Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011. Fourth Sunday in Lent

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

My parents died in 1982, Mother in January, Dad in July.   After each funeral I stayed with their friend and contemporary Mrs. W. B. Moore, who had tutored me in Latin in the 9th and 10th grades.  Mama Moore was a member of Parker Memorial Baptist Church where my parents had been members, the place where I was baptized at age 8, the place which licensed me as a Southern Baptist preacher in March 1954 as I prepared to enter Baylor University that fall.

After my father's funeral, Mama Moore and I had a quiet meal and then sat in her large den (she called it a 'hutch').   "Louie," she said, "I don't believe in the after life. I don't have any need to upset my friends at Parker Memorial by telling them, but I just don't.  I believe that the only life we have when we die is in the influence we have on those whom we have loved.  Louie, don't ever stop loving your parents.  Something very vital in you would die."

"Evermore give us this bread that Jesus may live in us, and we in him."

Without naming it, Mama Moore was  describing how Jesus chooses to be resurrected in 2011.  That's why we Episcopalians call it Eucharist,  from Greek εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), which means "thanksgiving".  The Baptists stress that the Lord's Supper is a Remembrance, in which we re-Member Jesus.  We make Jesus a member of us again.  We elect to remain a part of him.

1 Samuel 16:1-13  

I have served on numerous search committees.  I was co-chair of the committee that nominated candidates for our most recent episcopal election in the Diocese of Newark, and I was secretary of the nominating committee for the episcopal election before that.  I recently served on General Convention's joint standing nominating  committee. I also served two terms on the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Newark, which with the bishop, had a deciding vote on  whether or not a postulant could become a candidate and be ordained.   Also during 44 years as a professor I served on numerous hiring committees.

I undertake such assignments expecting the Holy Spirit to be available to help us discern the best fits, but I don't want to blame all our choices on God.  Jesus himself chose one bad egg out of a dozen.

Samuel offers an important model of how to go about discernment, but a troublesome one.  Don't always choose  from the first pickings.  Ask to see those not on view, those tending sheep. "The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

Psalm 23

While teaching English at Er Wai, Beijing's Second Foreign Language Institute, 1983-84, I was asked to give  several lectures at large on the subject of rhetoric, the discipline that looks closely at the strategies a writer or speaker uses to connect to the audience.   For one of my lectures in this officially atheist setting, I chose to look at how the psalmist connects with those who speak the psalm, those who use it.

Note closely the grammatical point of view.  At the beginning the psalm is in the first person singular, "The  Lord is my shepherd.   I will not be without anything I need. He...."

Note well how sheep relate to shepherds.  The psalmist is prescribing that those who say or read the psalm will  take the same relatively docile and totally dependent relationship with God.

In verses 2 and 3 the speaker of psalm talks about God in the third person, "He make me lie down,  he leads me, he revives me, he guides me.

But in verse 4, subtly and dramatically the speaker shifts from third person to second person when taking about  God.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me....

The psalm never returns just to talk about God:  it talks to God.

If you are not a believer, you might jump on this rhetoric as an example of how religion and opium collaborate  to dull critical thinking:  without negotiating whether or not the faith claims are valid, the worshiper has been 'suckered' into them.

But if you a believer, you may have already dealt with you doubts.  You may also have concluded that faith, by  definition, is something spiritual, the substance of things hoped for, not the evidence of things seen.

The imagery works powerfully on the speaker as well.  Even when we are surrounded by those who wish us  harm, God always brings us a feast.

Imagine what that reality means to lgbt Christians in Uganda.  Imagine what that means when those who seek to harm you are kept at the edges where they observe you enjoying the  feast, not worried about them at all.

Ephesians 5:8-14

As a gay person I lived too many years in darkness, in hiding, ashamed of who I am, fearful that I might act on  who I am, scared that all my efforts to become heterosexual were not working, convinced, even with an abundance  of evidence to the contrary, that all courage and goodness was the exclusive province of straight people, that  God could not possibly love me or anyone like me....

Indeed, once I was in darkness, but now in the Lord I live as a child of light and try to do what is pleasing to the Lord.  I did not find a way to become a heterosexual, but I did find ways to try to be the best  homosexual person I can be, with God's help.

Much of that was made possible in my marriage to Ernest Clay, truly a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of  an inward transforming grace.

"Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."

John 9:1-41

John makes it sound like there were a powerful lot of Anglicans present when Jesus performed his miracles on  sinners.   When they couldn't fault the obvious evidence that the blind could now see, that Jesus had made them whole, they faulted Jesus on a technicality:  he had healed them on the sabbath, breaking the law.

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner."

He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do  know, that though I was blind, now I see."

They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your  eyes?"

He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?"

Then they reviled him...

Get over it, ++Henry Orombi.  Get over it, ++Nicholas Dikeriehi Okoh.  Get over it, ++Onesphore Rwaje...  Get over it, all 8 primates who boycotted Presiding Bishop and Primate Katharine Jefferts Schori.  ""'Show up' to heal the world."

See also

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 27, 2011. Third Sunday in Lent

© 2011 by Louie Crew

The Collect

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Do we really have no power in ourselves to help ourselves?   Then we’re in a big mess.

It’s in the DNA of most Americans to believe that God helps those who help themselves.

Are we to be God’s co-dependents, God depending on our complete resignation, we depending on God's taking care of all our business?  

Exodus 17:1-7

I have serious problems with this narrative.   It’s a close call as to who is less attractive in it, Moses?  Or God?

The people are thirsty.  What on earth is wrong with that?  That’s the way God plumbed the body.  Moses has been happy to have them honor him as their leader; why make a big deal out of an understandable expectation that leaders lead?

Jane Byrne famously won election as mayor of Chicago running against incumbent Michael Belandic who seemed incompetent in providing snow removal three months earlier, in January 1979. 

Taking care of basic community needs is part of the job description of the leader, and a part of the job description of a God worthy of recognition.   Yet God’s snit tops Moses’ snit when the people say they are thirsty.  

In his own defense, God says they liked it well enough when God gave Moses the power to lead them out of slavery.  What’s a little thing like being thirsty?!   

For their disrespect God punishes them by making them wander in the desert for 40 years, so that only their children will be free of the taint the parents have brought upon themselves merely by saying, We are thirsty!

With help from God, Moses puts on a great show of giving the people the water they asked for.  Photo-ops are not strictly a 21st century phenomenon.   Leaders have been putting their faces on commemorative plaques on public buildings for millennia.

Psalm 95

I prefer to read/say this psalm without including verses 8-11 – an explicit reference to today’s Exodus selection.  I hope that the adoration of God so well stated in the first seven verses is spontaneous and authentic, not just a way to placate the God of the Great Snit, the God who flips out if you get thirsty at an inconvenient time.
Romans 5:1-11

Saint’s God is almost unrecognizable in the God of the Great Snit portrayed in Exodus.   When the people were thirsty, the God of the Great Snit despised them.  Yet Saint’s God is most accommodating and patient when we might least expect it: 

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-- though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 

John 4:5-42

How much poorer Christianity would be without this narrative!   I preached at the Integrity Eucharist during General Convention 1994 at Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis.  I opened  saying, “Welcome to Samaria

I consider the woman at the well my spiritual ancestor.  Samaritans occupied much the same relationship to Jews in Jesus’ day as queers occupy in much of the Anglican Communion right now.

In 1974 a Florida bishop startled the House of Bishops when without warning he asked, “What do you do when you find a queer priest in your diocese?”    The House was less shocked with the notion there might be gay priests than they were that an Episcopal bishop would be so uncouth as to mention them publicly. 

The bishops did what they do often when confronting an explosive situation: they formed a task force.  And as if to prove they really were Episcopalians, they called it the “House of Bishops Task Force on Homophiles in the Ministry.”   Few besides Episcopalians, ever anxious to be delicate, talked that way about us in 1974.   Homophiles ?  Say what?   Give me a break!

I first learned of this group after I founded Integrity in October that year, with announcements in The Advocate and The Living Church.   It’s anyone guess as to which of these two publications members of the Task Force read, but I received an invitation to come to Washington in November to meet with them, that they might learn who this stranger was from Fort Valley, Georgia, a place none of them had previously heard of either.    

We met without fanfare or public notice in a quiet room at Epiphany, since Henry Bruel, the rector, was a member of the Task Force, as was Rt. Rev. John Walker (then Bishop Suffragan of Washington, later the ordinary).  Others included Rev. Canon Clinton Jones (pioneer regarding counseling lesbians, gays and the transgendered), Bishop David Richards (director of the Office of Pastoral Development, the place to which troublesome bishops are sent), Dr. George Benson, a psychiatrist in St. Louis, and a few others whose name now escape me).

Jesus’ assignation with the Samaritan woman at the well was sub rosa as well.   Respectable Jewish men did not hang out with Samaritan women.  Samaritan women knew they could cause less hassle if they washed clothes in the heat of the day.  

John’s narrative is high camp.  Knowing that she has no husband, Jesus asks about a husband any way.   When she replies she does not have one, he teases, “You have spoken truly, because you have had six husbands and the one with whom you are living right now is not one of them.”  Zap!

She teases right back trying to start a theological argument about where to worship God, either here in Samaria as her people teach or in Jerusalem where his people teach. 

Jesus does not take the bait.  Instead he shifts to a deeper level of candor.   Neither group is right.   That’s not the way we experience God.  God is not the private property of any religious community.  God can’t be owned or pinned down to our own expectations.  God is a spirit and we worship God in spirit and in truth.  We, all of us, are the ones with whom God seeks this relationship.

She is excited and tells everyone not “He told me all my sins” (which in a sense he had done), but “He told me everything I have ever done.” 

Unlike Moses or God in today’s passage from Exodus, Jesus cared more about her thirst than about her sin.  He offered her living water.

When Jesus’ disciples showed up, they, much like Jesus’ disciples today, did not like the company he kept, They said nothing but registered their shock silently.  After she left, they produced the fast food they had fetched and urged Jesus to eat.  

Jesus was annoyed:  "I have food to eat that you do not know about."

It is not surprising that Samaritans were Jesus’ first ‘success story.’  He had far better results with them than with the Israelites.

It is not surprising that the fastest growing church in India is The Church of South India, principally a  church of the Dalits, the untouchables.  To all untouchables Jesus speaks far more clearly and lovingly than do most of Jesus’ disciples.

+++Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, met with seven of us lgbt folks during the 2009 General Convention in Anaheim.  We each had 90 seconds to make our witness.  I reminded the archbishop that Jesus did not take on leadership in Samaritan Liberation, but Jesus did take many opportunities to bear witness to Israelites about how he had seen God at work through despised Samaritans.   “In the name of Jesus,” I said, “I charge you to do the same.”

Pray for +++Rowan.  Pray for me.  Pray for all Samaritans.

See also

March 20, 2011. Second Sunday in Lent

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Genesis 12:1-4a

In Hebrew scriptures many characters seem larger than life.

  • Noah foresaw the flood and rescued human beings and animals in an arc.
  • Moses led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.
  • Saul built the first temple in Jerusalem.
  • David was a beloved king, a musician, and a strong warrior.
  • Elijah was one of the most respected prophets of all time…..

But what did Abram (Abraham) do?  Why is he ascribed great stature in Hebrew Scriptures?

  • Abraham was a nomad who accumulated a fair amount of wealth.
  • In his very old age Abraham fathered Isaac, who himself is not very remarkable
  • And through his concubine Hagar Abraham fathered yet another son, Ishmael.

Those ‘achievements’ do not compete well with the heroics of many others in the Biblical narrative.  Yet three modern religions trace their lineage through Abraham – Judaism through Isaac, Islam through Ishmael, and Christianity through Jesus through David through Isaac….

In today’s epistle, Saint Paul imputes holy celebrity status to Abraham because he did without question what God asked him to do. He trusted God had good reasons – even when he thought God asked him to sacrifice Isaac.   Abraham’s faith, his trust, was reckoned as righteousness.

 “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills; *
from where is my help to come?

Note that the verse ends with a question mark.  Although no punctuation appears in the oldest manuscripts, bible scholars translate the text as an interrogative.

Where does the speaker expect to find his help?  From the hills?   From high places?    No!:

My help comes from the LORD, *
the maker of heaven and earth.

I rejoice that those who compile the lectionary appointed Psalm 121 for the second Sunday in Lent.  It is not penitential.   The speaker does not grovel.  The speaker does not cry out in pain that withers, as the speaker did in the psalm for the first Sunday in Lent.  

If we expect to address our sin and our guilt seriously, as Lent invites us to, we need just as seriously to address the consolation that God offers to us.   In the rest of the psalm the speaker addresses the rest of us, with some of the most comforting words in all the Bible:

[God] will not let your foot be moved *
and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel *
shall neither slumber nor sleep;

The LORD himself watches over you; *
the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

So that the sun shall not strike you by day, *
nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; *
it is he who shall keep you safe.

The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in, *
from this time forth for evermore.

So be it.  AMEN

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Saint Paul spent much of his early life trying to follow the law to the letter.  In his zeal, Paul was present at the stoning of Stephen, the first martyr.    Yet when he converted to Christianity Paul radically departed from the view that righteousness comes by our right actions.   With that standard, no one can win, he reckoned; we will all fall short of earning our way into heaven if the goal depends on how good or how right we are.  We don’t earn our way; Jesus paid our way for us.   We have salvation by God’s free gift through Jesus.

Abraham’s simple, straight-forward trust of God is not simple for Paul:  it is a means of Grace and is accounted to Abraham as righteousness.

John 3:1-17

Many say to lgbt people, You must be born again!   You are not meant to be lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgendered.   Those are not you.   You must be born again.

Believing those people, many a night through my adolescence I prayed “Make me a heterosexual, God,”    When Playboy Magazine first appeared (1953), I bought copies in an effort to rewire my circuits heterosexually; but it prompted no arousal.  And my involuntary fantasies remained stolidly homosexual.

I felt that God had made me the piece of junk that so many took us queers to be.  

I was like Nicodemus thinking that I would have to go back into my mother’s womb and exit it properly.

“Not so,” Jesus told him.  “Get a life.  Get a new life of the spirit.”

God never made my homosexuality go away but performed a great miracle:  God gave me a new life, a new spirit as a gay person striving to be the best gay person I could be.

John 3:16 is possibly the most memorized bible verse of all time.   It is perverse to read it as, “"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that every heterosexual who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Just what part of “Whosoever” so difficult to understand?

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Woe unto those who hoard this good news as a private secret.

Nor is it a secret for lgbt persons to hoard privately.   Having experienced so great salvation, let us share the good news everywhere:  God loves absolutely everybody.

See also

March 13, 2011. The First Sunday in Lent

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

It’s Sin Time again, with a capital ‘S’.   While the Prayer Book provides for us to confess daily, the church calendar devotes 40 full days, most of them delightful spring days in the Northern Hemisphere, to temptation – our need to be on guard against it and our need to confess fully when we have fallen into it.  The church risks coming across as saying to spring, when the ‘young’s fancy turns to, well, love, beware!”

Ironically ads for E.D. medications probably are most effective when they warn, “If your erection lasts for more than four hours, consult your doctor.”   “No,” responds a septuagenarian friend married to an octogenarian with increasing dementia,”  “No,” she responds, “call me!”

Today’s collect offers solace to those with ears to hear:  You are not alone!  We are all right there with you.   We are all “assaulted by many temptations.”

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Hear God’s voice calling out in the huge garden:   “Eva!  Eva!   Where are you?   Eva!”

“Louie!   Louie!   Where are you?   Louie!”

Been there?  Done that?

“Bow-Back made me do it,” I answered when my parents asked why I had done what they told me not to do.  “I didn’t do it; Bow-Back did.  Don’t blame me!”

“Eva!  Eva!  Where are you?   Eva!”

Of course, males wrote this version.  God does not call out, “Adam!  Adam!  Where are you?  Adam!”

If confronted, Adam could say, “Eve made me do it.   Don’t blame me; blame her!”

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”

Before this they were naked but did not see their nakedness.   Now they make loin clothes, and ever since then most people in the world cover principal sexual parts.  

For the writer of Genesis, the misconduct of our first parents explains the presence of death, pain, toil….   You name it:  if it is undesirable, Eve made it happen.

Psalm 32  

It is not uncommon for men to say, “If she had not be so seductive and scantily clad, I would not have done it….  She made me do it!”

The psalmist offers a rejoinder:

Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you."

We must grow up.  We must take responsibility for our own actions!

The psalmist imitates the speech of one who has not repented:

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.

Guilt is indeed withering.   Confession offers healing.

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the LORD imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!  

The story is told of two gay young men in Manhattan who on Friday night headed for the Village.  When they passed by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one said to the other, “Wait here for me for 10 minutes.  I need to make my confession.”

“That’s what I don’t understand about you Catholics!” his friend complained.  “You know you are headed to the Village to sin as much as you can yet you stop off beforehand to make your confession.”

“Ah, ever the Presbyterian,” the young man replied.  “You protestants rarely get it right.   A sailor knows that a ship will continue to get barnacles, but when does that ever stop him from removing the barnacles with a good routine scrub down?”

“Well, that does sound convincing,” replied the Presbyterian.

“Why don’t you come in with me and make your own confession.  It will do your heart good.  All you have to do is say, ‘Father, since my last confession I have……’ and name your sins.  Then the priest will give you something specific to do as penance.”

They made their way to adjoining booths.  Ten minutes later the Catholic was done, but he could see his friend’s shoes still in the booth.  Thirty minutes later his friend was still in there.   “This is ridiculous!  I should have explained that he doesn’t have to go on forever.  He must be confessing everything he has ever done.  I’m out of here.”

In the wee hours of the next morning he made his way back to the building where they shared an apartment.  The Presbyterian was not there.   Nor was he there on Sunday, or on Monday….   Finally, on Tuesday evening, the Presbyterian showed up, looking horrible. His clothes were filthy.  But his face shone.

“Thanks for getting me to make my confession,” his friend said.  “But you will never believe what the priest gave me for penance.”

“What?” the Catholic asked.

“He said I had to do all the stations.  Do you have any idea how many there are in Manhattan?!

[On hearing this story, a Monsignor told a friend of mine, "I'll never give the stations as a penance again until I know for sure that the penitent knows what they are!"]

Romans 5:12-19

As one might in a good sermon illustration, Paul compares Jesus with Adam.  Jesus reverses Adam’s mistake.   Sin came into the world through one person, Adam; sin is overcome in the world through one person, Jesus.   Because of Adam’s sin, all human beings had to die.   Because of Jesus’ righteousness, all might be forgiven and be able to live forever.

This is the locus classicus for the Doctrine of Original Sin, but it is possible that Paul was writing a good sermon illustration but not intentionally forming the hard and fast doctrine which many later Christians have made of it.

Jews wrote Genesis and value it still; yet they have not developed a doctrine of Original Sin.  That’s a Christian interpretation of Genesis, and not all Christians believe in Original Sin either.

In its particulars, the Doctrine of Original Sin is hard for many 21st century Christians to take.  Does God demand blood for blood?   Christ’s blood for the blood I would otherwise owe for my own sins?…  That God sounds primitive, even barbaric to many who nevertheless believe Jesus is Lord.

Matthew 4:1-11

The author includes many sexual overtones in Genesis 2.   Most notably, after they have sinned, they “know” that they are naked and make clothes for themselves. Know is a euphemism for sexual intercourse in much of the bible and even today in polite courtroom inquiries:   “Did the defendant ‘know’ his girlfriend?”

After Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, they have children, and one of the specific penalties Eve pays is to have great pain in childbirth.    God created Adam and Eve without pain.

In narrating Jesus’ great temptations, Matthew does not include sexual temptations.   If Jesus was made in all ways as like unto us yet knew no sin, would he not have had sexual temptations the way we all do?   Did Jesus have wet dreams?

Scripture and church tradition are moot on these points.  In fact, many view such questions as sacrilegious.

The three temptations that Matthew records are

  1. A temptation to use a miracle to feed himself.
  2. A temptation to use a miracle to show off his power to the people
  3. A temptation to worship Satan to gain power over all the dominions Satan controls

The first is hardly a challenge from Jenny Craig or Weight-Watchers.  He is seriously hungry.  Try fasting for forty days.

In all three instances Satan tempts Jesus to abuse his power to make his life easier; Jesus rejects all three.

Most Christians still expect Jesus in his next coming to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to get it right, as it were, and put all other gods under his feet.

Might we be as wrong in these expectations as the Israelites were in their expectations when God first came as Jesus?  Might we be looking still in all the wrong places?  Might there still be no room for him in the Inn?  Might we see him more clearly in the smiling eyes of a very hungry child or in the kindness of the Samaritan who takes the orthodox out of the ditch, tends their wounds, and pays the bills?

Matthew assumes that Satan is in control of “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.”  Jesus does not naysay that claim; he merely refuses to worship Satan.  Have we any reason to conclude that Satan has lost this control?

See also