Friday, July 1, 2011
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.I love this collect. With it I offer to put myself completely into God's hands, trusting God to provide quite independently of my ignorance, blindness, and weakness. It is easy to see what the prayer says about God. When we pray it, what do we say about ourselves?
- We are ignorant.
- We are weak.
- We are unworthy.
- We dare not ask.
- We are blind.
- We have good minds.
- We can become strong in character.
- Christ has made us worthy; God did not make us junk.
- There is no risk in asking.
- God gave us not only eyesight, but also the potential for insight.
Creator God, thank you for giving us good minds. Bless us as we strive to use them well and seek to become wise. Help us to become strong in character. And realizing that you want us to ask, ask we do: please provide that which we do not yet see we need, through Jesus Christ your son and our joint heir of your everlasting kingdomBit too much? Do I need to tone it down a bit? Should the collect encourage an itsy bitsy grovel? I think not. Honesty and candor do not threaten God nearly so much as blind obedience does. Professional liturgists need to smith the draft a bit more, but let's go for it. Genesis 28:10-19a I am sure that Jacob awakened refreshed by his dream. But should we? This same dream is used by many today to close discussion on the bids for a Palestinian state. In property disputes about the Gaza strip or the huge wall to cut off ease of Muslim access to their own holy places, some use Jacob's dream to ratify all Jewish claims. If you must blame anyone, some argue, don't blame the Jews: they're simply following God's orders. What for Jacob is a dream is for Muslims a nightmare. Is God really such a respecter of persons? Might Yaweh and Allah name the same person, seen but darkly through the eyes of Jews and Muslims? My rector The Rev. Dr. Brent Bates pointed out in a recent sermon, we have a choice of what to hear when Jesus says, "I am the way." We may choose to hear "I am THE way"; or we may choose to hear "I am the WAY." Psalm 139: 1-11, 22-23 This is one of my favorite psalms. In my spiritual journey, I was very close to God as a child and as a teenager. I accepted the church's indictment of homosexual desire and actions and avoided intimacy and fervently confessed my fearful fantasies. I did everything I could to try to become straight. At age 28, I concluded that my homosexuality was not just a passing phase, that I really am not plumbed as straight. I abandoned God who had, it seemed, so cruelly abandoned me. I embraced the criminal status the law prescribed for me. I furtively sought to make up for lost time in the company of strangers. To protect not only myself, but also my family, I immediately moved to Europe where any arrest would less likely be noticed in my hometown newspaper. Meanwhile, God never stopped loving me. There was no place where I could flee from God's presence. God traced my journeys and my resting-places, and was acquainted with all my ways. Even when I said, "Surely the darkness will cover me and the light around me turn to night," it did not happen. Our darkness is not dark to God; our night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light to God are both alike. After several years of wandering, I came to discover God's light where I least expected to find it, in the arms of Ernest. In Ernest's love for me, just as I am, I glimpsed how much more God loves me, and not me only, but absolutely everybody. God in our time is using lgbtq persons as God has used many of the despised before us, to show that God's love has no limit. The lgbtq Christian movement is not about us, but about God, and about us only as God's servants. Jesus had his first success not with Jews, but with scorned Samaritans; and he was less concerned with their sins than with their thirst for living water. A luta continua. Romans 8:12-25 Looking at this passage with what I imagine "A Straight Eye," we lgbtq persons are at risk. Many straights use us a cookie cutter examples of those who "live according to the flesh." Very few places in the world offer us the alternative of marriage, which straight persons, always the majority, reserve for themselves alone as the way to sanctify sexual intercourse. In this straight division of reality, lgbtqs manifest creation's "bondage to decay." Recently The Rev. Matt Kennedy, a friend on Facebook, lamented that Presbyterians have now approved the ordination of gay people. +Matt proclaimed, "Presbyterians just took a flying leap off a very steep cliff." At one point in the first 82 responses +Matt prompted, I wrote as irenically as I could imagine: "God's property is always to show mercy." My friend replied very much with a "Straight Eye for the Lectionary":
Yes it is. And he has already revealed the basis of his mercy...the life death resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Access to the saving benefits of Christ is open to all through faith--which is personal surrender and commitment to him. Jesus said that those who are his will make that manifest through the fruits of their lives...primarily obedience. "If you love me you will follow my commands" Conversely we are told by Jesus himself: "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8) Those are not my words, but the words of Jesus of Nazareth risen and reigning in heaven and who will one day come again as judge. These words do not mean that if you sin you will not inherit the kingdom. We all sin. It points rather to those whose lives are characterized by unrepentant defiant and proud sin. In other words, Louie, it is not your sexual sin but your unrepentance that is at issue. Unrepentance and defiance reveals a heart that is uncircumcised and unchanged. But there is hope and a future open before you and I pray you take it. The same Lord who pronounced the sentence above also said the following through his apostle John: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10) You are right. His property is always to have mercy to those who seek it. Louie, I pray that you seek it. You are correct that I am no better and in many ways morally worse than you. I would have no hope were it not for the grace of God leading me to repentance for all those things he reveals to be sin in my life. You too have that open door and I pray you will walk through it. [Louie, you wrote:] "I pray that God will not use the same standard in judging you that you so rigorously use in not forgiving lgbtq persons." It's the same standard Louie...the very same. His word, which reveals his holiness, is the measure of us all. And none can stand before him. But, again, that is why Jesus came--to save sinners like you and me. But to avail ourselves of this salvation we must be willing to say that God is right and we are wrong. That his word is true and our pretensions are false. We must be willing to surrender our proud and vain rebellion, cease clinging to our own designs and desires, repent of our sins and cling to Christ in whom, as you say, we are promised mercy, forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus loves you Louie. Imagine what God might do through you even now to rescue those living in the darkness of sexual sin. You could bring such glory to his name and so many people to the gospel. So, again, I pray you repent and I pray that God will move in your mind and heart to hear and receive the truth of his word.From my queer point of view, St. Paul was often wrong about sex. He was wrong to set mind and body, spirit and the flesh at enmity with each other. God made both, and we can live with wholeness (integrity) only when we can integrate spirit and flesh. St. Paul is on dangerous spiritual ground when he allows for marriage only as a form of lust control. ("It is better to marry than to burn" 1 Cor. 7:9) There is much more abundance and generosity to grace than +Matt Kennedy or I have imagined. I honor him for his obvious compassion towards me given his view of God. I am grateful that he has given his permission for me to include this long quotation. Gay Roman Catholic priest and theologian James Alison counsels: "Give someone who is wrong a soft place to land." No matter whether it is +Matt Kennedy or myself who is wrong, we both have the same soft place, safely in the arms of Jesus. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 +Matt Kennedy feels called to invest lots of effort into separating wheat from tares, sheep from goats, the righteous from the unrighteous. He works for laws to support his divisions, both in the culture and in the church. With many others, and at great personal cost to himself, he left the Episcopal Church to affiliate with one of the continuing Anglican groups. Jesus is not naive. He knows full well that there are weeds among the wheat, that there are evil-doers. His disciples ask him: `Then do you want us to go and gather them?" Jesus replied:
No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"
Signing offJesus' counsel is an appropriate place to end this blog, with straight and lgbtqs alike watching and waiting. I hope that we do so with great expectations. With this reflection I have completed the full 3-year cycle of the lectionary. Thank you for your interest. I encourage all of you to write your own reflections on the lectionary, especially fellow lay folk like myself, because we don't 'have to.' It is an excellent discipline through which to take Scripture seriously. As the blog name emphasizes, I set out in this series to give a "Queer Eye" to the lectionary. Since that's the only kind of eye I have, I confess that from time to time I have gotten through an entire set of readings without ever saying anything that makes lgbtq experience stand out as distinct. In life, that is true even more so. Although I am coming up on my 75th birthday in December, I confess that I am not altogether sure what gayness/homosexuality/queerdom really is. All human beings are far more complex than any label can adequately describe, and I see no real reason that affectional preferences should make one stand out any more than Ernest and I stand out for being left-handed or for being an interracial couple... Alas, in much of the world we do stand out as interracial, and we do stand out as a gay couple. If the world gives you a leper's bell, use it to make music. I hope I have done so in the series, albeit I am not a musician and some of it is likely discordant. On the Great Gettin Up Morning, to which each of us draws nearer with each breath, I do not expect to plead, 'Let me in because I am right about homosexuality.' I will plead, 'Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.' And She will be. That's who She is. My blessing May God bless you and keep you. Lend your face to God so that in you others may glimpse God. Be about the business of redemption, cleaning up messes with as much delight as you can muster. Love one another, especially those least loved and most difficult to love. Love your enemies as much as God does. Ask God to hold you to the same standard that you yourself use in forgiving them. Hold great expectations because you are a joint heir with Jesus. Fear not. Joy! Amen
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.Many collects ask God to tell us what to think and do. Many of us ask God the same. I suppose it does not hurt to ask, but it is important to excercise extreme caution when I am tempted to take my answers for God's answers. It is all too easy to justify my position by saying, "God made me do it!" God has never promised to think for us or to act in ways that make us God's puppets or automatons. Why should we choose to be God's puppet? God offers instead for us to be God's friend. A Quean Lutibelle alternative:
God, just checking in, my friend. I hope all goes well for you, and if not, that you re-deploy your love in ways most likely to improve situations. Thank you for giving me a mind and heart of my own. I hope that I too can deploy your love in ways most likely to improve situations. Here are some specifics in central focus for me today...... Love, Lutibelle/LouieGenesis 25:19-34 First Sarah was barren until she was seventy. No wonder that she laughed (in Hebrew, "Yitsak, Yitsak. Yitsak, Yitsak ....." Try it out in a high wide-mouthed, high-pitched cackle!) Pregnant at 70! Whew! Even today we're tempted to share her unbelief. Then her daughter-in-law Rebekah proves barren too! What's going on with this family? How ironic that Abraham, the progenitor of progenitors, heads it. When Rebekah finally becomes pregnant, she does so in spades -- with twins. Esau arrives first, with Jacob right after him, gripping Esau's heel. In Beyond the Fringe, a 1960 British comedy revue, Alan Bennett played a vicar in the routine "Take a Pew". He said with falsetto: "My brother Esau is an hairy man, but I am a smooth man." Some credit this show with the popularity of satire on the British stage for over a decade. Jacob was smooth indeed, and a consummate trickster. The story pits Esau's physical strength (the "skillful hunter, the man of the field") against Jacob's wits, against Jacob's craftiness. Famished, Esau loses control and sells his birthright as the first-born for mere lentil soup with bread. Later in parts of Genesis, Jacob himself falls prey to tricks of Laban, who becomes his father-in-law twice before Jacob gets the bride he wants. Be glad that Hollywood did not get an advance copy of this script. The Bible version does not dress its main characters to please the crowds. The patriachs of Genesis often are less than grand. Psalm 119:105-112 This selection repeats several basic tenets of Hebrew Scriptures. The speaker obeys God's law and expects to be rewarded. The speaker has enemies who set traps for him, but God protects the speaker, because "I have not strayed from your commandments." The contract runs smoothly. God commands; human beings to obey. The speaker claims justification by virtue of the good behavior, and God rewards the obedience. That's radically different from Saint Paul's understanding that we can never be good enough to be justified by the law. That's why, Paul and other apostles argue, we need Jesus to save us. Note the beginning verses of today's passage from Romans: Romans 8:1-11
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.For Saint Paul, the flesh is our great weakness. The flesh makes it impossible for us to obey the law fully. Jesus pays the price for our sins, and it is through our faith in Jesus, not through our own righteousness, that we are justified -- according to Paul. Saint Paul pits the Spirit against the Flesh. He believes that the Spirit alone can save us. Not all early Christians behaved as Paul wanted them to behave. Read his epistles to the Corinthians, in which he becomes quite worked up with some of their sexual behaviors. Paul's view of our creatureliness differs radically from the view propounded in the book of Genesis. When God made each part of creation, God proclaimed, "It is good!" It's hard to imagine that when God came to the genitalia, God said, "It is nasty! Yuck" -- But Saint Paul has led many to come to that conclusion. Elsewhere, Paul says it's best not even to get married and recommends marriage only as a last resort, for lust-control. "It is better to marry than to burn" (1 Corinthians 7:9). Nowhere does Paul even suggest that flesh and spirit can integrate fully. Yet I believe their integration helps define a healthy person. That's another good reason that God gave us minds and trusts us to think for ourselves. One of my first cousins graduated from the highly conservative Dallas Theological Seminary and worked his full adult life as a pastor and counselor in large independent congregations. We were close in growing up, and he valued me immensely as the one who gave him his first bible and, while I was still a Southern Baptist, "led him to the Lord." Years into our ministries, I was in Dallas to speak at an Episcopal service, and we arranged to meet in my hotel room. Each tried hard not to offend the other in the areas of our clear difference. "Louie," he said well into our time together, "I don't know much about gay people, but do you find that they have some of the same problems understanding faithfulness and commitment that I find many of our converts having? I am troubled that some are caught up in promiscuity and seem not to connect their sexual behavior with their spirituality." "Some lgbtq folks have the same disconnect," I replied. See my fuller account of this conversation at Huge Bibles. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Evangelists and teachers, like sowers, are not responsible for the harvest, only for the planting! At 74 I continue to hear from persons whom I taught during my 44 years as a teacher, beginning when I was 21. I am amazed at what some remember. Some credit me with major changes in their lives, yet sometimes I cannot even remember saying the transforming words they attribute to me. I have learned to smile and say, "Thank you. It was a privilege to teach you." And it was. I did not make the seed, nor did I remain to nuture it as they and others have done long after they leave my classes. I am but the sower. God gives the increase.