For several years after college I worked for an international development and relief organization based in Chicago. We provided medicine and medical equipment and personnel for foreign hospitals in 80 or so of the economically-poorest countries of the world. My work was in personnel, which included orienting our expatriate doctors and nurses and medical technicians to the host culture where they would we working. We always told them in great detail the worst they would likely experience: the extremes of the weather, the meager diet, the primitive sanitary conditions, the political tensions with the host government, the competition among various religious and political groups in their area, the lack of privacy, the prospect of their becoming sick, the homesickness they would likely feel, the possible strains on their family, the desperate need for their work… and the haunting guilt they would probably feel being such privileged people in the face of such poverty.
Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Isaiah 40: 1-11
Psalm 85: 7-13
Acts 13: 14b-26
Luke 1: 57-80
Six months ago we celebrated the birth of a baby. And not just any baby, but a particular baby whose birth and life and death and life changed the course of world history. But the birth of that baby did not just change world history; it also changed the lives and histories of countless women and men throughout the centuries, including each one of us. None of us here in the chapel tonight have had our lives untouched by the One whose birth we celebrated last December. Even the most skeptical and cynical, the most casual, or simply the most curious here tonight have been changed in incalculable ways by that birth. If that were not true, why are you not home making supper even as we speak?
Peace, be still. Peace, be still. And the wind and the waves obey him. And fearful men are filled with awe. Jesus was the great wonder worker of his day: loaves and fishes, water into wine, great healings and raisings from the dead. What we are to make of this today, how we are to understand these miracles today would be an interesting discussion.
But what is important to remember is that for there to be a calming of the sea, there must first be a sea. For there to be a calming of the wind, there must first be wind. For natural laws to be bent to divine will, there must first be nature. And that is the primary miracle, the original miracle: that there is a world, a natural order. That there is indeed something and not nothing and that it is a wonder to behold.
In thanksgiving for the life and witness of Paul Wessinger, SSJE (1915-2009)
The father founder of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, Richard Meux Benson, spoke of God’s glory being manifest in our own lives through brokenness, which is a real paradox.i Our own brokenness – be it our lack of self-sufficiency, our sense of inadequacy or incompleteness, our own character flaws, even our despair – whatever our brokenness becomes the portal in our own soul where God breaks through to us. Father Benson writes that “if we enter into ourselves we shall find the ground of our heart as it were broken up, and a deep well springing up from beneath it…. This well springs up within us in no bubbling spasmodic manner; it is continual, imperceptible, the mighty power of God rising up through our littleness – expanding our nature – gradually overflowing it – until our nature is lost to sight.”ii Or, at least, lost to our own sight.
A couple of weeks ago, as part of our Eastertide preaching series, I spoke in this chapel about what it means to believe. I wanted to challenge the popular understanding that believing means holding a certain set of statements or claims to be true – statements, for example, about God or Jesus or the Bible or salvation. When we speak of believing in this way, Christianity becomes a matter of the head, rather than of the heart. The true meaning of faith has to do with living in a life-giving, life-transforming relationship with the One we have come to know as God – a relationship characterized by love and fidelity and trust. It is not a matter of assenting to certain statements or claims about God, but of living in union with God and allowing God’s life to flow in us, and through us to others.
1 Corinthians 3:13-14
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.
We remember today a monk named Columba, born in Ireland in year 521. Columba founded several monasteries including the renowned monastery at Kells. Columba was a complicated man, and the combination of his religious zeal, his love for learning, and his anger made for his breaking and his making.