So pleased was I to be invited on a Late Autumn picnic by Mr. J. A. Patel, proprietor of the local Best Western, and his ravishing daughter Gwendolyn that I said yes without a thought to the fact I had not yet prepared my sermon for this morning. And yet, as the Lord said to Job, Who provides food for the raven, when its young cry out to God, and wander about for lack of food? And just as the Lord will cause the mother raven to regurgitate juicy morsels of partially digested food into the mouths of the baby birds, he also surprised me with a perfect partially digested sermon topic to nourish me at that lovely picnic!
The raven-haired Gwen began the conversation, telling me of the revelation of the impending appearance of another Washington scandal. She asked me if I had an opinion on why it was that Republicans were disproportionately represented in sex scandals.
“Republicans?” I averred. “They have nothing on the clergy. Think about Aimee Semple McPherson. Father Brendan Smyth. Jim Bakker. Ted Haggard.”
“But Reverend Cavendish,” said Mr. Patel. “Surely you are not proud of this record!”
“Not proud,” I said, “But I’ve always felt there must be a reason for it. And the same goes for Republicans! Why else would so many Republicans be exposed as sinners? If it isn’t part of God’s plan, what else could account for it?”
“Well,” said the comely Ms. G., “could it be that they choose not to come to terms with their appetites, instead hoping for rules from some external power to limit those appetites for them? Then, as they gain power and influence and have more opportunities to satisfy their cravings, they find that they have no inner moral compass to keep them from succumbing to temptation?”
“Pish!” I indulgently intoned, “next, you will be saying that morality is least likely to be found among those who talk the most about it! And what would that imply about your favorite Philosophy professor, your treasured Herr Professor Brust-Hätschelt?”
I hoped the jealousy with which I was increasingly consumed did not show in my voice! Gwendolyn began to answer, but J.A. shushed her and began to unwrap the cucumber sandwiches. Soon the conversation took another turn, and I ended up relating my unexpurgated reading of the theological message of the hit 1970’s movie “The Black Hole.” Since Ms. Patel is of the younger persuasion, I am sure that my immersion in “popular culture” was a welcome surprise!
Yet at the same time, isn’t her statement shocking?
The heathen impulse to project their own weaknesses onto the clergy aside, the statement shows no understanding of the special circumstances in which the hypermoral oft find ourselves. Today’s reading comes from newspaper clippings I have saved that explain exactly why it is that Clergy and Republicans are more likely to be tempted by God.
The first comes from the Washington Post (4/11/88, page A3), in the wake of the fall of a friend and Bridge partner of mine, the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart.
Swaggart has drawn a similar parallel. In 1986, he told The Globe and Mail of Toronto, “It’s my business to make you kind of hot where you’re sitting. It’s my business to keep you up at night, to make you toss and tumble, unable to sleep.”
And of course, Jimmy was a master at doing just that (here, of course, I am limiting myself to a discussion of the context of his preaching!) Is it any wonder that he ended up being a little too familiar with the “toss and tumble” of life? The article, by Laura Sessions Stepp, continues:
For some revival preachers, relaxing after a performance is difficult, according to Dobbins. The evangelist may not take time to cool down, Dobbins said. He may believe that he does not need the quiet introspection that grounds him in his faith. He may feel that he cannot express such physical intensity with his wife, whose religious background is often similar to his own.
Just so. I often find that preaching is a deeply visceral and stimulating experience. I end up sweating like a ginseng junkie who just ingested a foot of the good brown root. For this reason, it is vitally important to cool down afterwards, and my guess is that not enough clergy (or altar boys!) do. This is, of course, the reason for the gazebo and jacuzzi in the new Rectory. But the reasoning here is unimpeachable, and by itself explains the clergy scandals, but wait! There is more!
The second reading comes from the erstwhile Satanist and Stalinist New York Times (11/6/06, page A1), which I rarely read. But I was interested in the story of Ted Haggard, with whom I once – purely by chance -- happened to share a hotel room in Chiang Mai. The quotation comes from Larry Stockstill, the pastor of the Bethany World Prayer Center in Louisiana, from which Haggard’s New Life Church began in 1985 as an outreach mission:
“What’s going to happen in the nation?” Mr. Stockstill said. ”You know what -- I don’t think that’s your concern or mine. He chose this incredibly important time for this sin to be revealed and I actually think it’s a good thing -- I believe America needs a shaking, spiritually.”
This quotation deserves deep reflection. If Ted Haggard revealed his sin at this time, it is because America needed a spiritual shaking! His sin was part of his mission. In a sense, he was the lightning rod for a sinful nation. It is lucky for the nation that we only needed a shaking, because I hesitate to think what sins he might have revealed if we had needed a spanking, a tanning, or a whupping!
This of course puts us in mind of 1 Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,” and how He once bore the burden of our sins. Ted Haggard was so Christ-like, he performed all sorts of thoroughly sinful acts out of compassion! Indeed, one might infer that all the names I mentioned to Mr. Patel were up to nothing more than giving the nation a needed shaking!
And of course, it is but a hair’s breadth from sinful clergy to sinful Republicans. But what this makes painfully clear is that it is only a Republican of the highest moral fiber who will end up panting on all fours in order to cleanse our political process of its orgy of immorality!
It is possible another Senator will be outed, and another name will be dragged through the mud (and I pray that this prospect has nothing to do with Kay Bailey Hutchison’s announcement she will retire! Or that time she accompanied Liddy and Condi to Kennebunkport!) But if and when it happens, I hope you understand that, as with sinful clergy, it is because the Republicans are favored by God that this has happened, and the true fault lies, as it always does, with the Democrats and Atheists for whose sins they are suffering!
Labels: Sunday Sermon