Monday, January 24, 2011

February 6, 2011. Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

With the collect we ask for abundance and freedom.  Isaiah emphasized that abundance and freedom come at a cost, not just as a result of  our piety:

If you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,

Isaiah 58:1-9a, (9b-12)

One of the best known political self-appointed prophets of our time has said that people who speak of “social justice” are using the code language of communists and socialists.   We would have to apply an exacto knife to Isaiah’s words to make that particular modern prophet  feel good.

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

What political priorities would please God according to Isaiah?  

It is standard to reply to one who speaks of justice demands, “You have quit preaching and gone to meddling.”  

Some Christians pride themselves on never mixing religion and politics: according to Isaiah, both their religion and their politics are suspect.

Psalm 112:1-9, (10)

One might initially think  Psalm 112 is at cross purposes with Isaiah.   The psalm promises, “Wealth and riches will be in their house” – speaking of those who have great delight in keeping God’s commandments.    But the psalmist does not let us pick and choose which commandments we will follow.

  • The righteous are merciful and full of compassion. (verse 4)
  • It is good for them to be generous in lending *
    and to manage their affairs with justice (verse 5)
  • They have given freely to the poor, *
    and their righteousness stands fast for ever; (verse 9)

1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16)

Several colleagues manifest the spiritual gifts that Saint Paul touts . Listen to those gifts in two comments of  The Rev. Reynolds Cheney. with whom I was honored to serve on the Standing Commission on Human Affairs in the 1994-97 triennium.  

  1. Reynolds Cheney explained the Commission on Human Affairs' agenda as a struggle for the souls of our people vis-à-vis the values of our culture and the values of our church. "We are too absorbed by the values of power and being big.  We reward people for being successful in the values of the culture.  We need the standards of the servant community, not a success community."

       From the Minutes for the  Oct. 12-15, 19995 meeting  of the Standing Commission on Human Affairs

    and more specifically in Cheney’s example from parish life:

  2. A vestry member had a modest income from raising and harvesting pecans, yet gave generously not only of her money but also her compassionate service to anyone in need. She was one of the first women to join the vestry. At one meeting, a general complained about giving to the church, especially any money going beyond the parish itself. "The problem is one of control," the general said. When we give money beyond our parish, we don't have any control over how that money is spent!"
    "No," the new vestry member replied, gently but firmly. "The problem is not one of control. When I give my money to the church, I give it to God. I don't need to control what the vestry or the diocese or the national church does with it. I trust that they will do what should be done with the Lord's money. The problem is not control, but faith. You need more faith that God will take our offerings and do with them far more than we could ever dream."

    From the minutes for the March 14-16, 1996 meeting the Standing Commission on Human Affairs

Matthew 5:13-20

Some of what Matthew reports Jesus saying is contrary to Jesus’ own practice.  Here Jesus says poignantly, “Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”; yet elsewhere Jesus frequently violates the law and the prophets as the religious leaders of his own generation understood them.   He spent major time with sinners, and preferred their company.  He made himself unclean by touching and healing lepers.  He healed on the Sabbath.  He even harvested food on the Sabbath.  Even against his own inclinations, he healed the importunate widow.

The standard “way around” this seeming contradiction is to emphasize that Jesus as God’s son “fulfilled” the law through sacrificing himself on the cross, “worthy is the lamb that was slain”…..   Saint Paul certainly stressed that we are saved not by our merits, but by Christ’s.  

That tact seems a smokescreen when used to deal with the apparent contradictions to be found in this passage from Matthew.

The final sentence offers a better way around the apparent contradiction:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

From the perspective of the four gospel writers, the scribes and the Pharisees were a misguided lot in that they substituted ritual obedience for the obedience that springs from the heart.   In the same chapter, at verse 38, Jesus says “You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say   whosoever strikes you on your  right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  

In amplifying “the law” Jesus changes the law.   He did the same in disagreeing with Moses about divorce.   Moses allowed it, but Jesus did not.

Matthew concludes his account of Sermon on the Mount two chapters later:

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings,
the people were astonished at his doctrine.
For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

An author originates, creates; a scribe merely copies.

After  I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation*,  Dr. James D. McMillan, head of the department, counseled me:   “Well done, but understand this.  Before your dissertation, you earned  praise by showing how well you know the best of what others know.  In your dissertation and hereafter others will expect you to know the best of what others know, but they will read you and respect you most for what new you can add.  That will be the source of your authority.  [Italics mine]

Jesus seems to be making that point regarding the law.   It is not enough to know the law.  It is not enough to follow every jot and tittle of the law.   If you have become a new creature, the law will be written on your heart and will be manifest in your loving behavior in ways you have not even yet seen or imagined.

*Dickens’ Use of Language for  Protest, University of Alabama,  Dissertation Abstracts International 32 (1971): 913A.

See also

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011. Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2010, 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Why did the writer of the Collect not conclude, “Thanks in advance”?

I cannot speak about God as governor of  heaven, but in seeing more than a fair share of the earth, I have rarely witnessed God as the earth’s governor.    Absentee landlord, perhaps; but governor?!  

I care too much for God to put on God a governor’s responsibility for all the messes the world is in.

“In our time grant us your peace”?   That would be nice, but has it ever happened?  The United States has been at war for all 74 of my years, and I am uncomfortable telling God to make peace happen.

“Make me an instrument of your peace” would be  more responsible as a petition, for the petitioner acknowledges where peace must begin.

We’re almost half way through Epiphany.  In my world as an English professor, an epiphany is “an experience of a startlingly profound insight.”  In the secular culture many who use the word  epiphany have no knowledge of it as a liturgical season, yet in our pews many who know it to refer to the coming of the three magi have no knowledge of epiphany as used in the secular world.   Each might learn from the other.

Have you had an epiphany within the last month?  season?  year?  ever?   Whom have you told about that experience?

An epiphany does not require Hollywood presentation.  Often an epiphany is not even noticed by other observers standing near you.  

Be Still

I met myself last night when suddenly
I saw my hand cup the moon like a lemon drop
in the warm palm of a stranger's hand.
It was my hand:  but I saw
the gesture as an outsider.

I met myself last night as a voice
ventriloquizing itself to this stranger,
and what I heard myself saying I heard
not as my voice at all, but the voice
of a public me to whom
a more substantial me replied.

It was like praying while aware of angels
treading water in a mire about my head.

Mainly I told myself to hush for a while,
and when I did not obey,
at least I saw the lies
in what I had been saying, but....

Hush!  I said.
And I heard the quietness of the moon,
the beady quietness,
like a radio turned on to no station
and no static:  like that,
but quieter still.

     --Louie Crew, 1967

Micah 6:1-8

Part 1:  God is pissed.
Part 2:  What do I have to do to get back in God’s good graces.
Part 3:  A short list of everything that God requires.

In Part 1 God reminds the people of several of specific “saving acts” on their behalf and complains,  “What have I done to you [to deserve your contention]?”

In Part 2 the people review several strategies that have not worked in the past to placate God:  burnt offerings, calves, rams, rivers of oil, even human sacrifice.

In Part 3 Micah tells what God requires – a shorter list than Moses’ Ten Commandments and slightly longer than Jesus’ big two commandments.

  1. Do justice
  2. Love mercy
  3. Walk humbly

That’s it, Lambeth Conference.  That’s it Primates of the Anglican Communion.  That’s it, Anglican Consultative Council.   That’s it, Archbishop of Canterbury.  That’s it, church.  That’s it, fellow sinners.

And that is quite challenge enough.

There is a dangerous mistake in our catechism:

Question: What response did God require from the chosen people?

Answer: God required the chosen people to be faithful; to love justice, to do mercy, and to walk humbly with their God..” Book of Common Prayer page 847

That is not what Micah says.   Look again:   Micah pairs Do with justice.  Micah pairs Love with mercy.

The version in the catechism tries to get us off the hook.   It is much easier to love justice than to do it; it is much easier to be merciful than to love mercy.  

We all know people who just love justice but do not behave justly.  We need to do justice regardless of whether we like doing it.

I know many people who are in fact merciful, but I know few who so thoroughly enjoy being merciful that that objective outside observers could with assurance say, 'They actually love mercy.'  Many are merciful for strategic purposes – such as being merciful for what they can get out of it, whether it be good reputation or favors.  Very few are merciful because of the generosity of their character, the way God is merciful towards us.

At General Convention 2003 I submitted D003 a resolution to correct the version in the Prayer Book.  Convention referred it to a committee and I have not heard of it again.  (See Journal of the General Convention of… The Episcopal Church, Minneapolis, 2003 (New York: General Convention, 2004), p. 679.

Psalm 15

LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Abiding with God is at the heart of most religious quests.   The psalm answers its own question.  The one  who “will win” that honor is  “Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right.”

The rest of the psalm specifies several ways that demonstrate a blameless life, but the answer makes me uncomfortable, as undoubtedly it made St. Paul uncomfortable.  At the heart of the Psalm is notion that going to heaven is guaranteed by following the rules, but who can succeed in following all the rules?

By contrast, Saint Paul suggests that we will never get to heaven trusting in our own righteousness, but by God’s manifold and great mercy.    It is not our righteousness, but God’s that saves us.

I have found myself highly vulnerable to sin, especially the sins of spiritual arrogance and insensitivity, when I put myself into the comfortable space Psalm 15 attempts to provide.   It is all too easy to tell oneself, “I am doing the right thing.  I am following the rules….”

Jesus spoke of the excesses of a point of view like that:  “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: 'I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don't cheat, I don't sin, and I don't commit adultery. I'm certainly not like that tax collector!….” (Luke 18:11)

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

The epistle suggests limits to trusting in our own intellect or power.  It strikes an anti-intellectual note, “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Saint suggests that the lower station, the greater the cause to boast.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

Is there a smattering of reverse snobbery here?

Matthew 5:1-12

The word blessed easily anesthetizes an audience to the gustiness of Jesus’ series of paradoxes here.  Happy works a bit better than blessed, especially if the translator reinforces the paradox  syntactically.  For example, here’s the Quean Lutibelle version:

You want to be happy?   Be poor.  Yes, be poor in spirit.

You want to be happy?  Mourn.   Yes, mourn, and you will be comforted.

You want to be happy?  Be meek.  Be timid.  Be non-aggressive. The earth will belong to you even though  others may never notice.

You want to be happy?  Be hungry and thirsty for righteousness.   Then and only then will you have the happiness of being filled.

You want to be happy?   Be merciful, especially to those who by no stretch of the imagination deserve mercy.  It is by being merciful that you receive mercy.

You want to be happy?  ……

As a gay person, for too long I felt that Christianity eluded me, that I am not good enough for it, that I lack the boldness and forcefulness of heterosexual Christians, most of whom hold queers like me in great contempt.

In my young adulthood, I tried hard to be straight, and it just never worked, even when I sought help.  After several years of trying,  I gave up on myself because I felt God had given up on me.

 I went to Baylor to become a Baptist preacher, but lost my faith.  I lost the life that I had been raised to live.   Yet in losing that life, I found life, a new life in Christ.

When people reviled me and said all manner of evil against me falsely because of my queer faith in Jesus, I found what it means really to rejoice.

Teaching at the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point (1979-84), I had a young student who was rather attractive, but didn't have much between the ears. It became quite apparent early in the semester that Robert didn't have much chance of passing the course without special help.  So I offered to have him come by my office with every paper he wrote in Freshman English.  Bless Robert's heart.  He did that.  He was there with every paper.  The next paper wouldn't be that much better (nor is mine necessarily), but we worked and we worked and we worked.  Near the end of the semester, Robert got just enough better to pass that course with a C-minus, which was the best we were going to get from Robert in that subject.  But he earned it, so that he could get out and do the work of the other courses.  I was happy.  Robert was happy too.

I didn't see Robert for maybe a year or year and a half.   Back in those days I was still jogging.  It very difficult to jog in the wintertime. But Spring was on its way and the world was, as e.e. cummings says, "puddle wonderful."  I was out jogging around the lakes on our campus, trying to miss a puddle here and not slip there.  And I looked ahead of me, and I saw Robert jogging through this wet, cold, but wonderfully bright area.  And I was so happy to see him. That meant that he was still at the University!  I brightened up and greeted him, "Robert!"

And at that point Robert spat in my face and said, "Faggot!"

We Christians are here for the Roberts of the world.

Can you...can you imagine what it would be like to be Robert?  Can you imagine what it would be like to be Robert's wife?

Forget the spit on my face.

Can you imagine what it would be to be Robert's daughter?  Coming to your father with a need... any kind of need.  Anything that stretched him to reach out to her?  What we know as Christians on our journey, Robert so much needs.

I knew in the moment that Robert's spit got in my eyes, just as Jesus talks about spittle taking scales off your eyes, that the Roberts of the world are vastly in need of love!  We must learn how to speak that love.

See also

Sunday, January 23, 2011. Third Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2010, 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Proclaim to all people”? Really?!

  • Not just to the comfortable and the well-off?
  • Not just to people like those in our neighborhood?
  • Even to drug addicts?
  • Even to the homeless?
  • Even to queers?
While the priest mouths this collect, perhaps the organist should play ecclesiastical muzak, with tremolo in full throttle as at a funeral, to anesthetize us to what we are asking God to do. St. Teresa warned, “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”

  Isaiah 9:1-4

 Isaiah dispels gloom by proclaiming light, and the psalmist today proclaims “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” What light has God brought your life? How do you share that news? Recently the Bishop of West Nile in Uganda wrote to me:

Christians are called disciples because they have to follow certain disciplines to succeed as followers of Christ. It is true we are saved by Grace not discipline, but for the church to be a witness it cannot conform to this world in order that grace might abound. The church without discipline is a church without a Lord and saviour. It can be anything other than a church.

I replied:

Thank you for writing to me, dear Bishop Obetia. I agree that we should not follow Christ on our own terms, but on God's terms. I agree that the church without discipline is a church without a Lord and savior. I agree that we are to make disciples, not Anglicans.

God called me, as God calls all, out of darkness into light. I never thought anyone beside my parents could love me, yet discovered that God loves me, and not me only, but the whole world. My message has never been that gays are good, but that God is good, and God's mercy endures forever.

I wish that you were not far away. I wish that you could come and dine with my husband Ernest and me, as Jesus dined with publicans and sinners. You would not find us saints, but you would find us changed. We would share living water from Samaritan wells.

God bless and keep you. God lift up His countenance upon you and be gracious unto you. God give you peace.

Psalm 27:1, 5-13

I have always loved this psalm, but am less comfortable than I once was entering its perspective:

One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; * that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.

That contrasts with Jesus’ injunction: “Be in the world but not of it.” It contrasts with Jesus’ practice. He earned the reputation of being a friend of publicans and sinners by spending time with us, enjoying our company more than he enjoyed the company of the professionally religious.

 Some have asked me with what authority I can speak about God. I have never sought ordination. I have not attended a seminary. I have only minors in religion and in the Greek of Christian scriptures….

 The authority I have to speak about God is the authority of one whom God has loved beyond measure, the authority of one whom God forgives prodigally. Like the one leper of the ten healed, I proclaim thanks for what God has done, for what God is doing, for what God will do.

 “I know in whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have entrusted to him until the last day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

 My friend The Rev. Gray Temple spent a Sabbatical several years ago living on the streets among the homeless. He started out thinking he might be God’s presence among them. He quickly discovered that Jesus had preceded him, that many of the homeless know God quite intimately.

 There are too many houses of God where God can’t get in because he chooses the wrong human faces to use when shows up at their doors.

 “Go ye therefore” is our great commission. The highways and the hedges are not hard to find. Meet God there. Be God’s face there. Find God’s face already there.

 You’ll know you have brought news genuinely good when the drunkards, the tax collectors, and the sinners proclaim you as their friend. Imagine the witness for Christ if the church could become a place safe for sinners.

  1 Corinthians 1:10-18

 Last Sunday we read Saint’s introduction to this letter (verses 1-9) in which he compliments the Corinthians. He praises them. He says they “are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” He says, “In every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.”

 Having buttered them up, as it were, now Saint turns to criticize. “It has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.” Paul makes his agenda plain, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement.”

 Here we observe one of the early fights in the church.

 Never have all Christians been in agreement. We might like complete unity in the abstract, but who among us wants to default on our obligation to think for ourselves even when doing so makes us disagree?

 Paul is clearly upset. Even his rhetoric reveals that. He starts to make a point about whom he has baptized. “ I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius”; but then he remembers others parenthetically: “(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas…” and backtracks further to admit his memory fails him: “beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.”

 Suppose you lived in Corinth and remembered when the famous apostle baptized you, and now you discover he does not even remember doing it. In your baptism you were sealed as Christ’s own forever, and Saint does not even remember it!

 Jesus’ great commission is for all disciples to go absolutely everywhere proclaiming the gospel but also to baptizing the new believers; yet here, in perhaps a lapse of memory, Saint disavows baptism as his calling, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel” and adds, perhaps because he’s aware that his rhetoric is not as tightly ordered as usual, to proclaim the gospel “not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”

 How would the cross be emptied of its power if Saint proclaimed the gospel with eloquent wisdom?! Often he does. Why not here?

Initially Saint called the Corinthians “enriched in speech and knowledge.” Does Saint strike an anti-intellectual note here intentionally to warn the Corinthians against trying to think their way into grace and salvation?

 The reading ends, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Is Saint suggesting that the Corinthians are perishing, or at least warning them of that risk if they trust in their intellect rather than in the power of God?

  Matthew 4:12-23

 We lose much of the drama of Matthew’s narrative by taking it only in the short sound bites of the lectionary. For a stretch longer than any of the single readings Matthew juggles two separate, but related stories -- one the story of John the Baptist, who in the reading last Sunday baptized Jesus and in the reading today (still in the same chapter) is imprisoned. The second story is an account of Jesus choosing his disciples.

 In the reading last Sunday he chose Andrew and Peter; in the reading today he calls those two again and adds James and John. The four follow him in his ministries of preaching and healing. Matthew is strangely silent about Jesus’ reaction to John’s imprisonment. That’s a political hot potato.
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea
Is Jesus heading north to reduce his risk of falling into the hands of the authorities as John, his first cousin, did? Matthew does not say so; he merely juxtaposes the two facts.

 Maybe Matthew expects first-century readers to be politically savvy and recognize that Jesus’ compass is influenced by the risks.

 Matthew throws up a smoke screen to that reading: he says that Jesus’ move was to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would show up in Capernaum. Matthew quotes the same passage from Isaiah that we have read today, making it clear that a Christian reading of Hebrew scripture sees Jesus as the Messiah.

See also

January 16, 2011. Second Sunday after the Epiphany.

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 49:1-7

I find Isaiah’s pride in Israel distracting. He speaks out of Israel’s experience of being deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers. He expects the savior to redress all of these national grievances. He expects God to give Israel its come-uppance, and quotes God saying:

"Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the LORD, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."

Yet when Jesus, whom we Christians take to be the Messiah, came, Israel and the Romans rejected him. In his resurrection, the Christ, while consummately Jewish, was not just, or even primarily, the “glory of Israel” but instead is proclaimed as the “Savior of the whole world."

To his credit, Isaiah himself sees the limits of God if God is viewed merely as the savior of Israel:

"It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

As a member of the lgbt tribe, I appreciate how important it is to proclaim that God redresses the hate. God loves all who are “deeply despised, abhorred by the nations.” I too know that hundreds, perhaps thousands of people have taken hope that God might indeed love them when they see Christians so changed that they dare to love and value folks like me.

But I expect this process not to stop. It is not ultimately about our vindication or our ratification. It is not ourselves whom we proclaim, but Christ Jesus as Lord with ourselves his servants.

Salvation does not occur to make the formerly despised the new rulers over all. Salvation make us all servants of Christ. As Christ loves us, we too must love the next group of the deeply despised and abhorred – and the next, and the next, and the next.

God came into the world not to condemn the world, nor to make one better than another, nor to be the glory of Christ’s followers, but that the world through Christ might be saved.

Psalm 40:1-12

How do you expect the conversation with God to go when at the end of your life you meet God face to face?

I turned 74 in December, and I find myself thinking about that scene more often than I would like. Older people have long told me to expect such concerns to increase, and I have been content to put them off for the most part until they insisted on moving nearer to the top of my agenda.

“Heaven’s my home,” a neighbor’s gardener told me when I was six or seven; “but I ain’t homesick right now.”

I find myself getting a touch more homesick in old age. I wonder what I will say to God and what God will say to me.

Some arch conservatives love to write the script for that scenario. For years once about every six months I would treat myself to single-malt whiskey while I Googled for my name on sites such, and Virtue Online. For a recent example, see David Virtue’s article Episcopal Liberals Rip Anglican Primates over Covenant.

David dubs me “the Episcopal Church's emeritus homosexual.” That’s a bit of a come-down: he used to call me the chief sodomite of the Anglican Communion. When I encountered him at a church meeting a few years ago, I confided in him that the appellation provided me with a rush cheaper than Cialis or Viagra. Thereafter, the added the “emeritus,” as had Rutgers when I retired.

Note the verbal inventiveness of David’s mostly anonymous respondents. They’re particularly hard on our Presiding Bishop:

Great article, David, and you've pointed out the attitudes which are so typical of the liberal heretics who have deliberately caused so much havoc in the Communion.

They've made it abundantly clear that everyone who doesn't share those attitudes is not at all welcome among them unless they kowtow to them, and as for those 15 primates....those 15 Judases....who once were among the 22 who refused to share communion with Mrs. Schori, but who have since switched positions, I wonder how many 'pieces of silver' they took from her to betray their people?

Was it 30 pieces of silver, or was it much more than that? Was it the cost of their souls?

Nor do they spare me:

Dr. Louis Crew, and his ilk, have modeled lying and manipulation as life-long modus operendi. That alone is sinful enough, without the obvious perversions that backs (and fronts) their every claim.

He (they) should shut their mouths AND go away!

The orthodox primates are the heroes of our day, standing for Christ and his word. Whatever effectiveness they have had is actually 'getting to' the Crew Crowd - which includes the ABC

Another says:

Louie Crew is about as disingenuous and hypocritical as a person can get.

Another adds:

Louie Crew? He's just an old pervert with a seared conscience. Why should any Christian care one whit about this man's opinions on matters of faith, theology, and morals?

When I face my maker, should I present myself as “just an old pervert with a seared conscience”?

The psalms frequently offer models for talking to God in show-down moments. Today’s psalm suggests that we should flatter God by proclaiming His [sic] greatness publicly, not concealing God’s love and faithfulness from others. The psalmist says that money won’t impress God. God wants our obedience, and even more, wants the law written in our heart so securely that we love to do God’s will. Then we can pray with confidence

Do not withhold your compassion from me;*
let your love and your faithfulness keep me safe for ever.

All that is a bit too iffy for me, as it was for Saint. If I can get into heaven only by keeping the law perfectly, I haven’t a chance. Face to face with God I shall say,

“Be merciful to me, a sinner.”

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1st Corinthians is a locus classicus for passive aggressiveness. In it Saint excoriates the Christians in Corinth for their lax sexual morality. He wants them to move into a new place spiritually. Yet he does not drop so much as a hairpin of this agenda in his opening gambit. One has to know the rest of the book to expect the strong but! that will follow his opening compliments. You have to pay very close attention indeed to detect an undertone when Saint says God “will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Dr. Hudson Long, head of the English department at Baylor when I was an undergraduate English major there (1954-58) was one of the primary editors of the Norton’s Anthology of American Literature, used at that time in most American universities. Dr. Long frequently said, “Do not ever expect a helpful answer when you ask a gentleman to give an opinion about a work of art. All that a gentleman can say about anything is, ‘It’s nice.’”

Saint does not usually come across as a gentleman and he won’t maintain that pretense very far into his first letter to the Corinthians, but enjoy the ruse while you can.

Expect the same heightened intensity when God tells you that you have been marvelously made, as indeed you have been. Enjoy the reality of that! It will sustain you when push comes to shove, when a strong but! shifts to harder counsel to “strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

John 1:29-42

Does the question, “Are you saved?” sit well with you, uneasily, or offensively?

Where were you when you were saved? Was anyone else there? Were you surprised?

Or did you recognize that you were saved more slowly, after the fact?

Or do you see yourself in the process of still being saved?

Do you feel a ‘calling’ to be a Christian? If so, how do you perceive the call?

As John watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
…. They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.

What is your story? What time was it for you? How have you “found” the Messiah, the Anointed one?

See also

January 9, 2011. First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of our Lord

© 2010 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen

Isaiah 42:1-9

In proclaiming the messiah, Isaiah has God to say:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights

and later:

I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations

There’s an old Jewish joke which says, “Every Jewish mother thinks her child the chosen one of God.”

That was no joke for my Southern Baptist parents. One of my earliest memories as a child is their telling me again and again, “You are God’s child and our child only on loan.” They said that not as they would tell me about Santa Claus, but as they would tell someone about a momentous event. They took it as a matter of fact with serious consequences for themselves and for me.

My parents had no illusions of a miraculous birth; as my parents, they were well aware of the physical terms of my arrival. They already had a messiah, and they did not expect me to be one. Yet as Christians, they were well convinced that all life comes as God’s precious gift. They took seriously God’s trust in them.

My parents did not try to raise me to be divine, and they certainly did not impart to me any delusions of grandeur. Instead, they lived with great expectations, and more important, they prompted my own great expectations.

I am much blessed, and wish such blessings for all others as the universal entitlement made possible by the love of God.

Psalm 29

Ascribe means “to refer to a supposed cause, source, or author.” The psalm is saying, ‘Credit Yaweh, all you other gods.’

But who are these ‘other gods’?

Scripture itself shows traces of polytheism in many places such as this one. When it does, it always gives top billing to Yaweh, but this reference explicitly holds out that there are other gods to be addressed.

Acts 10:34-43

Maybe this first Sunday after Epiphany should be called “Unorthodox Sunday.” The psalmist accepts as a given that there are many gods, not just one; furthermore, the psalmist describes god in terms very like those used by pantheists:

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedar trees; *
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon;

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, *
and Mount Hermon like a young wild ox.

The voice of the LORD splits the flames of fire;
the voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; *
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe *
and strips the forests bare.

Add to those strains on narrow ‘orthodoxy,’ Peter espouses universalism, considered by some to be heresy:

God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Even Buddhists who fear God and do what is right? Even those in the Nation of Islam who fear God and do what is right? Even lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered who fear God and do what is right?

Yes. God shows no partiality. Full stop.

The Israelites long held that God is partial to them, but God no longer gives them first place.

Matthew 3:13-17

Why did Jesus need John’s baptism? John baptized those who repented. John’s baptism was a picture of death to sin, burial, and resurrection to new life.

But Jesus had nothing for which to repent.

John himself first objected when Jesus came to him for baptism:

"I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" [Italics mine—Quean Lutibelle]

But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness."

How does Jesus’ baptism “fulfull all righteousness”?

When Jesus says, “Let it be so now,” is Jesus saying his baptism is an important statement for right now but not for all time? Is he being baptized not to repent, but to connect himself publicly with his cousin, John the Baptizer?

John was far better known than Jesus at this early part of Jesus’ ministry. John, far more than Jesus, directly challenged the political and ecclesiastical authorities. In fact, that is why Herod had John beheaded.

By having John baptize him, Jesus received John’s imprimatur, as it were.

Yet according to Matthew’s account, at his baptism Jesus received an imprimatur far more dramatic than John’s reputation could provide:

This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

--beyond which there can be no better letter of reference.

I founded Integrity, the ministry of lgbt Episcopalians in October 1974, and in the lead up to General Convention 1976, some of us in Integrity met with Commission on Human Affairs, then chaired by Rt. Rev. George Murray, Bishop of the Central Gulf Coast.

We asked the Commission to propose the first resolution of the Episcopal Church to offer hope to LGBT people. The resolution was very short, and they used the precise wording which we suggested:

The 65th General Convention recognizes that homosexual persons are children of God who have an equal claim upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral care of the Church” (A069 – 1976).

I mistakenly thought that ended the matter. It seemed to me that the resolution said all that the Episcopal Church would ever need to say about lgbt people. I rejoiced, but was disillusioned when most of the barriers to lgbt persons remained in place.

My close friend The Rev. Carlisle Ramcharan counseled me: “Louie, when the Indian government told us that we could no longer refer to the ‘untouchables,’ do you know what we then began to call them?”

“No,” I responded.

“Children of God,” Father Ramcharan said, “as in, ‘God love them; we don’t have to.’”

From 2000-2008 my friend The Rev. Prince Singh was rector of St. Alban’s in Oakland, NJ. He is a leader in Dalit movement worldwide, calling for justice for India’s Dalits, the “untouchables.” In May of 2004, the Singhs invited me to their home for a reception for Rt. Rev Rev. V Devasahayam, the Bishop of Madras. Refreshments followed the bishop’s formal presentation, and Father Singh introduced me to Bishop Devasahayam. With eyes twinkling Father Singh asked him, “Bishop, what is your position on gay people in the church?”

Not missing a beat, Bishop Devasahayam replied, “Those who don’t want gay people in the church should not baptize them. Full stop. End of discussion.”

With a great smile the Bishop Devasahayam offered me a delicious spicy pastry.

In 2008 Prince Singh became The Bishop of Rochester in the Episcopal Church. I was honored to be one of his presenters. I was especially grateful for the host of Dalits present at that holy occasion.

When Martin Luther became depressed, he found that he could endure the depression by repeating again and again: “I have been baptized!”

I too have been buoyed through many a dark night saying again and again, “I have been baptized!”

See also