Friday, October 1, 2010

October 17, 2010. Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession 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 31:27-34

Wanting to be just, early in our relationship I asked Ernest to tell me whenever he noticed that I am not doing my fair share of the dirty work.

He refused. "I am your husband, not your parent or police person," he explained gently; "I take responsibility for my contributions and I'd like a husband who takes responsibility for his.

"And domesticity is not 'dirty work,'" he continued. "You will enjoy it more if you rejoice in the blessing of being able to do it."

That’s what God is saying through Jeremiah. God does not want to be our disciplinarian. God wants us spontaneously to know and to do what is right.

Through the Holy Spirit God wants to write his law on our hearts.

Ernest and I celebrated our 36th anniversary on February 2nd, 2010 and rejoiced to take another reckoning of our solemn vow "to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part."

Psalm 119:97-104

I am uncomfortable praying this part of the 119th Psalm.

I have more understanding than all my teachers, *
for your decrees are my study.

I am wiser than the elders, *
because I observe your commandments.

Am I really? I doubt it.

Yet I risk imposing contemporary criteria on the ancient text here. Likely the psalm writer is doing no more than inviting us to live into the internal security and certainty that Jeremiah was later to herald as God’s new way of making covenant with us. Jeremiah’s way of putting it sits more easily with me.

Also, my negative reactions to this snippet from Psalm 119 derives in part from Saint’s derogatory treatment of those whose who strive for righteousness as an achievement by following the law rather than receive righteousness a free gift by from God. Recall the Sunday School acrostic

The psalmist assumes that one can live a righteous life living by the law. Saint did not share that assumption. Earlier, when still Saul, he followed the law and found himself stoning Christians.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Saint mentors Timothy to live as he has taught Timothy. He reminds Timothy of the importance of sacred texts to “instruct you for salvation.”

Saint also counsels Timothy to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.”

Saint is preparing the young man to “do the work of an evangelist, [to] carry out [his] ministry fully.”

Unfortunately, a part of only one verse in this counsel has often been ripped out of this context and used to make an idol out of Scripture itself.

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…..

Note, when Saint wrote “All scripture,” he could not possibly have referred to Christian scriptures: Christian scriptures did not even exist as such. Nor does Saint imagine that those to come will include this letter itself as part of the canons of the Holy Bible. The canons were not fixed until centuries later, and through processes about which we know very few details.

Christian fundamentalists cite Saint’s claim to justify the Bible’s authority. It is the word of God, they assert, because the Bible tells us that it is the word of God. That is a faith statement, not proof. They would laugh at the same claim if they found it in the sacred texts of another religion.

Does the bible have authority as the word of God? Do all books in the bible have God’s imprimatur? Is the bible closed to any new revelations? Might new ideas that move us beyond, or even contradict some of the ideas in The Holy Bible be the Word of God for our time? Do parts of the Declaration of Independence have that status? Does Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail?

The Bible is not one book, but 66 books, written over hundreds of years for different purposes and for different audiences. Long portions of the bible (e.g., the ‘history books,’ the song books, personal letters, et al.) seem not to speak at all to the authority of the Bible as God’s word. Sometimes when passages do claim to speak for God, they contradict other passages that claim to speak for God.

Many treatises have addressed these questions, and many more will follow. This small text of Saint writing to Timothy cannot bear the burden of proof in those disputes, as interesting (or as distracting) as some might take the disputes to be.

Some of the texts in Hebrew scriptures are problematic. For example, look closely at the details of one of Elisha’s first miracles, narrated in the same chapter that reports Elisha’s succession to Elijah:

He went from there to Bethel and,
as he was on his way, some small
boys came out of the city and
jeered at him, saying, "Get along
with you, baldy, get along" He
turned round and looked at them
and he cursed them in the name of
the Lord; and two she-bears came
out of a wood and mauled forty-
two of them. From there he went
on to Mount Carmel.

2 Kings 2: 23-25

I have never heard a sermon on this text; nor do I expect to. The church politely ignores many passages. Jesus himself said that all the law and all prophecy must be tested against the two greatest commandments: Love God with all your heart, mind (!), soul, and strength; love your neighbor as you love yourself.

As an ‘old baldy’ myself, I admit the story of the she-bears sometimes seems truly inspired to me; but I would not for a moment risk being arrested by calling out wild animals to maul the boisterous adolescents who sometimes jeer at me. Nor do I believe that God inspired this text to guide us in our inter-generational behavior.

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus asks us to consider: If a bad judge will break down when you are persistent in asking for relief, how much more will God, who has actually chosen you as his own, “quickly grant justice” when you ask God for it. “Will he delay long in helping them?”

How long is long? Ask some who spent decades in prison falsely accused, praying for justice. Ask the generations who were born as slaves and died as slaves, still praying for justice.

Ask some devalued for millennia because of gender or sexual orientation.

Luke begins by explaining Jesus’ purpose in telling people the parable of the “wicked judge”: to teach his followers “about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

Would you have given the same advice to those at Auschwitz -- not to lose heart?

Marx referred to religion as an opiate. I know that prayer can be a dangerous drug for me. I pray often, and am especially aware of the risks of substituting prayer for action.

Consider this episode which occurred shortly after I moved to New Jersey in 1989. I am glad that I resisted the temptation just to pray that the disruption would cease:

On my way to Integrity, I stopped off in Penn Station for a Big Mac. All of a sudden, two young boys, about 16, started saying in a screaming whisper, "That's a man. That's a man." The person in question, in a lovely red dress but slightly tattered wig and high black stockings, rushed with his tray to the far side of the room, and turned his back on all the commotion. "You need to shave a bit better! That's a man! That's a man! Why don't you buy a new wig! That's a man........"

This went on for at least 20 times. Most of the help behind the counter were in hysterics. Most of the customers were tired old people like me. The heckler and his side kick wore McDonald's clothing, but seemed off duty, not eating, but idling about.

Finally I had had enough. "Little boy," I said.

He was livid as he glared at me.

"Does McDonald's pay you to insult the customers!"

"Why, are you a faggot too!" he screamed.

This delighted the help even more.

"Would you like for me to call the police?" I responded.

"That's a man! That's a man!...." he continued with his litany.

The first person, apparently an assistant manager, called the people by name and said, laughing, "XXX come on now, leave." He kept looking back at the fellow in the red dress, who must have eaten his sandwich faster than a priest can say Mass when he has a hot date waiting for him in the choir room.

Finally the real manager came. I asked him for his name, but he would not give it to me. "That young boy has not grown up and for many minutes now he has been insulting customers. Do you pay him to do that?"

"He works somewhere else, at another McDonald’s."

"So you allow him to sit here insulting customers wearing the livery of your company? Will I have to go for the police to get this to stop? What...."

By this time the entire restaurant was stony silent, and the offender retreated out the door calling me a faggot once again. The manager still refused to give me his name. I shall find it out in the morning when I get all my networks plugged in.

When I walked out the door, I looked like any other fat old bald-headed man.

I can just hear my husband if I dare tell him about it. "Lordy mercy, chile, can't even get out the country more than a couple of months and you go acting like a country bumpkin. Don't you know in the city just to keep quiet and mind your own business?!"

He's right, of course. But I will never forget the kiss which the guy in the red dress threw to me as we boarded separate cars on the PATH train. It was better than all the candles and the incense and the glorious Bach as only a NYC organist can do it.

We queans must stick together, or our tiaras aren't worth a tinker's malediction.

-- Old Baldy, Newark
Originally I posted the text on GAYNET after I got home.

See also

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