Friday, June 24, 2011

July 3, 2011. Third Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 9

© 2011 by Louie Crew

Today’s Lections

The Collect

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Enrollment dwindled a bit in my courses at Rutgers on The Bible as Literature when students learned that the elective was not an easy 'A,' that they had to write original papers, that in a secular setting I was concerned more with their critical thinking skills than with whether they were believers.

Often on the first day of class I would take an old bible and baptize it in a bucket of dirty water. I'd go to the window, look out in many directions, and report, "No lightning yet."

Then I would retrieve the soggy book, read from its cover, 'Holy Bible," and announce that in this class, the book would have to earn respect in the same way that books in any of their other courses had to earn their respect.

Still many returned to take the second course in the sequence, active Christians as well as Muslims, Buddhists, atheists and others.

"Why are you back for the Christian scriptures when you know from the class on the Hebrew scriptures that you disagree with me fully?" I asked a member of the Plymouth Brethren.

"That's easy," the student replied: "You love the book and you give fair grades when we earn them."

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

Two weeks into the Hebrew scriptures, a young female arrived before class with great excitement about the reading we have in the lectionary today.

"The gave her a nose ring!" she exclaimed. "Oh what fun I had in telling my mama that I am not being an upstart by wearing a nose ring: they were doing it in the bible thousands of years ago!"

Before she made this discovery, she considered dropping the class, claiming she could not think of any thing original to write for her first critical paper.

"Why don't you use this insight as kindling for your paper?" I asked.

"How would I do that?" she responded.

"What other references to jewelry can you find using the online bible? What purposes does the jewelry serve and what attention do the writers give to it?"

She was off and running. Her paper was impressive; for example, she discovered that jewelry came on hard times when prophets tried to explain newly arrived hard times..... Bracelets, amulets, rings, and the like, are easy targets to blame for bad fortune.

Consider July 3rd as 'Nose Ring Sunday.' Wear one to church. Celebrate with Rebekah.

One of the continuing pleasures of reading Scripture is to focus on details which are not in central focus for the narrators.

Psalm 45: 11-18

Not quite up to the pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, but the impulse is the same.

The sad note here is that the king's pleasure gets direct attention: the bride is supposed to get her pleasure vicariously through him, by how much she pleases him. No mention is made of his obligation to please her.

The king will have pleasure in your beauty; *
he is your master; therefore do him honor.

Lutibelle prefers:

You will have pleasure in the king's beauty; *
you are his master; and he will do you honor.

One telling detail that memorializes the psalmist's patriarchal assumptions is the emphasis in "O king, you shall have sons."

Romans 7:15-25

I did not choose to be gay. Until I was 28 (in 1964), I fought it and kept my arousal patterns as a deep dark secret, telling only a few very close friends. During that time I lived in the closet. I disliked myself and I sought to avoid any other gay people. It was a lonely time. By the time I came out, I had had sexual encounters with only six persons, all strangers, when I was drunk and desperate.

I did not understand my own actions. For I did not do what I wanted, but I did the very thing I hated.... I felt it was no longer I who did it, but sin that dwelt within me.

I cried out, "Wretch that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"

Like Paul, I felt that the body corrupts, that flesh is sinful in and of itself. I separated mind and body; I separated soul from body.

And I strove to reject the body as best I could. For years I fervently asked God to take away all my erotic desire.

All my prayers to change my desires failed. At long last, I gave up on God, or so I thought.

Yet God delivered me, just not in the way I had asked.

God sent a live human being into my life who loved me, and I found it impossible not to love him. Very quickly I found that we were attracted in dozens of ways, not just by sex, though sex was integral to our closeness.

We courted for five months and then we married, just the two of us in the presence of the Holy Spirit, using the Book of Common Prayer (1928 version, since it was the only one authorized at the time.)

I was not long into the relationship with Ernest before I realized that our love was transforming me. Instead of separating me from God, our love for each other drew me closer to God. Instead of rejecting sex, I integrated it fully with my mind and my soul.

I had almost died without this wholeness, this integrity. The church still encourages that kind of violence in many places.

When Ernest and I married on February 2, 1974, I did not know another couple who were lesbian or gay, so great was my isolation.

It should surprise no one that when I founded an lgbtq ministry in the Episcopal Church, I named it Integrity, to reclaim what the Church had violated.

I have booked a long conversation with Saint Paul on this matter. I grieve that he was so fully cut off from his own wholeness. He argued that marriage was for lust control only. He more than any other biblical writer promoted the unhealthy notion: "Sex is dirty; therefore, save it for marriage."

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Since today is "Nose Ring Sunday," let it also be an occasion to throw away concern for our good reputation. Jesus notes that the crowds call him a drunkard, a glutton, and a friend of sinners. At the great gettin-up morning, we too will be judged by the company we keep. Jesus' practice turns on its head conventional morality. How much time have you spent with drunkards and gluttons? Do you have a wide reputation of being a friend of sinners?

I don't know much about the righteous, but I know a lot about sinners, being one myself. The sinners that I know are not likely to invite someone to dine with them for a second time if the person tells them how evil they are and reports to the world on their bad behavior. I doubt that Jesus could have earned friendship status with sinners if he came down on them judgmentally. When he met with my Samaritan ancestor at the well, he expressed far more concern about her thirst than about her sin.

For years an Episcopal deacon in Chicago ran a facility for the homeless, and in highly visible gilded gothic script he hung a sign that said, "Love your neighbor today: leave him alone!" From all busybodies and from all who consider themselves better than the rest of us, good lord, deliver us."

Make the church a safe space for sinners, and you will pack the congregation much as Jesus did.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Even for sissies like me. Indeed, for absolutely everybody!

See also


Debbie of Boise said...

My dear Louie,

Just discoveryed your lectionary blog via FaceBook. Hmmm, seems FB is good for something! ;-) Thank you for your reflections. Good fodder for my own reflections and sermon prep.


Debbie of Boise said...

Oh My Goodness, and I can't spell, even with a spellchecker. I'm in too much of a hurry. Gentle reminder to slow down.

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