Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 15th, 2009. Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2009 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I recall an occasion about 35 years ago when a colleague in another department invited me to address her students’ questions about homosexuality. An older student in that class had decided to earn a degree while still working as a fundamentalist preacher. He became particularly agitated when I quoted as the first commandment “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and as the second "Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39 -- NIV)

“There you go misleading these people and distorting what God said. Those are not the first two commandments,” he exhorted me, huffing. “The first commandment is ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ and the second is ’Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, ’” (Exodus 20: 3-4 -- KJV)

“Very good,” I told him. “You cite the first two of Moses’ Big Ten. I cited Jesus’ two. Jesus said all the law and all the prophets hang on these big two” (Matthew 22:40).

“What version of the bible are you using?” my adversary said snarling.

“This time, the New International Version.”

“There you go again misleading people by reading a bible written by men. I use the King James Version, which records what God said exactly,” he replied.

“And Jesus spoke English?” I asked.

“Yes, sir!” he replied.

“And what’s another name for the King James Version?” I asked.

“The Authorized Version,” he snapped. “It’s the one that has God’s approval.”

“Authorized by whom for whom?” I asked.

“Say what?!” he replied. “That’s obvious. It is authorized by God for all Christians.”

I rejoiced to have someone who cared enough to challenge the authority of the teacher.

“No,” I explained. “The KJV was ‘authorized’ by Quean James (a.k.a. James 1st of England and James 6th of Scotland) for use in the Church of England, my church,” I explained.

“If you want to use my cookbook, you are welcome to use it,” I went on a bit unkindly, “but don’t come into my kitchen and tell me how to use my book.”

We were about equally exasperated with each other.

Today’s collect describes what the two of us were trying to do with Scripture in a most Anglican way: “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.”

Scripture is not given to us to follow blindly. Jesus’ own list was a careful response to the Pharisees, who tried to trip him by asking, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment of the law?” I find his short answer extremely helpful as I try to sort out apparent conflicts in Scripture.

For example, Leviticus tells us that we should kill a man who lies with a man, yet John 3:16 says that “whosoever believes in Jesus shall have everlasting life.” John does not say “whoever is heterosexual and believes” just “whosoever believes.” Jesus did not shout from the cross, “Don’t misunderstand me: I am up here dying for heterosexuals only….”

What changes would take place in the Church and in the world if those who call themselves Christians would love their lgbt neighbors as they love themselves?

“Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.” Indeed.

1 Samuel 1:4-20

In reading the bible, it is often fascinating to note details not in the writer’s central focus. For example, this text is not about polygamy. It neither supports nor opposes polygamy. It simply describes a domestic conflict within a polygamous household. Elhanah gives a double portion to one wife (Hannah), but another of his wives, Peninnah, provokes Hannah severely, mocking her for having no children.

Elhanah tries to comfort Hannah by asking, “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” Put otherwise, “Am I not man enough for you?” Ah, the irrepressible ego of the patriarch!

Hannah bargains with God for a son by conceding in advance that she does not want a son who will be rival patriarch. If allowed a son, she promises to set him apart from birth as a Nazarite, a special celibate order, of which John the Baptist was also a prominent member later, in Jesus‘ generation.

I am fascinated with the place of rank and privilege that sexual non-conformists enjoyed in ancient cultures. E.g., note not only Samuel the Nazarite here, but also the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, entrusted as many eunuchs were, with great responsibility.

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah’s song prefigures Mary’s Magnificat. Both note that God reverses the order of things. God overthrows the rich in favor of the poor. The full become hungry; the hungry become full. God gives power to the weak and overthrows the strong and the haughty.

The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.

… for not by might does one prevail

Quean Lutibelle sings a similar sassy song of power:

Queer Power

Swish, swish, men of America.
Cross your legs only at 90-degree angles.
Swish, swish!
Your fingernails are getting a mite too long.
Swish, swish!
That fuchsia shirt might be misunderstood.
Swish, swish!
You'd better lower your pitches
and say something evil about your mothers.
Swish, swish!
You smell too sweet and are too polite. Be crude
Swish, swish!
Talk about war, not about flowers.
Swish, swish, men of America.
Swish, swish. Swish, swish.
Swish, swish. Bug off.

-- Louie Crew

Has appeared:

Gay Christian [U. K.] 17 (1980): 27
Contact II Winter 1987: 50. Used pseudonym Li Min Hua
NABWMT Journal 4 (Summer 1991): 7. Used pseudonym Li Min Hua

Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25

Saint gives strong assurance here. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins is complete, and we who believe should approach judgment “with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Attention heterosexists: this promise comes with no disclaimers regarding homosexual persons who believe.

Saint uses the word provoke in an interesting way, to describe how we Christians should behave towards one another. One would hardly welcome being told to “provoke one another” in the context of the Anglican Communion currently. We’ve been there, done that far too much already, thank you very much.

But Saint restricts the kind of provoking he counsels us to practice: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds….as you see the [Judgment] Day approaching.” For example, we might expect these news flashes:

The Anglican Province of Nigeria to deploy fire-fighters through the Diocese of Los Angeles

The Diocese of Newark to help with clean-up following flooding in the Diocese of Albany

Two of the fifteen LGBT bishops in The Episcopal Church will receive honorary doctorates at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA

Two Arch-Conservative bishops in The Episcopal Church to receive honorary doctorates at Episcopal Divinity School

Et al.

Saint thinks that Christ would welcome having a footstool made up of the bodies of his enemies. Saint even says that Christ has been sitting around waiting for such a footstool.

I think not. How gross Saint’s imagination in this instance!

We would not appreciate a non-believer who took this tidbit from Hebrews 10 to justify calling Christians barbaric. The non-believer wanting to make such a case might also point to the disciple who cut off a bystander’s ear on the night of the crucifixion.

We do similar violence if we read the Qu’ran with similar reductiveness. We should not use isolated instances of violence therein as justification for calling Islam essentially violent.

I much prefer Samuel’s witness: “[F]or not by might does one prevail.”

Mark 13:1-8

The first verses of Mark 13 invite us into a long-term perspective from which that which we see as grand is in fact leveled:

Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

Global warming is triggering many alarm bells about the transience of all that is grand in our environment. When will the melt-down flood our major seaports? How long do we have before the floods and hurricanes and tornadoes and tsunamis make culture as we know it, nations as we know them, disappear from the face of the earth?

Percy Bysse Shelley wrote of a potentate who came to similar oblivion in ages long past:


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:

"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

When I taught in China (1983-1987) I trekked through tomb after tomb after tomb. As my group walked through echoing subterranean passageways, I often whistled softly Thomas Tallis’ tune to which Arthur Cleveland Coxe set the words:

O where are kings and empires now
of old, that went and came?
but Lord, thy Church is praying yet,
a thousand years the same.

We mark her goodly battlements
and her foundations strong;
we hear, within, the solemn voice
of her unending song.

For not like kingdoms of the world
thy holy Church, O God,
though earthquake shocks are threatening her,
and tempests are abroad.

Unshaken as eternal hills,
immovable she stands,
a mountain that shall fill the earth,
a house not made by hands.

As I pass empty church after empty church, many with boarded windows and iron gates long locked shut, I realize that non-believers making the same journey can fairly ask of us, “O where is the church now? Praying still? Really?”

Jesus warned that the great Temple of his day would be left with not one stone on another. Such is sure to be the fate of our mighty temples as well. “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs."

Our temple must not be made of human hands.

See also

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