Saturday, November 27, 2010

December 5, 2010. Second Sunday of Advent

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Why the past tense? Why not accept as a faithful challenge:

Merciful God, now as in all times, you send your messengers as prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us wisdom to distinguish between true and false prophets and grant us grace to heed true prophets’ warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 11:1-10

Guess who’s coming to dindin!

Advent is a season of anticipation. Someone is coming.

Isaiah writes many portentous messianic texts. Christians see him pointing to Christ. Jews see Isaiah as pointing to a messiah, but not to Jesus.

Isaiah portrays a messiah who makes the world safe. Even asps, adders, wolves, and leopards will pose no threats.

Isaiah’s messiah will not judge just by fact, not just by what he sees and hears, but by an overriding and abstract sense of justice. The messiah will not be just right: the messiah will be righteous.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth

We have enemies, the wicked; and the messiah will take care of them with dispatch:

He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Psalm 72 is a political psalm, a prayer for the ruler. Well might we use this psalm to pray or our President:

Give President Barak Obama your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to Vice-President Joe Biden;

That President Obama may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;

That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.

President Obama shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

The next verses present a challenge if we say

President Obama shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.

Even the Israelites did not expect their king to live forever. The psalm deliberately employs hyperbole. Given our polity, we might more comfortably say:

May President Obama live out his full elected term(s).

Possibly some people in biblical times balked at the near omnipotence the psalm attributes to “the King” and to the “King’s son.” It is not unreasonable to suspect the psalmist of currying favor.

Romans 15:4-13

When Saint mentions “Whatever was written in former days” he does not refer to Christian scriptures. He has no idea that he is in the process of writing what will become a book of the Christian bible more than 300 years later.

Saint is talking about Hebrew scripture. He quotes Hebrew scripture to approve his own mission to take the gospel to the gentiles. His argument is subtle: “Some think I am doing something outrageous and novel in bringing the gospel to you uncircumcised Romans, but actually I can show you in Hebrew scriptures some instances in which the promises of God seem to extend to gentiles.

Obviously most Jews of his day did not agree with Saint. They thought the messiah would be messiah for Jews alone, but Saint glosses Hebrew scriptures to find support for his point of view.

The first and last first verses of this passage emphasize that “we might have hope,” “that you may abound in hope.”

He is speaking to gentiles, bringing them good news right out of the Hebrew scriptures. “I am not making this up,” he might have added: “it’s in the Book!”

I constantly see in Hebrew and Christian scriptures reasons for great hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Christians. Although those who wrote the scriptures did not see us as heirs to Scriptures' promises, like Saint, I find cause for our hope within scripture. Consider these examples:

  • John 3:16 does not say “that whosoever is straight and believes in Him shall have everlasting life,” but “whosoever believes in him shall have everlasting life.”
  • Romans 8:28 does not say “All things work together for good for straight people who love the Lord” but “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord
  • Isaiah 55:1 does not say “Come all you straights that thirst, come to the waters…..” but says “Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters….”
Those heterosexuals who try to seal a bargain just for themselves, cut themselves off from the wonder and majesty of God, who loves absolutely everybody.

Matthew 3:1-12

Don’t you love the rough candor of John the baptizer?! He calls the religious establishment of his day, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, a G*n*r*t**n *f v*p*rs! [censored].

That is not sweet middleclass Sunday School talk. And John says it to Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for baptism, as if it is the newest trendy way to be Jewish and God’s chosen elect.

Today I suppose these Pharisees and Sadducees would go to Neiman Marcus for kinky Christmas presents -- a jar of gourmet locusts in wild honey, or a camel’s hair coat designed by Polo Ralph Lauren with a wide leather belt.

“G*n*r*t**n *f v*p*rs!” John shouts at them.

Ah, but “We have Abraham as our ancestor” they’re thinking, and he calls them on it.

Ah, but “We are straight,” they’re thinking, and he might call them on it:

“God is able from these stones to raise up children of Abraham.” Do you dare think that God cannot love the lgbt persons whom he has made?!

See also

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 28, 2010. First Sunday of Advent

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 2:1-5

Isaiah is clearly a dreamer:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

When was it ever so?

What word might you say concerning the days to come for Washington and the United States?

Steadily we make war “to secure the peace” – war which kills thousands and thousands of innocents, who remain largely out of sight and out of mind.

Bob Woodward reports that our President, our commander-in-chief, has been exasperated by the machinations of the military-industrial complex, about which President Eisenhower, himself a General, issued dire warnings half a century ago.

The Romans once ruled the world. They are much nicer folks now that they have abandoned such pretensions, grow fat, and eat pizza.

What a blessing to the rest of the world if we would abandon many of our national pretensions.

The Lord’s House, Episcopal style, is now established in full view as the National Cathedral atop Mount St. Alban’s in Washington. All the nations stream to it from time to time, to eulogize our fallen leaders, to pray for the world in times of crisis….

"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths."

That would be Advent in deed, not just in words. So be it.

Psalm 122


Pray for the peace of Washington: *
"May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.

For my brethren and companions' sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.

Because of the National Cathedral of the LORD our God, *
I will seek to do you good."

Romans 13:11-14

The licentiousness of the Romans persisted even among the Roman Christians. Saint warns them against such behavior by pointing to the end of the world, which he expects soon.

For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.

Why is the flesh so much the enemy for Saint? Rarely does he rant or rage against intellectual sins. Here he closely identifies “the works of darkness” as works of the flesh.

Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

In my favorite movie of all times, Babette's Feast the title character escapes to Denmark from trouble which she has experienced in Paris. To survive, she selflessly serves for many years a parsimonious Christian sect much dedicated to Saint’s proscriptions against gratifying the desires of the flesh. Their lives are dull and boring, and they are caught up in petty recriminations, trying to preserve the purity espoused by the founder of their sect.

Much of the film is devoted to Babette’s preparation of a scrumptious feast, which she serves devotedly to everyone in the sect – a major break with their bleak purity and unlove. The feast is Babette’s personal gift to them, in gratitude for the safety they have provided her. She also holds close a secret that they do not know. In feeding their flesh, Babette feeds their souls. Little acts of reconciliation begin to break out around the table as they relish the very long meal.

What would you include if you were to re-write Saint’s injunction showing how we me might truly “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”?

What works of darkness do you perceive threatening our world right now? How might we put on the armor of light in response to them?

Matthew 24:36-44M

Like Saint and most other Christians in the first century, Matthew expects the world to end soon, without warning. He quotes Jesus to make his point.

I will turn 74 eleven days from this Sunday. Today is my Mother’s birthday, and were she alive, she would be 105 (five percent of the entire Christian era). Such transitions inform how I receive the urgency in Matthew’s text. I might meet my maker at any moment now, with no additional advance warning. I must be ready, “for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

The same is true for you too, be you 6 or 60.

We memorialize Christ’s first Advent anticipating his coming again. “Therefore we all must be ready.”

Poem Found on Cinder No. 3--2000 A.D.

The tree, the sky, and the water were ours,
we presumed, for us to use as we pleased,
as if we had a Visa card or Mastercharge account
in God's name with no payment to make in our generation.

This is a recording is a recording is a recording
is a recordingisa recordingisarec....

-- Louie Crew, 1981

See also

November 21, 2010. Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

In other words, “Clean up our messes, God. That’s why we call you ‘Almighty.’”

What if, instead of praying this collect, each of us committed to spending one hour a day for the next year working at specific projects to end divisions -- in our families, among our friends, in our local community, in our county, in our state, in our nation, and in the world. Take your pick, but commit to stay at it.

  • Do you already have the contact addresses of your congressional delegation? See the Directory of the 111th Congress

  • Have you read, marked, and inwardly digested the gray pages of your phone book?

  • Have you checked the website of your local government to study the announcements and calendar for opportunities that will best engage your talents to influence public discourse and to be informed by it?

I have not stopped talking about prayer; all of these suggestions are part of prayer, as is all specific work towards bringing God’s realm on earth as it is in heaven.

If we are not careful, we can easily allow the sonorous collect to divorce us from God’s work rather than to engage us as God’s collaborators. It is too easy to treat the collect as a tip of the hat to God, as if to say, “Here is your work, God. You do your thing, and I will do mine.”

Jeremiah 23:1-6

As the commencement speaker at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in May 2004, I audaciously told the graduates that I know the foolproof way to become a successful priest: “Feed my sheep!”

All other responsibilities are subordinate to this one, “Feed my sheep.”

Being a successful priest has little to do with building a good résumé, going to the right colleges, getting the plum appointments……

“Feed my sheep” wherever you find yourself, regardless of how long you are put there. Don’t consider yourself stuck.

We don’t choose where we will pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

The ‘acceptable day of salvation’ is always today.

It would be easy to love our neighbors as ourselves if we could just pick and choose them. Instead, God gives them to us, just as they are, and our assignment is to love them as much as we love ourselves.

Appearances of some Christian congregations to the contrary notwithstanding: God’s realm is not a gated community. God loves absolutely everybody.

“Feed my sheep.”

Jeremiah complains, speaking for God:

It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD

Feed my sheep in season and out of season. Feed my sheep.

Canticle 4

Israelites longed for freedom while enduring the Roman occupation. Zechariah’s Canticle proclaims the baby Jesus to be “a mighty savior” someone who will “save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us.”

Those great expectations are a heavy burden to lay on the baby Jesus. Zechariah does mot mean them to be “merely spiritual.’ How could anything genuinely spiritual be ‘mere’? Zechariah expects the spiritual to have political consequences.

I did not understand this when I lived as a presumed heterosexual with male and white privilege intact. Then it was easy to think that Zechariah was a convenient minor character in the drama that secured my comforts. My perception changed when I came out as gay and married a man of color. Previously I did not perceive that I had any enemies, and no one hated any group of which I was known to be a part.

In embracing my wholeness, I embraced the stigma, the hatred, and the enemies. Zechariah’s canticle seemed less like service music for an interlude, and more like what scholar John Searle would call a speech act, a performative utterance that in itself makes things happen.

The Canticle became less like “This is a nice wedding’ and more like ‘By virtue of the authority vested in me…. I thee wed.’ Zechariah’s canticle as speech act initiated the baby Jesus, and can initiate us into core commitment and activity:

In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Christ as King indeed, and us, as Christ’s friends and heirs.

Colossians 1:11-20

Saint picks up where Zechariah left off, imparting not to Jesus, but to Jesus’ heirs, the same power to act:

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance

Guide our feet into the way of peace, O Lord, from this understanding that you enable us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” You place us where our enemies can destroy only our bodies, but not our souls.

Luke 23:33-43

Note what Jesus did not say to the second, empathetic criminal:

"You in my father's kingdom?! Do you believe in some kind of cheap grace? Get real. Now repeat after me, very slowly and clearly, 'I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and .....'"

Nor did Jesus say, “Go to hell!” to the first criminal, the one who taunted him.

Why is it that so many of us Christians have more trouble loving sinners than Jesus does?

See also

November 14, 2010. Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

How thoroughly Episcopalian! We not only hear Scriptures, but also “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.”

Do we have to critique Scripture as part of the inwardly digestion? I believe so.

While God “caused all Holy Scriptures to be written,” God did not write them, and it is hard to believe that God said everything attributed to God, hard to believe that God considers holy every thing written in Scripture.

For example, does God treat as holy Psalm 137’s petition for vengeance?

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.

For a second example, did God inspire this passage from 2 Kings 2: 23-25?

[Elisha] 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.

As an old baldy myself, I have little difficulty considering this passage inspired, but I seriously doubt that it was inspired by God!

We must put fresh Duracell’s in our thinking caps when we read scripture. We must use our traditions and our reason to help us understand it.

The Ethiopian eunuch was reading Isaiah when the apostle Philip joined him in his chariot. He told Philip that he did not understand parts of it. Philip responded that the eunuch needed an interpreter; and then Philip interpreted the text for him. (See Acts 8: 26-40)

Clearly Philip was an Episcopalian, not a Southern Baptist. It is dangerous to believe that Scripture trumps intellect.

We don’t have the option of whether to use our minds: the first and greatest commandment is to love God with them.

Isaiah 65:17-25

Several times through my forty-four years as a professor, I asked students to assume they were God for a few minutes and plan a new design for the human body. You might pause for a moment, and jot down your own new designs.

Some of my students’ suggestions were interesting and in time, predictable – adding an eye in the back of the head; making the body self-cleaning without the heat of a self-cleaning oven; adding the organ of the opposite sex as well as the organ one now has….

Without my prompting, almost all suggestions were merely variations on the bodies we now have. No one proposed starting all over from scratch. Nor did students manifest wide-spread enthusiasm for their classmates’ re-designs, in part because aesthetically the new designs conflicted with what we already know and adjust to. Even current limitations have staying power; they are complications we’re used to.

I did not ask the students to read Isaiah 65 before the exercise, but sometimes invited them to compare Isaiah’s new designs with theirs after they had made their choices. Of course, Isaiah does not limit his imaginings to the body alone, but designs, in the voice of God, new heavens and a new earth.

How would you improve on Isaiah’s designs? How would you improve on God’s original design?

If Philip were sitting beside you as a passenger on a city bus, what interpretation might he give to Isaiah’s designs, and to your designs?

Canticle 9

A friend on wrote on his Facebook page recently:

It wouldn't surprise me if we as a civilization are on the edge of a new Dark Age where Science & Philosophy are hidden away in Monasteries so they won't be forgotten.

We have caused global warming, and we are facing other ecological messes as a result of our abuse of the planet. The earth is fast running out of the fossil fuels on which current way of life depends. Many current military conflicts are driven by competition for the dwindling supplies. Few with great political power are waging peace, and those who try, have a low success rate.

In this context, can we say Canticle 9 with conviction, or only as a fantasy out of touch with our reality:

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, *
and he will be my Savior.

Does God promise to save us from the results of our prodigality?

Surely we can “Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things,” but we will be most cynical if we sing praises to placate the Lord, as if to distract God from what we might have done and still might do to remedy our own messes.

For example, all people on the planet could rescue the planet and themselves by committing to reduce the population by birth control to one-fourth its current size within just three generations. We would then have resources aplenty! Why has no one even mentioned such a proposal?

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

This is not from the Republican platform. This is not from millionaires trying to cut Social Security. This is not from the Communist Party.

A first-century tent-maker wrote this principle and sent it to a congregation of Christians that included shirkers and free-loaders.

How applicable is this to your own household? to your parish? to your diocese?

How does Saint’s principle square with Jesus’?

Obama is not a brown-skinned anti-war socialist who gives away free healthcare. You’re thinking of Jesus.”

— John Fugelsang

Luke 21:5-19

Jesus’ vision of the apocalypse is grimmer even than the ecological disaster which I have considered. Jesus’ view of the end times is replete with violent destruction, “wars and insurrections,” with “great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues, [with] dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”

Only those who endure to the end will be saved, will “gain their souls.”

See also