Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Church holds that what we pray reveals what we believe -- lex orandi, lex credendi.
Do you really believe that it is wrong to be self-reliant, wrong to confide in your own strength? Do you really believe that God wants us to ask God to take on challenges that we are strong enough to take on for ourselves?
I had a friend in college that so much feared being proud that he would not take singing lessons to enhance his considerable talents as a bass. “I am already too proud,” he insisted.
And he was too proud, not humble enough to submit himself to instruction.
I remember going to a psychologist in London while working there in 1970 with much too much time on my hand and too little imagination to put my talents to work without the discipline that I had just ended by completing my doctorate. It did not take the psychologist long to detect that my answers to his questions were canned cleverness, responses that I had forged in earlier therapy when I had really needed it. “Are these really current problems for you?” he asked. “No,” I had to say.
Dependency begets dependency begets dependency…..
Compare my revision of the collect:
God, thank you for giving us good minds and opportunities to learn to use them well. When we are strong, thank you for trusting us to be strong. Thank you for loving us as your friends, not as your servants slavishly bowing and scraping before you. Thank you too for your mercy and love when our strength fails us. Amen.
lex orandi, lex credendi. Yes!
Is Jeremiah really speaking for God, or for Jeremiah’s notion of God?
Do you really believe that God ever behaves as “a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you”? What ungodly paranoia!
Would you shape evil against your child who had disappointed you? If not, why would you assume that our heavenly parent would behave that way towards us when we are wayward?
Jeremiah appears to be driven to do right primarily by fear of the punishment for doing wrong. It is his major rhetorical strategy in trying to convert Israel from doing wrong. Does that kind of strategy work well on you?
I find that the wrong that I do most often provides its own punishment, and that the major punishment for me is like that of the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable: prodigality leaves me empty, miserable, alone, alienated from God. I don’t require someone yelling at me to tell me that I am in deep trouble. I know it already.
The father in Jesus’ parable does not set out to punish his wayward son. When the son appears afar off, having become a lowly swineherd, his father runs to him, embraces him, orders that veal scaloppini be prepared.
By contrast, Jeremiah follows the theology of the Elder Brother, insisting that the prodigal be punished. Jeremiah’s imagery is violent: the potter breaks and destroys the vessel.
I prefer another potter’s image in our tradition:
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall fresh on me.
Take me, shape me, mold me, use me!
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall fresh on me.
It is dangerous to pray that prayer unless you really mean it; God may take you up on the invocation.
I am delighted that Jeremiah describes God as someone who can and does change his mind. That’s refreshing. I agree with Jeremiah that God wants us to set high standards. I agree that evil has dire consequences. I believe in confession, repentance and amendment of life. YET: God did not bully me into this faith; God loves me into it.
Psalm 139:1-5, 13-18
This is one of my favorite psalms. As a teenager and as a young man (back in the Dark Ages), I often found myself believing the evil things that people said about queers like me, even when I could not reconcile their contradictions. At one level, they supposed me to be so dangerous that I could ravage even strong young men; and at another, they supposed me to be pitiful, weak and despicable.
Into this mix the psalmist intrudes, and would have me say as a gay man:
I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
My gay body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
My friends Dr. Anne Clarke Brown and the Rev. Lee Alison Crawford selected Psalm 139 for their commitment service in the Diocese of Vermont on August 25, 2000. Vermont was the first state to legalize domestic partnerships. Even with Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod also present, I felt like a holy outlaw as these two made their solemn vows to each other. Marvelously made indeed!
There is so much of God’s reality that the church is unable to welcome yet. I am reminded of the cartoon in Christopher Street years ago, showing a small child kneeling beside her bed praying, “And God bless Mommy and Daddy, my sister Ellen and my brother Craig, and also Uncle Tom and his partner William whom we’re not supposed to talk about. AMEN”
This reading should challenge us all to look boldly at slavery and Christian responses to it, especially our own.
Onesimus was Philemon’s slave and likely had stolen from Philemon. He appears to have fled to Paul in prison for protection. See Wikipedia’s account. Through Paul Onesimus was converted. The book of Philemon is Paul’s letter of reference for Onesimus. In it Paul asks Philemon to take Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a fellow Christian. Paul writes “If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.”
Nowhere does Scripture directly challenge the system of slavery. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul charges: “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.”
Samuel Seabury (1801-72), grandson and namesake of the first bishop of the Episcopal Church, defended slavery and patriarchal supremacy in 1861 thus:
The right of suffrage is then truly universal when it is extended to all the adult males of the State, without regard to distinctions of property; it can not go beyond this limit, and be extended to women, without violating the main principle on which the very being of the State rests for support, which is the subordination of wives to their husbands, of children to their fathers, and of slaves (in every community which has them) to their masters. Women are cared for and protected in their natural rights by the State, and so are children, and so are slaves in those countries in which they chance to form one of the classes of society; but women, children, and slaves are not the State, are not the protectors of society. Their position is one of subordination and dependence; and men--freemen--whether they be "the lords of creation" or not, are in fact the lords and rulers of the political community to which they belong.
From American Slavery, distinguished from the Slavery of English Theorists, and justified by the Law of Nature, 1861
Leonidas Polk, First Bishop of Louisiana, was also General Leonidas Polk in the Army of the Confederacy, defending the institution of slavery.
In A Letter from the Bishop of Vermont to the Bishop of Pennsylvania the Bishop of Vermont, hardly from the Deep South, wrote:
"The Slavery of the Negro Race as maintained in the Southern States appears to me fully authorized both in the Old and the New Testament.... That very slavery, in my humble judgment, has raised the negro incomparably higher in the scale of humanity."
--Rt. Rev. John H. Hopkins, May 2, 1863
The world still toils and travails with the crushing legacy of slavery.
Saint’s solution is not enough, even though he urged Philemon to free Onesimus. That plea is a powerful witness to the love of God at work with these three human beings. But it does not address the systemic evil of slavery. Only when the systems are dismantled can we begin to redress slavery’s awful consequences.
Dismantling the systems does not require our guilt: instead it requires our solidarity, as in the baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being -- up front and publicly, not just in quiet security behind closed doors.
See my PowerPoint presentation Reparations: A Debt, Not a Gift
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
So much for family values.
It is small wonder that those who most loudly tout family values invest major energy in trying to subvert Jesus’ radical hospitality to absolutely everybody.
As an English professor, I enjoy watching champions of family values scramble to make this text say something else besides what it says so clearly, scramble to find a context in which it might mean the opposite.
But I enjoy their scramble too much. I allow their plight to distract me from my own: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
There’s no wiggle room there, none whatsoever. And I have not given up all my possessions.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.