Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sunday, September 6th, 2009, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Beware the risks in praying this collect.

Are you really unprepared to confide in your own strength? Is that a prideful thing to do? Was Ralph Waldo Emerson wrong-headed in urging self-reliance? Self-reliance is a strong part of the American character: is that evil per se? Do you prefer to face a new challenge saying, “I am unworthy and unfit to take on this task, but God will be merciful to me: he is the strong one”? Do you want to be God’s whiner, or God’s friend and collaborator?

A classmate at Baylor in 1954 had a fantastic bass voice. I loved to sit near him in church.

“Are you majoring in music?” I asked.

“No, I am going to be a Baptist preacher,” he replied.

“I hope you are taking voice lessons,” I said.

“No, that would lead me to the sin of pride. My voice is God’s gift, not something of which I should boast.”

“I’m not talking about boasting,” I said; “I’m talking about honoring God’s gift by respecting it most fully and making it the best that it can be.”

“But then I would be taking on God’s job,” he said.

Was he proud in boasting that he trusted God more than musicians with talent who study and practice hard to make their voices better still?

I have not seen him in the 51 years since we graduated. I would like to sit near him again when he sings.

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

The book of Proverbs is best when not read linearly for any long stretches. Those who created the lectionary have tried to help with this by substantial editing, completing verse 2 and jumping to verse 8, completing verse 9 and jumping to verse 22. Even so the three snippets remaining do not demand each other as context to be understood. Like Hershey kisses, each is wrapped and self contained.

Proverbs, biblical or otherwise, collect the wisdom (or purported wisdom) of the community.

Consider some secular proverbs: “What goes round comes round.” “A stitch in time saves nine.” “All that glitters is not gold.” “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”

Is the latter true? or just a parents’ counsel to help a child get past some evil name-calling? Do not words sometimes destroy dreams and permanently mame self-understandings?

Yet Eleanor Roosevelt taught a harder point of view: "No one can reject me without my consent."

Queer was a most hostile term in my childhood, and as an adult I had to work hard before embracing the term as my own, pinning it to the mat to deprive it of its power.

My ancestors were mocked for their fervor and driven out of England. They were derided as for vigorous body movement -- quaking -- during worship. In time they took the sting out of mockery by calling themselves “Quakers.”

We are wise not simply to receive proverbs, but also to challenge them.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.

How many lgbt persons have stayed in the closet using such reasoning? Coming out initially destroys one’s good name in many families and communities. Surely this is one of the reasons many parents are terrified when they think they might have an lgbt child.

When I was newly into puberty, my father said to me that he had heard that a queer hung out in the evenings in a breezeway at the local high school. Dad said that if he ever found out a child of his were queer, he would commit suicide in shame.

I already had inklings that I was gay. Did my father suspect I might be? Was he trying to scare me away from ever acting on my feelings? Had someone scared him into his heterosexuality?

We can find for almost every proverb another proverb or wise saying that counteracts it: for example, I might have said to my father, “ What does it profit a person to gain the world’s good opinion and lose his wholeness?”

In time Dad did hear me say that. In time he embraced Ernest and me both as his sons, but that took many a wrestling match with the Holy Spirit for Dad and for me.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of anger will fail.

Does the proverb promote wishful thinking? What comfort was this to the Jews who recited it in the death camps? What comfort is it to survivors who lost so many in their families?

Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate;

How much do official public policies do just that? Sales taxes, for example, notoriously penalize the poor far more than others.

Also, our immigration policies systemically punish the poor. Our society would shut down in many ways if we did not enjoy the benefits of the labors of undocumented persons, but we provide them few of the entitlements we guarantee to others. Often they do not dare seek the education and health care for their families to which all other tax-payers are entitled, because undocumented citizens fear arrest and deportation.

Several have suggested that we ought to strip the Statue of Liberty of Emma Lazarus’ poem: “Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to be free” because the United States no longer means that. Today we exploit immigrants for a season and then ship them home.

for the LORD pleads their cause
and despoils of life those who despoil them

Then the Lord had better get busy, because right now, the poor are losing big time.

Or better yet, maybe you and I had better get busy as God’s stand-ins.

Psalm 125

Grammatical point of view is interesting to watch here, as in many psalms. Most of the psalm is in the third person, describing how God is steadfast and immovable on the side of good people. At the end, God escorts the evil-doers out of Jerusalem.

But in the penultimate verse in the selection, that is, verse 4, point of view shifts from 3rd to 2nd person, and those who read the psalm, perhaps without noticing it, shift from talking about God to talking to God,

Show your goodness, O LORD, to those who are good *
and to those who are true of heart.

The rest of the psalm proclaims this is what God does, but almost as an aside verse 6 whispers to God to remind God to do it.

Does God direct goodness only, or even primarily, to the good? Do the evil never prosper? And if the evil sometimes prosper, do they always get their comeuppance?

When I taught at Chinese University in Hong Kong, I tried to persuade a friend in the Religion Department to get his colleagues to address the spiritual needs of lgbt persons. He was sympathetic but said I vastly underestimated the conservatism of Hong Kong Christians. “They are ready to string me up when I preach a simple text such as ‘God makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.’ ‘No!’ they tell me! ‘God always privileges only good people! If you are prosperous, you are good; if you are poor, you are evil.’ Consider the wall of ignorance that I face, and do you still think that I can get them to consider whether God loves lgbt persons?"

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17

Remember that James presided over the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), at which Saint pled the case for admitting Gentiles as Christians without requiring them to be circumcised. Saint succeeded, albeit with a good Anglican muddle. Few who have not read Acts 15 recently can remember the three requirements the Council still stipulated that Gentiles must meet in lieu of circumcision. The main news was that circumcision was no longer required of male converts. That huge barrier to evangelism was removed.

James’ theology conflicts with Saint’s in other regards as well, notably regarding justification by faith, not by works. Martin Luther later agreed with Saint so thoroughly that he suggested that the book of James ought never to have made it into the canons of Scripture. “It is of the devil!” Luther proclaimed, “to insist that faith without works is dead.”

James, for his part, was disturbed by any claim to have faith without manifesting the consequences of faith and the fruits of the spirit.

Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?

Similarly James scorns those who claim to be saved by grace and yet themselves show favoritism to persons who are rich and treat the poor badly.

Mark 7:24-37

Jesus finds it tedious to pass as a human being. Word keeps leaking out that he has the powers of a god, and the people importune him, intruding even upon his solitude, seeking gifts of healing. A Gentile woman somehow gets into his secret motel room and begs him to cast out the demons in her daughter. A deaf man who has a related speech impediment meets up with Jesus on the road to the Sea of Galilee and asks for healing. Jesus takes him aside, away from the crowd, puts his fingers into the man’s ears and the spits on a finger that he puts on the man’s tongue, and lo and behold the man can hear properly and thereby also speak properly. The problem for Jesus is that the attention drawn by these healings makes it increasingly difficult for him to pass incognito as a human being.

If more of us start acting as co-heirs with Jesus, we might find it increasingly difficult to pass incognito as mere mortals.

See also

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009, Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 17

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

I directed the Writing Program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong from 1984-1987. In one project we told the students that they were to pretend they were on the governing board of a local school against which a complaint had been lodged claiming that one of their teachers was teaching pornography. As evidence we gave to the students a type-written copy of the Song of Solomon. To one group of students we identified the text as from the Bible; to the other group of students we gave no attribution. Each group of students was to write an evaluation of the Song in light of the charges that had been made against it.

Although few of the students themselves were Christians, the group who knew the text to be from the bible were far more reluctant to call it pornography than were the students who had no such information. Students who treated the text like any other text were quicker to proclaim it pornographic and to suggest that the teacher was wrong to assign it.

The Song of Song has many sections with far more erotic suggestions than one may find in today’s reading. The passage today merely hints of the erotic. The beloved peeks through the lattice from outside and tells his beloved to come away with him to celebrate together the fragrant new life of spring.

See a full account of the assignment written under my Chinese pseudonym Li Min Hua.

Although the Song of Solomon is a frequent source of phrases in Christian hymnody, almost never does anyone preach on its narrative. Some prudish versions of the text overlay it with names of subdivisions that suggest that it be read as an allegory of Christ and his bride the Church. How anachronistic! The book has a life of its own in Hebrew Scriptures, and was written long before the birth of Christ. If I try to force the Christian detail as allegory, the details become increasingly inappropriate, for what is Christ doing having sexual relations with the Church?

Never is God mentioned in the Song of Solomon. Nor is the Song meant to have a clear liturgical use, such as the psalms. No, it appears to be a free-standing erotic poem that celebrates young love in quite close and specific detail, charged with enthusiasm. Sometimes even the gender references grow fuzzy and you don’t know whether the text is talking about a man and a woman, a man and a man, or whomever.

What a fine and holy gift, and what a shame that many are too spiritually immature to receive it as such!

I am reminded of the scene in Spike Lee’s movie Do the right thing when the pizza delivery person (Spike Lee himself) delivers a pizza to his girl friend on a very hot day as an excuse for getting into her house and getting past her much displeased mother. At one point in the love-making he goes to the refrigerator and removes some ice cubes, which he then uses to cool his girl friend. While doing so he speaks a litany of praise, “I thank you God for breasts……”

Judaism more readily celebrates the body than does Christianity. Rabbis are expected to beget many children, whereas for almost 1,000 years priests, at least in the west, were expected to give up sexual pleasures as less than holy.

And plopped right here in the middle of the lectionary on the last Sunday of August, while most families and many priests are still on vacation is one small sliver of biblical evidence that God likes creation, that God likes our skin, our eyes, our touch…… Take time to be holy: take time to be whole; take time to be hale: enjoy the treat!

Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10

Today’s psalm competes with the Song of Songs for rich sensual details. Instead of writing with a pen, the psalmist elects to sing his praise, using his tongue as a pen.

You are the fairest of men; *
grace flows from your lips,

Not “from your mouth” -- which would be an organ of speech, but “from your lips.”

The king has been
anointed with the oil of gladness above your fellows.

All your garments are fragrant with myrrh, aloes, and cassia, *
and the music of strings from ivory palaces makes you glad.

Kings' daughters stand among the ladies of the court; *
on your right hand is the queen,
adorned with the gold of Ophir.

Note all the olfactory appeal, all the tactile appeal. This poetry pulses with celebration of sensuality. Everyone is decked out to be beautiful and enjoyed.

James 1:17-27

The story is told of a bishop who was ill and went to a specialist. The physician was also an Episcopalian and said to the bishop, “Your grace, I fear I must ask you to stick out your evil member.”

With some embarrassment, the bishop began to unzip his trousers.

With more embarrassment, the physician said, “Your grace, I spoke to you with the literalism of scripture. Please stick out your tongue.”

The doctor refers, of course, to today’s text from St. James’ epistle: “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.”

Sensual detail seems quite remote from St. James’ text. He’s off on a puritanical purge, urging Christians to exercise great discipline and self-restraint. He speaks of God’s gift of a “world of truth,” not a world of touch, smell and taste. He proclaims “the perfect law, the law of liberty”; but his is not the “Sin boldly!” of Martin Luther, in the throes of God’s grace. Instead, James stresses “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

St. James sounds much like those who come to Jesus complaining that he is not following the cleanliness codes, that he is eating the wrong kinds of food with the wrong kind of people. His disciples have not washed properly and eat with defiled hands.

I like to think Jesus was fully steeped in the Song of Solomon and in the rich sensuality of Psalm 45. He rebukes the religious people who attack him, and calls them hypocrites. Their rules are human rules: “You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

Then, much as God was to say to Peter later on a rooftop in Joppa, Jesus says to his critics:

Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.

Much of the current hostility in the Anglican Communion toward the Episcopal Church is rage that it is not following the strict rules against homosexuals that have become the traditional way of understanding lgbt persons. “They put their sexual equipment in the wrong places!”

The Communion has adopted the culture of the world that shames lgbt people, that sees them as unclean and defiled.

By contrast, the Episcopal Church has sided with these despised persons -- the “least of these your sisters and brothers. “Call not unclean anyone whom God has made,” they say with St. Peter. “There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile,” they say with Jesus.

See also

Sunday, August 23, 2009. Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 16

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43

I confess to being a divided self regarding my response to beautiful churches. I have spent much of my life seeking them out and visiting them. I love their infinite variety -- whether the Roman Parthenon remade to function as a Christian temple or a roadside Baptist ivy-covered wooden structure down a dirt road in rural Alabama. I love the magnificent and the simple.

My own parish is a gorgeous Upjohn building, dedicated in 1848, Grace Church in Newark -- from the start intended as a center for Anglo-Catholic worship. Bishop George Washington Doane titled his dedicatory sermon “The Beauty of Holiness.” When you walk inside, you understand why.

A dozen years ago when members of the vestry identified what we like the most about the parish, predictably people said the diverse membership, the music, the windows, the nave….. and almost everyone independently said, “the silences.” Lectors for the first two lessons typically wait silently in place from 30-60 seconds after finishing a reading.

See all of God’s real estate in the Diocese of Newark.

I am uneasy with calling churches or temples, as Solomon does, a House of God. Christianity is at real risk if we behave as if we can keep God locked up in a building or on an altar. God is much too busy to waste times on thrones. Often the architectural gift we claim to give to God is really our gift to ourselves, to make us feel better, to appease God, to make ourselves look better than those who don't have the resources to build such a building.....

I live in a diocese where many of the older church have turned ugly on the outside with a century or more of harsh weather, and some are ugly inside. Their current residents (I speak of the people; not God) struggle to keep the lights on; the high ceilings suck up much of the heat intended to make parishioners comfortable. Only the wealthiest can afford to keep up properly a home built in the style common for homes when these Houses of God were built, and many of the wealthy prefer to build their homes from scratch, something that expresses who they are and the relationship they wish to maintain with the current environment, not the environment of 150 years ago.

Frequently I watch Korean Christians move into neighborhoods, rent a house, and set up as church. In time they leave that house and rent or buy a larger house, and after they have more resources, they sometimes buy up a lovely but vacant church that once was “God’s house” for the Presbyterian god or an Episcopalian god.

In spite of his enthusiasm on dedicating the new house he has built for God, Solomon is wise enough to know the truth, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”

That house was destroyed in 70 AD, almost two millennia ago; yet the Jewish religion in which it was built continues today.

Voluntary societies in churches often have an easier job of rolling with the exigencies of time and place. The less property they have, the easier it is for them to adapt to new conditions, to move to a new place.

Before Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, the center of worship for the Jews was the Ark of the Covenant, a simple structure easily ported from place to place on a cart.

Richer and finer is often not better.

Psalm 84

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

The places where we gather together become holier still by our gathering there. Old English hal survives in three words in modern English, hale or ’healthy’ as in “hale and hearty young person”; whole as in “complete; of one piece“; and holy.

All three are still the same; we cannot have one of these without the other two. There is no health without integrating all of one’s body. There is no “wholeness” if the body or the spirit is sick. Holiness is impaired when a person is incomplete.

The same may be said for religious community. Worship spaces bring us together. In them we reconcile. In them we experience our wholeness.

Ubuntu was the theme of the 76th General Convention this past July, meeting in Anaheim, California. Ubuntu is a South African concept given much currency by the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his American disciple, The Rev. Dr. Michael Battle. Ubuntu may be encapsulated in a few phrases: “You are, therefore I am.” Note the communal emphasis, which contrasts sharply with individual emphasis of philosopher Descartes' “I think; therefore I am.”

Ubuntu emphasizes “I in you; you in me.”

Corporate worship gives space for Ubuntu. But they are not the only places we can encounter the living God. We must not let their beauty distract us from seeing the holiness in creation and in one another all around us.

Ephesians 6:10-20

This passage has been important sustenance for me in my ministry, especially when I have done battle to urge the church, the university, or the society to treat lgbt persons justly.

Among my papers is a collection that I purposely avoid, as it does not encourage my good spiritual health: it is a volume which I labeled Episcopal Snide -- a collection of hostile letters written to me by bishops through the years. Fortunately there have been few additions in the last decade, but the two decades before that yielded many. I grew to understand what Saint meant when he counseled, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The military metaphor which he develops thereafter has grown a bit tedious for me through the years -- the belt, the helmet, the shield, the shoes…….

I join Saint in asking you who read these reflections, “Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” Amen

John 6:56-69

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams recently claimed that the Episcopal Church has not made our case to the rest of the Communion to justify our blessing of lgbt persons and our openness to consent to the consecration of otherwise qualified lgbt priests as bishops.

Over the last three decades we have produced stacks of theological analysis trying to explain our actions, including To Set Our Hope in Christ written at his request and submitted three years ago to the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham, England.

Perhaps what the Archbishop means to say is that he does not agree with our case, not that we have not made our case. He himself made “our case” when he was Archbishop of Wales. At that time he was a forceful advocate for lgbt persons. Perhaps what he means to say is that many others in the Communion do not agree with his case or ours, not that we have not made our case.

Some who listened to Jesus in the episode John records today did not feel that he had made his case either. I confess to understanding him only because I know the ending of the story, that most in audience did not know. He had not yet held the first Maundy Thursday Mass. He had not yet been crucified and buried. He had not yet been resurrected. St. John is writing long after those events, but describing an audience that took place before those events. Some of them left Jesus because they did not understand. I wonder how many came back when more of the truth was fully revealed to them.

I wonder how many of the schismatics in the Anglican Communion will return.

"Do you also wish to go away?" Jesus asks each of us in this text.

Like Simon Peter, I answer him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

See also

Sunday, August 16, 2009. Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 15

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Solomon is hardly a little child at the time of his enthronement. His father David had reigned for 40 years, and Solomon was born early in David’s reign, as the child of David and Bathsheba.

Yet to God Solomon says, “I am only a little child” and then asks not for riches or for long life, but for wisdom to serve his people well.

Solomon tells God the Israelites are “so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted”; but surely that is not so. Solomon speaks in hyperbole to emphasize his vulnerability and his need for God’s assistance.

The text asserts that God is impressed with Solomon because he gives top priority to wisdom. God answers gives Solomon wisdom and gives him also the wealth and long life for which he had not asked.

The point is clear: If a new leader gives top priority to wisdom, then God will give the leader the wealth and long life not asked for.

The point is almost too clear: Are we to be impressed as God is with Solomon’s priorities? Or is Solomon fudging, saying what he believes will impress God and impress the people? Does he believe his own press releases?

Witness Solomon’s faithlessness later in his reign, when he worships other gods and turns from his fierce allegiance to Jehovah.

Later Solomon is said to have 700 wives and 300 concubines. I remember a 7th-grader giggling when we read that passage aloud in class in 1962.

“Carter, why are you giggling?” I asked.

“I was just imagining what a large bed he must have had, sir,” Carter replied.

Bishop John S. Spong has said that committing adultery takes on a new dimension when one has 700 wives and 300 concubines.

Psalm 111

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.

Many anthropologists point out that in religion people worship what they fear. Early on people worshiped fire or water or …. Many early religions worshiped the sun.

The psalmist here suggests that we begin to ‘get it’ when we realize that God is bigger and more powerful than we are. We should be afraid of God’s displeasure. Put more positively, we are wise when we try to please God.

Jesus told his disciples that he had shared with them everything that he knows about God, yet his report differs radically from the one in 1st Kings. Jesus describes God not as someone before whom we should cower in uncritical obeisance, but as an accessible friend.

Jesus spent much of his time among outcasts and was known for being a “friend of sinners.” Sinners rarely consider ourselves included “in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.”

Current conflicts in the Anglican Communion mirror these contrary understandings regarding who can lay claim to being the people of God. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams suggests that in embracing lgbt persons -- considering their unions to be holy, even consenting for some of them to be bishops -- the Episcopal Church has set itself apart from the Communion. The archbishop suggests that perhaps the Communion should have two tiers for membership -- one privileged and able to make the rules, the other tolerated but not allowed to vote in the assembly of the upright.

So in the new "two tiered communion" which water fountains are we to drink from?" asked the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, an organization of lgbt Episcoplians.

To which I answered: "Don't bother with The Archbishop of Canterbury. He cares not a fig about Samaritan wells. He's more concerned with our sin than with our thirst.

"Ask the Other Rabbi."

Ephesians 5:15-20

For most of my life, I have lived a fairly simple and sober life, attending church, working diligently as a writer and a professor. I am frightfully middleclass, and even polish Mother’s silver service before dinner parties. The only two times I ever got drunk were in graduate school in 1958-59. I found the two occasions decidedly unpleasant and was never drawn to drunkenness again.

Likewise, I have eschewed mind-altering drugs, less because I think them wrong and more because I prefer to choose my risks carefully. I would much rather go to jail because of my love for my husband than for violating drug laws. Also, I want my mind to be as alert as possible at all times: that’s part of being vibrantly alive for me, and drugs work at cross purposes to being alert.

Perhaps more than the lives of many in my generation, my life closely resembles the life described in the epistle today -- one of the shortest of readings in the lectionary:

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet I am uncomfortable with Saint’s description when it becomes prescription. It seems to counterstate Jesus’ injunction that we be “in the world but not of the world.” Saint describes a huddle that is disengaged from the world, not vitally engaging it. When I have seen folks self-consciously in such a huddle, they have often appeared sanctimonious and self-righteous, not generous and joyful.

These short verses are killers of evangelism. If we are going to make them our starting point in drawing people to the faith, we might just as well add, “And guys, if you’re not cut yet, you’re going to have to do that too, to be on God’s safe side.”

Here’s to a four-fold “No thanks.”

John 6:51-58

We’re not supposed to say so, or even think so, but the Mass is both vaguely cannibalistic and mildly erotic. We eat Jesus. We drink his blood.

Mahatma Gandhi had real problems with that language because it suggests cannibalism. He had graver problems still with Christianity, which, for a time he considered joining. He told missionary E. Stanley Jones, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

In marriage, we are taught, the two become one flesh. Often at the Mass the celebrant says, “May you become one with the one whom you receive.”

Are you blood kin of Jesus? Does his blood flow in your veins? Are you flesh of his flesh?

Metaphorically? Literally? A bit of both?

If it’s “just a metaphor,” how strong is that just?

[W]hoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

Small wonder that as Anglicans we refer to these as “holy mysteries.”

See also

August 9, 2009. Tenth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 14

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I pray this collect because I believe I need God’s help in living according to God’s will. I need all the help I can get from any source.

But I am uncomfortable even suggesting that God or anyone else should take the responsibility that is mine.

If Jesus is my friend rather than my slave master, surely Jesus does not want any of his friends caught in unhealthy dependency. Sometimes it’s too easy to say, “I’m sorry. Forgive me.” It is more challenging not to behave in ways that require forgiveness.

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

What a grim way to die! Absalom’s fate makes me glad I am bald and too old to ride on horseback.

The narrative captures the tension well. David orders his soldiers to do battle with the rebels his son Absalom leads, yet urges them, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.”

They did not deal gently with him, Joab’s armor-bearers struck down Absalom from the tree where he was entangled by his hair and then killed him. The Cushite tells David that he hopes the same fate will come to all who rebel against David.

The anguished father wails to his dead son, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

It’s hard enough to have your son die before you do, but harder still to be the instrument of the son’s death while the son is trying to bring death to you.

Nathan the prophet earlier warned David that his own house would rise up against him as penalty for his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah her husband.

What went round has come round.
Psalm 130

“With God there is plenteous redemption.”

Even the Old Testament, wherein God seems much more austere than in the New Testament, proclaims God’s redemption is not in short supply.

I am amazed by the judgmentalism of the religious right in the Anglican Communion. On, one of their cyber strongholds, over 140 recently mocked me unmercifully because of a public letter I had published. That we have difference of opinion is fair enough. I would not want to be part of a church that did not welcome the challenges of disagreement, but at disagreement quickly yields to character assassination. Click here to see the series.

Many were furious that in my public letter I had stressed, “I have been baptized!” Martin Luther used that statement almost like a mantra when he was depressed. It became a bedrock of assurance when the church attacked him for his reforms. Those who object to my use of it proclaimed that such assurance is not available to me. My baptism cannot be of no worth because, they insisted, “You must repent.” They never asked whether I do repent, but presumed to damn me to hell because obviously I have come to conclusions different from their own.

I do repent daily, for ‘sins known and unknown,’ I pointed out, but they did not blink in their fury.

How sad it must be to live in fear that God may not really have set your sins as far as the east is from the west. How sad to live uncertain whether you will actually be damned to hell for something that you do not believe to be a sin. Perhaps that fear is what drives some to be more exercised by someone else’s sins than their own?

God’s is not stingy, nor vengeful. God‘s redemption is “plenteous.”

My soul waits for the LORD,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the LORD, *
for with the LORD there is mercy;

Micah begins his short list of all that is required of us with, “Love mercy.” It’s easier to behave mercifully than to love mercy: it takes a character change, a new life in the spirit, if one is actually to love mercy.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

In my papers there is a thick folder labeled “Episcopal Snide.” In it I have collected many abusive letters sent to me by bishops, especially in the first decade or so after I founded Integrity in 1974. Some items in the collection are so over-the-top as to be comical, as when Bishop James P. Dees, then Presiding Bishop of the Anglican Orthodox Church, accused Ernest and me of causing a tornado

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Yet, Dees was for most people a certifiable nut. He was an ardent segregationist who left the Episcopal Church with a smattering of followers who agreed with his view that it was not Orthodox to allow black people go to church with white people. He also had a congregation in South Africa during apartheid. The Macon Herald, a newspaper of the John Birch Society, quoted Dees. Dees was one of the more 'prominent' members of the Society. At its peek during the period of desegregation the Herald had a circulation of over 100,000 people all over the South.

It wasn’t pleasant to know that that many people, including many of our neighbors, actually believed we had caused the tornado. When the respectable Atlanta Constitution called me about the accusation, I affirmed, “That’s queer power” -- my favorite line in all that I have written. After all, we had taken the steeple off the white Baptist Church, not off the black Baptist churches. A friend call to ask us to come kiss in her back garden so that her greens would grow; and our next-door neighbor, my dean, called to say that the college had a new opening in agriculture where my command over the weather might be most welcome.

If you don’t use your funny bone, it will atrophy! Humor can help us through tough times better than all the worry in the world.

Another snide letter was more sinister. It came in the early 1990s from a very fine bishop on Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning’s Council of Advice. The letter in no way accorded with the writer’s fine, and as far as I can tell, well deserved reputation.

Shortly after receiving the abusive letter, I was a dinner guest of a straight couple with whom I had collaborated on several projects in the Diocese of Newark. They were most upset when I characterized some of things in the letter, but their faces turned ashen when I identified the author of the letter.

“Louie,” one of them said, “____ is one of our dearest friends. He is the most supportive bishop we have ever had. We worked several years in his diocese.”

“I am so sorry I mentioned it,” I said, anxious not to disturb them further.

“No, Louie, we love you and value you; we also love and value our friend. I find it hard to believe he would have written such a letter. May we see it?” the spouse asked

“Of course,” I responded.

They were astounded a few days later when I showed them the letter with the bishop’s letterhead and signature. “This is not the guy we know and love,” they insisted, in great confusion.

“That’s why they call it a phobia,” I explained. “Evil has no specialized address except yours and mine. This irrational attack is the backroom of your friend’s life. He’s beating up on me because he feels no one of any importance will ever know or care about it.

“I grieve to be the one who showed the letter to you. Do not let it define your friend’s character. Most of us have such a room. With God’s help some keep it tiny, and some are disciplined enough never to go there. Love your friend, he needs your love as much as I do.”

Saint understood. He told Christians at Ephesus: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

John 6:35, 41-51

It is difficult for me to read this passage because music in the back of my head almost drowns out the text with the Jeremy Young’s hymn “Eat this bread, drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry.”

See also