Friends: Attendance this week does seem to have dropped a bit! I surmise this has little to do with one or two intemperate remarks I made last week, but everything to do with the perennial popularity of the annual fair in neighboring Duchess of Kent County! I can only assume that those of our flock not warming the pews have fallen prey to the charms of the sinister Scrambler and the peccant Tilt-A-Whirl. I am nevertheless glad to see many loyal parishioners have rejected the siren call of the fair for the cheery baritone of this humble house of God. And I don’t wonder that there will be something in it for you, in terms of the disposition of your eternal soul. I have always wondered whether Dante wrote of the Circles of Hell after a wasted afternoon of Skee Ball.
Let me begin today’s sermon on a personal note. In the past, several of you have asked why I go by middle name, Mark, and for what the "P" in "Reverend P. M. Cavendish" stands. There is a story behind the initial, and because my last sermon appears to have rubbed some members of the community the wrong way, I think I can establish some rapport, and make a "connection" with you, my "home-boys," by telling it to you. Some may accuse me of developing what the Youth are wont to call "people skills." To them, I can say with no fear of contradiction: "Don’t get used to it."
My sainted mother had originally intended to name a son "Clement," and a daughter "Prudence." When my father found he was the father of twins, however, he strode into the delivery room and announced (in slightly slurred speech, according to Aunt Bethany) that I could be named "Prurience," which would go with Prudence much better. My mother believes he simply stumbled on the name "Prescience," while Bethany asserts that he was thinking of "Pear Vodka." As it turns out, we will never know because of the accidental overdose of medicinal brandy that bounced him from this mortal coil the very next day. And, out of some slightly twisted reverence for the newly deceased, my mother kept the name "Prurience."
Today’s reading is from the Book of Job 7:5: "My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome." Whenever I come to this section of Job’s travails, I think of my sister Prudence. Surely his trials, while cumbersome and unpleasant, hold no candle to my own persecution at the hands of my twin sister Prudence. Though my flesh is not clothed with worms (which, I would note, in several circumstances might actually be an agreeable sensation), it is certainly worn out from too many years of Prudence’s barbs and brickbats. To take but one example of her cruelty, when she learned of the saga of my naming, she took to calling me “Inclement,” an unkind play on the name I almost was given. At other times she was simply nasty, as when she told my fifth grade teacher that I had drawn crude pictures of him being bound and beaten to death by the sinister and scantily clad German operative Fraulein von Teufel in all my schoolbooks. Once my mother heard from the Principal, it was once again time to change schools.
The one time I thought I hoped I could return the favor was when we were teenagers. Prudence’s boyfriend, Pyrrho Gomez, crashed my mother’s jalopy into an inconveniently placed sapling. They managed to drive the car back to our house, and Prudence pretended they knew nothing about the damage to the front of the car when my mother questioned her. After several days of wrestling with my conscience, I spilled every detail of the accident that I knew to my mother. Much to my surprise, she told me to shut up, and never to breathe a word to anyone. Apparently, the car needed repairs of which the insurance would now take care. "But, will Prudence be punished?" I asked. My mother’s answer was as short as it was unjust: "No."
Prudence, who regularly seems to flaunt the rules, enjoyed reminding me of her brush with discipline, one that ended with no discipline at all. Contrast this to what Job said (7:21): "And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity? For now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be." Job needed clemency, but the Lord didn’t immediately respond, instead continuing to yank long amounts of Job’s looping chain. Sure, he later showered Job with compensation, but be fair – he had already played what has to be one of the funniest practical jokes of the Bible on him.
But what did Prudence do to get the same sort of clemency? Nothing. In fact, she regularly got away with all sorts of things I never did. For example, I was always punished for complaining too much, while she never did for her ceaseless whining about her lupus. So I’m happy that I don’t have to carry the name Clement around with me, because frankly, the whole Clemency thing is a crock.
Labels: Sunday Sermon