If you’ve ever wondered what God is waiting for Simone Weil has a suggestion. She writes, “Our existence is made up only of [God’s] waiting for our acceptance not to exist.” Now, “not existing” sounds pretty bad, but I think it’s a big part of our celebration today of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God-Bearer. Mary’s “lowliness” as God’s “servant” suggests kenosis, the Greek term for “emptying out.” She emptied herself of anything standing in the way of completely assenting to God’s will. Mary embraced her powerlessness and recognized in the Holy One the one true source of mercy, strength, and all great things. Mary accepted not existing in the sense that her identity became woven into the fabric of God’s being. She no longer existed as an “I,” but as St. Paul put it an “I in Christ.” The dramatic fruit of Mary’s kenosis, her being filled with God, was the birth of Jesus from her womb. Nicholas Cabasilas, an Orthodox Saint and mystic, once went so far as to say that “God created humanity in order to find a mother,” so in that sense, in Mary, God’s wait was profoundly over. Continue reading
Deuteronomy 8:7-18; Psalm 65; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15; Luke 17:11-19
When I was home last week to visit family and friends I witnessed a scenario that I think most of us have seen many times throughout our lives. A mother, picking up some items in the grocery store on her way home, her small boy sitting in the grocery cart, runs into a friend of hers. For a moment the boy is lavished with attention and the lady gives him a piece of candy. At once the mother asks the boy, “Now, what do you say?” The question is followed by a suspenseful moment where the mother hopes her son will take the bait and recall a scene which naturally has been rehearsed many times up to this point. I am happy to report that the boy smiled and in broken English said “thank you,” the friend doted more on the boy, and the mother stood there beaming with pride and probably a little relief. Continue reading
The Feast of the Saints of the Society of St. John the Evangelist
II Corinthians 6:1-10 and John 13: 12-17
This is a well-placed feast. Today we remember the saints of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, our forebears in this community whose faithfulness to their calling has made it possible for us to be here today. Today this feast occurs on the day before Thanksgiving. What could be more appropriate than for us to express our profound gratitude for these Brothers in the faith? Continue reading
I have to confess that I haven’t always felt that this familiar gospel story of Jesus separating the sheep from the goats was necessarily ‘good news.’ As a boy I was reasonably sure I’d be numbered among the sheep – (I did go to church regularly and did my best to be good) – but there was always a bit of uncertainty in my mind about whether I’d done enough to actually get in. Plus, I hadn’t actually given clothes to someone who was naked – (I think I would have remembered that!) – or gone to visit anyone in prison. It was a bit worrisome.
I don’t think I’m alone on this. Our first reaction to this story might be “Yikes!” Not only does it feel a bit threatening, but it also seems to run contrary to much of our inherited theology about being saved by grace and not by works. So what should we make of this? Continue reading
For various reasons I didn’t want to try making something from the Book of Revelation or the Cleansing of the Temple from St. Luke’s Gospel, so I looked at the Gradual Psalm, Ps. 119:65-71, and saw immediately that it spoke to some of what Gregory the Great had written about Compunction, a passage I had been praying with for several weeks off and on. Then from using a Psalm I remembered the lesson on Hebrew Poetry at CDSP in James Pritchard’s O.T. class 59 years ago, so I included something about that.
Last month during a week of personal retreat I had an opportunity to read some of the teaching of St. Gregory the Great on “Desire for God” in a book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, by Jean Leclercq, OSB, a monk of Clairvaux Abbey in Belgium.
St. Gregory taught that the desire for God comes through compunction, an act of God by which God awakens us by a shock, a blow, a sting, whereby the attention of the soul is recalled to God. Continue reading
Luke 19:41-44 and Rev. 5:1-10
How poignant it is that we have this account of Jesus’ tears over the city of Jerusalem as our gospel lesson today.
It was just two days ago that two Palestinian men entered a synagogue in Jerusalem with butcher knives and a gun, killing four Jewish rabbis who were at prayer, and a police officer who answered the call for help. Tensions have been high in Jerusalem in recent weeks as Palestinians and Jewish Israelis clash over control of the sacred area of the old city known to Jews as the Temple Mount, and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. In the past few weeks, two mosques have been set ablaze in arson attacks in the West Bank, leaving copies of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, in ashes. Yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the synagogue attack by ordering the demolition of the attackers’ homes, as well as the acceleration of the destruction of homes of Palestinians who carried out earlier attacks. And so the cycle of violence and retribution that has plagued Jerusalem and the Middle East for centuries continues. Continue reading
Eph. 4:1-6/Psalm 113/Mat. 19:27-29
Today is St. Hilda’s day. What we know about Hilda of Whitby (c. 614-680) comes to us from St. Bede’s “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”, which he finished in about 731. St. Hilda was the founding abbess of Whitby Abbey, the site of a pivotal Synod of the English church. It was this Synod in 664 that strengthened the English church’s connection with the Roman church. Hilda was known for her devotion and grace and kindness; she was also recognized as an able administrator, sought out by kings and princes for her wise counsel.
I’m inclined to put St. Hilda in the category of “practical mystics”, along with St. Teresa of Avila, who founded many monasteries. And I would put St. Paul himself in this category. We might think of “practical mystics” as individuals who have a keen sense of the presence of God in and through all things and take on the practical work of building up the church. In building up the church we deal with real people in real time in real situations; with all the confusion and brokenness and incompleteness of real people. Continue reading
“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”1
“…I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground…I was afraid…”1
That slave, who received one talent, often speaks for many of us. Isn’t fear of making a mistake, of trespassing, capable of paralyzing us into passivity and inaction? And when fear and inertia entrap us it is easy to imagine ourselves living in the freedom of the gospel while we are, in fact, trapped in slavery to the Law. Continue reading
With all the many different metaphors and stories of Jesus trying to explain the Kingdom of God in the gospels, it seems like it was a very difficult idea to get across to people. Sometimes we’re told it’s coming really soon, or here already. Sometimes we’re told who gets in, “the poor in spirit,” for example. We read that it’s like a mustard seed, like scattering seed on the ground, like a treasure, like hiring men in a vineyard, like a royal wedding banquet — and the list goes on. The gospel story today has Jesus describing the Kingdom of God as not like a thing that can be observed at all, but as something else that’s already among us. Continue reading
The gospel writer of Luke tells the story of ten lepers who encounter Jesus travelling between Galilee and Samaria. Because of their illness, they were social outcasts, forbidden to associate with those who were considered ritually clean. But Jesus’ fame was spreading throughout the region and they had most likely heard stories of his healing. So they approach him carefully, keeping their distance, and they beg him for mercy. Jesus then says something curious: ‘go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Continue reading
Isaiah 58:6-12 / Luke 18:18-30
I have no doubt that the rich ruler in today’s gospel approached Jesus with the best of intentions. I see no reason to assume he is using flattery or being sarcastic when he addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher,” or that his question – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” – is meant to entrap Jesus or to test his theology. Nor do I see any reason to assume that his claim – “I have kept all these [commandments] since my youth” – is a sign of undue pride. I think he is a genuine seeker, who actually wants to deepen his relationship with God. Continue reading
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16
Five of the bridesmaids Jesus calls foolish; five he calls wise. It’s not that the five wise bridesmaids knew when the bridegroom was coming. It’s the opposite. They were wise because they did not know when the bridegroom was coming, and so they were prepared for any eventuality. Jesus tells this story about the coming of the bridegroom as a kind of “heads up” about how to live our lives, not just in the end times but all the time: a kind of attentiveness to practice the presence of God all the time. In the scriptures, wisdom is the gift extolled above all others for how to make meaning of life. Wisdom is a deep knowledge, much deeper than simply information. We have today an information glut. As you well know, it’s possible to browse through an almost-infinite stream of information about life with simply the click of a computer key or a television remote control: an endless array of “horizontal information,” surfing life only at the surface, none of which automatically translates into wisdom. Information alone may make us smart, or make us look smart; information alone may breed arrogance; information alone may overwhelm us, information alone may make us conversant in multiple platforms, as they say. (1) Information alone is not wisdom. Continue reading
Here is my sermon from this morning’s Eucharist. The first reading, Philippians 3:3-9a, leads into what I consider a very important passage regarding faith and the Power of Christ’s Resurrection, so I went on to preach about next 7 verses including the rest of verse 9. After the last few weeks of our Br. Tom Shaw’s illness and his death, and the wake and funeral, along with the recent newspaper articles about the illness Ebola, I had begun to feel a certain need concerning my sense of mortality. I recovered my faith and hope meditating on these words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
My first thought, when reading through the lessons for today’s Eucharist, was to see if a particular theme might jump out at me that would develop as a sermon. As I read today’s selection from Paul’s letter to the Philippians my reaction was to skip over those sentences about his Jewish background as less important. I thought I might concentrate on Paul’s realization of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord. I saw that background only as some help for understanding what followed. Continue reading
All Souls Day
Isaiah 25:6-9, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, John 5:24-27
Today is the third of a trio: Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. We transferred two of them, celebrating All Saints on Sunday and now All Souls today. These three ground us in mortality and in blessed hope as we remember the dead.
All Saints Day began in the sixth century to remember the life and witness of hundreds of Christians who were killed for their faith during the first three centuries of the Church. Halloween—Hallow’s Eve—is the evening before All Hallows Day, meaning “holy” or “saint” which we now call All Saints Day. Continue reading
Revelation 7: 9-17, Matthew 5: 1-12
The tradition of All Saints Day, which we celebrate today, traces its history back to the sixth century. At that time Pope Boniface consecrated the Pantheon at Rome as a place of solemn remembrance and thanksgiving for the life and witness of so many hundreds and hundreds of Christians who were martyred there during the first three centuries of the church.
All Saints Day became a comforting tradition. Do you remember the Latin etymology for the English word “comfort”? com + fortis: com = with; fortis = fortitude or strength. All Saints Day: a day to comfort us, to strengthen us, so we can faithfully meet the challenges at hand in our own lifetime by our embracing the companionship of the saints. Continue reading
It was three weeks ago, on one of those stunningly beautiful fall days. I was sitting at Tom’s bedside in his beloved hermitage at Emery House, with his sister Penny. We had just anointed him and prayed with him, and he was looking out, gazing up through those huge windows at the brilliantly blue sky and the trees. He wanted all the shutters open, so he could see – see the golden leaves dazzling and shimmering in the sunlight.
We gazed with him, in silence, and it seemed that the whole of creation was on fire with God’s glory. At that precious moment it felt like God was gifting us with just a glimpse of the glory that awaits us all – the glory which I have no doubt Tom is now enjoying. Tom, who loved St. Paul, believed and trusted absolutely, that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory.” Continue reading