Friday, April 1, 2011

April 10, 2011. Fifth Sunday in Lent

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

So much has this collect comforted me throughout my life that I am reluctant to bring to it the close scrutiny which I have brought to so many others in the Queer Eye series, but I will nonetheless.

The psalm encourages our dependence on God  and asserts that by ourselves we sinners cannot bring into order our unruly will and affections. I believe that we might do a better job with our unruly will and affections if we were less quick to give up and ask God to take care of them.   Do we live into the full integrity that God wills for us if from the get-go we disrespect ourselves this much?

A major part of collect's appeal is the clear way it demonstrates how we might order our lives, not by fixing our hearts on the swift and varied changes of the world, but by fixing our hearts on what God commands and on what God promises.

Ezekiel 37:1-14

This is one of the great short stories of all times -- a vision of resurrection where a field full of bones becomes alive with God's creative magic.   God takes that which has been dead and reconnects the parts. Compare with Quean Lutibelle's rendition:

Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole of the Episcopal Church. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are living in a post- Christian era and we are cut off completely from our past as Episcopalians and from the great past of Christianity itself.'

Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the God's realm. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act," says the Lord.

Psalm 130

Did Saint Paul somehow tamper with Psalm 130?  It manifests his major theme that we can never please God if we expect to win his favor by our good behavior.

Other psalms stress that only our good behavior in keeping the law will please God. This psalm says that is a hopeless endeavor with which we can never succeed.  

If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you.

Saint Paul constantly stressed that the law is too difficult for anyone to keep thoroughly, that we are in desperate need of the grace that Jesus effects.  Saint Paul stressed that we cannot be saved by our own righteousness, but only by Jesus' righteousness.

Romans 8:6-11

Saint locates our sin in our flesh.  He's almost obsessed with the notion that loving God means turning away from the flesh.  He offers no way to experience God's love in the flesh.  He arbitrarily separates the mind and the body, and in Paul's equation, the body always loses.

In the preceding chapter, Paul describes himself as split between the mind and the body:  "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do." (Romans 7:19, KJV).  In utter exasperation" he cries out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (7:24).

"deliver me from the body"?  

Is the body the problem?  Is sex the problem?  Is carnal desire the problem?  Are we wise to seek deliverance from the body and its desires?

The author of Genesis had no such contempt for the flesh.  About all of creation, God said, "It is good!"

I disagree with Saint on this issue.  He seems a victim of his own Greek education in the artificial division of the mind and the body.

Poet William Blake wrote parallel sequences of poems, one called the "Songs of Innocence" and the other "Songs of Experience."

An example of Blake's "Songs of Innocence" is

The Lamb

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, & bid thee feed
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight;
Softest clothing, wooly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I'll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, & he is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee  

An example of Blake's "Songs of Experience" is

The Tyger

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

God made both the lamb and the tiger.  Blake encourages us to live within the tension of God's diversity, not to choose just one, the tiger or the lamb.

I believe that God wants us as mature Christians to integrate both mind and body, body and soul, not to dismiss the one to have the other.   I offer my own song of experience, as an x-rated vision of God's loving creation:

Watching the Watcher

I watched God when He made
Adam's penis,
matched it with his own,
checked it out for size,
for accordianability,
and for fit and feel
in a dozen orifices;
and I swear
He was happy,
did not draw the curtain,
never smirked,
but winked,
even blinked in anticipation.

I watched God as She made
Eve's vagina,
measured it with Her delicate fingers,
nudged out a dimension,
added springs, nectar, slush,
rejected the notion
of a finger-like protrusion
self-insertable at the entrance,
purred to experience
for the first time
the joy for which
Eve was being made.

John 11:1-45

This is a Christian variation on the Ezekiel story.  Both deal with death and resurrection.  The bones in Ezekiel's story have long been dry and free of flesh.  Lazarus has been dead four days, and there is a stench, Martha notes, warning Jesus lest in his grief he might not have noticed.

Small boys like to mine this passage for trivia.  "Jesus wept" (11:35) is the shortest verse in the bible.  The syntax suggests the short pulse of one grieving as Jesus is grieving.

But John invites us backstage to appreciate Jesus' mastery of theatrics.  Jesus knows that all he has to do is ask God quietly to bring Lazarus back to life, but he wants those in the crowds to have a richer spectacle,  

Jesus thanks God for "having [already] heard me" but calls out "Lazarus, come out!" for the crowd to hear.  John reports that Jesus indulges in good theater "for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you [God] sent me."

This story resonates profoundly with the experience of many lgbt Christians:

"Louie, come out!"
"Ernest, come out!"
"Hazel, come out!"
"Myrtle, come out!"....

The secrecy of the closet stultifies. Many experience it as being buried alive, being cut off from wholeness, and vitality. It buys 'respectability' at a fearful price of our very wholeness.

"Come out! Come out!" Jesus beckons.

See also

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