A sermon from John Updike

Faith & Inspiration

Rabbit, Run is John Updike's 1960 novel about a 26-year-old former high school basketball player chafing under the constraints of married life, fatherhood, and a job. When Harry abandons his wife and takes up with a prostitute, the local Episcopal pastor, Jack Eccles, makes himself Harry's self-appointed savior. Another pastor named Kruppenbach says bluntly to Eccles:

"You think now your job is to be an unpaid doctor, to run around and plug up the holes and make everything smooth. … You say role. I say you don't know what your role is or you'd be home locked in prayer. There is your role: to make yourself an exemplar of faith. There is where comfort comes from: faith, not what little finagling a body can do here and there, stirring the bucket. In running back and forth you run from your duty given you by God, to make your faith powerful, so when the call comes you can go out and say to them, 'Yes, he is dead, but you will see him again in Heaven. Yes, you suffer, but you must love your pain because it is Christ's pain.' When on Sunday morning then, when we go before their faces, we must walk up not worn out with misery but full of Christ. …"

C. John Miller, commenting in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, writes:

"Eccles's real goal in life is to be popular with people. Since counseling is the way to develop the image of the caring pastor, he pursues Harry. But he does not bring Christ to him, or the law of God. He gives him the pop psychology that hangs like a pink mist over our contemporary culture. Eccles ends up as a great trivializer, a human being with a weak sense of self-identity, disguised by his religious activism" [italics mine].

In the book of Acts, which records the earliest days of the Church, a crossroads in history is reached that calls into question the role of the pastor-diaconal work, or prayer and the Word. Notice the response of the Twelve:

"Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:3-4).

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Even Updike knew that nonstop religious activity could be a cover for a life of spiritual emptiness and confusion. The Twelve apostles had it right when they resisted the temptation to sacrifice prayer to programs. Somebody has to run the food bank. But nothing good happens in the Kingdom without prayer.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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