Sunday, October 25, 2009

November 8. 2009. Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost. Proper 27

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Where did you first meet your beloved? Was the meeting accidental, or did someone set it up? Was there a match-maker in the wings?

Have you ever served as a match-maker for someone else?

Do you review these details long into your relationship, and long into the matches that you have nudged into being?

In what level of detail do you remember the episodes?

This passage from Ruth chronicles a love-match . Ruth, a Moabite and a widow, has left her people to live with the Jews, the people of her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi instructs here carefully on how to catch a husband.

Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman (and thus also a kinsman of Ruth’s late husband) is rich. Ruth first gets his eye by her steadfastness as a gleaner. Farmers were required to leave dropping from their harvest so that the poor could glean them. Boaz notices her, and invites her to return to his field with the other women so that she might have safety.

Naomi instructs Ruth on how to win his more intimate favors. She is to bathe and make herself smell good. She is to dress in her best clothes. She is to wait until food and drink have primed the pump, until Boaz is lying down to rest. Then she is to uncover his feet, lie down, and wait for his instructions.

Boaz is to be the boss, Ruth his attractive, willing servant. -- Passive Aggression™ brought to you by those who invented it.

It worked. Ruth hooked her man and became Boaz’ wife. The Lord made her conceive Obed, a son, grandfather to King David and ancestor of Jesus.

I met Ernest Clay when he stepped off the elevator on the 6th floor of the Lucky Street YMCA in Atlanta late one night on Labor Day weekend in 1973. It was love at first sight. He invited me to Room 637 but following Naomi’s instructions, told me to wait for 15 minutes while he freshened himself and the room. I was sure that he must be a vice-squad cop, but took the risk anyway. I have never left his room. We courted for 5 months and then married on February 2, 1974.

Who would have thought a threshing floor to be a holy place, or the elevator area on the sixth floor of a YMCA?

Ubi caritas et amor, deus ibi est.

Psalm 127

Psalm 127 is lovely and romantic in sentiment, but do we believe it? Perhaps it is easier to test our belief in it by reading it in more contemporary language:

Quean Lutibelle’s Candid Psalm 127

It is silly to install burglar bars on your windows
or loud alarms in your automobiles

Unless God builds your house or automobile
no guards or devices can protect them.

It is silly to be early to rise and late to rest,
silly too to fill your life with work,
for God gives to his beloved sleep.

You will be happy if you have lots of children
because they will enlarge your army
and keep you safe.

Do you still believe the claims in the psalm?

Hebrews 9:24-28

Was Hebrews written for heterosexual only? Should one word in the last line of this lesson should be changed?: “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those heterosexuals who are eagerly waiting for him”?

I am amazed at the audacity of those who arrogate just for themselves God’s promises to absolutely everybody.

Mark 12:38-44

I called a friend recently to tell him that I have missed him at church. I frequently alternate between the 8 o’clock and 10 o’clock services, and assumed that he may have been doing the same with choices opposite to my own. “No,” he said, “I have not been to church for a long time.”

“I do not mean to scold,” I assured him, “only to tell you that I miss you.” He lives a distance away, and I assumed that he might be going to the fine parish in the town where he lives. “No,” he said, “it’s nice but snake belly low. When I come to church, I will come to Grace. Part of it is my schedule. I am working as well as attending classes. But part of it is also my finances. I am embarrassed to have so little to give.”

Thinking of today’s Gospel, I assured him that Jesus is unimpressed with money given to prove one’s faithfulness, that Jesus affirms those who give only the mites they have to give.

I remember the first time that I spent time really looking at the crypt and at various other isolated but grand nooks and crannies of the National Cathedral in Washington. I was in residence for a week at the College of Preachers nextdoor, and visited the Cathedral during breaks all week.

My friend the Rev. Grant Gallup attended the same consultation and sometimes walked with me during the breaks. “I feel guilty liking this beauty so much,” I told him, “because Jesus treated with contempt those who gave grandly out of their abundance to build and furbish the holy places the better to show off their own splendor and generosity.”

“Honey, don’t mar your enjoyment. All of this belongs to God now, and God has generously given you eyes to see and a heart to rejoice in its beauty.”

See also

Sunday, October 18, 2009

November 1st, 2009. All Saints Day

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9

In the early 1980s I recall seeing a stranger in a railway station wearing a jersey with the logo of my prep school. He was much younger than I, and he had obviously attended after the school had integrated racially. I was delighted and moved to introduce myself. “I am Louie Crew, Class of 1954, and you?”

He looked at me like I was crazy. “Man, what are you talking about? I don’t know you.” Nor did he sound like he wanted to know me.

“Sorry,” I said, “I saw your jersey and thought too you went to the McCallie School in Chattanooga.”

“This is just a shirt, man,” he said as he rushed away to his train.

It’s easy for us to come to today’s passage from the Wisdom of Solomon thinking we know what it’s all about, and miss the point, because for us the text is “just a shirt, man” -- and carries little of the meaning and importance that it has for the Jews who wrote it.

The author (writing with imprimatur of King Solomon though not necessarily King Solomon himself) is asking a question that at some point in our lives becomes very personal to each one of us: “What will happen to me when I die?”

Most of us asked that question even when we were small children, especially when deaths occurred in our family. Some of us have asked it quite poignantly after the death of a parent, for our parents’ deaths prefigure our own, since through them God gave us life.

Now that I am in my 70s, I find that I must take care lest I become morbid with the question, “What will happen to me when I die?” I am one of the younger residents in our coop with 400 apartments. When I greet people on the elevator with “Hello. How are you?”, some say, “I can’t complain. I am above ground.”

The author of the Wisdom passage answers the question forthwith: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.”

It’s easy for us Christians to say, “Ah, that’s a jersey with a logo that I recognize: we are from down home. The author is talking about Christians.”

This author is not talking about Christians. The phrase The righteous has a very special meaning for the original audience that we Christians do not give to it. “The righteous” in the Hebrew scriptures are those whom God has tested and found worthy:

like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.

In Hebrew scriptures, one gets to heaven by passing all the tests and being proved good enough.

In Christian scriptures, one gets to heaven because Jesus passed all the tests and was good enough: Christians are justified not by our good works, but by Christ’s. We don’t have to pass the tests. We do good works not to get into heaven, but in our gratitude that in our baptism we have already been marked as God’s own forever.

I asked persons on the bishops-deputies listserv to choose their favorite from my collection One Hundred and One Reasons to be Episcopalian and they ranked highest one by the Rev. Tom VanCulin in Honolulu:

“ God loves you, and there is not a thing you can do to change that!

The respondents ranked as their second most popular reason to be an Episcopalian one from the Rev. Phil Wilson at Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, NJ:

“The only requirement to take Communion is that you be hungry!”

Yes, we all our tested. Yes, we all are placed in a refiner’s fire. Yes, the tests strengthen our character, as today’s passage from the Wisdom of Solomon poignantly describes, and yes, God “watches over the elect”; but we are elected by Jesus’ actions, not by our own.

That is good news. I greet you as “saints.” Your righteousness has been achieved for you by the God of the universe. Enjoy it. Spread the good news.

Psalm 24

Psalm 24 continues the emphasis of the Wisdom text that God rewards us because of our righteousness:

“Who can ascend the hill of the LORD? " *
and who can stand in his holy place?"

"Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.

They shall receive a blessing from the LORD *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation."

Suppose an unholy person stands in a holy place. Suppose the priest blessing you or pronouncing forgiveness to you is a person who has just committed a grave sin. Does that sin cancel the blessing or the forgiveness you have received? No. According to traditional church teaching, the acts of a priest have efficacy not because of the merit of the individual priest but because of the office of priesthood that God through the church has bestowed on the priest.

So too for the priesthood of the individual believers, the great body of all believers, like Jesus, lay priests after the order of Melchizedek: the good we do has efficacy, has effectiveness, not because of our state of grace or lack thereof, but because of God’s great goodness and mercy.

Revelation 21:1-6a

Today’s epistle comes from the penultimate chapter in all of the bible. In it, John envisions a new heaven and a new earth. In it, “Death will be no more.”

“What will happen to us when we die?” John proclaims that wee will dwell in that new heaven and new earth.

John stresses not so much that we will be with God, but that God will be with us. “See, the home of God is among mortals.”

Strange religion. Our God not only made us: God prefers our company.

John 11:32-44

A few years ago, someone asked on an Episcopal listserv, “Any suggestions or advice regarding pastoral care for Gays and Lesbians?”

I am in a Pastoral Care class at seminary. I signed up with several guys to do a presentation on Gay and Lesbian pastoral issues.

I felt drawn to talk about coming out issues. Does anyone have any suggestion or material on counseling folks who are dealing with coming out issues?

I offered two suggestions from Scripture: Today's Lazarus story (come out! with all your stinky clothes) and the story of Queen Esther (you are family, sugar, and you can continue to enjoy the privileges of this closet only if you collaborate, only if you become a closet militant).

Dr. King said, "Unmerited suffering is always redemptive." I phrase that differently, "Unmerited suffering is always meant to be redemptive; therefore work to make it so."

Not every coming out is an unqualified blessing. Even in some of the better dynamics, one pays a price, sometimes a big price. If at all possible, time your coming out to maximize the redemption purchased with your holy sacrifice.

Trust no formulas. There are some who need to let a hateful parent finish paying the college bills before saying, 'Yoo-hoo, hi there! Guess what!' There are some who need to pay their own college bills with a wry smile. There are some who will enable parental love they had not yet seen....

Don't demonize your family and friends: it is understandable that immediate family members are concerned about what the extended family, even what the neighbors will think, not just about the lgbt child, but about their parenting. Some have been taught to think that we are their 'mistake.' They loved us too much! or they were cold and distant! Some are dealing with all sorts of stereotypes of themselves, not just of us.

But is their concern about the family and the neighbors more important than our breathing? than our spiritual health?! I have seen many students' eyes light up when I have asked that question, as if a millstone had just been removed from around their necks.

The biggest fear I had when in the closet, ages and ages ago--but until I was 28--was that somehow I would be embracing all my stereotypes of who lgbt people are. What a big surprise to discover just the opposite, that in my newly claimed wholeness I had the birthright (or the 're-birth right') to know that whatever else others think lgbts are, they're wrong if they don't include me just as I am.

Coming out did not make me have to be someone else; coming out gave me the freedom to be myself, to be whole, as I had never been before.

Another big surprise in coming out was to discover that I am really not the center of the universe. Protecting my closet, not wanting to be who I was, trying to account for it....... voraciously consumed vital energy. Secret sexual identity was so absorbing that it threatened to define me. `How will family and friends react if ever they discover that I am not who they think I am, but queer?...' I felt they could not possibly love or respect me, for I had grave problems in loving and respecting myself.

In the closet it took enormous discipline even to think about anything else or anyone else for extended periods of time. Sexuality loomed extremely large, disproportionately so. No wonder that I gave evidence to the stereotype that we are neurotic. I was fast becoming so.

But when I came out, sexuality became just sexuality, integral to who I am, all the more delightful because not furtive or anonymous, but by no means definitive.

I got a life, a new life. I was born again with a new spirit, one that turned not inward on itself, but outward towards others in God's marvelous creation.

People who counsel lesbians and gays in the closet need to be very careful not to get their own sense of worth by having such a lovely bird in a cage. From the first day of such counsel, they need to envision the joy of flight when the cage door opens.

It is far easier to help people adjust to the closet than it is to prepare them for survival outside it.

Some who knew my secret and were trusted confidants while I was a caterpillar in the cocoon where they kept sacred vigil were not altogether happy with the lovely mariposa when I emerged. Some found it easier to be my protector than to be my peer. Maybe that's inevitable? God blesses them also.

God, holy and immortal one, as Jesus you stayed in a closet much of your ministry, later to emerge as the Christ, the son of the Living God. Help all of us in transition to be whole, in this life, and in transition to the life to come. AMEN

Note: You can listen to my own sermon for this date -- preached at Trinity Church in Columbus, Ohio. I used only bits and pieces from the material above.

Thank you for your interest. -- Louie Crew

See also

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 25, 2009. Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 25

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The authors of the collects did not assume that the gift of faith would flourish without encouragement, that converts or even long-time Christians would automatically manifest spiritual gifts or want to do God’s will. The authors of the collects assume that we are sinners, like themselves, who need to learn the mind of Christ. One way of learning the mind of Christ is by praying for it.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

The play ends happily ever after. We can hardly fault the playwright for the optimism, since that formula still pleases audiences enormously. I suppose that with four generations to do so, a Job might get over the ‘all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him.’ I am glad that the playwright remains honest that God did bring evil upon Job. Some want to improve God’s performance by claiming that we who suffer bring on our own punishment.

I am unhappy that in this play, the ‘solution’ for Job is to confess: he has not discovered any sins that he had ignored when for most of the play he declared himself innocent. Yet now he professes that he knows how ignorant he was: “I uttered what I did not understand.”

Job has told the truth about his own behavior; what he did not understand was that God was using him capriciously to prove a bet with Satan. Job has been duped.

He’s well rewarded as a dupe -- getting back far more than he ever lost. Perhaps Yahweh should have gone Allah ‘one better’ and rewarded Job with 1,000 virgins.

Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)

Psalm 34 seems written to order as a postscript for Job. Job has suffered but God is faithful and delivers him from “all of my terror.” Righteousness promises no immunity from troubles, but it does promise final deliverance.

Recently I watched the very powerful 2008 film God On Trial, starring Rupert Graves, Dominic Cooper, Antony Sher and Stellan Skarsgard. A group of inmates at Auschwitz know that half of them will die then next day in the gas chamber. They put God on trial for their murder, for abandoning the covenant with Israel.

One of them, who had been a judge in the high court, presides. The playwright intersperses this drama with the story of a group of tourists, many of them well-off Jews of today, who visit the prison. Some rejoice that God has indeed remained faithful, that they are themselves alive and well. It seems to me that the tourists' claim is glib and trivializes the enormity of the prisoners' suffering. I encourage you to come to your on conclusions by watching the film. You can rent it through Netflix

Hebrews 7:23-28

Last week Saint introduced Jesus as a high priest, a role that Jesus did not take on for himself. While he dwelt among us, he was a carpenter and an itinerant rabbi.

Saint argues that Jesus alone could fulfill the demands of the law because he alone was sinless. All other high priests have to pay the price of their own sins, not just the price of the sins of those whom they serve. All other high priests have to die, as the price of their own sins, but Jesus through his sinlessness overcame death, and has paid the price of our own sins forever -- “once for all.” God made his son “perfect forever.”

Is this Doctrine of the Blood Atonement a nice sermon illustration or a serious requirement for entry into heaven? Adult circumcision doesn't seem all that painful if it could effect an exemption from believing that God has nothing better to do than sit in heaven and punish his son so that the rest of us don't have to suffer.

Nowhere does Scripture make belief in the doctrine of the Atonement a core requirement for being a Christian. Nor does Scripture spell out belief in the Virgin Birth or every clause of the Nicene Creed as core requirements.

How successful would Jesus have been in evangelizing the Samaritans if he had turned from offering Living Water to requiring doctrinal purity?

With the woman at the well, Jesus ducked her invitation to argue about the supremacy of Jewish doctrine or Samaritan doctrine. She asked him whether the Jews or the Samaritans were right in regard to where and how we are to worship God. Jesus did not take her bait but said that “God is a spirit and those who worship God must worship God in spirit and in truth.” Jesus' answer to her is not a favorite theme with institutional guardians of the faith.

Suppose Jesus had answered the thief on the next cross: “With me in Paradise? O come now. You must first repeat after me ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty…….and the life everlasting.’ When you have said that without crossing your fingers or toes, I want you to describe and assent to my role as a high priest….”

Mark 10:46-52

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered, have cried out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on us.”

Some have sternly ordered us to be quiet, but we have called out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Jesus told his disciples, “Call them here,” and some of you have come to tell us that Jesus is calling us to come near.

When we reach him, Jesus says to us, "What do you want me to do for you?" We answer, "Teacher, make us whole."

What do you suppose Jesus will do or say to us? Will he hit us over the head with draft upon draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant?

See also

October 18, 2009. Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 24

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession 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.

Would this prayer be a good choice for an opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations? Or for the inauguration of a President of the United States; or for a governor of one of those states?

Would it work if we cut out language that is specifically Christian? -- as in “Almighty and everlasting God, you have revealed your glory among the nations. Preserve the works of your mercy throughout the world. Amen”

In these times of great international conflict, no doubt it gives comfort to many often to proclaim that we on the side of the omnipotent. However, we might find far more comfort if we were to proclaim to ourselves alone that our God is our friend who chooses to remain no more powerful than we ourselves can be through acts of justice, mercy, and humility. Let our actions speak louder than our prayers.

Did Jesus spend any time at all talking about himself as reigning? He said, “I have not called you servants [some translations: ‘I have not called you slaves’] but friends.

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

In the Quean Lutibelle translation, God finally answers Job: “You little pipsqueak! Who do you think you are, yelling at God? Don’t you know who I am, how big I am, and how little you are! Where were you when I made everything, little Mister Big Complainer?!”

The problem is not with my translation: it crudely expresses God’s rhetoric, yet with neither his bravado nor his [sic] tremolo.

The problem is with the rhetorical stance that the author of the play Job gives to God.

Remember, Job is a literary work. The characters in it are fictional. Job never existed; nor did the character of God in this play. We already know what the playwright thinks God’s real reasons are for bringing on Job’s suffering: he’s trying to win a bet with Satan; he’s trying to prove that Job will love him even if God takes away all of his comforts and forces Job to suffer.

The playwright lets God win the bet. Job does remain faithful, but he also persistently insists that he has done nothing to deserve this treatment. For chapter after chapter Job complains, “Show me my guilt; reason with me, God!” When God finally shows up in chapter 38, rather than fess up to his wager with Satan, God, as created by the playwright, tries to intimidate Job.

Many of my atheist and agnostic friends wonder why on earth I have anything to do with the Church. “Louie,” they say to me, “you’re a nice guy but is it not some character flaw that you invite your oppressors to have so much power over you? Do you really believe all that superstitious nonsense? The scriptures that proclaim it proclaim that folks like you ought to be put to death.

And lgbt friends who are atheists and agnostics find my faith even more ridiculous. I tried to memorialize their point of view in the speaker of this poem:

Old Opium in a New Sniffer--or a Cynic's Gossip

My silly fairy friend kept the 11 p.m. Vigil
with his Cardex, like a prayer wheel,
mumbling over the names of 435 "holy" queers
and 37 of their chapters,
while 17 candles flickered before a plaster Mary
and lace draped the poker-chip host,
as if my friend really believed in Resurrection,
or more preposterous, believed that Jesus,
even if resurrected,
would have anything to do with us.

-- Louie Crew

Has appeared:

  • GALA Review. 5.2 (1982)
  • NABWMT Journal. 5 (Summer 1992): 14. Used my Chinese pseudonym ‘Li Min Hua’
  • Out of Line: Fiction, Poetry, Essays: Themes of Justice and Peace. Edited by Sam Longmire. Trenton, OH: Garden House Press, 2006. Page 95

I am guilty as charged. I am the “silly fairy friend” in the poem. I do keep the Vigil. I do believe in the resurrected Christ who loves lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered, who indeed loves absolutely everybody.

Like Job, I know that my Redeemer lives and that in my flesh I shall see God.

Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c

In a poetic rapture Psalm 104 praises God the creator without the proud boasting that the playwright of Job had attributed to him. Gone too is the contemptuous put-down of Job for asking why he was being made to suffer. Suffering is not in the lens of the psalmist for this psalm. The psalmist stresses that he is blessed because of God’s marvelous works in nature:

Bless the LORD, O my soul; *
O LORD my God, how excellent is your greatness!
you are clothed with majesty and splendor.

Of special delight is the way the psalmist vividly describes vapors, light, and fire in relation to God personified, yet far larger than human persons:

You wrap yourself with light as with a cloak *
and spread out the heavens like a curtain.

You lay the beams of your chambers in the waters above; *
you make the clouds your chariot;
you ride on the wings of the wind.

You make the winds your messengers *
and flames of fire your servants.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Ordination makes priests qua priest ontologically different: in the office of priesthood they have the power to forgive sins that they do not have just as mortals. “One does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”

Saint Paul notes that it is the priest’s mortality and weakness that imbues the priest with gentleness and compassion as the priest administers God’s grace. When a priest has heard a confession and pronounced absolution, the priest says, "Pray for me, a sinner."

As an Anglocatholic, I have a high view of priesthood. As a born-again Christian, I also have a high view of the laity.

Jesus was a lay person. He became a high priest not by official investiture but by imputation -- a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. He was what George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, would call, “a lay priest.” The doctrine of the priesthood of individual believers is not some Protestant innovation. It is thoroughly Anglican.

I hope the liturgy police will not go into orbit over this one, nor should the cash registers of Almy spin. We need no new vestments nor formal rituals to put strong lay priests into liturgical parades. Lay priests function as priests far more often outside the church than inside it.

Melchizedek is as big a ‘problem’ for rabbinical scholars as for Christians. All Hebrew priests are supposed to be associated with Aaron or Levi, yet Melchizedek predates them. He showed up to Abram (Genesis 14:18-20) even before Abram became Abraham, and Abram gave tithes to him acknowledging his priesthood to be from God.

Enjoy the enigma. Later in Hebrews (chapter 13) Saint Paul counsels us to be hospitable to strangers, because sometimes strangers are angels incognito. Celebrate the Melchizeks incognito among the laity.

Mark 10:35-45

Several points in today’s readings counsel us not to be on power trips. The playwright of Job has God tell Job not to get uppity. Saint Paul warns priests that it is their humility, not their grandeur, that allows them to function ontologically as God’s surrogates. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus explains that if you want to be first in the God’s kingdom, you must be the slave of all.

Don’t you love Scripture’s honesty even with the sins of the Holy Apostles?

It is small wonder that James and John provoked a snit among the other ten when they tried to cut a private deal with Jesus to make themselves to have the major positions next to him when he comes into his glory. Like the writer(s) of today’s collect and like the playwright in creating God’s speech in Job 38, James and John misunderstood what power is in God’s realm. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”

See also

October 11, 2009. Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 23

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Quean Lutibelle’s parody post-it:

Do some good works today!

Thanks, Thomas Cranmer, for the reminder.

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

In John 15:15, Jesus tells his disciples, "Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me." If that is true, one of these must be true:

  • The Father had told Jesus precious little, or
  • Those who wrote the Gospels left out a lot, or
  • Those who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures knew precious little

because the god of Jesus is radically different from the god of Hebrew Scriptures, and Jesus never accounts for those differences. Jesus' god is much more loving, much less militant, much more accessible....

The god Job imagines in chapter 23 is far more rational than the god we see when we step outside Job’s personal point of view. We know why Job is suffering. “I was just showing off to the Devil.”: that’s what God admits in Robert Frost’s Pulitzer Prize winning poem, A Masque of Reason, or “The 43rd Chapter of Job.”

Job’s torture was not merited. In Frost’s ‘chapter,’ God confesses:

There’s no connection man can reason out
Between his just deserts and what he gets.

For some readers, the writer of Job makes the same point, and in doing so, as one of the oldest books in the bible the Book of Job stands in stark contrast to the views of most other primitive cultures. Primitive cultures typically assert a strong connection between what happens to us and what we did to make it happen:

  • Your young child dies: what did you do to bring this curse upon yourself?
  • You’re born gay: who brought this abomination upon your family?
  • You keep walking in the same direction even after a black cat crossed your path: why are you surprised that a truck ran over you?…..

In Chapter 23 Job says he is quite prepared to make his case before God if God will just show up to hear him. We who watch the drama know that Job’s defense has little to do with why God is bringing on the torture. Rhetorically the Book of Job (if not always the character Job) counterstates prevailing superstitions: it denies that there is always a cause-and-effect relationship between our behavior and what god brings upon us (or allows to be brought upon us).

Psalm 22:1-15

Both Job and the psalmist are troubled with God for not showing up or paying attention.

I frequently have the same problem and am comforted to know that our spiritual tradition allows, even expects, us sometimes to yell at God.

The psalmist notes that God has not always treated people this way:

Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.

They cried out to you and were delivered; *
they trusted in you and were not put to shame.

Why, then, have you forsaken me!

Growing up gay, I learned to master self-pity. Every heterosexual was blessed. They desired someone and the entire culture promoted a healthy expression of those desires. All movies and books celebrated hetero-affections. My kind of love was almost never mentioned, and if it was, it was in regard to someone being arrested or fired or run out of town. If a queer appeared in a novel, he was a good queer only, if like Faulkner’s Quentin Compson in The Sound and the Fury, he had the common decency to commit suicide or the good sense of a Tennessee Williams to become “The Poet of the Damned.”

Psalm 22 was perverse ‘soul food’ for my self-pity:

But as for me, I am a worm and no man, *
scorned by all and despised by the people.

All who see me laugh me to scorn; *
they curl their lips and wag their heads, saying,

"He trusted in the LORD; let him deliver him; *
let him rescue him, if he delights in him.

I have often wondered whether heterosexuals see themselves in this psalm at all, and if so, how. Are they merely the outside observers?

Jesus saw himself as inside the psalm. He recalled it by heart while hanging on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Hebrews 4:12-16

Recently an arch conservative priest and a colleague in the House of Deputies warned me publicly:

As a priest, I am called to guard my life and my doctrine so that I will save both myself and my hearers. I simply must remain faithful to the Lord first and foremost.

If I were your pastor, and I am not, I could not with a good conscience sanction your understanding of marriage, or your chosen expression of it. I would be concerned for you and your relationship with the Lord--35 years of commitment not withstanding. I would challenge you to take steps toward bringing your life into accord with the plain teaching of the Scriptures.

That does not mean that I do not and will not continue to love you and remain committed to you in the Lord.

I find it much more threatening to face this priest’s judgment than to face the judgment of God:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Mark 10:17-31

Where are the literalists when we really need them? Why will no one likely tell rich members of their congregations that their riches threaten to keep them from God’s realm?

And who are the rich? Most of us find it easy not to call ourselves rich, as almost anyone can point to many who have more wealth.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one needs to make more than $20,000 a year.” That was not far from what she made.

At St. Andrew’s School in Delaware in the 1960s one of our students came up to me crying at the end of graduation. “What is wrong?” I asked.

“My Dad gave me only a 2-engine jet and I had asked for a 4-engine jet,” he whimpered.

“Surely you don’t expect me to cry with you. How many people on the planet can never expect to afford a trip in a jet?”

“But with a 4-engine jet I would be able to deliver so much more aid to them.”

Smugly I went out to a fine dinner that evening riding in my white Galaxy convertible with rich red interior.

Who then can be saved?

Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

See also