Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a few different people post about a recent ‘sermon’ that could be a candidate for worst sermon ever (one theologian did remark such). Thankfully this isn’t about my sermons!
The short homily comes from The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church. It dates from 12 May 2013 and was given in Curaçao, Venezuela.
What’s the specific message?
There is one particular part in which Schori offers thoughts on Acts 16:16-40. This is the passage where Paul casts out a spirit of fortune-telling.
Here’s the transcript of the part of the message springing from the Acts 16 passage:
We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end. We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong. For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.
There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it. Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God. She is quite right. She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it. It gets him thrown in prison. That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so! The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.
An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God. The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand. This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor. This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household. It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.
As theologian, Roger Olson, remarks:
This sermon strays so far from anything recognizable as orthodox Christianity in so many ways that it makes the head spin. And it displays an amateurish and possibly ideologically-driven handling of a biblical text (by a bishop!).
This might be a pointed case of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, have mercy upon our souls.