Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sunday, February 8, 2009, Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Compare: Set us free from the bondage of letting others define our sins. If lgbt folks allow others to declare sinful our loving, committed, life-long unions, we license them to deprive us of the liberty of the abundant life which God has made known to us in Jesus.

Another lgbt variation: Set us free, O God, to trust what you have made known to us in Jesus.

Isaiah 40:21-31

Isaiah reminds his audience that God is larger than the measure of our minds. He points to the enormity of creation to proclaim the enormity of the creator.

We who have codified our faith in creeds and liturgy can too easily forget or discount God’s enormity, beyond what we can imagine.

I taught in Beijing in 1983-84 and in Hong Kong from 1984-87. I went to elaborate tomb after tomb, each a monument to a potentate centuries ago.

Isaiah proclaims that God

brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

British poet Shelley wrote a sonnet in which the speaker found the visage of a forgotten king named “Ozymandius” whose pedestal proclaimed, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.” Yet no works remained. “Around the decay of that colossal wreck the lone and level sands stretched far away.” See the poem and commentary.

I like the resonance that tombs give to a whistle. In several of them, I have whistled Sir Thomas Tallis’ ordinal "O where are kings and empires now,” and in two different tombs, an auditor whispered in my ear, “But Lord thy church is praying still.”

At 72, I have likely completed most of my gadding. I dodder too much and grow weary. Isaiah reminds me that God does not dodder or grow weary.

Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c

The psalmist shares Isaiah's emphases. “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.” Compare Isaiah’s phrase: “Those who wait on the lord.”

Both writers also emphasize that God knows creatures by name. Isaiah says: “He ... brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name.” The psalmist says: “He counts the number of the stars and calls them all by their names.”

Garrison Keillor tells of a pastor who wanted much to be pastoral and thinks he has the gift for it. But on many occasions the pastor forgets the names of those whom he counsels, demonstrating that he has not really heard them. He has heard only his own need for a good reputation.

Teaching in Beijing and Hong Kong, I felt cut off from students whose names I could neither pronounce nor remember. Other foreigners before me had trained the students to have names in English as well as Chinese, to make our task easier, but I knew that “Joe Kwong” would not give me the access provided by “Kwong Wai Lap," the name 'Joe's family and all who loved him used. And the more personal diminutive, “Lapsai” (like ’little Louie’) could open the ears as a parent might.

Faced with over 100 students at any one time, I set myself the task of learning their Chinese names and pronouncing them accurately. To help, I asked each student to give me an index card with a small photo id (very cheap and available in shops all over China) with their names and three personal facts about themselves. I also had the students sit in the same seat for several weeks so that I could match the pictures with the real faces and names. And unknown to them, I prayed for each student by name before class, using some of the details they had revealed of their lives on the cards and adding details I gleaned from their papers through the course. It is much harder to forget someone whom you pray for by name day after day.

Quickly my students no longer looked all alike. I had broken through my own self-imposed isolation.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Except for the politicians and sales persons among us, few of us even aspire to be “all things to all people.” Being able to do that certainly was one of the features of Saint’s phenomenal success rate in winning people over to accept Christianity. He also had the benefit of not having everybody see how he shifted from place to place. There were neither cameras. nor cell phones to share the pictures.

Some see it as hypocritical for a persons to drink wine with those who drink wine, but to be a teetotaler with those who think it is wrong to drink.


Visiting home from my first job teaching
I read an ad in THE STAR.

"Want to go, Dad? Isaac Stern is here
tonight for the Knox Music Club."

From 7th grade onward, Dad had sat with me
on the hard seats at the high school
for all recitals in the Club's season.

Dad's closest classmate in college
was Knox S., named 'Knox'
for his mother's people, who
for three generations had brought "culture"
to our mill and foundry town.

Mother begged off to play bridge during our adventures.

"Want me to call for tickets?" I asked,
excited. Stern was better fare
than the Club used to draw.

"I hope you'll go, but I have a confession
that only now is it time to make,"
Dad said; "I don't really like classical."

"But all those times, and you said you liked it!"

He smiled.

"Knox liked it. Other classmates liked it.
They had a treasure that would not open for me.
I knew you might close your ears too soon
if I helped you to."

Almost I mistook it for hypocrisy,
but Stern's recording covers me
half a century later in Dad's love.

-- Louie Crew

First appeared in Ithuriel’s Spear from May 2007

Mark 1:29-39

This text is studiedly ordinary in the life of Jesus as he goes about healing and casting out demons.

Recently a student contacted me through the internet for help with an undergraduate paper that he was writing on formal exorcism in The Episcopal Church. A former dean of his cathedral parish is famous for his charismatic services of healing and is rumored to have done exorcisms. The student was not able to find any official liturgy for exorcism in The Episcopal Church. The authority for any such services, like the authority for any other liturgical innovation for local needs, rests with the bishop, as indicated on Page 13 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Many Episcopalians are comfortable with the administration of oils while praying for healing; but most Episcopalians are uncomfortable with “faith healing liturgies” like those used in charismatic and some evangelical congregations. If you have a physical ailment, most Episcopalians will direct you to a physician. It you claim to be possessed of demons, Episcopalians typically will send you to a psychiatrist.

See also

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