An Acceptable Model for Human Community

An Acceptable Model for Human Community

A homily by The Rev. Grant Mauricio Gallup

HOMILY FOR OCT 31 1999 - Micah 3:5-12, I Thess. 2:9-13, 17-20; Matt. 23:1-12 Psalm 43.

We don't use the word "heresy" much in the Episcopal church any more, and when we do, the kinds of things we identify as heresies are really not much more than pet peeves, annoyances to our personal agendas, inconveniences to our lifestyles, which tend to be affectionately imitative of those of the rich and famous. Nevertheless something occasionally happens with heresy in our midst. Bishop Walter Righter's trial last year for the heresy of having ordained a gay man to the priesthood comes to mind. A homo-sexual man, the heresy hunters declared, who is not a celibate, is not a fit subject for ordination. The fight was on: between homophobe and homophile. In the 4th century the church struggled for decades over two other words beginning with the Greek prefix "homo". Was Jesus Christ homo-ousios (identical in essence) or homoi-ousios (similar in essence) with God the Father. The council of Nicaea in the Spring of 325 declared for the homos instead of the homois. It took many decades before the struggle ended, however, and in some deep ways it will goes on. The Roman emperors at first embraced the homois--the subordinate role for Jesus Christ--because that model of the divine distribution of power was appropriately symbolic of the arrangements whereby they ruled the world: a hierarchical model, a patriarchal model, a vertical-authority model. The "pater familias" of the Roman family had absolute authority--indeed, held the power of life and death--over his family. So it seemed to the Caesars that heaven and its arrangements were hierarchical and patriarchal as well, and indeed had been so in the old religions, with Jupiter or Jehovah at the top, surrounded by subordinate lesser gods and goddesses, or angels and ministers and satans round about.

That model didn't vanish when the fathers (note: they were all fathers) at Nicaea nevertheless opted for the community model for the divine economy. We're still working on it.

Jesus, outrageous radical as always, declared an end to patriarchy as a domination system. Call no man on earth your father, he said. Or, your teacher. You have one father, and that one is in heaven. Jesus of Nazareth didn't go so far as Mother Mary Baker Eddy of Bow, New Hampshire, when she added "Mother" to the prayer which Jesus had taught his disciples. But he did after all compare himself to a Mother Hen on one occasion, something Mother Eddy declined to do. Paul the Apostle compares himself to a mother, breast-feeding her own children (the Thessalonians), declaring that to be the model of his gentleness among them. But he also addresses them variously as brothers and sisters, and as a father to them, in the way he encouraged them, urged them on, pleaded with them. And as an orphan, when absent from them. He uses all the familial models and metaphors, one after the other, for no single image can fully express the richness of their relationship, or exhaust the strength of his love for them, whom he calls his glory and his joy.

In all the struggles through the centuries over who can be baptized, and how, and who can be ordained, and who can be married in church, who can be blessed, who can be buried from the church, in the eye of the storms, in the heart of those darknesses, is the question: how does our answer expand or contract our definition of human identity, how does our language or our praxis serve as an acceptable model for human community, a proper metaphor for the God whose name is Love.

A poet friend in Brooklyn, a devout Presbyterian (now there's a paradox!) who is an expert on the poetry of Ezra Pound, was recently appalled when the authorities of the New York cathedral forbade the inscription of the name of Ezra Pound into the Poets Corner at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, on the grounds that Pound wrote anti-Jewish articles and expressed pro-fascist remarks on the radio during World War II. Well, so did Charles Lindbergh. So did T. S. Eliot. Pius XII has recently been nominated by one author as "Hitler's Pope." Luther wrote some of the most vicious anti-Jewish material in print. Lincoln wpoke up for slavery, and for the deportation to Africa of freed slaves. But we have erased those elements of our heroes' histories, in favor of the better angels of their nature. We overlook the homophobia of George Carey and call him a brother. Because our definition of our common humanity continues to enlarge itself, our heavens continue to expand their many mansions, our idea of human community grows greater as we move more and more towards its consummation into the reign of God in history. We are able to forgive more as we are given more, as we are forgiven more.

Recently Pope John Paul II himself said that although hell may indeed exist, he didn't know whether any one was actually in it. Doesn't make the Pope a bad guy, or even a unitarian universalist.

The prophet Micah comes down pretty strong on the clergy of his time for the way in which they served as chaplains to class privilege and corruption. that's where the prophet's concerns are directed. He rails against religion as commodity and clergymen as entrepreneurs. Churchmen who bless the status quo, for the good tables they are able to spread for themselves for saying "Peace" to the Pax Romana, the Pax Brittanica, or the Pax Americana. Churchfolk who are comfortable with what the Pope now calls "savage capitalism", having seen what it has done in the world. But these religious leaders make war on those who don't have a stole fee or a stipend for them. The poor are enemies to them. Micah calls down darkness upon such chaplains to the system, calls for their sun to set, their lips to be silenced. The church, which we now prefer to call the people of God, because of the compromised history of the old word, is called to take away from our culture and our savage capitalism and our corrupt politics the role of defining God, of declaring what is good, of setting the borders of charity (so as not to include Cubans) and the frontiers of our solidarity (so as to forget Iraqi children) of guiding the human family to its historical destiny, and take those tasks back to the pilgrim people of God.

Some outlines are there for us in Scripture, 'though like the bread and wine we offer, we know that these too were made with human hands, words wrung out of human hearts. There are some models for us in the history of our saints and heroes, frail but empowered people, like ourselves. The prophet claims the right to speak with power, with the spirit of the Holy One, and to speak to the church of its sin. But also there are larger definitions to be inscribed, out of our own experience, out of the struggles of our own time. Our ideas of how human society should be arranged are changing, and as they do, our definitions of ourselves will expand. We are blessed--indeed, lucky--that our Catholic past included Nicaea, where one of us was declared to be just plain homo -- "homoousios", of the same stuff as God, Godself. Each of us has an apotheosis ahead of us. We can all be glad that Jesus began a pilgrimage away from patriarchy and hierarchy and domination systems towards a community whose models and metaphors for its God, and therefore for itself, are inclusive, and whose life style reflects that, whose solidarity with the suffering makes it clear that we are brothers and sisters. Our faith is not in a globalization of the market, a church which is a chaplaincy to privilege, but our hope is in the globalization of hope for the poor--a communion of saints who are sisters and brothers in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic people of God.



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