O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
What an extraordinary liturgy for Ordinary Time. The most far-out dean of a cathedral of TEC would hardly risk the dances here, much less the sacrifice of live animals. This combines the pageantry of a bullfight with the intrigue of an enemy peeking out of her window, with food typical at many parish suppers, “a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins.”
We feasted on finger food at the end of the recent 20th anniversary of the Oasis, an official ministry of the Diocese of Newark with lgbt folks; and to begin the liturgy, the congregation walked quietly two long blocks down Washington Street, where we lined up behind a buff bag-piper. The bishop said some prayers and the bag-piper, with grand posture, heralded us back the route to the church.
The street was busy with lots of folks celebrating the first bright warm day of the year, watching us intently. I told Christine Spong, walking next to me, that I should have worn a bright dress so the on-lookers would have had a better idea of what kind of Christians we are, but later the rector told that a woman on the street had seen the rainbow flag hanging in the entrance od the church and had asked, half in unbelief, “Does that mean what I think it means?” He told her ‘yes’ and invited her to join us.
For the moment, forget Michal glaring out the window at our extravagant celebrations. She may scorn, but the God of all universes has invited us to dance and to feast.
Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors;
As early as 8 or 9 I wondered how gates could have heads. Were the heads sculpture on top of high doors? But why were the doors above the gates?
As an old man fully aware of metaphor, I still have trouble distinguishing the ‘vehicle' from the ‘field’ in this phrase, used twice in the psalm, as pomp and as prelude to God’s entrance. Small matter my confusion: I like the wording. I am a member of a “generation of those who seek him.”
The psalm heralds access to God. God will bless
Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
I rejoice that later Jesus came to make hearts pure enough so that my access does not depend on my righteousness, but Jesus’. Ir is of no consequence if I fail to make the grade: Jesus makes it for me.
I am intrigued by the psalmist’s geological assumptions manifested in verse 2:
For it is he who founded [the earth] upon the seas *
and made it firm upon the rivers of the deep.
According to this wording, the earth is on top of seas, firm upon the rivers of the ocean.
How would we describe the world and its relation to water in a psalm sensitive to global warming?
For it is he who surrounded the land with waters*
and gave us the responsibility for not making ice to melt and flood the earth(?)
That does not work for me, because the new subject is too strong and distracts from the main subject. How would you rewrite the verse to reflect modern perceptions?
My aunt lost two children in childbirth. I was 6 or 7 when she lost the second. She had come to our home in Anniston because she could not get good medical care in the poor county where she lived. Yet the doctors could not save the second child any more than they could the first. Never had I heard fervent wailing like my aunt‘s as she lay in he guestroom at the front of our house. She wailed hour upon hour.
When I was 10, I was visiting my aunt out in the country, and she and my uncle took me with them to the state adoption agency in Montgomery to receive a lovely little girl, just six months old. I waited in the car as they went inside. As I was an only child, it felt like I was getting a little sister. No one could ever smile any wider than they did as they showed Sally to me. When we got back to their home, it seemed everyone in the small country town had bought Sally a dress or a toy.
Years later, when Sally and I were both long grown, my mother, in one of her less thoughtful moods, was angry about a family decision and said, “I don’t see why your grandmother is giving that (I don’t even remember what ’that’ was) to Sally rather than to you. After all, you are blood kin, and Sally is kin to her only by adoption?!”
Remembering the glow in the eyes of my aunt and uncle years earlier, I said, “Mother, you and I are children of God only by adoption. Doesn’t that count? Are we not heirs equal to God‘s blood relations?”
When General Convention in 1976 affirmed that “homosexual persons are ‘children of God’ and entitled to the full love, care and pastoral concern of the church,” I assumed that the battle was over. What other credentials does one need in the Church besides being God’s child?
But the church has steadily backed off from giving us the full love, care and pastoral concern. When Paul Moore, Bishop of New York, ordained lesbian Ellen Barrett to the priesthood in January 1977, many in the church went ballistic. In 1979 General Convention said that sexuality was appropriate for priests only in heterosexual marriages. 'It's okay to be a song bird,' they said, 'but don't you dare sing.'
Any priest openly in a committed same-sex relationship was virtually unemployable, and in the mid-1990s bishops brought to trial for heresy the Rt. Rev. Walter Righter, then assisting bishop in Newark, for ordaining an out gay man in a committed relationship….
One evening in anguish I asked my friend, the Rev. Carlisle Ramacharan, “How can they call us ‘children of God’ and treat us so abominably?”
“Easy,” he replied. When India outlawed calling people ‘Dalits’ or ‘untouchables,’ do you know what they were then called?
“No. What?” I replied.
“Children of God,” he said, smiling, as in “God love them; I don’t have to.”
In his letter to the Christians at Ephesus, Saint tells those outsiders, those gentiles, that they are not second class, that God had a plan for us even before God made the world: “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.”
Listen up, Church. Listen up lesbians and gays. On this Sunday General Convention will be half-way done. Some there will be saying, like my mother on one of her worse days, “I don’t see why we should bless lgbt folk or consent to their consecration. After all, we have kept the faith. We have faithfully drunk Christ‘s blood. These nasty folks are God’s only by adoption. Let God love them. We don’t have to.”
God does love us fully and unconditionally.
Listen up all those other peeking out the window wondering whether God could possibly love you: yes God does. God knows everything about you and still fully and unconditionally loves you.
Note the lavish details of the feast, the sensual details of the dancing. Note the grandiosity of power: “And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’"
Then the silver platter. Surely it was stamped "Sterling."
We cannot control the limits of those who will to do us harm. We rejoice to have much better news.
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