Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 13, 2011. Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  


O God we thank you for marvelously making us.  We thank you for minds that can create and hearts that can assess what we need to do. We thank you for being in our world to prompt us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.  May we do that in honor to Jesus Christ our Lord, and in honor to you, his father.  – The Quean Lutibelle Prayer Book

The BCP version would have us grovel yet again.  Do you like those who grovel before you?  Why should we think that God does?  Groveling is often easier than acting rightly.  In groveling we plead for a special handicap that most often we do not need.  God wants us to be friends, not slaves.

Ecclesiasticus 15:15-20

Ecclesiasticus makes my point more forcefully.  The choice is ours: we can keep the commandments or not.  We can act faithfully or not.  God is watches us but does not rush in to do work which God has made us fully able to do.

Before each person are life and death,
and whichever one chooses will be given.  

Psalm 119:1-8

The 119th is the longest of the psalms, yet these first eight verses do not seem auspicious.  Like many others, this psalm promotes faithfulness to the law.  Like many others, this psalm begins in the third person talking about God, and shifts (here halfway through, at verse 8) to the first person, talking to God.  This rhetoric is likely not accidental.  It invites the worshiper to participate at a safe, non-committal distance at first and then, without serving notice, the psalm has the worshipper talking directly to God.

The first verse says that people are happy when they walk in the law of God.  The last verse has the reader/listener to make a real commitment: “I will keep your statutes.”

Prayer is sometimes utilitarian, as a way to keep the faithful in line.  Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” It turns off some of the critical faculties, as does the rhetoric of this psalm.

When the debate was not going his way in the Continental Congress, Benjamin Franklin was wont to say, “Gentle, I move that we pause for prayer.” On one occasion, Alexander Hamilton, who was not on Franklin's side of the issue, replied, “Gentleman, I move that we not bring in any outside interference.”

When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land.  They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes.  When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.  - Desmond Tutu

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The Anglican Communion seems in a virtual free-fall right now.  Many dioceses are facing major budget crunches and people who are dying are not being replaced with anything like the number of those lost.  Scholars and theologians have been referring to America as post-Christian for almost half a century, and most vestries are facing the evidence glaringly before them even if they have never heard of scholar’s prognosis.

In 1957, between my junior and senior years in college, I took a three month trip through Europe with a friend who had roomed with me in prep-school.  (The trip cost me, including round-trip boat passage and all other expenses, only $870).  I was continually struck with the age and grandeur of church buildings, and I was surprised by how many of them were nearly empty of worshippers.  In recent decades that same phenomenon has been increasingly obvious in the United States, even in the Bible Belt.

Strife likely did not cause most of our departures, but it surely does not draw new members.

Even the church in the first century was beset with strife.  In chapter 3 of his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint tells his readers that they are too caught up in arguments that have nothing at stake in them.  What difference does it make that you learned a truth about Jesus from one person and I learned the same truth from another?  What difference does it make that you are a Presbyterian and I am an Episcopalian?

The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each.  For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building.  

That was a hard sell for Saint.  It’s a hard sell for most Christians today.  Especially as times get harder and resources fewer, the bickering can easily grow more intense.

Someone has said that we academics fight the hardest of all precisely because there is so little at stake in the outcome of our disputes.

Matthew 5:21-37

One the features that I highly treasure in Christian scriptures is their iconoclasm.  Christianity is an anti-religion religion.

So you want forgiveness?  Jesus tells you how to get it.  Pray to God saying: “Use the same standard in judging my sins that I use in judging those who have sinned against me” – Quean Lutibelle’s rendering of “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive….”

So you want to feel close to God?  Don’t head to God’s house for a quick fix of holiness.  Don’t try to buy God’s good favor with fine offerings.  God is not interested! Instead, first go see the one with whom you are in conflict and be reconciled.

Don’t read scripture to justify your harshness to others:

Let your word be `Yes, Yes' or `No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.  

At our best, Christians are loving, not judgmental or rancorous.

For some, Episcopalians provide the first evidence that Christians can love nonjudgmentally:

"Father Gribbin came right into her house like he was perfectly comfortable there!"

The young atheist referred to Emmet Gribbin, chaplain at the University of Alabama in the 1960s.  The student's friend had had a baby out of wedlock, and the student observer was pleasantly shocked to discover that a religious person could respond without scorn.  Instead, Father Gribbin saw to it that the mother and the baby got what they needed, materially as well as spiritually.  The baby grew up, and its mother and stepfather became Episcopalians decades ago, as is the prominent lawyer, who was the undergraduate atheist student at that time.

Through love and simple kindness Father Gribbin spoke far more cogently than most of their childhood pastors.

See also

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