Friday, September 24, 2010

October 3, 2010. Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What is the collect writer telling you about yourself?

  1. You don’t deserve what God gives you.
  2. You’d better humble yourself.
  3. You don’t pray often enough.
  4. You need mercy more than anything else.
  5. Your conscience tells you that you are afraid. If it doesn’t, your conscience is broken. In either case, be afraid!
  6. You are not worthy to ask God for anything. Use the Jesus card if you expect to get through.
  7. Name all three of them and you might get through.

What is the collect writer telling you about God?:

  1. God is Almighty.
  2. God lasts forever.
  3. God is readier to listen than you are.
  4. God wants to give you more than you want or deserve.
  5. God is divided into three persons.

Now read the collect again, perhaps with a joss stick burning and Gregorian chant on a cd turned down low.

Lex orandi, lex credenda. “What we pray is what we believe.”

My biggest problem with this collect is that if does not sound like the prayer of someone who spends lots of time in prayer daily. It sounds more like the prayer of someone who drops into conversation with God at best only once a week. It sounds stilted and formal even when I strip it of the formulaic introduction (“Almighty and everlasting God”) and the formulaic conclusion (“Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen”) leaving:

A stripped version

God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus

I prefer a still leaner version which cuts out the parts the writer of the collect meant more for us than for God:

My preferred version

God, pour upon us the abundance of your mercy. Forgive us. Give us good things. Amen

This version sounds like prayers many of us pray often.

Do you think the official collect has a better chance of getting through to God?

Lamentations 1:1-6

In Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road (and in the movie version) the apocalypse has already happened. A father and son from Appalachia, move along the road among isolated survivors making their way to the coast. They forage for food among the ruins and fight off rivals, including some who have become cannibals.

The devastation portrayed in Lamentation occurred in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar laid waste to Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and took King Zedekiah prisoner. Most attribute the book to the prophet Jeremiah. The book is comprised of five separate poems. Today’s passage from the first chapter compares the Jerusalem to a woman once thriving and beautiful, now a widow living amidst desolation.

Why has her fate turned bad? “Because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions.”

The second chapter more forcefully connects the city’s bad fate to bad actions of the leaders. Hebrew Scriptures are full of this claim: evil happens because people do bad things. People prosper when they do the right thing.

By contrast, Cormac McCarthy is refreshing: he doesn’t make the bleak landscape into an object lesson. He doesn’t blame the victims.

Some biblical prophets, like fire-and-brimstone preachers, make a cottage industry out of guilt. It’s hard for me to get worked up about sins twenty-six centuries ago.

The optional reading from the third chapter (verses 19-26) suggests an antidote: “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

No where does the text analyze the catastrophe dispassionately. What made Nebuchadnezzar more successful, and how can his tactics be adapted and made better?

Ernest recently bought me a t-shirt which says: “Don’t act stupid. We have world leaders for that.”

At the end of World War II Japan lay in nuclear waste. One of their first public acts was to set aside a percent of Japan’s GNP towards scientific education. The USA had out-witted them, and they did not want that to happen again. Though stretched in every way for basic survival, they set aside funds to assure they would not be caught scientifically ignorant again.

Psalm 37:1-10

When Jeremiah looked at the prosperity of Nebuchadnezzar, he did not fault Nebuchadnezzar but faulted the Israelites. According to Jeremiah, the Israelites brought the destruction on themselves. Jeremiah would have his readers believe in a gospel of prosperity: when you do the right thing, God will reward you with good things. (He never looks closely at Nebuchadnezzar’s behavior, only at the behavior of the Israelites.)

By contrast, Psalm 37 urges us to take no notice of the prosperity of our adversaries. It won’t last. We need to spend our time waiting patiently on the Lord. “Take delight in the LORD, and he shall give you your heart's desire.”

Yet, like Jeremiah, the psalmist expects prosperity as the reward for our faithfulness to God, if not immediately, in the future: “Those who wait upon the LORD shall possess the land.”

My husband is quick to counsel me when he sees me concerned about the goings on of adversaries: “Haven’t you got more important things to worry about?! I can’t believe you are sitting around here worried about that!”

2 Timothy 1:1-14

In this epistle, Saint writes as mentor to the young man Timothy. He tells Timothy not to be ashamed to be a Christian, and he amplifies this counsel by noting that he is not ashamed either.

What letter would you write to a young Christian in your life now in college for the first time? “Don’t be ashamed to be known as a Christian”? Has your young friend seen you take gladly take on hostile consequences in witness to your faith?

I sometimes wonder whether I would have taken some of the risks that I have taken for my faith if I had fathered children. At times I have risked losing my job or cut myself off from more coveted assignments by speaking unwelcome truth. Would I have used the needs of my children as a reason to speak less forcefully?

I hope not.

My own father was willing to be unpopular for his faith. I rejoice that I was able to tell him during his long final illness: “Dad, I am so grateful that you stood up for what you believed. You could not have anticipated the particulars of my own faith journey as an out gay Christian, but when I have spoken up, I have known for certain that the world would not fall apart merely because most disagreed with me. You showed me that time and again.”

Dad had fewer of the world’s goods to leave me than most of his friends were able to leave their children, but he gave me a legacy far more valuable than mere things.

Luke 17:5-10

Some of the cultural baggage in this passage does not easily translate into the 21st century. Few today would speak about slavery as uncritically as Jesus does here. He offers no critique of the system, and talks within the system of slavery without question.

Jesus’ points out that it is not necessary to reward someone for doing well what it is one’s job to do well. Nor should we expect God to reward us as Christians for what it is the job of Christians to do.

Faith is part of what it is to be a Christian, and we should have faith as a given, not as something to increase God’s favor towards us.

It is clear that Jesus does not give his disciples a process by which to have more faith. Instead, he needles them: they don’t have the faith even a grain of mustard seed or they would already be moving mountains.

I like it when Jesus does not conform to sentimental notions of him as always gentle and patient. Here he is impatient, as all good friends are at times

Many of the kids in my block of Keith Avenue in Anniston, Alabama, received cash as a reward for good grades. I never did. I earned good grades often. When I complained, my parents responded: “Why should we reward you for good grades? You should work hard and expect good grades of yourself without any enticement. Being a good student is what you are, not something you should depend on us to make happen.”

“Increase our faith”? That something Christians should expect of ourselves. Jesus wants us as friends, not as co-dependents.

See also

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