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Actors and Preachers

Actors and Preachers

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Published by TheLivingChurchdocs
There will never be easy answers.
Sometimes it will seem that there is no answer
at all except what appears to be emptiness, absence.
There will never be easy answers.
Sometimes it will seem that there is no answer
at all except what appears to be emptiness, absence.

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Published by: TheLivingChurchdocs on Dec 23, 2012
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08/30/2013

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ByFlemingRutledge
T
he moment I heard about themassacreattheSandyHookEle-mentary School yesterday, I called Jack. A black pall has been cast over his momentous day, and we allacknowledge that. As Jack said onthe phone, the problem of how toconduct an ordination in the face of anatrocityintheverynexttownisasnothing compared to the anguish of the parents and families who havelost their precious little ones. Thelament of Jeremiah comes to mind:
Whyismypainunceasing,mywoundincurable,refusingtobehealed?(Jer.15:18)
In the Church, this is the season of  Advent. It’s superficially understoodas a time to get ready for Christmas,but in truth it’s the season for con-templating the judgment of God. Adventistheseasonthat,
whenprop-erlyunderstood
,doesnotflinchfromthe darkness that stalks us
all
in thisworld.Adventbeginsinthedarkandmovestowardthelightbutthesea-son should not move too quickly or tooglibly,lestwefailtoacknowledgethe depth of the darkness. As our LordJesustellsus,unlessweseethelightofGodclearly,whatwecalllightis actually darkness: “how great isthat darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). Adventbids us take a fearless inventory of the darkness without and the dark-ness within.ImentionedsomethingalongtheselinestoJackandhesaid,simply,“Thisis what I signed on for.” He under-stands that Christian ministry meansliving with the anguish and theinexplicability of this mortallife,notreachingtooquicklyfor easy answers. Thedivine light breaksin upon us of itsownwill,independ-ently of our wishesanddesires.Wemustwait, and that meanssuffering.
H
ere is part of what thegreat poet W.H. AudenwroteaboutAdventin
 FortheTime Being: A ChristmasOratorio
:
Icecondensesonthebone,Wintercompletesanage.TheevilandarmeddrawnearTheweathersmellsoftheirhateAndthehousessmellofourfear;Deathhasopenedhiswhiteeye.
AndT.S.Eliotwritesinthesameveinin
 Murder in the Cathedral 
:
ThewhiteflatfaceofDeath…AndbehindthefaceofDeaththeJudgementAndbehindtheJudgementtheVoid....Emptiness,absence,separationfromGod.
I wrote this sermon before thecalamity at the Sandy Hook school. As you can imagine, I have struggledwiththethoughtthatIshouldwritecompletely new sermon. Instead, Ihavemadesomesmallbutsignificantadjustments to what I already pre- pared. This message, ultimately, isaboutGod.Inthefinalanalysisthere is no
human
answer whatsoever to the prob-lem of evil. We canonly continue toinsistuponthereal-ity and power of God in spite of allthe evidence to thecontrary.
S
o we move on to JackGilpin and his two voca-tions. I’m sure many of youhave seen Jack on television,but my husband and oudaughtershavehadthespecial privilege of seeing Jack per-forming on stage (the highestformofacting),alwayswiththegreatest delight and admiration. SoI’m thinking now about the connec-tion between acting and preaching. Jack and Anne were prominentamong many actors (and would-beactors) who were part of the congre-gation at Grace Church in New YorkCity in the 1980s and ’90s. Some of them,inadditiontotheGilpins,were verysuccessfuloneappearedsev-eral times in important roles onBroadway, one won a Tony, one hascontinued to appear in Hollywoodmovies, several still act in regionaltheatres, and so forth. So, as you canimagine, Scripture readings in theworship services at Grace Churchwerememorable.However,therewasone hurdle that had to be overcome(Jackwillrememberthis).Beforetheactorsbecamegreatreaders,theyhadto learn to stop acting!ThebestwayIcanexplainthisistorefertoapassagewrittenbyDietrich
A Sermon for the Ordination of Jack Gilpin, St. John’s Church, New Milford, Connecticut
December 15
Actors and Preachers
8
THE LIVING CHURCH • January 6, 2013
(Continued on page 29)
 
Bonhoeffer, the great Christian pastor and theologian who was executed bythe Nazis. This is from his book called
 Life Together 
, and it’s about the proper way to read from the Bible. I’d like toread you a paragraph. I hope it will beedifying not only for those who readScripture but also for those who lis-ten to it being read.
How shall we read the Scriptures?… Itwill soon become apparent that it isnot easy to read the Bible aloud forothers. … It may be taken as a rule forthe right reading of the Scriptures thatthe reader should never identify him-self with the person who is speaking inthe Bible. It is not I that am angered,but God; it is not I giving consolation,but God; it is not I admonishing, butGod admonishing in the Scriptures. Ishall be able, of course, to express thefact that it is God who is angered, whois consoling and admonishing, not byindifferent monotony, but only withinmost concern and rapport, as onewho knows that he himself is beingaddressed. It will make all the differ-ence between right and wrong read-ing of the Scriptures if I do not iden-tify myself with God but quite simplyserve Him. Otherwise I will becomerhetorical, emotional, sentimental…or coercive and imperative; that is, Iwill be directing the listeners’ atten-tion to myself instead of to the Word.But this is to commit the worst of sinsin presenting the Scriptures.
One of the things that I alwaysnoticed about our actors at GraceChurch is that when they were justgetting started as lay readers, theywould emote. They would act outall the roles, including that of God.But as soon as they were given this passage from Bonhoeffer, theyimmediatelyto a personcaught on,and they never made thatmistake again. The actors becamethe best readers we had— not for the reasons you might think, notbecause they read dramatically or gestured theatrically, but becauseeven when they learned not to act,they knew how to use their voices— and their posture— to commu-nicate.They knew it from their training, but even more,I think theyknew it by instinct. Instinct is God-given, and not everyone has it. It’s part of what makes a really goodactor.
B
ut another aspect of being anactor is being able to take direc-tion. An actor who couldn’t takedirection would never have a chance. Our actors at Grace Churchwere very much more ready to takedirection from Dietrich Bonhoeffer than many other non-actor readersthat I’ve known, who tended to pushback. This reminds me of the storyin Luke’s Gospel about Jesus andthe centurion who had a belovedslave. The slave was sick and at the
January 6, 2013 • THE LIVING CHURCH
29
Our actors at GraceChurch were verymuch more readyto take directionfrom DietrichBonhoefferthan many othernon-actorreaders that I’veknown, who tendedto push back.
(Continued from page 8)(Continued on next page)
Actors and Preachers
 
military leadership, or even healing.Rather, it’s a story about the power of the word of Jesus, and the authorityof the word of Jesus. It’s a story aboutfaith in Jesus Christ as the very Wordof God. Taking direction from theWord of God is the heart and soul of Christian faith,and certainly the heartand soul of ordination to the Christianministry.We have read Psalm 115. Here isthe first verse again:
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,but to thy name give glory.
The senior professor of New Tes-tament at PrincetonTheologicalSeminary, Beverley Gaventa, was a student at Union Theological Semi-nary, where Jack studied, at thesame time that I was. When I sawher again at Prince-ton a few years ago,Iasked her what shewas working on, andshe said she waswriting a commen-tary on the Book of Acts.Knowing that Acts has beencalled “the most disputed book inthe New Testament,”I asked her somewhat warily, “What approachto Acts will you be taking?” I wasthinking of stuff like, is it histori-cally trustworthy? what about itsdepiction of Paul? what sort of com-munity was it written for? is it Jew-ish or Hellenistic? what genre is it?and so forth. What’s your angle on Acts?Professor Gaventa said somethingrevolutionary. She said, “It’s aboutGod.”It’s about God. In other words, the Acts of the Apostles is misnamed.It’s not about the actions of the
apostles
. It is about the actions of 
God
. Now this may seem obvious to you, but it isn’t. More often than not,the Bible isn’t taught today as if itwere about God. It’s taught as a repository of human religious think-ing. It’s presented as an interestingand important document abouthuman spiritual development. It’streated as a collection of humanimaginings about God. But this is precisely what the Bible is
 not
. The point of death. The centurion sentfriends to tell Jesus that he didn’thave to come in person:
“Lord, I am not worthy to have youcome under my roof....[S]ay the wordonly,and let my servant be healed.ForI am a man set under authority, withsoldiers under me: and I say to one,‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another,‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave,‘Do this,’ and he does it.”When Jesusheard this he marveled… and turnedand said to the multitude that fol-lowed him, “I tell you, not even inIsrael have I found such faith.” Andwhen they… returned to the house,they found the slave well.(Luke 7:6-10)
This is not a story about slavery, or 
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More often than not,the Bible isn’t taughttoday as if it wereabout God.It’s taughtas a repositoryof human religiousthinking.
Actors and Preachers
30
THE LIVING CHURCH • January6, 2013
(Continued from previous page)

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