Sunday, February 10, 2019

Epiphany 5 C - Sunday, February 10, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. John Forbis, OHC
Epiphany 5 C - Sunday, February 10, 2019

Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13]
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

Oh, I get them.  Oh, I really get them, Isaiah, Paul and Peter. 

A few days ago, I was reminded of the 20th anniversary of my life profession on the front lawn of the Order’s house in South Africa.  In the southern hemisphere, February is summer, and man, was that a hot day.  I and some of my fair-skinned brothers quickly developed red faces and arms.  The lawn was sloped steeply down to a deep valley.  So I prostrated on a grass matt on a downward angle.  In many ways, a dreamlike, surreal experience.  I was kind of dazed by the whole thing, having just arrived in South Africa five months before.

Remembering this occasion, thanks to my community’s help, led me to the sudden awareness of some other anniversaries.  Four years ago today, I was in the hospital in the Western Cape of South Africa with EEG wires glued to my head measuring brainwaves 24 hours a day for a week.  Meanwhile, doctors were slowly weaning me off anti-seizure medication so that I could have a gran-mal seizure.  They wanted to determine exactly where in my brain my seizures were originating.  As my neurologist said to me, if you’re going to have seizures, you’re having them in the right place.

Why?  So that a neuro-surgeon could cut a cross-section into my brain and take out a small bit of the area that was causing them.  They sparked from a safe place on which to perform surgery.  Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of my last seizure.  I was the only one on the ward who could have the surgery.  It was too risky for the others.  So, I remember them every day since four years ago.

So why am I telling you all this?  To explain to you that God has done some magnificent things in my life!  The affect of the surgery really has shaken the pivots of the thresholds of my existence!  I have never been one to witness or testify, but I suppose I’m testifying to you now. 

And yet, my response to all of this can often be, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! or ’Go away from me, Lord.  For I am a sinful man!”  Sometimes I can feel that these miracles are to one untimely born.  Why me and not the others on the ward?

At the same time of the amazement at “the catch of fish, I and Peter, James, John, Paul, Isaiah have taken”, we rush to the place of self-denigration, condemnation and insistence on worthlessness.  In the Message rendering of this morning’s passage from Isaiah, he claims, “Every word I’ve ever spoken is tainted – blasphemous!”  Being an epileptic since I was fourteen, I felt that I myself was tainted and therefore not even deserving of God being present in my life.  If there was any hint of God’s presence to me, I would want him to get as far away from me as he possibly could because I couldn’t be someone God would want to be around.

Yet, God broke through those defenses of self-loathing and pity and burned all the reasons for them to a stump that became a seed for new life, monasticism and being a human person who is awakened to, hears, sees, feels more than I ever remember.

And then, the man who has unclean lips and a sinner who can’t have God near him rears his ugly head.  The mind dulls, nothing is heard, I am blind to and even lose my memory of God’s intimate and thundering grace.  The remnant remains.  It wants to render me powerless, giving me license to opt-out, cop-out and not grasp freedom because I’m afraid of the responsibility.  The remnant thinks it’s protecting me … from myself and my radical transformation, from others who embrace and support me in that transformation.  It thinks it’s a shield from God who has and continues to create that transformation; to draw me out of my self-absorbed pity and condemnation and become the person he has healed me to be.

I wonder if when I am persecuting myself, I am persecuting Christ.  Violence to myself is violence to Christ executing him at Golgotha yet again or like Paul, who was Saul, seeking out Jesus’ followers and killing them.  And yet, Christ keeps giving me the grace to be who I really am, God’s child who is to be part of a grand assembly that will praise and bring God’s glorious presence to so many like me.  Despite myself, these powerful forces keep invading.  They can’t be stopped.         

Meanwhile, God begs me to use what he has awakened in me, his life, senses, sharpened awareness and acute sensitivity and compassion to keep planting seeds of his grace.  God so desires me to know that those qualities were there in me in the first place.  I just wasn’t able to understand, hear or see them while in a drug-induced stupor.  Thus, I had to not just be reborn, but born from a new seed embedded in the burnt stump of my illness, sense of worthlessness, and shame around both.

Sometimes it does have to take a hot coal searing my mouth to snap me out of my repetitive mind and heart-numbing breast-beating.  I imagine the angel who approaches me and hovers in front of me in the air with the hot coal, might roll her eyes, sigh and bring it to my lips and say, “Okay there, again this has touched your lips, your guilt has run off in fear and your sin has been incinerated.  Can we now get on with God’s work, please?”

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