Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

.Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Yes, do it in our time, God. Grant us your peace. It’s hard to find peace of any kind in the current landscape of the world. Please don’t go out of the Mercy business. AMEN

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Through Moses, God promises to send a prophet to be Moses’ successor. The Israelites must be careful to discern good prophets from false prophets.

The tasks God sets for them, and for us, are not easy. Who speaks for God? Whom must we heed? God holds us accountable to heed the prophets who speak for God. God will kill those prophets who presume to speak for God but speak something God has not commanded them to speak.

Who speaks for God in 2009? What tests do you expect prophets to pass?

Enough is at stake to put the fear of God into us!

Psalm 111

What is the “fear of God”? In my neighborhood as a child, the ‘fear of God’ required a change in attitude. When the “fear of God” was put into someone, it shook the person at her or his foundations. The person turned from willful wrong doing and became devoted to doing the right thing.

The psalmist says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The opposite of wisdom is ‘foolishness’ or ‘stupidity,’ or ‘air-headedness.’ We lack wisdom when we blindly worship God without using our own minds.

I doubt that God wants to bow us down with fear. Why would the maker of the universe want his creatures to grovel? Rather, fear of suggests ‘fearful respect (towards).’ The Concise Oxford Dictionary illustrates with the phrase “had a fear of heights.” Wisdom starts not when we grovel but when we take the creator with deadly seriousness.

God is not a self-centered, sadistic potentate who gives us creatures tough puzzles to trick us and make us die! God sent Jesus into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

I was 1-2 years younger than most of the boys on my block. They loved to bate me telling me there was no Santa Clause. I knew they were wrong, and told them in no uncertain terms. I pointed to the evidence of all that Santa had given me, and not just me, but them too. They said their parents had actually given them the gifts. “But……“ The more I proclaimed Santa’s existence, the more impatient they became.

My parents and I had strong bonds of trust. “Charles, Bucky, and Jimmy all say there is no Santa,” I reported to them. “Of course there is a Santa,” my parents replied, but after a time they told me that Santa is just an imaginary figure to delight small children. “You are no longer a small child and need to know this.”

One of the ways religious leaders of many religions raised money in the first century was to sell in temple markets the meat of animals that practitioners of the religion had brought to the temple as gifts to the various gods. The priests were not supposed to burn to cinders the animals offered. Once slaughtered, they were butchered and sent from the altar to temple markets for sale. All knew this, and practitioners of the religion often believed meat bought at the temple markets brought with it added blessings from the ritual sacrifices at the altar and from the faith of those who brought the animal offerings for that purpose.

Christians did not practice animal sacrifice. Some Christian converts wanted nothing to do with the meat sold at the temple markets: they felt that would compromise their witness to God in Christ.

Saint tells the Corinthians, “We know better.” There is nothing wrong with buying and eating meat from temple markets, BUT that’s not the way we want to live with Christians who don’t share our knowledge. Those who think the food offered to idols is wrong, should not eat it, he explains. And we who care about them, won't insist on the privilege of eating temple meat because of our superior wisdom.

Elsewhere, Saint tells Christians that it is okay to vary their personal practice according to local custom. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Some Baptists preachers have told me they are aware that drinking whiskey in moderation will not damn them to hell, but they are careful not to say this in their pulpits lest they offend those who disagree.

In the 21st century anything that we do may well be caught as a digital image and circulated to the entire world. The little boys who argued with me about Santa Clause can now easily sneak a picture of my father taking off his Santa costume. The Baptist preacher will have a much harder time explaining the hard liquor at his table out of town for a convention.

At some point, all religions need to level with the believers: “You are no longer small children and you need to know this, this, this, ………”

That's what many Christians are saying to other Christians who insist that all lesbians, gays, trangendered and bisexuals are like the mauraders of Sodom, or that all lbgt Christians in committed relationships are no different from temple prostitutes: "You are no longer small children, and you need to know that God is no respecter of persons. Jesus loves absolutely everybody! Serve Jesus in the lives of the lbgt neighbors God has given to you."

Mark 1:21-28

“They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

The scribes were recorders. They tracked and shared ‘received opinions.’ They offered points of view not their own, but opinions they could trace through various ’authorities.’ They knew the provenance of points of view, but could not themselves speak authoritatively. They were a bit like sophomores who, learning how to document their papers, feel the worth of a paper is to be determined by how many footnotes it has, not by any authority inherent to the ideas and thesis in the paper.

When I had successfully defended my doctoral dissertation, Dr. James B. McMillan, chair of the English Department and a member of my committee, said to me on the way out of the examination room, “Up until this point you have succeeded in your education quite well, mainly by showing how much you know of what the main authorities know about the subjects of your papers. From here on, readers will continue to expect you to know well what others have said, but hope that you will share that information only selectively. You will make your mark hereafter primarily by how cogent others find claims made from your own authority.”

See also

Friday, January 2, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009. Third Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

Manhattan is 13.4 miles long. Any fit person walking at only 1 mph could walk the length of Manhattan in one long day; yet the Book of Jonah says that it would take three days to traverse Nineveh. That is big indeed.

I’ve heard many prophets crying out in the streets of Manhattan, and in the subways. Fred Phelps does it at least once a year, but usually stakes out his speaker’s corner opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, since the cathedral shuts down all day on Gay Pride Sunday.

Most ignore these prophets in Manhattan, and I doubt that a prophet would have more success walking the full 13.4 miles crying out “Forty days more and Manhattan will be overthrown!”

But maybe I should try it. I have great sympathy for fellow prophets -- more with the judgment they pronounce than with the accuracy of their time tables. I tried it once on the No. 27 bus in Newark:


It happened without warning.

One day I just started saying out loud
all the stuff that swarmed inside me.

At first I looked at a person next to me,
and when she turned away,
I looked at the one next to her,
and when he turned away
I looked at the one next to....

But one morning,
in a flash of inspiration,
I realized I did not need to look at anyone,
nor even to wear my funny hat,
that people listened more closely
if I did not scare them,
did not single them out,
but talked just to the air
like any other self-respecting crazy or poet.

I quit staring strangers straight in the eyes
as if each was a long-lost relation
washed up on shore to hear the story
that I alone have escaped to tell.

And it worked. No matter what they
thought they thought about me,
clearly they started listening
to everything I said.

And as I named the evils of these times,
I noticed that people five and six rows away,
or people way the hell to the other end of a line,
would nod, or mutter "Yes, sister."
Then someone else would say, "Ain't it so."

Occasionally I would peek
at those who spoke, and nary a one
actually looked in my direction.

But they listened, and many responded.
A couple of times fellow travelers
put up such an echo that others
muttered as they left,
"Bunch of loonies taking over the world"

These too spoke to nobody in particular.

-- Louie Crew

Appeared first in Hurricane Alice: A Feminist Quarterly 6.2 (Spring, 1989): 3, under my Chinese pseudonym Li Min Hua

Psalm 62: 6-14

Some disagree with today’s psalm, and seek salvation elsewhere:

In property and money alone
my soul in silence waits; *
truly, my hope is in them.

Financial security alone is my rock and my salvation, *
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

In wealth is my safety and my honor; *
They are my strong rock and my refuge.

If you could have great wealth without faith, or great faith without wealth, which would you choose?

Does the way that you spend your wealth reflect your answer?

The psalmist puts the choice as a choice between trusting God or trusting other people. The psalmist seems cynical even in giving reasons for choosing God.

Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, *
even those of low estate cannot be trusted.

On the scales they are lighter than a breath, *
all of them together.

Put no trust in extortion;
in robbery take no empty pride; *
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.

The psalmist seems at first to consider seriously trusting in extortion or robbery before rejecting those alternatives. Or perhaps the psalmist assumes an audience of the poor who will feel that extortion and robbery are prerequisites of wealth.

The psalmist devalues those of a low estate and of a high estate alike. Those of a low estate ‘cannot be trusted’; and those of a high degree ‘are but a fleeting breath.’ They will die on you if you depend on them.

1 Corinthians 7: 29-31

Saint is even more pessimistic than Jonah or the psalmist. They said ’You're going to be destroyed.’ ’Don’t trust anyone or any thing.’ Saint adds: ’It is all passing away. Don’t enjoy sex. Don’t enjoy fine things. Don’t enjoy anything!’

Epiphany III is clearly not “Evangelism Sunday for The Episcopal Church”! Yet the gloom and depression set the stage for the Gospel today:

Mark 1:14-20

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people."

See also

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009. Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Today’s Lections

The lections today are quite a potpourri. The child Samuel is audibly called to be a prophet. The Psalmist proclaims that God has had intimate knowledge of him even from his time in the womb. Jesus is recognized as a prophet by Nathaniel when Jesus reveals knowledge of Nathaniel’s character without having known Nathaniel. Saint rails against sex again.

The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen..

Put more simply:

God let us draw people to you by the effects of the Word and Sacraments on us. You shine. May we shine as a mirror image of yourself.

That’s a tall order if you are working heaven’s switchboard when this collect arrives. To which of heaven’s specialists would you direct the call? The Piety Department? The Justice Department? ..

1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)

A vocation is a “calling.” Vocare is Latin for “to call.”

To an unbeliever, Samuel’s calling, or your own, sounds fishy. “If God really wants to tell you what to do with you life, why doesn’t God say so more directly and undeniably?” one might ask.

And how do you know it is God who put that idea into your head?

When I was twelve or so (1948) I remember coming forward during an altar call at a revival in the Baptist church, responding to a call to “give my life to fulltime Christian service.”

“Louie Crew, Jr.,” a prominent member of the congregations whispered to me in the line-up for congratulations afterward, “are you sure God is calling you, or is it your way of competing with your father?”

Might that be what young Samuel is doing? Is he unconsciously imagining and then reporting God’s call so that Eli will respect him not just as Eli’s servant but as God’s elect, as God’s prophet-in-waiting?

When I was a freshman at Baylor University, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Waco told us of a freshman ministerial student who was flunking every course and came to him for counsel. The student was working hard in the classes, but clearly did not have the skills to do university work.

“How do you know that you are called to preach?” the pastor asked him.

“I was plowing in the fields one day and suddenly was blinded by the sun and fell to the ground in a great sweat. When I squinted to try to see, the heavens were bright with a cloud formation that clearly spelled, ‘C.T.P.’ I knew that I was Called To Preach,” the young man explained.

“Might you have misread the sign?” his pastor asked him. Maybe God was telling you, “Called to plow”? That can be a calling too, he counseled.

My own father made no effort to disallow my call to full-time Christian service, and manifested a new respect. From as early as I can remember, he and my mother had treated me as their son “only on loan.” They stressed that God is my father, and they were careful to try to see what God might be saying through me and to sort that out from what was my ordinary behavior.

“Son,” my father counseled on our next fishing trip to the nearby mountains, “I offer you one small test to use on your own to determine that you have heard correctly. If you ever think God is calling you to an equatorial country, you will know that you are being deceived. God is not a sadist: God will not call a person with super-sensitive complexion like ours to work in a climate where we will blister fiercely in 15 minutes." Even devout Baptists can love God with their minds.

In the Episcopal Church, the Commission on Ministry frequently asks candidates for priesthood to explain their call. While on our Standing Committee for eight years, I sat in on the COM’s meetings with would-be postulants and candidates. While there were no ‘right answers’ to “Explain your call to ministry,” clearly there were answers that seemed red flags to some members of the committee. For example, if the person responded describing all of the service she or he could do for God if made a priest, typically someone would ask, “But can’t you do those as a lay person? Might God be calling you into greater intensity in your lay ministry?"

If the person said, “But I cannot consecrate the sacraments unless I am a priest,” often a member of the COM would then ask, “But you can do lay Eucharistic ministry. Might you be seeking priesthood so that you can ‘play church’ or prove yourself better than the laity, or prove yourself to be as good as, or better than someone else close to you?”

I am grateful that COMs respect candidates enough to put to them hard questions.

I do not personally have the gift of discerning whether someone else is called. When one candidate came before the COM, I said to myself, “This person likes playing church. She is in a mid-life crisis and would like to quit teaching school and have a new career. She won’t likely survive priesthood in the real world of tough spiritual questions.” When the Standing Committee voted on her candidacy, I am glad that I voted with the majority to approve, despite my grave reservations.

A few years later she became curate, then assistant rector in my own parish. I have never met a more fearless or dedicated priest. The choir boys would warn her not to drive into their rough neighborhoods of Newark alone or at night. She smiled patiently and went forth again and again into harm’s way confident and calm that she was called to do so and to endure whatever she would endure.

At one point my husband developed a mysterious illness that baffled all the doctors. I panicked. Ernest did not, in large part because Mother Margaret walked with us through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil.

Ironically, I had rejected her call because I thought she had a limited stereotype of ministry; but the limited stereotype was mine, a limited stereotype of her. Had I looked more closely at the evidence before the COM and the Standing Committee, I would have seen that she had for years intentionally worked in the hardest schools of our city, not the cushy assignments of the wealthy suburbs where she lived. While she had a high view of the Eucharist, I find it strange that when she wanted to be a postulant, I used that against her, yet I too have a high view of the Eucharist and of priesthood. I not only believe in it; I have seen it happen in Margaret’s ministry.

“Here I am, for you called me.” Indeed.

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

During my adolescence all who knew me presumed me to be straight, and I abhorred the evidence to the contrary in my body. I had many friends who were girls, but no girlfriend. No female aroused in me the passion that I felt involuntarily on sight of most males. My body witnessed against my deepest longings to serve God. I knew that most in my highly conservative family would cut themselves off from me if they knew.

I felt cut off from much of Scripture as well. I felt that only straights dare say,

I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth

Until I was 28, I denied myself sexual experience, struggling to be cured of what was ever more clearly not just “a passing phased.“ When I finally accepted my sexual orientation and acted on it, I felt I was rejecting God. That is what I had been taught, and for almost 10 more years I felt sure that it would not be right for me to sing the major Baptist hymn, “Just As I Am Without One Plea.”

I turned to fervid promiscuity with strangers, because it seemed safer than risking a whole relationship by approaching someone whom I knew, who might expose me.

And then I met Ernest. With him I discovered my wholeness. And I understood that Psalm 139 was about each of us, that we are both marvelously made. Our bodies were not hidden from God. God created them “while we were being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.”

In 15 days, on February 2nd, we will complete 35 years of our holy union. God is good, all the time. See an account of our marriage.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Saint is one of the most sex-negative writers in Scripture. In Genesis, the creation of the body is created as profoundly good, yet never does Saint rejoice in sex. Today he attacks ‘fornication,’ and thereby leaves some room to respect sex in the context of marriage; but elsewhere Paul says it is best for people to follow his example and never marry. He recommends marriage only as an alternative to lust: “It is better to marry than to burn.” Today he says, “The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” One wonders whether he also means, “The body is meant not for sex but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body”?

I disagree with such emphasis. I agree with Anglican poet W. H. Auden, “God must like sex since he made it.” I do not believe that God turned out the lights and drew the shades when She made our genitalia.

John 1:43-51

The new film on “Jonestown” discloses ways that Jim Jones made his followers feel that he had miraculous insight into their character, as Jesus reveals miraculous insight into Nathaniel’s character merely by observing him this once at a distance. Jim Jones would deputize close associates in secret to ransack peoples trash for personal information that he could then use in talking to them in services to demonstrate his power of knowing them. Knowledge about others, especially knowledge of private details about others, easily yields to power over them.

Elsewhere, Jesus stresses that the Good Shepherd knows the name of each sheep. I have frequently been able to discern false prophets regarding gay and lesbian people who do not know our names.

See also

Sunday, January 11, 2009. First Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Genesis 1:1-5.

How do you count a day until you have day and night to mark its boundaries?

How much time is there between the first two verses of Genesis? How much of God’s time, even God’s creation time on earth, occurred before God made day and night to mark the boundaries?

These questions are strained: they are the questions some ask in an effort to reconcile the language of Genesis and the language of science. Might the many millennia of evolution and of geologic time have occurred between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2?

I find all such concerns a distraction from the power of Genesis, which derives not from an attempt to create a true and accurate measure of who God is, but rather from awesome humility before creation and the Creator.

The writer of Genesis emphasizes a theme from a play written before Genesis was written, namely the play called “Job,“ in which God stresses how much more powerful and awesome creation and the creator are than our ability to account for God and for what is going on in our own lives: “Job, were you there to see me create the earth?”

Who do you think you are to be a ‘know-it-all’ regarding God and God’s purposes?

On February 2nd, Ernest and I will begin the 36th year of our marriage.
On November 4, 2008, voters in four states took it upon themselves to outlaw marriages like ours, and many of the voters said that they opposed us because God opposes us.

Who do they think they are to know God’s purposes for the two of us?

Psalm 29

The psalm begins,
“Ascribe to the LORD, you gods, *
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

“You gods”? This verse assumes there are more than one, as do several other verses in Scripture, in opposition to the Ten Commandments which assert that there is only one.

In part, this is Scripture’s reality check. Obviously in any time many gods are worshiped. Scripture can acknowledge that fact without ascribing any power or divinity to the competition. Psalm 29 rhetorically goes the competition one better: all you other gods: you must bow before the one true god, and ascribe to the one true god the glory that is due.

As in Genesis, God’s wonder and power manifest themselves in creation itself.

Acts 19:1-7

I was baptized at age 8 in October 1945 at Parker Memorial Baptist Church in Anniston, Alabama. The church was remodeling, and we who were baptized had to go from the baptism pool inside the main auditorium to the cold outside and down to the basement to get out of our drenched clothes. I caught a severe cold. Did that signal that my baptism was invalid? Was it was like a vaccination that did not “take“? Surely not!

Paul asks the Ephesians if their baptism was like his. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit?” “No,” they reply. We were baptized “into John’s baptism,” a baptism of repentance. They did not even know what or who the Holy Spirit is. Upon hearing this, Paul baptizes them again, in the name of Jesus; and the Holy Spirit comes upon them. The second baptism “takes.” The audible “proof” is glossolalia and prophecy.

What test does your own baptism meet to “prove” its authenticity?

Or as others have asked, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, what evidence could be produced to convict you?”

Mark 1:4-11

In Acts, Paul stressed that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Scripture stresses that Jesus was without sin. From what, therefore, was Jesus repenting?

The decent of the dove is meant to symbolize the Holy Spirit, and Jesus’ baptism is a special occasion when the three persons of the Trinity are present and distinct -- God, a man, and a bird, as flip critics sometimes put it. (The doctrine of the Trinity is never stated as such in Scripture, but was a formulary of the Church accepted credally by the end of the fourth century.)

From a rhetorical point of view, the text clearly establishes the link between John the baptizer and his younger first cousin, Jesus. It is rhetorically important to note who comes first and who has the higher rank. Had the baptizer stayed around long into Jesus’ ministry, he might have upstaged him. Even after death, his followers might have been threatened by the attention given to Jesus. This narrative names the only acceptable terms under which John’s followers might relate to Jesus. In this account, John himself dramatically acknowledges Jesus’ superiority.

Not all readers of Hebrew Scripture immediately grant superiority to God vis-a-vis his arch rival, Satan. Some readers of Milton’s Paradise Lost and of Scripture too find Satan far more interesting and endearing as a character. For some, the God of Hebrew Scripture is a great blusterer, not at all like Jesus, always threatening to destroy those whom he has made because they have hurt his feelings. Lot becomes a Christ-like hero in pleading with God not to destroy them. God sometimes laughs as he destroys human beings, but never laughs with human beings. By contrast, underdog Satan seems clever and witty, seeking to bring knowledge and pleasure, for which gifts God credits him with destruction.

See also