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Homily Grits Lent 3-C

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  • Subject: Homily Grits Lent 3-C
  • From: Grant Mauricio Gallup <grant73@turbonett.com.ni>
  • Date: Fri, 02 Mar 2007 18:35:03 -0600


by Grant Gallup+

March 4, 2005

Exodus 3:1-15 I have come here to liberate
Psalm 103 Benedic, anima mea
I Corinthians 10:1-13 (Our ancestors all had sacraments, too)
Luke 13:1-9 Jesus talks theodicy

In Managua, on weekend mornings when strangers come to the gate, they
are usually "naufragos" (shipwrecks)--street people who beg for food,
or medicine; regular vendors come, too, selling cuajada (cheese curds
pressed into patties) neatly wrapped in green chagŘite leaves, leche
agria (clabbered milk) in paper cups, cosas de horno (sweetened corn
bread) and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, some of them I
never saw before coming here--like quequisque (a pink hairy root
vegetable). When I lived in Chicago, in the Black ghetto, I was also
visited regularly by the begging naufragos of the Me First World, the
poor folk who slipped through the cracks in capitalism's broken
promises. But I am rarely visited here, as I was in Chicago, by
religion peddlars. An occasional ardent Adventista del Septimo Dia
with a handful of sabbatarian tracts, the stray pair of Testigos de
Jehovahá whom I have renamed "Testiculos de Jehovah", , with their
alarmist newsprint magazines in Spanish, but with the same whitebread
illustrations of happy suburban gringos enjoying everlasting life in
the Garden of Eden, which looks suspiciously like Oak Park, Illinois.
"We're Bible students," they used to announce to me in Chicago, and
once in a while the mischief got into me and I'd say, "What Bible?"
"King James? That queen?" and eventually they'd be forced to admit
they were Witnesses with their own translation. They were always well
dressed and well mannered, 'though I was impressed by their real
chutzpah in appropriating the name Jehovah. When I came to Nicaragua
for the first time in 1985, I came with a group called Witness for
Peace, which could not call itself that in Managua, because
"Testigos" would have made everybody think you were with the Testigos
de Jehovah, so we called ourselves Accion Permanente Cristiana por La
Paz. The Russellites had taken God's name and so had taken control of
the way the words Jehovah and the Witness were to be used here. They
had become their property, and no one else uses the words--they're
trade marks like "Coke" and "Pepsi." Even our Episcopal hymnal has
some residiual claim to it, however, in a hymn like "Guide me, O Thou
Great Jehovah." Scholars now know that this is a mistaken
transliteration, never used by the Jewish people, and depends upon
the consonants from one word and the vowel points from another. The
Jews were afraid to write down the way God's name was pronounced, and
so left out the vowel points, afraid to "take God's name in vain."

Charles Taze Russell, who invented the religion, had no such
timidity; neither do most of us--nowadays we increasingly hear the
name Yah'veh pronounced, more or less correstly, in church. The
readers of Scripture in church insert it wherever "Lord"appears in
the English text, more afraid to use sexist language than to offend
the ancient Semitic diety. The movement to use inclusive language
about God is a way to give more names to the deity, so God won't be
stuck with only masculine names. We have come to believe that God is
not made in a man's image, that God is not only a "Father". I knew a
woman named John in the Black community, and a man named Vyvyan in
the white community, so you can't always tell by the Name. I was
mistakenly called by my twin sister's name, Grace, in kindergarten,
and she was called Grant. We sorted it out ourselves and knew when to

Naming is a way human beings have of controlling identity. The
parents control the child and one of their first acts is to give the
child a name--that used to be done at Baptism, which began with the
officiant bidding the godparents, "Name This Child." Adam named his
neighbors, the animals and plants, because they were under his
control, and in the Bible that men wrote, a man names the woman Eve,
because he declares himself in control, and says God put him there in
control. The Army gave me a number for a name, which gave them more
control. Every bigot wishes to control his intended victim by the
names he lays his tongue to when describing those he hates and fears:
"Nigger", "Bitch", "Faggot," "Wop", "Gook", "Kike", "Dyke", and so
on--the language of oppression. The language of control. When groups
get weary of being maniupulated and decide to name themselves, they
do not respond to the names the oppressor calls them by, and often
turn them into in-house teasing. Blacks decided in the sixties not to
accept their definition as "Negroes" and the peoples of Africa
changed their names, from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, from South Africa to
Azania. Gays, Lesbians, and transgendered people decided on their own
nomenclature, and hard cheese to you if you can't handle that.

And that's the point of the handle. To get a handle on something
means to be able to move it, to transport it, to pick it up and set
it down at will. Moses wanted a handle on the God he met at Horeb, in
the bush. In ancient times, as even now, people wanted to know the
Name of their God. It helps, for purposes of control, it helps to get
God's attention. Moses knew that the Egyptians had lots of Gods, and
they all had names, so the priests and people would be able to get
their attention when they wanted it--you had to have the Web Site,
the Internet address, Dot Com or Dot Org. Moses knew that if he were
to go to Pharaoh and say that he had come from the throne room (or,
as we might say, the Executive Office) of the God of the Hebrews,
with certain demnds, that Pharaoh just might ask, "Who is this God of
yours? What's his name?" for Pharaoh believed as most people still do
that there are many, many gods, and you'd better know their names if
you're going to deal with them. So Moses knew that he would look
stupid if he went to Pharaoh and was unable to Name the God that he
claimed to represent. And it occured to him, "Who am I to speak to
Pharaoh in the name of the God of the people of Israel?" God's
riposte to that was "Go ahead on, I'll be with you." Moses didn't
even know how to identify the One who spoke to him in the bush, and
what would he say to the people of Israel themselves? If I come to
the people of Israel and say to them, "The god of your ancestors has
sent me to you," and they ask me "Well, what's his name?" -- What
shall I say to them?

So it's Moses' control of the people, not only of their God, that he
is looking for and can't have unless he can name the God. But this
God is not to be manipulated, this God is not to be picked up and
moved about and re-located and sat down. This God says, "I am who I
am. What you see is whatyou get." This is the God who acts. The one
who causes to be what comes into being. "You'll know me by what I
shall do for you. What you will see is what you can speak of." So it
makes sense to think of God then as the God of these forebears,á
these patriarchs in a patriarchal society: where the Fathers and Sons
is where the action was seen to be important, and memorable. The God
of Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel is that same God, but they weren't
sharing the leadership, weren't keeping the records, and so did not
get God named after them until now. God therefore told Moses, "Never
mind what my name is; it's your names that must come under my
control, not my name that must come under yours." The God that Moses
meets determines where the Holy Ground is, where sacred space is
delimited. This God appars not in the temples of Egypt nor at the
manipulation of Moses'father in law, the priest of Midian, nor in the
shrines of Ba-al, nor in the temples of Greece or Rome or India. This
God acts in all the peoples of the earth, in their history, and in
their lives, but this God cannot be named nor manhandled nor put into
a god box. Human beings everywhere name some buidings as sacred, some
time as hallowed, some special people as holy ones. God is not bound
by that naming, for God may decide to appear in a bush instead of a
basilica, and clothed in a desert wind instead of a damask drapery.
God says "I have seen the affliction of my people, I have heard them
crying. I know about your suffering, I have seen the oppression in
this society, and I have come here to liberate. I am determined to
deliver my people. I am in charge here."

Theologians want definitions of God. "What is your name, that I might
tell them," is the theologian's enterprise. But God says, ¤'m the one
who sees affliction. I'm the one who hears the weeping. I'm the one
who notices injustice. I'm the one who has come to change the
situation." In Abraham's time, in Isaac's age, in Jacob's day, and in
the time of Peter and Paul and Martin Luther, and in Martin Luther
King's struggle--and Oscar Romero's, and Agosto Cesar Sandino's-- I
am the God who acts for the liberation of my people. Don't try to put
a handle on me, don't give me your favorite nickname and try to take
control of me.

Paul tells us more about our relationship with this God whose name is
What You See Is What You Get. Paul says a religious relationship with
god is not enough--it will not suffice. Paul says that all our
patriarchs and patriarchies are "under the cloud" -- " cloud is a way
of saying "God's presence." The religius folks of the past, our
forebears, a lot of them, had just as good a religion as we have.
They didn't call it Anglican, or the Via Media, nor "Christian", nor
"Catholic", but they had a kind of baptism and confirmation and
eucharist: "They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the
sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and drank the same
supernatural drink."

However. They were overthrown in the wilderness, and God was not
placated, pleased, or amused by them. They were all too confident in
their manhandling of the Deity. They thought their religion had given
them the handle. "We must not put the God we worship to such a test,"
Paul wrote. God had some snakes up his sleeve, Paul says.

Well, maybe. Jesus isn't so sure of the correlation between
snake-bites and faithlessness, nor is Jesus sure that any natural
disaster or political or military action has the hand of God in it.
"There were some who told Jesus of the Galileans whom Pilate had his
soldiers attack thile they were at worship, and their own blood ran
with the blood of the goats and sheep they were killing for religious
sacrifices." Jesus asks, "Do you really think these poor suckers were
worse sinners than all their neighbors?" Do you really think God
punishes people this way?

And then he refers to an article in the morning newspaper that day,
about the disaster at Siloam, where a high-rise collapsed and killed
eighteen people. We can hear the tongues clucking, of those who
escaped, claiming God had delivered them, but too bad about the
others. And the neighbors saying to themselves, how these folks must
have had it coming, or "their time was up" as if God were a great
house-cat playing with human beings as with mice, playing around for
hours before pouncing at last when the game grows tiresome.

No Way, Jesus declares. You've got your religion on backward this
morning. Isn't this really another way of controlling God, to put God
in charge of what we call "acts of God", so described in our
insurance policies as disasters and catastrophes. Isn't THAT taking
God's name in vain, in an empty and silly--deeply silly--way?

Jesus says, No Way!, I tell you, No Way! But Unless you turn
yourselves around, you will all likewise perish. Repentance, Jesus
declares, is our proper human stance towards God. Give up your
efforts to control God, your design to control the naming of God for
other people, stop deciding for them what their relationship to God
must be. Jesus says, Let me tell you a story about our relationship
to God, and God's way with us. A man has a tree in his vineyard, and
comes seeking fruit and finds none. He says to the vine dresser,
"Look, I've come here looking for fruit for three years. Cut this
tree down. Why should it use up the ground?" But the vine dresser
answers, "Oh, let it slide for another year. Let me dig about it and
put on some manure. (And that, probably, is a coy reference to what
preachers do.) Let's be patient, let's try a little harder, let's see
what else might work, let's postpone our rewards, postpone judgment.
It may yet bear fruit next season. If not, then that's time enough to
bring the hatchet and the saw.

¤n Lent, we come to learn self-control, not God control.
We come to the bush, and find God's angel is aflame there.
We find that holy ground is where God says it is.
We hear the apostle say to us, God Is Faithful, but don't push it.
We hear our Liberator say to us, God is not a punisher, God is a
who has learned patience from dealing with us slow learners, turnips
and rutabagas and mangel-wurzels some of us, and some grapes and figs
and pomegranates, others--all of us in God's garden.

Our best shot is Repent, and trust this One.