O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
That’s rather grandiose. I prefer
O God, grant that, when Christ comes we may be good friends of him forever. Amen.
Does Jesus love us as we are, or only if we become purified?
Why did he choose to live with sinners if he had a preference for those who were not?
How much of Jesus’ earthly life did he devote to purification?
How much power and great glory did Jesus seek and relish? Why assume that he wants power and great glory now?
The grander we conceive him, the greater distance we set between ourselves and God. Jesus came to break down those barriers. He did not address God as “Omnipotent God” but rather as “Father.”
Nor does it make much sense to blame our sins of the Devil. When I was child, I had an imaginary friend named “Bowback.” Whenever my parents asked, “Did you do this prank,” I responded, “No, Bowback did it.” When I grew up, I put away that childish attribution. As adults, we need to take responsibility for our actions and not blame them on Bowback, the Devil or any other source.
The Episcopal Church had its most dramatic growth from 1875-1915:
For almost 100 years now we have lost rather than gained ground, in terms of the number of our congregations.
Some argue that we have also lost much of our respectability and grandeur. J. P. Morgan used to fund a special, one-of-a-kind printing of the Book of Common Prayer, as the official edition on which all other copies were based, albeit with less gilt, leather, and other “touches.” Mr. Morgan also contributed generously to the building of a ‘bishop’s palace’ for the Bishop of New York so that the bishop could “live like other people.”
We now count far more of ‘the great unwashed’ among our membership, more of the huddled masses ‘breathing free.’ We are no longer “The Republican Party at Prayer”; and there is less cache to the rich of any party to be associated with us. Far more of them spend Sunday on the golf links.
Many of our grand old buildings are now vacant or barely hanging on. A burst boiler or any other major unbudgeted expense puts many of our edifices in mortal danger.
“Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing?”
Do we expect God to show up soon to say?:
Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the LORD of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.
Is prosperity the most reliable measure of God’s presence among us? How high a priority should we give to the real estate of The Episcopal Church? How much time does God spend hanging out in “God’s House” anyway? Whenever I presume to take God into the streets, I find that She has always beaten me there, especially among the poor, the homeless, and the dispossessed.
Psalm 145:1-5, 18-21
The Presbyterians and other Puritans like to proclaim,
Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him [sic] for ever.
Psalm 145 offers a model way of doing that. The grandiosity of today’s collect is muted by comparison.
I refuse to be a consistent sourpuss. I can sing the bass line of Handel with competitive vigor when he borrows from the divine Saint John to proclaim,
Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
So anxiously were Christians expecting Jesus’ imminent return, that some, in Thessalonica and elsewhere, wondered whether Jesus were already back. Saint cautions them that some conditions have not yet been met for Jesus’ return:
the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.
Now two thousand years later, if you’re still expecting Jesus’ imminent return, you have Saint’s clear instructions on what you must see first. Or do you?
Theologians use eschatology to name the study of (‘logy’) the last days (‘eschatos’). Clearly Christians in the first century expected Christ to return soon. After More than three hundred years, that expectation still survived and was memorialized in the Nicene Creed:
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
Is Jesus living incognito near you? Have you seen someone who acts a lot like him? Has he used your face from time to time? Are you willing to allow that?
Saint was miffed that some Thessalonians were overly concerned with whether Jesus had already returned. Saint urged them to invest their energies in their mission to spread the gospel: “God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news.” Saint charged them: “Stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.”
Many dissenters in The Episcopal have taken this last verse to name the mission in their dissent. See their website.
Every Episcopalian has in her or his DNA a huge respect for tradition. Consider the old saw,
Question: “How many Episcopalians does it take to put in a light bulb?”
Answer: “Three. One to screw in the light bulb. A second to make the martinis. Another to proclaim how much prettier the old light bulb was.
A stool wobbles fiercely if it has only one leg. Richard Hooker (1554-1600) insisted on three legs for the Anglican stool: Tradition, Scripture, and Reason. We cannot safely obey the first commandment, to love God with our minds, if we think and do only what we have been told.
Often Jesus said, “You have heard that it has been said….., but I say to you.”
Jesus invites us into that kind of discourse as his friends.
Scripture and tradition are profitable for instruction, instruction that rigorously challenges us to look again, to re-think how best to understand God’s challenges to us in our times.
Mormons believe that in the afterlife every man [sic] is the God of his [sic] own planet. On that planet each man lives with all of his children and with his wives. If he had only one wife on earth, he may have as many as he wants in heaven.
The next time Mormon missionaries knock on your door, invite them in, offer them cookies and a soda, and ask them about that belief.
My friend Kim Byham and I visited the Mormon temple across from Lincoln Center in New York City after it was completed but before it was consecrated. After its consecration, only Mormons would be allowed inside.
It is quite splendidly built. There is no large central meeting space, or at least we were not shown one. Instead, we visited parlor after parlor, some large but many medium or small. A major use of these parlors is for weddings.
Kim asked the pleasant young man who served as our guide, “Since every man will be God of his own planet, how will any man with sons live on that planet with all of his family? Won’t each son be away to serve as God of his own planet?”
“I need to check with one our leaders,” our guide responded. He returned a few minutes later to explain that the person who knows the answer was not on duty that day.
Jesus answers a similar question from the Sadducees: The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection any more than Kim and I believe that in the afterlife each man will be god of his own planet. They tried to expose the ridiculousness of Jesus’ belief in the resurrection much as Kim tried to expose the ridiculousness of the doctrine regarding families of each man as the God of his own planet.
Jesus did not have to check with one of his leaders. He turned the Sadducees’ question on its head in terms as troubling to Mormons today as to most Jews of Jesus’ day: there won’t be marriage in heaven.
So much for family values! As a queer Christian I had best say no more about Jesus’ theology on this point, lest he get tarred with stigmas intended for me and my tribe.