Sunday, January 14, 2018

Second Sunday after the Epiphany: January 14, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Second Sunday after the Epiphany- Sunday, January 14, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. Robert James Magliula
To be called by God means that God knows one’s name and being known by one’s name, is a powerful influence on us. To be called by God is an act of intimacy and divine urgency. This truth is woven through our readings this morning.

In the summons to Samuel, God instructs Samuel first to listen. An old man and a young boy collaborate to hear God’s call and vision. The old man knows the ways of the Lord and guides Samuel in the art of listening. 

Although Eli failed to pass on faithfulness to his own sons, he now serves as a spiritual parent to his young charge. It takes the attentiveness of the young Samuel and the wisdom of the old Eli to birth this new thing God is doing. Human speaking and hearing now become one of the main means by which the light of God’s revelation breaks into the world. This listening, hearing, and responding becomes a communal affair.

The communal nature of God’s call is articulated by Paul to the Corinthians. They are not their own but were bought with the cross of Christ. Freedom comes from belonging to Christ. What glorifies God is what is beneficial, not principally to themselves, but to their community. Paul interprets being members of Christ in a radical way by proposing that this intimate union with Christ is analogous to a sexual union. For Paul, the body is not just an ephemeral entity inferior to the soul. Rather, it is the locus of the union with Christ in the life of the Christian. Paul urges them and us to remember that because their bodies are united to Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in them, making their very bodies sacred temples.

In John’s Gospel Jesus is deciding not just where to go next but who to call and take with him. All the Gospels agree that it is not enough to believe in Jesus. The call to discipleship consists in following him. Jesus had the capacity to see a person in their true light. The encounter with Christ is a potent force that propels Philip and Nathaniel. It is the sheer presence of Christ that draws them. Their call is not so much a call to mission as it is an invitation to an epiphany, or more accurately, a Christophany. Jesus the Son of Man is the ultimate ladder stretching between earth and heaven. He is the point of contact between the finite and the infinite, the conjunction of time and eternity.

Our call to relationship, as that of those encountering God in today’s readings, is a two-way street, involving talking, listening, and responding. How do our preconceptions of God and God’s activity prevent us from an authentic encounter with God? We have heard the phrase “created in the image and likeness of God” so often that we don’t appreciate what it says about us. Our family of origin is divine. We were created by a loving God to be love in the world. Our core is not original sin, but original blessing. Good theology cannot make up for negative anthropology. From God’s side, we are always known and loved subject to subject, just as the persons of the Trinity know and love one another. We are never an object to God. Yet, like Samuel, all too often we are sleeping, not fully sensing the divinity around us or within us. Our hearts, minds, and souls are dulled so that we can spend our lives in the temple, but never hear or recognize God’s call.

Discipleship and Christology fit together closely because discipleship is first of all a willingness to walk with Jesus. Christology unfolds in the course of discipleship. It is not obedience to an abstract set of codes, but consent to a costly, life-giving relationship. In walking with Jesus, we learn who he is. As we learn who he is, we learn what it means to follow him.

All relationships take nourishing—the one with God more than most. So many things draw us away from it. We live on the plane of the tangible and feed it with things and events and people. Those are the things that occupy our minds. The spiritual plane we take for granted, though nothing affects us more than the loss of it. When we’re lonely or depressed or agitated or frightened, the material is of little or no help. What we really need then is the anchoring that only the spiritual can bring. We need the awareness that though life is not in our hands right now, it is surely in the hands of a God who loves us. It is this anchoring in the spiritual that lifts us above the pressures of the present to the renewed consciousness of the eternal stability of the God.

The hallmark of a Benedictine community responding to God’s call lies in its prayer life. It is the essential foundation of our life. Prayer is a cultivated state. It takes time. It takes attention. Most of all it takes consistency.

Consistency is what raises simple regularity to the level of relationship. It is the awareness of God that draws us, whether or not we feel any immediate personal satisfaction.

Every spiritual tradition forms a person in some kind of regular practice designed to focus the mind and heart. Our regular prayer here reminds us that life is punctuated by God, encircled by God. To interrupt the day with prayer draws us beyond the present to the timelessness of eternity. Prayer and regular spiritual practices remind us of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and where our lives are going. It sustains us on the way. It is the effort to put ourselves in the presence of God over and over again in the course of the day that prepares us for the abiding Presence that is our home.

Prayer is not a spiritual vending machine. It is also not meant to be an escape from life. Real prayer plunges us into life. It gives us new eyes. It shapes a new heart within us. It makes demands on us. It’s so easy to escape into the small self and call the escape holiness. Those who truly invest themselves in God invest themselves in others. We are put here to love, not for the sake of the other alone, but for our own sake as well. When our prayer is a journey into the heart of God, then we come to understand ourselves: our fears, our darkness, our struggles, our resistance, our choices. All too often, for social approval, or fear of risk, or self-doubt, we have learned to resist the call of God to our full development. Prayer does not simply reveal us to God and God to us. It reveals us to ourselves at the same time. The round of daily prayer can become the way we are brought to encounter ourselves.

It is our self-knowledge that equips us to love another as a person, rather than an idea.  In loving we turn ourselves over to be shaped and reshaped in life. The people who love us do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. They release the best in us. They carry us through the rough times. They stretch us beyond the confines of our own experiences to wider and truer visions. They show us the face of God.

Our call to relationship in the spiritual life is meant to be an adventure between God and the soul. Without prayer, without attention to the incompleteness in us, a relationship with God is impossible. God cannot enter and we will never be at home in ourselves until we come to who we truly are in God. 

No comments: