I think preachers, like most teachers, have somewhere between 1-3 good sermons in them (teachers have 1-3 really good lessons). In the grander scheme of possible sermons, “The Kingdom of God is Here” ranks pretty high in my book, right along with “Love God,” “Love Others” (sometimes combined), and far outpace anything that involves the words “Brimstone” (usually in conjunction with “Hellfire”), “Abortion” (conjoined with voting suggestions) or “Fags” (preceded by “God Hates“).*
This week’s lectionary selections included:
- Genesis 22:1-14: The attempted sacrifice of Isaac.
- Psalm Response: Psalm 13 — A Psalm of lament.
- Matthew 10:40-42: Rules for Mission, Part II: Last week — expect resistance on many fronts, but keep to the mission. This week — expect, look for, and bless those who will offer welcome.
Although many of the Episcopal priests I know generally always give a homily/sermon on the Gospel reading, they are by no means tied to doing so, but I was surprised when he went for the passage from Genesis instead of Matthew. Fr. Paul often does what he calls “popcorning ideas” where he solicits discussion from those in attendance. He asked what we might take from the story of Abraham taking his son out to sacrifice him. One of the men in the congregation was really quite dismayed that God would even suggest such an horrific act (and, sure, you can say, “Well, it was the times” . . . but it’s such a hollow answer).
If I’d ever caught his eye, I was tempted to say that Abraham‘s kind of a wanker who doesn’t really trust God . . . sure, he gets up and leaves Ur early on in the story (hey! that’ll look familiar, as it was the text from Valley Open Bible not quite a month ago), but the guy can’t manage to believe anything the Lord says to him (everytime you turn around, he’s whoring his wife out, saying she’s his sister, hoping to save his own skin, doesn’t even believe this son, Isaac, will be born, so he takes on a concubine . . . the guy really is kind of a wanker) . . . but he was bouncing back and forth too quickly between the folks on the sides, carefully avoiding eye contact with the four of us . . . so there you have it . . . I didn’t mention it.
The service took place outside, under trees in the courtyard, with about 2/3 of the congregation facing into the setting sun, which was, frankly, rather unpleasant. There have been a number of changes to the evening service since I last attended, including the congregation aging (my friend Cheri and I were about the youngest folks there — all the 20-somethings were gone — I know a few are working out at Camp Cross this summer, but I don’t imagine they all were); a more “standard” BCP service with little innovation or deviation from the liturgy, and none of the tactile sorts of rituals HT used to practice; and a very awkward communion where the servers scooted between the rows to deliver the bread and the wine.
The one innovative addition to the liturgy at this particular service was the use of the first line of the Ubi Caritas sung after every third call and response in the Prayers of the People, which was from the Prayer of Thanksgiving from Zipsqueal’s Youth Ministry Service.
Farmergirl asked to be excused from attending Holy Trinity this evening. Originally, she’d asked if she would be able to acolyte, but then she decided she wouldn’t be able to take the heartache, and asked to be excused. Her dance recital was this afternoon, late, so she needed a driver to be able to return home, so Michael, who hasn’t managed to get his D-6 up and running jumped at the chance to jump ship, too. We were attending, in part, to accompany E—–, who needed to retrieve some CDs and didn’t want to attend alone. So Our Gra (with teeth gritted), Cheri (out of town friend along for the ride), E—–, and I all went. If you’ve followed the history of the 52 Churches, you’ll probably figure that I’m a sucker for punishment, or at least recognize that I didn’t figure this would be much of a “homecoming.” I don’t know that the priest is ever going to make it past cooly civil, and that just kind of makes me sad.
Recently a friend of mine had a weird situation where her brother-in-law is now dating an old friend from college. She hasn’t really seen Old Friend in the intervening 20 years, and isn’t sure her bil is someone she’d recommend getting involved with, so the whole family gathering was awkward and culminated in the bil asking why my friend wasn’t all buddy-buddy with her old friend. I suggested that because Old Friend has been dating the bil for two+ years, that perhaps she (Old Friend) feels an intimacy with my friend and her family that my friend didn’t share, because of the bil reporting family happenings from this end of the state. Whether or not my theory is applicable in the case of my friend and her Old Friend, it certainly seems applicable to my relationship to Holy Trinity. That is, I still feel a connection with the people and the place that’s beyond civil (which makes me Old Friend in the analogy above).
I suspect that the priest feels (well, beyond suspect, he’s said both of these things at least once) that we left because we don’t prefer incense, and that we were unwilling to try his “hypoallergenic” incense (because, I think he believes that the quality of the particulate in the air will somehow change the asthma attack that particulate in the air provokes. Asthma isn’t an allergic reaction or a preference (well, I would certainly prefer not to have it . . . but that’s a separate issue), and, truthfully, I was unwilling to have another avoidable asthma attack, or give Farmergirl one.
And — and here might be the rub — and I don’t think it’s a choice I should have to make. I think it is wrong to take a place that should be life-giving to all and to make it life-threatening. I don’t think there’s enough wine in this bottle for me to tell this story. I don’t think I can drink enough wine to tell it. My best and most generous explanation is that it’s too soon in his life, too soon in his career, too soon in his tenure as a priest for him to come to a more reflective, inclusive, life-affirming decision. Michael argues that he’s not appreciably younger than we are — which is true — but I don’t know what his life experience has been . . . we were both thrown into leadership roles in our early twenties, and have been managing (in my case, professor-ing) folks decades older than us for the whole intervening time. I look back at some of the decisions I made, and I see the folly of my own youth and lack of experience.