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.
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.”
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.
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!
- 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.