Sunday, October 14, 2018

Proper 23, Year B: Sunday, October 14, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. John Forbis, OHC
Proper 22- Sunday, October 14, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. John Forbis, OHC
So they give me the foundational Gospel passage for monastic life.  Many of the first monks, like Anthony, did exactly what Jesus told the rich man to do.  They gave away all they had, sold it, gave the money to the poor and went to live a solitary or community life in the desert following Jesus in word and action.  So it has been done.  Only, they give this passage to me of all people, a monk, whose perhaps worst struggle with this life is trying to face a passage like this.  

But who’s they?  Each of us brothers are put on a rota for preaching.  And this morning’s Gospel passage happens to be how the chips have fallen.  It’s only Jesus telling this rich young man, telling me and you to perform his injunction.  He is the one facing us at this moment.  And that is important to remember.  It’s him telling us how far we’ve come and how much further to go.

The man coming to Jesus could be looking for some teaching, some words of inspiration, but I would be surprised if there wasn’t the least bit desire for justification or the assurance that all is OK.  He begins with some flattery.  “Good teacher … “.  But Jesus deflects that and gives credit where credit is due.  Then, comes the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Is there a hint behind this question of “Are you and I square, Jesus?  Am I in good with God?”  

Jesus responds with perhaps exactly what the guy is looking for.  Just follow the commandments.  Whew!  That’s the easy part!  But this guy blew it for us.  He could have walked away at that moment, and we all could have been off the hook.  But he sticks around and is insistent, it seems, to hear it out of Jesus’ mouth.  “All is good.  Keep it up.”

In the society of Jesus’ time, the prevailing thought was that people had wealth and prosperity simply because they were “good”.  They followed the laws and the commandments.  They did everything that was expected of them, and thus, God was on their side.

Not much has changed today really.  There actually is a them, a them, an us and a them.  Privilege comes at a cost.  It’s implied in the word itself.  If I’m privileged, others aren’t.  We have what others don’t.  

Privilege comes at a cost to us as well.  In my preparations for this sermon, I came across the existence of a PBS documentary entitled Affluenza.  The piece defines the neologism as “a painful contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste, resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.  The term has also been used to refer to an inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege.”  A pretty bleak future for us, I must say.    

But what if the prosperity and wealth isn’t enough for this man?  What if on some level he is desperately hoping that his “possessions” are not all there is?  

Jesus probably saw this man’s fear and anxiety about eternal life in the age to come.  Maybe Jesus heard what was behind the man’s question, “Is this all there is?”  Jesus, looking at him, loved him.  He LOVED him!  There is more.  There is an opportunity for non-attachment to and abandonment of possessions, for a freedom beyond separation, isolation, loneliness and fear.  There is the freedom to loosen his grip of control and open his hand to share his possessions, certainly, but also to find and share his true self, his soul, to follow Jesus.  There is the liberation to look beyond himself and respond to those at whose expense he flourishes.  There is the risk of being loved.

But the man walks away, the price is too high.  I’ve walked away again and again.   It’s too much of a shock to our systems, his and mine.  It’s so new, so strange, so foreign, and the repetitive voice in my head continuously hammers home that this life is inaccessible.  There’s no other way and don’t even think you can do it.  Now be a good boy, go out and buy a book that you will never read that alleges to tell you how to acquire eternal life.

Jesus knows what he is asking of us.  It costs as well.  Nothing less than what we hold on to for our own safety and security.  He loves us enough to allow us to walk away.  

But this begs the disciples’ question, who can be saved?  I wonder how many of them ask out of protest or defeat.  

We don’t know what happens to the man, but perhaps that is because his story is not over.  Filling the distance between Jesus’ love and this man’s fear is God.  Possibility is in control now, and yes, eternal life is accessible and given.  Not earned.  Our story is not over either.  For eternal life is given to all.  And we have our work cut out for us.  

For now we have community, “houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  We can no longer hide behind our possessions.    

Is the price too high?  I’m afraid I can’t answer that question for you.  I often can’t answer it for myself.

But I’ll say it again.  Jesus, looking at him, LOVED him.  Now what was the question again?

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Proper 22, Year B: Sunday, October 7, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC
Proper 21- Sunday, October 7, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC 
I’ll focus on the first pericope of today’s gospel passage. The one that deals with divorce, or is that what it deals with? Jesus talks about what is permissible under Mosaic law and what is intended for the Kingdom of God. What is intended for Kingdom-living is God-loving, life-giving relationships among humans.

But first, the Good News. We are all God’s Beloved regardless of our marital status or sexual orientation. And the Episcopal Church welcomes all of us regardless of the same. 

And the Table of the Lord is open to all baptized Christians here regardless of marital status or sexual orientation. And if you are not baptized yet, let’s talk about that as soon as possible after the service. The context of the discussion of divorce and adultery in today’s passage is one of many in the Gospels in which various authorities try to trap Jesus by asking him a question that they know has no good answer.

I believe The Episcopal Church achieves both appropriate pastoral care to its divorced and remarried members and, faithfulness to the will of God for right relationship amongst lovers. In discerning the will of God through this pericope on divorce, it is important to consider the context in which Jesus made his comments on divorce. And that context is that of a very patriarchal society. In Jesus´ time, marriage was mostly an economic transaction between two families in an economy where honor was the highest valued commodity.

The married woman, for all intents and purposes, became a second-class member in her husband´s family. At least until she produced a male heir to her husband. At that point, her son eventually became her best chance of protection against neglect or abuse by her in-laws.

On the other hand, a married man could pretty much treat his wife as he pleased. He could use the services of prostitutes without affecting the honor of his wife (which in any case was of very low concern to the whole social group they belonged to). If the married man committed adultery with a married woman, the husband of that woman was considered the injured party, not the wife of the adulterous husband. 
Married women were entirely dependent on the honor “bank account” of their husband and/or their son’s for their own honor. Married women were also entirely dependent on these relatives for the provision of their needs.

Despite verse 12 in our passage that has Jesus say ¨and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery,¨ only men could divorce their wife in the Israelite society of his day, not the other way round. 
Verse 12 has Jesus address the situation of Hellenized Jesus groups in the time of Mark´s redaction. Non-Jewish women who joined the Jesus movement at that time were free to initiate divorce under the civil law.

In Jesus´ lifetime, divorce amongst Israelites was only available to men. You might think: “well, what about Herodias?” Herodias was a high-ranking woman in the royal family. She divorced Herod Philip II to marry his brother Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. Herodias’ divorce and remarriage were considered by most as abhorrent abnormalities.

Ordinary women who were divorced for any reason were in great danger of not being taken back by their father´s family.  They were easily perceived as having sullied the honor of their biological family by failing to satisfy their ex-husband and his family. In such cases, many divorced women had to resort to begging or prostitution to survive.

The very partriarchal society in which Jesus lived and ministered treated women as property that accrued (or decreased) honor for their responsible males. Some refer to the kind of marriage that was then available as “chattel marriage.”

The marriage and divorce landscape that Jesus addresses is very different from marriage and divorce in our contemporary society. And this is not to say that patriarchy no longer applies in our society. As a multitude of events in the last year have only made too clear, patriarchy is still an active structure in our society.

So Jesus engages his audience to go beyond the letter of the law in order to live the kind of loving relationships the Kingdom of God ushers in. Divorce under the law remains permissible under the law. Jesus doesn’t repudiate the law as he himself insisted upon. 
But Jesus engages his audience to go well beyond the law. What is permissible under the law? The Pharisees who ask him about divorce already know the answer to that.

What is intended in the Kingdom of God? God intends human lovers to have non-exploitative, supportive and nurturing relationships as a reflection of God’s care and concern for all. In the process,  we note that Jesus advocates greater social safety and well-being for women in the framework of his day’s family institutions.

I use gender-neutral terms to refer to marriage because I do believe that The Episcopal Church also achieves both appropriate pastoral care to its same-gendered couples and faithfulness to the will of God for right relationship amongst lovers.

True, Jesus does not address LGBT relationships in the pericope we are reflecting upon. The kind of loving and committed LGBT relationships we now know did not exist in his time. But I believe Jesus’ intent for right relationship amongst lovers extends to all-gendered love relationships.
In anglican tradition, marriage achieves three goals. First, it offers companionship and covenantal union between two humans. Second, it provides a context for procreation and the raising of children. Finally, it provides a legitimate outlet for sexual desire. Hopefully, all this is achieved on a foundation of mutual respect and love. I believe we do well to provide the benefits of marriage to all who desire them and love each other regardless of gender.

All this being said, I also believe that Jesus’ intent for the Kingdom of God means married couples should avoid a frivolous divorce. Sometimes, we need to stay the course, forgive and try again. It’s one of the things that we monks undertake with our vow of stability.

Also, Jesus teaches us that sexual or romantic desire for a third party should not be the reason to seek divorce. In such cases, we should seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

But divorce can be contemplated when injury (moral or physical) has durably eclipsed mutual respect and love between the spouses. There is no reason to endorse on-going abuse in any human relationship.

Marriage can work as a metaphor of the relationship between humans and God. But when the relationship has deteriorated beyond repair, separation and divorce can offer each spouse new chances for integrity to build up Kingdom-of-God relationships.

One of the many things I love in this Episcopal Church of ours is that all are welcome to the table of the Lord; singles, married folks, divorced folks, remarried folks, whatever their sexual orientation may be. With the grace of God, we refrain from judging each other on our differences.

God of love, teach us to be in right relationship with each other, in marriage or outside marriage. Help us be loving to all parties to a divorce or a remarriage. And help us nurture marriages that are fruitful in love and radiate your love to those who surround them.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Feast of the Dedication of St Augustine’s Church- October 4, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bob Pierson, OHC
Feast of the Dedication of St Augustine’s Church
Thursday, October 4, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. Bob Pierson, OHC
Genesis 28:10-17
First Peter 2:1-5, 9-10
Matthew 21: 12-16

This truth shouldn’t surprise us because if we are honest, we know that God uses the less than perfect to make Godself known, repeatedly.  No one that God calls is ever perfect.  

God works with flawed humanity to make God’s purpose real in the world.  Which of course means, God uses us, along with all our imperfections, to be God’s people in the world. 

The same is true for “The Church,” the Body of Christ made up of baptized believers of every race and nation, of every denomination and social class.  We all are called to be “living stones” that are “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to try to be the best that we can be.  But it does mean that God is not limited by our faults and foibles.

And we do that by “ridding ourselves of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.” We are God’s own people.  God help us to really become who you call us to be, so that those who know us can truly say, “Surely the Lord is in this place!”

“How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  These words from the mouth of Jacob describe how I feel about every place of worship I have ever seen, including this church.  This IS an awesome place, and yet it is far from perfect.  It’s still going to be cold in the winter, and the walls still look like we have a permanent water feature that doesn’t work very well.  And yet, this IS the house of God for us, where we meet God in the liturgy of the church day in and day out.