Sunday, July 8, 2018

Proper 9, Year B: Sunday, July 8, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Proper 8- Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sorry, no audio recording of this sermon is available.

Br. Roy Parker, OHC 
These remarks are a four-part survey on a progression of faith from the encounter of Jesus with his fellow townsfolk on up to the present. The four parts are, first, Unfaith in Nazareth; second, Expansion of the Source of Faith; third, Expansion of the Person of Faith; and fourth, Expansion of the Community of Faith.

Part One: Can’t you just hear it in Nazareth as the hometown boy both dazzles and antagonizes! “Hey, we know this guy, Mary’s boy, ‘cause we’re always hanging out with ‘im. He gets as wasted as any of us at bar-mitzvahs and dances and stuff. Remember that one from which he was bounced and his brothers had to take him home? Not to mention the way he can put away a plate of ribs!”

Jesus summarizes the disdainful reaction of his hometown folks as an amazing lack of faith, which is also a deficiency in his disciples that he must put up with.

Throughout the New Testament we encounter those who recognize the phenomena of faith, wisdom, and prophecy, yet cannot connect with it; on the other hand, those who recognize it, and can, and do, connect.

For example, last Sunday’s story of the woman of faith with the twelve-years’ hemorrhage compared with the surrounding crowd unpossessed by such faith. Also, the notices about King Herod who recognized the prophetic character of John the Baptist respected his testimony, but could not be governed by it. Then the story of the prophet in the village of the Jewish diaspora: in a disagreement with the village council which wanted to go along with an anti-Semitic policy of the occupying government, he challenged them: “If I am right, let that stove over in the corner collapse.” Well, the stove collapsed, and as the prophet looked meaningfully at the council, they replied, “Yes, but that doesn’t matter anymore.” 

Part Two concerns an expansion of the divine figure with whom we’re apt to connect the phenomena of faith, wisdom, and prophecy. Several years ago Marin Alsop,  newly-installed Director of the Baltimore Symphony, was interviewed on NPR about her appointment to the position, including a question of why it took so long for the Symphony’s Board of Trustees to ratify her election. She replied that there is in the culture the abstract notion of a supreme male authority figure which she exampled by recounting her instinctive reaction while preparing for takeoff in a plane when the announcement came that the pilot and co-pilot were both women and she could feel the jolt of anxiety in her stomach. Then she concluded, “In fifty years we’ll be saying to ourselves: What were we thinking?!

Part Three, then, concerns the expanded possibilities of appeal to what might be likened to a mysterious androgynous authority figure. The person of faith under these conditions is described by Thornton Wilder in his novel The Eighth Day and may lend us courage in our own journeys. The narrative here is slightly adapted: 

Jane Ashley was a woman of faith. She did not know that she was a woman of faith. She would have been quick to deny that she was a woman of religious faith, but religions are merely the garments of faith — and very ill-cut they often are, especially in Coaltown, Illinois. Like most people of faith, Jane Ashley was, so to speak, invisible. You brushed shoulders with a woman of faith in the crowd yesterday; a woman of faith sold you a pair of gloves. Their principal characteristics do not tend to render them conspicuous. Only from time to time one or other of them is propelled by circumstance into becoming visible — blindingly visible. They tend their flocks in Domremy; they pursue an obscure law practice in New Salem, Illinois. They are not afraid, they are not self-regarding; they are constantly nourished by astonishment and wonder at life itself. They are not interesting. They lack those traits - our bosom companions - that so strongly engage our interest: aggression, the dominating will, envy, destructiveness and self-destructiveness. No pathos hovers about them. Try as hard as you like, you cannot see them as the subjects of tragedy. They have little sense of humor, which draws so heavily on a consciousness of superiority and on an aloofness from the predicaments of others. In general, they are inarticulate, especially in matters of faith. The intellectual qualifications for faith - considering Ashley’s faith in connection with her mathematical gift and her talent as a gambler - are developed and fortified by a ranging observation and a retentive memory. We have described these women and men in negative terms — fearless, not self-referent, uninteresting, humorless, so often unlearned. Wherein lies their value?

We did not choose the day of our birth, nor may we choose the day of our death, yet the choice is the sovereign faculty of the mind. We did not choose our parents, color, sex, health, or endowments. We were shaken into existence, like dice from a box. Barriers and prison walls surround us and those about us — everywhere inner and outer impediments. These women and men with the aid of observation and memory early encompass a large landscape. They know themselves, but their self is not the only window through which they view their existence. They are certain that one small part of what is given to us is free. They explore daily the exercise of freedom. Their eyes are on the future. When the evil hour comes, they hold. They save cities — or, having failed, their example saves other cities after their death. They confront injustice. They assemble and in spirit the despairing.

They assemble and inspirit the despairing — which brings us to Part Four, Expansion of the Community of Faith.

Several years ago when the Order of the Holy Cross was preparing to choose a new Superior, we invited Martin Smith, a former Superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, to address us. In the course of his remarks to our ambivalence about the office of Superior, Martin made the significant and enigmatic statement that the Superior was the person who enabled the Wisdom event to occur in the community. When I later questioned him for clarification, he explained that the Superior gathers the community for consultation. His key responsibility is to elicit what the Quakers would call ‘the mind of the meeting,’ a discernment to be accompanied by silence as well as care to tease out the views of the less vociferous.

The circular arrangement of the community is important in this. To understand its power as a collaborative conversation model and the kinds of insights that can pour into the group process, it helps to understand that when we circle up in a ring of chairs, we are activating an archetype. Archetypal energy tends to made our experience seem bigger, brighter or darker; our words take on shades of meaning, and our dialogue, decisions, and actions take on added significance. Part of the attraction to circle process is the way archetypal energy can magnify issues among the group and help transform them. Those who have experienced this have referred to the archetypal energy as ‘the magic of circle’ that occurs when the best - or sometimes the worst - comes out of us and we find ourselves capable of responding with a creativity, innovation, problem-solving and visioning that astound us. Others talk about the circle as an experience of synergy, as being able to tap into something they didn’t know was in them and could not have predicted as a possible outcome at the start of a circle meeting. Such is the occurrence of the Wisdom Event in a community, Part Four, Expansion of the Community of Faith.

This four-part development would seem to underscore something several of us noted in our Saturday Bible Sharing session yesterday, and that is the demise of the cowboy way, or put differently, the requirement for the gifted person to be backed by a communal chorus.

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