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

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