This week's sermon at ECOOS was an excellent example for newcomers to the Episcopal church to hear how the social gospel of justice, when applied to current issues, and projected by an unqualified speaker, can be twisted into a distasteful, tangled, political diatribe that in the end causes harm to the body of Christ.
Today's lengthy homily is blessedly fading from my memory, but to summarize, errors began right off the bat when the rector said that both Elijah and Jesus were prophets but failed to explain any differences between the two. This is very bad teaching because it might lead us simple pewsitters into the heresy of Arianism. I suspect most pewsitters let that pass without notice, but it seemed like a lost opportunity to examine the difference between a fully human prophet and the Son of God, and how important it is to our salvation that there is a difference between the two.
Later, the sermon deteriorated into a tirade against people who "hate the government." These people are bad because the government provides for the widows and orphans and pensioners through our wonderful social safety net and social security system. The rector, in an increasingly agitated state, vociferously said he wanted to "spit upon" those who hate the government. Hmmm...I seem to recall that he himself was in the government hating group during the years of the Bush administration. Is this "change we can believe in?" Next, the rector went on to bash the state of Arizona and its recent laws regarding how police should manage a certain category of law breakers. To top it off, he reiterated his desire to spit on people once again.
I am trying to remember that new fangled baptismal covenant thingy that people like to throw at me...Let's see...Oh yes, p. 305,
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
Throughout the ages, being spat upon has been a powerful act of degradation, an act contrary to the principle of respect for human dignity.
And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. Matthew 27:30 (KJV)
Sometimes I picture myself in that crowd, spitting upon the Lord my God, I later kick myself, and then bow down in prayer for that same God to save me. Once I felt my feelings of indignation mount today, I made sure to confess those feelings before ascending the steps to the altar rail for communion. I was reminded during my confession of Article XXVI of the Articles of Religion that I should accept the bread of life from someone who is, after all, just another fallible face in the crowd.
Still, I can't shake the feeling that such preaching is not only degrading, but harmful to the body of Christ. It appeared that way to at least one visitor today who, like earlier visitors, left clutching his Bible on the way out the door.