Wednesday, June 6, 2012 — Week of Proper 4, Year Two
Ini Kipuria, Founder of the Melanesian Brotherhood, 1945
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 969)
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) // 49,  (evening)
[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today Paul recounts when he challenged Peter. Peter had been eating unkosher food with the Gentiles until the arrival of some conservative Jews (the circumcision party). “But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.”
In “The Access Bible” there is a footnote for Galatians 2:14. The original verse reads (in translation, of course) “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” The footnote offers an alternative paraphrase: “How can you meet gentiles half way (not keep food laws), then require them to go the whole way (be circumcised)?”
It struck me how similar this dispute is to the arguments we have had for years in the church, particularly through our resolutions at General Convention. We say that homosexual persons are children of God with a claim on the pastoral ministry of the church (1976). But some of us say that homosexual persons cannot act upon their sexual orientation, but must remain celibate or act as heterosexuals. Some heterosexuals will require that impediment of their gay neighbors even as they themselves freely admit that they cannot live fruitfully as celibates. I hear the echo of Paul’s question: How can you meet homosexual persons half way (you are a child of God), then require them to go the whole way (but you must remain celibate forever)? If you, a heterosexual, cannot live as a celibate, how can you compel homosexuals to do so?
I know that will not be convincing to those who believe same-sex orientation is disordered. I’m not expecting to change minds. But I am struck how similar it feels to me to be one of those who is urging the church to apply the same high standards of faithfulness and commitment to homosexuals that we apply to heterosexuals in our intimate relationships. I hope the church will choose to offer to gay people the same blessing of support that we offer to straight people.
Paul argued similarly for full inclusion of Gentiles into the church — as people equally called, redeemed and challenged. The Gentiles are to be part of the body of Christ without having to become circumcised “like us Jews.” Paul’s great struggle was just this. Can Gentiles be admitted to the church on an equal footing with Jews? Or will Gentiles be required to be circumcised and to adopt the Jewish laws? Paul forcefully argued that the Gentiles are to be freely included and incorporated into the Church. No double standards.
A quick note about Ecclesiastes. Today we read the famous “To everything there is a season” passage. (I always hear the Byrds “Turn, turn turn” song underneath this passage.) The Teacher’s point is that there is a time appointed by God for every extreme and every situation, but human beings know little, if anything about those times. The Teacher includes not just the good times, but also all of the evils and tragedies of life in those divine appointments. And he insists that our knowledge of any of this is extremely limited.
Therefore says the Teacher, trust God in the present, and enjoy life as much as you can enjoy it, given the limitations of circumstance and the near inevitability of death.
His counsel is not unlike that of Jean Pierre de Caussade whose 18th century teaching is often titled “Abandonment to Divine Providence.” Accept the circumstances of the present moment with complete abandonment and trust, says Caussade. God is fully present to you in the “sacrament of the present moment.” Do not judge the goodness or badness of your circumstances. Accept these circumstances as the form that God is present to you now. The past is done; the future is not; all that is, is in the present moment. Here only is God.
Even if the moment seems evil, simply accept this as the context of God’s presence working with you for good, and commit yourself singularly simply to do God’s will as it presents itself in the present moment. That is perfect life, says de Caussade. Or as he might say in the language of the Teacher, “all else is vanity.”