cjbanning: (Palm Sunday)
As preached to the Church of the Ascension during our service of Morning Prayer, the second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 20, 2013.

Psalm 36:5-10
Isaiah 62:1-5
Canticle 11
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11

This is the collect for the commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrated either on April 4 or January 15:
“Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last; Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
The collect uses the term prophet to describe the Rev. Dr. King because King filled in the twentieth century the function which in ancient Israel was held by the prophets: acting as an intermediary between God and the people.

Isaiah Ben-Amoz was a Jewish prophet who preached in Judah in the eighth-century B.C.E., but the book of the Bible which bears his name was probably written by many different authors over the course of two centuries. Scholars divide the book into three main parts: the first consisting of Isaiah’s prophecies and material added by his 7th-century disciples, the second addressing the Jews of the Babylonian Captivity in the mid-sixth century.

The third portion, known as Trito-Isaiah or simply Third Isaiah, is the portion from which our first lesson and canticle were taken. It is a collection of poetry, probably itself composed by multiple authors shortly following the return from the exile of the Babylon Captivity, prophesying “the restoration of the nation of Israel and a new creation in God's glorious future kingdom” (Wikipedia) to “a Jewish community in late sixth century Judah struggling to rebuild itself” (The Inclusive Bible).

The eschatological vision of the New Jerusalem was one of hope for the Jews who had witnessed the destruction of their beloved, sacred city and its temple. It would be a chance for the sovereign authority of the Jewish God to be established once and for all and for both the righteous and the wicked to receive their just desserts. This, of course, is one of the functions of a prophet: not only to relay God’s displeasure with the inequities of the people, but also to provide them with a motivating vision of the fulfillment of God’s Will. For the Rev. Dr. King, this motivating vision was of course his “dream” of a nation where children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, a world marked by racial reconciliation, economic justice, and active peacemaking. For the Jewish prophets of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E., it was the New Jerusalem.

In a Hebrew Scripture reading this morning, the biblical author(s) use the image of a bride to describe the New Jerusalem and its special relationship with God the Creator and Ruler. For us Christians, we cannot but help but view this image through the lens of our traditional understanding of the Church--one, holy, catholic, and apostolic--as the Bride of Christ. For we remember that just as in the biblical conception of marriage the spouses leave their parents to cleave to each other and become one flesh, so too has Christ, in the mystery of the Incarnation, come to us from God the Parent to cleave to humanity and become one flesh with us.

We are the Bride of Christ. We are the New Jerusalem--right here, at the Church of the Ascension in Gloucester City. We are the builders of the Kin-dom of God.

It is of course true that without the amazing free gift of God’s grace, we are utterly powerless in the face of sin and death. This is simply good theology, the clear and constant teaching of the Church across the ages, from Saint Augustine of Hippo to the Protestant Reformers. But it is just as true that with the free gift of grace we are empowered to act as God’s agents in building the kindom. This, too, is the clear and constant teaching of Mother Church. Saint Augustine wrote an entire book called De Civitate Dei, or The City of God, in which he put forth both a theology of history and a challenge to human society to pursue what he called the City of Heaven.

As St. Teresa of Avila famously wrote, Ours are the eyes with which Jesus looks compassion on this world, Ours are the feet with which Jesus walks to do good, Ours are the hands, with which Jesus blesses all the world.

We are the hands and feet of Jesus because we have been mystically incorporated into the very Body of Christ through the sacrament of our baptism. Just as Jesus transformed that water into wine back at the wedding in Cana, so too has Jesus transformed us into new wine, to go out and get the world drunk on the good news that Jesus is Lord.

Because that is what the power of the Holy Spirit is like. Remember the disciples on the day of Pentecost: the crowd saw them, speaking in tongues, and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

This is a message of hope, but it is also a message of awesome responsibility. What does it mean for us who have been taught by Jesus to pray for the coming of God’s kindom, that the will of God may be done on Earth, to put our actions behind those prayers? To not only recite those words, but to live them? To heed the prophetic voices of our generations--and to be those voices for others? To work towards a world marked by peace and by justice--instead of war and division? To receive the love of Christ, our collective spouse, and to transmit it to each other?

During this time of transition, it is an especially good time for us to reflect on what, precisely, is the role the Spirit has in mind for us in the coming of the kindom of God. What is our congregational charism?

Whatever it is, I know one thing: so long as we are always seek to be motivated by love, we cannot go far wrong. As I was driving home from work this morning, I was listening to On Being on NPR and thinking to myself, “I really need to come up with a conclusion to the sermon I’m giving in two and a half hours.”

On the radio program, poet Elizabeth Alexander read from the poem she had read at President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. “What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance,” she read.

And that’s pretty much what it comes down to, isn’t it? One might find Alexander’s poetry trite--I remember not being particularly impressed with it when I heard it back in 2009--but it’s impossible to disagree with the sentiment. Jesus’ resistance notwithstanding, perhaps the Blessed Virgin Mother knew what she was doing when she caused the ministry of Jesus to be initiated at that wedding in Cana, amidst a ritual focused on love and covenant. Because the reasons the image of the Bride of God has remained so powerful across the ages doesn’t have anything to do with notions of gender or sexual orientation, with headship or submission. It’s about love and covenant.

Amen.

A Response to #GC77

Sunday, 15 July 2012 05:34 am
cjbanning: (Trinity)
As many of you reading this may well already know, the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church happened this past week. And of course, the entire world is talking about how TEC reauthorized use of the 1979 lectionary as an alternative to the Revised Common Lectionary with the permission of one's bishop and reaffirmed the sacrament of baptism as the normative entry to Holy Communion.

Okay, pretty much nobody's talking about those things. But they probably should be. So it goes.

Admittedly, the things everyone is focusing on--those having to do with sex--are pretty important too. D019 and D002 were resolutions which explicitly forbid discrimination against transgender individuals for lay ministry and ordination, respectively. These two resolutions are, to my mind, unmitigated goods. The morning after the House of Bishops passed them, essentially ensuring their passage as it is more conservative than the House of Deputies, I was messaged on OK!Cupid by a trans woman asking about "what [your] christain church thinks about ppl like me???" I was proud to be able to tell her.

I am slightly more conflicted--but only slightly--about the progress on same-sex unions. A049 approved a liturgy to bless same-sex unions. Now, these unions are not marriages, but I think the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music correctly decided a revision of the sacramental marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer would go beyond the mandate given to them by the 76th General Convention. However, they did propose resolution A050 to create a task force on the study of marriage. They explained their reasoning as follows:
As the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music developed liturgical resources for blessing same-gender relationships, it faced repeated questions about marriage. What makes a marriage Christian? What is the relationship between the Church’s blessing of a relationship, whether different-gender or same-gender, and a union, “marriage” or otherwise, created by civil law? Is the blessing of a same-gender relationship equivalent to the marriage of a different-gender couple, and if so, should this liturgy be called “marriage”? Because the Church’s understanding of marriage affects so many of its members, the Commission believes it is important to engage in a Churchwide conversation about our theology of marriage.
To me, this makes a lot of sense. I think it is important that we as a church take time out to articulate our theology of sacramental marriage. What is the function of the sacrament? For many people, it is to differentiate between licit and illicit sexual acts, but I actually reject that answer as still far too socially conservative. But if it is not about regulating sex, then what is the purpose?

There are many ways in which the sacrament of marriage is the odd one out among the seven traditional sacraments. (I feel the need here to note in passing that the BCP distinguishes between baptism and eucharist as "sacraments of the gospel" and the other five as "sacramental rites.") I know I'm not the only one to find Mt 22:23-33 strangely in tension with Mt 16:18-19 and Mt 18:18-20. While the understanding of marriage as a sacrament dates back to at least St. Augustine of Hippo, the Church herself did not officiate marriages until the second millenium C.E. Now it is true that anyone can baptize and that within Anglicanism lay persons can hear confessions, so the non-sacerdotal application of the sacraments is hardly without precedent. But it still makes me pause in my considerations of just what the sacrament of marriage is, exactly, and how it works as a means of grace. I look forward to hearing the conclusions of the taskforce in 2015 with excitement.

In any case, I am confident the foundation is being laid for full sacramental marriage to be expanded to same-sex couples within TEC within the next decade. I look forward to that time.
cjbanning: (Bowed Head)
Last week, my parish priest, Father Nathan Ferrell, responded to the Pew Report on The Reversal of the College Marriage Gap:
There is a direct correlation of all of these factors: most non-college educated people live in urban areas (in my urban parish area, only 6% of adults have college degrees), most of these young adults are not married, many of them are having children out of wedlock, and most of them do not attend church or get involved in any civic organizations of any kind.

[. . .]

One can see the trends very clearly if you follow what has happened among the Christian churches in the USA. Until 50 years ago, all of the largest congregations were in urban areas. Today, all of the largest ones are in suburban areas.
I really don't think we can make any automatic connection between conformity to socially conservative mores (pro-marriage, pro-children, as if simply producing more people were a good in and of itself) and the role of Church. There may be a correlation between people who get married before having children and the churched, but there's no straightforward causation in either direction. So there's no reason to automatically assume the absence of a "need to attend church" just because people have had children out of wedlock, anymore than because they are LGBTQ, pro-choice, or believe in evolution.

A couple weeks before Fr. Nathan's blog post, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat responded, in a column and a couple of blog posts, to a similar, albeit socially conservatively-premised, study by the socially conservative National Marriage Project--The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America--looking at the so-called "marriage gap," only in terms of beliefs rather than behavior. Douthat writes:
On some questions (the morality of premarital sex, whether a divorce should become harder to obtain) well-educated and less-educated Americans seem to have converged over the last few decades. [. . . T]he convergence [. . .] is absent on the most hot-button issue of all — abortion. There, the country still divides pretty cleanly along educational lines, with high school dropouts strongly opposed to abortion-on-demand, college graduates tilting in its favor, and high school graduates somewhere in between. And surprisingly, that divide hasn’t really changed since the 1970s, despite the changes on other issues, and the shifting pattern of religious practice.
It seems natural, therefore, that immersion in a culture which opposes the reproductive freedoms of women would result in an the type of increase in children born out wedlock demonstrated by the Pew Report, while immersion in a culture which respects those freedoms would result in a corresponding decrease. Call it the Bristol Palin effect. And since those cultures continue to correspond with education/wealth, so too would the number of children out of wedlock, so that poorer and/or less educated people would be more likely to have children outside of wedlock--and births out of wedlock would correspond to lack of religiosity only insofar as education and religiosity correlate, as recent evidence indicates they now do in U.S.-ian culture. (I think that was the fundamental point Fr. Nathan was trying to make.)

Obviously, one of the primary things the Church needs to do in order to speak to those who do not easily fall into the social conservative's model of how the individual and/or family should be ordered is to abandon the type of legalism which proclaims that model as normative.

However, in the face of the failure of the social conservative model of reproductive futurism, the Church has failed to step into her prophetic role to articulate an alternate vision inclusive to both the married and unmarried (including those unmarried with children), to those called to be parents and to those who are not, to those who are straight, gay, and/or asexual, an understanding of sexual expression firmly rooted in the liberatory (queer!) nature of Jesus Christ. But as long the Church stands for nothing, no one will listen to what she has to say.
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

My Prayer

"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

All entries copyrighted © 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Cole J. Banning


Find Cole J. Banning



Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Thursday, 27 July 2017 02:51 pm

Style Credit

Syndicate

RSS Atom

March 2017

S M T W T F S
   1234
567891011
1213141516 1718
19202122232425
262728293031