Archive for July, 2014

Recently, as I thought about the texts for that upcoming Sunday, I realized one of them was Genesis 22. Somehow, in fifteen years of ordained ministry, I had dodged that difficult text in preaching—the gospel was always easier. Besides, how do children hear such a primitive, terrifying text? (Yes, some of them may be happily coloring pictures during the sermon, but parents have told me they hear more than one might think!) But this year, I decided it was time to wrestle with that theological alligator, thanking God that I had saved class notes from Dr. Ellen Davis’ Old Testament class years ago.

When one of the teenagers at St. Philip’s saw the lessons that morning, he said to his mother, “Mother Sheila won’t preach on that passage. She’s going to avoid it.” His mom replied, “Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Later, she said she elbowed him when I began preaching. At the end, he said softly, ‘But she still didn’t answer my questions.’ His mom replied, “Of course she didn’t.”

He still has questions? Good. So do I. And I was glad that he does have questions about his Christian faith. Young people (those I know, anyway) don’t just accept blindly whatever a church leader tells them about faith and how they should believe. Instead, they question, push back, engage in deeper conversations about what they believe and why.

I was also pleased to see what happened at Coffee Hour that morning. Someone commented on the sermon and a thoughtful discussion ensued. I was able to share some of this difficult passage’s interpretations and was amazed at the depth of conversation over coffee.

Having been raised by Southern Baptists, I understand the differences between that view of Holy Scripture and that of Anglicans. My love for the Anglican way deepens every time I preach or teach about a difficult text. I appreciate the fact that Dr. Reginald Fuller argued that the Church of England—even at the time of the Reformation—never made the claim for the inerrancy of Scripture. Instead ( he referenced Article VII of the Thirty-Nine Articles in the Prayerbook), we see the Son of God as ‘the Word of the Father,” hence this Word of God is living and personified.[1]

I also appreciate that as long as humankind has had language and the ability to communicate, words have been used as illustrations, symbols, and vessels of great power. Yes, sometimes those vessels and symbols have been used by some humans to divide, to hurt, even to abuse. Yet I cannot imagine that a scripture passage a) means the same thing to a twenty-first century person as it did to a person living in the Bronze Age of history and b) has only one meaning forever. I also do not believe that revelation of God’s Word ended with written texts or a particular time in history—wouldn’t that be limiting the power of God’s Spirit? Yes, we will continue to wrestle with interpretation of scripture—even within my beloved Anglican Church. But I hope, and pray, that in this wrestling, the One who first created us, the One who gave us the living Word, changes us—for the better.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] Reginald Fuller, “The Bible as the Word of God” in Sykes, Booty & Knight, The Study of Anglicanism, 87.

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Genesis 24:34-38, 42-29, 58-67

Sacrament of Holy Baptism for Matteo Miranda Spado

The circle of life is both interesting and amazing. Sometimes this journey becomes a spiral, going ever deeper, bringing people and events we had not expected. Yet somehow, our great story goes on, from one generation to another. In the past few weeks, we have heard parts of Abraham and Sarah’s story—their circle of life. We have heard stories of unexpected blessing and joy—a child given late in life. We have heard stories of deception, rejection and division with implications for all subsequent generations. And last week, we explored a story of Abraham’s extreme proof of faith. After that terrifying incident on top of Mt. Moriah, Abraham does not go back to Sarah’s tents in Hebron. Instead, he lives apart from her in Beersheba. According to midrashic tradition, Sarah dies of grief over what we know as “the binding of Isaac.” When she dies, Abraham bargains with the local Hebron tribesmen for a cave in which to bury his wife.

In the next chapter of Abraham’s story, Abraham has grown very old. Yet as patriarch of this family, Abraham must do one more thing before he dies. He must find his son Isaac a wife, and he has no desire to find that wife among the pagans with whom he lives.    So he sends his most trusted servant back to the land of Haran, where Abraham and his family had once lived. Abraham knows that in Haran, the servant will find family members. In the ancient tradition, you marry from within your tribe and parents arrange marriages. So Abraham’s most trusted servant sets out on a long, desert journey to find a wife for Isaac. Abraham trusts that God will, once again, provide. His servant trusts that God will provide. And God does. In a delightful story, the servant finds Abraham’s relatives, a beautiful young woman, and in her, a wife for Isaac. It is interesting to note, however, that rather than making the legal arrangements as their custom and culture dictates, Rebekah’s mother Bethuel and her brother Laban ask her “Will you go with this man?” In a gesture that reveals her courage, Rebekah says, “I will.” So Rebekah and all the women who attend her pack, mount camels and follow Abraham’s trusted servant back to Hebron. We get a clear image of Rebekah’s first glimpse of Isaac. She dismounts her camel, asks the servant who that man is who is walking towards them in the field, then covers her face with a veil—not to be uncovered until her wedding night.

Isaac—who has grieved deeply after his mother Sarah died—takes Rebekah to be his wife. In what is perhaps the only passage in the Hebrew scriptures to speak of romantic love, the story says “He took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”

Today, we gather as God’s people, many, many generations after Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah. yet we, too, are part of a great family. This weekend, we celebrate our nation’s independence, while we also celebrate the great diversity of these United States of America. People have come to these shores from all languages, tribes and nations. They have arrived in a search for freedom, the opportunity for education the chance to have a higher standard of life. Many of us at St. Philip’s have come from nations wide-flung: Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia. From England, Ireland, Scotland. From Germany, China, Jamaica and Trinidad. From Canada, Guatamala and recently returned Americans from Bogata, Columbia.

Today, we gather to celebrate another circle of life in the great family of God: the baptism of Matteo Miranda Spado. his toddler has come into this family as great blessing. Ana came to this country when she was twelve, speaking almost no English and bringing with her a heritage and language passed on to her from her family. In 2010, she and Matt married in great joy. They experienced deep grief, when they lost their first baby. Yet the circle of life has come around again, spiraled deeper, and with it, the gift of this beautiful child. Matteo has already experienced love, illness, challenges and happiness as he explores his rapidly expanding world. Ana and Matt and their family and friends come today to present this child for the sacrament of Holy Baptism. The words of baptism are not some magical formula recited over him. Instead, with powerful, sacramental words, his parents, godparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and others make vows on Matteo’s behalf. You, his family, will vow before God and a community of faith that you will raise him in the Christian faith. This means that you read and tell him Bible stories. You say bedtime prayers and prayers before meals. You teach him the “Padre Nuestro”—the Lord’s Prayer—and the 23rd Psalm, so that they become as much a part of him as his breath. If you teach him these things, he will become two things in his life: A Keeper and a Seeker.

For some of you, the greatest game in the world is currently being played in Brazil: football, otherwise known as soccer. In the game of soccer, there is a keeper—a goal keeper. The keeper is “the only member of a team who is allowed to touch the ball with the hands. Positioned directly in front of goal, it is the keeper’s job to prevent the opposition scoring. The keeper is only allowed to use his hands in the penalty area, and will be penalized if he uses them outside of it.”[1]   The keeper is the last line of defense. He or she must be brave and agile and able to counter all threats. This past week, despite the United States’ loss, Keeper Tim Howard was lauded with great respect when he “pulled off 16 saves—a tally unmatched since such World Cup records began—to often single-handedly keep USA in contention.”[2] It is the job of a keeper to keep away what should be away, so that what needs to happen, happens.

In that sense, I pray that Matteo will be a Keeper. He must keep the Christian faith deep in his heart. He must keep away from him the people and situations that would destroy or compromise his faith. He will only know how to do that if you—his parents, grandparents, godparents and others—teach him in clear, specific practices of the faith.

Father Abraham, his son Isaac and later, his grandson Jacob, also kept the faith. They held it close in their hearts; they taught it to their children; they knew that no matter what depths or heights life held or what unexpected challenges, God loved them. There were Keepers of God. They were also Seekers.

In her mythic Harry Potter novels, J.K. Rowling gives us Quidditch, a game that is a little like basketball and a little like soccer—played as young people soar in the air on brooms. Like the one in real-life soccer, the Quidditch Keeper must prevent the other team from scoring—except in Harry Potter’s world,    he flies around three goal posts in order to do this. The seventh player on the team is the Seeker. “This is a smaller, lighter player who buzzes about, often high above or around the periphery of the other action, looking for the Golden Snitch, the small fourth ball, which has wings and darts about so quickly that it is difficult to see.”[3] One author has noted that “the Golden Snitch is an important symbol, for securing it is the highest objective of the game of Quidditch. It is like the essence of life itself, which many people seek only to learn that it is highly elusive and difficult to capture.[4]

The real essence of Christian life is not one that is elusive or difficult to capture. It is a life shaped, formed, nurtured and practiced—but it must be done so intentionally. As a Seeker, Matteo will follow Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings. With God’s help and that of those who love him, he will live into his baptismal promises. He will regularly come to a table where bread is broken and wine poured for God’s family.   He will resist evil and when he strays, he will ask God’s forgiveness. He will proclaim Christ in his words and in his actions. He will seek and serve Christ in himself and in others. He will work intentionally for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being. With God’s help.

With God’s help, this child of God will live into the fullness for which he has been created. He will be both Keeper and Seeker of God’s Truth. And in his own circle of life, he will keep and seek always, always, always, with the certain and deep knowledge that God loves him, no matter what. Amen.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] From http://worldsoccer.about.com/od/glossary/g/Keeper.htm

[2] http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2014/m=7/news=heroic-howard-earns-global-praise-2398047.html

[3] John Killinger, The Life, Death and Resurrection of Harry Potter, (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2009), 36.

[4] Ibid., 37.

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