Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 27, 2011. Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany.

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Do you experience insistent “faithless fears”?

Is it faithless to have anxiety about the fate of planet earth?  Or is that fear faithful?

Was the father faithless to be anxious when his prodigal son took his inheritance and squandered it in riotous living far away from home?  When he saw his son returning far down the road, he ordered that the fattened calf be made into veal scaloppini, and dashed to embrace him, “For this my son who was lost is found!”

Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to exist not just in heaven, but here on earth.   Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done not just in heaven, but here on earth.  

Those are wrong who proclaim that politics and religion should not mix.  They must mix if we are to have good religion or good politics.

Rather than seek deliverance from anxiety, we might use our anxiety to prompt us to act righteously.

Should we really cast all our cares on God?  Is that a way to treat our friend Jesus?

This Collect is the intoxicating opiate that Marx warned about – a drugged dependence on God rather than a faithful acceptance of the vitality and capacity that God has given us.

Atheist George Bernhard Shaw faithfully warned:  “Beware of the one whose God is in the skies” (“Maxims for the Revolutionary” in Man and Superman (1903).

Beware of love which is so immortal that you have no need to act on it until death.

The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace

  -- Andrew Marvel.

Isaiah 49:8-16a

The Lord says to the prisoners, "Come out"… to those who are in darkness, "Show yourselves."…. The Lord …will have compassion on his suffering ones.

“If your high school is a safe place for lesbian and gay students to come out, please stand.”

Only three students remained seated when this request was made at a recent conference of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Lgbt students need data far more accurate than this in determining whether to “come out” and “show themselves.”  Likely several students stood just to make their schools look good, with no close attention to the stark risks which lgbts face if they show themselves.  

A friend is proud that her granddaughter and two classmates at an Episcopal high school had the courage to remain seated.  The grandmother is strategizing with the three regarding how to persuade administrators to restore the Gay-Straight Alliance which they disbanded when a few parents complained.  The parents did not want their children even to hear about such people.

How comfortable would prisoners feel sitting on the pew with you.  How comfortable do you feel when face to face with “the least” among us?

Isaiah’s rhetoric can easily sound reassuring if we hear in it only about God’s deliverance of our spiritual ancestors in a time thousands of years ago.   How comfortable are we to allow God to use us as agents of deliverance for prisoners and those who are in darkness right now?

Psalm 131

With only two verses Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm in the bible:

 Praise the LORD, all you nations;
   extol him, all you peoples.

For great is his love toward us,
   and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.

   Praise the LORD.

With only four verses, Psalm 131 is not far behind.  Perhaps if we say if four times we’ll be closer to knowing it by heart

My take on the first verse:

O LORD, I am not proud; *
I have no haughty looks.

I might say this to God, but would others say the same thing about me?

Would the beggar to whom I nodded “No” as I left Dunkin Donuts this morning say of me, “He is not proud.  He does not look haughty?”

I might feel better about myself if I invited her in with me and bought breakfast for her. I might also use my communications gifts to promote laws that would assure that fewer people needed to beg, free of the caprice of how generous I feel day to day.

My take on Verse 2

Would we want the President of the United States to pray?:

I do not occupy myself with great matters, *
or with things that are too hard for me.

If our child comes to us with a great matter that is very hard, should we respond with this verse?

The text invites us to think of ourselves more lowly than we ought to think.  It promotes a humility that diminishes our spiritual resources.

My take on Verse 3

But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother's breast; *
my soul is quieted within me.

I like the speaker’s acceptance of personal responsibility.  “I still my soul, [God]”, not “God, please still my soul.”  

The speaker summons an image of earlier stillness common to most human beings, when we were unweaned.

Soul can get us there.   Spiritual sedation is efficacious. We do not need Tylenol or aspirin.

The verse, indeed the whole psalm, has potential as a “speech act”; that is, with it the speaker purports to cause something to happen, and does not merely describe what might happen.

“With this ring I thee wed” is also a speech act, as is “I now pronounce you husband and husband” if said in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., or in the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon.  In all other states “I now pronounce you wife and wife” lacks efficacy as a speech act.

Be still, my soul.  Be still.

My take on Verse 4

The first three verses of Psalm 131 are all written in the first person singular, as something the speaker says to God.  Without warning, Verse 4 shifts to the third person:

O Israel, wait upon the LORD, *
from this time forth for evermore.

The shift works to snap a speaker out of private meditation.  It proclaims the public significance of such meditation:  Do this meditation communally forever.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

As a paragraph in a letter to Christians in the fledgling church at Corinth, this text shows Paul rambling through personal and corporate ethics.  His guiding principle is that we think of ourselves as “stewards.”  He illustrates:  “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”  

But that reflection does not sit well with him.  He’s been in jail enough not to trust his criminal justice system.   He knows too that what he has said and what he plans to say later in this letter will surely make him unpopular with those whom he criticizes in the church in Corinth.

While Paul does not abandon his “stewards” metaphor, he tempers it: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.”

This paragraph is not a good model for establishing how Christians should make ethical decisions.   Saint Paul is writing a letter, not a juridical treatise.  

Witness the problems that Pope Maledict has put himself into, indeed the whole Roman Catholic Church into, by his resistance to being “judged by [other Christians]  or by any human court.”

Matthew 6:24-34

These are not comfortable words to the rich:

"No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

One way to soften this judgment is to exempt oneself as not wealthy.  It’s easy to find many who are far wealthier and then assert their greater wealth as prima facie evidence that they serve wealth more than they serve God.   And yes, we might admit, there are those poorer than ourselves. Even Jesus, we might note, observed “The poor you have with you always.”

My friend Larry Graham warns against such solipsism:

"The poor you will always have with you" is not a commandment.

How does your income compare with incomes of others in the United States?  See the latest summary from the U.S. Census Bureau  For a more global perspective, see  how income in the United States compares with income in most other places.

When God asked murderer Cane where his brother was, Cane replied snidely, “Say what?  Why are you asking me?  Am I my brother’s keeper?!”

Your brother’s prison warden?  No.  Your brother’s brother?  Yes.

Who are my brothers and sisters? “God has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26)

See also

1 comment:

Blogger said...

Did you know that you can shorten your urls with BCVC and make money for every click on your short links.