Monday, February 1, 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010. The Second Sunday in Lent

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I am intrigued with point of view in this and many other collects, second person singular in talking to God about third person plural -- “all who have gone astray….bring them again….”

The collect does not say “Be gracious to all of us who have gone astray,” though Scripture tells us that “all we like sheep have gone astray.” Presumably some of those praying the collect see this as a prayer about themselves, a prayer on which they eavesdrop. Yet the congregation does not invade their private space with God. It is corporate worship, not private worship. It is common prayer, not individual prayer.

Even the Confession, although more personal by being grammatically in the first person, keeps a distance from individual prayers. It uses the first person plural, not “Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you….I have not loved you with my whole heart, I have not loved my neighbors as I love myself.” Only in the confessional or in private prayer are we encouraged to pray, “Father, since my last confession I have sinned. I have……”

Corporate worship with common prayer brings us to safety even as we confront our vulnerability. In today’s collect those gathered with us confirm that even in the face of sin, God is merciful, and what’s more, it is God’s glory to be merciful. This is not a contract in which a harsh parent says to a wayward child, “I’ll be nice to you before the rest of the family, but just you wait to see what wallops I have for you in the back room.” God’s property is always and everywhere to show mercy.

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

Some of the strongest conflicts of our time relate to Jewish claims in this text. They point to it as clear biblical evidence that God chose them, not the Muslims, to possess the Holy Land. Since his wife Sarah is barren, Abraham asks: “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless
You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”

Abraham refers to his faithful steward, Eleazar of Damascus.

Afterwards, Ishmael, Abraham’s first child is born, through his concubine Hagar. But he has no first-class status either, at least as Jewish scriptures portray him.

Ishmael figures as more important in the Qu’ran, which mentions him a dozen times; but even there he is listed as merely one of the early prophets. In Islamic tradition however, some have elevated Ishmael to be the preferred son. They argue ethat it is Ishmael, not Isaac, whom Abraham takes to sacrifice. Ishmael is not named in the Qu’ran’s account of this episode, but neither is Isaac. See Wikipedia’s account of Ishmael.

Psalm 27

Dominus illuminatio.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
the LORD is the strength of my life;
of whom then shall I be afraid?

Unlike today’s collect and the Confession, Psalm 27 invites us into the first person singular point of view.

“When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who
stumbled and fell.

Many in Africa say that they live close to the life depicted in Scripture. As an out gay Christian, I do too. I know what it is to have enemies: those working to criminalize lgbt people in Uganda proposed the death penalty for some homosexual offenses, and prison sentences for years even for parents who do not report their homosexual children as soon as they find out. “When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh” is not much of an overstatement in the context of militant hetero supremacy, yet in the face of it, lgbt Christians and our friends proclaim, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life.”

I readily admit that I do not always wait patiently on the Lord.

Ernest and I spent the first 6 years of our marriage in a tiny town in Middle Georgia, known as Fort Valley. We are a racially integrated couple. We are an ‘out’ gay couple Frequently we were objects of public heckling and life-threatening phone calls, especially when we were accused by Anglican bishop James Dees of causing the tornado that ripped through the town.

When the Atlanta Constitution asked me about Bishop Dee’s accusation, published in the John Birch Society Macon Herald with a circulation of over 100,000 throughout the South, I responded, “Yes, and we took good aim too. We took the steeple off the white Baptist church but not the black one. That’s called ‘Queer Power.’”

The media was not present for most of our neighbors' devilment. Once when I was putting letters into a street-side postbox, several police on the porch of their building next door, cat-called and whistled. “Louise! Hello, Louise.” “Queer!” “Faggot!” “Yoo-hoo! Hi there!…”

Have you ever tried to drive a motorcycle from dead still without revving the engine? It is almost impossible. Try as I might, I ended up sounding like I was driving off in a huff, confirming for them that they had gotten to me. I felt like they were trying to eat my flesh.

Still in their sight, half a block away I did a u-turn, drove back and parked in the lot between the police station and the Post Office. By the time I had dismounted, the policemen had left the porch for inside, and by the time I went inside they were in a back room. As prissy as I could be and loud enough for all to hear, I said to the desk sergeant that I would not stand for public ridicule, that I wanted the incident in writing in case anyone brought harm to me, and that I would file a complaint with the FBI…..”

I was not intimidated as I drove away this time, and I decided not to give the episode more than its due by contacting the FBI. I wanted that resource if intimation ever got worse.

Several months later Ernest called me down from my study while he was doing the hair of several poor women. The father of one of them had dropped by to take her home when Ernest finished, and offered me some white lightning w/ rum.

“You don’t recognize me, do you?” he asked, smiling.

“You’re Deesha’s father,” I answered.

“Yes, but I am also a police officer. Do you want to hear what the men said when you confronted them for cat-calling you a while back?”

“You were not there. They were all white.”

“But I was in the back, and when you drove up and came into the office, they were scared. The biggest bully of them all said, ’But sissies aren’t supposed to do things like that. They’re supposed to take it.’”

Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;

And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.

Philippians 3:17-4:1

But lgbt Christians' citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

--Quean Lutibelle's translation

Luke 13:31-35

Herod is the king who ordered the death of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist; and at his daughter’s insistence, Herod ordered John’s head brought to him on a silver platter.

It is no small matter that the Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. The Pharisees are not fond of Jesus either, and likely enjoy being tale-bearers of unwelcome news to him.

“Go tell that Fox!” Jesus says to the Pharisees. He knows fully well that they are tale bearers: “Go tell that Fox!” is not irenic. Jesus also knows that the Pharisees would never have the courage to speak the truth to power.

God does not require us to be pushovers. We don’t return violence for violence, but we are to speak the truth boldly.

Jesus also sarcastically notes that he will be safe for the next three days since he plans to be outside of Jerusalem. The Pharisees exercise some power in Jerusalem themselves, and they have not contributed to making it safe. Jesus speaks the truth to them has sternly as he, through their tattling, does to Herod.

See also

Sunday, February 21, 2010. The First Sunday in Lent

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Cleaning house is an exercise in happy remembrance, since some things that collect dust for many of us collected dust for our ancestors before us. Two separate ornately carved gilded shelves collect dust, each under a porcelain bird, one a finch, the other a cardinal, that I gave Mother for two Christmases while I was in college. Many times as she cleaned them, she would say, “I see love shining on these.” The Christmas when I was first employed full time, I splurged and bought a her 3-tier crystal chandelier to hang over her dining room table. That did not cost as much as it would cost today, but was nearly a tenth of my first year’s salary.

Without know it, but I was illustrating the principle that Deuteronomy articulates for the Israelites once they are free and living in the land God will give to them: they are to bring to God the first fruits of their labor, as I brought to Mother the first fruits of my labor.

At the offertory, we often pray William How’s lyrics,

We give Thee but Thine own,
Whate'er the gift may be;
All that we have is Thine alone,
A trust, O Lord, from Thee.

Often those gifts come back to us, again on loan, to leave to someone else when we are gone.

“Celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.”

At meals, we call it “the blessing.” We bless the food by reminding ourselves that it is God’s bounty, not our own. It is God who has blessed us.

I am uncomfortable saying blessings in restaurants. When with others who do so, sometimes I leave my eyes open, as if to signal to anyone else in the restaurant, ‘I’m not really a part of these people.’ And if called upon to give the blessing myself, sometimes I begin saying, “So as not to show off our piety to those around us, let’s bless this food with our eyes open, with smiles towards one another, as we give thanks to God who has provided this bounty. AMEN”

I am also uncomfortable with telling other people that I am under Lenten discipline. Jesus said of those who pray in public, “They have their reward” -- suggesting that their prayers were intended less for God than for the public. Jesus invites us to pray in secret to God alone, who will then hear us and reward us openly. The same goes for our Lenten disciplines.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Many Jews brought up with the promises of Psalm 91 became agnostics or atheists in the wake of the devastating counterstatement made by holocaust:

Because you have made the LORD your refuge, *
and the Most High your habitation,

There shall no evil happen to you, *
neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.

But evil does happen to righteous people quite apart from anything they might have done to deserve it.

Job, one of the earliest books written in the Bible, rejects the notion that we must look at our own behavior to account for all evil that befalls us. “Show me my guilt!” Job yells at God repeatedly, and God can’t. We in the audience (indeed, Job was written as a drama) know that Job suffers not for his own deeds, but because God has made a bet with Satan that Job will still worship him even if God removes the bounty.

In Archibald Macleish modern version, J. B., Satan taunted God into doing this by saying that Job’s worship is merely a payback for the bounty, that God has bribed Job with good things. Job’s worship amounts only to “all that gravy on his plate.”

When he loses it all, Macleish’s J.B. does not “curse God and die” as Satan warned God that Job would; nor does J.B. continue to revere the God who has abused him on a bet. Instead, J.B. becomes a secular humanist, trusting not God but the human ability to be true to one another. For a secular humanist, that human ability is all we’ve got.

As a gay Christian I have long liked the verse:

You shall tread upon the lion and adder; *
you shall trample the young lion and the serpent under your feet.

Once I told my friend Louis Crompton, “We must stomp on every heterosexist snake.”

Louis chuckled wryly: “Louie, those who stomp on every snake are likely to get foot poisoning.”

Romans 10:8b-13

The good news in this passage is that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” There is no male supremacy, no white supremacy, no hetero supremacy….. God loves absolutely everybody.

The bad news that some see in this passage is that access to God seems to require getting God’s name and identity down pat: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Will you spend eternity in hell fire if you are a faithful Muslim? a faithful Buddhist? a faithful Taoist? an atheist? …

Some consider it fighting words to suggest that God will let everyone into heaven. Listen to the NPR broadcast that documents what his fellow Pentecostals did to punish Bishop Carlton Pearson when he began to preach the gospel of inclusion. I delight that Bishop Pearson thrives nevertheless.

Luke 4:1-13

During Lent we focus on sin and repentance -- hopefully on our own sin and our own repentance.

Luke stresses that Jesus too was tempted; and he successfully resisted. Very hungry after no food for forty days, Jesus is tempted to turn strone into bread. He doesn’t. Next he is shown all the kingdoms of the world and offered them if he will but worship Satan. He refuses. Last, he is told to show off by hurling himself off a cliff fully aware that God will not let him, his own son, die, but will provide angels to rescue him in a spectacular way. He refuses.

Hebrews 4:15 proclaims “We…have ... a high priest … who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Really!? How many of us are tempted to rule over all the world? How many of us are tempted to show off miraculous power?”

Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptations deals with how Jesus was inhibited by taking on our mortality, not with how we cope with our mortality. Most of us are not tempted in the things that tempted him; nor, had he yielded, would his confession have sounded much like ours.

William Werc's Prayer

I come here to your cross, Christ,
a raging quean.
I want to walk with my head high,
a child of God,
but I am feeling too much
like the scum people take me to be.
Sometimes I get downright campy
and want to shout at them,
"Why do you think God chose twelve of his own
kind to be nearest!?"
but then I don't really believe you're
some macho male riding a chariot
and wielding a whip, or that you are really
male or female at all,
though I suspect
that when you were enfleshed as Jesus
your juices were not lactation.

What did you feel when your beloved John
lay across your lap casually?

Now you seem trapped above this altar,
as if the Romans really were successful
and rid the world f any fresh response
you might have for it or for me.

I wonder if what I what is a break
from being quean?
Maybe you should
take away my regnum and give me back
a Pennypress suit and a lower middleclass
seat on the vestry.
But put me somewhere else,
where the people in the next pew
don't think I'm different.

--Maybe he's just never found Miss Right.
Besides, bachelors aren't all queers.
Some of them are even good to their mamas
when they get old!"

But here all know, Jesus,
and they'll never allow me
to teach Sunday School
or to be a lay reader again,
or even to have lunch with the rector
--or if I do, I'll have to endure
the rector's notion of who I am
with every sip of my coffee
--is my pinkie showing?
Maybe if I just go to a new town
and am very quiet about it all,
lie low, as it were,
play tennis and jog a lot,
they'll spend some of this time
seeing me as the good salesman I am.
I mean, do they hate queers as much
in Chicago, New York, or San Francisco?
I wish my company had a branch
in one of those places.
Even their bishops claim to love us,
though clergy do throw love
around very glibly.
I wonder if they'd love a son or a daughter
who is one?

I wish you'd talk back, God.
I'm one weary quean
with all of these folks
kneeling around me.
Sometimes I think
they're not praying about themselves,
but just about me,
telling you all of their fears
as if I had not already told you the truth.

But I probably occupy no more space
in their prayers than does a bug
which one mindlessly avoid
so as not to waste time squashing it.

Yes, Jesus, back at self-pity,
badly this time
--as much of a venereal disease
as any quean requires!
Maybe I should just stick with the Prayer Book,
which makes me come across
as much more noble
than I really am;
and at least it keeps me from looking
only at myself.

I can't believe
you want this groveling, Jesus.
Help me to stand on my own two feet.
God save this quean!

--Louie Crew

Has appeared:

  • Plumbline 9.3 (1981): 11-15.
  • Integrity Forum 7.1 (1981): 9.
  • Thursday Stories 11 (1982): 32-38.
  • New Ways Project. 1983.
  • Studio [Australia] No. 61 (Summer 1995/1996): 28-29
  • Whosoever 10.5 (March/April 2006)

Note what “Werc” spells backwards.

Jesus said that when you face rival claims of Scripture, test each part against the first and second commandments. All law and all prophecy hang on those two.

For example, those proposing an Anglican Covenant purport to promote unity, but do so at the expense of homosexual persons and their friends. Scripture can seem on their side: Scripture tells us to value unity. But not above all else. First you must love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Yoo-hoo. Hi there! Yes, us, your Queer neighbors, and with you joint heirs of Jesus Christ.

Scripture tempted Jesus to hurl himself from a cliff to reveal his power, because Scripture promised that he would be rescued by angels. Given his own struggle -- unable to be taken seriously by any but Samaritans, tax-collectors, and drunkards -- he found that prospect very tempting. "That would show them who I am!," Jesus thought, but then he rejected that use of Scripture as satanic, and trumped it with another, "It is written, do not put the Lord to the test." That is, he followed the first commandment: he loved God with all his mind.

Sola scriptura? Yes, if you test all scripture against the first and second commandments. That requires reason, tradition, and experience.

But love does not come by Scripture, reason, tradition, or experience. To be able to love, you must be born again.. You must get a life -- a life of the spirit.

See also