Thursday, October 1, 2009

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

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