Friday, April 24, 2009

Sunday, May 3, 2009, Fourth Sunday of Easter

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Acts 4:5-12

For several years now Anglicans the world over have been asking The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, ‘By what power or authority do you do affirm lgbt Christians -- bless their committed unions, ordain them as deacons and priests, and even consecrate one of them as a bishop while he is publicly in a same-sex union?’

That’s a contemporary variation on what the religious leaders in Jerusalem asked Peter and John, who had made the “mistake” of healing someone in the name of Jesus. Instead of rejoicing in the man’s recovery, the religious leaders challenged the authority of the healers and demanded an account of their credentials.

Angry religious leaders in Jerusalem did not give a fig about the man healed by Peter and John. Angry Anglicans seem not to have noticed, or cared, about the changed lives of lgbt Christians. Some of the angry Anglicans say that lgbt persons are not even Christians. Some Anglican bishops agree with Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, who asserts that lgbts are “lower than pigs or dogs.” They assume that lgbts live down to their evil stereotypes of us -- as promiscuous and shallow people defined by sexuality, devoid of spiritual commitments, exploiters of the vulnerable, worthy only of condemnation and best put in prisons or mental institutions.

Those views were predominate in the small Alabama town where I grew up (born 1936). The only time I ever heard of any gay person (they called them ’fairies’ and ’queers’ then) was when someone got caught making a pass at another person and was summarily fired and either jailed or run out of town. Radio announcers always mentioned where the offender worked with a sense of horror (a barber, a dentist, a school teacher). People pitied those who had unknowingly hired them or had any dealings with them, as if their contamination would rub off.

When Ernest and I met in 1973, he knew of at least two other gay couples. I had never met any gay couple. When we used the Book of Common Prayer to make our vows to each other before God, we merely changed the pronouns, not the sacred promises. Through our 35+ years together, I have of course met many who began their unions before we began ours, but in those days, especially in rural areas like ours, the last thing they wanted to do was to increase their vulnerability by being public about their relationships. But with most of the evidence of healthy committed relationships hidden from the public, it is not surprising that the distorted stereotypes prevailed then, as they do now in most of the Anglican Communion. “By what authority,” they ask us, “do you bless them, ordain them, or consecrate them?!”

O that General Convention in Anaheim, filled with the Holy Spirit, will say to them, "Primates, elders, and rulers of the Communion, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to people who are despised and scorned. You ask us how these people can be made whole. Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of the world, that these lgbt folks are standing before you in good spiritual health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus, `the stone that was rejected, has become the cornerstone.'

If you think the pain and condemnation and isolation we felt are just ancient history, a part of the generation of Ernest and me as two old men, watch
this brief video
asking yourself what Jesus would say to this young woman if they met her at a well, and contrast that to what those yelling against the Episcopal Church would say to her.

Psalm 23

I was fortunate to teach in Beijing in 1983-84, in the early days of China's opening up to teachers from abroad --- “foreign experts’ they called us. On local campuses like mine (Er Wai, the Second Foreign Language Institute), the communist party, which ran all of the education in China, had so long demonized westerners that for some it was not an easy transition to welcome us. Their government was welcoming us, but it had previously taught them to despise us.

Sometimes their conflicts were humorous. For example, all of a sudden party leaders on my campus cancelled Christmas in 1983. No students were known to be Christian, but as majors in foreign languages, they were interested in foreign cultures. Not surprisingly, many of my students sent me Christmas cards, much as one might send a valentine without a belief in Cupid.

A week before Christmas, a major party leader paid me a social visit and delighted in telling me that he had gone to a Methodist school before Liberation in 1948. With forced casualness, he made this small talk while inspecting each of the Christmas cards I had on display, even jotting down names of some of the students.

The good news was that they had used only their English names, and he knew them only by their Chinese names. He could not even be sure whether the cards were from students or from my friends back home. My students were safe.

One night, walking from my classroom building to my residence, I heard a piano, and asked the young teacher assigned to me as my interpreter to arrange for me to play it. He said he would, but didn’t, even after many requests. He was fond of me, but exasperated by my cultural ignorance. “Don’t you understand!” he exclaimed after my fifth or sixth request, “that piano is in the room where the party meets and you will never be allowed in it!”

“But what’s in the room besides the piano that could possibly be of interest to me?” I asked.

“The party files are there!”

“They are in English?” I asked, with a Cheshire smile.

“They are in Chinese, of course!”

“And you think, or they think that secretly I am a spy fluent in written as well as spoken Chinese?”

“They have heard of such spies, yes,” he replied.

“And just what kind of secrets would be in the cabinet of the Second Foreign Language Institute to make it worth the U.S. government’s time and money to hire a specialist rarely trained in Chinese to ferret out?”

“I had not thought of it that way,” my young colleague replied.

“That’s the problem!” I exclaimed. “No one is thinking very much. All I want to do is play some hymns to help me grieve the deaths of both my parents last year.’

However, they were right in considering me subversive. How else could I claim to be a teacher, one who "leads out"?

In the middle of one term, I was given only a week’s notice that I was to give several lectures on rhetoric to all English majors (about 150 of them). Given the shortage of text books, I chose numerous short passages easily written on the blackboard as the focus of our study on author’s strategy. The 23rd Psalm was my centerpiece.

  • What is the psalmist’s strategy here?
  • What assumptions does the psalmist make about sheep?
  • If you were going to rewrite the psalm for the assumptions of your culture, you would not call the supreme power your “shepherd”; would you begin “The supreme power is my Party Boss”? or “God is my President. I shall not lack for anything”?
  • What other collocations would work for you? Caveat: For any to work, you also have to change not only the shepherd in the original, but also the sheep. You would no longer be speaking as a sheep about her/his shepherd. What role would you assign yourself in relation to the Party Boss of President as your supreme power?
  • Or would you acknowledge anyone on earth or beyond the power of a supreme being?

Notice too the radical shift in point of view that the psalmist sneaks in. The psalm begins in the third person, a matter-of-fact assertion for the readers to take or leave; and remember, the psalms were written to be read in communal settings.

God is my shepherd. He makes me.... He leads me. He restores my soul.

The sheep (the reader) talks about God through this part of the psalm. Then without warning, the sheep (the reader) talks to God.

Iwill fear no evil because you are with me. Your rod, your staff....

The psalmist as slipped the reader into a relationship with God, not just a converation about God.

I was in China as a guest, not as a revolutionary. I came to learn about their culture, not to impose my own. I suspect that most of our influences are in how we behave more than in what we say.

Everyone knew who he was when my husband came to spend a month during the ‘spring break.’ Anyone knew from me directly who had ever asked who was the black man in the picture on my desk, dressed in a fur coat. Most were intrigued that a country existed where we could be public about our commitments and still keep our jobs. Heterosexuals assumed homosexuality was ’an American thing.’ Chinese homosexuals marveled at our survival and told us of centuries in which Chinese were much more tolerant.

Six years later a few of my students, already graduated, were among the participants in the pro-democracy movement that came to such fierce conclusion in the massacres of students in Tiananmen Square.

What modern metaphors would you use to replace “shepherd” and “sheep” in a new version of the 23rd Psalm to explain who God is to you and who you are to God?

1 John 3:16-24

I like to collect and compare short lists of the ‘most essential’ commandments -- for example, Moses’ big 10, Jesus’ 2, Micah’s 3, et al.

I also like to collect tests that biblical personages give to determine that you are a Christian. For example, Jesus said, “By this shall all know that you are my disciples, that you love one another

In this text, John offers as a fool-proof test that the spirit of God is in us:

  1. Believe on the name of Jesus
  2. love one another. The presence of the spirit in us is the fool-proof test.

No other exclusions? No other exclusions. Well, what if you believe in Allah or Buddha or …..

John 10:11-18

In the fourth gospel Jesus warns us against thinking that we know all about who is included and who is excluded: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

What if lgbt people are these sheep?

What if Muslims are these sheep?

Ecumenism requires more humility than many can muster.

See also

Friday, April 3, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009. Third Sunday of Easter

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Acts 3:12-19

Peter certainly gets them told, in this passage, his fellow Israelites who had prompted Jesus’ crucifixion and now stand marveling at what they mistake as Peter’s great power to heal. “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?”

Peter takes no credit for his power to make the lame man way, but attributes that power solely to God, and tells them they “killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.”

Peter’s final thrust is not to scold, but to invite: “You acted in ignorance…. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out."

Jesus says the same thing to each of us. Nothing -- not even the murder of Jesus himself -- can separate us from the love of God.

As a gay Christian, my hope is built on nothing less.

Psalm 4

This psalm seems written precisely for our hard economic times:

Many are saying, "Oh, that we might see better times!" *
Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O LORD.

You have put gladness in my heart, *
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.

I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
for only you, LORD, make me dwell in safety.

The better times we seek won’t bring peace. Lots of grain and wine and oil won’t bring peace or certainty.

Peace may come even in the midst of hard times. Peace may come even when those hard times continue.

One measure of peace is how easily we fall asleep. We can fall asleep quickly and easily and safely only when God makes it so, not when our possessions increase.

1 John 3:1-7

John back-peddles a bit on his emphasis last week that when we sin we need not stand in fear of mortal danger to ourselves, because we have Jesus himself as our advocate, and Jesus has already paid the price of our sins.

In this passage, however, John asserts, “No one who abides in Christ sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.”

The Church has often vacillated between asserting that Jesus paid it all and asserting that if we don’t live properly, we will have to pay.

  • I strive to do the right thing not so that I can have God’s love, but instead, because I already have God’ love.

  • I do not come to church because I am good (indeed, often I am not), but because God is good, and his mercy endures forever.

  • I do not knock on the church door saying, “Let me in!” Rather I enter aware that God has already let me in, and if I don’t show up, I may deprive some of seeing God’s mighty work in blessing a tired old queen like me.

Join me at the breaking of the bread. May God open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work

Luke 24:36b-48

“Have you anything to eat?” Jesus asked. The original disciples were terrified, as if they were seeing a ghost. Perhaps we would be startled too if we were to take seriously Jesus’ desire to eat with us.

Guess who is coming to dindin.

See also

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009. Second Sunday of Easter

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..

The collect emphasizes that we should walk the talk. It emphasizes that unlike the old covenant of the law and rules, the new covenant is one of being forgiven and one of forgiving as we are forgiven -- that is, a covenant of reconciliation.

What would reconciliation look like as straight people confront their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered neighbors?

What would reconciliation look like as the Anglican Communion confronts the Episcopal Church for seeking to be reconciled with lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered?

There is much talk of Covenant in the Anglican Communion right now, but the Covenant Committee seems bent more towards re-establishing the Old Covenant of the Law, with clear boundaries of who is in and who is out. Rather, let us be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven each of us.

Acts 4:32-35

“There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.”

In his book The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark reports that one of the major reasons Christianity grew rapidly in the third and fourth centuries was that it was one of the few institutions, perhaps the only one, that cared for its members. They showed this especially when someone was hungry, or sick, or in prison... More and more people wanted to be a part of a place that cared substantially for its members.

Centuries after Christ, these Christians were living into the model that Luke describes of the early church in today's text from the book of Acts.

I join with those who have suggested that the Episcopal Church ought to provide health care for all of its members. With more than two million in the insurance pool, the rates for any one person, or congregations of persons, would be dramatically reduced compared with rates available to them from other sources.

Those who “own lands or houses,” the wealthier among us, would have a Gospel incentive to live in a community of persons who manifest this much care. We would be modeling for the nation what care and concern looks like. We would be walking the talk of the Gospel. Doing so, we would no longer need to have retreats and conferences and parish meetings on how to increase our numbers, especially our pool of donors, in the face of dwindling resources.

Even in these especially hard times, our resources are more than adequate to meet our needs and the needs of the world around us. Our resources are abundant, but our imagination is shriveling from fear and selfishness. Revive us, O God!

Psalm 133

Oh, how good and pleasant it is, *
when brethren live together in unity!

And the sistren.

Would that it were so!

Our disunity is the Episcopal Church’s major block to bringing the Gospel to the world. There is no “good news” in disunity.

There is plenty of good news in being a church large enough to contain many points of view and to have respectful disagreement. Disunity is quite different from disagreement. Disunity derives from insisting on having one’s own way and insisting that others agree with us, or at least say that they do.

It [Dwelling together in unity is like fine oil upon the head *
that runs down upon the beard,

Upon the beard of Aaron, *
and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

This passage must send shivers up the spines of members of the Altar Guild, and hair stylists who would have to deal with the messes.

This is “conspicuous consumption” that probably won’t work right now in the West -- “I have wealth enough to have fine oils run down upon my beard and get my fine clothes oily."

In the psalmist’s context the image is one of comfort and harmony; in the modern West, it is one of discomfort. It does not travel well culturally, much as the image of hell as a place of fire was not effective to scare Eskimos.

1 John 1:1-2:2

Summary: Don’t sin, but if you do, God will take care of your sins, indeed, the sins of the whole world. Walk in the light.

John bases his claims on being an eye-witness and on reporting the accounts of other eye-witnesses. John makes this claim not only for what he has seen and heard, but on what he believes it means: “and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us.” Two thousand years later we may be eye-witnesses to the effects of the gospel on lives changed by it.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit” need not be a dry intellectual assent. “I believe in the Holy Spirit: I have seen the Holy Spirit happen! I have seen the Holy Spirit at work in others. I have known the Holy Spirit to be at work in me, calling forth the fruits of the Spirit that I cannot account for on my own.”

John 20:19-31

The Episcopal Church is so safe for doubters that we have named 153 of our 7945 parishes (2%) for Thomas the doubter saint.

Although I can pass a lie-detector test when I say the creeds, I am glad that The Episcopal Church does not require a lie-detector test.

I know many who struggle with the creeds, whole or in part, but live more faithfully than I do.

I rejoice that the Episcopal Church welcomes that kind of struggle. Alfred Lord Tennyson said, "There is more faith in honest doubt than in all your creeds."

Thank you, Thomas for showing up late. Thank you, Thomas, for refusing to believe until you had seen the risen Christ with your own eyes. Thank you, Jesus for your patience with him; thank you for allowing him to put his fingers into the wounds that the cross had made.

The Apostles’ Creed did not appear until the second century, or possibly late in the first. The Nicene Creed did not appear until 325 and was not widely adopted until 381. I am glad that Thomas did not have to “pass” them. I am glad that Jesus did not turn to the thief on the next cross and say, “Well that’s nice of you to sympathize with me, but don’t expect cheap grace if you plan to be with me in Paradise. First you must repeat after me, slowly and convincingly, ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord…….’”

It’s okay to say to God: “Show me.” Keep you eyes open; She just might.

See also

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen..

Why are you looking here? Go to the graveyard. You will not find him there. Go to the most broken person you can find. You might find him there if you serve him in that person. But keep looking. Jesus is risen. He’s alive. It’s our job to find him.

Acts 10:34-43

Shhh! Pssst! Don’t tell heterosexists about this passage:

I truly understand that God shows no partiality…. [E]veryone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Heterosexists will argue, "And just how many get included in the word everyone? It can't be everybody!"

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

An Anglican priest who was a colleague of mine at Chinese University in Hong Kong explained to me how hard it is to sell the Gospel’s inclusiveness. “Louie, I get into trouble just by reading 'God makes the rain to fall on the just and on the unjust.' People tell me that God would not act on behalf of bad people at all. If things are going well for you, then obviously God approves, and if things are going badly for you, obviously God disapproves of you. So there."

Yet behold, God does not think or act that way:

The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Saint tells his personal story several times in Scripture. This time he frames the story as one of several post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. So is your story. So is mine. In whom have you experienced the resurrected Jesus?

Our president wrote of The Audacity of Hope. Faith is audacious too. Two chapters earlier Saint asserts that faith is the substance of hope, the evidence of things not seen.

Mark 16:1-8

Leggs, a modern parable

"For our next project," she told the third-graders, "please hide in a Leggs carton something which represents spring."

Other children had started to notice that Billy was different. "Maybe I should not have persuaded Billy's parents to delay moving him to a special school," the teacher thought to herself.

On the next day, the pupils lined all 20 cartons on her desk. When she shuffled them, she explained that they did not need to know who brought what. Secretly she wanted to protect Billy. He may have misunderstood the assignment.

She opened the first carton hesitantly. Out flew a butterfly.

"Whoopee!" the pupils responded.

"That's mine!" shouted Mary.

"What a clever idea," the teacher stated.

Mary beamed.

"Now what do we have in the second carton?"

It was a small rock covered with green moss.

"That's mine!" shouted Thomas.

"Yes, moss does represent new life," she said. Since he would not remain anonymous, she added, "That's an original choice, Thomas."

The third carton was empty.

She turned it upside down and shook it.


Some pupils snickered.

She reached for the fourth carton, but Billy interrupted, "That's mine! That's mine!"

"Yes," Billy, "Thank you.

But it's empty."

"Yeah," he said. "In the spring the tomb was empty, and that brought new life to everyone."

A few weeks later Billy died quite suddenly, of a brain tumor. On his casket his classmates placed twenty Leggs cartons, all empty.

Note on
"Leggs, A Modern Parable": I first heard when The Rev. Tom Bowers told the story in a sermon for Palm Sunday at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Atlanta in the mid-1970s. I retold it in a newsletter the next month. In 1981 Lutheran theologian Martin Marty told me over lunch at the University of Chicago that never had more people written him about any single piece than wrote him about this one which he reprinted in his newsletter for pastors. At one point even radio person Paul Harvey picked it up; I do not know his source. See Importing Vocabularies to Describe Literary Structure, in which I encourage majors in disciplines outside English to use structure vocabularies of those disciplines to describe literary structure in their English classes.

See also