O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Is this prayer meant to be talismanic? Are we merely asking, “Help us through this ordeal”? Or, do we expect our petition itself to do the trick, as a kind of magic merely because we say the right things?
We might ask the same of all our prayers. What are our expectations? Is prayer efficacious, and if so, how?
Like many other collects, this one suggests that flattery might work with God. In it the petitioner speaks not to a friend, but to a ruler, and a strong one at that, on whose mercy any success depends in the ordeal of moving through this life in a way that will get us into heaven.
Where is Saint when we really need him, to remind us that our salvation has already been accomplished?
Groveling sometimes appears much easier than accepting and living into what has already been forgiven.
Sexual candor came at a huge price for Hosea, a price that he paid publicly. He saw his whorish wife and their three children as defining a problem bigger than their family alone; for him they became a metaphor for all of Israel’s unfaithfulness. In Hosea’s account, God keeps his original promise to multiply Abraham’s seed like grains of sand on the seashore, but does so with cynical bitterness. God offers the sand no quarantine from radical oil spills.
Rt. Rev. William Wantland Wantland was one of the ten diocesan bishops who brought the initial presentment charging their colleague Walter Righter for heresy in ordaining as a priest Barry Stopfel, an out gay man living in a committed gay relationship. See my account of the trial in which Bishop Righter was exonerated.
Bishop Wantland married in 1954, but later annulled that marriage. Like Hosea, Bishop Wantland and his wife had three children. Did he annul the children as well?? He married a second time in 1985.
Some of us had trouble respecting Bishop Wantland’s contempt of gay unions given his own marital record. At one point I asked him if he could help me with that apparent contradiction. He replied that he would be willing to discuss his marriage privately. I told him that I did not want to invade his privacy. I wanted only what he was willing to say as publicly as the presentment against Bishop Righter.
On January 15, 2009 the House of Bishops deposed Bishop Wantland for abandoning communion with The Episcopal Church. He is now affiliated with the Anglican province of the Southern Cone.
Similarly The Rev. David Roseberry, rector of Christ Church in Plano, Texas, is a strong adversary against lgbt Christians. He hosted a large conference to object after General Convention 2003 consented to the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, the first election of an out gay bishop in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Robinson is married to Mark Andrew and the two had been together openly for 14 years at the time of Robinson’s consecration. Roseberry too is divorced. On September 15, 2006, Roseberry left The Episcopal Church for the Province of the Southern Cone.
The Rev. Earle Fox read a long list of specific erotic offenses which he attributed to homosexuals when he protested at the consecration of Bishop Robinson on November 2nd, 2003. Chief consecrator, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, interrupted Fox’s litany at one point saying “Spare us the details.” In The Clerical Directory Fox continued to claim he was married long after he was divorced. Earle Fox was deposed on May 26, 2009.
Instead of hiding his wife Gomer’s infidelities, Hosea proclaimed that God had planned it that way. He said that God made him take “a wife of whoredom.”
Psalm 85 or Psalm 85:7-13
It is always instructive to look closely at text which the lectionary makers make optional. In this case the full text is Psalm 85, but the lectionary creators make verses 1-6 optional. The psalm is much ‘cleaner’ without them, for if you omit those verses, you remove references of God’s wrath and indignation. If you keep the verses, God can easily seem a big, bad blusterer, especially in verses 4-6:
Restore us then, O God our Savior; *
let your anger depart from us.
Will you be displeased with us for ever? *
will you prolong your anger from age to age?
Will you not give us life again, *
that your people may rejoice in you?
At Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey, for many years I taught two courses on The Bible as Literature, one on Hebrew scripture and the other on Christian scripture. Many of my students were not Christian, and few regularly attended any religious worship. Most took the course out of intellectual interest; and by law, the course could not promote a particular religion. We brought to the bible the same objective criteria that we bring to any other literary text: we did not privilege the bible as ‘holy,’ and if any went away thinking it holy, the text on its own had to persuade them of that claim.
As with any other narrative, we looked closely at the characters. Few found the character of God in Hebrew Scriptures appealing; many found the character of Jesus appealing. One of the major put-offs for the character of God is his volatile and prolonged temper. “Will you prolong your anger from age to age?”
Probably without intending to do so, the psalmist comes off as much more likeable than God to modern readers, by strongly urging that God cease and desist. “Cool it, God,” is what many hear in these omitted verses.
Perhaps it would help to keep those verses intact. They allow us to express our displeasure with God's overwrought emotions and our sense of abandonment. Undoubtedly those verses offered a way to cope, even if an inadequate way to cope, for those enduring The Holocaust. They might also give solace to any who dare to believe that those who imprison lgbts for marrying are acting, as some claim, in God’s will. “Cool it, God. Let up already!”
But as air-conditioning isolates from the summer’s excesses, we have the option to stay just with the second half of Psalm 85, in which God “is speaking peace to his faithful people.”
Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
Again, look closely at the verses which the lectionary suggests as merely optional, 16-19:
Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
Put more simply: “You don’t have to sweat the petty rules that some will want to impose on you.”
Attention: lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered!
Attention: all others who desperately long for God but are still not sure that God loves you. God does, infinitely more than you could ask or even dream!
We don’t have to get it right; God has made us right.
Don’t let people intimidate you by complaining that you are not circumcised. Through Jesus God has given you a spiritual circumcision
Don’t let people intimidate you by complaining that you are not heterosexuals. Through Jesus God has made you spiritual heterosexuals, or whatever. I prefer to think She has made heterosexual Christians into spiritual Queers, for Christ’s sake!
As Quean Lutibelle amends it: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to heterosexual tradition, according to the hetero-normative spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.”
I have not found a collect in the Book of Common Prayer that is as direct as “The Lord’s Prayer,” especially in Luke’s version, leaner than the others:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
In my private prayer, I prefer the clearer challenge of Quean Lutibelle’s rendering: “God, use the same standard in forgiving me that I use in forgiving others.”
The Lord’s Prayer is deceptively simple: I should not risk praying the prayer unless I am prepared for the consequences.
Like many others, I am uncomfortable with “Do not bring us to the time of trial.” We know for certain that times of trial will always come. I prefer, “Be with me in the time of trial.”