“No one can serve two masters for a slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth”
There probably isn’t anybody in this room that needs to be told that as Americans we lead very privileged lives. “Welcome to the world, America,” was a phrase many of us heard in the wake on 9/11. It reflected the view that America and its citizens are largely insulated from grim realities that are the stuff of daily life for billions who share the planet. I thought about that the other day as I drove down Somerville Avenue. There’s a string of gas stations along the avenue and I couldn’t help notice that gas prices had risen about thirty cents since I bought gas the previous week. I thought, “Welcome to the revolution, America;” that the effects of popular revolutions that we’ve all been reading about have finally come to our shores. Continue reading
Homily preached at the Parish of St. James, Woodstock VT
Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4: 1-5; Matthew 6: 24-34
I wonder how many of us would describe ourselves as being particularly wise. Do you think of yourself as wise? Sure, we might have a lot of leaning. Sure, we might have a lot of knowledge. But do we have a lot of wisdom? Are you an especially wise person?
I wouldn’t describe myself as especially wise. I know a little about a lot, and I know a lot about a little. Just ask me about icons, or bees, or chickens, and I can hold forth for quite some time. I can tell you why chickens don’t lay so many eggs in the winter as they do in the summer. (It has to do with light, and the role light plays in the hormonal cycle of chickens.) I can tell you what bees do in the winter; (they don’t hibernate, rather they cluster and vibrate to keep warm) and how much honey a single bee will produce in her short lifetime (1/12th of a teaspoon! Think of that next time you put a tablespoon of honey in your tea or on your toast). I can tell you how to paint an icon, and what it all means. (That alone can keep me going for a couple of hours as some of you discovered yesterday!). But that’s knowledge. That’s information. That’s not really wisdom. So no, I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly wise. Continue reading
One of the happiest times of my life was the five years I spent as a teacher in a large Anglican high school in England. It was wonderful to be able to help young men and women grow and mature into adulthood. One of the greatest challenges though was not the children but their parents! It was a very academic school, and some children were put under an awful lot of pressure to perform by parents who made a tremendous fuss if their child dropped a grade. It could have a really crippling effect on a child to have every piece of work examined forensically by a judgmental parent. And a child could begin to feel that her parents’ love was dependant on how well she performed at school.
In our Gospel reading today (Matt. 5:38-48) there is a sentence which sounds horribly like some of those demanding parents: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
“Be perfect? How can I be perfect?”
Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
This past October Br. David Vryhof and I were among the leaders in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where we explored the development of Christian monasticism in the early centuries. The first monastery we visited was in the desert just outside of Jericho near the Jordan River: St. Gerasimos’ Monastery, a very beautiful, active, welcoming Greek Orthodox community. On that site in year 460, Abbot Gerasimos built the original monastery. Today, when you enter the monastery precincts, the first image you confront is not a cross, nor stained glass window, nor ceramic tapestry, nor an icon – all of those are there – but rather at the entry you first confront a lion, a full-size bronze-cast lion. Continue reading