Wednesday, August 25, 2010

September 5th, 2010, Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Church holds that what we pray reveals what we believe -- lex orandi, lex credendi.

Do you really believe that it is wrong to be self-reliant, wrong to confide in your own strength? Do you really believe that God wants us to ask God to take on challenges that we are strong enough to take on for ourselves?

I had a friend in college that so much feared being proud that he would not take singing lessons to enhance his considerable talents as a bass. “I am already too proud,” he insisted.

And he was too proud, not humble enough to submit himself to instruction.

I remember going to a psychologist in London while working there in 1970 with much too much time on my hand and too little imagination to put my talents to work without the discipline that I had just ended by completing my doctorate. It did not take the psychologist long to detect that my answers to his questions were canned cleverness, responses that I had forged in earlier therapy when I had really needed it. “Are these really current problems for you?” he asked. “No,” I had to say.

Dependency begets dependency begets dependency…..

Compare my revision of the collect:

God, thank you for giving us good minds and opportunities to learn to use them well. When we are strong, thank you for trusting us to be strong. Thank you for loving us as your friends, not as your servants slavishly bowing and scraping before you. Thank you too for your mercy and love when our strength fails us. Amen.

lex orandi, lex credendi. Yes!

Jeremiah 18:1-11

Is Jeremiah really speaking for God, or for Jeremiah’s notion of God?

Do you really believe that God ever behaves as “a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you”? What ungodly paranoia!

Would you shape evil against your child who had disappointed you? If not, why would you assume that our heavenly parent would behave that way towards us when we are wayward?

Jeremiah appears to be driven to do right primarily by fear of the punishment for doing wrong. It is his major rhetorical strategy in trying to convert Israel from doing wrong. Does that kind of strategy work well on you?

I find that the wrong that I do most often provides its own punishment, and that the major punishment for me is like that of the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable: prodigality leaves me empty, miserable, alone, alienated from God. I don’t require someone yelling at me to tell me that I am in deep trouble. I know it already.

The father in Jesus’ parable does not set out to punish his wayward son. When the son appears afar off, having become a lowly swineherd, his father runs to him, embraces him, orders that veal scaloppini be prepared.

By contrast, Jeremiah follows the theology of the Elder Brother, insisting that the prodigal be punished. Jeremiah’s imagery is violent: the potter breaks and destroys the vessel.

I prefer another potter’s image in our tradition:

Spirit of the Living God,
Fall fresh on me.
Take me, shape me, mold me, use me!
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall fresh on me.

It is dangerous to pray that prayer unless you really mean it; God may take you up on the invocation.

I am delighted that Jeremiah describes God as someone who can and does change his mind. That’s refreshing. I agree with Jeremiah that God wants us to set high standards. I agree that evil has dire consequences. I believe in confession, repentance and amendment of life. YET: God did not bully me into this faith; God loves me into it.

Psalm 139:1-5, 13-18

This is one of my favorite psalms. As a teenager and as a young man (back in the Dark Ages), I often found myself believing the evil things that people said about queers like me, even when I could not reconcile their contradictions. At one level, they supposed me to be so dangerous that I could ravage even strong young men; and at another, they supposed me to be pitiful, weak and despicable.

Into this mix the psalmist intrudes, and would have me say as a gay man:

I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

My gay body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

My friends Dr. Anne Clarke Brown and the Rev. Lee Alison Crawford selected Psalm 139 for their commitment service in the Diocese of Vermont on August 25, 2000. Vermont was the first state to legalize domestic partnerships. Even with Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod also present, I felt like a holy outlaw as these two made their solemn vows to each other. Marvelously made indeed!

There is so much of God’s reality that the church is unable to welcome yet. I am reminded of the cartoon in Christopher Street years ago, showing a small child kneeling beside her bed praying, “And God bless Mommy and Daddy, my sister Ellen and my brother Craig, and also Uncle Tom and his partner William whom we’re not supposed to talk about. AMEN”

Philemon 1-21

This reading should challenge us all to look boldly at slavery and Christian responses to it, especially our own.

Onesimus was Philemon’s slave and likely had stolen from Philemon. He appears to have fled to Paul in prison for protection. See Wikipedia’s account. Through Paul Onesimus was converted. The book of Philemon is Paul’s letter of reference for Onesimus. In it Paul asks Philemon to take Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a fellow Christian. Paul writes “If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.”

Nowhere does Scripture directly challenge the system of slavery. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul charges: “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.”

Samuel Seabury (1801-72), grandson and namesake of the first bishop of the Episcopal Church, defended slavery and patriarchal supremacy in 1861 thus:

The right of suffrage is then truly universal when it is extended to all the adult males of the State, without regard to distinctions of property; it can not go beyond this limit, and be extended to women, without violating the main principle on which the very being of the State rests for support, which is the subordination of wives to their husbands, of children to their fathers, and of slaves (in every community which has them) to their masters.  Women are cared for and protected in their natural rights by the State, and so are children, and so are slaves in those countries in which they chance to form one of the classes of society; but women, children, and slaves are not the State, are not the protectors of society.  Their position is one of subordination and dependence; and men--freemen--whether they be "the lords of creation" or not, are in fact the lords and rulers of the political community to which they belong.

From American Slavery, distinguished from the Slavery of English Theorists, and justified by the Law of Nature, 1861

Leonidas Polk, First Bishop of Louisiana, was also General Leonidas Polk in the Army of the Confederacy, defending the institution of slavery.

In A Letter from the Bishop of Vermont to the Bishop of Pennsylvania the Bishop of Vermont, hardly from the Deep South, wrote:

"The Slavery of the Negro Race as maintained in the Southern States appears to me fully authorized both in the Old and the New Testament.... That very slavery, in my humble judgment, has raised the negro incomparably higher in the scale of humanity."

--Rt. Rev. John H. Hopkins, May 2, 1863

The world still toils and travails with the crushing legacy of slavery.

Saint’s solution is not enough, even though he urged Philemon to free Onesimus. That plea is a powerful witness to the love of God at work with these three human beings. But it does not address the systemic evil of slavery. Only when the systems are dismantled can we begin to redress slavery’s awful consequences.

Dismantling the systems does not require our guilt: instead it requires our solidarity, as in the baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being -- up front and publicly, not just in quiet security behind closed doors.

See my PowerPoint presentation Reparations: A Debt, Not a Gift

Luke 14:25-33

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

So much for family values.

It is small wonder that those who most loudly tout family values invest major energy in trying to subvert Jesus’ radical hospitality to absolutely everybody.

As an English professor, I enjoy watching champions of family values scramble to make this text say something else besides what it says so clearly, scramble to find a context in which it might mean the opposite.

But I enjoy their scramble too much. I allow their plight to distract me from my own: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

There’s no wiggle room there, none whatsoever. And I have not given up all my possessions.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

See also

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010. Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

true religion? Indeed, for we are quite in danger of false religion.

  • False religion does not walk the talk.
  • False religion does not live the life it sings about.
  • False religion squelches doubts rather than live in balance with them.
  • False religion worships the signs of holiness, not the substance.
  • False religion is vaccination against the real thing.
  • False religion prefers to keep Jesus locked on the altar, so he can’t get out in the streets.
  • False religion prefers to wallow in guilt rather than take the responsibility to live forgiven.
  • False religion prefers to rule on earth rather than trust that God rules in heaven.

Increase in use true religion. Yes!

Jeremiah 2:4-13

Jeremiah quotes God complaining about the false religion of Israel’s ancestors:

What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?

God rehearses the good that he did to the Israelites and the evil they did in return.

All this is prelude. Israel’s abuse continues, as will its children’s and their descendents’ abuse:

Therefore once more I accuse you, says the LORD,
and I accuse your children's children.

God’s accusation applies to Israel’s Christian descendants as well, through and beyond our own generation.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
says the LORD,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

Cisterns are water-proof receptacles and have been found in the remains even of pre-historic dwellings. Often cisterns are placed to catch rainwater, and sometimes they are stored underground. Some are quite small; others serve whole communities.

Those who practice false religion use religion as if it is a private cistern for themselves, a substitute for God the living fountain of water. Such use of religion is cracked and cannot hold no water. Often you can spot those with false religion by their un-love and by their ill-will. They are spiritually dehydrated. Their cistern is cracked.

Psalm 81:1, 10-16

God speaks in Psalm 81 as in the Jeremiah reading, saying in both that Israel has turned away. The people have forgotten God’s marvelous acts. In the psalm, God stresses that he wants to do good things for Israel again. The sub-text is: ‘Come back to me so that I can be good to you again.’

Israel would I feed with the finest wheat *
and satisfy him with honey from the rock.

“Honey in the rock” resonates with the cisterns God reported in Jeremiah. The Israelites intended to store spiritual nurture but forged out a cracked cistern for it -- false religion.

Manna cannot be freeze-dried. Hoarded to use more than one day at a time, manna rots.

In Psalm 81, God has been storing something more successfully, sweet honey in the rock. The bees in Israel often build their hives in the rocks. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, God promised a land flowing with milk and honey.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Several years ago I established a website called Angels Unawares. To date, only nine have told how a stranger, or near stranger, has changed their life. The response is far below that to most of my other cyber offerings.

Have angels disappeared from our lives, or has our awareness of them diminished?

Have you entertained a stranger only afterwards to realize that the person was an angel? Angels are God’s messengers. What message(s) did the stranger bring to you? Please share your narrative for this site.

Saint urges that we practice hospitality that is truly radical by standards of the 21st Century.

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.

I am embarrassed when the Book of Common Prayer has us pray more tamely for the poor, keeping them at a distance, as if they are not one of us:

For the Poor and the Neglected
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. BCP 826

Would we be more faithful to pray with the poor? We might want to treat them differently if we understood them to be blood kin, unite to us in Jesus' blood. Eucharist!

Saint lived the standard that he preached, staying poor, making tents to earn enough to pay only for his necessities. “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.”

Are poor people welcome in your parish? If so, as clients? or as sister/brother Christians? Do you pray for them? with them? as one of them?

Are poor people welcome as guests in your home?

Is your God rich or poor?

This is August. Those who organize the lectionary know that most Episcopalians are on vacation, so they can include in the summer lections the passages that might be harder for the whole congregation to read, learn, and inwardly digest.

Luke 14:1, 7-14

Jesus is quite clear about Christian guest lists:

"When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

When Ernest and I lived in Hong Kong (1984-87) we gave a fancy dinner party for the dozen Filipino amahs (Cantonese for ‘maids’) that worked in our faculty residence building at Chinese University. We posted a sign on the kitchen door, “Keep out! No guests allowed!” and we insisted that they sit at our long dining table while we waited on them. We used our finest linen, dishware and Sterling. I printed menus and individualized place cards. Ernest, a gourmet cook, prepared a feast. We had great fun!

We did not say anything about this occasion to their employees, my colleagues; but apparently every amah volunteered a complete and ecstatic report, each showing her menu and place card. We soon discovered that we were stigmatized afresh even with colleagues who had no issue with our being a gay interracial couple. We had dared to host “the low life,” “mere servants”! -- as if there is anything mere about being a servant.

Our guests thoroughly enjoyed the day and could not believe it when we steadfastly refused to let them help with the clean-up.

That was a quarter of a century ago, and yet Ernest and I continue to be blessed by it.

There is a strange thing about blessings: I cannot find a way to bless others that does not return to me many times over.

I love Jesus’ sense of humor in his explanation of banquet etiquette: “"When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.’”

Who prints the menus and arranges the place cards at Heaven’s banquets? Do they remain in the same order, or do placements vary? The principle we know already: “The last will be first and the first will be last.”

Chen Yuk Che,

Widow of Leung Bing Ming

and Mother

of the Late Leung Sai Ham,


the Honor of Your Contribution

at Her Investiture

as a Bag Lady,

on the Lawn

of St. John's Cathedral

Garden Road, Central

just after the Christmas Mass.

Sportswear acceptable.

R.S.V.P. optional.

-- Li Min Hua (a.k.a. Louie Crew)

Has appeared:

  • Witness 71.12 (1988): 23. Used penname Li Min Hua
  • Northland Quarterly 2.3 (1990): 75. Used penname Li Min Hua
  • Fall Down/Get Up. from June 1999. Used penname Li Min Hua
  • Queers! For Christ's Sake! From May 12, 2004
  • Zafusy From April 2005 .
  • Angelic Dynamo from February 21, 2009. One of 3 finalists.

See also

Sunday, August 22, 2010. Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

It is inaccurate to pray this collect given the current divisions in the Anglican Communion. For several years now, the Communion has manifested anything but unity.

In consternation over the Episcopal Church’s support of LGBT Christians, a majority of the Communion has anathematized The Episcopal Church (TEC). The Archbishop of Canterbury has removed all TEC members from interim bodies of the Anglican Consultative Council, and reportedly has asked Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori not to attend the next primates meeting. He would not even allow her to wear her miter when she preached at London’s Southwark Cathedral on June 13th.

We should amend the collect thus:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church may cease its bickering and gather together in unity by your Holy Spirit so that we may show forth your power among all peoples to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

God told Jeremiah: “"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you.”

Isaiah reported of himself: "The Lord called me before my birth. From within the womb he called me by my name...He said to me, `You are my servant'..." (Isaiah 49:1, 3)

Prophets are not the only ones who can make this claim: so might you and I, in the words of Psalm 139: 13-14: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”

That’s not just for straight people anymore either; nor just for white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. God has fearfully and wonderfully made every one of us even while we were in our mothers’ wombs.

When God appointed him a prophet, Jeremiah said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy."

His reluctance I understand. In 1974, I called at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and said, “My husband and I are a racially integrated gay couple from middle Georgia and we would like to be put in touch with other gay Episcopalians while we are at UC Berkeley this summer. Several people passed the phone to others for me to repeat my request.

Their giggles and tittering, only slightly muffled, brought me clearly up against God’s call to do something about it. “Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak church talk, for I am only a quean.”

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, “I am only a quean”; for you shall go to all to whom I send you. .. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”

I did not go alone. I took out ads in The Episcopalian and in the national gay newspaper The Advocate announcing Integrity as a new organization for lesbian and gay Episcopalians.

Psalm 71:1-6

What do heterosexuals think of when they read?:

In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge; *
let me never be ashamed.

Has anyone ever tried to shame them merely for being heterosexuals?

This psalm, as does Jeremiah, and as does Psalm 139, encourages those of us who face persecution to take refuge in God, certain that we are God’s creation from the beginning:

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother's womb you have been my strength; *
my praise shall be always of you.

If you have never been anathematized, you have blood kin who have. We have all partaken of Christ’s blood. That’s not just mumbo jumbo. That’s our common birthright. In the Eucharist we are made one not only with Christ, but with one another. When we understand this transformation, we can never rightly shut out as strangers those whom others anathematize. We are bound to them through the body and blood of Jesus.

Deliver us, O God, from the hand of the wicked, *
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor

Say that when you drive your nice car to spend a day ministering with, not to, the homeless. Say that when you use your fine computer to write a letter seeking justice and proper care for refugees or undocumented citizens.

These are not tasks we do for strangers; these are ways we share blood kinship.

Hebrews 12:18-29

If my reading of Psalm 71 is too bloody for you, how will you bear Saints’ vision of our approach to heaven itself, when we come “to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”?

Saint’s vision is full of awe at powerful actions of judgment, explicitly surpassing the terrifying sights that Moses experienced. In Saint’s vision we “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God.” God tells us, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.”

Yet Saint stresses that through Christ “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.”

Luke 13:10-17

It sounds like Jesus has run up against the bureaucrats of Lambeth Palace, much as Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori did. Rather than welcome her and the very good news that she preached to a huge crowd, the archbishop stressed that she should not wear her miter, but just tote it under her arm. She obeyed. He looked foolish. She spoke gospel truth. Read her sermon here

When her male predecessor Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold preached at the same cathedral, he wore his miter and no objection was made: he is a male. The Church of England does not yet allow females to be bishops, so she had to tuck her miter under her arm. See a full report with pictures of both Presiding Bishops and their miters at Episcopal Café

When Jesus healed the crippled woman, the ecclesiastical bureaucrats noticeed only that he did it on the Sabbath. The healing was of no importance to them.

Jesus reminded them that even they give water to their animals on the Sabbath! But Jesus missed their point: the letter of the law is perfect, and nothing else will be tolerated.

I rejoice that Jesus will be my judge, not some church bureaucrats. Jesus has the property always to be merciful. Jesus knitted me together in my mother’s womb. Jesus loves an old quean like me. Indeed, Jesus loves absolutely everybody!

See also

Sunday, August 15, 2010. Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost.

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Given the texts for today, the collect is too tame. We might more pertinently pray,

Almighty God, we have prodigally devastated our environment and removed justice from our common life. We repent. Mercifully give us another chance before you send fire. Restore us. Show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved, and your beautiful creation along with us. Amen

Isaiah 5:1-7

This is one of the most powerful of the prophetic narratives in the bible. The application and the punch line are carefully reserved until the end.

The prophet Nathan used the same rhetorical strategy when he told King David about a rich man who seized and devoured the only possession of a poor man, a single lamb (see 2 Samuel 12:1-7). As Nathan hoped, his narrative greatly angered David who then called for judgment against the rich man, saying “He shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David, “Thou are the man.”

Isaiah’s narrative is also only seven verses long. Throughout most of it he talks only about a vineyard. His original audience, mostly agrarian, would be drawn into the disappointment ‘my beloved’ experiences when his tender care and best labors produce not the good grapes expected, but wild grapes. They would well understand the beloved’s anger and disappointment:

And now I will tell you
what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.

Only at the end do we learn that ‘my beloved’ is God and that the vineyard

is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!

It is easier for us to pass judgments on someone else than on ourselves. Over recent months many of us have paid close attention to British Petroleum, and British Petroleum has played the villain part to the hilt. We have learned that lax federal regulators intentionally treated oil company executives as pals rather than as petitioners. The regulators forgot the U.S. public whom they were appointed to serve.

Meanwhile, how many of us have reviewed our own addictions to fossil fuels? How many of those hardest hit along the Gulf Coast do themselves drive SUVs or other major guzzlers driving the deep-water drilling? How many citizens along the Gulf voted to cap the liability of the oil companies in an effort to woo them to drill the wells and bring much employment to their area?

“Thou art the man!”

“Our beloved God expected good stewardship but saw greed and prodigality.”

Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

In Psalm 80 the Israelites call for God to restore the vineyard, almost as if in response to Isaiah’s narrative. Psalm 80 is identified as a “Psalm of Asaph,” who like Isaiah, appears to have lived in the 8th century BC, so the two passages could have been in dialogue with each other. It is impossible to know, and not materially important. The vineyard in each narrative makes its point clearly without need of reference to the other.

Psalm 80, directly addresses God, “Hear, o Shepherd of Israel,” and petitions God to restore the destroyed vineyard. Previously God “brought a vine out of Egypt” (possibly through Israelites fleeing their captivity there?). When planted in the land promised, the vineyards flourished, as did trees and other vegetation, as a sign of God’s good intentions toward Israel.

The psalm blames God for the destruction of the vineyard, not the Israelites themselves, as Isaiah does.

Why have you broken down its wall, *
so that all who pass by pluck off its grapes?

The wild boar of the forest has ravaged it, *
and the beasts of the field have grazed upon it.

Do we blame God for the current devastation in the Gulf of Mexico? What about British Petroleum? What about our own lax regulators? What about our own addictions to fossil fuels?

Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine; *
preserve what your right hand has planted.

And so will we never turn away from you; *
give us life, that we may call upon your Name.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

“For time would fail me to tell of …”

But time does not fail Saint. For 141 words with great rhetorical flourish he rehearses the acts of many whom in the last section, he calls “the great crowd of witnesses.”

As is the Isaiah passage, this one from Hebrews is a performer’s dream, a grammarian’s treasure trove. The telescopic sentences in both soar with wondrous periodicity.

Each passage drives towards a dramatic conclusion. Isaiah reveals that the people of Israel are the ones who destroyed the vineyard, and that God, the planter of the vineyard, is the one who judges them. Saint stresses that the witnesses who have gone before did not receive the promise but that we will enable them and ourselves to be made complete, perfected, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

So Great a Crowd of Witnesses

I have watched God take Her love
and squeeze it through a surgeon's
precise line of vision
to save the heartbeat of a straight
who would probably vomit
to know a Lesbian operated.

I have heard God distill His grandeur
through a Brother's gay fingers
opening organ pipes in dark
ecclesiastical corners
to make even tired adulterers
tremble at the glory of the Queandom.

I have watched God twinkle
in the eye of a teacher
seducing bored minds
away from sitcoms and comics
Into Native Son or a Renoir nude,
only to have God laughed at
when the student ossifies to say,
"Teacher was a harmless bit queer!"

And I have seen God grow bald,
don a wig and sequined gown,
and cruise the streets,
even of small towns,
laughing joyfully to be God,
to understand creation,
to wait out
the slow drainage of stupidity.

-- Louie Crew, 1976

Publication chronology:

  1. Integrity Forum 2.6 (1976): 6
  2. Voice of the Turtle 5.1 (1981): 3.
  3. Chiron Review 8.1 (Spring 1989): 11
  4. Quean Lutibelle's Pew. Dragon Disks: Newark, NJ, 1990. Page 11
  5. Thirst December 1996. N.P
  6. Making Waves 3.12 (December 1996): 1-2
  7. Voice of Integrity 13.2 (Summer/Fall 2004):16-18. A Reflection on the 30th Anniversary of the Founding of Integrity
  8. Whosoever10.6 (May/June) 2006.

Luke 12:49-56

So much for the image of the “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” meek and mild. So much even for the image of Jesus as the Prince of Peace. So much for Jesus’ own prayer, “That you may all be one, even as the father and I are one.”


“[I have come to bring] division. From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided…….”

Clearly this is not everyone’s idea for a peaceful mural or stained glass window, as it was for many in the 15th century, e.g. Hans Memling:

Jesus accuses the crowd of living in denial. “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"

This passage inspired James Baldwin’s title The Fire Next Time.

Maybe the next time is now?

See also

Sunday, August 8, 2010. Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I whole-heartedly pray to God for the “spirit to think and do always those things that are right,” but I have to work much harder for a spirit of self-criticism lest I glibly conclude that what I think and do is God’s will. It is important to ask for God’s help, but just as important to hold in question what we discern to be God’s answer.

That’s why I desperately need the church to test what I discern to be God’s answer to my prayers. I often find myself wrong, and I sometimes find the church wrong.

For example, I have no absolute certainty that I am right in what I have discerned to be God’s will in my life about my commitment to Ernest in marriage. If I believed God opposes our commitment, either I should leave Ernest or leave God: what an horrendous choice either way.

I am much more certain in my understanding about God, whose property is always to show mercy. I make no claim based on my own rightness, but on God’s rightness. I trust God’s manifold and great mercies.

I am absolutely certain that the church is wrong when it laughs at, mocks, degrades, devalues…. lgbt people.

When scripture, tradition, and reason seem at odds, I find myself returning to the first and second commandments, on which Jesus says all law and all prophecy must pass muster: Love God with your whole heart. Love your neighbor (lgbts and straight alike) as you love yourselves.

As best I can discern, my effort to love Ernest is not against God’s will except when I fail to love Ernest as much as I love myself; for that I must steadily repent.

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Sodom produces in many bible readers such a fixation on sexual sin that as a gay Christian I have to resist a tendency to duck when I encounter Sodom in Scripture: so often it is the biggest brick many of my adversaries pick up to hurl at me.

Isaiah gets very specific about Sodom’s sins too, and he makes it quite clear what sodomites need to stop doing and how they should change:

I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out,
says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.

Homosexuality is not even hinted at! The sins named here include

  • oppression
  • injustice
  • Abuse of widows and orphans

As an Episcopalian I am chilled by the warnings in the first part of today’s reading from Isaiah. God is disinterested at best in the beauty of our worship. God is also not interested in our tithes and offerings when we do not do justice.

Should the lector today turn away from the congregation and speak directly to the thurifer with Isaiah’s injunction “incense is an abomination to me”?

I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good

Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24

This is not one of my favorite psalms. It lacks the coherence of many, and those who designed the lectionary have split it, making it appear even more piecemeal.

Summary: God yells and shows up wrapped in flame. He’s angry and calls his minions to assemble his people. God’s judgment itself is not altogether clear. He bears witness against Israel, but lets some get off the hook because they have made good sacrifices.

That’s quite a contrast with God as Isaiah describes him. In Isaiah’s account, offerings and solemn assemblies count for naught.

However, in the very last verse, the psalmist proclaims, much more tamely than Isaiah, that God is more impressed with our right behavior: “but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God." Lectors would be wise to give very strong emphasis to but, lest sleepy auditors miss the contrast.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Some talk about their faith as certainty. They readily accept the challenge to prove right any claim in scripture, as if we will be found unfaithful if we doubt a single word of it. Some talk about faith as if it is a score card by which we will earn the right to enter heaven by believing every jot and tittle we are commanded to believe.

Will you be smacked down if you turn silent through any part of the creed? Even the filioque?

What’s the minimum iq one must have if she hopes to enter heaven? Some of these beliefs are quite complicated. Does one get an exemption for those parts of the creeds that one does not understand? And must we understand them in the same sense that those who wrote the creeds understood them? They believed the earth was flat and was at the center of the universe. We are not morally superior for knowing otherwise, but dare we pretend to the innocence persons had before they learned these facts?

Just how much are we allowed to use our minds if we also want to be faithful?

Saint offers helps with these troublesome questions. Saint does not look at faith as certainty. What you believe based on physical evidence is not faith at all: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

If you can see it, it just is; it’s not something you have to ‘believe.’

Jesus would have us test all law, all creedal statements, and all prophecy against the two greatest commandments: Love God with your whole heart. Love your neighbor as you love yourselves.

Growing up and well into my early thirties I understood faith as my gift to God, but I was wrong: faith is God’s gift to me. I have it in great abundance. I can “pass” the creeds with a lie-detector test, but I am awfully glad that I belong to a church that does not require the use of them.

It would be wrong-headed to boast about this gift: it is not based on my merits. I have not earned it, indeed cannot earn it.

I know many who live more faithfully than I do but have less faith, have many more dark nights of the soul than I encounter. I am deeply humbled by their righteousness.

Luke 12:32-40

My husband’s favorite t-shirt says it more succinctly: “Jesus is coming. Look busy!”

He wore that t-shirt when we lived in the Bible Belt deep behind the Cotton Curtain, and it was fun to stay a few feet behind him in the grocery aisles to watch the reactions. It drew far more angry looks than smiles. A few looked up as if afraid the ceiling would fall.

Yet Luke makes a point only slightly different: “Jesus is coming. Be ready!”

Jesus died at age 33, so we’ve been expecting his return for 1,977 years. While we can understand the eschatological urgency Luke proclaims, it’s understandable that generation after generation of Christians have managed to live faithfully, some even with a sense of holy urgency, without losing heart when night after night, year after year, century after century, the Second Coming has not yet happened, at least as Luke and other first-century Christians anticipated.

At 73 I am much more aware of what I am saying than I was as a child when I prayed, “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I also sleep peacefully. My God is not a slave-master cracking a whip and doing white-glove inspections.

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death's cold, sullen stream
Shall o'er me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love,
Fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above,
A ransomed soul!

I am ready for the Commendation:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Louie. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive Louie into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen. -- BCP, 483

See also