Sunday, June 17, 2018

Proper 6 - Year B: June 17, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br.  Joseph  Wallace-Williams, OHC
Proper 6 - Sunday, June 17, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. Joseph Wallace-Williams, OHC 
"Beware of the watermelons!"

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Proper 5 - Year B: June 8, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br.  Aidan Owen, OHC
Proper 5 - Sunday, June 8, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. Aidan Owen
You’ll have to pardon me, but having been ordained a priest less than a week ago, I have vows on the mind. And while I don’t find it the most comforting image in scripture to describe the vowed life, today’s gospel text certainly provides us with an apt one.

“No one can plunder the strong man’s house without first binding up the strong man. Then you can plunder his house.”

It’s hard not to chafe at the idea of being bound and plundered. Boundaries, rules, and commitments limit our freedom of expression and action. Beginning with the vows we made or that were made on our behalf at baptism, we Christians agree to live in alignment with the will and desire of God made known to us scripture, the traditions of our ancestors, the revelations of our communities, and the whispering of the Spirit in our hearts. We are not free to do solely as we wish, at least not if we desire to live our lives with integrity and purpose.

And yet, binding is not primarily a term of limitation. We speak also of the bonds of fellowship and love, of the ties that unite us and draw us closer to the ones we love. One binds wounds so that torn flesh can knit itself back together.

Isaiah gives us perhaps the most beautiful image of binding, an image that Jesus picks up at his first public teaching: The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

In his rule for the community, our Founder describes purity of heart as the goal of every Christian life. Now purity, in this context, could better be translated as “unity” of heart. The goal of the Christian life is unity of heart, which is to say, the directing of our entire being toward God: body, mind, spirit, heart—all that we are centered in love on the one who gives us life.

Most of the time, most of us are like that house divided against itself. We do, truly, wish to love God with our whole selves. And sometimes we are like the eager disciple of Benedict’s Rule, who, in a fit of love, is eager to take the narrow road of which the Lord says: Narrow is the road that leads to life. In our ardor and eagerness we make promises and commitments, we agree “no longer [to] live by [our] own judgment, giving in to [our] whims and appetites; rather [we] walk according to another’s decisions and directions.” That part of us is real and good.

And yet, the eager disciple is not alone in our house. All too soon the strong man of our own willfulness, our stubborn desire to have things our way, our self-righteous anger at others’ perceived shortcomings or our own, and our certainty about what is good and what is not, returns to dominate us and divide us from our heart’s deepest desire, which is for union with God.

Not only do these dynamics rage within us individually, but they also do so corporately.

How often have we allowed our fear of the losses of aging and financial insufficiency to lead us to the safe choice rather than the prophetic one? How often have we really turned down the volume of our certainty that we have the right answer or the right way forward to listen to the deeper stirrings of the Spirit within our own or another’s heart? Is our first question always “what new work is God calling forth from us today?” Or is it often, “what do I want and how can I get it?”

We need the commitments we have made in the flush of our eager love to hold us when the strong men of self-will, doubt, arrogance, and fear begin to dominate us. The vows we have made bind up these strong men so that they can be healed and transformed, so that their strength and energy can be directed to the building up of the body in love. And here is a paradox for us: true freedom is the freedom to surrender our entire being to the transforming movement of God’s love in and among us, and in so doing, to become conduits of that transforming love to a hurting and fractured world. When we allow ourselves to be bound up and healed, we can become the wounded healers that the world so desperately needs.

As we all know, this process is not an easy one. “Purity of heart,” the Founder writes, “is never attained without pain and suffering. [However,] such pain and suffering can be an agent of cleansing, detachment, simplification, and a humility that leads to greater and greater dependence upon God.”

He continues, “As a community dedicated to the Holy Cross, we cannot escape witnessing to this truth, namely, that it is only in and through self-sacrifice that we come to share in Christ’s victory. The image of the contemplative cleaving [we might say “bound]” in loving adoration to God amid chaos, temptation, spiritual dryness, and apparent uselessness can serve as an archetype of our lives as Christians and monastics. The key to this whole process lies in the complete surrender of our will to God as revealed in our crucified Lord. It is the essence of our vow of obedience.”

We cannot bind ourselves or the strong men that dominate and divide our house. We cannot unite ourselves individually or collectively. But we can surrender to the work of God within and among us. We can recommit ourselves to the vows we have made and to the common life in which we have made them. We can hold out our wounded, fractured hearts to the Crucified and Risen One, who binds up those hearts and make them whole. He will heal us, will bind us in and to his love. He will set us free.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Proper 4 - Year B: June 3, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Josép R. Martínez-Cubero, OHC
Proper 4 Year B- Sunday, June 3, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

I wonder what Jesus must have said to the disciples after the encounter with the Pharisees at the grainfields? I’m thinking it may have been something like: “thanks a lot for getting me in trouble with the darn Pharisees.” You see, in my former life, I was, among other things, the director of a youth theatre. I worked with youth of all ages, including teenagers. I directed teenagers in theatrical productions- fun! I ran summer camps for teenagers- fun! I took teenagers on outings- fun! I took teenagers on hiking trips- fun! And I have been with teenagers when they are hungry- not fun! Quite a bit of whining can ensue.

It’s easy to forget that many of Jesus’ followers were very young people. It is very likely that his disciples were mostly teenagers. Who knows why they were walking on the grainfields on the Sabbath? I have read many scholarly commentaries and opinions about this Gospel lesson and have to conclude that no one really knows. But as a theatre director, when I read this Gospel lesson I fill in the blanks with a theatrical dialogue that goes sort of like this:

-“Man, I’m hungry!”-“Me too, I’m starving.”-“Hey, teacher, is it OK if we pluck some heads of grain?”-“No”, says Jesus, “It’s the Sabbath.”-“But we are starving!”-“You babies”, says one of the women.-“Are we there yet?”-“When are we going to get to eat?”-“Are you sure we can’t pluck some heads of grain?”-“Fine!” Says Jesus “Go ahead.” They begin to pluck heads of grain, and USL enter the Pharisees:-“They should have stayed home on the Sabbath.”-“Or they should have prepared their snacks yesterday.”

Our Gospel lesson this morning points to the difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. To the Pharisees, the actions of the disciples on the grainfields, and of Jesus at the synagogue appear to deliberately disobey the commandment to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:12). But Jesus sees the Sabbath in a different light. He reminds the Pharisees of the story about David taking consecrated bread that was supposed to be reserved for priests (Leviticus 24:5-9). 

David was a refugee fleeing from Saul, who had clearly declared his intentions to kill him. Jesus implies that the priest broke the letter of the law concerning the bread in order to relieve David’s hunger. The priest not only sustained the life of a weary traveler, but also contributed to David living into his calling as the king anointed to replace Saul (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Jesus insists that sometimes demands of the law must be set aside in favor of meeting greater needs, especially when those greater needs promote a person’s well-being and facilitate the coming of blessings.

In the scene at the synagogue Jesus is honoring the chief objective of the mandate to preserve life, as read in the book of Deuteronomy: “ 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 and holding fast to God; for that means life to you and length of days” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). What better day than the Sabbath, a day meant to promote God’s commitment to humanity’s wellbeing, to heal a man’s damaged hand? With the healing of his hand, the man may have received back his ability to work, and to provide for his family. The event represents more than just fixing something that has gone wrong. It represents the restoration to wholeness and dignity, the promotion of life and human prosperity.

It was when those who claimed to speak for God used their position to draw rigid boundary lines of inclusion and exclusion that Jesus looked around at them with anger. The next time someone tries to tell you that a good Christian should show no anger, remind him or her of this passage. Sometimes Christians may need to get angry, when religious values become oppressive in the hands of careless stewards. Sometimes Christians may need to get angry, when what begins as a noble motive becomes perverted.

Sometimes Christians may need to get angry, when those who live in privilege turn into insensitive leaders, out of touch with, and indifferent of the needs of the vulnerable. That's the hardness of heart that moves Jesus to grief in the synagogue, and it is the hardness of heart described in the book of the prophet Isaiah: “.... these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote”. (Isaiah 29:13) In the end, on that Sabbath, the Pharisees went out and plotted how to destroy Jesus. Amazing! One must wonder how on earth they didn’t question whether that was a holy thing to do on the Sabbath?

This is not a Gospel lesson about Jesus rejecting the law, or rendering the Sabbath as unimportant. But keeping the Sabbath must always reflect God’s reign of love being worked out in the world. For Jesus love was the ground of religious and moral law. And for us, followers of Jesus, love of God and love of neighbor must always define the law. And why? Because only love can expose religious hypocrisy, only love can expose the oppressive tyrannies of fear. After all, as our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded the entire world a few weeks ago, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” ~¡Que así sea! En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo, Amen+

1.   Donald H. Juel, Shaping the Scriptural Imagination: Truth, Meaning, and the Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2011)
2.   Thomas Jay Ord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence (AVP Academic, 2015)