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A post-homiletical discourse delivered by the Rev. Dr. James R. Beebe
Rector, St. Patrick’s Church, Incline Village, Nevada, March 6, 2011
Fred Craddock was going through Etowah, Tennessee, at two o’clock in the morning. The sign said, “City Limit, 30 Miles an Hour,” so he came down to thirty. It was two o’clock in the morning and he knew about those constables sitting around, wanting something to do. He was under thirty. But here the cop came anyway, pulling Fred over. He said, “Officer, I was not going thirty miles an hour.”
“I know, but do you see that other little sign down there? School Zone, 15 Miles an Hour,” the policeman said.
Fred replied, “Officer, it’s two o’clock in the morning.”
And the officer said, “Does it say, except for two o’clock in the morning?”
Fred later had a debate in the state of Missouri about a passage of scripture: “Whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved.” This preacher, redheaded, red bearded and ferocious, said to Fred, “Do you believe in the Bible?
“What does it say? Read it.” So Fred read it to the people gathered.
“Do you believe that?” the preacher asked.
“Of course I believe that,” Fred answered. “But if you have a case of a child who dies on the seventh day of its life, or the ninth day of its life, it had no chance to believe or be baptized.”
And the preacher replied, “Does it say, ‘except’?”
“But what about people that don’t have all their mental faculties?” Fred asked.
“Does it say, ‘except’?”
And they went at it, back and forth. Fred ended up looking like a bleeding heart liberal who didn’t believe the Bible, and the preacher came off looking like the stone statue of truth, holding up the word of Christ.
So I guess I’ll have to give an “anti-homily” this morning. It’s about the book of Second Peter. The writer presents himself as none other than the same guy who was Jesus Number One Guy. The apostle Peter. He says he was there when Jesus was transfigured: “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”
Nonsense. Whoever wrote this letter used part of the letter of Jude, which itself was not written until at least 30 years after the real Peter’s death. Whoever wrote this letter used Stoic cosmology regarding the end of the world. Whoever wrote this letter didn’t do so until the end of the first or beginning of the second centuries.
Now he’s saying, “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Apparently he hadn’t been paying much attention to the ethos of scholarly argument common in Jewish circles for centuries before him.
Apparently he didn’t understand that everything is interpreted. Let me explain. The fact is, we have no direct experience of the world. We merely interpret it through our senses. You don’t see ME, for instance. Your eyes allow the light waves I am reflecting to enter through your corneas and pupils. Eventually, in your retina my light impulses are changed into electrical signals and sent along your optic nerve to your brain, which interprets these electrical signals as visual images.
You cannot know ME directly. Your senses get in the way of that. Reach down for a moment and touch the pew on which you’re seated. You probably notice that we don’t have pew cushions, so you may experience them as “uncomfortable.” One theory says that you have tiny little channels on the surface of your cells that are held in place by proteins. When your cells are disturbed (in this case, by pressing your finger down on the pew), the microtubules tug on the channels, distorting them and allowing charged ions to move into the cell.
These ions depolarize the cell, setting up an electrical stimulus that is transmitted to your nerve cells and on to your brain. Pretty complicated, huh? But, again, all of this is to say that you cannot directly know the pew – you can only interpret the pew through your sense of touch.
Now, what was it I just said? You’re not going to agree on that, and that’s because you had to interpret it through your sense of hearing. You’re responding to the sound waves generated by the air being expelled from my larynx. Your eardrums (and, in turn, the three tiny bones of your middle ear) began to vibrate. Tiny hair cells there received the vibration waves and translated them to electrical signals, which were sent through your auditory nerves to your brain.
Then your brain interpreted them as “words” because you’ve practiced this procedure since your birth. In other words, you don’t know me directly – you can only interpret the waves I send you through your sense of hearing.
Oh, and don’t forget to try some of the goodies after the service. Of course, you won’t be knowing them directly, either. No, you’ll experience that chocolate cookie by the interpretation of taste and smell. Taste is pretty basic – you only have the four sensations of sweet, salty, sour and bitter. But combine your taste buds with a small patch of tissue at the top of your nasal cavity called the olfactory epithelium and you have a whole different experience.
Theory has it that the receptor proteins there recognize odorant molecules, translate them into electrical signals, and send those signals to the brain. Then your brain interprets the cookie as “delicious.” Notice, again, that you don’t know the cookie directly – you can only interpret the electrical signals.
Maybe -- since everything we experience is interpreted and not known directly – maybe we live entirely by faith anyway. Let me say that a different way: even when we think we are not living by faith, we are. Always and everywhere. And the only variable is the object of your faith. Many people base their faith entirely on the electrical impulses generated by their sensory organs.
But maybe your faith is based on another – a sixth – sense. That would be the sense by which you hear the voice of your Shepherd. You know Him and He knows you. He gives you eternal life. (Which, of course, simply means you’re alive, but you just don’t know it.) No one can snatch you out of His hand. You aren’t born with this sense. It is given to you later, a gift from God.