Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

This collect portrays God as extravagantly generous and invites us to bring to God our uncertainties. Through this collect, we ask God to “forgivi[e] us those things of which our conscience is afraid.”

Often we are not sure that we did the right thing. If we have not, forgive us anyway.

Sometimes our conscience speaks the prejudice of the community, not the love of God. Psychologists recognise that our super-ego is a powerful force: it collects mores of our community and stows them away in our unconscious. The Collect today recognizes that it is dangerous to assume that our conscience automatically speaks for God.

When we rationally choose to do what is right even if the community thinks it is wrong, our mind may move faster than our emotions, and we may feel guilty. God’s generosity offers us indemnity even in our uncertainty. The collect implicitly contrasts sin with perceived sin. The collect invites us to live with ambiguity: it does not ask for a clear answer about what is right and wrong, but rather asks for an abundance of mercy regardless of how we choose.

This is not spiritual milk, but rather gospel meat.

God is not uncomfortable with ambiguity: why should we be? God founded the Episcopal Church to be a safe place for ambiguity.

A colleague recently mentioned that as a Southern Baptist, she was uncomfortable when she first visited an Episcopal Church -- "a church that used prayers written down by others!" By the time she became an Episcopalian, she said she had learned much from the Book of Common Prayer. “It takes me some places I would not likely have thought to go on my own, even to places that I would find too frightening without the community‘s approval that it is all right to be honest to God."

Those in the Episcopal Church who are not sure that TEC is right to support lgbts will find this collect especially helpful.

I think I am right in my understanding about homosexuality, but I may not be. All of us pray for God to “forgive us our sins, known and unknown”. That’s the same sort of indemnity this collect seeks..

My sins, like yours, have already been forgiven, even before we have the heart or the wisdom to understand they are sins. It is blasphemy for the Anglican Communion to tell God whose prayers God may or may not answer.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

I was blessed to be an English teacher for 44 years. I began as a graduate assistant at Auburn University in Alabama. From there I taught in two different prep schools, then in a secondary modern school in a slum in London, thereafter at colleges and universities -- two historically black schools in the South, two Chinese institutions, one in Hong Kong, another in Beijing, and the Universities of Alabama, Wisconsin, and New Jersey (Rutgers).

Often an assignment, like a sermon, may work with one group and not with the next, even if you are using it in the same location.

One of my assignments worked well in most of these locations, and I regret that I did not save the students‘ responses.

First I gave to each student ten blank 3X5 index cards, and then said, “Don‘t write your name on the cards. Your responses will be anonymous. What are 10 things you would feel guilty doing? Put each of the ten on a separate card. Don’t be overly concerned about these. Write the first ten things that come to your mind. I will call time in 5 minutes. Go.”

I actually let them take up to 10 minutes unless I saw that all had stopped writing,

“Now stack your cards in order of what would make you feel most guilty, to next most guilty, to next most guilty…. When done, number the cards using Roman numerals, I, II, III….”

When they had done that part, “Now stack the cards in order of most tempting, next most tempting, next most temping…. Put in a separate stack those which do not tempt you at all.”

When they had finished that: now use Arabic numerals, 1, 2, 3.… with those you found tempting and put a zero on all those which you did not find tempting.”

When done, “Now put in the top right corner of all of your cards a 4-digit identifier known only to you, so that you will be able to retrieve your set when I have finished using them.

Finally, on a separate sheet of paper, copy what you have written on your ten cards , including the two ranks you assigned to each.

When all had finished , I collected them and said,

“By the way, you have just re-written the Ten Commandments, so pick up the sheet with Exodus 20 on it on your way out, and be prepared to compare your lists with Moses’.”

You might try this as part of your sermon, asking the ushers to pass out index cards and pencils.

I assure you that not many of Moses’ ten will show up in their ten. Most of them will privately revise their own priorities . This assignment engages scripture far more authentically than it would if I had begun, “Make up your own list of Ten Commandments. In case you forgot, here is the list God gave to Moses on stone tables as His own .

Psalm 19

Let’s lip-synch. Drag-queans find it exciting to do, and so will your congregation, if you gently coach them to let go of their inhibitions.

Hand out the text Hayden’s “The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God.” Tell them, “Most of us at one time or another have stood alone listening to music and pretending we are the conductor. Today we will collectively pretend that we are the singers instead. We will lip-synch Hayden’s version of our psalm today as the choir sings it (or as we listen to the recording of XXXX Orchestra singing it). The point here is to open your mouth so appropriately that someone deaf could read the anthem on your lips. We will stand so that we may more fully throw our whole bodies into it.”

When my world was falling apart in my sophomore year, after a night of heavy crying I fell asleep, listening to American Airlines “Music Until Dawn“ on Radio Station KRLD out of Dallas. At dawn, on God’s cue, the brilliant sun managed to find a crack in the shade and targeted my eye just as a choir began, “The heavens are telling…..”

On some days, being depressed is work too hard to sustain. I suspect that depression is one of the “presumptuous sins” from which Psalm 19 bids us seek deliverance. It is presumptuous to assume that with our bad mood we can banish all efficacy to the beauty and wonder of the glory of God as shown in the firmament.

Lip-synch, lip-synch, lip-synch it, as if your very life depends upon it. Be a spiritual drag-queen for Jesus.

If the Presbyterians had learned to address sexism in their diction, the banner from Westminster Catechism high above the stage of the study hall at my prep school would have read: “Our chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy her forever!”

And in your enthusiasm, don’t miss the amazing point of the psalmist's delight: the psalm rejoices in the law of God. How good it is to do what is right. The psalm is a much more compelling way to sell the law as a way of life than the fire-works God used in Exodus: “When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin."

Hayden and the psalmist do not try to scare you into it.

Philippians 3:4b-14

Saint reminds those at Philippi that he was a master of the law, that the law authorized him even to persecute Christians, but it brought him no comfort or fulfillment. He almost gives a Powerpoint presentation of his Jewish credentials:

  • circumcised on the eighth day
  • a member of the people of Israel
  • of the tribe of Benjamin
  • a Hebrew born of Hebrews
  • as to the law, a Pharisee
  • as to zeal, a persecutor of the church
  • as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

These credentials brought him no advantage at all when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Suppose the Anglican Communion establishes a new covenant that will punish those who disobey the law as understood by the majority of those in the Communion. Will that bring advantage to those who punish those who disobey the majority?

If General Convention in 2009 continues the de facto moratoria on consents to lgbts as bishops and the refusal to write and authorize blessings of same-sex unions, will that bring advantage, even if understood as following the law?

B033 blasphemes the Holy Spirit by telling God whom God may and may not call.

Matthew 21:33-46

Suppose God sent +Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference to check out whether God would be welcome there. That surely would not be the first time God appeared incognito to test out welcome.

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures:
`The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes'?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls."

See also

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