Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010. Second Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Imagine God listening to this prayer with a sigh: "It’s good of you to ask me to tell you what to think, but don’t for a moment assume that what you think is what I told you. I am not responsible for everything that comes into your head when you are being pious."

Much of the harm “good people” have done derives because they attribute their own ideas to God and then claim that God made them do it. See especially Bertrand Russell’s The Harm That Good Men Do.

Of the two greatest commandments, the first is that we love God with our minds. We do not love God with our minds if we don’t keep them open when we pray.

1 Kings 17:8-16

If you’re ever in a strange town completely cut off for material resources -- no phone access, no cash, no credit cards -- and it is snowing, you will probably have a much better chance of shelter if you knock on the door of a poor family than if you try to get access to someone in a gated community.

Some of the most hospitable people I have known in my life have lived on limited incomes yet with a jar of meal that cannot be emptied and a jug of oil that never fails.

My father frequently gave me problems to solve in what he called the arithmetic of stinginess. When I was 12 or 13 he had me estimate how much one of the wealthier families in our neighborhood had spent on doctor bills in the last year, noting how little they spent on food for a good diet. He and Mother never scrimped on any meal to which they invited guests. And they pointed out to me that the chief pleasure was their own: the pleasure of sharing generously. Life’s blessings are meant to be enjoyed, to be used up, and they never run out.

The best meal I have ever had was Christmas dinner 1987 in Chicago. Ernest and I were living in the run-down Belmont Hotel on Diversy. I was “between jobs” (=out of work), having returned from four years teaching in Beijing and Hong Kong, arriving in August, when all academic posts had long been filled. Ernest got a clerk’s job at Fendi’s in Marshall Fields, and with his salary any my savings we scrimped to see how far we could stretch our resources, not sure when we would both be fully employed again. We did not even have a hot plate, only a large coffee pot. Ernest used the coffee pot to make a gourmet 7-course meal.

Psalm 146

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
and in that day their thoughts perish.

That reality of death is one that most troubles me -- not the loss of things, not the loss of physical activity, but the fact that our thoughts perish, our brains die!

The psalmist contrasts the inevitability of that harsh reality with our hope in God

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them; *
who keeps his promise for ever;

Who gives justice to those who are oppressed, *
and food to those who hunger.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; *
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

The LORD loves the righteous;
the LORD cares for the stranger; *
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.

Justice is communal and not coterminous with the thoughts of any one justice worker. The LORD works justice through generation after generation.

Glenn Beck takes issue with the point of view in this psalm. Recently he counseled:

I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

Listen to him say this

I plead that I am guilty as charged. “Social justice” and “economic justice” are high priorities of my faith.

Galatians 1:11-24

Luke tells of Paul’s conversion three times in Acts, and here Saint himself repeats some of the key features.

I am particularly struck that he waited three years before going among the Christians after his conversion, and even after three years, he spent fifteen days with only Peter and James, not with the Christian congregation. He had persecuted Christians. Surely they and he needed time to get over that common history.

How wondrous he did win their trust. How willing are we to trust criminals who tell us they have reformed? What demonstrations can they make to restore our trust?

Luke 7:11-17

This is the second of two accounts of resurrection in today’s readings -- the widow’s son raised by Elijah, and here, the only son of another widow.

See also

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May 30, 2010. First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I assume this collect dates as far back as the Elizabethans. Even if it is much later, it manifests a bold claim: that we worship unity. What cynical laugh might we allow Roman Catholics who hear us make that claim? What cynical laugh might we allow Methodists who hear us make that claim? What evidence do we have to obviate their cynicism?

Often people profess most loudly that which their conduct questions.

I wonder how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit arrive at decisions? If we hid a microphone, might we document that in the process they sometimes disagree before reaching a consensus?

Jesus' own prayers give us an inkling of how he and God work towards getting on the same page. Jesus often pleads with his Father to change circumstances.

Is Unity more important than Justice or Truth? Does any one of them need more our worship or our work?

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

What a splendid soliloquy for Wisdom/Understanding? She reminds us she was the first being God created, and suggests she was not only witness to, but required for, God’s other acts of creation.

I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.

Wisdom is a term not in much use in Higher Education. Knowledge can be quantified; wisdom cannot. Academics are far more likely to praise someone as smart than to praise someone as wise. Many assume that to proclaim someone as “wise” is too subjective. Even illiterates may be wise, but not ‘learned’ or intellectually smart.

If word were to leak out that one may be wise and understanding without paying $20k+ per year for a degree, might that information lead people to devalue degrees?

What college or university offers a degree in Wisdom? What credentials would someone need to qualify for a faculty appointment in a Department of Wisdom?

  1. List your top five smartest Presidents of the United States.
  2. List your top five wisest Presidents of the United States.

Are the lists the same? If not, explain to yourself why they are not.

Try the same exercise with your top five bishops of the Episcopal Church.

Psalm 8

Try various alterations to the initial salutation to see what they tell us about the choice the psalmist made. For example,
  • O Lord our boss, how exalted is your name….
  • O Lord our President, how exalted is your name….
  • O Lord our Department Head, how exalted is your name….
  • O Lord our CEO, how exalted is your name….
  • O Lord our CFO, how exalted is your name….
  • O Lord our teacher, how exalted is your name….

Consider Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor Jimmy Carter, Governor Sarah Palin, Governor Bill Clinton….. What changes if any have they made to the status of the title “governor” as the psalmist uses it?

Shakespeare knew this psalm well. Clearly he reflected on it when he wrote the script:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.

Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 303–312

Cf. the psalmist:

What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?

You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;

You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:

All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,

The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.

Shhhhhh! Don’t read this aloud lest some fundamentalist accuse you of being a humanist! That’s but a short step from being “a secular humanist”! -- horror of horrors among the self-righteous.

Romans 5:1-5

I take heart that Saint exercises no false humility here, as he did when he described himself as “among sinners I am chief.” Here he boasts

  • in his hope of sharing the glory of God
  • in his sufferings

I was firmly educated to wait until compliments come, not to compliment myself. Even now when I am invited to describe acts of endurance on behalf of the Gospel, I feel uncomfortable doing so. Yet Saint reminds us that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope….” There are rewards for suffering, even for an old quean like me.

I was educated to identify courage as the exclusive domain of the athlete, of someone with physical prowess tested and found fearless. Such were all of my heroes in growing up.

As a professor I found it important to give students assignments for which I knew in advance they would write well, and occasionally to challenge them with assignments which I knew in advance would stump most students, to help them test their limits.

Ask students to write an essay in which they describe someone who exhibits moral courage, and most will flounder. Some will even raise their hands to ask, “What do you mean by ‘moral courage’ sir?"

Send them to Romans 5 for a lead into the assignment.

Send them to the library to whisper to the clerk at the reference desk, “Can you tell me which librarian here has the most courage?"

Send them to a neighborhood of the down trodden to sit all day on a park bench bringing into casual conversation, "Which person here has had the most courage to stand up to the system that makes our life hard?"

Character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

John 16:12-15

Beware those who say, “The Bible says it, it’s so, I believe it; end of story.”

Jesus says we are not always ready to hear what God has to say. He told his disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

Does Scripture so much better inform us than it did the disciples that we should not allow God to say anything new to us that has not already been said in Scripture? Sola scriptura ?

Not so, says Jesus in Scripture itself. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

Jesus did not say, "When the New Testament canon has been adopted, both the Old and the New Testaments will be all that is needed to guide you into the truth."

For a preview of coming attractions, hang out with the same low life with whom Jesus hung out.

I have learned far more about God as a quean than I ever learned about God when people presumed I was straight.

New revelations are bound to come from yet other hithertofor excluded or marginalized persons. Listen to undocumented workers. Listen to the poor and the homeless. Listen to those in prison. Jesus is already with them long before we take it upon ourselves to listen. Listen with great expectations!

See also

May 23, 2010. Day of Pentecost. Whitsunday

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Scripture mentions Jesus; it mentions God the Father; it mentions the Holy Spirit; but Scripture never mentions the Trinity. The Trinity is a creation of the Church in an effort to explain the relationship between the three. The Trinity is a doctrine, a teaching. It proclaims that what you see is what you get -- one God yes, but in three different manifestations. Three, yet one; a mystery.

Notice how some name these three when they begin a sermon invoking them:

  • “In the name of God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit”
  • “In the name of God -- Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier”
  • “In the name of God -- whose name is ‘love‘, whose name is ‘beloved‘, whose name is ‘lover‘”

The last one is my own creation. The Holy Spirit is often spoken of as ‘lover of souls.’

Lover has special overtone (or undertones?) when used by lgbt persons. A good friend and the wife of a bishop who has taken risks supporting lgbt Christians, once asked me why I sometimes refer to Ernest as my ‘lover.’

In my world a ‘lover’ is someone whom you don’t care enough about to marry, someone who is mainly a sex object. I know that Ernest is more than that to you.

“Ernest and I are not permitted to marry,” I explained. “We would if we could, and in fact, consider that we already have, in the presence of just ourselves and the Holy Spirit.”

Lover is the term lgbt people, like straights, have used sometimes for sex objects, yes, but sometimes to name a partner in a profound and sacramental union.

I am pleased that more and more of us lgbts are using publicly the term that Ernest and I have used privately regarding our relationship, namely marriage, with or without the state’s imprimatur or the church’s imprimatur.

One of the reasons that for a long time I did not use the word marriage publicly was that I did not want to suggest that we are trying to imitate straights' relationships. We are not 'playing at' anything. We are living our vows to God and each other. I was not sure that straights could understand that.

Now that many have heard lgbts use the word, straight folks are becoming more aware of the world as lgbts experience it.

From our marriage on February 2, 1974, Ernest and I have signed notes or signed off on phone messages, as “husband.” Each has also used husband as a salutation, as in “Husband, would you do me a favor when you go to the grocery store….” Each of us has no wife; we use husband to affirm both the responsibilities and the blessings each shares in the relationship. For a long time we used spouse but it is a bit too archaic for a salutation.

However, I hope lgbts won’t altogether abandon the word lover. The Rev. John Rettger, long-time chaplain to Integrity/Minnesota, told me back in the 1980s that he and his wife Eudora had been much blessed and renewed by starting to call each other “lover.” They had picked up on the rich meanings with which their lgbt friends had imbued lover and rejoiced to name in their relationship the endearments the word ports in a full range of registers.

The Holy Spirit is such a “lover.”

Today is the most likely day on the church calendar that rectors will duck the opportunity to preach if they have a curate or an assistant. ‘Let the curate handle the tough one!”

Go for it, curates and assistants. Tell them about the Holy Spirit as ‘lover’ and don’t be afraid even of the erotic overtones. God did not turn out the lights when She made any of our body parts.

Acts 2:1-21

When I taught at Chinese University at Hong Kong (1984-87), I sometimes hosted a local lgbt group, providing a safe space for them, an alternative to the bars. Most were not students at the University, and many did not speak English.

One evening a young man arrived an hour early, having written down the wrong time. He could not speak English, and my Cantonese was quite limited. Through a series of hand gestures and pointing at watches, he came to understand that he was at the right place and that the others would come along in an hour.

While I finished preparing the refreshments, he scanned several books and magazines and also looked around the apartment . As I was setting down some crackers and a dip, he pointed to the piano and to my hands; his face formed a question mark.

I pointed to him and to the piano and bobbed my head to say ‘yes, you are welcome to play.’

He shook his head to say ‘no’ and then pointed to me and to the piano.

My piano skills are not much better than my skills at Cantonese. I play mainly hymns, and mainly for myself. I am not accomplished enough to play for a group. I bought the piano to help me in grieving the loss of both parents in the same year. The hymns my parents and I loved enhanced my experience of the Communion of Saints.

I yielded and sat down to play. “What hymn might he ever have heard? Is he even a Christian?” I thought to myself.

I started with something very simple: “Jesus loves me, this I know….”

He sang the first line in Cantonese and tears flooded his eyes. He sang no more and cried as I finished the verse.

Then he pointed to the small crucifix above the piano and then to me and to himself. With gestures he indicated that Jesus did not like either one of us. He pointed again to Jesus and then imitated him as very angry with each of us.

In my broken Cantonese, I said “Baba noi nay” (the Father loves you!)

He shook his head to say ‘no.’

“Baba noi nay!” I repeated. “Baba m’noi ney; Baba mhai Baba!” (‘The Father loves you. If the Father does not love you, the Father is not the Father.’

He manifested great consternation. He looked at me as if to say, “Are you sure???!”

I shook my head praying that I would convey absolute assurance.

Then I played just the treble line of “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”

At “mine” I pointed to him. His face had the beginning of a smile. Then he started singing the rest of the song in Cantonese, “O what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, promised of God, born of his Spirit washed in his blood. This is my story, this is my song, praising my savior, all the day long…..”

"Heterosexuals of 2010 and all who visit via cyberspace, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, this young man and I were not drunk nor seeking sexual congress, as you might suppose. We were waiting for others in his group to arrive for a meeting. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

`In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions.

When the others arrived, he explained through one of them that his Pentecostal Church had kicked him out for being gay and that his entire family scorned him.

His new family did not. Nor did Babba. “Baba m’noi ney; Baba mhai Baba!” The Father is not the Father if he does not love you.”

Pentecost indeed!

Psalm 104:25-35, 37

There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it.

I think God made lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered just for the sport of it! God sends forth God’s spirit, and we are created, and so God renews the face of the earth.

Romans 8:14-17

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

How beautifully “Abba! Father!” echoes my broken Cantonese, “Baba noi ney”: God loves you.

How beautifully the passage “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” is echoed in Fanny Crosby’s hymn which the young man sang, this time believing it, “Heir of salvation, promised of God, born of his spirit, washed in his blood.”

John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Many Christians act as if Scripture literally closed the book on any future revelation that God might give to the world. That belief is a sin against the Holy Spirit, who is alive and well and moving in our world, still revealing God’s self, and still doing so where we least expect it. In the creed, we use the present tense when we affirm, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son and with the Father and the Son together is worshipped glorified.

Wait expectantly for the Spirit’s prompting as we bring news genuinely good to yet another group of hitherto excluded persons.

See also

May 16, 2010. Seventh Sunday of Easter

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

“Glory everlasting”?

Anything in this life that is pleasant becomes unpleasant when sustained indefinitely without cessation. A piece of candy held in your mouth for longer than a few minutes begins to sour and in short order will make your mouth sore. Eating even a large dessert can be pleasant, but not when you are in a contest to see who can break last year’s record on eating multipe servings of the dessert. Some pharmaceutical companies warn you to contact your physician if the effects of their products, meant to enhance pleasure, are sustained for more than four hours.

Robert Frost put it:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower,
But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief.
So Dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Much good poetry celebrates transience. It's fundamental to the order of this world.

Theologian C. S. Lewis said that even as a Christian he was a long time coming around to belief in the afterlife. Transience in this life led him to believe in heaven. The alternative, he felt, was to view God as a sadist, as one who creates desire but never allows it to be completely fulfilled. Lewis viewed heaven as a place not bound transience, not bound even by time.

I confess that I am not into Christianity for these big rewards. I would remain a Christian even if I were to learn for sure that there is no afterlife. I rejoice in redemption in this life and do not require further blessing. For me redepmtion is something no winning lottery ticket could provide.

If there is a heaven, I hope that when I get there, throne rooms and glory days won't be required, at least not required of those who prefer more modest fare.

Acts 16:16-34

Nor was Saint into Christianity for the miracles it allowed him to perform or for those performed on his behalf. The earthquake made it possible for Saint and Silas to be saved from the tortures of their prison; the earthquake made it possible for them to escape. But by remaining in jail when they did not have to, they revealed a greater salvation. Their jailer asked what he must do to be thus saved.

The faithfulness of Paul and Silas prompted the salvation not only of their jailer, but also the salvation of all in the jailer’s household. The jailers washed the wounds of Saint and Silas and then fed them.

Psalm 97

Like many others, this psalm talks about other gods, not just the LORD. First it refers to those “who worship carved images and delight in false gods!” but in the next phrase seems to take those other gods as real enough to be demanded to bow before God: “Bow down before him [the LORD], all you gods.”

Two verses later, the psalm addresses the LORD directly, exclaiming, “you are exalted far above all gods.”

There is a tacit polytheism here, albeit an absolute affirmation of Jaweh’s supremacy.

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21

Most of us take pleasure in finishing a book. This passage is the end of the Christian bible.

The ending is decidedly succinct: “Surely, I am coming soon” is followed by “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Then a 12-word blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.”

That's especially short as the ending of a very long book, or more accurately, the ending of the final book of 66 books in the collection.

Just before this ending, John proclaims, "Let everyone who is thirsty come"

Yet in much of the history of Christianity, persons have tried to make this text more complicated. Some generations have said

  • Let everyone who is thirsty and a Catholic come, or
  • Let everyone who is thirsty and a Protestant come, or
  • Let everyone who is thirsty and white come, or
  • Let everyone who is thirsty and heterosexual come, or
  • Let everyone who is…..

The unamended version is still radical, still salvific:

  • Let everyone who is thirsty come

That’s Jesus’ only requirement for communion, that you be thirsty.

See 365+ Reasons to be Anglican/Episcopalian

John 17:20-26

In this prayer Jesus is praying not for himself, not even for his beloved disciples who know him already, but for you and for me and for all disciples thereafter.

Jesus' desire for all of us is quite simple -- not that we be rich nor that we be profound, nor that we be theologically correct……..but we “may all be one.”

Jesus tells God, “The world does not know you” but stresses the his disciples now know God because of his witness. He notes that future generations will know god because of the witness of those who precede them. That still is true: if people in the future will know God, that will happen because of “our” witness.

How much do Christians grieve about our divisions?

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. Amen

Book of Common Prayer, United States of America, 1928

Writing in 1999, Rt. Rev. Donald Perschall, Presiding Bishop of the American Anglican Church, described the fragmentation that has occurred even among the Traditionalist Movement in Anglicanism, of which his group is a part:

Historically, there has been a lot of anger and hostility directed at those who have left by those traditionalists who have stayed and against those who have stayed by those traditionalists who have left. There has also been hostility between those who left - we all did not leave for the same reasons: for some it was the Prayer Book changes, some the ordination of women, others the issues surrounding homosexuality, and still others could not stand the perceived lawlessness - canons that have been selectively ignored or enforced when it served a liberal agenda. Today, there are over 600 churches in North America alone in this movement.

In March of 2003 Bishop Perschall left the American Anglican Church to be received as a priest in the Episcopal Church. He now serves in the Diocese of Dallas.

See also

May 9, 2010. Sixth Sunday of Easter

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Ostensibly prayer is talking to God. Baptists and religious non-conformists consequently provide few written prayers for individual or corporate use -- the Lord’s Prayer being the most notable exception, given its provenance.

Talk to God as to your father, Jesus’ model suggests. You don’t need to tell your father much about who your father is; he knows all that. He also knows all about you, but wants to hear you tell it.

With a Prayer Book that provides a multitude of prayers in careful language, some Episcopalians prefer not to improvise. Spontaneous prayers are subject to the exigencies of the moment and do not allow one to give God a full report. They invite not so much a conversation as a petition.

That’s a fairly standard account of Baptist/Episcopal differences on the subject of written prayers, but having been both a Baptist and an Episcopalian, I find it inaccurate to say that Episcopalians are out of our element when we pray without the Prayer Book. I have spent lots of time with Episcopalians in prayer, and they manifest little discomfort or ineptitude in spontaneously finding words to speak to God. Praying with someone in a hospital, praying with a friend who has sought counsel, praying to begin a meeting or a meal…. most Episcopalians sound no more formulaic to me than do Baptists.

The first sentence of today’s collect tells God what God already knows. I suspect the author of the prayer put that sentence into it to remind the petitioner more than to remind God of what God has prepared. Even in spontaneous prayer, I find it useful to remind myself of the one to whom I am speaking. I find the same when I counsel a student about a paper; e.g., “Sarah, clearly you want us to care about XXX. You mention the YYY of XXX, the BBB of XXX, and the LLL of XXX. If you swapped places with the third and first of these, would your reader follow you better?…..”

With today’s collect we remind God of God’s good intention, but then ask God to help us live in such a way as to receive what God intends.

While some Baptists eschew what they call the fancy canned language of the BCP, many Baptists end their “spontaneous” prayers with pet flourishes, such as “all this we ask in the name of thy precious son, Jeeesus!” Today’s collect eschews the archaic “thy” (at least in the version for Rite II) but bows almost as low as an 18th-century courtier to emboss the prayer as Anglican: “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.”

I suspect that God has already heard the meat of the prayer and is disconnecting during these bows to turn attention to the next petitioner in line.

Acts 16:9-15

I have often wondered what it would be like to spend a day silently observing missionaries moving through Newark or through Orange Park behind our apartment building. A Mormon pair will stand out instantly on the No. 24 or No. 44 bus, almost always white, male, young, and wearing a white shirt with tie and blue trousers, with or without a matching coat. At least one of them usually clutches a Book of Mormon.

I’m impressed by their commitment. I have learned that they do this for two years, and that not all Mormons do it, just those intent on this holy rite of passage.

The Mormon Church does not pay them: they must raise the money to fund their mission entirely before they undertake it.

Those whom I have observed move apparently unafraid as the bus makes its way through some of the toughest streets of “Brick City.” I suggest that you invite them for cake and coffee sometime. Listen to their spiel. See what you can learn from them even if you are not prepared to buy a blue suit and clutch your BCP through a tough city far away from the comfort and familiarity of home.

Acts 16 gives us Luke’s account of a missionary journey he took with Paul to East Orange and Orange [sorry about that; I got carried away -- Lutibelle] Neapolis and Philippi. They have no church to go to. Nada. There’s not organization there. What they see is what they get. They have no letters of introduction. They don’t even have an issue of Watchtower to initiate a conversation they way the elder Adventists do in Orange Park when I take my daily constitutional.

Paul and Luke head to the river “where we supposed there was a place of prayer” -- but they have no guarantees. They start speaking where a group of women are gathered. One of them, Lydia, is “a worshiper of God,” but it is not clear whether she is a Mormon, a Methodist, as Appolinarian, a Dionysian…..” Whatever. She worships God; and she listens. “The Lord opened her heart to listen.”

Then she is baptized, not only she, but her whole household, right on the spot, right in the river. Just like that! No fanfare.

They don’t file papers and attend classes. They don’t wait for Maundy Thursday or a high holy day.

The water is there. The Holy Spirit is there. What else is needed?

Not even the Mormons and the Adventists move that expeditiously.

What transformations in the church and in the world might happen if Episcopalians were to have a vision in which people from our neighborhoods and nearby neighborhoods plead and say, “Come over here and help us?”

They are pleading if we but have ears to hear.

A personal aside: When I moved to New Jersey in 1989, I became quite impressed with the Mormon missionaries on the No. 27 bus to Newark’s North Ward where I lived then. Later, inspired by them, I persuaded the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns to include in our Bluebook report the Resolution 2000-A007 which called for the creation of an Episcopal Youth Corps. The legislative committee approved the resolution but it died with adjournment. Executive Council liked the proposal, renamed it, and established The Episcopal Service Corps.

Thank you, Mormons! Thank you, Luke and Paul!

Psalm 67

Note the structure and the grammatical point of view.

Verses 1, 6, and 7 speak about God in the third person. Verses 2-5 address God directly. Each of those verses in this translation begins “Let…”

As in Psalm 23 which we heard last week, the psalmist not only talks about God, but brings us into a verbal encounter with God.

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5

And there will be no more night

Clearly Patmos did not yet have electricity. No TVA or New York Power Authority brightened John’s nights. He imagines a heaven where there is no night.

As one brought up in post-candle, post-kerosene enLightenment, I would miss night were it no longer available. Imagine how much brighter the stars shone on Patmos then than they will tonight. North Korea is the only country in the world that still shows up completely dark on the satellite photographs that track light over several hours.

John would have made a superb diva or drama quean. Maybe that's why he fantasizes a world with no night. There are some lovely eye-covers with rhinestones for those who fly in business class. It's as simple as saying, "Let there be darkness"; and it is so, with none of the dire consequences should you wake up and need to see your way to the loo.

I enjoy John's sense of theater, but I would like to have some coffee with the cast in the Green Room come curtain time.

Yet John’s Green Room probably stayed carefully padlocked, probably in an underground bunker hidden from Roman centurions seeking to squelch revolutionary visions of an order better than their own. Don’t let Caesar hear that these people intend to “reign for ever and ever”!

Tune in again next week, same time, same website, for the next episode of reality theology: R E V E L A T I O N. That’s singular, folk. Revelation! Don’t miss it.

John 14:23-29

Jesus makes three points in quick succession in John‘s account:

  1. Keep my word. Otherwise you don’t love me.
  2. I will send the Holy Spirit to take my place after my resurrection.
  3. Peace. Don’t be afraid. I am going home to the father.

Earlier in the same chapter, Jesus refers to his new assignment in real estate

In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. -- verse 2

For more than two thousand years Jesus has been making preparations. Heaven must be one very fancy place. There should be plenty of first-rate jobs for sissy decorators and antique dealers.

See also