Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin - Thursday, August 15, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Bob Pierson, OHC
The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin - Thursday, August 15, 2019

Isaiah 61:10-11
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 1:46-55

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Feast of the Transfiguration - Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Rev. Matthew Wright, CRC
The Feast of the Transfiguration - Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Exodus 34:29-35
2 Peter 1:13-21
Luke 9:28-36

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

This Gospel story of the Transfiguration is maybe my favorite.  And honestly, I’m not sure if I can say why I love it so much.  But I have a sense that it’s because in some way the whole mystery of the Gospel is present in this one moment, this one scene—and maybe all of the Gospel is present in every moment.  But this particular scene captures so many layers of meaning.  Some scholars have called it a “misplaced” or a “proleptic” Resurrection appearance, because it so resembles the later scenes of Jesus’ appearing.  It’s almost like the Transfiguration gives us a sneak preview of what’s to come at Easter.

And at the same time that the Resurrection is present here in advance, we’re also back at the moment of Jesus’ baptism, when the Divine Voice declares him “my Son, the Beloved” (or here in Luke’s telling, “my Chosen”).  And I think in a way, the Crucifixion, which John’s Gospel calls Jesus’ “glorification” is also present here, on the holy mountain.  We’re told that Moses and Elijah “were speaking of his departure [his death], which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”  And so, in some way, that too is here.

New Testament scholar Dale Allison calls the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion “twin images.”  He says that these two images, “represent the extremities of human experience… Jesus is the great illustration of both pain and hope; he is humanity exalted and humanity glorified.”  In some way, the Crucifixion is present here in the Transfiguration, and the Transfiguration shines through even in, maybe especially in, Jesus’ dying on the Cross.

Luke and the other Gospel authors shows us that this Transfiguration moment happens in some way outside of time—or that it contains all time—by showing us Moses and Elijah, two of the great figures of salvation history, also present.  And so I like to imagine, held in this one moment, the whole Gospel, the whole of salvation history: the light at the beginning, on the first day of creation, shining here; the light of the prophets who have come throughout time; the Voice at the baptism of Jesus, speaking still; Jesus’ glorification at the Crucifixion; the light bursting forth from the tomb at the Resurrection; and the light into which everything will be enfolded on the Last Day—all of it present, all of it held, in this one moment.

And again, maybe it would be better to say, all of it present in every moment; all of it seen, revealed, in this moment.  People who have had near-death experiences often talk about their entire life flashing before them in a moment.  Well, perhaps here we have the entire life of creation, from the Big Bang to the final return into God, flashing before us in the face of Jesus.

In Malcolm Guite’s Transfiguration sonnet, he writes that “The Love that dances at the heart of things / Shone out upon us from a human face” and he calls this seeing a “glimpse of how things really are.”  Here we see here in this moment the fullness of God, that’s actually present in every moment, and we see every moment held in the light of that fullness.

But how is it that we see this?  What allows such seeing?  Luke tells us that “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed…”  While he was praying.  This whole text, this whole experience, hinges on the fact that Jesus was in prayer.  Prayer is the doorway into this light.  And by prayer, I don’t simply mean having a conversation with God—although that can certainly be a doorway—but rather I mean that deep state of abiding, of opening and surrendering into God’s love.  I imagine all of us have seen this same light dancing in the face, in the eyes, of someone who was truly prayerful.

Many of you here who are monks here will of course remember Avery Brooke, who was an oblate of this monastery.  In her book Finding God in the World she tells about an experience she had while meeting with someone for spiritual direction; she writes: “Once one of my directees had just done something of which she was horribly ashamed.  She was utterly mired in feelings of despair and sat in my study with her head buried in her hands.  No words of mine penetrated and I didn’t know what to do.  But God did, and I found myself caught up in a tremendous peace and surety.  It was so strong, I knew it must be showing on my face, so I told her over and over, ‘Look at me.  Just look at me.’  Finally, she did, and it was all right, as I knew it would be.  Afterward she said to me wonderingly, ‘You were the love of God to me.’  And I knew she was right and that the action had been God’s, not mine.”

We’re told in our scripture readings today that both Moses’ and Jesus’ faces shone in this way with Divine Light.  Prayer, surrendering into God, opens us to this Light, to the Eternal, allows it to shine through us, and puts all things in proper perspective, allowing us to see things as they really are.

The Eastern Orthodox tradition has spent a lot of time unpacking the Transfiguration, and the accepted teaching is that what is seen on Mount Tabor, shining through Jesus, is the Uncreated Light; what’s sometimes called the “Taborian Light.”  And they say that it’s this same Light that was encountered as “the glory of God” in the Hebrew Scriptures, that it’s also the Light of the Resurrection, and the light of the flames at Pentecost—one Light suffusing all Scripture, all creation—and in these moments, when our eyes are readied by prayer, and sometimes in moments that take us entirely by surprise, we see it.  And some theologians go so far to say that even the fires of hell are simply this One Light, encountered by narrow, squinty eyes that are not yet ready, not yet adjusted, to behold its full glory.  And so we start readying our eyes to behold this light now, in prayer.

St. Augustine looked inward in prayer and found this Light in his own soul.  In his Confessions, written towards the end of the fourth century, he says: “I entered into the secret closet of my soul, led by You; and this I could do because You were my helper. I entered, and beheld with the mysterious eye of my soul the Light that never changes [...]. It was not the common light which all flesh can see [...]. It was not like this, but different: altogether different from all such things. [...] One who knows the truth knows that Light and knows eternity.  Love knows it.”

A century later the man we remember as Dionysius the Areopagite wrote in his Celestial Hierarchy: “...the Light spreads itself generously toward us, and, in its power to unify, it stirs us by lifting us up.  It returns us back to the oneness and deifying simplicity of the Father who gathers us in.”

In one sense, the Gospel is nothing more than a constant revealing and refracting of this One Light: calling us Chosen and Beloved in the waters of baptism; on the Cross, revealing its presence in, and its holding of, our suffering and pain; in the Resurrection, assuring us that Love is stronger even than death—and all of it, the whole story, present today in the fullness of the Light of the Transfiguration.  This one simple and unifying Light of the Father, refracted in so many beautiful ways, always working to gather us in.

And we all are invited, challenged, to join in this work as we join with Jesus in prayer.  As he prayed, his face was changed.  As we pray, we are changed, and we become vessels of the Light.  In her poem “Mother Wisdom Speaks,” Christine Lore Webber writes about this process of being opened and transfigured in prayer, and I give her here the last word.  She writes—or better, God speaks:
Some of you I will hollow out.
I will make you a cave.
I will carve you so deep the stars will shine in your darkness.
You will be a bowl.
You will be the cup in the rock collecting rain.
I will hollow you with knives.
I will not do this to make you clean.
I will not do this to make you pure
You are clean already.
You are pure already.
I will do this because the world needs the hollowness of you.
I will do this for the space that you will be.
I will do this because you must be large.
A passage.
People will find their way through you.
A bowl.
People will eat from you.
And their hunger will not weaken them to death.
A cup to catch the sacred rain.
My daughter, do not cry.
Do not be afraid.
Nothing you need will be lost.
I am shaping you.
I am making you ready.
Light will flow in your hollowing.
You will be filled with light.
Your bones will shine.
The round open center of you will be radiant.
I will call you brilliant one.
I will call you daughter who is wide.
I will call you transformed.
I will call you transfigured.  Transfigured by the One Light that is the Love dancing at the heart of things; the One Light that holds every moment, that contains the fullness of the Gospel; the One Light by which we see things as they really are.  With Jesus, may we all so pray—and may we all be so transfigured.  Amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Pentecost 7C - Sunday, July 28, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. John Forbis, OHC
Pentecost 7C - Sunday, July 28, 2019

Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19)
Luke 11:1-13

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

I have had a love/hate relationship with this Gospel passage during various stages of my life.  I have only just realized this by beginning this sermon about three or four times.  A few days ago, I felt that something had clicked into place for me, and even had a clever quote ready to use.  But then, I abandoned that idea as well.  I was trying to make Luke say what it wasn’t saying.  This Gospel is also not to be cheapened by a clever quote.  So what happened to bring me to a place where I could preach to you today with any amount of integrity?  Prayer happened. 

Being younger and na├»ve as a boy and teenager, I assumed the literal, that if I ask for anything it will be given to me; if I search, I will find; knock, and the door will be opened for me.  However, I didn’t really believe in my heart of hearts that this would be the case.  And so, I tried to get, find and to force a door open and barge in or beg and manipulate others to do so.  I was eager to see my prize. 

Meanwhile, God sends me the message while wrestling with this Gospel, “Is that it?  Is that really all you want?  Well, OK, but you might be disappointed.”

Then, becoming older and wiser, as a later teenager, college student and even into my earliest years in monastic life, I saw the asking, the searching and knocking as encouragement to intellectualize, philosophize, to figure out the world and God.  I had the opening I needed to be wiser than God. 

And God says, No, not even close. 

As I stand here today, my frustration level is a little heightened.  For there are a lot of snakes and scorpions that are being handed out, especially to children.  So, I have been not just asking, but demanding justice for the last three years since I’ve been back from South Africa.  I witnessed so many needs deferred by corruption, deceit and disregard for anyone but for themselves who engage in these travesties.  Then, coming back to this country, I was shocked to see the same behavior, only more blatant.  Where is the God whom Paul describes to the Colossians, “disarming the rulers and authorities and making a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”  Sweep away the wicked rulers and authorities, and give back the fish and eggs!!  I may think I’m asking for justice, but all I am asking for is more of the same.  Retribution.  I become just another one creating more travesty. 

God’s sedate response, “Nope.  Not good enough.”

The man who is showing us God’s true identity is the same man who forgives us to the point of nailing what a punitive society expects us to owe, including demands for payback to the Cross.   He carries all of this and gives his life for peace and forgiveness.  The Cross is what disarms, triumphs and even makes public examples of those who are handing out the snakes and scorpions, of me.  Jesus stands in stark contrast to the chaotic and violent desires swirling around him. 

Nothing less than a complete transformation will do for God.  But he won’t force it upon us.  We can take it or leave it.  We have a choice.  God loves us that much. 

Yet, God’s desire for us is still so much more.  While we have our own cravings for which we so desperately ask, seek and pound on doors, God’s hunger is to give us the Holy Spirit.  This gift is as natural to him as it is for a parent, even an evil one, to ensure their child’s physical needs.

The Holy Spirit is the one to sweep away hate and violence.  The Holy Spirit is the one to disarm all of us into a life that is not defended, not vengeful, not grasping, not based on greed or fear, but on the enormous life of healing, restoration, forgiveness and peace, so much bigger and beyond what we can imagine.  So much is good enough! 

A disciple wants to be taught how to pray.  Is he looking for a trick?  A device?  A formula?  Jesus seems more concerned with what we pray rather than how we pray.  Jesus’ prayer is pared down to the bare minimum, and what’s important is what we ask, for what we search, on which door do we knock.  Often underlying my recital of this prayer is a complaint to God, “Is this it?”  I foolishly want more.  But what more do I need?  IT is PLENTY!  It is the prayer that truly asks for our own transformation!!!

We use the plural.  It isn’t just about what each of us desire, but we’re a community praying for enough bread, for forgiveness and to forgive, to not be drawn into the trials of evil, cruel actions, and victimization.  We ask for deliverance but not alone.  We ask to live in Christ, rooted and built up in him and established in faith, praying his words with him.  Vengeance, hatred, violence, death has no business being in our hearts because our one integrated heart beats for God’s will to be done in heaven and on earth.  Yet, the prayer calls for more, for heaven, God’s kingdom, to come right here to earth … God’s Kingdom, not our own!  In this prayer, we beg God daily, again and again, to lead us not into temptation to ask for less, search only in our domain, to knock on the door of emptiness but directly to the place where heaven and earth meet.   

Psalm 85 provides a gorgeous image for this:
9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *
that his glory may dwell in our land.
10 Mercy and truth have met together; *
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
What if we are invited to do nothing less than to be what Jesus teaches us to pray to be?  What if we allow these few words to mean so much, to spring us up from the earth to be truth, peace and righteousness itself?  What if within us they kiss, look to each other for answers, find and come through an open door?  Can you imagine? 

Nope.  There’s more …