Well, in the Daily Office these days we (at least those of us using the American BCP!) have been working our way into 1 Samuel (always a joy). The Philistines have captured the Ark of God, and in the process the priest Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas were killed in battle. When Eli heard the news he fell over backward and broke his neck. We saw all that coming, of course. The Lord was ticked that the Ark of God was in Philistine hands, and knocked over the statue of Dagon in the temple at Ashdod and struck the people with tumors (possibly the bubonic plague, which is spread by flea-infested rats, possibly the “mice” referred to in chapter 6). The plague followed the Ark from Ashdod to Gath to Ekron (and apparently to Ashkelon and Gaza as well), and the Philistines finally caught on that keeping the Ark of God was Not A Good Idea. So they sent the Ark back to the Israelites. A wonderful story!
Okay, now I would be interested to hear from the folks who are very much into a strictly literal interpretation of the whole of the Bible: Just what are we to make of this story?
(Remember Ichabod Crane, from Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”? I remember him especially from the 1949 Disney film. The name “Ichabod” means something like “the glory is gone,” and the Biblical Ichabod was the son of Phinehas, born just as the news of the death of his father, his uncle, and his grandfather, and the capture of the Ark, arrived at Shiloh. Ichabod’s mother named him, and then died following childbirth. “Ichabod” is obviously not a very auspicious name! Although apparently a lot of schools in upstate New York are named for Ichabod Crane. But I digress.)A canticle later we read from the 5th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, about the counsel of Gamaliel regarding how to deal with Peter and the apostles. “So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.” In regard to the current dissensions in the Episcopal Church, there might be some argument as to which side is who, but in any case Gamaliel gives good advice: “Well, let’s just see.” I don’t suggest that anyone should be flogged, and certainly not that anyone be ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus, but I also think no one should be permitted to walk away with the church silver.
One of the things that I find interesting is some of the more traditional folks, noting that membership/attendance in the Episcopal Church is going down the toilet (that’s true in some places, not true in others), blames it all on selling out to the “homosexual agenda.” (I’m not quite sure just what that “agenda” is. I don’t think “Just give us a fair break” constitutes an “agenda.”) In the past, of course, the reasons why our membership has been going down the toilet for the last forty years have included getting involved in civil rights, protesting the Vietnam War, ordaining women to the priesthood, and revising the Book of Common Prayer. The decline in our membership statistics is, of course, a serious issue, and needs to be taken seriously. It may be the case that the Episcopal Church would once again flourish statistically if we would just quit meddling in politics, support our President no matter what, put women back in their place, return to Jesus’ own Prayer Book (1928), and, above all, get rid of the gays.
But I don’t think so.