The Steampunk Vicar

A Presbyterian Pastor on Neo-Victoriana and American Faith

Category: Sermons

Narrativus Tertius, or the Third Story

I’ve been thinking a great Deal, this Week, about Narrative. My natural Bent for Storytelling has reared again its Head, and the Tales we tell to One Another, and to our Selves, has been heavy on my Mind. Much of this, to be sure, was influenced by the Obsequies for Dr. Lorraine Stanfield, and the Throughline of Narrative that dominated that Service. Then, too, there are Stories being told, and telling Themselves, even now, as I write this.

For much of the last Year, I have been initiated into the Eastern Mysteries of Yogic Practice, and some of the more spiritual Dimensions of that Work have centered on Narrative, and on those Frames around Events that are central to human Experience. The experienced Yogi would tell you that these Stories are worse than useless, and are, indeed, a Distraction from our mindful Presence to those Occurrences. God, the Yogi would say, is not angry with you because you lost your Keys – you simply lost your Keys, which are, Themselves, a burdensome Abstraction, and One that you could dispense with profitably. Shed Attachment, especially Attachment to Narrative, and your Mind and Soul will clear.

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In contrast, a fair Percentage of my Rearing was conducted in the more lightly evangelical Branches of the American Protestant Christian Tree, the Sorts of Folks who will speak earnestly of God’s visible Work in the World, of God’s illimitable Call, and of Spiritual Forces which dominate this mortal Vale. For these, no Happenstance is to small to lack God’s guiding Hand. In its extremest Forms, this thinking yields Hurricanes and the Deaths of Soldiers as God’s smiting Wrath, and walks inevitably to that false Gospel (I have no Hesitation in claiming it as false, and no very little Qualm about the nominative “Gospel”) of Prosperity. The Wealthy are Rewarded and the Improvident are punished – could it ever be otherwise?

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I find it not at all surprising then, that when bad Things happen, we turn to these Tools to help us interpret our World. The Yogi says that our Narratives harm us; the Preacher says that God is their Author. One advises us to seek no Thread of Meaning; the other swears that God weaves a Tapestry with such Threads.

And when I scan the Æthernet in the Morning and find more of my countrymen Dead without Purpose, I cannot help but be dissatisfied with either Solution. If God is so terrible as to wrack a hapless Isle and move a Man to murder scores, then God deserves a fouler Name. If All is Naught and Naught is All and our Presence here is charmless Accident, the siren Song of Oblivion beckons us all, and Nothing is so sweet as to bind us here.

Some Months ago, a Friend was injured, just as another Comrade received a hideous Diagnosis. This, too, as Politics went Mad and Nations raged and Death stalked those near and dear to my Kindred. Once again, I stared at a World upheaving, and sought Sense in either closing my Eyes to Meaning, or closing my Eyes to Sense. My Compatriot, her Ankle splinted, reported to me the Comment of another Parishioner.

“If the Devil is trying to get us this bad, we must be doing Something right.”

I am not, in general, a Diabolist, but I was so much struck the good Sense of the Remark, and it has guided me. I refuse to countenance an Epic of God’s Punishment, and I will by no means relinquish the Precious Stories of my beloved Friends and Neighbors. To give up either is to surrender the Ship. But render unto me an Enemy – a hater of Life, and Love, and Light, and Hope, and Grace, no Human Tyrant but an Immortal Foe, and I will tell you a Tale that might open your Eyes…one that neither detaches nor rationalizes, but, instead, seeks to heal and transform. Mr. Enten of FiveThirtyEight quoted today the wise Rev. Rogers, who deserves more Upvotes than I can alone render:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

These are the ones with their Eyes opened – let those with Eyes to see and Ears to hear receive Understanding.

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Many wonderful Helpers can be found – some of my Favorites work with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

 

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De sextonibus; or, on the Work of the Church

Last Month, I was in Jerusalem, traveling for my Employment. I was, again, struck by the Beauty, the Majesty, and the Intensity of that city. It is a locus gravus, a place its Inhabitants could rightly describe as kavod – weighty, heavy with Meaning. I have been moved by the Question of how it came to be so, and found an insight in a Place at once unexpected and undeniably meet.

The Morning after my arrival, I arose with the Dawn, and embarked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is among the holiest Sites the Faith, the Ground of the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of the Christ. And I am obliged to admit…it is stunning.

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I was attending the first-hour Latin Mass at the Tomb itself (because, obvious to my long-time Readers, I am, as the Romans themselves would say, ille nerdus). It was a strange Relief to hear those ancient Words spoken in that Spot – they spoke briskly the Gospel to the assembled Tourists and Pilgrims, and then lived it out in the Breaking of Bread.

As we ascended the step to take of the Elements, I noted one Man out of Place. He stood, like the Priests and Monks, but was garbed in a Shirt for Equestrian Sport, and all his Mien was Impatience – he was poised, as though awaiting a secret Signal.

And, surely, when the benedictus concluded, he charged the Chancel, and snatched up the Pulpit. Swiftly he denuded the Forefront of the Tomb of all the Trappings of Worship, pulling up even the Pews and withdrawing them to the far Corner. At once it was clear – this man was, lacking a better Term in Context, a Sexton. His Duty was the Preparation of the Space – this an Adaptation to smooth the Friction of the various Sects and Denominations that lay Claim to the Church in its Parts.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, mapped
This, as I walked again those sacred Stones, was of a Piece with the Revelation of the Weight of Jerusalem. So much Passion and Rhetoric and Blood have been spilt on and for these High Places that it is trivial to lose Sight of the grinding Work that has gone into their Maintenance, Repair, and Cleansing.

The Armenian Church administers a Grotto in the Ædifice, and at present, they are embarked on significant Remodeling – perhaps in the first Time for Centuries. The Chapel is sadly wrought, the Flags torn up and Tools scattered about the holy Rocks.

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This, of course, is so elemental a Clarity as to be made of the very Stones themselves. That which renders Jerusalem so weighty, our Churches holy, our Lives replete with Meaning is not the Presence of God. Our Faith teaches a God Omnipresent, attentive ever to all the Universe.

No, the Holiness of Jerusalem is a product of Hands and Hearts and Tears and Blood. We serve as Conduits of God’s Holiness, and imbue Compassion and Love into the very Earth. Tragically, of course, we may serve also as Channels of Fear, Rage, and Hatred, and our Choice is not Boolean – we have, always, the Responsibility to choose high Goods, and must make such Decisions over and over again.

Often, that Decision, that Job, is as simple as raising the Stone, or cleaving the Wood. It is sweeping Floors, and hauling Pews. It is Vacuuming and Dusting, it is laying Cable and folding Worship Folders. It is hanging Curtains and responding to Electric Mails. It is listening to one another Grieve as we dig Holes in the Soil to plant Chrysanthemums.

This Morning, my Kindred in Faith and I come together to Witness and Celebrate the Life of a beloved Sister. We find ourselves full up on religious Leaders and Authorities. We have the Liturgy and the Music we shall need. What we need are Hands to Staple and to Scrub, to Bake and to Boil, to Hammer and to Heave. In those Tasks, we find Blessing. We find Meaning. We find God. And we find one another.

Be blessed, Sisters and Brothers of the Church. The work goes on, from St. Helena St. in Jerusalem, to Dorchester St. in Southie. Work, and be blessed.

De Morte Magnorum, or On the Death of the Great

The List for the Year of our Lord MMXVI is tiresomely long. So long that I shall not endeavour to link to all the notable Deaths of this annum. CBS News has a depressingly long Show of Slides to fill that void. Some have, of course, hit me harder than Others. I was not a Devotee of Many of the Musicians or Personalities – a Few were integral to my Maturation. Linking to Articles confirming their Deaths is proving too sad for me to attempt. And, in addition to the Passings, there were some other Events.

I was asked, however, just now, whether I have a Need to grieve for All of this. I found within a surprising Answer, perhaps belied by my Unwillingness to read yet further Confirmation of this Year’s many noteworthy Departures. Even so, I say – I need not grieve these Passings – I must, instead, turn them to good Account. So many Voids are left in our Culture, our Politics, our Society, our Music, our Art. Indeed, we must mourn and weep and lament…and then we must busily engage ourselves upon filling those Gaps.

Even as I wrote, the Scripture came to me, a favorite Pericope of mine from the Second Book of the Kings, the Ninth Chapter, the Fourth through the Eighteenth Verses. Listen for God’s Word to you.

Again Elijah said unto him, Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee: for the Lord hath sent me to Jericho. But he said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they came to Jericho.

And the children of the Prophets that were at Jericho, came to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou, that the Lord will take thy master from thine head this day? And he said, Yea, I know it: hold ye your peace.

Moreover Elijah said unto him, Tarry, I pray thee, here: for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan. But he said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went both together.

And fifty men of the sons of the Prophets went and stood on the other side a far off, and they two stood by Jordan.

Then Elijah took his cloak, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, and they twain went over on the dry land.

Now when they were passed over, Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee before I be taken from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let thy Spirit be double upon me.

10 And he said, Thou hast asked an hard thing: yet if thou see me when I am taken from thee, thou shalt have it so: and if not, it shall not be.

11 And as they went walking and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and did separate them twain. So Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof: and he saw him no more: and he took his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.

13 He took up also the cloak of Elijah, that fell from him, and returned, and stood by the bank of Jordan.

14 After, he took the cloak of Elijah, that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? And so he also, after he had stricken the waters, so that they were divided this way and that way, went over, even Elisha.

15 And when the children of the Prophets, which were at Jericho, saw him on the other side, they said, The Spirit of Elijah doeth rest on Elisha: and they came to meet him, and fell to the ground before him,

16 And said unto him, Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men: let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master, if so be the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley. But he said, Ye shall not send.

17 Yet they were instant upon him, till he was ashamed: wherefore he said, Send. So they sent fifty men, which sought three days, but found him not.

18 Therefore they returned to him, (for he tarried at Jericho) and he said unto them, Did not I say unto you, Go not?

The Word of the Lord.

What, then, should we say, as we read these Words and consider the Dead among the Great and the Good of our World? I have grown weary of the quoted Lyric and the clever Photoshop. What instead shall we say of this Year, its Bounty of Death, and the Singers and Writers and Actors and Leaders who have breathed their last upon this Earth? Shall we go, like the Company of Prophets, and seek them out in the Mountains and the Valleys? Yes, we shall rend our clothes and weep. But what then? 

The Man of God, Inheritor of twice the Spirit of the One who came before, Luke Skywalker to the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Elijah, has here the right of it. He knew, as even the Company of Prophets knew, that his Master would be taken from him. He knew that he had the chance to claim the Inspiration of Elijah. And he knew that, once taken, his Master would be fone from his Side, forever.

Mourn and lament and weep we shall, but Fisher and Wilder will never again grace the Silver Screen. We shall never hear anew of Bowie’s Voice, or Cohen’s Words. We shall never see another Punch from Ali, or watch Glenn float among the Stars. The Wisdom and Leadership, whatever you may think of the Content, of Peres, Scalia, Castro, Boutros-Ghali, and Reno is gone from the Face of the Earth. We may seek on the Hilltops, but we shall not find them – we may search the low Places, but they are gone – they and so many more.

With what then, are we left…except that which they leave behind? Their Films, and Words, and Songs, and Deeds remain among us – and so do we. We are yet here, we yet endure, we who remember and were transformed. Transformed we were – and we bear the Responsibility of that Transformation.

Let Bowie and Michael remind us to judge not, and that our Brothers and Sisters remain more like us than different. Let Fisher and Wilder remind us of Wonder, and of Laughter, and of Strength. Let Peres, Scalia, Castro, Boutros-Ghali and Reno and many more remind us of Humility, and that we have work yet to do in our World to bring about Reconciliation. Let Glenn and Ali remind us of Courage, in the Face of the Adversity of the Children of Earth and the Dangers of the Frontiers. Let us be reminded of Grace and Curiousity and Music and Joy as we think on those we have lost.

For it is up to us, now. This year has drained the Bench of so much Talent and Thought and Experience and Peace, that we cannot help but shoulder the Burden. It lies on our Backs, now, the Duty to improve, and enlighten, and inspire, and lead. We cannot rely on our Forebears to do it for us, for they are now Dust. We yet live – and we yet have a World to serve.

This, then, is my Prayer – that having watched these honored Dead be taken up, we shall inherit a double Portion of their Spirit, and that we, too, shall have the Power to change a Mind, even as our Minds were changed.

Requiescat in pace, Sorores Fratresque. We shall carry on.

PS – I am full aware that I have left so many Names off of this Listing – Rickman and Glass especially weigh upon me. My Point yet stands, but feel not weary if I have missed your most impactful Death – there were, I fear, too many to include them all.

In caedem

I suppose that, after a Fashion, I might be considered a Faith Leader. Lacking a Community of which I stand in Leadership – excepting you, of course, dear Reader – I sometimes neglect the Fact. Nevertheless, I am a Teaching Elder of the American Church of Scotland, duly ordained by the Presbytery of Olympia on behalf of Christ’s Church. Thus it falls to me, unpulpited though I am, to speak in the Silence of the Unspeakable – to claim the digital Pulpit which is, I begin to suspect, my present Calling, and to use it in the Service of the One who ultimately called me.

Thus, today, I offer up an imperative Sermon to you, gentle Reader, to those persons of the Christian Faith to whom  I am privileged to preach. This Sermon is taken from the simplest, clearest, and most pointed Texts that I can locate.

First, from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Fifth Chapter, starting at the Fourty-Third Verse*:

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies: bless them that curse you: do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which hurt you, and persecute you,

45 That ye may be the children of your father that is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to arise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust.

46 For if ye love them, which love you, what reward shall you have? Do not the Publicans even the same?

47 And if ye be friendly to your brethren only, what singular thing do ye? do not even the Publicans likewise?

48 Ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven, is perfect.

And then, my central Text, from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of the Exodus, the Twentieth Chapter, the Thirteenth Verse. Listen for God’s Word to you.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

Let us pray.

God of heaven, add unto us Understanding of your Word and Will for us. Even as your Children mistake and trample your Word, guide us in the Way that you would have us go.

Amen.

Do not kill People.

I am stunned, as ever, that I must specify this to you, gentle Reader. Whenever once again I am forced to address Murder on a massive Scale, I feel that my Kindred and I in the Clergy have, somehow, signally failed to impart even the most basic, simple Commandments. Thus, in the Wake of the Mass Shooting in Orlando, Florida, with fourty-nine Persons dead, a further fifty-three injured, in the Wake of this depraved Act of domestic Terror, in the Wake of this wanton Assault on the Lives of Revelers in a Space of Safety for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Communities, many of whom were persons of Latino or Latina descent, in the Wake of Murder most foul, once again, I fear that we, as a Priesthood, as a Community, as a Nation, as a Church, as a World, must reconsider, once more, this Commandment of the God of Israel, and its Implications for our Behaviour – to wit:

Do not kill People.

Do not kill People because you dislike how they are dressed.

Do not kill People because you dislike how they looked at you.

Do not kill People if you disagree with their public Behavior.

Do not kill People for Money, or Possessions, or Glory, or Honor.

Do not kill People because you do not like the Grade or Performance Review that they gave you.

Do not kill People because they break up with you, or will not yield to your romantic Ministrations.

Do not kill People because you regard them as impure.

Do not kill People because you believe them to be irreverent.

Do not kill People because you see them as unjust.

Do not kill People because you think them insufficiently compassionate.

Do not kill People because you feel that they are disloyal.

Do not kill People because they are gay. Or lesbian. Or bisexual. Or transgender. Or queer. Or intersex. Or asexual. For all of these identities and more, do not kill people.

Do not kill People because their Skin Color differs from your own.

Do not kill People to try and start a War.

Do not kill People because they do not worship your God.

Do not kill People because they do worship your God, but incorrectly, you feel.

Do not kill People because they hate you.

Do not kill People because you hate them.

Do not kill People because they have committed, or intend to commit, a Crime. Do not feel absolved from this – if it is in your Power to resist the Commission of a Crime, by all Means you should do so. But do, I beg, try not to kill People in the Process.

If it is possible to avoid doing so, do not kill People who are trying to kill you. Likewise, if avoidable, do not kill People who are trying to kill other People.

Do not purchase Weapons, place them in your Car, and drive somewhere for the express Purpose of killing People. If you do the first three things, neglect, please, the fourth, and do not kill the People.

Just, simply, and I know this might be rather difficult…do not kill People.

 

I know that this will, for some of you, present a burdensome Commandment. “Ah!” I hear you cry, “But what if I really must kill this Person, or this enormous Group of People, for the following excellent Reason!”

“No,” I shall reply. “Do not kill People.”I shall then point to the Passage in the Scriptures that commands you not to kill. Then I shall point at the Words of Jesus, the ways in which He lifts up not hating our Enemies, but blessing and praying for them. I shall note that we are to be different – better – than the ones who harass and persecute us. We are to be more good than our Foes.

This necessitates not killing them.

In short, Brothers and Sisters, Children of God, Daughters and Sons, Kindred of one another, in all your Ways and Walkings, in all the Turnings Life yields unto you, to the very best of your Ability…

…do not kill People.

The Word of the Lord.

Amen.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5&version=CEB
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+20&version=CEB