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

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