Monday, September 1, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, because without you we are not able to please you mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

What does it mean, “without you we are not able to please you”? Without your help we are not able to please you?

Do you have a spouse or a close family member or dear friend you would like to please but find yourself failing time and time again? Is that what Cranmer (if indeed this is Cranmer’s prayer) asks God to remedy?

The second part says the remedy will come when the Holy Spirit directs and rules our heart. When that happens, we will please God. Otherwise, we may be trying to please God by giving God what it would please us to receive, or what it pleases us to be seen giving to God. God has to tell us, but first we need to listen.

My friend Kim Byham loves telling jokes that are hard to “get.” For example, he tells of a man who has a vision while praying at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. In the vision the Virgin Mary appears before the man and commands,

“Build me a beautiful church in this place.”

You miss the joke until you supply extra stress to the word beautiful. Obviously there is already a church in this place dedicated to the Virgin. She is asking for one that is beautiful. My friend Kim thinks that basilica is ugly.

We cannot hope to please someone if we do not know the person well, as if from inside.

Exodus 14:19-31

If you like narratives wherein the good people and the bad people are readily distinguishable as such, you will like this passage. The Israelites are the good people. The Egyptians are the bad people. God shows off with great power and might in rescuing the Israelites by drowning the Egyptians. All who survive are fearful to the extreme, and now believe in God because God has done marvelous things. If not for that reason, it does not hurt to have good theological insurance.

Attention evangelists (literally ‘angels’ or ‘messengers’ with eu -- good messages): you don’t have to give people good news: just scare them into realizing disaster that might happen if they don’t convert.

I admit that I am being unfair reading the text from a perspective not that of the authors, namely the Israelites, who are praising God for their deliverance. Clearly most who read the passage and like it see it as an example that when God is on our side, no matter how strong the enemy, the enemy is no match for God. Many who believe that God created the earth, believe also that God can control it and can alter the rules. I have trouble at glibness in asserting that the creator would operate with national bias in doing so.

For many years I taught “the Bible as Literature” at the University and before that, at a prep school. Students with little or no exposure to theology or doctrine, whether self-defined as believers or atheists, find the character Jesus in Christian scriptures much more accessible than the character God in the Hebrew scriptures. Even when God is on the side of the main mortal characters, as God is with the Israelites in the Exodus, the God of Hebrew scriptures is frequently something of a show off and a bully.

The body count here is gruesome. “Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.”

Perhaps Exodus should be X-Rated?

Psalm 114

Psalm 114 compounds the nationalism and God’s partisanship that we saw in the Exodus by taking a cheap shot, at the foreigners’ way of talking:

When Israel came out of Egypt, *
the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech…

There was nothing particularly strange about Egyptian speech, any more than there is about the speech of my friends in New Jersey when they speak about their “dorters,” although everyone knows that in English spoken properly they are speaking of their “dawtuhs,” as in the “Dawtuhs of the King” -- one of whom asked me on the elevator at General Convention in Phoenix, “Have the qee-uhs arrived yet?” That’s my native accent, and I knew more about them than at that moment they knew about me.

Even inanimate things join the Israelites in the psalm: “What ailed you, O sea, that you fled?” the Israelites personify the Red Sea and tease it for backing off to let them pass unharmed.”

I realize I am a spoil-sport here for reading a text cross-culturally that was not intended to be read that way. I doubt that Jesus intended his insults to the Syrophoenician woman to be read cross-culturally either. However, it is instructive to do so. God is the God of absolutely everybody. Occasionally those who wrote scripture did not carefully reckon with the consequences of their own claims.

Romans 14:1-12

Quean Lutibelle’s ‘translation’:

Welcome those who are lgbt, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Most people are heterosexual and bond in life commitments with persons of an opposite gender. A few people are lesbian and gay and bond in life commitments only with those of their own gender. Some are bisexuals, attracted to persons of either gender; they do not choose their life partner based on gender, but on love. Some have surgery so that their body will match their psychological understanding of themselves.

Those who are heterosexual must not despise those who are not, and those who are lgbt must not pass judgment on those who are heterosexual; for God has welcomed them.

Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgment on your lgbt brother or sister? Or you lgbts, why do you despise your straight brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God."
So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Matthew 18:21-35

I have long loved Robert Browning’s “Soliloquy from a Spanish Cloister,” which begins,

G-r-r-r. There goes my heart’s abhorrence.

The monk muttering the whole poem makes it clear at the start he cannot abide the other monk moving nearby.

I hope someday to write a similar soliloquy, titled “465 and Counting.” I would begin by reviewing grievances 455 through 465 which the speaker bemoans yet forgives, with delighted anticipation of the magic number 490 (70 times 7) at which he won’t have to forgive any more.

Such are those more comfortable taking scripture literally than in living into its challenges. Obviously Jesus was using hyperbole to suggest an exactly opposite attitude: there is no magic number of offenses at which we no longer have to forgive.

And another rendering from Quean Lutibelle’s ‘Translation’:

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a bishop who wished to resolve a problem with a straight priest who had been brought before him as guilty of keeping soft-porn on his personal computer in the rectory -- pictures of Britney Spears in the buff, a rather too explicit collection of advertisements for female lingerie…….

The matter would not have concerned the bishop had it been purely private, but the parish housekeeper had seen it when her dust cloth accidentally touched the computer mouse and deactivated an innocuous screen saver. The housekeeper was shocked that a priest would be interested in such things and reported him.

When the bishop met with the priest, he confirmed, as he expected that the man was not obsessive in his interests and that the computer was his own, not church property. He advised the priest not to become addicted to images that depersonalized the object of his affection. The two prayed together in thanksgiving for God‘s many gifts, and asked to be responsible and whole in their private as well as their public life.

That priest left, rejoicing not to have been suspended or chastened, but in the evening he learned that a priest down the street had been seen in a gay bar 50 miles away. He became livid and called up twenty colleague in his rolodex to complain about how bad the times had become, that no one held to any high moral standards anymore. He even sent the gay priest three anonymous notes threatening actions against him if he did not resign.

When fellow priests saw how overwrought their straight colleague had become, they commented to their bishop on what had taken place. Then the bishop summoned the straight priest and said to him, `You wicked priest! I forgave you because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had compassion for your colleague, as I had compassion for you?' And in anger the bishop inhibited him from all priestly functions.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

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