Sunday, October 17, 2021

Proper 24 B - October 17, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Scott Borden, OHC

Proper 24 B - Sunday, October 17, 2021





The Lectionary for today offers interesting selections... I’m not saying they’re appealing... but interesting. And let me just acknowledge up front, I don’t find the Mysterious Order of Melchizedek in the Letter to the Hebrews particularly interesting. And honestly, I’m not even all that interested in Mark... But Job? Now that’s interesting. 

Carl Jung called Job the most important book in the Bible. It's certainly one of the most disturbing, and the competition in that category is stiff. The Book of Job has been described as the book you need when your life experience outgrows your understanding of God. 

Throughout Hebrew scripture God’s actions are often quite shocking. The destruction of almost all life on the planet in the story of Noah comes to mind. God is not at all shy about ethnic cleansing, incest, patricide, matricide, fratricide, infanticide, genocide... And for those who were interested in defending Biblical Marriage, well – read the bible... Incest, rape, lots of prostitutes... it is not a tidy world. 

One standard remains true through that bloody mess: God’s chosen people are protected. Among the Chosen People, good people get rewarded and bad people get punished. And one of the ways you could tell you were a bad person is because you were being punished. 

Enter Job. Scripture is at pains to tell us Job is a good person – maybe the best person. We can tell because he is blessed. His children are blessed. His children’s children are blessed.  

Then, if you recall, God gets into a what seems like a silly bet with the devil. Satan bets he can get Job to reject God. God takes that bet and the devil sets about to prove God wrong and win the bet at the expense of Job. 

In rapid succession Job’s family is destroyed, his wealth is destroyed, everything he cares about is taken from him and, to add insult to injury, he is afflicted with horrible skin conditions that make him an outcast. He started at the top of the world and within a few short paragraphs, he is sitting in the ash heap of his ruined life. 

Job’s friends have come to console him, in a way. They are on the face of it well intentioned, sympathetic, caring... Job’s neighbor Elihu gives a lengthy discourse on what God does and why... It sounds very good. Job’s sin must be great because his punishment is so great. The only problem is that this friend is entirely wrong. Job has not sinned. Through this entire ordeal Job has never doubted God. 

Now God enters the picture... this is where this morning’s reading picks up. God asks a question: “Who is this that darkens council by words without wisdom?” Well, that would be Job’s well-intentioned friend Elihu who has been holding forth for the past few chapters...  

God knows that Job is not being punished. The “wisdom” that Job’s friends offer is, in fact, made up entirely of words without wisdom. The reading continues with a series of rapid-fire rhetorical questions: Where were you when the foundations of the earth were laid? Can you make it rain when drought has turned everything into dust? Can you hunt in place of the lions, or for the birds? It seems that God is reminding the friends of Job, and by extension us, that we are limited, clumsy creatures, not nearly so capable as many of God’s other creatures. God stops short of saying shut up and go away, but that’s sort of in the subtext.  

It’s not that the friends of Job didn’t have important work to do. That work would have been consoling Job. Job’s life, after all, has been destroyed. But they don’t choose to console. Rather they choose to analyze and assign blame. In their ignorance they make a bad situation worse.  

In this dialogue with God Job says: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things to wonderful for me to know.” To the unhelpful neighbors God replies: “I am angry with you because you have not spoken the truth about me as my servant Job has.” 

Of course, we don’t have to go back to the time of Job to observe this dark counsel. We just have to go back to the most recent natural disaster or mass shooting to hear voices offering words without wisdom. Political discourse should get its own category for extreme words without wisdom... 

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The Book of Job is the book that teaches us that not every bad thing is a punishment from God. In fact, none of the bad things in Job’s life are punishments from God. If this is part of how we understand God, then we need a new understanding. We need council enlightened by wisdom, not darkened by ignorance.  

Let's move on to Mark. Here we find James and John, the scrappy sons of Zebedee, wanting to be rewarded. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask...” Now there is a broad request. Perhaps they want to win the lottery... or live in luxury... But no, James and John just want to be Jesus’ number one and number two guys... That’s not too much to ask... 

Their words, it seems, have been darkened by council without wisdom. They don’t know what they are asking. And Jesus tries to let them down gently. Can you be baptized as I will be baptized? Can you drink the cup that I drink? We know that the cross is close on the horizon for Jesus and that cup is filled with Jesus’ own blood... But James and John are don’t seem to know this. What these two lack in wisdom they make up in confidence... 

The rest of the disciples are outraged. But Jesus responds, as he often seems to do, with a bit of a non-sequitur. Jesus offers a discussion of the role and responsibility of leadership. It is the council of wisdom. 

In the Gentile world, leaders demand great deference. They want to rule over the little people. This, buy the way, should sound familiar... welcome to our world. 

Jesus is revising the way of the world. Job is the book we need when experience requires a new concept of God. Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that a new concept God will require a new concept of leadership. 

In God’s Kingdom rulers are servants. Jesus is here to serve, not to be served. If we want to follow Jesus, this is what we must do. We must be prepared to give up our lives. The good news for James and John is that they are getting what they asked for. The bad news is that they are getting what they asked for... 

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In a COVID wearied world I wonder what these stories may be telling us. 

Our journey through COVID tells us how much like the friends of Job we are. We want to respond to tragedy and destruction with judgment. Various government leaders were quick to assure us that COVID came from a failure (or a deliberate plot) in someone else’s laboratory.  

Somehow Bill Gates and George Soros were involved... And various would-be prophets proclaimed that COVID was God’s punishment on us for something wicked – probably something involving the LGBTQ+ community. How susceptible we still are to council darkened by words without wisdom. 

But if COVID teaches us anything, it's that our lives are ever more intertwined, interdependent. You can’t flip on a light switch here without activating a supply chain that wraps around the world. Yet we tell ourselves that independence is more important than anything and that we must maintain it at all cost. This is an illusion, and it is a lie.  

Our God concept and our societal concept have been left in the dust by our ever-changing world. The book we need is Job – and the sooner the better. 

Job teaches us is that we must be ready and willing to allow our relationship with God to grow. God is present with us now and, disinformation notwithstanding, we can hear God speak as Job heard God speak out of the whirlwind.  

God’s message – love. Nothing more and nothing less. Love God, love neighbor, and love self. These three things are in fact one and the same. We just need to break with Job’s friends and neighbors. We need to learn from James and John.  

Jesus’ message to us was, and is, and always will be that we must grow in the way of love. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Proper 23 B - October 10,2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

The Rev. Janet Vincent

Proper 23 B - Sunday, October 10, 2021



Preached from notes - no text available. Click on the audio link above to hear the sermon.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Feast of the Dedication - October 7, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

The Rev. Sean E. Mullen, Rector of St Mark's, Locust Street, Philadelphia

Thursday, October 7, 2021

It is well known that the story of the origin of the Order of the Holy Cross begins at an Anglo-catholic parish in Philadelphia.  It just so happens that the parish in question is not my parish.  So, if you will allow me, I’d like to establish my credentials.  The connections between West Park and Locust Street were well established by the time this Chapel was consecrated, since priests from Holy Cross had come to Saint Mark’s in the years before the First World War to tend to our parish during the interim between two rectors.  And it was Catherine Murray Rush Camac, a parishioner of Saint Mark’s, who made the gift to fund the construction of this chapel in memory of her husband William Masters Camac, who’d been a Vestryman.

For the record, William, the scion of a notable Philadelphia family, worked with the firm of the marvelously quirky and idiosyncratic Philadelphia architect Frank Furness.  Catherine was one of the grandchildren of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a most distinguished Philadelphian who had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and is often referred to as one of the founders of American psychiatry.  There is a Camac Street in Philadelphia, one short stretch of which is the last street in the city paved with blocks of wood.  The street is better known as the home of the Tavern on Camac, a piano bar that is pretty close to the heartbeat of the city’s affectionately nick-named Gayborhood.  So the Camac name still resonates in the city of brotherly love. 

My predecessor, Fr. Frank Vernon preached the sermon at the consecration of this chapel one hundred years and three days ago.  He was only a year into what would be a twenty-four year tenure at Saint Mark’s that ended with his death in 1944, a few months after he had collapsed of exhaustion.  Fr. Shirley C. Hughson, O.H.C., was the celebrant who sang the Solemn Requiem Mass for Fr. Vernon at Saint Mark’s, for which the Bishop of Pennsylvania was present.  We are told that the bishop offered the prayers.  (I’m curious to read between those lines - but, another time.)

When the Vestry adopted a memorial resolution on Fr. Vernon’s death, it mentioned that “his sermons were always brief but they evidenced an immense amount preparation.”*  Those sound like possibly more lines to read between.  Anyway, such requirements were not part of the job description by the time it made its way to me (neither the brevity nor the evidence of preparation). 

A volume of parish history produced for our centenary in 1947 makes substantial note of Mrs. Camac’s gift to the Order, providing a description of this building, as well as this comment:

“This chapel is in daily use and is the center of the monastic establishment at Holy Cross.  Many has been the soul which has found peace and pardon here and to whom our Lord has spoken words of consolation and encouragement.  Thousands have received at this altar the ‘Bread of Immortality’ which our Blessed Saviour has left as the pledge of His Love to His hungry children.  It can be said that this memorial to an ardent parishioner of St. Mark’s has become nationally known and loved as a shrine of our Church.”**

No need to read between the lines there, I think.  It sounds as though the people of Saint Mark’s were feeling quite proud of our association with the Order of the Holy Cross.  And except for the fact that I seem to remember that pride is a sin, I say, why wouldn’t we still feel proud of our long association with this community, and this place, this shrine of prayer and praise?!?  Many of us, myself included, over these past hundred years, have beaten a path from Locust Street to West Park, much to our benefit.  (And I should note that in my seminary days, I was fortunate to have Douglas Brown as my spiritual director.)

That little volume of history reports that at the service of consecration, Fr. Vernon took as his text, “Love is the fulfilling of the Law.”  For better or worse, I am not required to preach on that text, which, out of context, might be easy enough to do.  But in its proper context in the 13th chapter of St. Paul’s Epitsle to the Romans, is not an easy text to preach on.  It is preceded by Paul’s argument that we should “be subject to the governing authorities.”  And it is followed by his admonition to “cast off the works of darkness,” and to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  All very well for monks, I guess, but I’m not a monk!

But I have to admire Fr. Vernon’s decision (if it was his) to preach on a text that has nothing to do with foundations, nothing to do with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, etc., nothing to do with temples, but only to do with the ongoing conversion of the church, and of every human heart, to the law of God’s love.  “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law…. Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

If the Gospel reading assigned to Fr. Vernon was the same one assigned for today, no wonder he left it alone.  Jesus enters the temple.  He disrupts everything with accusations of corruption.  He chastises the men who are supposed to be in charge.  And then he walks out and goes on his way.  Well, that’s one way for the visiting preacher to approach his task.  But is this really a pattern we want to dwell on as we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of this monastic church?

In the midst of that very upsetting series of events, the chief priests and the scribes came to Jesus with a question, when (as Matthew tells us) they saw what wonderful things he did; and when the children were crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”   Any one of us who cares about the church (as we all do) knows exactly how the chief priests and the scribes felt in this moment, when a charismatic leader has caught the attention, and maybe even the hearts of the people, and is teaching them and leading them in ways that are not our ways, and with thoughts that are not our thoughts, and that we are certain cannot be good for them!  Because, frankly, what the scribes and the priests heard being shouted in the temple was blasphemy, as far as they were concerned.

So, they went up to Jesus, the chief priests and the scribes did, and they asked him, “Do you hear what they are saying?”  The question is telling, because they assume that if Jesus heard what they heard, he would do something about it.  God, I know how that feels, too.  How many times in my prayers have I wondered if Jesus is really listening - not just to me, but to everything I hear that I am sure cannot possibly be good for the people entrusted to my care, or for me?!?  What a common prayer it could be on my lips: Lord, do you hear what they are saying?  Or maybe a slightly different version of the question: Do you see what they are doing?  And I assume that if Jesus heard what I hear, if he saw what I see, he would do something about it!  Indeed, when I’m honest with myself, it’s almost never hard for me to identify with the chief priests and the scribes in the Gospel.  When I look beyond editorial prejudice against them, it’s almost never difficult for me to align myself with the Pharisees.  I mean, I hate to admit that to you, but over the years I have gotten used to being honest in this chapel.  It’s just that usually I am not speaking out loud.

And in this moment, I feel the echo of Fr. Vernon, as I try to work out how my heart is aligned, what kind of Gospel I have to proclaim…. and I feel that miserable prayer on my lips and in my heart again and again: Lord, do you hear what they are saying; do you see what they are doing. Take blasphemy, and add to it, for starters: gunfire, warfare, racism, untrammeled greed, a relentless and cruel marketplace, exploitation, addiction, the ruin of this planet, rampant secularization, outright rejection of religion, and this virus on top of it all. (Let alone my own issues!). Lord, do you hear what they are saying?  Do you see what they are doing?!?!

Fr. Vernon’s hand is on my shoulder, and he whispers in my ear, “Don’t you remember that love is the fulfilling of the law?”  Or, to paraphrase: Don’t you remember… love?  Don’t you remember… love?

As I feel Fr. Vernon’s hand on my shoulder, and hear his echo whispering in my ear, I find that my task here this morning to proclaim the good news is primarily to repeat and intensify what others from Saint Mark’s have already said.  To wit:

“Many has been the soul which has found peace and pardon here and to whom our Lord has spoken words of consolation and encouragement.  Thousands have received at this altar the ‘Bread of Immortality’ which our Blessed Saviour has left as the pledge of His Love to His hungry children.”  And when I get too caught up in that question - Lord, do you hear what they are saying? - it is easy for me not to notice that God’s children are still hungry.

Saint Mark’s and Holy Cross have something else in common, beyond a cast of characters from bygone years.  Perhaps it is bold of me to say this, but I will say it: our two communities - one monastic, one parochial - have the same heartbeat.  For, the hearts of both our communities beat with the rhythm of the daily Eucharist - and this is not normative in the Anglican tradition, but it is essential, and it is a profound connection.

I know that here you breathe the breath of the Daily Offices, inhaling and exhaling the Psalms, drawing them deep into your lungs, and sending them tunefully out again into the atmosphere.  And at Saint Mark’s, we breathe the Offices with a shallower breath than you do.  But the Mass is our heartbeat, our lifeblood - here in West Park and on Locust Street.  The Mass has been said daily at Saint Mark’s since 1884, which is just a few years later than the time this community’s Eucharistic heart began to beat.

If love is the fulfilling of the law, the Mass is the proper spelling and pronunciation of Christ’s love - and of course, it can be spelled and pronounced in a thousand different ways - for the Mass conveys the fullness of the mystery of God’s self-giving love in the person of Jesus.  And people come here to this community, to this chapel, as they also come to Saint Mark’s, in order to rest their heads on Jesus’ breast and listen to his heart beat.  God’s hungry children come here, as they also come to Saint Mark’s, day by day by day, to be fed with the Bread of Life.

In its memorial resolution, the Vestry of Saint Mark’s commended Fr. Vernon’s sermons not only for their brevity, but also because, “each was a carefully designed utterance - with a beginning, a middle, and an end.”  That’s the result of all that preparation, don’t you know?  And it doesn’t seem like a lot to ask of a preacher - but you never know what you’re going to get, do you?  

But as I said, my task here today seems to me to be one primarily of repetition.  So to make sure that this sermon at least has an end, I will repeat again the marvelous gifts identified by my parish decades ago when we bragged about our indelible connections to this community and its life of prayer:  Peace and pardon.  Words of consolation and encouragement.  And the Bread of Life which our Blessed Saviour gives as the pledge of His Love to His hungry children.

May Christ’s hungry children ever be fed here in this place.  And may Christ’s heart beat here with that unmistakable rhythm, so that those who come to worship and pray here may rest our hearts on Jesus’ breast and hear his heart beat, full of love.

* “Frank Lawrence Vernon: A Memorial Minute adopted by the Vestry of St. Mark’s Church, Philadelphia, July 5, 1944, available on philadelphiastudies.files.wordpress.com

** “St. Mark’s: One Hundred Years On Locust Street,” by Charles Glkyson, privately published, 1948, p. 75