Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday in Week 5 of Easter, Year 1

Psalm 27; Luke 9:1-17

The calendar notes that the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in 2009 proposed that this day be set aside for the regular liturgical commemoration of John Calvin, which suggestion will be presented for ratification in 2012. I have to say: I don't get it. Admittedly any student of theology and Christian history ought to know who he is and generally what he was about, but I find this a very odd celebration for Episcopalians. His focus on predestination and the quasi-Augustinian notion of the complete and total depravity of humankind is somewhat alien to the usual Episcopalian view of things.

* * * * *

I had originally written a much longer introduction here, and decided to file that under "TMI."

CliffsNotes version: I am the diocesan organizer in Oregon for Integrity, the national advocacy and outreach organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians. Three weeks from tomorrow is the Portland Pride Parade, and for the first time in history, our diocesan bishop will be marching with us. We have also (I think...) successfully coordinated the participation of all the gay-friendly parishes in the metro area so that we march as one group.

By themselves, these should be sufficient cause for jubilation. But that's not how my mind works.

For one thing, though the bishop will be just a few blocks away, celebrating the mass at Trinity Cathedral in NW Portland (Pride is on Trinity Sunday this year), the parade starts at noon. We strategically registered late, hoping for a spot toward the back to give the bishop reasonable travel time after the Eucharist, but it's still going to be a close call. I'm already hyperventilating about that.

Second, last year's turnout (I blame the weather) was not inspirational. But this year we have the bishop. (Assuming he gets there.)

Third, we don't have a booth at the waterfront festival this time, and that's my fault. I assumed the registration deadline was a lot later than it was. Oooops. We're on the waiting list, but I think it's too late. Even if a spot opened up, how would we coordinate two days' worth of volunteer shifts on such short notice?

Fourth, I'm struggling to feel like our work is generating much if any interest beyond a tiny dedicated core, and even that has recently fractured somewhat, with the sudden resignation of one of our board members. Given that and various other scheduling conflicts that have arisen, only one other board member can attend our June meeting. Arrrghghgh.

Ooooookay. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

Recently - I forget exactly where, alas - I read that when you reach a point where you can't do anything else, you should rejoice, because that means God has taken the matter out of your hands. There's a part of me that believes that, part of me that wants to trust that, and another part that wants to dismiss it as cheap Hallmarky quasi-religious schlock for the hopelessly naive.

So then we come to tonight's readings for the office. Maybe they haven't anything really to say about the underlying issues of sexuality and inclusion and equality and all that, but they do speak to the question of anxiety.

Psalm 27 is all about anxiety.

There's tons to say here about the various forms of cheap grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer termed it, that people ascribe to the Bible and Christianity, about the ways in which faith protects us. But this can be very dangerous thinking, leading to arrogance if our lives are presently comfortable and blessed, thinking we have earned it; leading to contempt, if we similarly look on the unfortunate and imagine if they only had our faith and our virtues they wouldn't be in that mess; or leading to guilt in thinking we have deserved our adversity. The Bible doesn't teach or promise that nothing bad will ever happen to you if you just believe the right things; the right thing to believe is that you needn't fear the bad things that may happen to you. All shall be well.

The psalmist here spends a lot of time thinking about unpleasant possibilities. Maybe evildoers will assemble against me and devour my flesh. False witnesses arise and "breathe out" violence. None of that sounds good. But in the end he advises, "Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!"

Well, easier said than done. But faith is an active thing. Being strong is not about never being afraid. Being faithful is not about never doubting. From fear and doubt come strength and faith. And what's this about waiting? I want my resolution now! I want to know that everything is going to work out!

Well, it is going to work out. Maybe not in the way you'd imagined or hoped; and that's not to say there will never be pain or heartbreak. But so, so many times I look back on worries that I had or fears that I nurtured and see that they were wasted time and energy. Of course, in the moment, it's difficult. Faith isn't about being dismissive of negative possibilities, it's about hanging in there when the outcome appears bleakest. Think of the Israelites backed up against the Red Sea with Pharaoh's host charging them; all the signs and miracles that they had already witnessed didn't even come to mind, they just thought they were going to die, and this pattern repeats itself throughout the story of the Exodus. No matter how many times and how spectacularly God comes to our rescue, the next time we worry.

The Gospel passage for today is relatively long and tells two stories; one about Jesus sending the apostles out on a mission of healing (with a kind of odd interjection about King Herod), and concluding with one of the great miracle stories, the feeding of the five thousand.

I once heard in a sermon the interesting idea that the miracle Luke is talking about here isn't that two fish and five loaves of bread were somehow enough to feed five thousand with leftovers. One way of looking at the story is seeing it as a parable of anxiety: there isn't enough. Imagine everyone there has a fish, or two fish, and a loaf of bread or two. But they look around and they see all these hungry people, and they think to themselves that, as much as they might wish to help, they can't, because then there won't be enough to meet their own needs, let alone those of their 4,999 neighbors. But as soon as someone has the courage to share something from their meager lot, it inspires similar acts of confidence and generosity. And before you know it, not only was there enough, it turned out to have been this tremendous feast, and there wasn't any reason for anyone to have worried in the first place. It's a miracle of trust, not of multiplication.

Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat.

So now I look back on my worries about the parade challenges. I will wait, and I will trust in the Lord. I will not think about the time and the money and the things and the people and the resources I wish I had, I will trust that not only do I already have them, I have more than I need.


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