Friday, March 26, 2010

April 4, 2010. Easter Sunday

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord's resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in sincerity and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

When my aunt and uncle adopted their child Sally, I was eleven years old, and they took me with them to Montgomery to the state adoption agency when they fetched her for the first time. They had lost two children in childbirth, and they had waited several years for the state to identify a good match for them. Sally was six months old. She was gorgeous, and I have never ever seen eyes sparkling more than those of my aunt and uncle as the approached the car where I was waiting, her new mother carrying her in her arms.

I have never been able to read scripture about adoption without those images flooding back.

Years later, when my grandmother died, she left several things to Sally that my mother, in one of her weaker moments, thought should have been left to me. Sally and I were the only grandchildren. “But she is related to your grandmother by blood, only by adoption,” Mother complained.

“Mother, you and I are God’s children only by adoption,” I replied; “does that not count?”

Mother looked daggers at me.

Is it merely a doctrinal tidbit to you that God has given us in baptism the “Spirit of adoption” or it is a mark of your new birth in Christ, marked as God’s own forever?

Acts 10:34-43

Peter proclaims that “anyone who fears [Jesus] and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Just what part of anyone is so difficult to understand?

Peter does not say, “Any heterosexual who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Peter does not say, “Any white person who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him”…..

Psalm 118:14-17, 22-24

The psalm sounds its resurrection themes forcefully:

  • the LORD has triumphed!
  • I shall not die, but live,
  • The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
  • On this day the LORD has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Colossians 3:1-4

Our own identification with Christ, our own resurrection through his, calls us, or should call us, to have new priorities, new ways of seeing, setting our “minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

Gandhi said that Christianity was a great religion but he had never met a Christian.

Luke 24:1-10

The women “get it” first. The angels tell them, “He is not here; he is risen.”

Mother died in January 1982, and Dad died six months later. During Dad’s funeral, I stayed with one of their peers, my high school Latin teacher. “Louie,” she told me, “I don’t mean to upset you, but I don’t believe in an afterlife. Maybe I am a Buddhist. I don’t know. I don’t say these things at the Baptist Church, because I think of myself as a good Baptist except on this point. I believe that when we die the only ‘immortality’ that we have is the way that we continue to influence others whom we have known, loved and served, and through what of us, if anything, is passed on for generations. I’m not troubled by my mortality. It’s great to be living and in good health. I don’t see any need for anything afterwards.”

Occasionally I have asked Christian friends whether they believe in an after-life, and responses have been just as candid. Many say, “I don’t know.” Many also say, “I’m not terribly concerned about it, though I may become more so the older I am blessed to become.”

I am glad that our church does not wire us with lie detectors when we say the creed.

And even if one means what she says, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”, what does that mean?

My friend Kim Byham and I visited the Mormon Temple opposite the Lincoln Center in New York City during the period before it was consecrated, while it was still open to the general public. Kim has read much about the Mormons. He asked our guide, a young Mormon college student, to explain who lives where when a Mormon dies. Mormon theology insists that each good Mormon male after death becomes the god his own planet and lives there with his full extended family. “What if some of the good Mormon’s offspring also become good Mormons, died, and then become the god of their own planets?” Kim asked; “will their father really live with his full extended family?”

The young man was familiar with the doctrine, but had not thought of the question Kim asked. He excused himself to get help from a senior program leader, but returned soon to say that he had not yet gotten an answer for us.

Some Christians tell me that they know they will go to heaven and be with their spouses and other family members. Someone tried to trick Jesus asking whose wife a woman would be in heaven who had remarried after her first husband died. Jesus explained that in heaven there will be no giving or taking in marriage. That must be a downer for those who think that a good marriage is one of the best things a Christian may achieve.

Cynics often belittle those who believe in “pie in the sky by and by.”

George Bernhard Shaw warned, “Beware the man whose god is in the skies.”

Jesus himself taught us not to focus merely on heaven but to ask that God’s will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

Would not streets of gold become tiresome after a while? How many millennia would one enjoy rocking in a chair?

Would it be heavenly no longer to have any conflict, such as the conflicts that have continually shaped us?

If we are to encounter family and friends in heaven, at what ages would they or we be?

I do not cross my fingers when I say, "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting." I could pass a lie detector test when saying it. I am not sure what I mean.

See also

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March 28, 2010. Palm Sunday

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Isaiah 50:4-9a

As a teacher, I am intrigued by two points Isaiah makes about pedagogy . First he says,

The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.

Not “that I may know how to prepare my students for SATs or GREs or LSATs…..” but that I may now how to sustain the weary with a word.

“You’ve never met me,” a woman wrote to me recently, “but I cannot tell you how important to me you were when at a conference of Under One Roof [1990 in St. Louis] you said you wanted to talk about the most important biblical passage for homosexuals, and then you recited John 3:16.”

“You’re the reason I am an English teacher and not still a lawyer,” a former student said greeting me at a poetry reading I was giving in Atlanta 1974.

“How so?” I asked.

“I was not happy has an attorney, and I thought about every one I had ever known asking, which was most engaged in what he was doing. Then I remember how in my 11th grade course you jumped up on a desk, read us a poem, and then said, ‘I wish I had written that poem!’” I knew I wanted to be a teacher.

Isaiah goes on. The teachers job is not only to speak a sustaining word, but also to listen to the students:

Morning by morning he wakens--
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.

As a teacher I learned very early the powerful engagement of reading between the lines of students’ compositions, and to listen for what they reveal when they talk. It is especially important to listen to the source of their discontent.

For example, one of my students in The Bible as Literature was annoyed to find that it was not crip course in which one could talk about loving Jesus and get a good grade. I required lots of writing and analysis, and I expected original perspectives, not something canned from secondary sources. Students had to get my approval on a prospectus for every paper, so that I could spot ’received opinions’ and prompt them to abandon them for something that would demonstrate their own insights. She hated the course, but waited too late to drop it without penalty.

I arrived quite early for every class to enable informal engagement, and I was surprised to find the student quite animated one morning. “What’s up?” I asked as she pointed to her bible at part of the reading for the day.

“Nose rings!” she said with glees. “The wedding scouts brought Rebecca nose rings!” she practically shouted. “You have no idea how much fun I am going to have the next time Mom complains about my nose ring! It’s in The Book! It’s been positive for thousands of years!…..”

“And what are you going to write your next paper about?” I asked.

Her face fell.

“That question should not be a downer,” I gently insisted. “It seems to me your on to something. Why don’t you use your electronic text of the bible and search for many other places where jewelry is mentioned? You might come up with some startling discoveries.”

She beamed, but not nearly as much as she did later when she earned an ‘A’ on an excellent paper. She did not have to find what other scholars had said. She first began with her own insights. Once she had her own point of view, she delighted in comparing her discoveries with a couple of scholars she found who had written on the subject.

The teacher speaks, surely; but the teacher listens, and teaches students to listen to their own minds with greater expectations.

Morning by morning he wakens--
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.

The rest of today’s reading from Isaiah connects with me more personally.

I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.

Teaching at the University of Wisconsin in the 1980s I had a young student who was a rather attractive young man, but didn't have much between the ears. It became quite apparent early in the semester that Robert didn't have much chance of passing the course without some special help. So we scheduled (I offered at any rate) to have him come by my office with every paper he wrote in Freshman English. Bless Robert's heart. He did beautifully. He was there. The next paper wouldn't be that much better (nor is mine necessarily) but we worked and we worked and we worked. And near the end of the semester, Robert got just enough better to pass that course with a C-minus, which was the best we were going to get from Robert. But he earned it, so that he could get out and do the work of the other courses. I was so happy. And he was happy too.

I didn't see Robert for maybe a year or year and a half. Back in those days I was still jogging. It very difficult to jog in the wintertime. But Spring was on its way and the world was, as e.e. cummings says, "puddle wonderful." I was out jogging around the lakes on our campus, trying to miss a puddle here and not slip there. And I looked ahead of me, and I saw Robert jogging through this wet, cold, but wonderfully bright lake area. And I was so happy to see him (That meant that he was still at the University!). I brightened up and I said "Robert!" And at that point Robert spat in my face and said, "Faggot!"

Can you...can you imagine what it would be like to be Robert? Can you imagine what it would be like to be Robert's wife? Forget the spit on my face. Can you imagine what it would be to be Robert's daughter? Coming to your father with a need... any kind of need. Anything that stretched him to reach out to her? What we know as Christians on our journey, Robert so much needs. I knew in the moment that Robert's spit got in my eyes, just as Jesus talks about spittle taking scales off your eyes, that the Roberts of the world are vastly in need of love! We must learn how to speak that love.

Pray for the Roberts of the world.

I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.

Psalm 31:9-16

Before I came out as a Gay Christian, I was embarrassed by many of the psalms because they seemed based on self-pity and paranoia. No one I knew was plotting against me. My country had enemies, but I didn’t.

Only when I came to Jesus just as I am, and said so publicly, could I understand as reality, not a mere paranoia,

I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors,
a dismay to those of my acquaintance; *
when they see me in the street they avoid me.

Then I had full access to the relief the psalm proclaims:

My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.

Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me.

I am blood kin to all Christians. At every mass, we reaffirm that the blood of Jesus flows in our veins.

When any one of my sisters or brothers suffers, is scorned, is abused…, so Jesus suffers, is scorned and is abused. So am I if I have ears to hear and a heart to understand.

Philippians 2:5-11

Our blood kinship with Jesus is not something to be exploited. With him we are in the form of God and given equality with God. Let his mind be in us too: He emptied himself and took the form of a slave. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.

Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

This is the longest gospel of the church year. The church is rarely at a loss to milk it for its liturgical power. In the Middle Ages, liturgical embellishments became so dramatic that authorities required them to be moved to the porch of the church, and that proved counterproductive for those who hoped thereby to control the excesses. Once outside, the pageants grew even grander, especially for the Passion.

Then writers identified more occasions to draw the crowd, not just at the high holy days. Festivals evolved to celebrate various holy mysteries, and others to celebrate various miracles. Even today at places like Oberammergau tourists from all over the world come for a week or more of the Passion Plays.

Modern drama in the west grew out of these experiences.

Liturgy is meant to be enjoyed! Dress up. Add props.

See also

Monday, March 1, 2010

March 21, 2010. Fifth Sunday in Lent

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I consider justice more important to the quality of a marriage than romance. Romance is delightful and for the most part easily experienced. Justice is much harder to effect, for the demands of justice directly confront me with my own selfishness. How do we spend our time and our money? Does the marriage allow each partner the space and resources needed to grow into the fullness of his possibilities?

The theologian Carter Heyward has said:

Love without justice is cheap sentimentality”

Early in our marriage, I said to Ernest, “Please tell me when you think that I am not doing my share of the domestic work.”

“I won’t,” he said, albeit gently. “That would give me an additional role. I refuse to be your monitor; I prefer to be your husband. I will work hard to do my share and any additional work that you might leave undone. I want you to monitor your own work and give accounting not to me but to yourself.”

This wisdom is missing from the assumptions of the writer of today’s collect. The collect invites us to concede to God the responsibility for “bring[ing] into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners.” Yet is it not our responsibility to bring into order our own unruly wills and affections? God made us free agents so that we might freely choose to take that responsibility. Jesus called us his friends, not his servants or his slaves.

Isaiah 43:16-21

So often lgbt Christians are told, “God’s ways are clear. You have been excluded for 4,000 years. Even if the Episcopal Church, UCC, and the Unitarians vote to include you as ministers and to bless your relationships, do you seriously believe you can reverse 4,000 years of tradition? Mind you: we are not trying to be unkind to you; we are just telling you for your own good who God is and how God behaves.”

Yet in Scripture God says, “I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

If God makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, if God
brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior and makes them lie down, unable to rise, if God extinguishes them, quenches them like a wick,….cannot God also redeem lgbt Christians and rejoice in the diversity we manifest in God’s creation?”

Dare we call unclean anyone whom God has made?

I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people

Psalm 126

Verse three is written in the third person. Verse four repeats the same point in the second person.

Then they said among the nations, *
"The LORD has done great things for them."

The LORD has done great things for us, *
and we are glad indeed.

What fine antiphony!

Psalm 126, like today’s passage from Isaiah, declares God active in change. We are not to be stuck forever where we find ourselves. God does restore fortunes. Those who sow with tears may indeed reap with songs of joy. Those who carry the seed weaping, later bring the harvest rejoicing.

Philippians 3:4b-14

Saint allows himself to be amazingly vulnerable in this self-assessment: While stressing that he has not yet reached his goal, he reveals, however slightly, some uncertainty about the goal as well: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

if I may attain the resurrection from the dead”? Only if? Is the outcome in doubt?

attain it?” Elsewhere Saint has proclaimed eternal life the free gift of Christ, not something we have to attain. What does he think he has to do to attain it? What works could possibly substitute for his faith?

somehow I may attain it”? Only “somehow”. Why so vague?

I am enormously grateful for Saint’s willingness to share this vulnerability, his momentary uncertainty. It seems a brief lapse in faith, which elsewhere he calls “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Saint begins this passage pointing out his impeccable credentials as a Jew who lived confidently under the law, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”

The law does not count for Saint; grace does. As he reassesses the choices he has made, he determines: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

For Saint faith is God‘s free gift, not something we achieve, yet as he shows here, faith is not easy: it is hard work. He “strains.” He “presses on.”

I am enormously grateful that Saint did not undertake to write a systematic theology. We who strain and press on are enormously blessed that even he did so too, and was willing to say so.

John 12:1-8

Western culture allows very little of the public sensuality which is specific to Mary’s oblations -- both olfactory and tactile . Most in our culture would look on with disdain were a woman to perfume a man’s feet with her hair at our dinner tables. We think it bad form; Judas thought it outrageously expensive.

“The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” You better believe it! She used a whole pound of pure nard, with apparently a larger stash for later. The guests must have carried the fragrance home with them. We who are Anglo-Catholics probably have a lower bill at the dry cleaners than most other church goers, what with the finest of Holy Cross incense, but a whole pound of nard used on the feet of only one guest in a small room!

Jesus probably still smelled it on himself when he hung on the cross a few days later, evidence of Mary‘s devotion. He hints as much when he rebukes Judas for censuring Mary: “"Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”

I like John’s parenthetical explanation that Judas’ concern for the poor was deceitful. “(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) How many times do we all profess concern for the poor not backed up by the way we spend our money?

See also

March 14, 2010. Fourth Sunday in Lent

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Joshua 5:9-12

It is appropriate that the collect asks for “the true bread which gives life to the world” as today also celebrates the day that the Israelites got shut of K-Rations after wandering 40 years in the wilderness.

God had provided the manna to sustain them for the long journey when food was not in ready supply. The manna stopped when God gave them land able to sustain them with crops.

I am intrigued by what God tells Joshua: "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt."

As slaves in Egypt, the Israelites must have felt disgraced. Like Dalits (the ‘untouchables’) in India today, they had to do all the dirty work of the Egyptians; and if they complained, the Egyptians increased the work. Now 40 years away from that experience, 40 years shut of Egypt, they still wear the disgrace, the sense of shame. Only when their new land provides them produce does the disgrace leave.

We can say to ourselves all we want, “There is nothing disgraceful about who we are,” but when those in power -- whether in the state, the church……-- treat us as disgraceful, stigma has a weight that is heavy and enduring. When treated as lepers, we may learn to make good music with our lepers’ bells, but those bells sustain and mark our persecution, not our liberation.

We who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered understand that dynamic at the core of our being. Daily God provides us spiritual manna for our survival. We long for the day that God and God’s people will roll away from us our disgrace under the tyranny of hetero supremacy.

Psalm 32

The psalmist speaks of spiritual dehydration:

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

In this particular instance, the dehydration is caused by unrepented sin.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.

I said," I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

My physical thirst switch is quite unreliable. About 20 years ago it started not to work at some times, and to work quite well at others. At 73, I rarely thirst at all, and when I do, it seems almost too late, so strong is the dehydration.

In contrast, I have found that spiritual thirst strengthens with age, and I can detect the need to confess as clearly as a young person may seek a glass of water when thirsty.

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!


2 Corinthians 5:16-21

What is the ministry of the laity?
The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.

--From the Catechism in the BCP

Saint Paul also speaks of our ministry of reconciliation:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Reconciliation is not about our own righteousness, but about God’s. As Christ’s ambassadors, we are to proclaim to all that God does not count their trespasses against them.

I am convinced that God is using LGBT Christians as a new way to make this ancient point, that God loves absolutely everybody. Many who have no feeling one way or other about LGBT people watch closely how the church responds to us as a thermometer to how the church might respond to them. “If the church will let those people in, maybe I can bring my burdens there too.”

Some are not likely to believe our claims that God loves them until, as God's ambassadors, we love them first, “since God is making his appeal through us.”

Many have endured disgrace (because of substance abuse; because of a broken marriage; because of their extreme poverty; because of a lack of education…….). Today you and I can roll away their disgrace by embracing them as with us, children of God, forgiven and redeemed.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Only Luke tells this story. How much poorer Christianity would be without it. It is major proclamation about God, who not only welcomes home the prodigal before he could ask to be welcomed, but kills the fatted calf to celebrate a reconciliation of which the prodigal could not even have dreamed.

Some straight people find themselves in the role of the younger brother regarding lgbt Christians. Some insist that God does not love lgbts because, they think, we have squandered God’s gifts and have indulged in sins so egregious that they are not even tempted.

Some lgbt persons have not had loving parents and cannot yet imagine God as welcoming them, especially those exposed to Christians like the elder brother.

Sin is a major part of the work of Lent -- not our mortification, but our redemption, not our separation from God, but our reconciliation with God and with those whom we have not loved as we have loved ourselves.

If you are straight, be reconciled with your lgbt neighbor: find someone very broken, someone who has not been loved and is not very loving, and love that person as your own child. Leave judgment to God. Just love that person. Feed the person. Visit the person. Meet the person’s needs. Don’t pout like the elder brother about this person’s unworthiness. Kill the fatted calf.

If you are an lgbt person, be reconciled with your straight neighbor: find someone very broken, someone who has not been loved and is not very loving, someone who dislikes lgbt people; and love that person as your own child. Feed the person. Visit the person. If the person is in a ditch the victim of thieves, rescue the person and take the person to a hospital. Pay the bill and keep coming back to check on the person’s needs. Don’t pout like the elder brother about this person’s unworthiness. Kill the fatted calf.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.”

Christianity is wondrous and strange. Jesus is wondrous and strange.

See also

March 7, 2010. Third Sunday in Lent.

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Does this prayer speak the truth? Do we not have power to help ourselves? Was Benjamin Franklin wrong when he said, “God helps those who help themselves"?

Are body and soul as distinctly separate as the collect has us tell God? Suppose body and soul are integral, of one piece.

As a small child I created an imaginary playmate, whom I named Bowback. Whenever my parents found that I had done something wrong, I said “Bowback did it! I didn’t do it. Bowback did it.” I found that my parents liked that so much that occasionally they forgot to scold me as severely as they might otherwise.

This collect invites us to try my childish game on God, and the prayer sounds so lovely, we might not notice our childishness.

Nevertheless, I will not remain mute when we pray this collect at Grace Church in Newark. I need all the defense I can get from evil thoughts and from adversaries. Real adversaries I have aplenty.

Occasionally someone says to me, “I don’t understand how you can be so gracious to those who abuse you and say all manner of evil against you falsely.” “Thank you,” I reply, “but I am glad that you don’t get to hear the first draft of my prayers.”

I have found that the prayers of others regarding me have far more efficacy than do my own prayers. There are times of extreme stress in which I have experience great calm, calm that I choose to account for as the answer to many friends' prayers.

Exodus 3:1-15

I have always loved this story. The few times I have ever spent in or near a desert, I have longed for a bush to ignite, for God to show up with fireworks. I would dutifully hide my face. I would dutifully report what I heard. Moses was very lucky.

But of course, Moses was prepared for the encounter from the moment he, as a baby, was put in a basket for pharaoh’s daughter to discover among the bulrushes. He was raised in the house which now he must confront. God knows that Moses understands how power works in Egypt. Unlike most other Israelites, he has been an insider. He understands entitlement.

Moses’ first concern is whether, given such a background, his own people will consider him a Jew, whether they will be willing to follow his lead.

Recall how some in the black community distrusted Barack Obama, whose black father disappeared early in his life, who was raised by a white mother….. Recall Jesse Jackson’s rude dismissal of Barack caught on camera, much to his chagrin, much to the chagrin of many of us who revere them both.

Moses asks God for advice about how to get their acceptance. God gives him some code language that the Jews will recognize as authentic, as inside understanding of how God speaks. They won’t be impressed by images of God -- God who won‘t even allow paparazzi, God who is Word not Icon.

The Israelites expect to recognize God only by the basics. God tells Moses that God‘s name is I AM Who I AM.” Now that‘s truly basic. No fancy talk. No writers of Prayer Book collects to gussy it up -- not one “Almighty God” such as we have in today’s collect. "Say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" The Israelites will understand this minimalist identification of God.

Gays and lesbians understand that too. As one blogger put it, the lyrics of ‘I am what I am’ “should be required listening for anyone struggling to come out!” “I AM What I AM” is also minimalist, basic, sine qua non. All the other tags you might apply, all the other masks we might wear, don’t work, can’t change who we are.

Even Popeye the Sailor understood that: “I am what I am and that's all that I am.”

Gloria Gaynor wrote the lyrics for “I am what I am”. Hear her sing it.

I am what I am
I am my own special creation
So come take a look
Give me the hook
Or the ovation
It's my world
That I want to have a little pride
My world
And it's not a place I have to hide in
Life's not worth a dam
Till I can say
I am what I am

I am what I am
I don't want praise I don't want pity
I bang my own drum
Some think it's noise I think it's pretty
And so what if I love each sparkle and each bangle
Why not see things from a different angle
Your life is a shame
Till you can shout out I am what I am

I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the aces sometimes the deuces
It's one life and there's no return and no deposit
One life so it's time to open up your closet
Life's not worth a dam till you can shout out
I am what I am

I am what I am ….

It’s probably not an exaggeration to claim that this song has helped as many through the Dead Sea of hetero supremacy and towards self affirmation as Moses led through that other Dead Sea.

Psalm 63:1-8

The psalmist deploys many metaphors to describe intimacy with God.

  • My soul thirsts for you.
  • My flesh faints for you.
  • My lips shall give you praise.
  • Under the shadow of your wings, I will rejoice.
  • My soul clings to you.
  • Your right hand holds me fast

I am impressed by what words can do when we are not allowed to use “real” pictures.

Early in my career I sought counsel regarding depression from to an elderly colleague, whom I assumed to be gay -- we did not yet talk about such matters in those days. He was a defrocked priest. He had left The Episcopal Church for Rome, and had left Rome for an arduous pilgrimage not well charted.

Try meditating on the phrase, “Leaning on the everlasting arms,” he suggested. He advised me in 1960. I have been leaning on them for fifty years now. I understand what the writer of Psalm 63 means when he says

My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, *
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips,

When I remember you upon my bed, *
and meditate on you in the night watches.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

It seems to me that St. Paul cheats on his own theology a bit in this passage. In many times and places he has stressed that we are justified not by our good works, not by our following the law, but by our faith. We are saved by Jesus’ righteousness, not by our own.

Yet in this text Paul tries to scare the beJesus out of his charges in Corinth. He rehearses instances in which God delivers some, but not all. Sin prevents some from making it through the Dead Sea in the Exodus. Sin prevents twenty-three thousand from making it into the land promised even after they made it through the Dead Sea. Snakes killed a great number of them.

“These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.”

Whew! How safe am I? Even if I completely trust Jesus?

In prep school I went forward in a Billy Graham campaign. I had long ago accepted Christ as my personal savior, but each invitation called out to me again, especially in the wake of my sins since accepting the last invitation. The evangelists’ tallies reckoned subsequent appearances at altar calls as “rededication” rather than as “souls saved.”

I later learned that counselors for the rallies are trained to keep their eyes open when the evangelist prays, “With every head bowed, all eyes closed, I ask you to raise your hand if you feel that God is calling you tonight to give your life to him.” The counselors are told to wait 2, 3, or 4 more verses of the invitation hymn and if the one nearest who has raised a hand has not gone forward, they are to go to her or him and say quietly, “I am going forward. Would you like to go forward too.” To many, this prompt seems magical, as if arranged by God just especially for them. And come forward we did that night in Chattanooga in 1953, several hundred of us -- unaware that many in our number were counselors as decoys.

An organization called the Navigators worked closely with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Crusade to provide counseling after the service for all who had come forward. One of the things they gave us was a few cards with verses of scripture printed on them, and we were asked to commit to memorize them. Two of the cards were for John 3:16 and 1 John 5:11-12. Another was for the end of today’s reading from 1 Corinthians: “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

They also gave us a booklet with lots of blank space on which to write out reflections on these texts. In mine I wrote about my homosexual temptations -- about which I had spoken to no one. A few weeks later I saw that another student had picked up my booklet and was reading it. I was mortified. His face lit up with a gentle smile. He came over to hand the booklet to me, saying, “Thank you. I too have been sorely tempted. I have even yielded.” I was even more mortified and tried never to speak to him again.

Twenty-four years later, I tracked down his address. He had become a prominent lawyer. I sent him a copy of my article Growing Up Gay in Dixie -- with a note saying, “Thank you for your comments when you read my private confession in the booklet following the Billy Graham Crusade.” He never replied.

While writing the last paragraph, I looked him up in the alumni page for our class: before his death a few years ago, he had become a billionaire and major philanthropist.

Luke 13:1-9

The “Problem of Evil” has long troubled Christian theologians. Christians believe that God is good and not responsible for evil. Yet, if God is God how does evil come into the world. John Milton wrote “Paradise Lost” to deal with that question, or, as he put it, “to justify the ways of God to man.” Basically, he blamed evil on Satan, much as I had blamed my bad behavior on my imaginary companion Bowback (see my comment above regarding the Collect.) Eve too shifted the blame. When God confronted her in the garden, she replied: Satan made me do it.

While misfortune is not ‘evil’ in the same sense, human beings have long been tempted to account for misfortune, especially the misfortune that falls on others, as a result of sin. Often that leads to blaming the victim.

In Luke’s passage today, people ask Jesus about the victims of Pilate’s massacre: “"Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” And they ask about a similar episode: “Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them--do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?”

In both instances Jesus denies the assumption that these disasters happened because of their sin. But Jesus is not willing to give up the opportunity with either story to preach about our vulnerability to sin. (“It’s the third Sunday in Lent. Did you expect to get off so easily!” -- Quean Lutibelle) To each example he replies, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."

Then he tells the story of a fig tree that is cut down when it does not bear fruit. He extends the tree’s chances for another season, still under threat of being cut down if it does not bear fruit.

Are you wasting the soil of which you are made? What fruit are you bearing for the gospel?

I suppose we can be grateful that we do not normally use Lent to conduct our stewardship campaigns.

See also