After appreciating Sunday morning visits to churches of traditions very different from yours and mine, I returned last Sunday to a favorite haunt from 2005, St. Andrews Scots Memorial Church. This Scottish Presbyterian church, standing directly across the Ben Hinnom (“Gehenna”) Valley from Mt. Zion, was built in memory of Scottish soldiers killed in the WWI struggle to free Jerusalem from Ottoman Turkish control.
My friend Msgr. Denis Carlin, priest and canon lawyer serving in Greenock, Scotland, was invited to preach there in 2005, and I attended. The crowd then was small, but Denis’s sermon was solid, and the worship order and hymn selections were similar to our own.
So it felt good to go back there, and hear “How Great Thou Art” in the city where His greatness has been proclaimed for three thousand years. I also had opportunity, before the 10:30 service (the minister told me people get antsy if they go anywhere near noon!), to make pictures of some First Temple Period tombs. That was King Solomon’s time, and the tombs were uncovered about 30 years ago, in St. Andrews’ front yard, by Israeli archaeologist Gabi Barkai. (In one of the tombs was found a silver amulet bearing the oldest known inscription of the familiar Aaronic Priestly Blessing [“The Lord bless you and keep you . . .” Num. 6.24-26].)
The crowd last Sunday was small again, sad to see. Around 20 faithful, most of them tourists, in a room built for many times more. I sat and listened to the sermon, and appreciated its eloquence. Still it lacked a certain force and a certain conviction.
The Exodus narrative of Moses, Aaron and the Golden Calf, “like all good stories, has truth to tell,” the worshipers were told. But its God could not be the true God, for he is depicted as vengeful and vacillating. (This reminded me more of the ancient Marcionite heresy–where the God of the Old Testament was viewed as irreconcilable with the God of the New–than the proclamation of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to whom the Son of God prayed.)
Turning to Matthew’s Parable of the Wedding Feast, we heard that it was “a true picture of the Gospel, which comes to this: God loves us.” (Were that to be the sum of the Christian Gospel, however–with no reference to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ or to his resurrection–we would share the “gospel” with multiple religions.)
Like the bulk of Western European churches, the Scottish Presbyterian Church is on the ropes, and not just in Jerusalem. Twenty persons at morning worship at its principal church? Let us consider what is being taught, and go figure . . .
To all of our friends in Greensboro, Shabbat Shalom!