Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
The Rev. Anthony Cayless
BCP – Epiphany 6 C - Sunday 11 Februay 2007
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Thursday two weeks ago on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul I celebrated the Eucharist in this Monastery Church. Some of you were here and will recall that before the Offertory Hymn Fr. David Bryan our Superior (Br. David Bryan Hoopes, OHC) called Suzette (Mrs. Suzette Cayless) and Br. Joseph (Br. Joseph Brown, OHC) up to the Altar and an Icon of St. Paul written by Joseph was unveiled and blessed. It had been commissioned by Suzette as a gift to me marking the completion of fifty years as a Priest in the Church. So that you all might see this wonderful gift I have set it up today on the table at the South end of the Pilgrim Hall.
For me it was a very emotional moment. After the Peace I censed the Altar and pretended that smoke had got into my eyes. I had some difficulty in seeing the Canon of the Mass. Saying to myself, “Remember you are British. Stiff upper lip and all that” - and fifty years of celebrating kept me in good stead. My composure was restored. I remembered the words and got through to the end.
The icon is of St. Paul holding a scroll with a Greek text. Later It turned out to be the text which more than any other scripture a sentence from which I have quoted to many, many times and not least quoted to myself. The full text reads:
"but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."
"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."
And so to the Gospel of today. Both Luke and Matthew record beatitudes. Beatitudes define the character of a citizen of God’s Kingdom. The late Bishop of Long Island, Bishop Sherman, used to say the Beatitudes are where we should strive to BE AT!
Matthew, places his nine beatitudes early in Jesus' Ministry before naming the Twelve Apostles. Luke puts his four immediately after Jesus chooses the Twelve.
When Luke compiled his Gospel (thanks to the ministry of Paul) the Church had come to see that Jesus’ message was not for Jew’s only but for everybody everywhere. Writing to the Galatians Paul had pointed out: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." We do not see from this distance how radical this is. The Church struggled then as it has struggled through two millennia and continues to struggle now to interpret just what God is asking the Church to do and to be in the situation in which it finds itself.
On this occasion Jesus teaches the great multitude, some of whom were gentiles, Syro-Phoenicians from Tyre and Sidon. While this message parallels that of the Sermon on the Mount, it is put in a different context. This is Jesus and a mixed group face to face.
"He came down with them (that is the Twelve whom Jesus had just appointed) and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. . ." Luke records four beatitudes. All four can be paralleled with four of Matthew's nine. Matthew’s Beatitudes introduce the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Manifesto of God’s Kingdom, addressed to the his disciples, in the earshot of the crowds. Luke’s Beatitudes are for everyone. "They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases . . . And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them."
"Turning to his disciples he said: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven!"
The word blessed translates Maka,rioi meaning blessed ones, fortunate ones, happy ones. The poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are persecuted are blessed by God. They, says Jesus, are the blessed ones, the fortunate ones, the happy ones.
These four beatitudes in St Luke are contrasted with four woes. ouvai. A cry of great distress. The Greek word denotes horror, disaster, calamity. It could be translate how horrible it will be!
How horrible it will be for you who are rich, for you have received your consolation; for you who are full now, for you will be hungry. for you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. for you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
That turns our values, our standards, our righteousness upside down and inside out.
Thus says the LORD: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.
It all turns on where we put our trust. The Kingdom of God to which we travel is eternal, firm, sure, fixed. The kingdoms of this world, the societies in which we live are temporal, infirm, insecure, sick. Read the newspapers, watch the news, study history, look at this present world. In the Bible the existing world order is shown as hostile to God's Kingdom. Salvation, healing, wholeness, come from God. The woes are God’s woes, the blessings God’s blessings: "Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit."
The Psalmist contrasts the way of the wicked with those who delight in the Law of the Lord. "Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful! Their delight is in the law of the LORD, and they meditate on his law day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper. It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed."
Judgement belongs to God, not to us. From the Prophet Jeremiah in our Old Testament reading: "I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings." Jeremiah is surely right when he says: "The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse. Who can understand it?"
There is no doubt that we can fool ourselves. Our values, our standards, our righteous and sometimes indignantly righteous attitudes. I wonder what Jesus makes of them. The devil gets in and twists and warps our relationships sometimes over little things, often through misunderstandings.
We return to the beginning my icon and the scripture which Paul exhibits. . . "but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. The grace of God, the love of God is always sufficient. My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness." So let us pray:
O God the strength of all those who put their trust in you: Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen