That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Judges

The Parable of the Talents – Sermon for Pentecost 24, RCL Proper 28A

Give us open minds, O God, minds ready to receive and to welcome such new light of knowledge as it is your will to reveal to us. Let not the past ever be so dear to us as to set a limit to the future. Give us courage to change our minds when that is needed. Let us be tolerant to the thoughts of others and hospitable to such light as may come to us through them. Amen.

That prayer was given to me a few years ago by a member of this congregation. She said she’d found it in going through some of her old papers. It is a prayer attributed to John Baillie, who was a Church of Scotland minister in the mid-20th Century; in fact, he was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland during the 1940s. I think the three most important words in this prayer are “Give us courage” because they directly address the lesson of today’s reading from the Holy Gospel.

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I Pondered the Works of God – From the Daily Office – August 7, 2014

From the Psalter:

I will ponder the glorious splendor of your majesty
and all your marvelous works.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 145:5 (BCP Version) – August 7, 2014)

Motorcycle CrashThis morning, I woke up from a dream, grabbed the notepad on my nightstand, and scribbled some notes for a poem.

Then I poured a cup of coffee — thanking God for the wonder of automatic timer-controlled coffee makers — and opened my Book of Common Prayer to read the Daily Office.

Two psalms this morning. The first, Psalm 85:

They have said, “Come, let us wipe them out from among the nations;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
* * *
Do to them as you did to Midian,
to Sisera, and to Jabin at the river of Kishon:
They were destroyed at Endor;
they became like dung upon the ground.

Too much this psalm reminds of Gaza and rockets and bombs and dead children, and I am not sure I want to continue the Office, but habit and discipline compel me to do so.

The second psalm . . . speaks to that strange dream and intermingles with my poem notes and I scribble some more and then hurry through the rest of the Office, unhappy when the reading from Judges presents Gideon as the hero who slew the Ishmaelites and, again, the dead of Gaza come to mind, but I rush through the prayers, hurriedly petitioning, “May they rest in peace and rise in glory,” and then return to my notes and finish the poem.

I’ll title it I Pondered the Works of God. Don’t ask me what it means. You decide.

I dreamed a dream of God
who was riding a motorcycle
a racing bike
and wearing a splendid
one-piece jumpsuit
of metallic silver fabric
and a helmet
and the visor on the helmet
obscured God’s face
when he turned
to look at me.

God laid the bike down
on the track
in a cloud of tire smoke
like a burnt holocaust
of an ancient time
and God stood up
gloriously unharmed
and sprinted off the track
to open the trunk of his car
a 1957 Cadillac Coupe de Ville
and God began
to take off his helmet
and to climb
into the trunk
as he turned
to look at me.

And I woke up
I awakened to a day
I knew would be filled
with decisions and doubts
with answers that would be
partial.

And I pondered the works of God
how marvelously he piloted his cycle
how skillfully he laid it down
how carelessly he left it lay
how athletically he ran to his car
how absently he climbed into the trunk
how majestically he turned to look at me.

And I knew
my partial answers
my doubtful decisions
would be
the solid foundation
of years to come
when God would turn
and look at me.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

“The cattle are dying; invest in vultures” – From the Daily Office – July 29, 2014

From the Book of Judges:

Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and worshiped the Baals; and they abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; they followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were all around them, and bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord, and worshiped Baal and the Astartes. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them to bring misfortune, as the Lord had warned them and sworn to them; and they were in great distress.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Judges 2:11-15 (NRSV) – July 29, 2014)

VulturesMy usual Sunday afternoon occupation, after presiding and preaching at church and making any needed pastoral calls, is reading the online edition of the New York Times, which is what I did Sunday. Among the many items that got my attention was a very short report on some economic statistics, specifically on the fact that the net worth of the typical American family has decreased by more than a third over the last decade: “The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation.” (The Typical Household)

What happened during that decade, of course, was the so-called “housing bubble,” the debt default crisis, the packaging of sub-prime mortgages into derivative investments, the Great Recession, the bank bail-out, and a significant increase in student debt (made non-dischargeable in bankruptcy by a Congress which also refused to find ways to lower the interest rate on such loans). Typical Americans saw their biggest asset (the family home) substantially reduced in value while their indebtedness increased. Of course their net worth went down! I don’t want to believe that Americans have been given “over to plunderers who plundered them,” but Americans certainly are “in great distress.”

In fact, as I am writing this, I just received an email from Bill Moyers (a subscription service, of course; Bill Moyers doesn’t write to me personally) with this tidbit: “50% of jobs in the US pay less than $34,000 a year. And 25% of jobs in the US pay below the poverty line for a family of four: less than $23,000 annually.”

Now, in truth, I’m not the sort who believes that God hands people over to plunderers or sells “them into the power of their enemies all around.” That’s an ancient way to understand the law of cause and effect (and, perhaps, the law of unintended consequences), but as a metaphor for how the world works . . . it works for me. Especially if the metaphor makes us give thought to what “Baals and Astartes” we may be worshiping and with what consequent effect.

With the Times’ report still in my memory, I turned on NPR in my car as I went to make a call early yesterday afternoon and one of their many news and commentary programs were on — I think it may have been “The World.” The subject under discussion was the announced acquisition of the Family Dollar grocery chain by its “extreme value” competitor, Dollar Tree. The reporter was interviewing a stock market analyst, a specialist in retail commerce stocks, about the merger, asking if the analyst thought it was a wise move by Dollar Tree.

The analyst was just gushing about what a great deal this was and why stocks of “extreme value” retailers (it was from him I learned this term) are such a good buy for an investor. His basic reason: the number of people below the poverty line has doubled in the last decade! The number of poverty level households in the United States has gone from one-in-twelve to one-in-six. People living in such families are the natural market for “extreme value” retailers, so their market share has increased. They are poised, he said, “to make a killing!”

I was flabbergasted! I’d never heard anyone so overjoyed that more Americans are living in destitution, that so many of his fellow citizens are in need. He was, in essence, say, “A lot of people can’t afford good products, so the wealthy should invest in the stores that sell them substandard crap. Lots of money to be made there.” Isn’t that like saying, “The cattle are dying; invest in vultures”? Or (to use our bible metaphor today), “God is handing them over to be plundered; invest in the plunderers! God is selling them to their enemy; invest in the enemy!”

Who or what are the “Baals and Atartes” this society worships? Who are the “plunderers” to whom we are given over to be plundered? On what altars are we sacrificing and what is it we are offering?

On one level, this is just economics. The part of me that went to business school and has an MBA wants to say, “That’s just the way markets work.” But another part of me must respond, “But that’s just unacceptable.” And I remember Someone who said, “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.” (Mt 6:24, NRSV)

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Bible Study – From the Daily Office – December 19, 2013

From the Gospel according to Matthew:

[Jesus said:] “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 25:1-2 (NRSV) – December 19, 2013.)

Open Bible with EyeglassesThe parable of the bridesmaids has always bothered me. Whenever I have to preach from it I have to get passed my first reaction, which is, “Really? People will be kept out of heaven for being stupid?” Of course, that is a misreading, or perhaps I should say “over-reading,” of the metaphor.

The message of this parable is once again the Advent message of preparation: it is an admonition to be ready for the unexpected return of the Lord, for the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven. It has nothing to do with “getting into heaven;” it says nothing of the judgment of God, much less of the mercy of God. It is simply about being alert and prepared. The metaphor goes no further.

Extending metaphors beyond their point is often a danger with the things Jesus says! It is, truth be told, the danger with the whole of Scripture. Stories of God have to be read in the context of the whole of the Bible and understood to be limited in themselves; they tell only a part of the much-larger story.

I meet once a week with a group of people studying the Old Testament. The past couple of weeks we’ve been reading and discussing the books of Joshua and Judges. If one were to understand God solely on the basis of the stories of the conquest and settlement of Canaan, one’s picture of God would be that of a petty tyrant interested only in ritual, the acquisition of territory, and racial purity. You would read how God gave victory to the Israelite army and helped them annexed Canaanite territory simply because, with no military preparation at all, they marched around behind priests blowing trumpets. You would read how God then ordered them to slaughter all the men, women, children, and even livestock in some of the towns they captured simply to prevent them from intermarrying with the conquered Canaanites. You would read how God rewarded the Israelites for the behavior of Jael who lied, violated the laws of hospitality, and murdered a guest in her tent. You would read how God empowered Samson to be a judge over Israel, Samson who was, at best, a womanizer and a dolt! Not a pretty picture of God . . . although God’s granting power to Samson goes a long way toward countering the bridesmaids metaphor’s suggestion that God does not reward the stupid.

No. One cannot read selected bits of Scripture, whether they be the ritualized (and largely legendary) military history of the occupation of Canaan or the parabolic words of God Incarnate, out of the larger context of the entire witness of the Bible.

Perhaps that is part of “being prepared,” reading and appreciating the testimony of the entire Scriptures, being biblically literate, knowing the story in its grander dimensions. Advent is nearly over, but it is never too late to begin. Even a foolish bridesmaid or a stupid judge should understand that!

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Things We Do for Love – From the Daily Office – August 18, 2012

From the Book of Judges:

Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me what makes your strength so great, and how you could be bound, so that one could subdue you.” Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” Then the lords of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not dried out, and she bound him with them. While men were lying in wait in an inner chamber, she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a strand of fibre snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Jugest 16:6-9 – August 18, 2012)

Samson and Dalilah, Max Liebermann, 1902It may be a sign of my age or a condemnation of my cultural up-bringing, but I cannot read any of the story of Samson and Delilah without hearing Tom Jones’ voice sining, “Why? Why? Why, Delilah? My, my, my Delilah?” Silly, I know, but it sort of fits with this bit from the Old Testament lesson from today’s lectionary readings.

We are told that Samson “fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah,” (v. 4) and that she is then persuaded by the Philistine leadership to discover and disclose the source of Samson’s strength. So begins a series of events in which she asks Samson, he lies to her, she undertakes to betray him on the basis of the lie, and he overcomes the betrayal. After three such episodes, he finally tells her that he will lose his strength if a razor touches his head and the story proceeds as every Sunday School child remembers it.

Reading these three episodes of question, lie, and betrayal, Tom Jones’ lyric keeps ringing in my ears, “Why, why, why?” Why does Samson stay with or keep returning to this woman who is clearly in league with his enemies? Why?

I suppose the answer is in verse 4: “He fell in love with [her].” Love, or perhaps we should be honest and note that what this really is is lust or passion, does that to us; it blinds us to the faults in the beloved. “Love is blind” says the old shibboleth. Erotic love makes us overlook the obvious and do things that simply do not make sense.

One of my favorite songs of a bygone era is 10-CC’s Things We Do for Love:

Too many broken hearts have fallen in the river
Too many lonely souls have drifted out to sea
You lay your bets and then you pay the price
The things we do for love, the things we do for love

Communication is the problem to the answer
You’ve got her number and your hand is on the phone
The weather’s turned and all the lines are down
The things we do for love, the things we do for love

Like walking in the rain and the snow when there’s nowhere to go
When you’re feeling like a part of you is dying
And you’re looking for the answer in her eyes
You think you’re gonna break up
Then she says she wants to make up

Ooh you made me love you
Ooh you’ve got a way
Ooh you had me crawling on the floor

A compromise would surely help the situation
Agree to disagree but disagree to part
When after all it’s just a compromise
Of the things we do for love, the things we do for love
The things we do for love

Walking in the rain and the snow, crawling on the floor, returning again and again to a paramour whose clearly bent on betrayal . . . the soul in search of love will do a lot of silly and stupid things that make us ask “Why?” I think we know the answer, though; we’ve known it at least since St. Augustine of Hippo write his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Only in God do we find that love which does not betray.

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Traditional Biblical Marriage: Say What!? – From the Daily Office – August 9, 2012

From John’s Gospel:

Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. Then Gideon son of Joash died at a good old age, and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash at Ophrah of the Abiezrites.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Judges 8:30-32 – August 9, 2012)

Wedding RingsOK. I know I shouldn’t get into this . . . I know that someone is going to give me a hard time; I can almost predict that someone will tell me they are planning to “leave the church” over this. But here goes.

I am sick and tired of hearing the words “traditional biblical marriage” bandied about by those who oppose the legal and religious recognition of the committed relationships of same-sex couples. Absolutely fed up with it. Because there is no such thing! Read these three verses from the Book of Judges slowly and carefully because they describe the marriage (or should one say marriages . . . or perhaps “sexual relations”) of one of the greatest heroes of the Bible. And what they describe is a far cry from what the proponents of so-called “traditional biblical marriage” think they are talking about about; Gideon was very definitely not in a “one man, one woman” marriage. The text doesn’t tell us how many wives he had, but with seventy sons I would estimated that he had at least fifteen if not a lot more! And he had at least one concubine! It’s entirely possible that he married his wives as part of some political arrangement with their families or tribes, and that it was his concubine who was his actual love interest.

I need not rehearse here the variety of marital arrangements one finds in the Holy Scriptures. Esther J. Hamori, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Union Theological Seminary has already done a superb job of that in an article for the Huffington Post, Biblical Standards for Marriage. Suffice to say that there are all sorts of culturally conditioned settlements . . . and that’s the significant point, “culturally conditioned”. Our Bible does not and never has set down one sort of standard (for interpersonal relationships or for most other things) that is immutable and permanent; the Bible is a collection of stories of changing norms of behavior stretching over centuries. These changeable and changing behavioral norms may be grounded in a set of ethical or religious principles, but they adapt as cultures and conditions change.

I should also note, but will not dwell upon, the history of marriage (or “matrimony”) as a sacrament of the church. It wasn’t one for about the first millennium of the Christian era! The church wasn’t involved in overseeing marriages at all, but as the clergy became society’s record-keepers, and as the rising post-Empire royalty and aristocracy needed some control on the descent of property and titles, the church became involved. Initially it was only as record-keepers, but then ceremonies and rituals were devised and then, eventually, someone began theologizing about the marital estate and the church’s role in helping it be contracted . . . and, before you know it, Voila! It’s a Sacrament . . . and it’s “always” been one. And, of course, it is now incumbent upon all of society, not just the upper crust, to have church-approved marriages.

We live in a different world from Gideon, so fifteen wives and one or more concubines probably probably would not be an acceptable (or practical) living arrangement for a modern man. We live in a different world from medieval Europe. Marriage is no longer (usually) a political arrangement as it generally was in both those times; today, our concept of marriage honors the emotional attachment of the parties. Today, we know that that emotional attachment, that affective attraction is not universally a heterosexual one; we know that some definite percentage of the human species is affectively attracted to members of their same sex. We know that this is not a deviation from the norm; it is the norm. And knowing that, our culture is changing and the culturally conditioned normative behavior of marriage is changing with it.

The task ahead for religious people is not to insist upon enforcing as unchangeable the cultural norms of a long-departed world like Gideon’s. The task is, rather, to re-apply the underlying ethical and religious principles to our new situation. For Christians, this means looking to the two greatest commandments as stated by Jesus: Love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:37-40) Given that, how can we not re-assess our understanding of marriage? How can we not extend our blessing to the committed relationships of same-sex couples? How can we not give up some false notion of “traditional biblical marriage” and instead embrace Christ’s ethic of loving God and loving our neighbor?

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Father Funston in the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Carb Loading on Jesus – From the Daily Office – August 5, 2012

From the Book of Judges:

Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.” Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Judges 6:19-24 – August 5, 2012)

It is intriguing how often in stories of Holy Scripture food plays a role. From the “apple” in the Garden, to Abraham offering a meal of cakes and meat to the three men (who turn out to God) at the Oaks of Mamre, to this story of Gideon, to David and his men eating the Bread of the Presence, to all the food items listed as items of sacrifice in Leviticus, the Old Testament (indeed, the whole Bible) is food focused. The People of God define themselves through the annual reenactment of a ritual meal celebrating the Passover; the new People of God define themselves (in my tradition and others) by the weekly reenactment of a ritual meal celebrating the death and Resurrection of Christ and anticipating his return. It’s intriguing but not surprising. The Jewish and Christian faiths are not, in the long run, about following rules of ritual or moral conduct; they are about being in an intimate relationship with that which is the source of being, that which we call “God” and address as “Father” or brother or redeemer. And, other than sex, there is probably no more intimate activity two or more people can share than eating together.

Today the gospel lesson for the Eucharist is from John’s lengthy “treatise on bread” section in which Jesus describes himself as the “bread of life,” an image which continues this focus on food. (John 6:24-35) My son Patrick was our guest preacher this morning; he extemporized a sermon around bread as a carbohydrate food. He called to mind the practice of long-distance competitive runners, the folks who run marathons and compete in triathlons, to “carb load”, involves greatly increasing the amount of carbohydrates you eat several days before a high-intensity endurance athletic event. The purpose is to increase the level of glycogen stored in one’s muscles. Usually, only enough glycogen to sustain 60-90 minutes of physical activity is stored, but through carbohydrate loading an athlete, particularly male athletes, can often double the glycogen in their systems.

Noting that the church is in a dynamic period of change, figuring out how it will minister in a new century in a radically different social context, Patrick suggested the period ahead of us is going to be like running a marathon. In the past, the church has been like a sprinter, dashing along quickly with this new program and then dashing again with another new program. But now, the long, hard sustained work of reimagining and restructuring for a new ministry paradigm requires that we “carb load” on the bread of life, Jesus our Lord. Only he can provide the life energy the church needs at this time in its existence.

As I listened to him preach, I thought of this Daily Office lesson and how Gideon’s altar is said to stand “to this day.” I firmly believe that the church will stand, in one way or another, through the years to come. It may not be very much like the church of my youth, or the church in which I currently minister. The era of the parish church, of the congregation with a dedicated single-purpose building, of the local church with a full-time paid priest may be coming to an end, but in some form or another the church will stand. It will endure. It will “run the race that set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” (Heb. 12:1-1) the bread of life which sustains us.

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Father Funston in the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Raunchy, Glorious Hope – From the Daily Office – August 4, 2012

From the Book of Judges:

Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
He asked water and she gave him milk,
she brought him curds in a lordly bowl.
She put her hand to the tent-peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera a blow,
she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
He sank, he fell,
he lay still at her feet;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell dead.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary. – Judge 5:24-27 – August 4, 2012)

Jael and Sisera by Artemisia Gentileschi (1620)“Most blessed” be a murderess? What is this? Yesterday, a friend and colleague who was only a little older than I am passed away after several months of pancreatic cancer, so I’m a little sensitive on the subject of death this morning. So, really! What is this?

This is part of the song sung by the judge Deborah and Barak, whom she had made commander of the Israelite forces, as they celebrated victory over King Jabin of Hazor’s Canaanite forces of whom Sisera was the commander. I think folks can be surprised and somewhat taken aback by how bloodthirsty some of our Holy Scriptures are, how much death there really is in the Bible.

We never read these parts in church on a Sunday, even if Morning Prayer is used for the main service of the day (a rarity among Episcopalians now that the Eucharist has taken a central place in our worship). These bloody, violent bits of the story are not found in either the Sunday Eucharistic lectionary nor the Sunday readings for the Daily Office. As a result, tent pegs driven into skulls, she-bears tearing apart children (2 Kings 2:23-24), and babies being dashed against rocks (Psalm 137:9), biblical images of violent, bloody death seldom, if ever, enter the perceptions of church-goers. About the most violent we ever get in church is wreaking vengeance on the nations, binding their kings in chains, and putting their nobles in irons. (Psalm 149:7-8, Proper 18 in Year A and All Saints Day in Year C)

What we have on Sundays is a whitewashed and sanitized religion, cleaned of its gorier, more violent, deadly images – except, of course, the scourging and crucifixion of Christ, but that was done by others, the Romans and the Temple authorities, not by the “good” people. We never learn that “blessed” Jael drove a tent peg into Sisera’s skull, or that the “man of God” Elisha was protected from children’s taunts by wild bears, or that God’s People who batter infants to death are “happy”. Maybe if we did, maybe if these serious images of violence and death were more widely known, these gruesome reminders of how the brutalities of life can also be part of God’s plan for the world (or at least of God’s people’s life in the world), perhaps then religion would not be considered the “fantasy” many think it is, the “pie in the sky by-and-by” irrelevancy some believe it to be.

The religion of the God of Israel is, as the late Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple famously remarked, “the most materialistic religion in the world.” He meant that Christians (and Jews) believe more about matter, believe more positively about matter, and do more with matter than do the devotees of any other religious systems. But beyond that the religions of the Bible face the fact of the dirtiness of life, the downright violent filth of it, and assert that even from that can good come. And if something good can come from the deaths of children torn apart by murderous animals or of infants bashed against rocks by battle-enraged warriors, then perhaps something good can come from the crap, the utterly awful shit that happens in every human life. That, at its raunchiest, basest worst, is the glorious hope present in biblical faith, that even from the very worst of human suffering something good, something happy, something blessed can come. Thanks be to God!

May my friend and colleague Kelly (who I know has been greeted with those welcome words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”) rest in peace and rise in glory!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Ordained Ministry: The Full Inclusion of Women – From the Daily Office – August 2, 2012

From the Book of Judges:

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgement.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Judges 4:4-5 – August 2, 2012)

So . . . how is it (would someone please explain to me) that people have a problem with women in leadership roles in religious communities? Say, for example, as presbyters or bishops in the church? Today’s Daily Office reading is but one example of women in the Holy Scriptures exercising leadership among God’s People. If Deborah could be a prophetess and a judge over Israel, what is it that prevents a woman from being a priest and an overseer over the church?

Ordination of the Philadelphia ElevenThis past Sunday, the Episcopal Church marked the 28th anniversary of the women known as “the Philadelphia Eleven” who were ordained on July 29, 1974. Four retired bishops (Daniel Corrigan, Robert DeWitt, Edward Welles and George Barrett) chose to defy the General Convention of the Episcopal Church which, at its regular triennial meeting in 1973, had voted against opening the priesthood to women; women were already eligible for ordination as deacons. Joined by male presbyters who supported them and the candidates, they ordained eleven women deacons to the priesthood: Merrill Bittner, Alla Bozarth-Campbell, Alison Cheek, Emily Hewitt, Carter Heyward, Suzanne Hiatt, Marie Moorefield Fleisher, Jeannette Piccard, Betty Bone Schiess, Katrina Martha Swanson, and Nancy Hatch Wittig. Shortly thereafter, four additional women were also “irregularly” ordained: Eleanor Lee McGee, Alison Palmer, Betty Powell, and Diane Tickell. A firestorm of controversy erupted in the church: charges were filed against these dissident bishops (Daniel Corrigan, Robert DeWitt, Edward Welles and George Barrett) and an emergency meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops was convened on August 15, 1974.

However, the “stained glass ceiling” had been shattered. The next meeting of the General Convention was held in September 1976, and a resolution to change the church’s canon law to allow the ordination of women for all three orders of ministry (bishop, priest, and deacon) was adopted. Since then women’s ordained ministry has been recognized not only in the Episcopal Church but in several provinces of the Anglican Communion and has proven a great blessing to the Church.

The Rev. Florence Li Tim-OiThese women were not the first to be ordained to the Anglican priesthood, however. During the Second World War, Florence Li Tim-Oi was ordained to the presbyterate on January 25, 1944, by the Rt. Rev. Ronald Hall, Bishop of Hong Kong, in response to the crisis among Anglican Christians in China caused by the Japanese invasion. No male clergy could be found who were willing to take on the onerous ministry, but Ms. Li was, so she was ordained and served with distinction. After the war, the Archbishop of Canterbury sought to make the bishop and the priest rescind the ordination, but neither did. Ms. Li voluntarily ceased serving as a priest until more than 30 years later when she immigrated to Canada where the Anglican Church, following the Episcopal Church’s lead, had begun to ordain women. Her priesthood was recognized and she served as an honorary canon in Toronto, ministering among the immigrant Chinese population.

These women have stood in the footsteps of Deborah and other women described in Scripture (in both the Old and New Testaments) who led and served God’s People. The great women leaders of the Bible demonstrate, as do the fruits of ministry of these women and the many who followed them, I believe, that there is and should be no impediment to the full inclusion of women in all orders of the church’s ministry. I simply do not understand how anyone could believe otherwise.

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Father Funston in the rector of St. Paul”s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.