Sunday, July 5, 2020

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bob Pierson, OHC

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 9 A - July 5.2020

Zechariah 9:9-12
Romans 7:15-25a
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

As we celebrate Independence Day this weekend, I find myself with very mixed feelings.  I consider myself to be as patriotic as anyone, and yet the love of my country does not prevent me from seeing its short-comings.  As I ponder the call to “Make America Great Again,” and see the huge disparities between rich and poor, black and white, I have to acknowledge that perhaps we have a bit too much independence, and what we need is a lot more interdependence.  

No where does Jesus say “Look out for yourself, and to heck with everyone else.”  No, he says “Love your neighbor as yourself” quoting the book of Leviticus.  The Bible does not say, “God helps those who help themselves.”  No, that comes from Poor Richard's Almanac.  Too many of us have confused 18th century political philosophy with the teaching of the gospel.  Yes, we have “unalienable rights” but so does everyone else, regardless of their skin color, their country of origin, or their religious beliefs.

If we want to make America great again, perhaps we need to consider what Jesus says about “greatness”:  “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.  It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Matthew 20: 25-28

Being great in the kingdom of God means being willing to serve, to humble oneself.  The prophet Zechariah says the Messiah will come “humble and riding on a donkey.”  And Jesus praises God for revealing the truth of the kingdom to infants, rather than the wise and intelligent.  What is the message for us?  If we want to be powerful and great in God's reign, we need to be like children and recognize our need to depend on God for everything.  God's power is not revealed in military might, but rather in the love that caused Jesus to “lay down his life for his friends.”

Jesus says, “This is my commandment; that you love one another as I have loved you.”  John 15:12  We have an obligation to love and it is in living out that obligation in our lives that we become truly great.  That resonates so clearly with my own reasons for pride in our country.  We are great when we set aside our own agendas for the sake of one another in need.  We are great when we come together to help those suffering from illness or injustice or natural disaster.  It is so inspiring to see Americans helping other human beings in this country and abroad.  Our country has done great things, and it's usually when we forget about ourselves and reach out to others in need.  

Yet there are those in leadership in our government who want us to focus not on helping others but rather on helping ourselves.  They want us to focus on what we don't have rather than to be grateful for the tremendous gifts that God has given our nation.  By appealing to our fear that we will lose our “power,” they want to control us in such a way that we really become less than who we can be if we give ourselves over to God's commandment to love instead.

At the end of today's gospel passage, Jesus reminds us that we can turn to him when we are “weary and are carrying heavy burdens” and he will give us rest.  The rest that Jesus promises is a “yoke that is easy” and a “burden that is light.”  It is the yoke of our connection to one another, and the burden of caring for each other.  When we take on that yoke and carry that burden, then, and only then, will we find rest for our souls.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 8A, June 28, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 8 A - June 28.2020

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

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Three weeks ago, we painfully decided to suspend our ministry of hospitality for another several months. Welcoming retreatants in our Guest House and Monastery is one of our main ministries. Who do we get to be when our ministries change upon us?


In the last few months, we have had to explore what it means to be hospitable when dozens of new guests do not stream through our open door every week. We have worshipped without in-person visitors. We have had the great privilege of continuing to worship with our community of brothers.

We have also had to be welcoming of our moods and emotions in these times of pandemic and social upheaval. Like all our friends, families and associates, we have had to deal with fear, worry, anxiety, loss, sadness, frustration and anger.

We have had to welcome reality, in part because it offered us no choice. But we  Brothers have gotten to do it in the company of one another.

We have had to exercise compassionate welcome on these brothers of ours. We do that as a matter of course, but even more in these trying weeks and months.
And we have done a pretty good job so far, I might add.

*****

But in today’s gospel passage, Jesus calls us to be hospitable to those who visit us on his behalf.

So how do we welcome the prophets, the righteous persons and the little ones in these times? How do we welcome Jesus in each other? How will we welcome people in person again eventually? How do we welcome people in remote and mediated ways?

As welcoming others into our home has temporarily become too problematic to entertain, we have sought to extend hospitality in other ways. Most of this has occurred on online platforms be it Facebook livestream, Zoom retreats or YouTube videos. 

We have shared some of our worship. We have shared some of our prayers and some of our study. But we have also spent more quality time reaching out individually to family, friends and associates. This has happened by phone, by email, by text messaging and video-conferencing. 

I have found myself spending more time on WhatsApp with Belgian friends lately. God knows when I will be able to see them in person. I have found myself checking in on monastery associates and friends whom I would normally have seen in the Guest House at some point or another.

In a way, we have found workarounds to our missing in-person hospitality ministry. We will all be glad to go back to shaking hands and giving a hug when the time comes. But in the meantime, we are coping as best we can.

So Jesus meets us in our brothers and sisters, here at home first and foremost. But Jesus also meets us through the friend or stranger who comes to us through the internet.

*****

I liked what The Rev. Dr. Emily Townes, an African-American Christian social ethicist and theologian had to say about today’s gospel passage.

“Compassionate welcome means approaching each other through God. This is how we recognize that genuine human relationships emerge from putting the grace-filled hospitality of God’s love at the center of our lives and at the center of our relationships.

God’s hospitality teaches us that close, loving, enduring relationships are to be valued along with distant, occasional, and abrasive ones -- as difficult as the latter ones may be.

This lively, and sometimes maddening, dynamic is the welcome Jesus speaks of in today’s passage. Further, if we live into this welcome with each other, we will find the rich rewards of discipleship found in God.”

Emily Townes

*****

I appreciate The Rev. Townes’ realistic talking about hospitality. She calls it “sometimes maddening.” And we go, “Yep! Been there!” And she insists that God’s hospitality is to be embodied in even the episodic, short or even brusque interactions.

We are to practice a compassionate welcome with the lovely and the not-immediately-so-lovely people. They are all our chances to welcome Christ as he is in his immense variety and diversity.

In the months to come, may we continue to identify Christ and welcome him as he comes, even as a little one, whether that be in the mirror, through the door, on the phone line or through the ethernet cable.

*****

May we continue to enjoy the rich rewards of compassionate hospitality throughout the covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

Amen