Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday, January 4, 2009. Second Sunday after Christmas

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..

Episcopalians rarely grovel. Our kneelers are often in needlepoint, sometimes even in petit point. Even in asking to get into heaven, we do so with sublime decency and good order. With this collect we acknowledge that Jesus humbled himself to share in humanity, but at the same time praise God for wonderfully creating us and even more wonderfully restoring us when we sin and fall short of God’s plan.

In the Baptismal Covenant we pledge to respect the dignity of every human being. Dignity is not an overlay or an afterthought. It is essence, in the fundamental design of absolutely everyone.

God ended each day of Creation saying, “It is good.”

Imprinted as a Southern Baptist, I find that the Book of Common Prayer often makes me sound better than I feel I ought. The 1928 edition encouraged a bit more groveling, bidding us to approach God admitting to be “miserable offenders,” proclaiming “there is no health in us.” I was bred proclaiming the amazing grace that God could save a “wretch like me.” Some Episcopalians never sing "Amazing Grace."

Even at 5 or 6 years old, I could work myself up into a proper sweat convinced that I was chief of sinners. I recognize there is real danger in thinking of myself more highly than I ought to think. But Episcopal liturgy does me a great service by reminding me again and again not to run the other debilitating spiritual risk of thinking of myself more lowly than I ought to think.

Self-pity is a major risk for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered folk raised in my generation, and for some in the latest generations as well. When we are despised, it takes strong faith to keep focused on the marvel of our creation. It is God who has made us, and not we ourselves. God knows us all by name.

Jesus said, “You must be born again.” As a teenager, I was taught that only heterosexuals have God’s favor, and wrongly I sought to re-wire myself as heterosexual, I was a failure:
Queer Power

Swish, swish, men of America.
Cross your legs only at 90-degree angles.
Swish, swish!
Your fingernails are getting a mite too long.
Swish, swish!
That fuchsia shirt might be misunderstood.
Swish, swish!
You'd better lower your pitches
and say something evil about your mothers.
Swish, swish!
You smell too sweet and are too polite. Be crude
Swish, swish!
Talk about war, not about flowers.
Swish, swish, men of America.
Swish, swish. Swish, swish.
Swish, swish. Bug off.

I had to die to the heterosexual life, to lose it, before I could discover the rich life that God made possible for me as the gay person God had made. I had to be born again, not of a new body, but of a new spirit. My salvation came in discovering how lovingly, wonderfully God had made me.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

In today's readings, even sourpuss Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” eschews lamentation:

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty
He rejoices because God is gathering those who have been scattered, those who have been dispersed.

Psalm 84

I will never forget the first Integrity Convention, when for the first time in history over 130 gay and lesbian Episcopalians gathered at St. James Cathedral in Chicago in the summer of 1975. At times it seemed like a great rush of angels wings. We were not alone. We were at the altar together, as who we are, honest to God and honest to one another.

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.
Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you. ….

No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.

Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a

God does not choose us out of great pity, but out of great joy. God’s plans for us began before the foundations of the world! We are not God’s after-thought. We are not late-comers into God’s love, though we are occasionally slow in realizing it. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give all lgbt persons a spirit of wisdom and revelation as we come to know God, so that, with the eyes of our heart enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which God has called us, what are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us, lbgt and straights together, who believe.

Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

Out LGBTs of my generation (I am now 72) often traveled light. Any property we owned was easily portable. I was 62 before I ever bought any real estate. When I came out as gay to my employers, I fully expected to be fired and was amazed when I was not. We were integrating our neighborhood in a small town in rural Georgia, both racially and sexually. We were frequently threatened with violence, but lived largely unafraid. Occasionally a friend would see me walking or jogging at night and insist that I not run such risks.

The Holy Family got wind of a murder plot against all Jewish male new-borns, and fled to Egypt for the first years of Jesus’ life. They returned only when Herod, the mass murderer, had died, and even when they returned, they did not go to Jerusalem, where they would be more visible and at risk, but to Nazareth, more out of the way.

There are approximately 34.5 million refugees and displaced persons world-wide. (See Refugees International.) This number is expected to grow as poverty and violence escalate in the world.

Keep your eye on the child growing up in Nazareth.

See also

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008. 1st Sunday after Christmas

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The lessons today are pointedly about the meaning of Christmas, not about the birth narratives, and definitely not about Yuletide celebrations, commercial or even ecclesiastic.

As a reminder, Ernest and I have occasionally sent out this message as a Christmas card:

The Gospel Truth

Well, you remember how at Christmas
last year the two fairies down our street
wrote "Bah, Humbug!" on their front door,
using rhinestones in Olde English script
(You know how they are!)?
Well, I just learned that last week
the one who teaches at the college
told a group of students at a Christmas party
that Jesus was born
without benefit of heterosexuality
and less than nine months
after Mary and Joseph were married!
There really ought to be a law
against such scandal!
If we don't stop them soon,
they'll probably claim
Jesus loves them!

When Ernest and I floodlit our door display, some of our neighbors in rural Georgia threw things at it, and a few others ripped pieces from it. Humbug to their kind of Christmas indeed.

The ‘gospel truth’ is that God truly does love Ernest and me, plus Eve & Margaret, Adam, Eve, Adrian & Andrew, Anno & John, Kim-Ming, Austin, Barbara, Bernie, Beryle & Edna, Betty, Bill & Michael, Bob, Bron & Bruce, Caryl, Catherine, Charles & Cheryl, Clarence & Clifton, Conrad, David & Joseph, Jim & Jo Ann, Irl & Sharon & Jack, Ana & Tawanna, Tim & Tom, Kim & Scott, Chris, Mae Del & Clifton, Ed & Patty, Flo, Joe, Kit, Nan, Ned, Ric, Zou, Wan-kan, Anthony & Evens, Win-win, Eula & Bubbah, Lula & Erman, Bets, Horace, Annakali & Susan, Ronald, Rasalind, Bryan & Luc, Susan, Eliana, Lazaro, Libby, T. C. & Ted, Joyce, Marcela & Marge, Nancy, Linda & Liz, Gordon & Grace, Mike & Mildred, Connie, Hale, Jane, Eugenie & Eunice, Peter, James, Janet, Geoffrey, Wilfred, Sergio, Douglas, Ruth Ann, Michael, Richard & Robert, Kathleen & Kay, Fifi & Fletcher, Marie, Juliette, Regina & Rhoda, Maxine, Monique, Doris, Louis, Louise, Judith, H. J., Nick & Barnet, Jack & Christine, Jack & Linda, Mark, H. K., Parker, Earl & Edgar, Paul & Victor, Neil & Ethel, Neil, Nella & Nicholas, Hillary & Bill, William & Winston, William, Guilio & Jesus, Thomas, Raymond, Inan & Elizabeth, John & Jon, Gwen, Jean, Joan, Francis, Ewing & Fernando, Zhang & Wu, Dennis, Frank, Avinash, Saunders, Cynthia & Beckie, Orris, Marcy, Tilly, Chad, Archie, Derrick, Juan, Beulah, Cheryle, Huntington, Carlos, Cornelius, Derek, Claudia, Rollie & Michael, Odoric, Ginette & Sallie, Demitrio & Alex, Glennes, Grant, L. P. & Andrew, Lavinia, Leopold & Adolph, Edythe & Kathy, Carolyn & Dr. Jay, Rand, Devon, Dorothy & Dot, Lorraine, Deirdre & Julian, Warren, George, Gloria, Patrick, Sharon & Shujan, Henry, Russ, Luis & Lynn, Otis & Pamela, Cassandra, Marshall & Martha Luz, Judson, Justin, Milton, Victor & Wantu, Shiuanan, Zhouyi, Gervais, Steven, Melvin & Merritt, Lloyd, Luo-Zhang, Adam & Eve, Lutibelle, Li Min Hua, and absolutely everybody.

Joy to the whole world!

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

One of the amazing things about Isaiah is his certainty about God’s goodness regardless of the current circumstances, under various invasions of Israel. He proclaimed that the earth is the God’s and that God will destroy it, but God will not destroy Israel if Israel will remain faithful to God.

For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

Like Isaiah, the psalmist stresses that God is on the side of the humble and the meek.

God is not impressed by the might of a horse; *
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, *
in those who await his gracious favor.

The Meek are Getting Ready!

Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7

Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian. -- unless you are lesbigay -- according to too many in the Church.

Christ has turned the rules upside down, inside out. Those who were condemned by the law are now justified by our faith in Christ our savior. And not us only: God loves absolutely everybody just as much (not more and not less) as God loves lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered.

John 1:1-18

The Word of God is person, not a book. The Bible bears important witness to that person, but it is no substitute for that person. We worship the person Jesus, not the book.

In his book The Sexuality of Jesus William Phipps reveals painting after painting of the Madonna with mother Anne pointing gleefully to an obvious erection on the baby Jesus. Sometimes a man is standing behind appearing to peek, as if luridly. He is Joseph, rejoicing with his wife and mother-in-law. To the huge audience of the church for centuries this scene was not lurid at all. The Vatican museum may be one of the few safe places for these paintings in our time, but for centuries they were treasured as holy icons of the incarnation in churches throughout Christendom.

Early Christians had little problem in understanding how Jesus could be God: the bigger miracle for them was how God could be human. The erect penis of the Christ Child was irrefutable proof of God’s humanity.

God did not turn out the lights when She made us! All parts of us are honorable. God made us whole. Rejoice!

Imagine how much more the Good News would be perceived as such if those of us who have heard it would be as welcoming as God is.

Merry Christmas!

See also

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008. Advent 4.

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
Occasionally a collect seems to have made it into the book without careful screening. It surprises me that this one made it in, especially for the final Sunday of Advent.

I don’t like the mixed metaphor of God as a visitor finding inside us, specifically inside our heart (the left or right ventricle?) a place to live, and not just a place, but a mansion.

I went for an echo cardiogram yesterday, and that experience influences my response to language about the heart as much as one of Jesus’ initial twelve disciples would be dramatically influenced in speaking about the “road of life” were he to ride on a donkey down the New Jersey Turnpike.

The collect further complicates the metaphor by asking God now, before Jesus’ coming, to purify our conscience. Where is our conscience? In our head? In the left or right brain? In our circulatory system? Is God causing my gout as a punishment for the pâté and port that I had last night? Do the pâté and port need God's help in causing the gout?

Add to that complication the de rigueur homage given to potentates (even though this potentate is off on daily de-lousing missions) with a bob to God’s son, assuring God, that Jesus “lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.”

I presume God and Jesus already know who they are, that in this prayer we are speaking more to ourselves to remind us who they are, but even on those terms, does this collect get it right? Compare, “so that Jesus at his coming may find in us a manger prepared for him.”

Did Jesus undergo his major sacrifice for the sins of the whole world just for a McMansion? Are we his disciples just so that we can hedge against the exigencies of Wall Street and get our own mini-McMansion by and by? Do we as Christians reject materialism in this life only so that we can get all that stuff in the end?

And why should we ask God to purify our consciences? Is not that work we should do for ourselves? God’s part has already been done, once and for all, for ever. Will we ever move away from guilt and self-absorption if we prefer the irresponsibility of wallowing in it?

At Mass today I will tune out on this Collect, substituting: “Thank you, Jesus.”

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

McMansions, again.

The parish finder of The Episcopal Church Annual identifies 45 parishes in the Diocese of Newark within a radius of 10 miles of my own zip code. I have collected pictures of God’ housing in the Diocese of Newark. Some of those are cold and drafty and take up so much of the parish energy just to keep in operation that little is left for mission to the world around them.

It seems appropriate that God shifts from David’s talk about a house for God and talks instead about a House, a lineage for David. God is always on the move and as we are told elsewhere, does not live in a house made of human hands. Besides, why would God want to get stuck living inside huge structures built in a style long outdated, a style that most of the members themselves would not choose for themselves when they build their own McMansions?

So that bishops can live like other people

Legend has it that when J. P. Morgan built the Bishop’s palace for the Diocese of New York, he said that it was important for bishops to live like other people.

A canon friend of mine swears that his own bishop, in another diocese near mine, arrived late at a meeting on social concerns, listened carefully to a person speaking about homelessness, and then asked, with no tongue in cheek, “You mean there are people who live without either a summer home or a winter home?”

(The Episcopal Church used to be known as The Republican Party at Prayer. Unlike another Republican leader of our time, at least this bishop knows how many houses he has.)

I am intrigued that God says, “I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.” This refers to the Arc of the Covenant which the Jews kept in a tent, including its Holy of Holies, later replicated in the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem. It’s similar to the doctrine of ‘real presence’ held by many Anglocatholics, that in the reserved sacrament God is kept physically present at the altar. That is awe-inspiring. It can also sometimes be convenient to keep God stuck there and out of your business when you leave.

Note the reversal in 2 Samuel: David looks at his own house and decides that God needs a house too. God acknowledges that God has been living in a tent since he delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. (Was God living in a McMansion before that? Was God’s house as fine as David’s cedar house? The text does not say.) God shifts the subject away from getting his own real estate and points instead to the real estate he has given, and is securing, for his servant King David, “Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”

The passage in 2 Samuel is about David’s entitlements as rewards that God has bestowed on him.

What would the family of Uriah would say about that?!

Would it have been any different if Jonathan had survived to become David’s husband or domestic partner? I doubt it. We lgbts can compete in all ways with heterosexuals, and can be just as sinful when we set our minds and hearts to do so.

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

Clearly David’s house is no longer a literal house of cedar, but a lineage, a dynasty, one inherited by Jesus in his DNA, and as joint heirs with Jesus, inherited by all of us Christians:
"I have made a covenant with my chosen one; *
I have sworn an oath to David my servant:

'I will establish your line for ever, *
and preserve your throne for all generations.'"
Later the psalmist asserts:
He will say to me, 'You are my Father, *
my God, and the rock of my salvation.'
That is probably not what he whispered into the ear of Bathsheba when he first stalked her. The psalm text is what David’s PR manager might report.

Romans 16:25-27

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith-- to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
Try diagramming this passage and you will discover that it is not a sentence at all: it has no independent or main clause, but is a combination of two prepositional phrases,

Now to God…… -- to the only wise God….

All else is subordinate to those phrases.

The text comes at the end of the last chapter of Romans. The NRSV gives it the heading, “The Final Doxology.”

Notice Paul’s ownership of the good news he proclaims, “my gospel."

Notice Paul’s phrase “the obedience of faith.” In it he mingles faith with works (obedience) -- two items he often keeps far apart. He is the great promulgator of the doctrine that salvation derives from faith alone, not from right behavior, nor from correctness in following God’s law.

By qualifying obedience to be ‘the obedience of faith,’ he leaves room for consistency, by suggesting that the obedience is a response that faith makes possible. In Pauline theology obedience is worthless when calculated to gain God’s favor; obedience is a response because we already have God’s favor, based not on our righteousness but on God’s love and mercy.

-- We already have God's favor unless you are lgbt, according to classical readings of the first chapter of Romans, wherein Paul uses homosexual temple prostitutes (aresenokotoi) as examples of those so depraved that God has already given up on them.

I have never met a temple prostitute, nor do I want to be one. The behaviors Paul lists here bear no resemblence to the union Ernest and I have, with God's help and blessing, experienced for almost 35 years.

Paul suggests that his readers in Rome need to be careful not to judge the temple prostitutes' behavior, for his readers have themselves been involved in it and will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 2:1-3). The original texts have no chapter divisions, and the “Therefore” at beginning of Chapter 2 clearly refers to what he has been saying in Chapter 1.

Luke 1:26-38

Mary becomes fascinating if we refuse to put her on a pedestal. She is feisty. Today’s canticle is her Magnificat (the passage just following the Gospel lesson). In it “sweet“ and “gentle“ Mary is an uppity working-class girl pregnant out of wedlock. She is so poor that when her baby comes, her maternity ward will be a stable: Yet Mary is not a complainer or whiner. She asserts that God…
… has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Let it be; let it be.

See also

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008. Advent 3

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

In three and a half decades of asking the Episcopal Church to treat lgbts justly, I have often been advised to use other language. “Use the language of the bible,” many have counseled. “Justice is a secular concept and you will be accused of bringing the world’s agenda, not God’s, at least within the USA. With countries who have struggled for justice -- like India, for example -- Justice Talk may win bring you better luck, as it helps some to bypass their squeamishness about sex -- but in the United States, stick with Gospel language.”

What a sad commentary on the biblical literacy of The Episcopal Church if my advisors’ counsel is well founded!

For I the LORD love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

“Justice talk” has long offended the religious. It offended the Bush administration when criticized for torturing prisoners, many of them persons who had not yet stood trial and had not been convicted of any offense.

Jesus offended his neighbors back home in Nazareth where he had grown up as a carpenter‘s son. He read this text in his own voice and the crowd was so offended by his uppityness that they tried to hurl him over a cliff. He disguised himself in the crowd and disappeared safely. (Luke 4:18),

Psalm 126

The psalm also proclaims the reversal of fortunes for those who have been oppressed:

Those who sowed with tears *
will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, *
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

In the language of recent months: This is not a bail out of Wall Street, but a rescue of Main Street.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Do not quench the Spirit.

Quench here means ‘extinguish, ’ as when we quench a flame on a candle.

It is dangerous to ignore the Holy Spirit’s demands upon us. In Brecht‘s play Galileo a visitor to the Vatican asks a resident ecclesiastical courtier how the trial can be going so fiercely against Galileo in view of the evidence. “It’s easy once you get the knack of it, “ the courtier replies.

In our economy, it is relatively easy for the rich and powerful to reduce their own taxes while increasing the taxes on workers and reducing services to the poor. Those thus abused are easily dismissed as less qualified and mere complainers.

One of my students from the Dominican Republic said to me several years ago, “Sir, I need to return home. This country is threatening my soul. In the Dominican Republic, beggars are rarely scorned, and even though most people are poor, they try to give at least a token to the beggars. But since moving to Newark, I’ve become like most other people: when I see a stranger on the street walking towards me, I steel myself and refuse to look at the person. When she or he asks me for assistance, I pretend not to have heard, or I say ‘Sorry, not today.’ Something in me is dying slowly and steadily as I shut out compassion."

“But I am old and doddering and if I reach for my wallet, I could easily be knocked over the head,” I often have told myself. Yet when I have moved through the rough streets of Newark and other cities in Northern New Jersey with my friend and colleague in the deputation to General Convention, Lyn Headley-Deavours, I have noticed that she always stops to give to beggars, and to speak kindly to them.

As an attractive female, Lyn is far more vulnerable than I. In my guilt, I asked her about it. She always keeps a few single bills easy to reach on her when she uses the street. “My gifts are small and probably not important to those who receive them, but they are very important to who I am and how I perceive my neighbors,“ Lyn explained. Lyn refuses to quench the spirit.
Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
Spirituality is not cheap sentimentality. It demands hard work, mental work.

Shortly after General Convention in 2003, a priest called, gave me his name, and asked whether I remembered him.

“Sorry, I do not recognize you by name,” I replied.

“I have written to you a few times telling you how evil you are.”

“Sorry, that’s not a helpful clue since many have done that,” I said. “What may I do for you?”

“I have called to ask you for your forgiveness,” he said. “I started to read what you have written on your website and to listen to how you respond to those who disagree with you, and I see that you are a Christian, that you do not return evil for evil.”

“Thank you,” I said, “but you don’t get to read my first drafts,” I teased.

“I am quite serious,” he said. “Jesus spent most of his time with people like you, and I was wrong to despise you as a prophet before I even tested what you say. Will you forgive me?”

He and I have broken bread together several times. One of his sons is a very fine poet. His family is gentle and kind. I value his friendship as together we continue to test what prophets say and try to hold fast to that which is good.

John 1:6-8,19-28

John the Baptist reminds us of how very political Christianity was in its origins. His head ended up on a silver platter very soon, and aside from being Jesus’ first cousin and his baptizer, John was not around for most of Jesus’ short ministry. John dared to confront Herod and his sleazy mistress demanding that they repent. He was not only a Nazarene (resident of Nazareth like Jesus) but also a Nazarite (a strict ascetic order). He fomented dissention and unrest even among the Jews, and he was enormously popular with many people. Those in power feared his influence. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,'"

How welcome would he be in your parish? How welcome would be anyone who understand her or his identity as that of a prophet?

We are only 15 days away from the annual trek to Bethlehem. Get ready.

See also

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008, Advent 2

© 2008 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Consider the rhetoric of collects. What does the author of the collect intend to accomplish by having people pray it?.

Advent is a season of great expectations, the first season of the Christian new year. It is preparation for the second season, Christmas. This collect prompts us to ask for what the season is to effect: repentance to get us ready for salvation:

To hold great expectations, we must be willing to change, and not just any change. This collect commits us to heed the prophets, to examine ourselves and turn from our sins. For example, the prophet Micah says that God requires only three things of us. In what ways have we failed to
  1. do justice
  2. love mercy
  3. walk humbly
-- not just in .our personal behavior, but in our corporate behavior as a congregation, a diocese, or a province of the Anglican Communion; and also in our corporate behavior as a nation, where we are franchised and shareholders through taxation?

The collect does not prompt us to grovel or wail. Instead, we beseech God: “Give us grace to heed their warnings.” Repentance can be done decently and in good order. How very Episcopalian!

Isaiah 40:1-11

It’s hard for me to read this passage. Handel keeps ringing in my ears. Perhaps the congregation’s best tenor should be the first lector, beginning, “A reading from the prophet Isaiah” and then sing Handel’s solo.

If you don’t have a tenor up to the challenge, invite a lesbian male impersonator to lip-synch it from a recording.

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Benedixisti, Domine

Does the land prosper when people are good? Does famine or other disaster result from our sins?

When things go wrong, are we right to seek out our misbehavior as the cause?

As religious people are we any different from other superstitious people? Why do we so easily see superstition in the faith of another, and no superstition in our own.

Psalm 85 is easier to pray when things are going well:

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

It is not a psalm for 9/11 nor a psalm to recite while in the eye of Katrina or Ike.
Imagine a community in which Arabs and Jews embrace and support each other. Imagine a community in which men are just as concerned with women’s rights as women are? Imagine a community in which every family dines with a family of another race or culture at least once a month? Imagine a church in which lgbt persons are valued and encouraged..

Then be that community in the making.

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Peter urges us to blend patience with urgency. Expect God to come at any minute, but remember that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Don’t be caught unprepared. And we prepare ourselves by “leading lives of holiness and godliness.”

Leading holy and godly lives not only helps us in our waiting, Peter indicates, but actually “speeds up the coming of the day of the Lord.”

Is that just metaphorical? If it is just metaphorical, is it any less efficacious?

Mark 1:1-8

Have you eaten locusts and wild honey at your coffee hour recently? Or in the sermons?

Imported by Neiman’s from the Gaza Strip? Or with a recipe from your favorite chef on the Food Network?

Today is a good opportunity for a brief Advent Pageant. A young athlete “clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around her waist" might interrupt and terminate the sermon repeating this refrain

Repent! Repent! Repent!
Jesus is coming again, at any moment. Get ready!
Do justice.
Love mercy.
Walk humbly

-- while other children, dressed wildly, move through the congregation passing out candy made with honey, and chocolate covered locusts, or a substitute that crunches like them.


You might invite a quartet from your local gay men’s chorus (or gays from your own parish choir) to end the sermon by singing Holly Near’s We are a Gentle Angry People, and We are Singing for Our Lives. Add verses of your own, especially, “We are lgbt people and we’re singing….”

When the song gets to the verse “We are all in this together,” the singers would invite those in the congregation to join them in singing and processing around the church.

Repent! Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

See also