Sunday, November 26, 2006

BCP - Proper 29 B - 26 Nov 2006 - Christ the King

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Brother Scott Wesley Borden, OHC
BCP – Proper 29 B - Sunday 26 November 2006
Christ the King

Daniel 7:9-14
Revelation 1:1-8
John 18:33-37

I bid you a joyful feast of Christ the King... though to be honest, I have never been too keen on this feast. Christ as King is not the image of Jesus I relate to.

That’s where I start. I also want to confess that I thought perhaps I’d coast a bit this Sunday. I thought maybe I could just “borrow” a bit from someone who is more comfortable with the feast... So I Googled up some examples of how other people approach this day...

One reflection caught my eye. The writer, I’ll call him “the other guy”, noted that while Americans may place a very high value on democracy, God does not. God has no need of democracy. Christ is King... period... end of story.

The other guy goes on that in God’s kingdom - the place where Christ the King is king - we will need to know everything about obedience and nothing about thinking. Moreover, the other guy concludes that the time to start getting ready for the kingdom is now... stop thinking and start obeying!

I can’t say that the other guy’s reflection really opens up this particular feast for me... But it does help me focus my discomfort.

And as I look at Jesus interaction with Pilate reported in this morning’s Gospel, I can’t help but think Jesus is also a bit uncomfortable with the assumptions we make about kingship and power.

“So you are king?” Pilate asks. “You say that I am king” Jesus answers. I hear Jesus saying: “That’s your language... That’s your projection...”

Jesus has already told us his Kingdom is not from this world - not an earthly kingdom. The rules of our world don’t apply. All our wonderful metaphors based on crowns and diadems, thrones, orbs, and scepters, all our glorious pomp and circumstance are not going to tell us much about the Kingdom of where Christ is King.

And yet we try to understand by amplifying our world. Jesus, and by extension God, is the most extreme... We might have powerful leaders here on earth - but Christ the King is mighty in the extreme. We might have loving parents here on earth, but God is the most extremely loving father. We might have great riches here on earth, but heaven is extremely rich, rich beyond imagining - its very streets are paved with gold. But why do we think heaven’s streets need to be paved at all? Or that gold makes better pavement than concrete or asphalt. Or that heaven even has anything that resembles streets?

Sigmund Freud said “God is the human father, writ large, and projected against the sky.” Of course Dr. Freud is not telling us anything about God, but he is telling us a great deal about the way we think about God. We take our human ideals, blow them out of proportion and look to find them in the heavens.

This is where my discomfort with the Feast of Christ the King has its toes. This Sunday, at its worst, gives us permission to project away. Whatever we know or imagine about earthly kings, we can blow it up really big and project it against the sky. When God starts to resemble a very big, very powerful version of us, we are in trouble.

Curiously - I don’t think this is a problem. Not for me, not for you, not even for the other guy who wants Christ the King to be the most absolute dictator that could ever possibly be.

Its not a problem if I’m self aware enough to understand that I (and everyone) always have and always will project my stuff on God. It is a problem when I kid myself into believing that I don’t project my stuff on God - or that someone else has a vision of God free of their own projections.

As long as I can hold in mind that my image of God always contains a substantial dose of my own projection, that image can help me grow in knowledge of God and self. But I have to be ready to encounter my own projections and face them.

All this projection on God is also not a problem in that God is truly not affected by my projections, or, for that matter, by the other guy’s projections. God is God. There is a Buddhist saying that it doesn’t matter what we think about Nirvana, because Nirvana will be what Nirvana is. Likewise, God will be what God is - whether I choose to think about Christ the most glorious kingly figure, or the most meekly suffering servant.

Its not that what I think doesn’t matter - it matters a great deal in how I live my life. But God will be what God is, regardless of my thoughts. That gives me cause to be very humble, and, as the other guy demands, obedient.

I think the other guy is on to something when he says that in the kingdom where Christ is King, democracy has no place. But I think he needs to go further. In the kingdom where Christ is King, earthly monarchs are also out of place.

The other guy is right that obedience will be of great importance in the kingdom where Christ is King, but I think he is stuck with an earthly notion of obedience as the mindless carrying out of orders with relentless precision. Jesus leads the way in terms of obedience, and it is not mindless, not thoughtless.

Where I agree fully with the other guy is in the idea that now is when we start getting ready for the kingdom where Christ is King. We start by looking to the life of Jesus.

Based on the way Jesus lived his life on this earth, we can be certain that economic injustice, for example, has no place in the kingdom. Getting ready for the kingdom where Christ is King means coming to terms with our tolerance of economic injustice - our society celebrates the extremely rich while paying little mind to the extremely poor.

Based on the way Jesus lived his life on this earth, we can know that in the kingdom where Christ is King the homeless mentally ill will be of greater importance than Sam Walton, or Bill Gates, or you, or me... Can we honestly defend our present way of serving our homeless, or mentally ill, or other vulnerable brothers and sisters.

In the kingdom where Christ is King swords are beaten into plow shares and justice flows like a mighty river watering all the earth. What are we doing with our swords? And isn’t our river of justice leaving a few spots high and dry?

In the kingdom where Christ is King the meek inherit everything, the sorrowful are comforted, those who’s spirits are broken are made whole, those who hunger for justice are satisfied, and those who make peace are closest to the King. The Gospels never stop telling us about the kingdom where Christ is King.

On this feast of Christ the King we are invited to journey away from earthly concepts of power and might and open our hearts to the Kingdom of Jesus.

We see glimpses of this kingdom breaking into our world. ...not in the rich and powerful, but in the homeless person we are able to help... in the shut-in we are able to visit... in the child we are able to nurture... in the purring of a cat or the wagging tail of a dog... in the simple joy we will share as we hug each other and exchange the peace just a few moments from now.

I started out highly suspicious of this feast of Christ the King and I find that I have fallen in love...

For we all see the kingdom where Christ is King - not fully in focus... not completely in view... not in vibrant technicolor... but we see it nonetheless.

These glimpses of the Kingdom are a gift and a challenge - a call. What better way to celebrate this feast of Christ the King than by focusing on these glimpses and growing in the direction of the Kingdom.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Initial Profession - Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, - 03 November 2006

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Wesley Borden, OHC
Sermon preached at the Initial Profession of the Monastic Vow by
the Brother Bernard Jean Delcourt - Friday 03 November 2006

Not long ago I had the great privilege to be present in South Africa as a new building was dedicated at our monastery there. It was an occasion of great celebration and an expression of great optimism. It was a day in which God's love flowed over all who were there.

As great as that day was, in a deep sense it pales next to this day. Buildings are lovely... But people are more than lovely. People are Godly. The only point in a monastic building, however modest or magnificent, is that it a place where a community lives. Today is not about a place to live, it is about life itself.

Normally this is the time for reflection on how the scripture readings we heard help us encounter the good news of Jesus. But I want to reflect on the living word rather than the written word. How might we encounter the good news of Jesus through this profession?

In a few moments Bernard will sign his vow, a commitment for one year. That vow calls for stability, obedience, and conversion of his life to the monastic way of life. The vow is not about arriving in "monk-dom" - wherever that may be... Its about traveling. Bernard will be vowing to keep growing. At some future date, if and when Bernard takes the life vow, it will be just the same - a vow of conversion, a vow to keep growing, a vow never to arrive.

This creates a mixed message. Today is of great symbolic importance, but in a practical sense very little unusual happens today. It is a day when Bernard, and all of us, will take some steps forward (and perhaps some steps backward) in our conversion of life. Not just monastics, but all of us. It is a day, in other words, like any other.

For years now Bernard has been exploring a call to life in the Order of the Holy Cross. He has been coming to the realization that God calls forth from him gifts that mean this vow will give him life.
For Bernard there will be glorious days ahead... there will be painful days ahead... some boring days ahead... average days... The monastic life is not an insulated, sheltered, easy life. St Benedict uses the term "battle" to refer to this life. I don't find the term battle very helpful. Modern weaponry has turned the nature of battles into something far more horrible and perverse than Benedict could have imagined. There is truly nothing horrible about the monastic way of life. Though some days it can be a bit perverse...

But it is a struggle - a struggle that does not end. Jesus may describe that struggle best when he says "Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence." That's a big enough struggle... but there's more... "Love others as well as you love yourself." Obviously this is not a unique monastic struggle. Jesus addresses it to everyone. All faithful people struggle to answer this call. In slightly different terms we might describe it as the struggle to become whole - whole with God and whole with God's creation.

In the popular romantic imagination, monasticism is a path that involves giving up many things. It is a path of stony silence, hard beds, grim food, and general deprivation. But as is always the case, romantic notions and reality have little in common. As you look around Holy Cross Monastery, its hard to find too many signs of deprivation.

Monastic life is not about giving things up. Monastic life, believe it or not, is about falling in love - falling in love with God and falling in love with God's creation, especially God's children. In order to make space to do this we do give some things up. Falling in love always means some sacrifice, some giving up. When Bernard takes the vow he will be saying that yesterday he fell in love, today he is falling in love, and tomorrow, with God's help, he will fall in love even further. You see what a joyful vow this is.

There are two other key words in the vow: Stability and obedience. Without them the vow is empty.

Without stability love has no meaning. It is just a superficial and occasional illness from which you can easily recover (OK - sometimes the recovery is not so easy...). Unstable love is also known by names such as infatuation, obsession, romance, lust. It can be a great deal of fun, but it is shallow and cheap. It lasts while the weather is fine, but evaporates when the weather turns foul. Stability allows love to endure through sickness and health, through sorrow and joy, through good times and bad. Only with stability can love become whole. This is true for all of us.

Without obedience Bernard would not be here at all this day. God calls and Bernard is obedient in answering. Saint Irenaeus says "the glory of God is the human person fully alive." I think this is God's call to Bernard and to all of us: "find a way to become fully alive."

In faithful obedience Bernard is finding a way, a vowed way within a monastic community, to become fully alive. Its not the best way, or the most holy way, or the deepest way to wholeness. Its just the way some of us are called. The witness of the vow is to call all of us in the direction of God's boundless, gracious love.

With deepest gratitude we give humble thanks that we can be part of the way and share the struggle with Bernard. And we bless him on his journey.