‘Twas time for the Sabbath sermon, the last great day of the feast,
people’s faces were beaming, expectant, to say the least.
For this high point they’d been waiting, that much was easy to see,
and now, at the end of the prayer, rising from bended knee.
His tone was oddly combative, he seemed a beleaguered man,
it helped that I had decided to listen as well as I can.
I’d asked for the Sabbath spirit, to ponder with deep respect
the text at the heart of the sermon, hoping it not be wrecked.
I thought his points reminiscent of things I had heard before,
once in a ten-point sermon, more points in sermons of yore.
This sermon aimed for completeness, twenty-five points in all,
and there, like Moses on Nebo, the preacher was standing tall.
Combative, I said, not irenic, combative his tone of voice,
for all the points he mentioned he did not leave room for choice.
He urged it on all assembled, he said to hold fast what we had,
and not to change one iota, that change could be fatally bad.
The points, I can’t all remember, but I can remember a few:
the earth six millennia only—and thus rather young and new.
And then, the other believers, those not of the Remnant Church,
he urged to keep our distance—or risk being left in the lurch.
He praised the prophetic spirit, he had one person in mind,
was she, I thought, so combative, or more disposed to be kind?
Was this her kind of sermon, a word for most pressing need,
or balm no more in Gilead nor solace for wounds that bleed?
He said that truth has a system, there’s only one way to read:
“Historical grammatical method”—that’s what he called his creed.
At that point I felt resistance: Is that how to read texts well?
Or is it instead a description of how they’re reading in hell?
Shall poetic voices fall silent—this sermon was all in prose—
though best the prophetic spirit when in beauty poetic it rose?
And then the noise I was hearing, like voices from hidden caves,
were the prophets of old protesting by turning in their graves?
The text like a mantra booming, “Hold fast to what you possess!”
What was the original context? Does it fit what we profess?
The word, it was sent to people in city of Brotherly Love,
to them came a word of wonder and hope anew from above.
It spoke of a door thrown open to people of little strength,
the Open Door as the token—preserved from the Trial’s length,
“You’ve kept the word of endurance, my endurance it was,
and this shall be your assurance: I deliver from hostile jaws.”
And then, in a flash of insight, a moment of respite found,
I noticed the context missing, the reading—it was not sound.
The setting and purpose missing, an emperor without clothes,
a trumpet blast sounding loudly, a message in leaden prose.
And then the Heavenly Mailman, now rushing from place to place,
how tireless and how unceasing, delivering notes of grace,
approaching the final mailbox, the last on the arduous trail,
at that door he now stands knocking, in person delivering mail.
He said, and I am quoting, in words not in sermon found,
“Break off the piddling posture, the boasts of health all sound.
A doctor is badly needed though you’re feeling whole and strong,
the message was meant for another, you’re getting it, oh, so wrong.
“The letter you read by error; it wasn’t intended for you,
now look again at the address, and read this message, too,
a message of what you don’t have, of matters you don’t possess,
although you will beg to differ, although you may second-guess.
“‘Hold fast what you have’ was spoken to people in City of Love,
to you, there in Laodicea, how diff’rent my word from above:
Riches and eyesight missing, there’s nakedness, misery, too,
how puzzling the path to healing, the road to a self-made new.
“The things you have not I offer, goodness you don’t possess,
gold made hot in the fire, and clothing, a long white dress,
eye salve to cure the blindness, vision that you may see,
for you, dear Laodicea, how lovely the future might be.”
It was, I repeat, a great day, the last great day of the feast,
but he, on the hills of Gilboa, closed with the Mark of the Beast.
And then this thought hit upon me, empty and sore as I was,
and wounded, doubly wounded, when I heard the applause.
The sermon, at last it ended, but the Mailman lingered a while,
he said he could see I was thirsty, ‘twas said with kindly smile,
he said he knew I had nothing, and nothing to meet my need,
and I, I bowed at the altar, I knew this would be my creed.
© Sigve K. Tonstad, Summer of 2022
Sigve Tonstad is Professor of Theology at Loma Linda University's School of Religion.
Image by Mitchell Leach on Unsplash
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