Tuesday, April 20, 2010

May 2, 2010. Fifth Sunday of Easter

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Episcopal Church does not require individuals to pray the collect for the day. The clergy speak it. They and we are free to tune in or tune out.

The collect for this Sunday comes with some serious risks, and some may prefer instead to admire a particular window or the creaks of fine old pews.

It is understandable that as believers we want truly to know God. A major risk is that the fervor of our prayer might lead us to conclude that we actually do "truly" know God, and further conclude that only we and those who agree with us, are the “True Believers.” With that mindset many have done great damage throughout the Christian era. Some have set off on crusades, forcing 'infidels' to convert or die, and giving many only the latter choice.

Again and again Christians have fought Christians to the point of division, and from the distance of a century or two, some of the issues seem much more reconcilable than they did to those who perpetuated them certain that they truly knew God.

God does not readily accommodate our desire to know God. If God were an idol, we could give precise weight and dimensions and a true account of the metal. But God is living.

We mortals are not allowed to see God , not to make images of God.

Frequently God chooses to wear disguises, to show up as the least among us, as the carpenter’s kid in a manger, as the beggar to whom I just said, “Not today.”

I suppose the best sissy way I can say it is “God: ubiquitously incognito!”

Silently, so as to disturb no one worshipping nearby, I shall pray this collect differently:

God, deliver me from presuming that you are limited to my understanding of you. Help me to know you by steadfastly serving those ranked least among us and by serving those with whom I most disagree. Amen

Acts 11:1-18

To the heart of this text, the Episcopal Church might well answer: We’ve been there, done that. At General Convention after General Convention straight believers criticized other straights who went to queers and ate with them. “How dare you do that? Have you not read Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? Have you not read Romans 1? Do you not know that they are an abomination? Why do you even talk about such people, much less sit down to the Holy Eucharist with them? Ordain them?! Bless their unions?! Heavens! Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy…..”

Then one of the straight advocates for the queers began to explain it to them, step by step, quoting the Apostle Peter.

I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, `Get up, Peter; kill and eat.' But I replied, `By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But a second time the voice answered from heaven, `What God has made clean, you must not call profane.' This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven…..

Straight Christians have said to multiple General Conventions: “If then God gave lgbt persons the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who are we that we can hinder God?"

At Anaheim the 76th General Convention through Resolution D025 and Resolution C056 in effect said to the worldwide Anglican Communion: we will call unclean no one whom God has made.

Psalm 148

Caveat: Don’t say this psalm too enthusiastically or the orthodoxy police will arrest you for pantheism.

On the other hand: get a life. Enjoy it -- all of it, including

sea-monsters and all deeps;

Fire and hail, snow and fog, *
tempestuous wind, doing his will;

Mountains and all hills, *
fruit trees and all cedars;

Wild beasts and all cattle, *
creeping things and winged birds

Pee Tee El indeed!

Revelation 21:1-6

Imagine being a Jew -- and a member of the Jewish sect called “Christians” -- after the Romans had sacked Jerusalem and dispersed its inhabitant to the far reaches of the earth. You find yourself isolated on a small Grecian island in the Mediterranean near the coast of Turkey. You are decidedly unimpressed by the great Roman Empire -- no more than an Afghani mother today who has lost a husband and three children to misdirected bombs by drones is impressed by the greatness of the project of the United States.

This is what John contemplated in precisely those circumstances:

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Blimey! Down with the Roman Empire! We can do better than this! Give us change we can believe in! The old Jerusalem is gone; but a new Jerusalem is on its way. It will be God’s, not Caesar’s, and not the Americans’.

"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."

Universal health care. Banksters be damned! No more gouging by the rich!

"See, I am making all things new…. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."

John 13:31-35

In 1999, Ted Mollegen, a progressive lay deputy from Connecticut, got in touch with me on behalf of The Rev. Brian Cox, a conservative leader serving a parish in Santa Barbara, California. Brian and some other conservatives had approached Ted with the idea of forming a New Commandment Task Force to bring together at the same table strong conservatives and strong progressives to seek reconciliation, and if possible, to model it for the whole church. Brian and I were designated co-conveners.

We met first in Seattle (actually in Edmonds, at St. Alban‘s) in the Diocese of Olympia. By design, our meetings maintained the intensity of labor and management teams trying to avert a major strike. We maintained a deadly schedule for several days, beginning early in the mornings and staying at the table late into the night, with few breaks, interrogating one another the way police do when they are trying to breakdown a suspect‘s story.

Our name, The New Commandment Task Force, came straight out of today’s gospel reading:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another

In the first gatherings of the group, we charged each person to explain who Jesus is in her or his life. Our starting point was a willingness to consider that, in spite our divisions, each of us is a Christian. Through narrative after narrative it became even clearer that all of us were driven truly to know God and steadfastly to follow in God’s steps.

After the first gathering, the group charged Brian and me to convene additional gatherings of yet more conservatives and progressives for similar exercises in reconciliation. Alumni from the Seattle meeting seeded meetings at four subsequent sites: Short Hills, NJ; South Bend, IN; Dallas, TX; and Los Angeles, CA.

The most painful part of the first gathering -- painful for conservatives and progressives alike -- was the moment that one participant said that he would absent himself from the Eucharist at the end of the very last session. He could not in conscience, he explained, partake of Communion with those whose beliefs and actions wounded the body of Christ.

Subsequently, this priest became a leader in the Anglican Province of Uganda but remains canonically resident in The Episcopal Church. A few others have left the Episcopal Church completely.

One participant at the Seattle meeting is now a bishop in the Anglican Church of Nigeria. In a very tense moment at Seattle, he told The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, The Rev. Michael Hopkins, The Rev. Jan Nunley and me: “You have stolen my church.”

I can speak only for myself, but probably echo the feeling of many other alumni of these gatherings: My world grew much more spiritually complex through such encounters. I continue to find it of major importance to expect and to see Jesus in those with whom I disagree. I have no sense that any “side” has an exclusive understanding of, nor an exclusive franchise for, the truth. I am more convinced than ever that we all need one another, that we come to that table trusting not in our own righteousness, but in God’s manifold and great mercies.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another

Stripped of sentimentality, those marching orders are about as tough as they can get.

The world will not know that we are Christians because we say so: the world will know that we are Christians when act like Christians, when we love one another, especially those with whom we fiercely disagree.

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

See also

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 25, 2010. Fourth Sunday of Easter.

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

At least two decades ago, Garrison Keillor spoke of a Lutheran pastor who never remembered names of his parishioners. He tried hard to remember their names, but the names slipped away. Even when people were in serious counseling sharing intimate details of their lives, the pastor would sometimes address them using the wrong name.

Understandably those who came to him lost trust. He had the outward show of caring, and persuaded himself that he wanted to have that ‘show,’ but he did not deliver, he did not know them by name.

Many ministers have told me that they love gay and lesbian people but just don’t approve of what gay and lesbian people do. Sometimes I have asked such a minister to tell me about a specific lgbt person or a specific lgbt couple and how the minister manifests love.

Some have demurred saying “I don’t want to invade their privacy.”

“Of course not. I understand. Just give me a first name. You can even make up the name.”

Almost never have their responses cogently revealed connections. They seem awfully much like the pastor Keillor described, someone who wants to appear pastoral but has little authenticity.

It is a unconvincing to hear a majority of the Anglican primates talk about people like me in hostile and derogatory terms while claiming to love us. In most cases, these are shepherds who do not know the names of their lgbt sheep. My lgbt Christian friends in their dioceses move heaven and earth not to risk being known by them.

Most Anglican primates do not speak authentically about lgbt persons; most have not experienced lgbt Christians in our faith journeys, and fewer still have spoken vulnerably about their own faith journeys and their own experiences of sexual identity.

Several have listened to us pruriently. They let us take all the risks. Every human being has a sexual history. Why should lgbt persons be the only ones required to give account of ours?

This dynamic is not present when as a gay person I speak with Jesus. When I hear him, I recognize his voice, and he knows me by name.

Pray that I will have the strength and the courage to follow where he leads.

Acts 9:36-43

Ernest is an international flight attendant, and occasionally I fly with him on one of his working trips, enjoying spousal rates, to parts of the world I have not yet visited. Typically we fly all night, arrive early in the morning, spend one full day at the destination, and fly back to Newark on the following morning.

That’s how I wound up in Joppa on September 21, 2004. I did not want to spend most of our one day traveling to and from Jerusalem; and Joppa was a short walk from our hotel by the beach in Tel Aviv. We could see Joppa gleaming in the bright sun.

I could imagine Jonah when he set off on a whale ride from there. Even more, I
could imagine Peter rejecting the strange foods let down to him on a sheet in a dream that he had napping on a rooftop in Joppas. Furthermore, centuries ago an artist had painted the scene on that rooftop as the backdrop of St. Peter’s in Joppa. ====>

Tabitha lay dead in humble surroundings in Lydda, near Joppa. Tabitha had been a seamstress. Peter, summoned from Joppa, was greeted by many widows wearing clothes which they said Tabitha had made.

The text says Peter turned “to the body.” The text mirrors the perception of those gathered, that Tabitha had died. But Peter did not accept the body as just a body. He said, “"Tabitha, get up."

Names in the bible have had an enormous influence on names that Christians give to their children. Google turns up 67.4 million hits for “Martha,” for example and 302 million for “Mary“, but only 5.1 million for “Tabitha“; yet Peter raised Tabitha from the dead.

No one has a monopoly on news genuinely good. It can come to non-descripts in out-of-the-way places, to someone like Tabitha in Lydda, even to an old quean like me on South Harrison Street in East Orange, New Jersey.

Psalm 23

In 1983-84, I taught at Er Wai, The Second Foreign Language Institute in Beijing, at the eastern edge of the city. It took me half an hour on a clunky one-speed bicycle to ride from Er Wai to Tiananmen Square due west into the heart of the city.

One of my many responsibilities was to give a weekly lecture on rhetoric to all the senior English majors at the institute, but they had access to no textbooks that I might assign for the course. Therefore, I commandeered many short and memorable texts for this task, including Psalm 23, surely in the top five of all memorized passages in English literature, and a treasure trove for rhetoricians.

I pointed out, to the warm smiles of my communist colleagues, how the psalmist suckers in the reader, from a point of view of talking about god to the point of talking to god, with no clear transition.

It begins, “The LORD is my shepherd…. He ….he… he…” Then the psalm quietly slips into “You are with me. Your rod…. You anoint….”

The strategy of the psalmist is not to provide argument, but a religious encounter.

The psalmist does not announce god; the psalmist simply has god show up.

From a critical point of view outside the psalm, one should ask whether that strategy is as accidental as it appears. Might the rhetoric be quite intentional?

Diction is also a part of the psalmist’s strategy. Shepherds and sheep were ubiquitous in the daily lives of most for whom the psalmist wrote. Compare

The LORD is my king; I shall not lack anything.

That would not have worked with the original audience. While they had kings, they did not expect kings to provide for people as much sheep expect the shepherd to provide.

Even shepherds cannot provide everything. For example, they cannot guarantee absolute security. A shepherd cannot remove every lurking enemy Instead, in the presence of the sheeps’ enemies, the shepherd prepares a feast.

The shepherd does not vanguish evil and threats; the shepherd circumvents them with love.

Most of all, the Lord removes the need for fear. Even instruments of discipline, “your rod and your staff,” protect and secure the speaker.

In the last verse the psalmist departs from the sheep-shepherd trope altogether. The psalmist also stops talking to God and returns to talking about god. In the end, the psalmist has the reader of the psalm make a believer’s claim about God:

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the sheepfold house of the shepherd LORD forever.

Try rewriting the psalm with a different beginning using vocabulary specific to our times, for example:

  • “God is my President……”

  • “God is our Chairman…..”

  • “God is head of my department….”

    If these don’t work, why not? If you can create a new beginning that works satisfactorily for you, explain how it does.

    Footnote for this section

    I was not arrested or dismissed. However, Er Wai did cancel Christmas that year, and a party official visited me, ostensibly to wish me greetings for the Western holiday. “I even went to a Methodist primary school,” he told me. It appeared, however, that another reason for his visit was to inspect the Christmas cards which many of my students, anxious to show their growing understanding of the visitor’s culture, had sent me.

    Fortunately the students escaped any reprimands because they had signed the cards with only their English names, and the party official knew them only by their Chinese names.

    Today’s gospel responds to the party official’s ruse:

    John 10:22-30

    My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

    Revelation 7:9-17

    This is my favorite small bit in this passage:

    Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows."

    On many occasions someone has asked me a question merely as a pretext -- not really caring about my answer, but seeking an occasion to give her or his own answer, which the person hopes will appear more spontaneous, lest canned if said in response to someone else. Anyone else will do.

    The next time someone tries to use me as a foil, I hope that I will duck the opportunity saying, “You are the one that knows.”

    Sunset following our meal in Joppa, 9/21/2004.

    See also
  • April 18, 2010. The Third Sunday of Easter.

    © 2010 by Louie Crew

    Today’s Lections

    The Collect

    O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    Where might we see Jesus? “In his redeeming work.”

    In his inaugural sermon, Jesus quoted Isaiah 11:2 to describe his redeeming work:

    The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to release the oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

    Luke 4:18-19

    If God had not made me gay, I seriously doubt the eyes of my faith would ever have opened to God’s project, to the redeeming work that he is doing and to the redeeming work that he calls me to do.

    Often Christians condemn as a secular agenda the work of releasing the oppressed. Often lgbt persons are told, “Take your worldly agenda elsewhere: we will have none of it; we are here to worship God and to enjoy him forever.” Yes, but….

    We must worship God in the beauty of holiness: that beauty, and indeed that holiness, that wholeness, comes in our loving not only God, but also our neighbors, all of them, as much as we love ourselves.

    Indeed, “open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work."

    Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)

    This is my favorite of the three accounts in Acts of Paul’s conversion, right down to the small details.

  • 425 Straight Street, Damascus, Israel

    It seems I have spent my whole life on “Straight Street” without ever noticing a literal street sign. Yet Google turns up about 55 million hits for “Straight Street” and about 20 million for “Straight Avenue”! How appropriate for unmarried epileptic, sadistic Saint, before he was a saint, before he understood Grace, to be quartered on Straight Street. I wonder whether it was actually named “Straight and Narrow Street”

  • Saint must suffer too

    Note the rich “concession” God makes to Ananias when Ananias objects to taking on the mission of visiting Saul. Saul has a reputation of doing “much evil” to Christians; why should Ananias expect Saul will be any nicer to him?

    God tells Ananias to go anyway, stressing: “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Subtext “You think Saul has made Christians suffer? You haven't seen anything yet. I will personally intervene to show Saul how much he will suffer.”

    That assurance prompts Ananias to undertake the visit God has asked him to make.

    Notice that in today's gospel from John (below), the resurrected Jesus lets Peter know how much Peter himself will suffer. Being God's disciple carries a price.

  • Something like scales in the eyes

    In my ministry I have often felt bidden too visit those who have persecuted lgbt persons. Many of them have also converted and have described their conversion as “something like scales falling from [my] eyes.”

    In the early 1990s a gnarled lady in her 80s, with blue hair showed up at a national convention of Integrity held in Atlanta. During a break she told me, “I am so glad that God has allowed me to live long enough to be here and to repent before you and others. I was wrong when God sent me Negroes to love; I did not have the courage or the grace to do so. When I meet my maker soon, I want to thank him for showing me Jesus not only in black people, but also in my lesbian and gay neighbors too.”

  • blindness and speechlessness both temporary

    Saul’s blindness may seem forever; Paul’s is not.

    Saul’s fellow travelers “stood speechless,” but afterwards took him to Straight Street.

    Psalm 30

    Despite what Scripture says in another place, God is not the same day after day forever and ever!

    Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

    For God’s wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
    God’s favor for a lifetime.

    Weeping may spend the night, *
    but joy comes in the morning

    Our God is a living god. We mere mortals can persuade God to change God’s mind.

    You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *
    you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

    Imagine how much more this verse meant to Paul than to Saul.

    Revelation 5:11-14

    Revelation, Ezekiel, and Daniel are the most operatic texts in Scripture. As choreographer, John can certainly hold his own in competition with Ezekiel and Daniel. This out hollywoods Hollywood, out bollywoods Bollywood, Not even the dance at the finale of Slumdog Millionaire can light a candle to it.

    They numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands

    If your audience would cringe were you to say “hunky dory”, store in your phrase hoard “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.”

    John 21:1-19

    Now you see me; now you don’t.

    The narratives of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus emphasize mystery. “Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” yet the narrator slightly suggests that they may not be so sure as they pretend to be, at least at first.

    Is the same not true of most Christians today? Must we be able to put our fingers in the holes in his hands before we know for sure it is Jesus? How many times? Did we just imagine it was Jesus?

    Peter even puts on clothes for the brunch which the stranger has prepared for them. The stranger cogently reveals himself not by what he says about himself, but by how he talks to them, especially by how he talks to Peter.

    When my mother said to me, “Erman Louie Crew, Jr., you have not yet taken out the trash,” I knew for certain that this was not just a mom talking; this was Mother.

    When Jesus said to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me” Peter instantly recognized this was not just a sharp guy who had invited them to brunch on the beach: this guy is his Lord.

    Peter knew it by the more formal appellation his Lord used for him, but also by what Jesus required of him, “Feed my sheep.”

    Three times Jesus says it. That’s often necessary when we are spiritually hard of hearing.

    Do you want to be a successful disciple of Jesus? “Feed my sheep.”

    That’s not just for bishops and priests: “Feed my sheep.”

    That’s not just for 'Religious Views" on the Facebook identification form. "Feed my sheep”

    Do we want to behold Jesus in all his redeeming work, as we asked in today‘s collect?:

    Feed my sheep.
    Feed my sheep.
    Feed my sheep.

    See also
  • April 11, 2009. The Second Sunday of Easter.

    © 2010 by Louie Crew

    Today’s Lections

    The Collect

    Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

    The collect does not say “Grant that we who have been reborn…may show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith….” In saying the collect, we pray not only for ourselves but also for the whole church. The prayer situates us smack dab in the middle of the Communion of Saints, not only as the ones praying, but also as the ones prayed for by thousands worldwide.

    Put another way, the collects asks God to help us “walk the talk.”

    Acts 5:27-32

    The temple had its own police even in the first century; temple police do not mark post 911 sensitivities.

    This translation does not suggest that they are just rent-a-cop security guards, but police. Police do not merely or even primarily secure. They maintain order and enforce regulations.

    In the 1970s, I sought and received permission to have an Integrity table in the exhibit area of the convention of the Diocese of Atlanta. Most exhibitors were assigned tables along the main concourse of the building. I was assigned out of sight, out of mind, in the basement. When I attempted to move, a diocesan spokesperson, given police responsibilities for the diocese, ordered me very loudly to remove myself and my information sheets from the main exhibit area and return to the basement where I had been consigned. I did not go gently into darkness, but go I did.

    Years later this ’policeman’ wrote me to apologize for the excessive abuse he had heaped upon me, and he asked for my forgiveness. I explained that he had long been forgiven from the same source of my forgiveness, indeed the source of all forgiveness. I had long forgotten his name, but as recently as January of this year he had occasion to write to me about something else, and again he refreshed my memory, explaining that he was the one who had abused me at the diocesan convention.

    I rejoice at how Christians redeem symbols of destruction by changing their meanings. Witness the cross, worn in pride for centuries as a mark of our redemption. Compare the effects you might expect if you were to wear a miniature chair of electrocution on a chain around your neck.

    Witness Methodists, originally belittled by that name, as if they had a method for everything; now the word names a major body of Christ, and few remember the original insult. Witness those who quaked in their worship (now venerated as Quakers) and those who shook in religious ecstasy (now venerated as Shakers). There is some evidence that even the word Christians was originally intended to insult, calling us the “little Christs.”

    poetry with a Small p

    I hope that the world I sing about
    will not last,
    that my verse soon will self-destruct,
    requiring too much gloss
    to be worth the reading,
    That queer, lezzie,
    and homophile
    will be buried in unabridged
    historical dictionaries,
    that a homo will be
    "a bottle of milk,"
    That queanly will survive
    only as "venerable,"
    That faggot will mean simply
    "anyone who demonstrates courage,"
    that everyone will aspire
    to be a dyke,
    or "one who endures and prevails,"
    that husbands kissing each other goodbye
    will stand out only
    because they block the traffic,
    that pink triangles will occur
    only randomly, and only in linoleum,
    quilts, or Christmas paper,
    that all these will pass as completely
    as our smells at Dachau and Auschwitz.

    I carefully remark current social dis-ease
    only to destroy it,
    not to memorialize it.
    Bigotry needs no more monuments.

    Louie Crew (1981)

    Appeared First Hand 6.10 (1986): 131. Used my penname Li Min Hua

    In Acts 5, the apostles actively engaged in civil disobedience. The council had ordered them not to preach in the temple, and yet they persisted in doing so. They claimed to follow the higher orders of God, not the orders of the council.

    Witness Gandhi doing the same against the British Empire in India. Witness David Thoreau, who refused to pay taxes in order to resist the Mexican-American War. Witness the non-violent passive resistance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

    Gandhi, King, and Thoreau did not whine when arrested. They argued that jail is the proper place for a righteous person when the laws are unjust. Thereby Thoreau prompted his friends to pay his taxes and obtain his release. Thereby Gandhi gained the sympathy of the entire world watching his courage. Thereby Dr. King inspired a whole nation to dismantle segregation in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    In Acts the police and others in authority were so outraged that they wanted to kill the apostles, but Gamaliel, a respected Pharisee and member of the council, persuaded them to take no action, to “wait and see,” arguing that if the apostles’ witness is not of God it will not last, and that if it is of God, it will. (That part of the narrative is not included in today’s reading, but follows it, in the same chapter.)

    Psalm 150

    This the last psalm in the Book of Psalms is one of the shorter. (Psalm 134 is the shortest.) Finality seems implicit in Psalm 150’s brevity and simple repetition. In only six verses, eleven times the psalm proclaims “praise God/him.” The psalm begins and ends with the most biblical of interjections: “Hallelujah!” We are told where to praise him (‘in his holy temple’, ‘in the firmament of his power’); what to praise him for (‘his mighty acts’; ‘his excellent greatness’); and how to praise him (with the ram’s-horn, with lyre and harp, with timbrel and dance, with strings and pipe, with cymbals -- those that resound and those that clang loudly. Indeed, “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.”

    Revelation 1:4-8

    John begins his vision with rhetorical flourish, piling phrase upon phrase in exultation of the Second Coming: “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.”

    I highly recommend that on a lovely spring afternoon you isolate yourself in a place where you can be totally uninhibited. Strip to sackcloth and ashes. There you should declaim the entire Book of the Revelation. Some sherry will help. So will some chocolate covered wild locusts shipped Fed-Ex from Nieman’s in Dallas.

    Few are agreed as to what the Revelation to John meant to him, or should mean to us today, but never mind that incertitude. Declaim the written text as if you alone know what it really means.

    Allow at least two hours alone in silence after you have finished the declamation.

    You need tell no one that you have done this. It will be your secret with God. I assure you that you will never again read the Revelation unaffected by this experience of it. Caveat: it may change you.

    John 20:19-31

    I am inordinately grateful to Thomas for speaking the doubts of those of us not privileged to have Jesus voluntarily show us his hands and his side.

    I am inordinately grateful to the Episcopal Church which respects the integrity of honest doubt enough to have named many of our churches after the doubter St. Thomas -- 145 (1.83%) of our 7,933 congregations (excluding those named for St. Thomas a Beckett of Canterbury).

    Alfred Lord Tennyson asserted: “"There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds."

    Saint Paul proclaimed that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” but even he bases his faith strongly on his eye-witness experience. Three times in the book of Acts (chapters 9, 22, and 26) he tells how the risen Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus. In 1 Corinthians 9:1 he stresses: “Am I not an apostle?? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” In chapter 13 of the same book, Paul says: “Then he [Jesus] appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

    In Galatians 1:11ff. Paul stresses: “the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

    Feeling left out? Not had a direct revelation of God to you personally? Jesus speaks to our condition: “[Thomas, h]ave you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

    We’re blessed indeed.

    See also