Saturday, May 1, 2010

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

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