Saturday, September 26, 2009

October 4, 2009. Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 22

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

Many scholars believe that Job is one of the bible books written earliest. It is drama, not narrative, and it is one of the oldest play scripts on record. The writer does not intend to be talking about real people, or a real story, but about characters made up to be in the play.

There is nothing in the play to suggest a lack of sophistication, however. It has heady themes that still engage most who consider themselves ‘believers in’ God, and even more, those who ‘follow’ God.

In today’s passage, Job’s wife voices no doubt that God exists, but given the way that God has acted towards her husband, she chides Job: “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die."

One almost wants to shout to her, "Don't forget you are in a play. This is all just a script and did not really happen! God will give it all back once he proves his point to Satan!"

Archibald Macleish adapted Job to his modern play J.B.. In that version, Satan answers God saying that when Job speaks so well of God, it’s because of “all that gravy on his plate.”

Both Job and J. B. deal with the “problem of evil” -- that is, how can a good God allow evil or suffering in the world? MacLeish ends as a cynic, not thinking much of God, but respecting J. B. for his endurance, his humanity, not because of any excess of goodness.

In both versions the answer to the problem of evil is not likely to satisfy someone who wants to believe that God is good, because in both versions it is God who authorizes Job (J.B.) to be a victim of all manner of abuses, and for what purpose?: To prove to Satan that Job (J.B.) will still speak well of him.

Job (J.B.) is God’s sucker, and in both versions (as in Milton’s Paradise Lost) Satan comes close to becoming (for many he actually succeeds in becoming) the real hero of the drama.

At one point in MacLeish’s play, Satan says:

If God is good,
He is not God.
If God is God,
He is not good.

Take the evil,
Take the odd.
I would not sleep here if I could
Save for the little green leaf in the wood
And the wind on the water.

Matthew Arnold, the Victorian poet, struggled with his loss of faith. In his poem “Dover Beach “ he spoke of the sea of faith once being full -- a time when it was easy to believe in God and in God’s goodness -- but described the slow withdrawal of faith as an ebbing tide, the sound of which mingles with that of armies upon armies in flight. Instead of drawing solace from God, Matthew Arnold, like J.B., concludes that any “answers” are not in heaven but in human beings ourselves. He is is a consummate humanist:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Let us be true to one another. Ironically, Arnold’s private and personal ‘solution’ resembles the theological position that focuses on salvation itself as primarily the salvation of the individual. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori started quite a stir at General Convention 2009 when she called heretical the view that salvation is individual. In the context of the African concept Ubuntu (‘I in you, you in me’; ‘You are; therefore I am’….), the Presiding Bishop finds it much more powerful, and humbling, to view Jesus as the savior of the whole world. When Saint Paul speaks of salvation, it is almost always plural.

By contrast, consider the hymn (not in the Hymnal of the Episcopal Church and not likely to be added) “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and He walks with me, and he talks with me….” That hymn treats salvation as a private affair, and when one has salvation, one is connected directly to God but with no corresponding connection to other people. "No other has ever known" [this joy], the narrator in the poem proclaims.

Psalm 26

Psalm 26 could be added as a speech for Job to say to God. It manifests Job’s theology. It presumes that God is good and that God will in the end be good to Job because Job himself follows all the rules. Job even avoids contact with evil people whenever he can.

This psalm is like Psalm 1 but rewritten as conversation, in the first and second person, rather than as conclusions in the third person. (See my parody of Psalm1, Lutibelle Tweaks David the King.) I see the speaker in Psalm 26 as self-righteous and out of touch with those unlike himself.

I have not sat with the worthless, *
nor do I consort with the deceitful.

I have hated the company of evildoers; *
I will not sit down with the wicked.

That’s the theology Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, used when he described to the NY Times how he jumped back when startled to meet my husband. At the time the Archbishop and Mrs. Akinola, like Ernest and me, were lunch guests in the home of the Bishop of New York. The Archbishop and I had both been a part of the liturgy that morning when the Archbishop was enthroned nextdoor at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Several, including the Bishop Suffragan of New York, later tried to persuade the Archbishop to talk with me, and on one occasion he dashed away to avoid contact. Would we give him gay cooties?

I wonder what the Archbishop thought he was voting for when consistently he has voted with other primates to commit the Anglican Communion to listen to the stories of lgbt Christians. Perhaps it is easier to fail to keep promises when you can claim that you "hate the company of evildoers."

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

Is Jesus’ life on earth the end of God’s speaking to the world? Who gets to declare revelation over? In the Nicene Creed we affirm that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” -- present tense -- from the father and son, that the Holy Spirit is alive and well. Dare we dictate what the Holy Spirit might say and to whom the Holy Spirit might say it? Is the Holy Spirit forbidden to say any thing that contradicts what has already been said? I cannot find a in Scripture any doctrine that the Holy Spirit should be mute.

In his hymn “Once to Every Man and Nation” James Russell Lowell wrote

New occasions teach new duties,
time makes ancient good uncouth
We must upward still and onward,
who would keep abreast of Truth.

Is Lowell right? Is his point of view heresy?

Have you ever held dearly a view as good which you now see as uncouth?

For a long time people used the bible to proclaim that slavery as good, the subjugation of women as good, the criminalizing of homosexuals as good.

In what ways might we today still be using the Bible to oppress others?

Mark 10:2-16

Does Jesus dare to ‘contradict’ Moses about divorce?

Well not outright, but he conceptualizes Moses’ divorce certificate as Moses’ concession, not as God’s law regarding divorce.

According to Jesus, no one may divorce.

Until 1973 the Episcopal Church did not allow remarriage after divorce. The new canon did not retrict remarriage to the cause of adultery, the standardard used in Scripture.

General Convention changed the rules out of pastoral concerns, and I agree with the change.

The Anglican Communion said very little about that change by the Episcopal Church, and many other parts of the Communion now have similar changes. All are in direct contradiction to Jesus’ point of view as Mark describes it. Yet again and again we are told the church cannot change Scripture's disapproval of homosexuality.

Perhaps it is easier to be sympathetic to those we view as like themselves than to be sympathetic to those whom they consider beneath them.

See also

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