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

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