Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Solemnity of James Otis Sargent Huntington - Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Aidan Owen, OHC
The Solemnity of James Otis Sargent Huntington - Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Nehemiah 5:1–12
Galatians 6:14–18
John 6:34–38

Click here for an audio version of this sermon.


In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overflowing. Amen.

You know the man. He was, in Fr. Whittemore’s recollection, “a big man. He was holy. He had a massive intellect. His head and features were beautifully moulded. His lips were full, mobile, extraordinarily expressive. His large eyes looked through yours into the depths of your soul.”

You can still experience that gaze in the extraordinary pastel portrait of Father Huntington in the crypt. He still looks through you into the depths of your soul. But gently, sweetly, and tenderly.

“Our Father Founder was a born leader,” Fr. Whittemore continues. “Men followed him with devoted loyalty. He led. He never pushed. He had more respect for the liberty of everyone with whom he came in contact than anyone I have ever known.”

Yes, he was a leader, a founder, a visionary. He was a tireless advocate for justice for the working poor. He was also a devoted and humble servant of the community he founded, famously hating the title “Father Founder,” because he felt it separated him from his brothers, as it almost certainly has done.

I will admit to feeling some sympathy with this hesitance. In preparing for this sermon, I kept asking “what is uniquely holy about the Founder?” How is he, apart from the rest of our deceased or living brothers, particularly saintly?

Yes, he founded our Order. But he didn’t do so alone. He was simply the only one of our three founders who stayed. And yes, his thought, personality, and piety have shaped us, particularly through the treasury of his Rule. And yet, it is perhaps truer to say that the tension between Father Huntington’s personality and vision and that of Father Hughson have shaped and continue to shape us, supported all the while, by Father Whittemore’s remembrance of the early years and his gentle, unifying vision, which continues gives silent shape and structure to our sense of ourselves.

These three together, I would argue, were and continue to be the great, guiding lights of our common life.

Where, then, do Father Huntington’s particular sanctity and witness lie?

Father Whittemore remembers a particular and striking detail of the Founder’s life. He writes “The Father encouraged one to ‘live dangerously.’ He said to me once that each of the saints was within a hair’s breadth of being a heretic. Apparently what he meant was that the saints were not content with taking conventional ideas of religion ready-made and timidly or slothfully resting back on them but that they pushed their wills and affections and reasons to the uttermost in their courageous quest for Truth. Because it was indeed Truth that the saints sought and because they surrendered themselves to God at the cost of their own inclinations and sentiments they were preserved by Him from error and led on to fuller and fuller visions of His glory.”

Father Huntington’s great respect for the freedom of the individual—seen here particularly in his encouragement to ‘live dangerously,’—is, perhaps, his most palpable legacy to us, his children. He was so insistent on the importance of individual liberty that he came close to making an idol of it, so close as to be within a hair’s breadth of being a heretic.

We can see this in his enthusiasm for new ideas, in his instinctive “yes” when a member of the Order suggested a new course or ministry, in the careful attention he gave to his brothers and those under his care, and in his desire for the Order to develop the capacities of its individual members rather than to form pious automatons. He felt that, in general, “we should consecrate the things of this world not so much by their disuse as by using them for God’s glory.”

We can also see his fanaticism for the liberty of the individual in his reticence to offer his opinion in community meetings, lest he sway the common mind, a reticence that also shows up in his shyness and his apparent ambivalence about personal closeness. And we see it, too, in his reported unwillingness to say no to his brothers, even when it was in their own best interest that he curb their actions.

Why this focus on freedom?

The answer shines forth from his Rule, whose beating heart is its soaring passages on the surrender of the monk to God. He writes “We are to bear in mind that the vow of obedience is the portal of the religious state. That sate is constituted by a covenant wherein the soul gives itself, all its powers and faculties, together with the body and all material possessions, to God. […] From this it follows that obedience is the chief among the three vows of the religious state, since by obedience man offers to God the intellect, the will, the whole being, as not only a sacrifice but a holocaust.”

He goes on, “The virtue of obedience is the dying to self, to self-interest, self-pleasing, self-love. ‘Christ became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.’ […] We obey not that we may live more peacefully, but that we may die more perfectly. The peace will come only when the sharpness of self-annihilation has been felt, when, through death itself, we have entered into the liberty of the sons of God, and can say, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’”

True freedom can only be found in loving submission to the one who first modeled that submission for us. The submission of our monastic obedience, which is to say our free gift of ourselves to God through our common life, can only be accomplished to the degree that we are free to make that commitment. Only a free person can submit; otherwise we live in a kind of slavery, coerced by our needs, resentments, and fears.

The result of the free offering of our entire self to God is the perfect freedom of the children of God, where we, too, can say that Christ lives in us.

We see the fruits of this free self-offering in the Founder’s life, and they are the signs of his sanctity and the promise of our own. He was, in Father Whittemore’s recollection, “the most utterly pure and innocent adult I have ever known.”

That kind of innocence rises from the ashes of our self-immolation. It is not the innocence of children, of never having hurt or been hurt. Rather, it is an adult innocence and a Christian one. It is the innocence of one who has been found guilty of all charges, who has been forgiven utterly and completely, and who has been reborn beyond all understanding through the love and mercy of Jesus.

It is the kind of innocence that looks at what the world calls reasonable and laughs, not with derision, but with love and compassion for the confused muddle in which we find ourselves. This innocence is the peace that the world cannot give. And it is the source and the end of Christian hope.

In the end, it is perhaps Father Huntington’s innocence and that of all God’s saints that comes closest to heresy and to holiness. For in a world that is falling apart around us, none of us is free from evil’s stain. We all have blood on our hands, greed in our hearts, and pettiness on our tongues.

To trust so totally in the mercy of God that we can offer ourselves freely and completely—what foolishness that must seem to the world we live in. What foolishness it must seem to us, too, much of the time. To dare for the innocence of the redeemed really is to live dangerously, freely, and joyfully in a violent, chaotic, and beautiful world.

May God’s mercy bring each of us to that innocence and freedom of the children of God. And may Blessed James and all the saints intercede for us always. Amen.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Last Sunday after Pentecost - Sunday, November 24, 2019

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. John Forbis, OHC
Last Sunday After Pentecost - Christ the King - Sunday, November 24, 2019

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

We, Christians, are strange people. The world looks to royalty to be either imperial rulers or symbols of national pride and patriotism.

We worship one who is executed as a blasphemer and seditionist. He hangs between two thieves. We institute a feast in which we call him “King”. He never accepted this title himself. When Pilate tries to coerce him to admit he is a king, he responds cryptically, “You say that I am.”

He is a “King” who would not be King: an anti-king. We worship a man nailed to wood; a crown of thorns gouged into his head. He is an object of mockery and derision, including the pièce de résistance – a plaque above his head also calling him King of the Jews, a title reserved only for Herod.

The temptations from the Devil have come back to haunt him. The masses taunt him with familiar phrases, “If you are the Son of God, save yourself.” This execution surely must be the opportune time for the devil to return.

However, despite the jeers that taunt him to doubt God’s affirmation of him as the beloved Son with whom he is well pleased, the King Anti-King will not be averted from the one thing that is the culmination of his mission and fulfillment of his eminence as the Beloved Son of God.

He dies of his own will. He dies forgiving. He dies promising paradise to a thief. He commends himself into God’s hands.

Yes, we, Christians, are strange people indeed. If we are suffering, we are not compelled to look for the quick fix, to desperately seek out comfort and avoidance of conflict – the immediate gratification compensating for our pain and loss. Instead, we are urged to endure … to exercise patience, exude joy and gratitude for sharing in others’ pain, saints in light and embrace God’s grace and transformation pouring from God’s own grieving heart. This costs the King/anti-King everything and costs God his Beloved.

He is also the anti-King who tells us, as we read just two days ago, that unless we are like children, vulnerable and dependent upon God, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. If we refuse or hinder these children, ourselves and each other, we are refusing Christ, and if we’re refusing Christ, we might as well don a millstone around our necks and jump into the sea and drown in its depths.

This King who would not be King advises us to cut off our hand and foot, tear out our eye and throw them away if they cause us to stumble. Blindness, lameness and being maimed are preferable to the alternative, says the one whose sense of his intimate and familial relationship with God is placed into jeopardy by the devil’s attempt to cause him to stumble and the devil’s anti-victory at his Crucifixion.

But how can he expect us to submit to such horrors?

Well, he is a broken man, derided, mocked, taunted, tortured. Blood blinds his eyes from his ghastly crown, streams from his hands and feet and finally from a deep gash in his side. He is lame, maimed and blind.

The other bitter reality is that I am quite capable to play many roles in this grotesquerie. I could be a Roman soldier vying for his purple cloak, a self-righteous religious judge fooling myself that I am proving Jesus wrong, a blasphemer, a charlatan. I am a part of the crowd who jeers and mocks and can’t turn myself away from the voyeuristic fascination of this blood feast. I could even be one of his crucifiers.

We are drowning, lame, maimed, blind who have no idea what we are doing, people who has and does betray others, ourselves and most of all, God. Yet, from his terrible anti-throne of suffering, Jesus speaks forgiveness. He doesn’t just invite us into his kingdom that is not a kingdom.

It’s a foregone conclusion. We will be and are today with him in nothing less than paradise! A place beyond anything we can ask or imagine, a power of complete surrender, emptying and sacrifice, an anti-power beyond time and space as we know it.

Jesus promises eternity. The Resurrection follows, it has happened. It happens still. It happens now as we celebrate this feast in this place. This paradise permeates all that we do and are, how we are creatively transformed and reconciled to God, how we welcome, clear the way and serve the child to enter community with us as Jesus welcomes and opens the way of life and wholeness for the thief

Not only does Jesus subvert the image of king, but he subverts whom we blindly think and concede we are, a people consigned to greed, self-interest, ignorance, hatred and violence. A gang of crucifiers or ingratiators to kings for our own advancement, a concession to being irredeemable, beyond mercy and forgiveness.

Just when we are drowning in and crippled by tyranny, Christ’s love is stronger than death. As I am seduced, duped into blame and indifference, Christ, the victim of all of these abuses, offers forgiveness for what he endures from and for us. To a criminal consumed by guilt and self-punishment, seeking connection and recognition, he offers not hope but a promise.

From Christ’s anti-throne, the cross, the anti-King lords over nothing. He gives up power for which we can commit the most heinous acts. The anti-King refuses retaliation and vengeance for which we vehemently clamor or coldly expect. In death he insists on life, love and healing.

As Christ is defeated and deposed from his anti-reign he chose for himself, he becomes the triumph of God’s transformative life beyond time, wholeness that gathers us, the crippled remnant, from wherever we are scattered into God’s paradise and love that overcomes tyranny, destruction, violence and finally death. Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pentecost 23C - Sunday, November 17, 2019

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Pentecost 23C - Proper 28 - Sunday, November 17, 2019

Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

The book of Isaiah is the second-most quoted book of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament (after the book of Psalms). If the book of Psalms was Jesus’ book of common prayer, the book of Isaiah was known to him enough that, when handed the scroll of that book, he could find exactly the passage he wanted to read from (Luke 4:17).

In many ways, Jesus’s birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection are the embodiment of prophetic utterances in the book of Isaiah. We are soon to enter a season of expectant hope, Advent. The season of Advent looks both backward and forward to the realizations of such hopes.

Today’s text from Isaiah offers a vision of this expectant hope. God the ever-creative momentum of the universe is about to create new heavens and a new earth. The text is sometimes understood to refer to the end times.

But when God says “I AM,” “I AM about to create” doesn’t that speak of the eternal now, this very instant we are living? God is impatient for this new creation to break into our world. God is not waiting till the end of times for this to be realized.

Jesus himself says the Kingdom of God, this new creation, is in the midst of us (Luke 17:21). God desires us as co-creators of the new Jerusalem. If we consent, we can be instruments of God’s dream for creation.

This new creation that God is about to reveal is not a utopia, as in a dream that has no place in reality. This new creation demands our engagement in the gospel of Jesus Christ every day of our life.

*****

The third author of the book of Isaiah who speaks to us in today’s passage was addressing the Jewish people who were just returning from exile. They were discovering a distraught and destroyed Jerusalem. They had to start anew in very difficult conditions.

They might very well have chosen to weep and mourn former things that were no more. Or they might also stand with the Creator-God, let past things be in the past, and build a new Jerusalem.

And the prophet Isaiah gives us a wondrous list of characteristics of this new Jerusalem. Some characteristics might sound like the electoral program of a presidential hopeful. Mind you, our politicians could do worse than take a leaf out of Isaiah.

First of all, the new Jerusalem is a city. We are not going back to the Garden of Eden where we could be alone with God. We are looking at a civil society where we build our future together. We will relate to God as a community. We will thrive together. We can’t do this alone. God is enrolling every available laborer in this project.

We are no longer going to dwell on our losses and our past glories. We are going to be forward-looking.

We will be healthier, more joyful and more prosperous than we can imagine. We will live out fulfilled lifetimes.

We will have economic justice. All will have fruitful livelihoods and will be able to enjoy the fruit of those livelihoods. There shall not be domination over our lives or exploitation of our labor.

We will be happy that our children get to enjoy what we will enjoy ourselves. We won’t worry about their future being bleaker than our present.

And then, as a fledgling Vegan, I can’t help but rejoice at the thought that wolves and lions are going Vegan too (although I aspire to better than a meal of straw).

Think of all the ways we can engage our present predicaments to move into this direction and usher in the Kingdom of God here and now. You don’t need to cure cancer (but if you can, by all means, please do). You can start with offering a cool glass of water to those in need. Every little action in favor of our common good counts in this endeavor.

And God will cooperate with you every step of the way. God will delight in your consent to build the new Jerusalem with God. God will rejoice in your collaboration.

And with God, you will remove the causes of weeping and distress. Before people cry for help, we will come to their aid. We shall be the answer to people’s prayers.

Of course, some also draw comfort from the thought that no matter how short we fall from embodying the vision, God will complete it in the end. At the end of times, God will make perfect what we have started to accomplish with God.

Well yes, probably, but why wait until then? Insisting on Isaiah’s vision being an eschatological vision, a vision of the end times only, seems like a cop out to me. Why labor at building the new Jerusalem, when God the Creator himself will finish it off in a New York minute at the end of times? Why bother? We don’t know when time will end. My understanding of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection is that God desires us to try and help in the meantime.

I want Isaiah’s vision to inform my life and that of our Christian community. It is a vision that has universal appeal. We can share it with all of humanity and all of God’s creation. It is truly a vision for the greater common good of all creation.

Remember this vision throughout the coming season of Advent. Etymologically, Advent means “what is to come.” Remember the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, of Jesus the Christ and of the new Jerusalem he prefigures.


Beloved Lord, thank you for Isaiah’s rendering of God’s vision of a new Jerusalem. Thank you for Jesus emboldening us in the building of the Kingdom of God here and now. Help us join the multitude of your laborers no matter how late the hour. We look forward to sharing the fruits of our labor with all and with You. Amen.