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!
“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),
The psalm also proclaims the reversal of fortunes for those who have been oppressed:
will reap with songs of joy.
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
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.
Spirituality is not cheap sentimentality. It demands hard work, mental work.
Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
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 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.
Tom Kerr have given me permission to share his private note to me regarding my reflection above:
From: Thomas A. Kerr, Jr. [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, December 06, 2008 10:28 AM
To: Louie Crew
Subject: Stopping to help
Thanks for the justice and beggar themes - and for your mention of Lyn's operating principle (I hould have expected it of her).
My teacher was a fellow seminarian at GTS. Harry Bowie was a year ahead of me ('61) and was one of three candidates in the Diocese of NJ that year whose ordination was delayed because Bishop Banyard and the diocesan examining chaplains detected heretical tendencies in them. (You probably know Jack Stanton and may know David Keller, the other two.)
Harry was driving me up 8th Avenue one day when he suddenly swerved to the curb and jumped out of the car. He went to a man who was lying unconscious (or asleep, or intoxicated) on the sidewalk, while pedestrians were walking around him. Harry stooped to him, calling me to go to a nearby coin phone to call for help. We waited 20 minutes or so until a police officer arrived, followed by an ambulance.
We were very late for a crucial meeting with our bishop in Trenton. I had plenty of time to ask Harry how he had decided to stop. He said he always did in such a situation. After all, Jesus told us to do so. What heresy!!
(Harry was finally ordained and served for a short time in NJ. He travelled to Mississippi to work with the Delta Project in those hot days - and stayed for the rest of his life serving in social service and justice programs.)
A year after our detour on 8th Avenue, I was in the Times Square subway station when a man standing next to me fell and his head hit the platform with a loud crack. No one in the passing crowds seemed to pay him any attention. I finally caught a man who was exiting a train and asked him to report the situation at the token booth on the way out, and stayed with the victim waiting for help. Again, it seemed to take forever (probably at least fifteen minutes) before a transit cop arrived. Meanwhile, the man died with his head in my lap and the crowds walked by all around us without even a curious look.
Both of these events took place long before the days of cell phones, and before we got used to folks lying on the street or in the subway tunnels. But Jesus, through Harry, taught me about being a Samaritan. I stop,
because I know I need to. And I try to carry some small bills in an accessible pocket apart from my wallet for less dire opportunities.
Some times and in some places I have carried a larger bill or two elsewhere as "mugging money". But the only time I have been mugged with serious physical damage it was on the main street of Princeton, NJ, by some cruising gentlemen who wanted to beat up a college student. Not a neighborhood I would have expected to be dangerous. And money was not the real issue.
Thanks once again, Louie, for your commentary on the lections and the opportunity to reflect and remember.
May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely...
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