Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday, January 2, 2011. Second Sunday after Christmas

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Recently I read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, a brilliant novel focused mainly on Thomas Cromwell, sometime secretary and chief operator for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, thereafter chief minister for King Henry VIII from 1532-1540 and close confidant of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533-1556. Cranmer wrote many of the collects in our Book of Common Prayer.

Almost all politicians in England in those days were church politicians, given the Church of England’s increasingly tenuous relations with the Church of Rome while Henry, with wife after wife, desperately attempted to sire a male successor to the English throne.

Archbishop Cranmer had wife issues of his own. As a clergyman he had taken a vow of celibacy; yet in “Cranmer’s Box” he secreted his wife as he carted her from place to place. With many other machinations Cranmer served his king and country.

We might find Cranmer’s machinations in some ways encouraging, reminding us that our own machinations do not cut off our access to God nor to language that effects for us candid transport to God.

We have no way of knowing who wrote any one of the collects, but if Cranmer wrote this one, surely he understood the humility God required in sharing Cranmer’s own humanity.

If God can make so great a movement towards us, there is indeed hope that me may, in spite of manifold sins and wickedness, share Jesus’ divine life.

God’s incarnation as Jesus makes Christians’ relationship to God symbiotic, not merely loosely spiritual or a synthetic imitation. The dignity of human nature “wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored” indeed! Come, let us adore Him!

Jeremiah 31:7-14

For weeks we have read Jeremiah’s steady pessimism, his great sorrow at how bad everything has been going. His own name gave us the English term a jeremiad,” which means ‘a doleful complaint or lamentation; a list of woes.'

In Jeremiah 31, the gloom dissipates:

Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;

and again:

I will give the priests their fill of fatness,
and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty,
says the LORD.

God wants us too to experience such an epiphany. Into the midst of all the dolor that we might muster, the baby Jesus arrives as a major counterstatement.

Psalm 84: 1-12

The lectionary gives the option of omitting the last four verses. Please don’t.

Given the grand musical fare and many other events going on in the life of parishes during this holiday season, you might well be tempted to take the shorter version, but please resist. Keep the psalm intact, especially in Episcopal Churches at this time, when the eleventh verse works with marvelous double entendre:

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the LORD God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
O LORD of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!

At the 1994 General Convention in Indianapolis, Rt. Rev. Edward MacBurney, Bishop of Quincy, famously complained in the House of Bishops that Integrity, the organization of lgbt Episcopalians, had managed to cut verse 3 when the convention had sung Hymn 645, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”

Integrity did no such thing. Both the third and fourth verses of this hymn are marked with an asterisk in The Hymnal, indicating that they may be treated as optional. The liturgist of the day took this accommodation.

The Good Bishop was quite exercised not to be able to sing the words to damn lgbt Christians: “Perverse and foolish oft I strayed.” He seized his bully pulpit to highlight these words about us.

I too regret that the liturgist for the day elected to omit verse 3, thereby denying the Good Bishop and the rest of us an opportunity to hear that phrase in full context:

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
but yet in love he sought me,
and on his shoulder gently laid,
and home rejoicing, brought me

That is good news for lgbt Christians indeed! It is good news for absolutely everybody. “The King of love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never. I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine forever.”

In June 2009, at 81, Bishop MacBurney renounced his orders in the Episcopal Church and joined a breakaway group. I miss him.

Psalm 84 assures Ed MacBurney and all the rest of us,

No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.

Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a

Even Saint is on a tare for joy today! His prayer is a model for all of us concerned for the spiritual health and maturity of our friends and of ourselves:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.

Yes, God, give us eyes to see all the glorious inheritance you intend for us and for absolutely everybody.

Luke 2:41-52

How did Luke know this story? Most likely Mary told it. It was she who “treasured all these things in her heart.”

Luke stresses, as Mary with the gift of hindsight must have stressed, that she and Joseph did not understand the child’s explanation, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Like most parents, they must have been near panic after three days of searching for him.

“Why have you treated us like this?” they asked him.

Luke stresses, as Mary, again with the gift of hindsight must have stressed, “Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”

Luke is writing long after Jesus’ adulthood, death, and resurrection. He carefully collects all the stories he can from those close to Jesus. Imbedded in Mary’s memory, if indeed it is her story Luke shares, is her own epiphany:

Ahhh. So that’s what was really going on! At the time I noticed only my own panic about my son. He was really God’s son, on loan to me. And I had nothing to worry about at all.

See also

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 26, 2010. First Sunday after Christmas

© 2010 by Louie Crew
Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Isaiah pulls out the stops so frequently that you might want to discipline yourself to notice that he has done so here too. That’s likely why those who choose for the lectionary placed this passage for the first Sunday after Christmas.

It’s also a fine piece to illustrate similes and metaphors.

    Selected similes

  • has clothed me in the garments of salvation
  • has covered me with the robe of righteousness….

  • until her vindication shines out like the dawn
  • and her salvation like a burning torch

  • As a bridegroom decks himself….
  • As a bride adorns herself
  • As the earth brings forth its shoots
  • as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up

    Selected metaphors

  • The mouth of the Lord will …
  • You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord
  • and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Notice also the careful periodicity (parallelism).

Less attractive for me is Isaiah’s choice to boast for Jews and Jerusalem to be first place in any line up for God’s attention. Isaiah was writing in the time of King Uzziah, who died in the 740s before Christ.

Jews do not give this passage a Christian reading. They still expect a messiah.

Christians who see Jesus’ birth as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy risk falling prey to an exalted sense of our exclusive importance in God’s plans for all creation. Remember that Caesar is to sack Jerusalem from March through September in 70 AD, a mere 38 years after the death of Jesus. According to Josephus, there were 1.1 million casualties. The conquerors celebrated its capture on the Arch of Titus in Rome.

Jerusalem was outside Jewish control from 70ad until 1948, when the Allied Forces re-established Israel.

Not to be a spoil sport, I remind myself that this “crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord” was short-lived, and even its recovery from 1948 has meant disenfranchisement for Palestinians. I try to remember the current political reality of Israel and Palestine even as I celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem.

Psalm 147 or 147:13-21

The psalm is in synch with Isaiah 61 in singing praise for Jerusalem and for God’s preferential treatment given it.

He has established peace on your borders; * he satisfies you with the finest wheat.

The psalmist asserts an exclusive Jewish franchise on God:

He declares his word to Jacob, * his statutes and his judgments to Israel.

He has not done so to any other nation; * to them he has not revealed his judgments. Hallelujah!

Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7

For several months this year I used a signature file for email that added to my contact information this quote from today’s reading:

But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.

The church violates Saint’s claim if it requires lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered to live under the law no longer required of hetero Christians. All are justified by Jesus’ righteousness, not by our own. Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross for absolutely everybody, indeed for the whole world.

Saint pushes his claim with legal terms for a Christian’s inheritance:

So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

In Romans 8, Saint went even further:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

We are co-heirs with Christ, all of us.

I know that it is uppity of me to say so, but say so I must, not just for lgbt Christians, but also for the health and sanity of heterosexual Christians: heterosexual Christians are flat out wrong when they behave towards lgbt Christians with no respect for the fact that we are co-heirs with Christ.

On October 1st I preached at St. Andrew’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan at a service to honor the 10th anniversary of the Oasis Ministry in that diocese. The Rev. Joe Summers is on the Oasis board, and he retold my story in a sermon titled “Joy” which he preached at The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Ann Arbor, Michigan on October 10th, 2010

Louie was born and grew up in Anniston Alabama, the town made famous because it was there that in 1961 the Freedom Riders were so viciously attacked and their bus bombed. Louie met his future spouse Ernest, an African-American man, in the fall of 1973 in Atlanta. Louie lived in a small town called Fort Valley, Georgia. After courting for five months they were married and then lived together, a gay inter-racial couple in Fort Valley until 1979. When Louie moved to Fort Valley he went to the Black Episcopal Church in town. (At this point Ernest wasn't an Episcopalian). But Louie's growing notoriety led the priest and vestry to ask him to leave. Knowing it was God who had invited him to the church--he couldn't in good conscience. Thankfully, three women on the vestry who had voted against asking him to leave organized the other women in the church to make made sure that each Sunday there was always someone sitting with him.

The priest was furious. Finally, the Bishop intervened and issued a summons for Louie to appear before an ecclesiastical court. William Stringfellow heard about this and arranged for Louie to have a pro-bono lawyer. When they got before the Standing committee of the diocese the lawyer pointed out that there was nothing in the canons that allowed a Bishop to call a lay person before a church court unless they were on the vestry and Louie was not.

The Bishop was clearly humiliated and apologized explaining that he had acted in anger. Later, this same Bishop, went on to sponsor a resolution that stated that marriage is the standard for holy relationships which was then used to discriminate against gays and lesbians in our church for decades.

But throughout this time Louie kept loving and kept praying for this Bishop and the day came when this same Bishop, presided at the Eucharist at a national Integrity gathering and said to those gathered: "For decades Louie Crew tried to tell me that God loved him as much as he loved me but I couldn't believe it. But he was right and I was wrong." [bolding mine – LC]

Later this same Bishop [the late Rt. Rev. Bennett J. Sims, Bishop of Atlanta] wrote in his autobiography how it was coming to know Louie and Ernest that transformed his ideas about sexual orientation and loving relationships.

Love your enemies--how crazy that sounds till you hear something like this.

I treasure +Bennett Sims. He and I became friends long before we agreed about homosexuality. He was generously vulnerable even in our arguments. I was profoundly moved when, at his request, I was a reader at his interment at Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore on August 5, 2006. I hope that I will have his grace to grow and change even in my old age. I hope that I will have his generosity to make myself vulnerable by loving well even those with whom I disagree. I look forward to being with him in heaven.

John 1:1-18

Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the “synoptic gospels.” syn means ‘alike’ and optic has to do with “seeing.” The synoptic gospels use the same way of looking at a story. Each gives basically a chronological account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Each shares many of the same stories.

The gospel of John breaks out of that mode. While it contains some of the same stories, in John’s book meaning trumps narrative.

John is studiedly, deliberately philosophical. He begins, “In the beginning was the Word….”

The Greek term λόγος ’logos’ appears in hundreds of English words, such as psychology, biology, anthropology, eschatology….” Meaning, ‘the study of’ –-the study of the psyche (soul or mind), the study of living organisms, the study of human kind and culture, the study of the end times….”

John amplifies what he means by λόγος :

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Only then does John get specific and personal:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. God was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all wrote their gospels before John wrote his, and they steadily focus on concrete details. John privileges abstraction.

In all four gospels, God, the immortal one, the creator, enters creation and takes on our mortality. He lives and dies as one of us.

Recently Ernest and I visited the Grand Canyon. A friend described it as “God’s coloring book.” It is awesome to face in all its grandeur and splendor this physical record of millions of years in the life of the Colorado River in a place relatively recently known as “the state of Arizona.”

“What is man that thou are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4).

Saint John changes that awesome focus to ask, “Who is God and how can we mortals know God?” He answers, “From the beginning, God is λόγος ’logos "The Word.”This λόγος became flesh, as Jesus, and dwelt among us mortals.

Do you believe that?

What does it mean to you?

Merry Christmas.

See also

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 19, 2010. Fourth Sunday in Advent

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 7:10-16

Ahaz is King of Judah and an adversary of the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah. At one point he wickedly sacrificed his own son to pagan gods. He also added an idolatrous altar to the Temple (See 2 Kings 16).

In this passage, Ahaz refuses Isaiah’s request that Ahaz ask God for a sign. It is likely that Ahaz did not want any outside interference and feared that Isaiah might persuade people to believe God wants them to rebel.

When Ahaz won’t take Isaiah’s bait, Isaiah supplies the answer:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Christians see this passage as talking about Jesus. Those who chose it for the lectionary for today, the last Sunday in Advent, did not do so haphazardly. “The young woman” (or if you insist on Matthew’s version of the Isaiah text, “The virgin”) is getting ready for the end of this week.

Yet there is nothing in the text itself that forces the interpretation that Jesus is the messiah. Many Jews still expect a messiah but do not view Jesus as the one.

Dr. John Gibbs notes regarding this verse:

The main emphasis of Isaiah 7:10-16 is that "God is with us," which is what the Hebrew word "Immanel" means. God is present not only to the prophet in a special way inside the temple (Is. 6). God "the Lord" over the depth of Sheol and the height of heaven (7:11) is no less present in blessing (7:16; cf. 7:17) within the entire "house of David" (7:13).

A fundamentalist obsession with virginity does not exist in the Hebrew text, for the child's mother appears there as "a young woman" (rather than as a virgin, as the Septuagint Greek has it). Instead, the all-important "sign" is the "son" named "Immanuel." It is by the presence of God in a society that it "knows how to refuse evil and choose the good," and the function of this son is to maintain that distinction within "the house of David.

Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

One of the great treats of the psalms is that you can find several that will match your need for any occasion. If you are sad or depressed and God seems afar off, today’s Psalm 80 will fit the bill.

O LORD God of hosts, * how long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people?

If you are festive and feeling blessed, Psalm 146 (page 803 in the BCP) will fit the bill: we used it last Sunday.

The Book of Common Prayer manifests this same versatility. When close friends or family are sick or in any other adversity, we can go to church certain that something in the liturgy will speak to their condition and to ours. Just as certainly will we also encounter something in the liturgy that counterstates our condition, that witnesses to the reality of joy even if we are sad and to the reality of sadness even if we are joyful. The liturgy honors our experience but not does not put it at the center of all attention.

Poet W. H. Auden (a gay Anglican) made the same point about contrasting reality manifested in the art of Old Masters:

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

At any moment what we see clearly and completely in focus may not be the reality seen by the person standing next to us focused on a different part of the same scene.

We desperately need one another.

Romans 1:1-7

These seven verses make up only one complete sentence (129 words). The selection is an elaborate salutation which begins with “Paul…” and closes with: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In the lead up to this apostolic “hello” Saint lays down his credentials to be addressing gentile Christians in Rome. Note how the passage looks when we break out the grammatically subordinate material and restate it in declarative sentences:

  • I am a servant of Jesus Christ.
  • I am called to be an apostle.
  • I have been set apart for the gospel of God.
  • God planned good news before any of us were born.
  • The prophets foretold the gospel in holy scriptures [i.e., the Hebrew bible, a.k.a. “The Old Testament.”]
  • God’s son Jesus descended from King David according to the flesh
  • Jesus was declared to be the Son of God.
  • Jesus has power according to the spirit of holiness.
  • Jesus’ resurrection from the dead demonstrates that he is the Son of God.
  • We received grace and apostleship through Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • I am called to prompt the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.
  • I work for the sake of Jesus and in his name.
  • I call you Romans to belong to Jesus Christ.
  • You Romans are called to be saints.

Saint’s 129-word sentence is an elaborate rhetorical set up for the serious concerns he will express to the Romans in the rest of this chapter and in the fifteen other chapters of this long letter.

Today is the last Sunday of Advent. Next Sunday we Episcopalians will be able to use the “C” word that most other protestants have been using since Thanksgiving, some even earlier.

I am not talking about “He knows when you have been good or bad so be good for goodness sake!” We’re not poised for our God to come down the chimney on Friday night. We are poised for God to enter our hearts. Saint’s opening salvo to the gentile Christians in Rome sets us up for the Arrival we will celebrate here on Friday night and all day on Saturday.

This is the beginning of “C” week. One t-shirt puts it flippantly: “Jesus is coming: look busy.”

Matthew 1:18-25

The birthday party which we will celebrate Friday night, Saturday, and all day on Sunday the December 26th and Sunday January 2nd is not a surprise birthday party. Matthew deliberately spoils any surprise effects for the “C” word by beginning” Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way:…”

Matthew uses only 201 words to tell the entire “C” story: compare that with the 129 words that Saint uses just for the salutation in his letter to the Roman Christians.

Matthew’s narrative is lean and pointed. In it he does not duck controversy. Some in Matthew’s original audience surely would have noticed that Jesus’ birth came less than nine months after Mary and Joseph married. Matthew emphasizes that Joseph married Mary because as a religious person he did not want her to be disgraced as an unwed mother. Matthew stresses that Joseph had no sex with Mary before Jesus’ birth. We do not know whether they had sex afterwards. Joseph quietly steps out of the biblical narratives at that point.

The Inn Keeper’s Focus on “C”

The Bethlehem Holiday Inn, 9th Janus, 0001

Joseph Carpenter,

I hereby evict you, effective tomorrow noon, for obvious reasons:

  1. You did not father the baby, as you claimed.
  2. You and your woman have kept up a perpetual racket in our stables, disturbing our animals.
  3. You have wasted hay not required by your small donkey.
  4. You have lured undesirables to the neighborhood, including mephitic shepherds from the hillside, some of whom had the audacity to hide on the roof and sing as "angels." Many of our better guests complained.
  5. This week three rich sissy foreigners (one of them black!), who should have booked in the Inn, slummed out back with you, to avoid paying us.
  6. We hear that Herod is out to get anyone who traffics with parents of new-born boys.

Be on your way back to Nazareth by noon if you know what's good for you. Let's have no more talk or singing of Joy to the World.

Quean Lutibelle’s Take on “C”

There is crying in a stable
on a cold winter night.
There is crying at the bosom
of the lonely world.
A small, red baby
has now seen the light
as the bloody little boy
of a scared young girl.

Joy to the world!

--Louie Crew

“The Bethlehem Holiday Inn has appeared :
  • Whosoever 6.1 (July 2001)
  • Ruach 27:1 (Winter 2007): 25
  • South Jersey Underground Issue #5 (2009
  • Studio [Australia] No. 38 (Autumn 1990): 15. Used penname Li Min Hua
See also

December 12, 2010. Third Sunday of Advent.

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Can I expect God to hear this prayer if I don’t divorce Ernest, my husband of 36 years, and promise to limit whatever sex I might have to the confines of heterosexual marriage?

Have I played a trick on God, saying that I come to God only as I am, not ready to behave as a heterosexual or a celibate homosexual?

I spent most of a day recently trying to track down a small bit of correspondence that I remembered writing sometime between 1985-1995. Since I save every email message that I write and much of the email I receive, the search took me through hundreds of messages from adversaries as well as from friends. Many ‘adversaries’ were themselves friendly, genuinely concerned for my soul, and trying to call me from the brink of destruction. Others seemed only slightly concerned for my soul, but greatly concerned for the souls of those whom they felt I might be leading astray by my witness.

I am still humbled by their challenges. I do not seek to defy God, nor do I wish to lead anyone astray.

I turned 74 on Thursday. I expect to arrive at heaven’s gate not too long from now. I do not plan to bang on the door saying “I am Erman Louie Crew, Jr., and I am right about homosexuality! Let me in! Let me in!”

That scenario seems obscene. It puts me into the position of making final judgments for God. I know already what I will say, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

If you are heterosexual, do you expect to knock at heaven’s gate saying, “Thank you, God, I am not like Louie and Ernest. I have lived in a faithful heterosexual union. Please let me in.”

Are you absolutely certain that your choices for yourselves are God’s choices for me?

We run an even greater risk if we ignore other criteria that Jesus has stated explicitly for the "Great Gittin Up Morning.” He tells us we will be judged by how well we have treated those we consider the least among us. Are we there for them when they are sick, hungry, naked, in prison? For as we treat the least of them, so we treat God.

Ours is a strange religion, where the first are last and the last are first.

My bishop (Rt. Rev. Mark Beckwith) is fond of saying, “The opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is certainty.” He points to the many dangers we incur when treat those whose faith differs from ours with certainty that we are right and they are wrong.

I have tried to do what is right in my marriage to Ernest. Through it I have experienced much grace and many other blessings. The sin I see in our marriage is not that I love Ernest, but that I do not love him enough, namely as much as I love myself. For that sin I steadfastly repent and seek amendment of life.

Just as fervently I pray to be forgiven for sins unknown.

Am I absolutely certain that a life-long committed relationship between two of the same gender is right in the eyes of God? No. I have faith that it is, but not certainty.

And even if we are wrong in our marriage, I have faith (still not certainty) that God’s property is always to show mercy.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us. Amen. Amen.

Isaiah 35:1-10

Isaiah’s vision of safety and joy has few parallels in literature. Note that that he localizes his vision: he names Lebanon, Carmel and Sharon -- places familiar to his listeners. The realm of God is not remote: it’s right here in East Orange where I live, right here in Newark and New York City, both visible outside my study window as I write.

Jesus asks us to pray, “Our Father, may your realm come on earth as it is in heaven.”

George Bernhard Shaw warned, “Beware the man whose God is in the skies.” Jesus gives the same warning.

We too must beware lest we put off working for justice and peace thinking, there will be pie in the sky by and by.

Canticle 15

Mary’s canticle marks her as an uppity woman, a champion of the poor and down trodden. Here she is not docile and submissive, dressed in soft blue and standing silent and beatific. Rather, she is sassy and abrasive.

“In 2000 the United States accounted for only 4.7 percent of the world’s population but 32.6 percent of the world’s wealth. Nearly 4 out of every 10 people in the wealthiest 1 percent of the global population were American.” (Eduardo Porter New York Times, December 6, 2006, Business Sec., p. 3).

Those of us who have ears to hear require huge globs of spiritual ear wax to to be comfortable listening to the Magnificat.

My adversaries frequently complain that I give far too much attention to church politics and not enough attention to the Gospel. Two Episcopal bishops, Bishop Charles Carpenter and Bishop George Murray, joined other religious leaders to write the same complaint to Dr. M. L. King when he was organizing protests in Birmingham. He named them when he wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Why do you need to tell people that you are a “gay” Christian, some ask me: “I don’t say that I am a ‘straight Christian’” they add, to underscore their point.

They seem never to notice the scores of ways they openly and freely communicate they are straight. “My wife and I….” , “When my husband said….” Nor should they feel any restrictions about doing so.

I look forward to the day that husbands kissing each other goodbye
will stand out only because we block the traffic (see Lutibelle Speaks as the Poet)

Louie, queer for Christ’s sake! (See 1 Corinthians 4:10)

James 5:7-10

Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors!

Is this what is meant is meant by Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”?

Did your parents peek through the keyhole to your room, listen to your conversations on another phone, sift through your drawers for evidence of your wrong doing?

Does your heavenly father keep a master computer and the best spy ware in all the universes to keep records of your slightest thoughts and actions?

A lie detector costs only $250-$500 and you can purchase one from Brick House Security Might your parish welcome one as an Advent gift? Would you use it just for the creeds? Should scores be used to validate people for confirmation? Should we put off baptism until one is old enough to be held accountable to the lie detector?

I wish that James had stopped with “Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.“

Watch yes, but be not afraid.

I looked over Jordan, what do I see,
Coming for to carry me home.
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.

Swing low! Sweet Chariot!

Matthew 11:2-11

Jesus might have visited John himself. If John’s disciples had access to him, surely Jesus did too. After all, they are first cousins, born less than a year apart.

Yet Jesus and John appear not to have been in touch much.

John tells his disciples to ask Jesus whether Jesus is the messiah. Jesus does not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but cryptically tells them to report to John what they hear and see:

The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.

These are action that might mark the messiah. Jesus intends the actions to speak louder than words. He also is minimizing the risk of publicly proclaiming himself as messiah, lest he forewarn and enrage the Roman occupiers or the indigenous religious establishment.

Jesus seems to know more about John than John does about Jesus. He tells the public that John the Baptist is the one mentioned in scripture as forerunner to the messiah. Yet he does not explicitly name himself as the messiah. Again, he is cryptic, even cagey, likely in response to the political tensions.

It is not clear whether those in the crowds even know that Jesus and John are first cousins. The only time we see them together in scripture is at Jesus’ baptism.

Some see in these texts the suggestion that the disciples of John and the disciples of Jesus might consider themselves rivals. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, John is clearly better known and more directly involved in political confrontations. The texts carefully allay such fears and show them as mutually supportive.

Later John is to say that he is not worthy even to unlace Jesus’ shoes. Here Jesus stresses, “Among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.” This mutual admiration is quite public. Do they intend to calm fears by it?

We have no surviving texts written by John’s disciples, nor do Christian scriptures say more about them. Did they become Jesus’ disciples after Herod had John beheaded? Did John’s disciples continue a separate ministry even after John’s death?

Why is Elizabeth, Mary’s sister, not mentioned again after the birth narratives? She drops out of the scene as inexplicably as Joseph does.

See also