Saturday, 16 January 2010

Humour in the Bible (2)

Given our historical and cultural distance from biblical literature, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether the humour we see is original to the writers, or if it arises from our 21st century frames of mind.

With that caveat in mind, I find the passage below to be wonderfully funny. It’s a kind of reverse auction - going, going, gone, - but with descending bids.

The scene is Abraham’s bargaining with the LORD regarding the fate of wicked Sodom/Gomorrah. (Whatever else you understand, be assured that the “grievous sin” is NOT homosexuality.)

The story is so near- eastern. It is a story of the bazaar; the souk; the market place.

Abraham, with characteristic near-eastern “feigned humility”. (I am nothing but dust and ashes”) talks the LORD down from 50 to 10 as the required number of righteous people in Sodom.

He is bold, even audacious, as he challenges the LORD on the LORD’S own terms “25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked”.

This indeed is the humour of boldness and audacity. It is “in your face” humour with a twist – it is a human who is in the LORD’S face!

If the Lector in Church can get to the humorous core of the story, then the congregation will respond to the humour.

Thus it was at St. Stephen’s in Pittsfield, MA one Sunday when Marjorie V-n Dy-ke read this passage.

Her reading was so finely tuned that the congregation began to laugh at the audacity of Abraham. What fun, to have a congregation which could laugh at the reading from sacred scripture!

Genesis 18
20 Then the LORD said, "The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous 21 that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know."
22 The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. 23 Then Abraham approached him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
26 The LORD said, "If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake."
27 Then Abraham spoke up again: "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, 28 what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city because of five people?"
"If I find forty-five there," he said, "I will not destroy it."
29 Once again he spoke to him, "What if only forty are found there?"
He said, "For the sake of forty, I will not do it."
30 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?"
He answered, "I will not do it if I find thirty there."
31 Abraham said, "Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, what if only twenty can be found there?"
He said, "For the sake of twenty, I will not destroy it."
32 Then he said, "May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?"
He answered, "For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it."
33 When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Humour in the Bible (1)

I alluded to a wonderful biblical pun in my sermon last Sunday, and that got me to be thinking about humour in the Bible. (Please let me know if you can spot last Sunday’s allusion, the sermon is published on this Blog).

There are many genres of humour, such as  understatement, satire, irony, parody, repartee, punning, wit -  to name but a few.   

Bear them in mind as you read the scriptures -  and you’ll come across some gems of humour.

I’ll identify some of them in the next few days.

My first choice is what I consider to be a very funny story from Genesis Chapter 3.  Here I quote it  from the King James (Authorized)  Version.

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
 10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
 11And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
 12And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
 13And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. 

There’s a ton of silliness in this biblical myth, silliness which should cause us to grin, even if we do not laugh out loud.

There is Adam’s notion that he could hide from God.   Surely this is recorded with “tongue in cheek” humour.

Adam’s response to the Lord God is also funny.  First he tries to blame God viz “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me” i.e.   it’s all your fault God -  you gave me this woman.

Then Adam passes the buck again as  he blames the woman, implying that he would never have eaten of the fruit, but the woman “made him so it”.

In some senses the woman also passes the buck, by blaming the serpent.  On the other hand, her response shows a certain level of honesty  when she says “I was beguiled”.

The big humour in this story is that it is an amusingly perceptive tale of the human condition. Running and hiding, passing the buck, blaming others, allowing ourselves to be beguiled/deceived by flattery -  all these are part and parcel of our human experience.

So I grin when I read the tale and think:  “this is so damn right.  It’s just like me”!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Wood Storks

Wednesday 13th January 2010

Wood Storks are rare in this part of Florida.

This pair has been hanging out for three days by the pond at the back of my home.

See also

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I've just completed a 120 mile round trip which I took in order to have dinner with a friend who will shortly be leaving the U.S.A.  to work in Qatar.

It was well worth while. His company was lively and enlightening. The food at a Tapas Bar was superb.

Remember when such a trip from home would have been considered a great adventure!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Brass Monkey weather

A former colleague of mine is a weather freak. He watches the weather channel on T.V. for hours at a time, subject to the wisdom of his good wife!

And the weather has been a talk of the town here in south west Florida. We are experiencing the coldest “cold snap” in so many years. It’s been tough for citrus and strawberry growers, and even tougher for homeless people.

Here in SRQ it got down to 29f (-1c) early this morning. That’s cold for Floridians, native or immigrant. We immigrants retired here to escape the cold of winter!

Of course our chilly temperatures are “nothing” compared with the low temps in most of the northern hemisphere, and we do not have to contend with snow or icy roads. And we are glad that the cold night temperatures give way to balmier ones in day time. It reached 61f (16c) mid-afternoon today.

When I moved to Florida “they” told me that my “blood would thin”, and that after a few years I would begin to feel even mild winter cold. That’s not been the case. I walked for a mile with my dog Penne this morning at 7:00 a.m., when it was 29f (-1c). With a hat, gloves, and the super all-wool top coat which I bought in Massachusetts a year before I retired, I was quite comfortable. In fact I was enjoying the brisk air.

The same was not true last Saturday (9th January 2010.) It was a dreary, rainy and cloudy day with temps that did not exceed 40f (4.5c). The damp air made it seem much colder.

It reminded me of cold winter days in England, in particular of a trip I took home in 1980 or 1981.

At that time I was Vicar at St. Christopher’s Church in Chicopee, MA. I had decided to fly home to England for Christmas. Duty called, so I could not leave Chicopee until Christmas Day.

I'd had booked a British Airways flight from Boston to London, but it was canceled. Therefore I had to fly (on Christmas Day) Boston – New York City – London.

British Airways had assured me that I would be able to use their JFK airport’s Executive Club for my 7/8 hour layover at J.F.K. before the overnight flight to London Heathrow.

On Christmas Day a good St. Christopher’s parishioner drove me as far as Worcester, MA, from where my pal Paul Goranson drove me to Logan Airport in Boston.

My flight from Boston to New York was fine, but I was chagrined to discover that the Executive Club was closed on that Christmas Day!  Hanging around JFK airport is not fun!

In due course I arrived on Boxing Day in London from where I was driven down to Bristol for a one day late celebration of Christmas, at the home of my sister Maureen and her husband, Bernard. After a “cuppa” I tried to catch “40 winks”, but was soon disturbed by two of my nephews, Daniel and Michael? or maybe David and Robert? , who were excited to see their “American” uncle.

Of course the trip was worthwhile. But in my tired state I fell asleep at the dinner table. Some family member or other used my camera to “snap” me in this somnolent state. It was not until I returned back to the U.S.A. and had the film developed and printed, (remember those old days when we took 35mm films to the local pharmacy/chemist shop for processing!), that I saw the photo’. I had been too deep in sleep to know that it had been taken.

The temperatures in Bristol that December/January were most likely in the area of 40f (4.5c), (much warmer than those in Massachusetts). But even by Dec 30th I thought that my feet would never warm up.

I think that was all due to the moist air, and that’s certainly how my body felt on damp and dreary Saturday 9th January here in “sunny” Florida.

(If you do not “get” the “Brass Monkeys’” reference I will spare your blushes!)

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Sermon for 10th January 2010

Sermon for 10th January 2010 The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key, Sarasota FL
Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-22
Do you get the picture?  There is the big picture, filling a canvas on a wall in an art gallery.  There is the little picture, that is – those details which are essential if the big picture is to be coherent.   
One might be tempted to focus only on the details, and thus to miss the totality of the work.  Or one might be tempted to believe that the details are un-important, thus forgetting that they are essential to the big picture.
We’ll be reading a whole lot of Luke’s Gospel this year. Luke and Acts come from the same pen, and we’d be wise to think of them as volumes one and two of the same work. And there is a big picture. Luke and Acts are all about the Holy Spirit.   
Jesus is important in Luke because he is someone who most fully models life in the Holy Spirit.   
The Christian community is important in Acts because it is Spirit led and energised. The big picture is “Watch out, the Spirit of God is let loose”. 
In Luke the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary is by the power of the Holy Spirit (probably with a little help from Joseph!). 
When Mary visits her kinswoman Elizabeth, it is the Holy Spirit who enables the latter to exclaim that Mary is “the mother of her Lord”.  And Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah is filled with the Spirit when he prophesied that God is about to visit and redeem his people, and that his son, John (the Baptiser) will prepare the way for new and mighty acts of God.
That same John the Baptiser comes again into the picture in a reading this morning when he asserts that he is no more than prologue, and that the main story will be about one who will baptise people with Holy Spirit and fire.
Jesus is baptised. This is his sign that he does not wish to be above us, or over us, but that he wishes to be with us.  So he demonstrates his one-ness with humanity in this baptism.   
 It is at this telling moment of solidarity with the human race that the Holy Spirit descends upon him.   Luke will go on to say that Jesus “full of the Holy Spirit” returned from the Jordan, and then was “led by the Spirit” for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil.  After the forty days he returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit”.
One with us in baptism, and one with us in temptation; Jesus now is ready to declare his manifesto. 
 He does it with his homies in Nazareth.   
He does it by using the scriptures which his townspeople know so well.  He reads from Isaiah.  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me”. 
Then he gets to the core of his purpose.  It is to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, and the setting at liberty those who are oppressed.
There are so many ways of understanding Jesus, and Luke has given us one which will resonate with those who find it difficult to affirm that Jesus is the Son of God.  For Luke, Jesus is a man who is filled with the Spirit of God.  
 This is important, for Luke also wishes to demonstrate that the manifesto and mission of Jesus will also be that of his followers.
This he makes clear in his second volume – the Acts of the Apostles.  Those disciples, who after Jesus’ death had been skulking around like love sick teenagers, were all together on the Jewish day of Pentecost. (Which is a festival celebrating both the first fruits of the harvest and the giving of the Torah).  Perhaps they had been saying, those years with Jesus were “the time of our lives, and we’ll treasure those memories until our old age.   
 But the Holy Spirit had something else in mind.  There were to be the first fruits of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and with a rushing wind and a brightly burning fire the Spirit said “go to it – continue Jesus’ ministry in your lives”.
So it is that the earliest members of the Jesus movement were transformed into Holy Spirit communities.
The Holy Spirit led them to new and un-charted territory.  Once was when Philip was led by the Spirit to speak about Jesus to an eunuch from Ethiopia who was homeward bound after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. That eunuch responded gladly to the message, and was there and then baptised.  He was the first gentile member of the Jesus movement, and he was an African!  As an eunuch he’d been considered ritually impure and therefore could never have become a full member of the household of Israel. 
But the Spirit was saying “I am wind, and that old barrier is being blown down”.  An eunuch who had been “cut-off” was “re-membered” to God’s family. (See Isaiah Chapter 56)
Then there was the time when Peter encountered the gentile centurion, Cornelius. Peter had been prepared for this by a vision – three times repeated!  He breaks the religious rules by agreeing to enter a Gentile home.  He launches into a peroration about Jesus, but even before his sermon is ended the Holy Spirit descends on Cornelius and his household. Peter responds “can anyone forbid water for baptising these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have”.
The Spirit was saying “I am fire, and old prejudices are to be burned up”.
Believe it or not, the Holy Spirit is not locked up in the bible or in the traditions of the church.  She gusts through the Christian community even now. Some fearful Christians erect wind-breaks. The courageous are blown away by the Spirit’s audacity.
Those of us who are gay or lesbian were once cut-off from full participation in the life of the Church.  We were in closets created by the straight church which preferred us to be out of sight, and therefore out of mind.  But the Spirit blew open those closet doors, and this good Church of ours now has a partnered gay bishop, with another in the offing, and priests such as I who no longer need to hide – at least in this parish!
The Spirit also burned some of our prejudices. She taught us that the tired old arguments against the ordination of women were nothing more than the bloviations of prejudiced males. 
The Spirit did this by equipping woman for ministry despite the rules of the Church.  Could anyone refuse ordination to those women who had received the Holy Spirit just as we had?
How about that!  This morning you have a gay male priest as preacher and a female priest as celebrant. 
That is possible because at St. Boniface Church we are striving to be a Spirit filled people who, with Jesus   “preach good news to the poor,  proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, and the setting at liberty those who are oppressed” 
That is the big picture!