Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Proper of the Day: Pentecost XIV

This Sunday is the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost. It's also Labor Day Sunday, and probably every parish has programmed "Come, Labor On" as the final hymn today. In addition to that particular hoary tradition, we read today from the prophet Jeremiah, who wants to know why God's people would change to gods "who are no gods," and have "changed their glory, for something that does not profit." I was intrigued by the image of forsaking God, the "fountain of living water, and d[igging] out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that hold no water." I had a vision of cracked baptismal fonts that would not hold the water poured into them.

We continued today with a portion from the Letter to the Hebrews as well. Today we hear some practical advice for living, including the admonition to show hospitality, and to "not neglect to do good, and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." Although I do not believe that works can earn salvation, I do think it's good to be reminded, as does the Letter of James, that faith without works as an outgrowth of the faith (and never in place of that faith) is something to strive for and examine oneself about.

The Gospel continues Jesus' travel to Jerusalem. He's having dinner at a Pharisee's house, and has all sorts of observations and advice about Christian gatherings and not making oneself bigger than one is. The preacher where I attended today (Trinity Parish, Saugerties, NY) made the point that every time there's a meal in the Gospels, it's a code for the Eucharist. I'm not sure that's always the case, but it did make me pause, and wonder how today's Gospel does affect our understanding (nor not) of Eucharistic hospitality and practice.

I have no conclusions yet, just wonderings. I mean, in most parishes we either have an Altar rail or do stations, so the actual distribution of Communion itself is egalitarian. But what about where we sit, and where visitors sit, and all that? There's an old story about St. Swithun's of a particular Sunday at the beginning of September. The rector was in the pulpit, expounding on the Scriptures. It was today's Gospel, as a matter of fact, which falls around the Sunday before school begins for most schools. A died-black-haired, black-tee-shirt and jeans, scruffy sneakers, much bejeweled and inked student came in the back of the church, and looking around, sees no seats. It's Homecoming Sunday and the church is full to the brim. So the student, in good student fashion, isn't fazed in the least. He walks down the center aisle and sits down right in front of the first row, on the floor, in front of the pulpit. He's a student, after all, and this is what students do. Well, this causes a stir, but the preachers keeps on. Who doesn't want an anttentive audience? A bit later the congregation stirs a bit. From the back, very slowly, because he is quite aged, comes Mr. Malcolm. Mr, Malcolm has been the chief usher of the parish for as long as anyone can remember. Longer than at least the last four or five rectors, even! He is very dignified in his freshly-pressed suit and carnation. Mr. Malcolm makes his way slowly down the side aisle. The congregation begins to mutter. What will he do? It's inconceivable for that goth kid to do what he did. Mr. Malcolm is perfectly in his rights to ask him to leave. And he's the chief usher, after all. Whatever happens, we'll all see!

So Mr. Malcolm continue up the side aisle. People aren't paying much attention to the sermon at this point; they're all consumed about what Mr. Malcolm will do. Finally he gets to the aisle in front of the pulpit and moves toward the student. He touches him on the shoulder, and you could hear the collective gasp of breath from the congregation. He says something to the student, inaudible to most of the congregation. Very slowly, with great dignity, Mr, Malcolm leans on the student's shoulder, and and very carefully eases himself down onto the carpeted floor next to the student. He crosses his legs, oh so slowly, and looks up at the pulpit so he can see the Rector.

The Rector choked back a sob and said, "You will never see the Gospel enacted in such a way again, and I can never add anything to what you have just seen." And he left the pulpit, wnet to his chair, and sat.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to God's people!


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