Sunday, May 20, 2007

BCP - Easter 7 C - 20 May 2007

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Canon Tony Cayless
BCP – Easter 7 C - Sunday 20 May 2007

Acts 16:16-34
Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20
John 17:20-26

To mark the beginning of Rosh Hashana Jews sing Psalm 47 seven times. Then they sound the shofar, the ram’s horn to welcome their new year. Psalm 47 is also used in Christian liturgies on Ascension Day to mark Jesus’ return to heaven.

Clap your hands, all you peoples:*
shout to God with a cry of joy.
God has gone up with a shout, *
the LORD with the sound of the ram's-horn.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; *
sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is King of all the earth; *
sing praises with all your skill.
God reigns over the nations; *
God sits upon his holy throne.

The Nicene Creed says God the Son ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Luke writes in his Gospel: While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And in the Acts of the Apostles: as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. We celebrated this event last Thursday.

Ascension means going up. We ascend in an elevator. We ascend in an airplane. We ascend a hill. We ascend a ladder. On April 12, 1961, 46 years ago, Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 was the first person to ascend into orbit round the Earth. The flight lasted 108 minutes. Russians were delighted. Americans taken aback. The Space Age had begun in earnest. Yuri Gagarin was interviewed by the press. I lived in Barbados then. The headline on the front page of the Advocate the sole daily newspaper read: I did not see God up there - Russian Cosmonaut.

Of course we commonly use the idea of ascending, going up, in other than a literal sense. Of persons who do well for themselves we say that they have gone up in the world. Students go up into new grades: or if they haven't worked hard enough stay down. After High School many go up to college. At work we move up the corporate ladder. Jesus ascended, went up in this sense, moving to a different state of existence.

When the Word became flesh the Word accepted the limitations of human nature. Bound, as we are by space and time, the human Jesus was born, lived, ministered, and died in a particular place and at a specific time in the history of this world. The Incarnate Lord and the Risen Lord could only be in one place at one time. The ascended Lord can be at all times and in all places. Theologically reconciliation is accomplished by God putting God’s self in our place in the Incarnation: and by putting our human self in God's place at the Ascension.

Early Christians celebrated the Ascension as the crown of all Christian feasts. St. Augustine claimed that this festival confirms the grace of all the festivals of the church together. He said that without the Ascension, the reality of every festival would perish. Unless the savior had ascended into heaven, his nativity would have come to nothing and his passion would have born no fruit for us, and his most holy resurrection would have been worthless.

The Ascended Lord is at all times in all places. Jesus is present in this world. He is present in the Church. He is present in the sacraments. He is present when we pray. He is present in the other. He is present in us. Jesus is Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

The period of ten days between Ascension and Pentecost is a period of waiting. For those men and women who had been attracted to Jesus, become followers of Jesus, it must have been a tense period. Waiting. Wondering. Expecting something - but What? Trying to sort out what is happening. I don't like waiting. Waiting for a train. Waiting at the airport. Waiting for the Doctor. Waiting for the Dentist. Waiting for a letter Waiting for a phone call. God so often tells us just to wait. We want to go out there and get things done. Don’t keep me waiting!

We are impatient. We share the tension of those early Christians. Though we are in the third millennium we need to remember that we still live between the times. The Ascension Event when the physical presence of Jesus was withdrawn is in the past. Jesus’ coming again is in the future when we believe God’s presence will be revealed in power and with great glory.

In this present time we have worship to offer, witness to give, and unity to strive for. We are indeed in the world but not of the world. Our world is God's world. It is the world God created and the world God loves– so much says John that he gave his only begotten Son to save it. We see a world corrupted and polluted, a world that is bent, a world twisted out of shape. And much of this has come about by human actions and human choices. But it is a world which can be and is being redeemed.

It depends on our point of view. It depends on how we look at it. It depends on our perspective.

On December 21, 1968, 39 years ago, in the spacecraft Apollo 8, Three Americans Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders were the first astronauts to orbit the moon. The mission was broadcast live. As they reached the moon and passed around the far side on the first orbit there was radio silence for some twenty minutes or so - radio waves cannot pass through the moon. Then out of the silence we heard the voice of Major Borman saying: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void. And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light, and there was light. He continued to read that dramatic creation story. An ancient myth, but a true myth.

Yuri Gagarin a materialist and an atheist did not find God up there. Frank Borman, a Christian, an Episcopalian did. One did not find God up there, because he had not found God down here. The other found God up there, because he finds God down here.

God is everywhere. We need to look and listen with eyes to see and ears to hear. The Ascension declares that Jesus is no longer limited by time and by space. The historical Jesus, like any other human being, can only be in one place at one time. The Ascended Lord can be at all times and in all places. The ascension expanded Christ's ministry from its geographically limited earthly dimensions to its universal heavenly dimensions.

In the High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17, part of which we read as the Gospel of Today, Jesus prays for his present and his future disciples. Jesus prays for us:

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

There is a story that when Jesus arrived back in Heaven the Archangel Gabriel asked him what plans he had made to ensure that his mission would continue on earth. Jesus replied, “Well I have left my Church, Peter and James and John, Andrew and Mark, my Mother Mary, my friends Mary and Martha and Lazarus of Bethany, Cleopas, and Bartimaeus, Johanna, Susanna, and about a 100 others. They have been commissioned by me to proclaim my message, and to go out into all the world and make more disciples. They will carry out my mission”. “But” said the Archangel, “But what if they fail?” It is said that Jesus answered: “I have made no other arrangements.”

The Church is the Bride of Christ, the Spirit filled Body of Christ, the community of the redeemed. We are part of that Church. We have worship to offer and a witness to give. This between the times time is the age of the Church - that is those who have made a personal response to Jesus. That is us! What happens is up to us! Jesus has made no other arrangements.

See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone's work. It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."

We are waiting for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We wait with patience for the will of God to be revealed and it will be! We have a promise. The gift is held out to us. We need to reach out and take it . . . The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let everyone who hears say, "Come." And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.


Monday, May 7, 2007

BCP - Easter 5 C - 06 May 2007

Saint Peter's Church, Morristown, New Jersey
Br. Joseph Brown, n/OHC
BCP – Easter 5 C - Sunday 06 May 2007

Acts 13:15-16,26-33(34-39)
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

The verses read in today’s gospel are spoken at that last supper, right after Judas departs to betray Jesus. The time Jesus has remaining with his disciples is brief and he knows it. They have had three years together, but now he must leave them, thought they do not fully understand how and why. Jesus must say good-bye to his friends.

How hard it is to say farewell to those we love. We search for words to convey what we really mean and feel, definitive words that will say it all. We try to compress in a few thoughts the most important things about the relationship. Jesus sums it up with this: “I give you an new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."

At first, it seems surprising that Jesus should call this a new commandment. From the days of the patriarchs the Jews had been told to love their neighbors as themselves, and Jesus repeated this message in word and deed during his public ministry. The new element is “Just as I have loved you.”

At the heart of Jesus’ love is a sharing- not just of emotion, joys and sorrows; those vague “good” feelings that are so easily swayed by circumstance, mood and sentiment. But a direct sharing of himself. He wants the disciples to learn their own strength, coming directly from God, and to trust in their own ability to carry on his work when he is no longer physically among them. But it must be done through him who strengthens us.

We can try to love our neighbor as ourselves, but unless it is through the power of Christ, we will fail to live up to this greatest of commandments. He is the pattern and power of love.

There is no doubt that we love one another in families, as friends and even in a general way when we respond to the needs of others, even strangers. It can even seem a burden when it leads us to be anxious for those we love, to suffer when they suffer. Sometimes our love for another can lead us to be overprotective, to adopt the mistaken notion that unselfish love means carrying another’s internal burdens for them. In this way, well-intentioned love can lead to dependence, enabling, resentment and guilt.

We Christians express our identification as disciples of Jesus Christ in the practice of love. That love is the visible sign of who we are. “Love one another as I have loved you”, was not a suggestion, a bit of religious advice that might be helpful if they got around to it, but a command. The command to love is not any easier in a monastery. Personalities, habits, quirks and temperament are no less aggravating when you wear a hood and habit. Because of the close proximity, and the fact that monks are with each other at work, prayer, meals and recreation, small irritants can become monstrous demons.

The brother who sings off-key, or leaves the newspaper all amiss on the floor, who mispronounces names in the Book of Kings, can be as much of a challenge to “love” as a tyrant across the ocean. Love is much harder when it is commanded to love the one right in front of you. It is so much easier to love a cause, or an ideal, or the image we have of another. To love the one who says hurtful things, to love the one who has stolen from you, to love the one who has hurt or betrayed you, is infinitely more difficult. So difficult that I can not do on my own. My own self is too caught up in its feeling of being hurt.

The only way I have found to keep this commandment, is it that I have to let Jesus love that person through me. I have to stop when I want to retaliate and pray for help. I have to catch myself just before the hostile comment leaves my tongue and ask for the grace to fulfill this greatest of commandments. Jesus demands that we love one another, and that we will be recognized as his followers by others because we love so much.

It was his final instruction and the climax of his teaching. Herbert O’Driscoll calls it Jesus’ “bottom line” for those who want to enter the kingdom. So the bottom line in Christianity is not how much scripture you know, not how much sin you have avoided (which is probably not much), not how many people you have evangelized, but how you have loved others in the image and likeness of Christ. Our love must be like God’s, offered with no strings attached. Nothing must be expected in return for the love extended to our neighbor. I must love the brother who sings off key and will continue to do so, I must love the one who offends, I must love the one who would exclude me, I must love the one who betrays me knowing that they will probably do it again. There is simply no other option.

Saint Augustine gave the simple instruction to his people, “Love, and do as you will.” When one’s heart is fixed on loving all good action flows from it. But he also said, “Only those who have the perfection of Christ’s love are able to live together in peace. Those who are without it continually upset one another and their anxiety is a misery to others.” So if we wonder if we are loving, the answer is “Are you at peace with others?”

We know when we are loving and when we fall short. The proof of that is in the very fabric of our daily life.

So let us strive to love one another as Christ loves us so the we might make love more visible and more available to the world. Then there will be no question as to who we follow.


BCP - Easter 5 C - 06 May 2007

Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery, Grahamstown, South Africa
Br. Randy Greve, n/OHC

Main Text: Revelation 21:1-6 (The Message version)

1I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, and gone the sea. 2I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. 3-5I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They're his people, he's their God. He'll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone." The Enthroned continued, "Look! I'm making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate."
6Then he said, "It's happened. I'm A to Z. I'm the Beginning, I'm the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty. Conquerors inherit all this. I'll be God to them; they'll be sons and daughters to me.

When I make friends, when I’ve forged a deep bond with someone, I don’t like saying goodbye - especially if I’ll not see my friend for a long time. Most especially if it’s a forever goodbye. It’s an awkward moment, sometimes tearful, and reminds me of the many good friends to whom I’ve said goodbye, likely never to see again in this life. I always miss them because a friend is one with whom I have shared a gift of life - its joys and pains - of human connectedness that makes me more alive and grateful. It is perhaps appropriate that gifts of such value are not let go of easily.

Often advertising will tempt us with the idea that we can avoid goodbyes - or at least the emotional pain involved - that if we long for emotional connectedness we can simply buy it. The reproduction is as good as the real thing. Listen to what’s written on the back of a bottle of air freshener we have down at the monastery:

How often have you wished that you could capture a moment, a memory, a smell associated with something good! Airoma’s Imagine range of sense-soothing home enhancers is ambience in a bottle freeing your mind, body, and soul! Imagine standing beneath the invigorating shower of crisp mountain falls as it cascades down and surrounds you with all that’s natural. With Airoma’s Mountain Falls you no longer have to imagine - you are there!
I’d love to be free in body, mind, and soul but I don’t think a bottle will quite do it! It’s just chemicals!

Goodbyes are all around us and woven into the physics of the world. Our individual goodbyes are tiny reflections of the end of so much that was intended to last and made to endure. The great structures of ancient Greece and Rome seemed immovable and eternal 2,000 years ago but today are the crumbling ruins of their former glory - battered by war and vandals, wind and rain. Over time, like them, this church will decay. Will monks still be praying here in one hundred years? Two hundred? A thousand? Will anyone remember or know that a monastery was ever here in centuries to come?

One day this valley, which was once millions of years ago probably a great river and before that, in ages past, perhaps barren and uninhabitable rock or the scene of volcanic upheaval as the continent was being molded and formed, will say its goodbye. South Africa, the Atlantic and Indian oceans, the whole continent, the whole world, which evolved through eons of fire and rain and struggle to become what we love and care for today is all temporary - only one chapter of the story - is waiting for goodbye. Stuff doesn’t last forever. I am going to die someday. What is flesh and bone, thoughts and feelings, memories and relationships today will one day cease to exist and turn to dust. Your body will cease to exist one day, too.

In the Revelation, John is witnessing the ultimate goodbye of all he knows of earthly life - the very earth and sky and sea itself. It is here that the biblical story comes to a close. Having described the ultimate and eternal defeat of the devil and his demons, John gropes for language for what he sees next: the passing away of the old, the coming of the new - new earth, new sky. The story of creation, which began in Genesis, ends right here. There was a time in the past when the earth did not exist. There is coming a time in the future when it will cease to exist. In these last, moving words of scripture, as the arch of time and space as we know it dips down, as all we know of earthly life is consumed and erased, we encounter dramatically and fully the love and mercy of God. God with us and us with God. Our lives completed and fulfilled - free from pain, tears, suffering, death, evil and loss.

While we celebrate with joy the good news of new life, of the Resurrection of Our Lord from the dead on Easter Day, we know as well that the processes of decay and death, pain and suffering, are all too real and very much present. We are in a strange in-between state, a period many theologians have called “already, but not yet”. The reign of Christ on earth is the promise of the kingdom, yet we live in a mixture of its reality and mystery, its presence and absence.

It’s here, I’ve seen it, it’s true, but I also have those moments when it all seems like a science fiction novel of a far away place and a distant future that’s far removed from my ordinary life. I trust finally in the promise that I am not now, we are not now, what we will be. That the story is not over, the play has not yet reached a final act. While an existence with God and in community absent from pain, suffering, tears, death - absent from all goodbyes forever - seems too good to be true, that is exactly what we are promised. And God always keeps His promises.

When the kingdom fully and completely comes, when hope becomes reality, we will be delivered from all that keeps us separated and we will be fully liberated to live in Christ and He in us, to spend eternity being known and loved and knowing and loving in return. While in this age Christ gives us the sign and seal of presence in his body and blood, in the kingdom it will be his real, living, bodily presence that feeds us.

That’s great for the future, you may be thinking, but today people are suffering, crying, in pain and grief and dying. What about them? We care for the suffering and work to alleviate pain today as signs of Christ’s love and promise and in the knowledge that a future full of joy and free from all pain is coming for those who choose it. John’s vision adds life and urgency to today because as we work to ease each other’s burdens and lighten each other’s loads, we’re moving somewhere - we point to that day when all burdens and loads will be not just eased and lightened but put away and forgotten.

Our life in the kingdom, which is what John is describing, is the great reunion and restoration of all we’ve known - all the joys preserved and the pains healed. This hope brings us into the present because our future is decided, a place is prepared for us. Christians never really say goodbye to one another, we say “to be continued”, because whether we see each other in this life again or not, we are members of a larger family, a grander history than time or space can contain - that outlives the very heaven and earth itself. And our home, our destiny, our hope, is to be together in one, big, joyful community for all time in an eternal “hello”.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

BCP - Easter 5 C - 06 May 2007

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Mrs. Suzette Cayless
BCP – Easter 5 C - Sunday 06 May 2007

Acts 13:15-16,26-33(34-39)
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

There is a word in the Collect for today that we do not often use: “steadfastly.” We pray ... that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life ...

Steadfastly ... steadfast ... What does it mean to be “steadfast?” A dictionary definition says that to be steadfast is to be “firmly fixed in place;” “immovable;” “firm in belief;” “loyal;” “faithful.” We pray that we may be steadfast in our following in the steps of Jesus.

Some years ago I met a rock that cetainly fits the description of “steadfast,” “immovable.” We spent several days of vacation that summer exploring the Shenandoah National Park and the surrounding countryside. We drove the 100 mile length of the Skyline Drive with its 30 miles per hour speed limit and explored a number of the special places near by, including the Luray Caverns. It was 164 feet below ground in the Caverns that I met that rock. It is a massive column formed from stalactites and stalagmites that the guide assured us is seven million years old.

That rock has a presence! This ancient rock reminded me of the questions posed by God to Job: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? ... On what do its supporting pillars rest?” Seven million years is such a long time that I find it incomprehensible and yet, scientists have dated that column and I accept their findings. The stability of this ancient column, which has been there, below the earth’s surface long before the first human beings existed, is both comforting and awe inspiring.

This column, like so many other amazing features of earth, is known to God, and gives testimony to the ongoing reality of a God who cares. One incredible fact about that rock is that although it is immovable, firmly fixed in place, steadfast, it is not stagnant. It continues to grow in stature. Water slowly seeps over its surface and the minerals it contains are deposited with the result that growth is at a rate of one cubic centimeter per one hundred years.

Being a rock in reality and being “rock-like” in certain respects are two different things. There is a fine line between being steadfast in faith, immovable in terms of our loyalty to Christ, and being stuck in a lifestyle that is stagnant and constricted. There is a children’s story that illustrates this difference and I will read it to you. It is one of Arnold Lobel’s animal stories and is from the little book “Grasshopper on the Road.” The story is called, “Always.”

In the late afternoon Grasshopper saw a mushroom. It was growing at the edge of the road. “I will rest my feet,” he said. Grasshopper sat down on the mushroom. Three butterflies flew down. “Grasshopper,” said the butterflies, “you will have to move.” “Yes,” said the first butterfly. “You are sitting on our place. Every afternoon at this time, we fly to this mushroom. We sit down on it for a while.” “There are lots of other mushrooms,” said Grasshopper. “They will not do,” said the second butterfly. “This is the mushroom we always sit on.” Grasshopper got up. The three butterflies sat down.

“Each and every day we do the same thing at the same time,” said the third butterfly. “We like it that way.” “We wake up in the morning,” said the first butterfly. “We scratch our heads three times.” “Always,” said the second butterfly. “Then we open and close our wings four times. We fly in a circle six times.” “Always,” said the third butterfly. “We go to the same tree and eat the same lunch every day.” “Always,” said the first butterfly. “After lunch we sit on the same sunflower. We take the same nap. We have the same dream. “What sort of dream?” asked Grasshopper. “We dream that we are sitting on a sunflower taking a nap,” said the second butterfly. “Always,” said the third butterfly. “When we wake up, we scratch our heads three more times. We fly in a circle six more times.” “Then we come here,” said the first butterfly. “We sit down on this mushroom.” “Always,” said the second butterfly. “Don’t you ever change anything?” asked Grasshopper. “No, never,” said the butterflies. “Each day is fine for us.”

“Grasshopper,” said the butterflies, “we like talking to you. We will meet you every day at this time. We will sit on this mushroom. You will sit right there. We will tell you all about our scratching and our flying. We will tell you all about our napping and our dreaming. You will listen just the way you are listening now.” “No,” said Grasshopper. “I am sorry, but I will not be here. I will be moving on. I will be doing new things.” “That is too bad,” said the butterflies. “We will miss you. Grasshopper, do you really do something different every day of your life?” “Always,” said Grasshopper. “Always and always!” He said good-bye to the butterflies and walked quickly down the road.

We all have our mushrooms, and our personal ritual dances! They are different for each one of us but they can become so much a part of us that we cannot think beyond them. We certainly need to be steadfast, but not stuck. It is the journey to the kingdom that is important and we have to be prepared to move on wherever the road takes us. As St. John reminds us in today’s Gospel reading Jesus gave the major clue: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It is as simple, and as complex, as that. “Love one another.”

Our piety in observing hours of prayer, our devotion to special acts and practices, all this can be important in helping us to focus attention on where we are going but it can also obscure our vision of who it is we serve and follow. The only true test is the love we show for each other. It is so much easier to take possession of the mushroom than it is to be gracious and kind to others - especially to those we do not particularly like. Just as that massive rock below the earth receives the constant drip of water which enables it to grow, however slow a process that is, so we can receive the soft dews of God’s grace that will change us and cause us to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Let us indeed pray ... that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life ... Amen.