Saturday, 15 September 2012

A Sermon from a Novel

I'm writing a novel, slowly and haphazardly. I won't describe the scenario here, but its central character is a female curate who has arrived at believing absolutely nothing about Christianity given her background (her husband was supposed to be ordained, he wasn't accepted, she threw her hand in and was; she's always been liberal). She still wants to be ordained, though home life is in doubt. More or less everyone is involved in deception of one sort or another. The novel might be summarised as "philosophical filth" but every so often there needs to be the philosophical bit.

The central character, Linda, is called on to give a sermon at very short notice. The training vicar is generous, giving her some days to think it over, instead of an hour, but asks that she leaves no evidence of notes, script or cue cards. Obviously he wants to impress the bishop as much as she might. So I've taken the text for the present and made a sermon for my unbeliever...

The moment of the sermon came, during which time Keith was returning home.
"I pray my words are acceptable. Amen. I've been asked to take this sermon at very short notice," she said. "So I am reflecting on a reading from John's Gospel that offers a number of challenges on the face of it. Jesus is saying, apparently, if you eat his flesh and blood you live forever, as it comes from heaven, whereas in previous eating you died. The location is Capernaum, which I think is significant, and the teaching is complex, difficult, and Jesus wonders about this, even if it offends. The spirit gives life, he says, and the material doesn't. And there's a strange reversal of the usual no one get's to the father except through him moment as now we have no one gets to Jesus except via the Father. The disciples wobble but have no one else to associate with who is the holy one.
"I don't think this is Jesus talking at the time in a thoroughly Jewish context. It is John's gospel at its Gnostic strain, it going off in that direction and resisting too. So the material is rejected, and though these people are eating a material Eucharist, it comes from heaven, rather as ours is blessed. A clue I think is Capernaum, which is home territory and where Jesus's message is least accepted amongs those who thinks he's a it off his trolley for a local lad. And the spiritual Jesus is approached through the Father, the Father being God and of the Spirit.
"So what do we take from this, assuming I am about right on this, and it's open to challenge? Oh, er, it follows on from the feeding of the five thousand, which is itself a eucharistic reference given as a miracle. That's a stumbling block for many on its own. I suppose the point is that understanding this is complex, and even more complex when the Gnostic is resisted. You are bound to wonder what's the point and is it too difficult and difficulty is another block to belief. Well it might be, and that is the wobble, but the argument is there's nowhere else to go. You have to tackle the difficult part. On the other hand, you can just eat and drink the spiritual food, and that is not too difficult. The praxis, the doing, is open to everyone. But it is worth tackling the difficult stuff because that is about understanding and we ought to try. Amen."
Afterwards, her training vicar said, "Actually, that was quite interesting. I've never heard it put quite like that before. But I wonder, again, if it isn't a little too neutral. We'll see."
"What will we see?" Linda asked.
"The future, I think," said Colin.

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