them to put Ernest and me, recently wed, in touch with other gay Episcopalians. I described how that mockery, so clearly not of God, prompted me to start and organization and to name it Integrity, as a way to reclaim what the Church had violated.
I included details of some of the hostile responses through the years:
- I was accused by Bishop James Dees of causing a tornado in the tiny town where we lived. 1975
- The vestry of my own parish asked to find some other place of worship. 1975
- A GTS dean told me that my rector in Wisconsin bragged about his attacks on Ernest when they med on the street: “You are living in sin!” he would tell Ernest.
- A large apartment complex in Macon, Georgia denied housing to Ernest and me, as a federal investigator documented.
- Teenagers pelted our apartment in Fort Valley, GA with stones every spring….
- The Bishop of Atlanta summoned me for discipline using the Atlanta Journal.
- Vestries in Georgia and Wisconsin threatened me with excommunication.
- A dean at American University overruled the unanimous decision of AU’s search committee to hire me.
- A department secretary at Wisconsin mocked me to a scholar calling from California; a secretary in a dean’s office in Rutgers left an obscene phone call on my answering machine unaware that I had one of the first caller ids -- which identified the phone number of the dean‘s office……
- Bullies threatened to run over me when I jogged….
On and on the list could grow. Fortunately this hostility did not happen all at once, but was spread over three decades. But reMembering these narratives, I found myself rejoicing, in the same sense that Saint talks about the Colossian Christians, because like them, I have been “rescued … from the power of darkness and transferred … into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
In my head is a tape my family and my community in Alabama had prepared as the script for my life. In it I grow up to be a Southern Baptist preacher wielding a bible to thump everyone who does not live life as a good Southern Baptist. The tape is bestrewn with azaleas and whiteness. No person of color appears except an occasional servant….
I rejoice that God made me gay. Otherwise, very likely I would have dwelt in darkness without self-knowledge, unaware of the rich diversity of God‘s creation. Only by being cut off from presumptive hetero privilege was I challenged sufficiently to take on the hard, life-long work of my own education. Any hostility that I have endured because of my work as a gay Christian brings me immense joy as a “share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
I was a part of the group of seven lgbt persons who met with the Archbishop of Canterbury when he attended the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim. Each of us had only 80 seconds to speak. I told him that I understood that as Jesus could not take on the Samaritan cause front and center as he brought the gospel to the Jews, the Archbishop probably could not take on the lgbt cause front and center as he serves the Communion. “But you, like Jesus,” I told him, have an obligation to pepper your conversation with reports of ‘good queers’ ‘good lesbians’, ‘good gay men’, who as the rejects of the Communion nevertheless live as faithful witnesses of what it is to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”