Sunday, June 10, 2018

Proper 5 - Year B: June 8, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br.  Aidan Owen, OHC
Proper 5 - Sunday, June 8, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. Aidan Owen
You’ll have to pardon me, but having been ordained a priest less than a week ago, I have vows on the mind. And while I don’t find it the most comforting image in scripture to describe the vowed life, today’s gospel text certainly provides us with an apt one.

“No one can plunder the strong man’s house without first binding up the strong man. Then you can plunder his house.”

It’s hard not to chafe at the idea of being bound and plundered. Boundaries, rules, and commitments limit our freedom of expression and action. Beginning with the vows we made or that were made on our behalf at baptism, we Christians agree to live in alignment with the will and desire of God made known to us scripture, the traditions of our ancestors, the revelations of our communities, and the whispering of the Spirit in our hearts. We are not free to do solely as we wish, at least not if we desire to live our lives with integrity and purpose.

And yet, binding is not primarily a term of limitation. We speak also of the bonds of fellowship and love, of the ties that unite us and draw us closer to the ones we love. One binds wounds so that torn flesh can knit itself back together.

Isaiah gives us perhaps the most beautiful image of binding, an image that Jesus picks up at his first public teaching: The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.

In his rule for the community, our Founder describes purity of heart as the goal of every Christian life. Now purity, in this context, could better be translated as “unity” of heart. The goal of the Christian life is unity of heart, which is to say, the directing of our entire being toward God: body, mind, spirit, heart—all that we are centered in love on the one who gives us life.

Most of the time, most of us are like that house divided against itself. We do, truly, wish to love God with our whole selves. And sometimes we are like the eager disciple of Benedict’s Rule, who, in a fit of love, is eager to take the narrow road of which the Lord says: Narrow is the road that leads to life. In our ardor and eagerness we make promises and commitments, we agree “no longer [to] live by [our] own judgment, giving in to [our] whims and appetites; rather [we] walk according to another’s decisions and directions.” That part of us is real and good.

And yet, the eager disciple is not alone in our house. All too soon the strong man of our own willfulness, our stubborn desire to have things our way, our self-righteous anger at others’ perceived shortcomings or our own, and our certainty about what is good and what is not, returns to dominate us and divide us from our heart’s deepest desire, which is for union with God.

Not only do these dynamics rage within us individually, but they also do so corporately.

How often have we allowed our fear of the losses of aging and financial insufficiency to lead us to the safe choice rather than the prophetic one? How often have we really turned down the volume of our certainty that we have the right answer or the right way forward to listen to the deeper stirrings of the Spirit within our own or another’s heart? Is our first question always “what new work is God calling forth from us today?” Or is it often, “what do I want and how can I get it?”

We need the commitments we have made in the flush of our eager love to hold us when the strong men of self-will, doubt, arrogance, and fear begin to dominate us. The vows we have made bind up these strong men so that they can be healed and transformed, so that their strength and energy can be directed to the building up of the body in love. And here is a paradox for us: true freedom is the freedom to surrender our entire being to the transforming movement of God’s love in and among us, and in so doing, to become conduits of that transforming love to a hurting and fractured world. When we allow ourselves to be bound up and healed, we can become the wounded healers that the world so desperately needs.

As we all know, this process is not an easy one. “Purity of heart,” the Founder writes, “is never attained without pain and suffering. [However,] such pain and suffering can be an agent of cleansing, detachment, simplification, and a humility that leads to greater and greater dependence upon God.”

He continues, “As a community dedicated to the Holy Cross, we cannot escape witnessing to this truth, namely, that it is only in and through self-sacrifice that we come to share in Christ’s victory. The image of the contemplative cleaving [we might say “bound]” in loving adoration to God amid chaos, temptation, spiritual dryness, and apparent uselessness can serve as an archetype of our lives as Christians and monastics. The key to this whole process lies in the complete surrender of our will to God as revealed in our crucified Lord. It is the essence of our vow of obedience.”

We cannot bind ourselves or the strong men that dominate and divide our house. We cannot unite ourselves individually or collectively. But we can surrender to the work of God within and among us. We can recommit ourselves to the vows we have made and to the common life in which we have made them. We can hold out our wounded, fractured hearts to the Crucified and Risen One, who binds up those hearts and make them whole. He will heal us, will bind us in and to his love. He will set us free.

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