Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
RCL - Proper 4 A - Sunday 01 June 2008
Genesis 6:9-22; 7:24; 8:14-19
Romans 1:16-17; 3:22b-31
Today’s readings seem rather mysterious to me. The Gospel is from the seventh chapter of Matthew which begins with the admonition, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” This is followed by “Cast not your pearls before swine,” “Knock and it shall be opened,” “Which of you if your child asks for bread would give a stone?,” “If you then who are evil know how to give good gifts to your, How much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!,” 7:12: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.”
We all know these sayings. I did not know or did not remember till writing this homily that they are all packed into the seventh chapter of Mathew. In this context the wisdom of “not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” I am relieved to know that my salvation does not depend on my doing many deeds of power and calling on the name of the Lord. Still I am puzzled by the possibility and indeed the requirement that a miserable sinner like me has to do the will of the Father or be cast into hell.
Clearly the will of the Father has to do with building a house on a firm foundation. This firm foundation is the will of God which the follower of Jesus knows as the self sacrificing love of God. One does good to one’s fellows not because they are wonderful people but because they have at the core of their being the image and likeness of God. Strangely enough, this image and likeness is to be found in all sorts and conditions of people not just well educated folks with good manners. Recognizing this image of God and honoring it in my fellow humans is my way of showing love for God, and it is my way of trying to build a firm foundation for my eternal home.
Think of this reminds me of something that happened in 1993 at Mount Calvary in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is an earthly paradise, at least climatically, that is blessed in many ways. One of those blessings is that it used to be home for a wonderful collection of homeless people. One of Br. William Brown’s stories is that a well dressed homeless lady remarked to him that Santa Barbara has a better class of homeless than other places. She was well dressed because the Salvation Army there is well furnished with the cast offs of the wealthy. She also remarked that she was going to spend the winter in Santa Ana, which, I suppose, has an even better class of homeless than Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara’s collection of homeless people included some men whom I would guess are schizophrenic. Donald was one of them. Donald had gotten know Mt. Calvary in the late 70’s or early 80’s. When I knew him, he was genuinely incoherent and could not have fitted into the context of a monastic retreat house. Still, he continued to call the guest house office, and his remarks generally had something to do with police cars, helicopters, and moon beams. He was a little scary. I usually got the calls, and for a long time I would say as forcefully as I could, “Donald, don’t you ever call here again” and hang up. One day the secretary, Rachel, said, “Lary, that sounds so bad.” I thought about that. Of course she was right. The next time Donald called I said “God Bless You, Donald.” He said, “Thank you, Father.” Apparently all he really wanted from me was a Blessing. Of course he continued to call, and I continued to say, “God Bless you, Donald.” Donald became a blessing rather than a curse.
I still marvel in God’s mercy to me. Through Rachel I received the grace to hear the voice of God say, “Give blessings not curses.” I wish I could say that from moment I was filled with wisdom and love, and never had to face another collapse. My foundations have had to be replaced and shored up several times. These days I am trying to build on the sure foundation of God’s love.
Today’s psalm, which we did not read, includes one of my favorite verses,
Blessed be the Lord!
for he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city. Psalm 31:21I am the besieged city. God’s love is the wall that defends my city.