Sunday, October 23, 2005

The sermon I thought of writing for Luke 8:26-40

I've since decided better of it. Here's how the rant started out anyway:

In 1854 there was a battle fought in the Ukraine between English and Russian forces at a place called Balaklava. After the battle was already over a delayed order reached the Light Brigade, a unit of aristocratic British cavalry. At this point it would be a suicidal move - even in retreat a unit of light cavalry doesn’t charge across open ground against an entrenched enemy. It was suicide. The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson recounts what happened next:

Half a league, half a league,Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Moving isn’t it? Without knowing anything in particular about the cause or personalities involved in this battle, the poem itself has come to epitomize the glory of suicidal dedication to a cause. Don’t we all, at some level, want to be in the service of The King? Don’t we all, at least in the beginning, as children, seek to live and die for a King and a Cause worth serving? Christians are called to exactly this service. The suicidal charge of the Light Brigade is not so different in many respects from what is being asked of Christians: We serve a King, he has given us orders, and those orders will lead to the death of us, one way or the other.

It is no coincidence that Luke uses the word "Legion" to describe the demons confronted by Jesus. A well-trained Roman legion was nearly indestructible on the 1st century battlefield. Legions were the base of power from which one Mediterranean port ruled a vast empire. A person must be truly desperate, or just plain stupid, to have lined up against one of these iron-clad juggernauts four ranks deep with battle hardened veterans. With such warriors Caesar could impose himself on the lives and loyalties of the known world.

The many demonic rulers of this world impose themselves on the minds and realities of God’s people in exactly the same way. In their path is...well... us. At least, we’re supposed to be. We have our General and we have our orders - hold your ground, no weapons allowed, follow King Jesus’ lead. It is a glorious calling, in the same titillating and childish way as was the order given to the doomed Light Brigade. And, just like the Light Brigade, our opponent is already defeated, we are ordered only to join the final charge and show our unflinching loyalty to The King.

It is with this kind of Death or Glory attitude that most of us enter the ranks of King Jesus’ church. Oh to join the ranks of those bold saints before us. To tell the forum of Caesar that they can shoot us, stab us, draw and quarter us, but there is still only one King and he does not share power with Augustus!

Yet, as the famous punk band The Clash says, Death or Glory becomes just another story. Our pettiness dooms us to becoming just another sluggardly victim of the particulars of church: How do the Canons about a Bishop riding a horse apply to hang gliders? Did that spaced out altar boy just walk on the outside rather than the inside of the ikon? How can those two be thinking of marriage when he’s a garbage man convert and she’s the chancellor’s daughter! Why are the OCA students constantly with their faces on the ground during Holy Week? Do they think they’re better than us? Why are the Greeks and Antiochenes just doing a little curtsy bow to the altar? Can you believe that parent opened the very gates of hell itself by allowing their child to trick-or-treat for Halloween? And of course, what if in the process of translating the Byzantine hymns into Western Notation so that our congregations can actually yunno, brace yourselves - sing them - we throw off the original, pristine, authentic Byzantine trill in the eighth measure by a quarter of a note? May as well ask the Papists to teach the next class!

It’s not that particulars don’t have their place, they do. Order does beat chaos. But folks, no young British Count joined the Light Brigade with daydreams of one day cutting down a few stragglers. No Prophet ever said "but God, I can’t go prophesy against Jerusalem, there’s no air conditioning in Jerusalem and besides, my wife doesn’t like the school system."

Likewise, nobody worth having in the ranks of the Church Militant ever signed up for Christ’s martyr brigade just to be chastised for censing wrong their first time as a deacon, or being berated for giving a poor sermon their first time in chapel or, saints preserve us, what about those idiots in class who can’t score an A- on the topic of what Justin meant by the word "Word". How could such a person ever pastor the flock? Sure, there’s martyrdom to be accepted and dying to self to be done, but not too much, lest my grades slip from Summa Cum Laude to regular Cum Laude and Notre Dame reject my application outright! There’s feeding the poor to be done, but I don’t have time or money for that - of course somehow I came up with 75 grand for a wedding ring and reception, but that doesn’t really show any questionable values on my part does it?

How can we criticize the pettiness of our parishioners when we’re the same way? The crucified life... hmm yeah... but also there’s that job I want, the grade I need to make, and the lifestyle I have become "accustomed to" (as they would say in divorce court).


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7:41 PM  
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10:45 PM  
Anonymous Fr John Bostwick said...

Glad ti "see" you again; its been a while, A provocative sermon - and that in a healthy way. Did you actually give it? If so, what was the response? Thanks for sharing it.

11:13 AM  
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9:05 PM  
Anonymous michelle said...

I liked the bit about Western Notation...liked the whole thing, actually...

You should sign off as "Ray, Preacher Man." Good alias for (ahem), you know?

4:29 PM  
Anonymous michelle said...

minus the word "Ray", I mean.

4:29 PM  

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