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


Rev. Deborah Wilkinson said...

Thank you for sharing so personally your story of your experience with Robert. I'm not sure I would be able to be so gracious. It would definitely have to be given to me as a gift from God!

LouieCrew said...

God is the source of any graciousness I might manifest. And She has to put up with prayers which are my first drafts!