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Homily Grits 7-C Feb 18 2007

  • To:
  • Subject: Homily Grits 7-C Feb 18 2007
  • From: Grant Mauricio Gallup <grant73@turbonett.com.ni>
  • Date: Fri, 26 Jan 2007 11:34:30 -0600

H O M I L Y   G R I T S    7-C

by Grant Gallup
February 18, 2007

Genesis 45: 3-11, 21-28, I am your brother Joseph
Psalm 37:1-18 or 37:3-10, Noli aemulari
I Corinthians 15:35-38,42-50 What is raised is imperishable
Luke 6:27-38 Give, and Forgive

Today, February 18, is the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther,
Renewer of the Church. He died on this day in 1546. I don't suppose
you will need to be told that he had left home in the midst of winter
at the ancient age of 63 to try to settle a quarrel between two
Lutherans. If those two Lutheran princes had kissed and made up on
Saint Valentine's Day, a few days earlier, perhaps Luther would have
lived long enough to have seen the first Book of Common Prayer issued
three years later, and we Lutherans and Anglicans could all have
kissed and made up then, instead of waiting until Pentecost of 2001
to do so, after nearly five centuries of acrimony. As it happened, he
caught cold in the bleak midwinter and died.

This week we also celebrated Valentine's Day--more of you knew about
his day than about Martin Luther's, no doubt. Luther's day is not
celebrated as a Feast of Love, although it could be: he was an
earthy,  raucous and horny old rascal, as is revealed in his Table
Talk, and his marriage to Katerina von Bora probably did as much to
boost the Reformation as did his Kleiner Katechismus. Catholics
certainly cite it more frequently. Even Erasmus, my favorite
reformer, gossiped about it, and repeated the canard that a baby was
born a few days after the ceremony. Luther wrote disparagingly of the
canon law governing marriage: "The Romanists of today have become
salesmen," he wrote, "And what do they sell? Vulvas and penises!"

We remember instead the Lovers' patron, Valentine. Who he? You can
have your choice of them. Valentine, a priest in Rome who was
martyred on the Flaminian way during the persecution under Claudius
II in 269 or so, on February 14. Some few details are known of
him--tradition has it he was badly beaten, and although he restored
the sight of the jailer's blind daughter he was beheaded. An almost
certainly apocryphal middle aged legend says his last letter from the
slammer to a pal was signed, "from your Valentine." Thus beginning
the hearts-and-darts greeting card business which would make Hallmark
rich one day.

The other Valentine, a bishop from the town of Terni in Italy, was
martyred a few years later in the same Claudian persecution. Some
scholars think him a mere doublet of the other Valentine, having
somehow become a bishop after he lost his head to the Romans-- as
Anglican priests have been known to do, usually after prolonged bouts
of Roman fever, like John Henry Newman. Two Valentines were assigned
this day until fairly recently, 'though one has been dumped (the
bishop, I believe) and other has been reduced to the rank of a memo.
'Though we are not forbidden to celebrate Valentine we are not pushed
to do so. A Whitman's sampler of chocolates will do the trick, passed
around with a hug or a kiss at office parties. The day has been
associated from earliest times with the choosing of a steady partner
for the coming year, not because of any association with the two
Valentines but because February 15 had been for centuries a country
festival in honor of Februata Juno. Boys drew the names of girls (and
some boys perhaps drew the names of other boys) out of a hat (and
some girls maybe drew the names of other girls), and promised to be
steady with one other person--to try the friendship on for size, for
the year beginning March lst, and to consider a lifelong commitment
at the end of that time. Engagement as "try out" time.

Another source of the fun and games was the association of the
Lupercalia in Mid-February as well, which celebrated the place where
Romulus and Remus nursed on the wolf's teats. The Lupercal also
honored Lupercus, the Roman Pan, who protected flocks from the Lupus,
the wolf, the big bad wolf. In England, birds started to mate on
February 14, Chaucer mentions St. Valentine's day "when every fowl
cometh to choose her mate." So it's the time of year to talk about
Love's stirrings.

The lections today set impossibly high standards for our Love. Luke's
Jesus is talking about a Love that Hallmark has no card for, a
weighty Love that cardboard valentines cannot bear. I founder about
in this pericope, grasping like a drowning person for some twig, some
little branch in this flooding torrent of Love--Dante's "Love that
moves the Sun and the other Stars"--to see if there is something here
I can hang onto, to save myself from these impossible demands of

"I have been so great a Lover," wrote Rupert Brooke, "filled my days
so proudly with the splendour of Love's praise." And he names them
all at wonderful length and breadth in his hymn to Eros which is as
lyrical as Paul's own hymn to Agape in the letter to the bickering

"Shall I not crown them with immortal praise Whom I have loved, who
have given me, dared with me high secrets, and in darkness knelt to
see the inenarrable godhead of delight?" asks Rupert Brooke. Yes,
it's easy to share Rupert's loves, 'though he knows "they'll play
deserter, turn with traitor breath, break the high bond we made, and
sell Love's trust and scramented covenant to the dust." Rupert tells
of all our earthly loves: for the relationships that make life a
daily miracle--with laughing voices, old clothes, flowers "dreaming
of moths that drink them under the moon", "the rough male kiss of
blankets"-- "all these have been my loves," he writes. And all of
these shall pass. Neither Rupert nor any of the poets, nor you and I,
can write the poem of Jesus in Luke's anthology, and include so
blatantly the love of enemies, a cheery command to bless those who
curse you, give to every nasty panhandler and be kind to every sneaky
thief. To say nothing of serial killers and war criminals.
Forgiveness and Giveness are inseparable, Siamese twins, in the
teaching of the Lord. That's an outrage. "Love your enemies" Jesus,
the Blithe Spirit, whispers to us all. You know and I know he isn't
talking the kind of love that has to do with the loins and lips and
labias of the lovable, all pinked up with cupids and lace doilies.
He's talking about people who treat us badly us, and whom we can't
abide. Don't hate anybody? I can give you a list of some loathsome
dudes. Right out of Newsweek and right out of Time. Right out of the
Christian Science Monitor, which once upon a time, in the name of
Love, did not mention such things as death, murder, mayhem, and
malice in its pages, eschewing Malicious Animal Magnetism. I can give
you names right out of La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario--names of
hateful folks who make the day's news.

Anne Lamott in "Travelling Mercies" quotes C. S. Lewis on enemies:
"If we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better
start with something easier than the Gestapo." She goes on to tell
how the parent of a fellow pupil with her son, in first grade, was
"warm and friendly" but in her "I'd had an enemy--an Enemy Lite."
"She did not have an ounce of fat on her body--and I completely hate
that in a person." And she still had a Ronald Reagan bumper sticker
on her Volvo seven years after he left office. Ah, how most of us
confine our real loathing to Enemies Lite, for we rarely get to know
them any better than that. Anne says she thought awful things about
her "Enemy Lite," so bad that "I cannot even say them out loud beause
they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat
dish." An old black woman in the ghetto used to tell me in the face
of all those hateful ones back in the days of the Civil Rights
Struggle, that "there's a Man goin' round takin' names." I always
took comfort in that--it meant I could drop those names from my list,
I could erase them from memory and from memos, I could wipe them out
of mind, because God was indeed "takin' names", just as my first
grade school teacher would do when we misbehaved in her class,
writing them down in a little apiral bound notebook with a pencil
stub. What would she do with that list? We never knew. But Jesus
would have us use that little notebook as a prayer list, as folks on
an agenda for our special Love. When Jesus told us the parable of the
good enemy, or as we prefer to call it "The Good Samaritan", he was
giving an answer to our question, "Who is my neighbor?" He thus made
room amongst traditional ethnic enemies for a neighbor, with all the
nice qualities of generosity and compassion that we know we have in
most of our own neighbors. But when he said, "Love your enemies", no
one asked him, in feigned innocence, "But who is my enemy?" It seems
we all, like the Lord High Executioner, have a Little List. And from
our point of view, "They never will be missed." "Do not fret," trills
the Psalmist, "they shall soon wither like the grass, and like the
green grass fade away."

Joseph was sold into Egypt by his siblings, --not the equivalent of a
river boat cruise up the Nile. He was betrayed by his family into
slavery. And had every reason to keep his brothers on a list of
Enemies Lite, at least. But when they came to him for help, not
knowing who he was, he lost control and wept. Then he showed himself
to them and said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into
Egypt." Segundo Galilea writes that "the Christian mystique is
essentially liberating: it liberates us so that we in turn may
liberate others. . . in the message of the Bible, inner slavery and
outer servitude are deeply linked." Hearing that the Pope's attitude
towards him was softening, Luther wrote Leo an apology, but in it he
blamed the Pope's advisers for all the evil in the church, and urged
the Pope to become a parish priest and jettison the papacy. It was a
prefatory note to his essay, "The Freedom of a Christian." Hardly a
gesture of reconciliation, although John XXIII came close to taking
his advice. Yet Luther then wrote, "The Christian is utterly free,
master of all, slave to none; a Christian is the willing slave of
all, commanded by all." Our forgiveness does not forget, as God
promises that divine pardon will do, but it bestows freedom, not only
on the offender, but on the offended. It enabled Joseph then to do
good to his brothers, indeed to save the future of the people of God,
if we read the family Tree. It frees us all to bless, it frees us to
do good, it stays the judgement, it lifts the condemnation, it is
God's permission to go on Loving, to go on "Godding", to live
redemptively, creatively. It has taken the Popes a long time to
reconcile themselves to Luther's fine letter, and to draft an irenic
reply. What a pity Luther did not get round to a conciliatory letter
to his Jewish brothers. Planted for five hundred years, who knows but
what it may have borne some fruit before the blight of the  Nazi

One of the great churchy controversies of the 16th century was over
the question of who could forgive sins. God alone, many protestants
insisted, with Jesus' interlocuters. Today, a Lutheran pastor can say
to a penitent: "As a called and ordained minister of the Church of
Christ, and by his authority, I declare to you the entire forgiveness
of all your sins." An Anglican priest says: "Our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinners", and then
proceeds with a more wordy absolution. The power is in the Church,
not the priest. In the absence of a priest, a deaon or a lay person
may grant an absolution: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered himself
to be scrificed for us to the Father, forgives your sins by the grace
of the Holy Spirit." The prayer of pastors and priests is more
clearly declaratory, citing the church's empowerment by Christ, and
the other form more "precatory" (expressing a wish), but both depend
on Jesus' command that we forgive, in order to be forgiven. The
confessor--ordained or not--speaks not in his or her own name, but in
the name of all the rest of us, in all the pews in all the places of
Christian venue, and indeed in the name of the Church at Rest, the
Church Triumphant, whose sins are forgiven and forgotten--all of us
who as a Body have that power, and who act through that fragile
office to speak the power of the word of Jesus now, to raise the

Paul writes "Someone will ask, How are the dead raised?" He then
calls that Someone a "Fool!" and declares "What you sow does not come
to life unless it dies." All our enmities must die, not all our
enemies, if Love is to come to life in us and raise us to Life. Our
perennial hatreds, our weekly feuds and fusses, our daily peeves and
irritations, must be buried round about in our daily dying to self,
as fertilizer, as the dung they are, that they may bring forth in us
the Resurrection garden of earthly delights full of perfume and
beauty, full of Life. "What is sown is perishable," says Paul, "sown
in dishonor, sown in weakness," but is to be "raised in power, in
glory, imperishable."