This week's gospel reading has brought to mind one of my favorite short stories, "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor. If you haven't read O'Connor before, I highly recommend it, but be sure you strap on a helmet before setting forth. O'Connor was a demanding, critical person in both her Christian faith and her writing. She once said, "I don't deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it" But her prose was as powerful as her faith, and as I read some of what Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew I can't help but think of her demanding challenge to all of us: what does it mean to truly be a person of faith?
"Revelation" is one of those stories that I'll never forget reading, along the lines of "The Gift of the Magi" or another O'Connor classic, "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." Here's the quote, toward the end of the story, that just might find its way into my sermon on Sunday:
[She saw] a vast horde of souls ... rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right....They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.
Powerful stuff there - but the best sermons are always powerful, and this story is as much a sermon as it is a story. I hope those of you preaching out there will consider it for Sunday's message.
I should note that the word "nigger" occurs in the mind of the main character; I don't use such language in my own speech, nor do I condone it in the speech of others. But the story is set in the deep South of the early 20th century and thus belongs to its context. It is intended as a critique of the main character and should definitely be read as such, okay?