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Homily Grits Jan 21 2006

  • To:
  • Subject: Homily Grits Jan 21 2006
  • From: Grant Mauricio Gallup <grant73@turbonett.com.ni>
  • Date: Wed, 17 Jan 2007 17:43:52 -0600

H O M I L Y     G R I T S     EPIPHANY 3-C

January 21, 2006

Nehemiah 8:2-10 Reading Scripture  in community.
Psalm 113 - Laudate, pueri "Praise him, children!"
I Corinthins 12:12-27 It is You who are the body of Christ
Luke 4:14-21 "This Scripture is happening now!"

I did not watch the TV proceedings on January 20, 1989 when George
Bush was inaugurated as 41st Imperator of the republic. I had a
January cold and didn't think I needed several hours of watching the
rich grind the faces of the poor, now more obviously so than it was
then. "People are not expecting great things," said Andrew Kohut at
the time--he was president of the Gallup Opinion Harvesting company.
The people were desperately hoping for signs of Bush's competence,
said Kohut. Like his progenitor, Caligula ("Little Boots") did not
promise much to any but the rich, and was  amply able to keep those
promises. He led  the orgy of Republican self-centered and
self-promoting capitalism, the stretch limousines and fancy-dress
balls, a hundred thousand of the oligarchy  descended  upon the
capitol for Bush Junior's  inauguration and ripped off the Republic
in the name of Republicanism since.    They are always  driven past
the rows of homeless, huddled on gratings, asleep on park benches.
Denunciatory placards make them feel a thrill in their noblesse
oblige costumes of contempt for the poor. The newspapers  use the
euphemism, "unrest" to describe others, who will not sleep through
these blasphemies. Capitalist newspapers speak of outrage and anger
merely as this "unrest," a kind of willful insomnia. Leftovers from
the gluttonous banquets are sent to the city's homeless, with
appropriate publicity. The press will pay the devout attention it
always does to sports and entertainment.  Our politics are on the
same level.

Luke tells us of the inauguration of Jesus, elected by the dove
descending, immersed in the radicalism of John's baptism, a public
act of solidarity with the people of God coming to radical change.
Jesus is back from his days of fasting and introspection, of getting
his agenda in order. It was not to be business as usual, it was not
to be compromise and horse-trading, power games or bread from stones,
pinnacles of privilege or grandiose visions of greatness. He comes
back home to the synagogue--the parish church--of his youth, and
takes up the old Bible from the pulpit in the midst of his own
people, and looks into it for his inaugural address. John Dominic
Crossan and others argue that Jesus was probably an illiterate
Galilean peasant, and if he knew the Prophets, he had learned his
Bible by rote.

 A long time ago when I was dean of Chicago's west deanery I met
while waiting in line to get my driver's license, a Black preacher
named Zee Brooks, who could not read or write and had to learn how to
answer the driver's test by memorizing answers.

But he could preach up a storm, and his wife would read out verses of
the Bible to him and he would preach up a Pentecost each Sunday,
ringing the changes on each word of Scripture that was read to him.
The Scriptures were interwoven into all his speech and talk. As dean,
I arranged for him to use one of our huge unoccupied Episcopal church
buildings on Sunday afternoons--St. Timothy's-- a gothic barn
marooned like the engulfed cathedral in a sea of inner city slums.
And his people  filled it with choirs and singing, call and response
Bible reading, and his own preliterate preaching to the hundreds of
folks who thronged there for hours on the weekends. During Pastor
"Z's" preaching, old ladies in his flock would yell "Help Him Lord!"
and "Help Him Jesus!" And he got the help they prayed for. And I
asked Bishop Montgomery to go and visit this church, housed in one of
our  redundant parishes. They had a pentecost of joy together, too,
in this pastoral visitation.

So whether reading, or by rote, Jesus landed like an extraterretrial
in Nazareth, and opened the Scriptures to them. It was not private
devotional, for as Article Twenty affirms, it is the Church which is
the witness and keeper of Holy Writ and into whose common hands is
placed common prayer and common Bible, and as we are taught in the
Catechism, "We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the
Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the
scriptures." The Bible is the Church's book, and no part of it is for
private interpretation, any more than a cookbook can be used apart
> from a kitchen and remote from a dining room.

Luke says that Jesus had a reputation by the time he got back home--a
reputation for teaching, although he had been a carpenter, and a
carpenter's son. A Teknon, actually--an artisan handyman. If he was
perhaps a literate layman, as it seems, he would have been entitled
to stand up, unroll the scroll and read the lections appointed in the
synagogue. George Bush was once an Episcopalian, raised by his father
to be so, and  on the vestry of his parish, where he said he was
raised on the Book of Common Prayer and the Boy Scout Oath. But the
Shrub has found his two left feet in the larger room of scarcely
literate Methodism. He claims to be born again, God help the English
language!  He got through law school,  and he knows criminal law well
enough that he has sent well over  156 victims of his punitive
religion   to capitalist punishment under its Texas strictures. "If a
man knows the law, he knows his duty," says Michael in Oscar Wilde's
play, "Vera, or the Nihilists." "True,"replies Peter, "if a man knows
the law there is nothing illegal he cannot do when he likes: that is
why folk become lawyers. That is about all they are good for."

Jesus is handed the scroll, Luke says, and it is Isaiah's turn to be
read; there was a lectionary, a course reading, just as we ourselves
use, and so he finds the place in the 62nd chapter at the 58th verse
where it is written: "The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me, sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to prisoners, new sight to the blind, and to let
the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Jesus' inaugural address is based on this text, and he claims that it
was written for him, about him; indeed, for all of us, and about all
of us, to inaugurate our ministries. For Jesus appropriates for
himself and the cabinet he is about to form all the expectations of
the prophets for an anointed liberator. We don't have his notes, his
homily grits, but Luke says "he won the approval of all and they were
astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips." The
expectations of the ages were fulfilled that day, right there and
then in Nazareth. He told them that right now liberty is proclaimed
to all poor people, those in jail and those in sickbeds, the blind
and battered,   the crippled and the stepped on. Finally, a Jubilee
Year--the year of the Lord's favor, in which the  favor is shown by
God's people. 

Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15 tell us about the Jubilee. Set at
every seven years and every fifty years, they are years when no
business as usual can be done, when slaves must be given their
freedom, when families can return to lands lost in litigation, where
farmland and field get a sabbath of rest, for there can be no
planting or harvesting; debts are to be cancelled, there's to be a
moratorium on marketing and the commoditizing of life. The Jubilee
Year is to be a fore-taste and celebration of the Socialism of th
Kingdom of Heaven, the proto Marxism of Messiah. Liberation,
retoration, health restored, jails unlocked, land returned: a whole
array of social justice revolutions. There isn't a word in Jesus'
inaugural address about anything BUT social justice issues: there's
no talk about the  gospel  of the rich-- the sanctity of private
property, the glory of the free market, nor the duty to pray three
times a day or to avoid eating ham hocks or lobster tails. Nothing
about Bush's  swift and certain hanging for capital offenses. Nothing
that you might expect from a religious leader. It's all about how
society is to be radically changed--how there's to be a kinder,
gentler society.

Our first reading too is the story of a new beginning. After the
people returned from exile, there needed to be a restoration of the
foundations of their faith. The land was re-settled, and Ezra the
priest assembled the people to hear the TORAH read out publicly as
the foundation of the restored society. The inauguration of a new
beginning, in which the church and the people were to be ruled by a
rule of law, and not of men. No more whimsicial Courts as the Bush
men have given us, and their Alice in Wonderland mad queen decrees: 
"Off with their heads!"
 So Ezra reads and there is simultaneous translation into the
language of the people--from Hebrew to Aramaic, so that veryone may
be clear what the law actually is, and their resonse is to weep when
they hear the law.   I hope  most of us U.S.ers   would weep if we
heard read out our Bill of Rights once a year on the 4th of July,  If
we were to hear the words of the documents upon which our socitey
claims to base itself. The Pledge of Allegiance and George Bush's Boy
Scout Oath seem to have replaced the oracles of our country's
What made the people weep to hear Torah read? It was surely the
distance they had fallen in their captivity, into ignorance, and the
great cleavage between what the Bible called them to be and what they
saw in fact their life to be in national apostasy, as John Keble
called it in the 19th century English church in his Assize sermon.

But Ezra asked them not to mourn or weep, but to begin instead to
celebrate recovery: "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine"
and send a doggy bag to those who didn't get here--for this day is
holy to the Lord. Ezra called the people to see that the Restoration
which was then inaugurated was the celebration of a new day, this
day, not the harking back in nostalgia to an innocent past, but the
embracing of new chance that restoration of Torah would mean for

Paul says that the real miracle of the church is not in the
spectacular show-off abilities of a few, who can speak in the tongues
of angels. The new society of which the EKKLESIA, the called out
people of God,  is the Paradigm and Pattern is an inclusive
society--one body, with Jews, Greeks, Slaves, Free, people of all
ethnicities and of all classes, now made over into a racially
inclusive and class-less society, and sexually inclusive too.

We look around us and see that this certainly is not true of
denominational life in the churches, which are now  consumer-oriented
corporations, marketing agreeable brands of religion for various
levels and recombinations of clientele. We don't yet know our way out
of this morass. Paul says that the Sign of the unified society is
mutual care, "God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to
the inferior part, that there may no discord in the body, but that
the members have the same care for one another. If one member
suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice."
Care, mutual care is the hallmark of liberated society. This we have
not seen in the Church's history, certainly not in our era of
American Empire--for each has pursued a private agenda, each is
called to apply the principles of venture capitalism in every aspect
of life. Torah is avoided, and Gospel is giggled at. Are we to blame
only the string of capitalist running dogs that have been our
presidents in the U.S. for the last century? Reagan was once asked
why he did not go to church, and replied that it was not safe for him
and it was a nuisance to others. We should ask them all instead, "Why
DO they go to church? How dare they go to church?" Annie Dillard
wrote of her fear when attending church that God might actually
appear one day in response to all the requests and the destruction
would be horrendous, as panic and flight began.

We can see that Jesus does come to us, and with us, to church, and
has still his finger at that place in the Biblel where he can reach
the verse in Isaiah where it is written: Let the oppressed go free. I
knew that the Reverend Zee Brooks could preach on that text. I know
Jesus must have read it with a glance at the Roman soldier standing
at the door. "Let the oppressed go free" is still Jesus'text.

Can we look to George Bush now in his last days for a kindlier,
gentler nation? He is but a mirror image of the people who put him
there, and so we have the option only of weeping and fasting, or
impeach him and have a party.  But we have inaugurated Jesus today as
our Liberator, and it is his politics and his religion we are called
upon to announce beginning today -- to make our churches subversive
cells where good news is whispered, where the truth is honored, where
a class-less society is proclaimed, without millionaire skyboxes on
Pennsylvania avenue. Let us weep for the chasm we see between Bush
and the Basilea Tou Theou, between our dream and this ghastly reality
which our republic has become.