Figures de la Bible. Illustrated by Gerard Hoet, and others.
Published by P. de Hondt in The Hague (La Haye). 1728. Image courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries
This past Sunday, we had part II of our "Instructed Eucharist." The interruptions this created in the flow of worship were so annoying to several other confidants that they related to me their relief that this experiment would probably not be replayed anytime soon. I found the interruptions had a negative effect on my worship in that I noticed a greater separation from God during the service. That feeling of separation was so profound that I could not blog about it properly until today.
In this Sunday's sermon (the 10:30 a.m. version), our rector avoided repeating his 8:00 a.m. error of injecting the politics of inclusion (read Arizona's immigration laws)into the homily, and instead focused on the reading from Acts 16:16-34.
Paul's motivation for ordering the demon out of the annoying prophetic slave girl was, according to this sermon, an act of love, motivated by pity from seeing the poor girl afflicted by a demon. I didn't hear it that way. Let's go back to the text,
One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave-girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And it came out that very hour.
Paul's motivations are clearly stated, he was annoyed, otherwise this would have been a routine exorcism carried out in his first encounter with the girl. If this was primarily an act of love for the slave girl, wouldn't that have been documented? No, instead we hear that Paul was not just "annoyed," not just "very annoyed," but "very much annoyed." Any other motivations are purely speculative. After this imaginative start to the sermon, I could never get quite back on track and remained distracted. This distraction worsened as the "Instructed Eucharist" stumbled forward.
I did not get much out of the superficial "instructions" that interrupted the normal flow of the liturgy. I felt that this type of thing would be better done in a small group educational setting such as Sunday school, but shackled to my pew, I soldiered on.
My mind wandered to Paul and Silas as prisoners, their feet in stocks, singing hymns:
After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Note that they spent the night singing to God and not bemoaning their imprisonment. The next part of the reading from Acts really distracted me because it raised echoes of the earth shaking changes the Episcopal church has been bringing upon us:
Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’
This hit home not just because I was silently hoping the earth would shake and the Instructed Eucharist would end, but because I also saw an analogy with the remaining orthodox, those who did not flee to safety following the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2003 or following the consecration of Mary Glasspool on Mat 15. 2010. Flogged, put in stocks, and locked away, we have been offered a chance to flee to the new Anglican Church in North America or to other denominations (I greatly appreciate R. Sherman's offer of sanctuary in Missouri). Do we stay in prison out of ignorance, or is it for the love of God? Do we win converts by grumbling or crying out, or should we try to follow Paul and Silas' example by staying and making a joyful noise unto the Lord? What should we do when an opportunity for freedom suddenly appears? Is the Anglican schism like Paul's earthquake?
Other analogies kept popping up. The jailer's first impulse was to think that if the prisoners escaped, then he himself was doomed. This brings to mind the numerous lawsuits being pursued by the Episcopal church over departing parishes and dioceses. It is as though the Presiding bishop and her attorneys have adopted the role of jailer, and through her possession of the keys to church buildings she will discourage the prisoners from attempting a mass breakout. The desperate legal actions and maneuverings of the P.B. suggest, like the jailer, that there is an underlying fear of the consequences to herself if there are any further defections from T.E.C.
Paul's example also has me rethinking what I had considered to be a doomed "stayer" policy. The idea that the Episcopal church can be converted en-masse is ridiculous of course, but the power of faith that Paul and Silas displayed, a power that freed the jailer himself, is the kind of power that today might have effects beyond those that could ever be imagined by this distracted, grumbling blogger.
When freedom calls, perhaps we need to sit still, take stock, and praise God for his Word for that is who truly sets us free. With Him, we are free from fear of distraction and separation from God, and free from the finality of death. By not fleeing, but staying, unwavering in our hymns, oh, what a witness we could be.