Answering Sloughheart: Poorman Preaches Love

AngelBlue Poorman stood behind the mahogany pulpit at St. Gianna Church, silently scanning the congregation of about 220 souls, notes in front of him but still wondering what to say and how to say it when his eyes met those of Dr. Sage Wiseman. He and Sage went back almost a lifetime, attended college together, and had maintained a solid, social camaraderie, which had become especially important now.

Sage had listened to Sloughheart’s Saturday night dressing-down of the Reverend Grim Brusque, including his insalubrious remarks about Joy Brighterday, just like Blue. And she knew he had tuned in just as surely as she knew he was delivering the sermon Sunday morning at St. Gianna. So immediately after the broadcast, Sage called Blue. They talked for nearly two hours… Blue Poorman was very grateful. Sage had probably saved him from making an ass out of himself.

Dr. Wiseman nodded at Blue. He nodded back and gave just a hint of a smile, then turned toward the stained glass window depicting St. Gianna, 16th century hero of orphans and widows, early advocate of female education … martyr. How so very appropriate that this church named in her honor should be shepherded by Joy Brighterday, he thought. One day, maybe … just maybe, there would be a St. Joy Brighterday Church somewhere. Then again, he thought he might be letting his emotions carry him away.

“Good morning,” Blue began. The congregation kindly responded.

“First, I would like to thank each of you for coming this morning, and on behalf of this blessed congregation, I would also like to thank Splinterbit Radio for broadcasting our morning service live. I trust and believe it will be worthwhile despite the speaker.” There followed a low rumble of chuckles and plenty of smiles. Blue Poorman was an exceptional speaker, and they had never been disappointed in any of his sermons. In fact, he was their top choice for substitute preacher.

“Next, we should all thank the many, many wonderful and caring folks of our community, who have expressed their deep concern and prayers for Reverend Brighterday. We do truly live in a good town, in a good county, in a good region. We are blessed here, and I think sometimes we forget that.” Heads nodded and a few people even issued an “amen,” which was unusual at St. Gianna … but this morning was, of course, quite different.

“Of course, I would especially like to extend my personal gratitude to all of the ministers and religious leaders in our community, who have offered their concern and comfort and prayers for Joy as well as St. Gianna Church and, for that matter, all of the good folks here in Splinterbit and the surrounding area. I’m most especially grateful for their quick response and leadership in providing much needed guidance and direction in the way of peace, constancy, and harmony along with deeply felt reassurance. To each of them I say, ‘God bless you, one and all.’”

“Now, I believe I would be somewhat negligent, having said this, if I did not specifically recognize the Reverend Grim Brusque.” Suddenly some tension could be felt throughout the sanctuary, yet no one was really surprised. Everyone knew that Blue Poorman had to somehow broach the subject; after all, their pastor, their beloved shepherdess had been terribly maligned by Fen Sloughheart – again – but this time after being gunned down in her own front yard. “I must admit what so many people have already told me themselves, that I too was surprised … very pleasantly surprised and gratified that the Reverend Brusque would voluntarily issue such a kindhearted statement and call to prayer for Joy Brighterday.”

“Yes, he pushed past social and theological differences, and went to the heart from the heart, his heart. And this morning, I gladly echo what he said: ‘Pray for the recovery of Joy Brighterday. Pray for the quick apprehension of the one who committed this heinous crime. Pray for his, or her,’ redemption and transformation. ‘Pray for all of our law enforcement officials that God will guide and direct them in their tremendous duty. Pray for all emergency response personnel and all of our city and county officials that they will seek the glory of the Lord and the good of our community. And pray for the peace that comes from above.’ To that, I only add, amen and amen.” And many in the congregation added their “amens,” too.

“Unfortunately, it would seem that some in our outstanding community take issue with Reverend Brusque’s sentiments. Tragically, as I’m sure all of you realize, there are those who would rather cherry pick verses of sacred scripture and paint a caricature of God as something monstrous; some hideous entity barely personal; some very ugly and frightening higher power, who would rather deprecate than uplift people. Some see God as an angry deity ever ready to condemn and judge, but hardly ever to pardon and restore. Fortunately, this is not the God of our mothers and fathers, the God of Jesus of Nazareth, the God of the holy, catholic Church.”

“Are there scriptures and narratives about divine wrath and judgment? Certainly there are, but selectively picking those passages and gluing them together into one seamless statement about the Lord God is reprehensible and dangerous. First of all, it is an unadulterated abuse of holy writ. Second, it is an abuse of the Christian faith-religion as it has grown and matured down through the ages under the inspiration, guidance and direction of the Spirit. Third, it is an abuse of people, many people, spiritually and specifically in their relationship – or what ought to be relationship – with our caring, compassionate, nurturing, and yes, mothering God.” This actually drew some applause from the ordinarily sedate congregation.

“Some people, unfortunately and tragically, are quick to speak of their Bible as opposed, one would conjecture, to someone else’s Bible. Well, there are, indeed, many ancient manuscripts and many more partial manuscripts. There is a plethora of translations and paraphrases of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, some better than others, of course. Perhaps, then, there is in that sense more than one Bible. O.k. then, in that case, let us be clear about some very important statements found in all of these Bibles with really very little variation in language … at least in the translations, if not the paraphrases; some important statements about God that people need to hear and understand and remember.”

Blue paused for a moment or two, and scanned his listeners again. He had their attention and their appreciation.

“First, we should note what Jesus himself had to say. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we are told that Jesus said, ‘You have heard that they,’ that is, the ancestors of the Jewish people, ‘that they were told, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But what I tell you is this: Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors; only so can you be children of God, who causes the sun to rise on good and bad alike, and sends rain on the innocent and the wicked.’ Wow! Well, that’s what ‘my Bible’ tells me; what about yours?” This brought a good round of laughter. Blue had scored a direct hit on Sloughheart. “You can only be children of God by loving … by loving. And if I need to repeat this a third time, I will. ‘Only so can you be children of God’ by loving.” Another poke at Sloughheart and some more lighthearted laughter.

“My Bible reads, ‘You, God, are merciful to all because you can do all things; you overlook people’s sins in order to bring them to repentance; for all existing things are dear to you and you hate nothing that you have created. Why else would you have made it?’ Why else would you have created anything? ‘But you spare all things because they are yours, O Lord, who loves all that lives; for your imperishable breath is in every one of them.’ Wow again! God hates nothing that God has created. I suppose it’s stating the obvious that this includes people.” Heads nodded with some more low-key chuckles from around the sanctuary. The folks were at ease now; Blue Poorman had it all well in hand.

“And, so, not surprisingly ‘my Bible’ tells me that ‘we have come to know and believe in the love which God has for us. God is love…’ Did you get that? ‘God is love!’ This is the divine nature, and so ‘those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.’ Oh, and this comes from the First Epistle of St. John the Beloved. And yet again, wow! We must abide in love to abide in God, in order for God to abide in us. Love, not hatred or animosity or cruelty or condemnation; no! Love…! But some individuals just don’t seem to get this basic, fundamental truth … and they call themselves fundamentalists!” Some rather robust laughter followed Blue’s obvious jab at Fen Sloughheart. “They miss the fundamental nature of the divine, yet claim to understand and preach and teach the fundamentals of the Christian faith.”

“And, no, I am not merely cherry-picking scriptures. This is the whole warp-and-woof of our faith-religion, the faith of our mothers and fathers, the way of genuine life taught to us and perfectly exemplified in Christ Jesus. And this is why we are admonished to ‘put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, to which indeed we were called in the one body’ of Christ, the Church universal.” Heads nodded in agreement and some applauded. “This is why we are encouraged to bear the fruit of the Spirit, and ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.’”

“You see, this is the Christian faith. What we are talking about this morning is the thread, the thematic thread, that runs through the whole grand narrative – scholars use the term ‘meta-narrative’ – of our faith. No, I’m not cherry-picking scriptures; I’m happily explicating the heart and soul of Christianity this morning… But I wouldn’t be prone to cherry-pick scriptures anyway, because I realize, and I trust you do as well, that the chief cornerstone of the Christian faith is not the written Word of God, but the incarnate Word of God, Jesus the Christ. The holy scriptures, rightly understood and applied, will always point us to the center of our faith, and that center is the Christ. Period… Tragically, some have practically replaced the incarnate Word of God with the written Word of God and made an idol out of the Bible … or, at least, the portions that suit their perspective and purpose.”

“No wonder the wise Solomon taught, ‘the lips of a fool bring fighting, and his mouth calls for a beating. The mouth of a fool is what destroys him, and his lips are a trap to his soul.’ Indeed! Hardly truer words have ever been spoken, and we see the fulfillment of this proverbial observation everyday … at least, if we’re paying attention. But I’m not here this morning to point my finger and call anyone a fool. There is no need, really; his own words and actions will be his downfall. Point in fact, this is happening even as I speak, so enough said on that point. Let us, each of us this morning, renew our determination to walk in love and wisdom, to abide in God as God abides in us, to pray and cherish one another, and to reach out into our community to others in the love of God for the sake of the Christ we worship and strive to follow.”

Blue caught Sage’s eye; she was smiling. Dr. Wiseman definitely approved, and she was practically glowing with approbation. Blue Poorman, in turn, felt warm and gratified.

“This is what Joy would charge us to do. This is what she would expect us to do … or, I should say, this is what she expects us to do. In other words, let us be Christians … in heart, mind and soul, in word and deed, every moment of the day, every step along the way.” The congregation heartily assented with several vigorous “amens” and head nods. “And now ‘to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. Peace be with you all.”

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