Tuesday, December 28, 2010

First Sunday of Christmas

Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery, Grahamstown, South Africa
Brother Daniel Ludick, OHC
First Sunday of Christmas - 26 December 2010

Isaiah 63:7-9
Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

Br. Daniel Ludick, OHC, with his sister, on May 08, 2010,
the day of his Life Profession of the Benedictine Vow.

“Love is a disgusting four letter word scratched out on a public toilet wall!” This is a free translation from a poem that Breyten Breytenbach, the well-known Afrikaans poet and activist, wrote while he was in exile in France in the 1970’s. “Love is a disgusting four letter word scratched out on a public toilet wall!”

We have just yesterday celebrated the birth of Jesus. Just yesterday, and already today he is a refugee, fleeing into exile. And he is going into exile because he was born in a time of fear and hatred and corruption and injustice.

Why does this sound so familiar?

In my more cynical moments, I think there is a whole list on that toilet wall that includes hope, justice, faith and charity. And perhaps those words are just graffiti on a toilet wall instead of the walls of our hearts, where they belong, because we have also exiled Jesus to another country or place. An old monk in our Order said that we cannot deal with Christ and his Gospel commandments in the here and now, so we have shot him off into the future so that we do not have to deal with all that stuff in the here and now. Stuff like; love God above all else and your neighbor as yourself.

How easy it is for us to exile Jesus. Jesus himself said when we meet the other, and feed them or clothe them; we do it to him also. But by not doing these things Jesus is exiled and turned into a refugee the world over, day by day. And why? Because love and hope and charity and justice have also been exiled to a toilet wall.

How are we going to get those words off that toilet wall and into our hearts and the heart of the world and turn them into actions of redemption for all of us? I suggest we could do it by looking our neighbor in the eye and saying to them; “Here is a cup of cold water for your thirst, a jacket for the cold and a piece of bread for your hunger.”

Or perhaps also through humility?

Michael Casey writes that faith, hope and charity (or love) are the drivers of humility. Humility links us to exaltation in God. Faith, he says, gives us the insight to perceive the workings of Providence in the practical realities of daily life. He continues to say that hope enables us to endure present incompleteness and difficulties in the confident assurance that all things work together unto good. He concludes by saying that charity (love) makes us forgetful of the self, it makes us willing to give others priority and makes us sincerely seeking God, who is the ultimate focus of all our loves.

Mary and Joseph are prime examples of this kind of humility. Mary’s saying yes to conceiving and bearing Jesus and Joseph's saying yes to marrying her anyway, despite the taboos of his day, and to take his family into exile on the strength of a dream.

With this as the example of what happens when we say yes, the end result is not pleasant, but we can be sure of clarity of vision and a heart that will be able to deal with what we see around us.

In the same way that Jesus’ exile did not stop when he was exiled with his family, the slaughter of the children has never stopped and continues unabated in our time. Matthew refers to Jeremiah in the retelling of Rachel’s wailing and loud lamentation for her children when he describes the killing of the children by Herod in the hope of killing Jesus. We have to become the Rachel for our generation and call the world’s attention to the horrors that are going on day by day. We must weep and lament when the most vulnerable of God’s children are sacrificed for war and greed and corruption.

We must get faith and hope and charity and love and justice back onto the walls of our hearts so we can have the strength to rise up against the Herods of our time and to say to them that they will not have any more of our children for slaughter! We have to work together to bring and sustain life where others plot death and destruction. And in the promise of the Gospels, it will be in these struggles that we will find life.

And this life keeps alive our hopes for Christmas.

Also in this hope is the presence of God in the same way that he was constantly present with Jesus and his family while they were in exile in Egypt. Knowing that God is present with us when we hear the cries of sorrow and pleas for justice, and even in our own cries of sorrow and our own pleas for justice and knowing that nothing can keep God away from us.

Too many parents are wailing and lamenting today and like Rachel, they refuse to be consoled because they have lost their children to slavery, to rebel armies as child soldiers, and as we have again recently seen in our own country, to child pornography. And we sitting here have so many examples right on our own doorsteps right here in Grahamstown.

Young, innocent martyrs, simply because Jesus is in their midst.

Today’s Gospel tells us that Christmas is not as pretty as we think it is, but we rather learn that this world can be very dangerous and it can be very cruel and life can be, and often is, subject to plots and schemes orchestrated by power hungry and corrupt, greedy people; the Herods of the world. And this is especially true if you are a child.

How can we, as followers of Jesus, have compassion for the Rachels of today? Perhaps we can share the love of Christ with them just by walking with them in their wailing and lamentation?

Yet we are always given hope, as we see again in the return of Jesus and his family from exile. We see that the Herods of this world do not prevail. Sooner or later they lose their power or they die. As we remember Jesus today and the dangers he faced as a refugee in exile, may we also remember all the children of this world who have been, or more importantly, are right now, as we sit here, being abused, tortured and murdered, or are fleeing their homes.

When we have love and charity and justice inscribed in our hearts, that will be when Christ will be back from his exile into the future and in our midst. And all the Herods of this world will be no more and our hope will be fulfilled.

And that is worth celebrating during the season of Christmas and all other seasons.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

RCL - Christmas Eve - 24 Dec 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park NY
Br. Adam McCoy, OHC
RCL - Christmas I, Christmas Eve, Friday 24 December 2010

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

There are a lot of pairs, of sets of two, in the nativity stories. There are two people, Mary and Joseph, obviously. There are two towns: Nazareth and Bethlehem. There are two divine announcements: the archangel Gabriel’s conversation with Mary announcing that she will be with child by the Holy Spirit, and the angel who appears in a dream to Joseph, telling him to name the child Jesus. There are two worlds of hospitality for the traveling couple: the world of ordinary human hospitality which is closed to them on that fateful night, and the world of animal agriculture, which finds room for them. There are two witnesses to the birth of Jesus from the wider world: the wise men from the East and the shepherds recruited by yet another angel, both come to honor the newborn babe. The magis’ encounter with Herod testifies to two worlds of power, one which is hostile to God’s purposes and one which eagerly seeks to cooperate with them. There are two journeys, one to Bethlehem to cooperate with one government’s bureaucratic census and another to Egypt to protect the child from another government’s tyranny. There are two sets of children: Jesus, who is protected, and the little boys of Bethlehem, all of whom two years old and under are killed by Herod’s troops.

And there are, of course two stories of the nativity, one in Matthew, centered on Joseph, and the other in Luke, with Mary as its focus. We often conflate them to produce a single story, which is useful for the Christmas pageant, and also for the créche, where by the time Epiphany comes, both shepherds and magi will stand as witnesses to the Christ child together. Scholars often set them against each other, looking for inconsistencies as proof that the accounts of the birth of Jesus are simply stories. But I think the two are complementary, like a diptych, a double-panel painting. They relate to each other: Each separately is beautiful, but taken together, they suggest something more than either is alone. The structure of a work of art, a story, even a gospel, even two gospels considered together, can tell us a lot. In this case, pairs of things, twos, are significant. We might ask ourselves why the early Christian community chose to represent the birth of Jesus with so many contrasting pairs, beginning with two stories. There may be a message there!

We can’t look at all of our pairs tonight, but we can look at one set, one that I haven’t mentioned yet.

I think there are two points of view, like two sides of our diptych, about Mary and Joseph. The first panel of the diptych carries a theme of simplicity, poverty, humility, social disapproval, exclusion. The second panel represents the theme of daring, of risk, of the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel.

So for our first panel: Neither Mary nor Joseph is a significant person in the worldly sense. Joseph is a workingman, and presumably Mary is from a similar social background. They seem to have little money and few connections, or else they would have been welcome somewhere in Bethlehem. They are content with a place among the animals, which perhaps not everyone might have been. They are perhaps not the poorest of the poor, but they are certainly not far up the ladder. Their temporary shelter is with animals out in the back shed. The first people who find out about the birth are poor shepherds, who do what poor people do because it is all they have to give: they come to visit.

Mary is engaged but not yet married when she hears God’s call to her. She answers and she becomes pregnant, not letting the almost certain social disaster which awaits her deter her. Such women in that society could be stoned for adultery. Joseph’s honor is on the line if he marries an already pregnant girl, but he too answers God’s call and provides a home, a family and legitimacy for Mary and her child. Their situation is tenuous, to say the least. God’s action is in the midst of the humble and troubled of the world, and he has chosen them as his agents.

And our second panel? Mary and Joseph are named for important biblical characters. The name of Mary harks back to Miriam, the sister of Aaron, whose short song celebrating the crossing of Israel over the Red Sea is thought by many to be the oldest text in the Bible: She “took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’ (Exodus 15:20-21) Think of Mary’s song, the Magnificat:

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’ (Luke 1:51-55)

Miriam is called a prophet in Exodus. Mary’s song is of a piece with Miriam’s: It is exultant, fierce, even frightening. It rejoices in God’s forceful, irresistible triumph for his people.

Joseph of Nazareth is named for Joseph, son of Jacob, foolish in his youth with his coat of many colors but wise in his old age. Sold into slavery by his brothers (talk about social exclusion!), he lives a life close to God, and through his dreams brings prosperity and even salvation to the Egyptians. He is the great wisdom figure in the scriptures. Like him, Joseph of Nazareth is brought to the point of disgrace and led by God through dreams to a place of wisdom that builds a great future for his people and the wider world.

A name often gives meaning to the person who bears it, particularly in traditional cultures. What might Mary and Joseph have thought of themselves, of their purposes in life, as they considered their namesakes? It is at least worth considering that the nativity stories reflect their actual characters. According to Luke, at Gabriel’s word Mary plunges straight into the unknown, welcoming her newborn child as the one who is to lead Israel in a new exodus. According to Matthew, Joseph accepts God’s explanation of Mary’s mysterious pregnancy and through his wise, generous and paternal actions gives nurture to Israel’s future salvation, and the salvation of more than Israel. Mary and Joseph both incarnate the deepest meaning of the lives they are called to recapitulate. Miriam’s cry of victory becomes Mary’s Magnificat. The first Joseph’s dreams of deliverance and prudent preparation for hard times to come become the second Joseph’s dreams leading to home and family and then another act of deliverance as the family flees for safety into Egypt. Joseph and Mary each represent the purposeful acts of human beings who dare to use their own lives to cooperate with God’s purpose.

So two pictures, side by side: on the one side, the simple peasant couple in trouble; on the other, a seemingly apocalyptic consciousness, steeped in the scriptures and the collective memory and expectation of Israel. Which is it? Can it be both?

And why not? Perhaps your mind has raced ahead. Is not the nativity the bringing together of two different natures, the human and the divine, in the Incarnation? If God can become man, why should not a simple peasant girl be the second Miriam, celebrating a new Exodus? Why should not Joseph of Nazareth recapitulate the prudent wisdom of Joseph son of Jacob, creating a future for his own people and others as well? Perhaps all the pairs are telling us something: Bringing together two to make them more than either. The magi and the shepherds, after all, both arrived at the manger for the same reason: to witness to the one who has reconciled man to God.

The one whose birth we celebrate tonight is very human: a powerful healer, a wise and discerning teacher and prophet, but from the back of the behind of nowhere, despised and rejected, true to his family in so many ways. And he is also the Word of God, the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth, who will accomplish the expectations and hopes, not only of Israel, but of all the world. The two are one in Him.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

RCL - Advent 4A - 19 Dec 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
RCL – Advent 4 A – Sunday 19 December 2010

Isaiah 7:10-16
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

Advent is the season of waiting... of anticipation... and its almost over... so nearly over that Matthew is already telling us about the birth of Jesus. Its part of an amazing annual cycle in which we make our hearts ready for God with us, we welcome Jesus into the world, and then, like clockwork, a few short months later during Holy Week we rid our world of Jesus by way of crucifixion, only to have the Easter event frustrate our plans.

Its a cycle that has repeated for thousands of years. Why?

One reason the cycle repeats, and must repeat, is that, as human beings, we are works in progress (or at least we like to think we're making progress). Each time we encounter this cycle we are different – so the encounter is different. Each encounter changes us. Its not so much a cycle as a spiral. We go round and round, but we are not exactly in orbit.

There is another reason why this cycle of Anticipation, Incarnation, and Crucifixion repeats. It has to do with expectation – and this is what I want to focus on today. We long for God with us, Emmanuel, but the god we long for and the God who is with us can be very different. Part of the reason the cycle ends in rejection (crucifixion) is that we don't get the god we want. At least that's my theory... And that suggests the question: What god do we want for Christmas?

Its easy to look back 2000 years and see that the people of Israel didn't get the Messiah they hoped for. They wanted a great military leader, a Messiah who would restore God's chosen people to the proper place of power and privilege. They wanted a super-hero...

Its tempting to say this was their error, but the truth is we still have a profound desire for a super-hero... A god who will save us from our enemies – who will destroy our enemies. But that god will not come to us this Christmas or any Christmas. Emmanuel comes to save us from ourselves, not our enemies.

Our ambivalence about a savior goes back further than 2000 years. If we look to the prophet Isaiah, we can see the conflict brewing.

This morning we're singing one of the great Advent hymns of all time – O Come Emmanuel. The hymn is based on 7 ancient prayers which date back some 1500 years. Each of these prayers has Isaiah as its foundation. These prayers become, at some time in history, the Magnificat Antiphons for the last days of Advent – which we still use today.

Each of these prayers addresses some particular name, some aspect by which we know God. These prayers focus us on the God who becomes incarnate and so they provide a good context in which to explore how the god we want differs from the God who comes.

What are we looking for, according to these prayers? For wisdom. For a great leader. For a sign. For a key. For the light. These things sound fine – who can argue with them... but things aren't so simple.

O Wisdom – Isaiah tells us that the spirit of the Lord is the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. The psalmist tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In our modern world, fear is a powerful, ever present motivating force. Terrorists derive all their power from fear – our fear. But even watching the Weather Chanel can be an exercise in fear... Modern fear, terror, seems to lead to anything but wisdom.

Yet Charles Darwin, of all people, made some profound observations about fear: He observed that fear in all animals begins with the same response – astonishment. The eyes open wide, the ears perk up, all the senses come fully awake – as the animal makes a choice about what to do. Usually the choice is whether to fight or run. That is what living creatures do.

But the fear of the Lord calls for surrender, not defense, not flight. In the original Latin of this prayer, the word for Wisdom is Sapientia. It is this same word that helps define human beings as different from other animals – Homo sapiens. Unlike other animals, when fear triggers our astonishment, we can respond with thought rather than reflex. We can, as Jesus demands, turn the other cheek.

We want a god who will destroy our enemies and we get a God who calls on us to be prepared to give up all we have, including our own lives, to make peace.

O Adonai – leader of the house of Israel... Law giver... judge. At some subliminal level the god of judgment is one of the most enduring and terrible pieces of our tradition. Some folks, for example Pat Robertson, are quite clear about the god of judgment – this god is always ready and waiting to crush us for our sins – because he loves us so much. This god is willing to let airplanes fly into the World Trade Center towers, or cause earthquakes to add to the suffering of the people of Haiti. This god gives people AIDS and cancer. This is a god who's judgment is swift and pitiless.

The good news is that this isn't the God who comes. Adonai, who Isaiah has in mind, comes to redeem us – to free us from what harms us, not to crush us.

I believe that Pat Robertson and his ilk really want a god who will destroy the folks of whom they disapprove and, naturally, reward folks like themselves. I also believe that, for them, part of the anticipated reward is that they get to watch the bad folks suffer – much as Lazarus got to watch from Heaven as the Dives, the rich man, suffered in Hell.

I find it much less pleasing to believe that part of me is not all that different from your standard issue, fire-and-brimstone breathing televangelist. But if I am honest, I have to admit that I, too, want a god who will make a perfect world for me by getting rid of the imperfect people – those would be the people I don't like. And instead we get Jesus who prefers the company of imperfect people and shuns the sanctimonious.

O Day-spring – O Morning Star – in Latin O Oriens (O Rising Sun would be a more accurate translation). Isaiah speaks of “the people who walked in darkness...” and tells how they have “seen a great light – on them light has shined.”

How we long for the God of Light – and yet at the same time how we love the god of darkness... In the bright clear light of day injustice is intolerable. Exploitation is intolerable. Hunger in a land of plenty is intolerable.

We want a god of light who will come and show us beauty. The reality is the God who comes will show us truth – and much of our truth is not beautiful, not tolerable. The god of darkness makes me comfortable. The God who comes will confront me with truth – and it will be most uncomfortable.

O Root of Jesse – O Radix Jesse in Latin – a sign for all people... A standard... a banner. What a funny image Isaiah has given us. We expect the sign to be lofty and uplifted – yet the root is rather humble and lowly. Of course Isaiah is speaking metaphorically, not literally – but still he has chosen a very humble image. Radix, the Latin word, lives on in English in the form of our humble radish – that savory, little root. Isaiah might roll his eyes at how I am torturing his simile, but I think this points us to one of the basic problems – we want a god that is glorious, gilded, spectacular, and the God who comes is more like a radish.

The God that comes to us can be such a surprise... We're like a child on Christmas morning anticipating the latest xBox or iPhone... and opening the package to find socks and underwear...

We get the God we need, not the god we want. Emmanuel, God with us, is with us no matter what we want or expect. That is the great beauty and mystery of Christmas: God comes to us, equally, to all of us, wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever we are, no matter what we expect, no matter what we want.

The images of the savior we want can make it hard to see God who is with us. Even so Lord Jesus, quickly come. Teach us wisdom. Help us to crave justice. Lead us in the path of humble love, service, and sacrifice. Be to us Emmanuel – God with us.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Solemnity of James Huntington, OHC – Thu 25 Nov 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Adam McCoy, OHC
The Solemnity of James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC – Thursday 25 November 2010

Father Huntington has so many identities: social reformer, union organizer, political radical; preacher, spiritual director, confessor, priest; initiator of Church organizations; author; and to us in particular, founder and legislator and monk. Every one of these is worth our attention, but if we even skimmed each of them today, we’d be here far into the afternoon and the turkey would get cold. So I want to do something different. Instead of delving into his biography, I want to hazard some thoughts about his basic ideas, his core concepts, what made him tick.

When I first started paying attention to Father Huntington the thing that struck me was his confidence. That confidence was not so much in his own actions, though he was never afraid to say or do things he thought were right and constructive, regardless of their approval or not by others. But his confidence, it seems to me, was in something much greater. I think he believed something like this: Something important is waiting to be born into the world. Everything is interconnected, and so every action is significant, and is multiplied by association. Holiness is a particularly potent agent by which God is bringing about this something important.

The late Victorian era was very different from ours in many ways, and not least in its sense of almost infinite optimism. Great things were happening and about to happen. Knowledge was expanding daily. Transportation systems were spanning oceans and continents. New industries flourished everywhere. People were drawn in masses to North America by the promise of its amazing economic expansion. Educational, cultural, social and health care institutions were founded and quickly expanded. The rich were unimaginably rich, as they are today, but were still formally committed to the religious and moral systems of the general community. Social awareness was being developed as never before. It was a heady time for a young and privileged man like Huntington. His family background and Harvard, with the excellent social connections that flowed from them, gave him a platform. An awakened consciousness married to his native self-confidence gave him eyes to see and ears to hear.

And Anglo-Catholic religion gave him a voice to speak. It is difficult to recapture the excitement of the Anglo-Catholic movement of those days today. Its realization of the deepest meaning of the Incarnation gave to that movement the insight that the whole world was waiting to be shown its true identity: Not only is every individual human being made in the sight of God, but the entire human social enterprise is of the deepest interest to God. Every act of prayer cooperates with the divine energy. Every celebration of the Eucharist opens the saving heart of Jesus to the world. To join in the Anglo-Catholic project was to sign on for the transformation of the world. To pray was to engage in one’s own life the very powers of God for good, to unite the one who prays with God’s compassionate yearning for every straining, struggling life. It was to let loose the Holy Spirit and cooperate in the co-creation of the New Jerusalem.

Spurred on by his Anglo-Catholic convictions, by theologians like Frederick Denison Maurice and by social thinkers of the secular world, Father Huntington believed in interconnection, of God with the world and of people with each other. For him that connectedness was a gift of the Holy Spirit, whether consciously realized or not. He thought that when a person acted, it had far more effect than that person could know, but that people acting in groups were far more significant than individuals acting in isolation ever could be. It is why he believed in labor unions, why he founded organizations and worked with committees and believed in structural transformation as well as individual salvation. It is why he believed in Henry George and the Single Tax, which tied all value to the ownership of land. This might justifiably be regarded, in the inimitable words of President Bush the Elder, as voodoo economics, but I think it appealed to Father Huntington because in the Single Tax he saw economics as a universal connectedness. It is why he made Fr. Allen Superior of the Order on the day Fr. Allen, the second member of the Order was life professed. The group was more important than any single individual. He believed that nothing happens in isolation, and that when the weakest is made strong, all are made better. He believed that people in association, in mutual involvement, are different, and if acting for good, are better than when they act alone. I would not be at all surprised to find that in his meditations, Father Huntington would have come to believe that the God who is One in Three, the Savior who is both Human and Divine, are themselves models of the communal life God wishes for us.

The human community Father Huntington envisioned would never leave the weak, the poor, the exploited, the sick, the unfortunate, behind. Such a community would actively seek the well-being of all. The love of God requires the restoration of the weakest so that God may be all in all. For Father Huntington, the Gospel is in fact the key to human social relations, and when one joins this Gospel action, one is joining in the great mediatorial work of Christ.

For Father Huntington it was as important to put this work of Christ into practice in one’s personal life as in one’s public and social life. Holiness can be found anywhere, but a monastic community is its traditional workshop. For Father Huntington and the early members of the Order it was hard to know where external observance left off and internal growth began, and in this they were one with the great sweep of monastic life, from Anthony and Pachomius through Benedict and on, to Merton and others in our own day. Early Holy Cross men were renowned for a prayer and working life which left hardly a minute unscheduled. They were renowned for their austerity, and they were criticized for it, and some of them did not bear it well. But the best of them, the great ones of our past, found in the practice of strict self-giving the great liberation which ascetic practice can bring to a heart yearning for the ever clearer, fuller presence of God. Such a life opens the heart to God and through God’s presence the heart opens to the love of others. In the holiness of good monastic practice love for God grows as the self is sanctified, and at the same time so does love for the brethren. And that love inevitably and rightly overflows from the community to the world, seeking others with whom to share.

These themes come together to form a world-view, one which I think is basic to Father Huntington’s understanding. I can find no better expression of them in his writings than in a passage which is tucked away in the chapter in his Rule devoted to “The Devout Study of Ascetic Writers”. It is perhaps his best statement of the sacred inner meaning of the monastic life.

Let us listen and see if we can hear these themes. Let us listen to them with the ears of our hearts, as a loving father, our own loving father, speaks to us:

The Kingdom, for the coming of which we pray, advances not only by the conversion of sinners, but by the raising of some souls to great holiness of life. Holiness is the brightness of divine love, and love is never idle; it must accomplish great things. Love must act as light must shine and fire must burn.

Monday, November 22, 2010

RCL - Proper 29C - Christ the King - 21 Nov 2010

Church of the Good Shepherd, Wantage, NJ
Br. James Michael Dowd, OHC
RCL – Proper 29 C - Christ the King – Sunday 21 November 2010

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Luke 23:33-43

Christ our King

Today's feast of Christ the King is, I think, a somewhat curious one for Americans. We don't really understand kings or kingdoms and from our history we are almost immediately distrustful of the idea of a king. We were right to proclaim ourselves independent of King George III back in 1776, and to forge our way into political freedom. For ten years of my life I lived in Williamsburg, VA and right there on the Duke of Gloucester Street, in the center of Colonial Williamsburg, stands Bruton Parish, which dates to 1674 and is among the earliest Anglican parishes in the New World. The staff at Bruton revel in telling tourists that the then Rector, John Bracken, was the first Rector to take the Prayer Book, and cross out the name of King George III in the Prayers of the People, and write in its place that of John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress.

One of the reasons we Americans are so opposed to the idea of a king is because it is seemingly written into our DNA to be opposed to tyranny. And having a king is equated to being controlled by a tyrant. Another reason this rubs us the wrong way is because a king indicates the presence of a kingdom and that means that our loyalties are subject to that kingdom, and not to our own freedom. Independence and individualization is particularly precious to Americans. We don't dare give that up. Most of all, I think we just rebel against the idea of someone, anyone, having unlimited power.

All in all, this feast of Christ the King then, seems like a tough one for many Americans. And yet, here we are: The last Sunday after Pentecost, a Sunday in which we begin our transition into the great mysteries of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter; a Sunday for which the Church has been pointing us towards for weeks, even months, now. A Sunday in which we proclaim Christ to be our King.

The image of Christ the King that is often presented to us in art is magisterial, powerful, Christ as the great Rule Giver, Christ as Judge. When I hear the words “Christ the King” I often think of the Roman Catholic Basilica in Washington, DC, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in which there is a giant mosaic of Christ as Judge and King – it, and many like it, is overpowering and rather intimidating.

Christ the King at Washington DC's Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
by Tuaussi

While these images of Christ the King are certainly out there in popular culture, in art, and even in some theologies, our readings this morning actually offer us a very different vision of what it means to proclaim Christ as King. The first reading, from the Prophet Jeremiah, lays out God's promise that “the days are surely coming, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king...” This reign was, in many ways, thought to be a reign that would be like that of King David's, and Jeremiah even tells us that during the reign of this new king, “Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.

Jesus is the fulfillment of all that the Prophets prophesy about and he does indeed come for the salvation of Israel – and the world. But his salvation is not that of a powerful king leading armies into battle. Christ's salvation is offered to us by coming to us as Jesus of Nazareth, a humble man, a working man, a man that is willing to live among us, love among us, die among us. Christ's salvation is offered to us in the form of Jesus' willing sacrifice on the cross, so that, as he told the repentant thief, we could be with him in paradise, today.

Like so much else in Christianity, when we delve more deeply into its message, we see that so much of reality is turned on its head. Christ simply will not let us get by with the status quo. Our definition of king is not enough. It may be a correct definition for an earthly king, but not for the King of the Jews, the King of Kings, the Eternal King.

That King is a king who, even while having nails driven into his body, so that he could be executed in a most hideous and humiliating way, was serving others by ministering to them in their hour of need. That King is a king who will forgive even those driving the nails into him for “they do not know what they are doing.” That King is a king who will acknowledge the thief's repentance by promising him a share in the Kingdom. That King is a king who forgives, leads others to salvation, and opens his arms to embrace all of humanity and offer them welcome into his Kingdom.

This weekend we have spent some time talking about the theme of “Praying in Anxious Times.” These are indeed anxious times, but no more anxious than many other periods of history were for the people who lived in them. Jesus Christ, our King, shows us the way to pray in anxious times. He calls on his Father. He asks God to forgive those who have tried to do harm to him. He encourages a repentant sinner and welcomes him back into the fold. These are all prayers. They are prayers of hope, prayers of forgiveness, prayers of service. Our King has given us a way to pray no matter how anxious the times, no matter our problems or the problems of the world around us.

The Psalmist sums up this attitude so well. Listen again to the first few verses of the psalm we prayed this morning:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
and though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea;

Though its waters rage and foam,
and though the mountains tremble at its tumult.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

When we find ourselves in trouble, in pain, suffering difficulties, in a state of sin, lost, lonely, or afraid, remember Jesus on the Cross. Remember that the establishment of God's Reign did not come in a powerful blast of shock and awe. God's Reign came in love, forgiveness, and total trust in God our Father.

This is our King's approach to faith. This is our King's invitation to each one of us to be part of that Kingdom of Faith. This is a Kingdom that I think any American, indeed any person around the world, could be part of. Not a Kingdom run by a tyrant who wages war on the people. No, this Kingdom is one that is led by a faithful God who welcomes us, loves us, forgives us, and saves us. This is a King named Jesus Christ.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

RCL - Proper 29C - Christ the King - 21 Nov 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC
RCL – Proper 29 C - Christ the King – Sunday 21 November 2010

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

Then one of the elders said to me: … “Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered…
And I saw…a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.
Revelation 5

Well, it’s official. Prince William, second in line to the British throne and probable future King, has announced his engagement to Ms. Kate Middleton of Bucklebury, soon to Princess Catherine. It’s the stuff of dreams, isn’t it?

How well I remember the wedding of Charles and Diana thirty years ago…. Getting up at some ridiculous hour, watching the pageantry and parades and processions and the protocol, noting carefully the liturgy and music, checking out the vestments, and sharing in some mysterious yet vital way in a sense of history and romance come close to home, even if it was only on a 13” television set. It was, in so many senses of the word, an archetypal moment, capturing the world’s imagination and psyche. It was also a religious moment, especially for those of us who are Anglicans as well as Anglophiles.

Some of you may remember Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie’s address to the couple, how he reminded them and us that there is an old Christian tradition that sees every couple, especially on their wedding day, as sovereigns of creation. He reminded them and us that, to this day in the wedding ceremony of the Eastern Orthodox churches, crowns are held over the bride and groom as symbols and reminders of the hidden glory and immense dignity that are intrinsic to marriage and indeed to any human relationship, human partnership, human loving… how it reflects and recapitulates Christ’s love for us, his Church.

There has, of course, been a lot of news coverage of the engagement, and it has ranged from the reasoned to the absurd. Among the best and most thought provoking was by Fr. Matt Malone, a Jesuit, in his blog (for America magazine) posted on November 19. Let me share a good part of it with you.
One of the amusing effects of this week's announcement that Britain's Prince William is going to marry his long-time girlfriend, Kate Middleton, is that every copy of the blue dress that Kate was wearing at their photo-op has disappeared. The shops here in London say that they sold out of the dresses within 24 hours of the latest event-of-the-century announcement. People understand why, of course, at least intuitively: everybody wants to be somebody and the somebody that everybody who's anybody wants to be this week is either partner in Britain's new royal couple.

For more than thirty years, however, a dedicated and growing group of scholars have been working on a theory that explains this kind of phenomenon more explicitly. These folks, a menagerie of cultural and literary critics, theologians, philosophers and sympathizers, are followers of Rene Girard, the French-American cultural critic, now easing his way into retirement after a successful teaching career at Stanford, among other places. Girard practically stumbled into an idea a few years back that he calls Mimetic Theory. The details are still being worked out…but the basic gist of the theory can be grasped by any ten-year-old, let alone the frenetic adults who were shaking down the racks at Harrod's this week.

The theory has three pillars:
First, Girard discovered, all desire is mimetic. Human beings copy one another, not just in terms of language, but in terms of what we want (apart from basic biological needs). The key here is that, strictly speaking, there are no desires that are your own. You get them all from others. Second, human conflict happens when the desires of multiple people converge on the same object. This is called mimetic rivalry and involves both objects we can see (that dress) and those we can't, such as a transcendent state of well-being (happiness). Third, this mimetic rivalry can plunge a whole community or society into crisis and this crisis is resolved through what Girard calls 'the scapegoat mechanism:' One person, then another, and then a whole group of people point the finger of suspicion at one individual, the sacrificial victim, who is then expelled or destroyed. This restores order to the community. …

Admittedly, that is all pretty bad news: we are, by nature, not really free and worse, we are prone to pretty brutal forms of violence. Well, maybe we suspected all of that anyway. The good news, however, is that according to Girard, there is a way out of all of this: the Gospel. In the words of one Girardian… Michael Kirwan, S.J.: "the gospel is the biblical spirit that exposes the truth of violent origins, takes the side of the victim and works toward the overcoming of scapegoating as a viable means of social formation." In other words, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus subvert the whole ghastly enterprise.
I’d like to reflect with you about this in terms of today’s feast: Christ the King.

Our image of kings and kingship has varied widely from ancient biblical times on. I think, first, for example, of warrior kings like David or Shaka Zulu or traditional tribal rulers like the Ghanaian Asahantehene. I think of absolute monarchs like the Pharaoh of Egypt or aesthetes ike Louis XIV or that English mensch Henry VIII or even—it can happen—Prince Charles with his Camilla.

When we think king, what do we think? Wealth, power, subjects, privilege, deference and pride of place, certainly. We think gold and jewels and ceremony and the ability to do pretty much what you want. We think armies and wars of succession. We think beauty and occasionally wisdom maybe even a holiness that allows power and wealth and privilege to be used—albeit rarely—for the common good. We think authority. We think Shakespeare.

And it is this complex image—kingship—that we ascribe today to our Lord Jesus Christ… an image rich in overtones and promise and peril. It is an image that seeks to assure us in this world of injustice and poverty, of suffering and sin that these will not be the final truths. It both reassures and warns us that there is a judgment, that is, a right ordering or reordering that surpasses and corrects present reality, both our own and that of the collective. It speaks of a word—a final word, an eternal word—that is true and right and noble.

From a triptych by Suzanne Schleck,
which hangs at Chirst Church, Toms River, NJ.

One of the most powerful ways of expressing this hope, this longing, this belief, this promise has been visually. Consider, for example, the Eastern Christian icon of Christ seated in glory, seated in judgment, seated on the clouds of heaven, book in hand, surrounded by angels, making all things new. It is the icon of righteous and effective power and liberating judgment. It is—rightly read—a promise of true restorative justice.

But in the canon of Eastern Christian iconography there is in fact only one icon that goes by the title “King of Glory”. We have a copy of it in our crypt, down below. And it is, on the surface at least, radically different from the icon of Christ seated in judgment.

Jesus Christ Extreme Humility from a tryptich of icons
by William Hart McNichols

It is in fact this…the icon know also as “Extreme Humility

Who is the King of Glory?” the psalmist asks (Ps. 24:8).

The King of Glory is none other than Christ crucified, head bowed, eyes closed, defeated, seated not on a throne but in his tomb. Humiliated to the utmost. And yet for us this is the King of Glory. As St. Paul says, cutting to the heart of the mystery of Jesus Christ and the mystery of our faith: “My power is made perfect, is completed and fulfilled, is known, in weakness.” And though we may resist it to our dying day, we must never forget that what is true of Jesus Christ and of St. Paul, is true of each one of us here today, is true of our institutions, is true of our world.

William Hart McNichols, S.J., himself a master iconographer, says of this icon:

One could ponder almost any image of Christ, from his impoverished birth to his awful death and find humility. How do we begin to look again at the gospel of Jesus, totally in terms of his humility? This is exactly what this icon is asking us to do, from the point of view of a life completely poured out, wasted, emptied, we look again at everything.

McNichols continues:

"This was not the Messiah Israel had hoped for, prayed for in the centuries of advent before. She, like us, wanted a leader who would embody power and destroy all enemies, the Lion of Judah who would smash them with the “iron rod.” What a terrible realization that the enemy was and is sin, that the iron rod was and is the Cross."

If Rene Girard is right in saying that all desire is mimetic, that is, copied, borrowed, learned…then we must be very careful as to what images of Christ the King we as church hold out for our admiration and veneration. The king seated in judgment is quite exciting and filled with hope and promise, especially for the wretched of the earth. The battle imagery is of Christ the Victor, and we may need that. But we will also and always need this as well if our desiring and dealings are to be life giving and redemptive… the image of Christ, the King of Glory, in extreme and utmost humility.

McNichols concludes:

This image of Extreme Humility exposes and then begs to convert our lust for vengeance and power, our “culture of death” with its accompanying desire for wars and leaders of war. We along with Israel, and then ages of Christians after, call out for the Lion of Judah. Through the infinite mercy of God we are given the Lamb.

The secret, of course, is that these are both the same icon. Identical. Different, but not different, as a Zen master might say. Or as Scripture tells us.

"Then one of the elders said to me: … “Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered…
And I saw…a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered."

The Lion and the Lamb are one.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

RCL - Proper 28C - 14 Nov 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. James Michael Dowd, OHC
RCL – Proper 28 C – Sunday 14 November 2010

Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

I Am About To Create New Heavens and a New Earth

Ancient peoples have long studied both the stars and the concept of time and have found them to be somehow related to one another, though that relationship is often wondrously clouded in mystery. Christians are, of course, an ancient people. And monastics are among the most ancient of Christians. And we monastics have for nearly the entire history of our faith, been looking to the sky and to the past and to the end times to understand our faith in the present.

And so, this week, as I was preparing my sermon and focusing particularly on the passages from Isaiah and Luke, with their revelations of end times and new orders, I was thrilled by an article that appeared in the New York Times, and in many scientific journals. I'd like to read to you from the first few paragraphs of the way Space.com reported on a new discovery:
Scientists have detected two gigantic bubbles of high-energy radiation spilling out from the Milky Way's center that may have erupted from a super-massive black hole.

The mysterious structures each span 25,000 light years across, meaning that together they cover more than half the area of the visible sky, and are emitting gamma rays, the highest energy wavelength of light.

The bulbous features may be evidence of a burst of star formation a few million years ago, researchers said. Or they may have been produced when a super-massive black hole in the center of our galaxy gobbled up a bunch of gas and dust.

The newly discovered structures remain an enigma for now, scientists said. “We don't fully understand their nature or origin” said study leader Doug Finkbeiner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
And so, it seems, the discipline of astronomy has as mysterious a revelation in this latest find, as does the discipline of theology in the context of our readings today. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” from Isaiah and “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately” from Luke, seem to all be summed up in the statement of Jesus that “there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

I am about to create...” sounds to me like an imminent event, something that will happen in the very short term. “The end will not follow immediately” sounds more like an event that will occur in the future – perhaps a considerable amount of time into the future.

And so all of this, the article regarding the giant bubble emitting gamma rays, the highest wavelength of light; and today's Scriptures, the promise of the light of heaven ever expanding throughout the universe, has me studying the sky and meditating on various concepts of time – just like the ancient monks.

And so, first I wanted to go back and study up a little on the definition of a light-year, which is actually a phrase that is used for the casual astronomer, not the scientist. Astronomers actually prefer the term parsec, which is, apparently, a more precise way of measuring. But for our purposes this morning, a light-year is, according to the International Astronomical Union, the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one Julian year.

One light year is equal to six trillion miles. Meaning that these “bubbles” that have been found are equal to 150 trillion miles each, for a total of 300 trillion miles. God's Name be praised!

Trying to comprehend all of that is really not much easier than trying to comprehend the idea of time that is presented to us in the Gospel of Luke. In the passage that we read today, just fourteen verses, some aspect of time, either in the past or in the present, is mentioned seven times. This obsession with time that the Gospel writer seems to have certainly grabbed my attention.

In poking around for some theological explanation of time, I came across an essay written by a Father Patrick Reardon, an Eastern Orthodox priest from Chicago entitled, “Chronos and Kairos.” These are two words used in Greek for “time.” What we English speakers use one word for – time – the Greeks use two words for.

Chronos is the word used to describe “time on the move, time as before and after, time as the future passing through the present and so becoming the past.” The English words chronic, chronicle, and chronology derive from chronos. “Measurement is one of the distinguishing characteristics of chronos, which is a quantitative concept. Time that cannot be measured is not chronos.

Kairos, on the other hand, is “qualitative rather than quantitative...[it is] significant rather than dimensional.” It cannot be measured because it implies the idea of quality, rather than quantity. It cannot be measured, Father Reardon tells us, because kairos is always a now. A now is, and can only be, the present moment. I think now can't be measured, or held onto, or even fully understood. Now is mystery and it is all we have.

And that leads me back to our readings from the Prophet Isaiah and from St. Luke. These are two of God's children who know how to communicate mystery. And the mystery we are contemplating today is none other than theosis - what St. Athanasius explained as “The Son of God becoming man, so that man might become god.” That, I think, is what the creation of new heavens and a new earth is all about. That is, what the wolf and the lamb feeding together is all about, that is what nothing being allowed to hurt or destroy on God's holy mountain is all about. It is a total remaking of the entire cosmos into God.

So if some of us, like myself, are all caught up in the great mysteries, in kairos, in the cosmos, how do all of us, including myself, live a life of faith in a world in which we must earn our own keep, make our own way, and tend to the daily grind just to keep body and soul together.

Enter St. Paul. In his Second Letter to the Thessalonians, he makes it quite clear when he exhorts the members of that community to “do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” And on top of that, they are not to be “weary of doing what is right.” Work is holy. It is good.

This was a particularly popular theme with our ancient father in the faith, St. Benedict – who gave us the Holy Rule that our community lives by today. What he called the opus dei, the work of God is, first and foremost, the worship of God. That's why we come here into this church to do what we do five times a day in our Offices and in the Holy Eucharist. Our entire being is to be made available to God each and every day so that we can be remade into God.

And this Holy Eucharist that we celebrate today is the exact kairos – the exact now – when all this will take place. For we are only given the now – this kairos – and to spend our now worshiping God and opening ourselves to the reality of being changed into Christ's Body is to open ourselves to the greatest act of faith.

This obedience to listen to God, a monk's first vow, in order to be totally stable within the now, a monk's second vow, is what brings about our conversion into Christ's Body, a monk's third vow. Monastic vows are a little sacrament that point all of God's people to the ultimate reality of Isaiah's vision. That reality in which within each one of us and throughout the cosmos, new heavens and a new earth are being created even as I speak to you. The discovery of two giant bubbles at the center of the Milky Way emitting the highest wavelength of light is a sacrament that point to that reality as well.

In fact, all of God's Creation is a sign that we are indeed in the End Times. That Time when all of Creation is transformed into the exact image that God desires – an image of love, an image of peace. This is not marked in chronos – we do not know in chronological time if the End will come tomorrow or in 10,000 years, or in a million years. But we do know this great Reality, our ultimate destination is in the act of becoming. All we have to do is read the signs being trumpeted from every news outlet: wars and insurrections; earthquakes, plagues and famines; God's people being arrested, tortured, persecuted and murdered in places like Iraq and China.

But the only way to get to this, our Future, is to live in the now. To be present to God who makes himself available to us right here in the now. Our liturgy this morning is the perfect sacrament for us to live into the now. In this gathering, where more than two or three have assembled, we know that we can see Jesus present among us. In the Scriptures we just heard, we know that the Word is being made into our own flesh. In the Eucharist that we are about to share, we know that God will transform bread and wine into Christ's Presence, allowing us to eat and drink that Presence and so be recreated into that presence.

Ancient people have ancient wisdom, given to us by God, proclaimed by the Prophets, fulfilled in Christ. This is a wisdom that transforms all of God's Creation into new heavens and a new earth right here in the now. When we hear Father Bede preside at the altar shortly, we are going to hear him pray “Your Spirit moved over the deep and brought all things into being: sun, moon, stars; earth, winds, and waters; and every living thing.” Then, a little later, we will hear him pray “Now gathered at your table, O God of all creation, and remembering Christ, crucified and risen, who was and is and is to come.

When we pray those words with Bede we are uniting the past, present, and future, indeed all of creation, into the now in a great mystery that reminds me of those gamma rays emitting the highest wavelength of light. But no matter how great those wavelengths are, they cannot possibly compare to the wavelength of light that is from God, that is God, in which God allows us to bask. A Light that is in the very act of changing us into light, right here in the now.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

RCL - Proper 27C - 07 Nov 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
RCL – Proper 27 C – Sunday 07 November 2010

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

By the mouth of the prophet Haggai, God tells us; My spirit abides among you; do not fear.

These days, I frequently read a French translation of the Bible that attempts to cleave more closely to Hebraic literary styles. This translation (by the late French Jew Andre Chouraqui) has Haggai’s message as (my translation in English);

My breath rises within you, quiver not.

I will ruminate this godly entreaty as we consider our readings today.
And I enjoin you; let God’s breath rise within you!
Quiver not, for God’s desire is to make us all his children, and heirs of his Kingdom. The way is laid out before us: live into the Holy Spirit’s sanctification, believe in the truth, and follow Jesus.

The Beloved says: My breath rises within you, quiver not.


Today’s gospel recounts one of the many instances of challenge and riposte in Jesus’ journey. The public challenge is usually a crafty presentation of a situation with a question. The question is usually designed to stump the one who is challenged or to force him to expose flaws in his thinking. It’s another honor transaction where the winner gains honor and the loser gets shamed.

Jesus comes out of this instance of challenge and riposte with heightened credibility and honor in the eyes of the onlookers. And as is often the case, Jesus uses his riposte to not only shame the would-be shamers but also to teach the teachable who are witnessing the challenge.

This time, it is the Sadducees who offer him a challenge. It can’t always be the Pharisees who get cast as the bad guys! The Sadducees were a priestly group, an aristocratic sect associated with the leadership of the Temple in Jerusalem. They and the Pharisees didn’t always see eye to eye. But they agreed on the opinion that Jesus was a troublemaker that Jesus needed to be curbed.

In today’s encounter, the Sadducees hope their challenge will force Jesus to make a response that shows gaping cracks in his teaching about resurrection (which the Sadducees did not believe in).

Jesus’ response silences his sadducean dissenters; but not before Jesus also opens up the glory of our hope as children of God.

God tells us: My breath rises within you, quiver not.


Jesus tells us about the age to come. In the age to come, we are like angels and are children of God, we are children of the resurrection, we cannot die anymore.

But Jesus does not deflower the mystery of this age to come. How we are to be resurrected, when, and in what form, is not revealed in this text. Our fully human Saviour does not attempt to wear out the mystery of God’s actions.

Yet, Jesus assures us that all those “deemed worthy“ of adoption by God will be alive to God. In case you missed it, in this text, we are kept wondering whether we will be adopted or not.

I take comfort in the expression “deemed worthy”. It speaks to me of God exercising judgement beyond a legalistic assessment of whether I am actually worthy or not. If God deems me to be worthy, that will be good enough. And what I believe about God makes me think that God will exercise a lot of leniency in that “deeming” whether we are worthy or not.

And remember, sacraments such as baptism and the Eucharist, in which we will take part shortly, renew to us the generous offer of God’s grace to us, the ongoing offer of our adoption, the grace of our salvation. God ardently desires us to be saved.

Still, we are always left free to live into that grace, or not. God desires us to live in Him forever. Indeed, that is our purpose. And God continuously works on our souls to enable us to live into that purpose.

One needs to be awe-struck at such a magnanimous God who gives us utter freedom and yet shows concern and constant love for God’s creatures. Hopefully, we keep giving our full assent to God’s working in us and we fully collaborate in his generous design.

But often enough, I’m afraid to say, it seems to me God has to work on my soul even despite myself.

But our Lord says: My breath rises within you, quiver not.


There are ways, though, to help us participate in the wonder of God saving our souls. The beauty of contemplative prayer, for example, is to help us to consent to God’s working in us. Such prayer reminds us to keep intending to be present to God’s presence. It asks us to keep our awareness on this moment in which God is actively at work through us whether we feel it or not. It asks us to return again and again to consenting to that presence and that action. It is an image of the journey of ongoing conversion.


In Luke’s gospel today, Jesus also suggests that human institutions, even very good ones, are only transitory instruments of our salvation. Mariage is certainly not condemned here but neither is it made to be an eternal truth. No human institution is to curtail the eternal grace of God. We are to work out our purpose in this age, maybe through its existing institutions. But neither the present age nor any of its institutions are to become the object of our adoration; no matter how profitable to our souls they may seem to us.

Don’t get too attached to your “dream life” as you dream it in the here and now. God’s dream for us is likely immeasurably bigger and different than most of it anyway.

We are to unflinchingly focus on God’s desire not ours. We need to remain oriented to God and let God lead us in all things. We are to embrace our adoption here and now; that we may enjoy it forever in God.

Our God says: My breath rises within you, quiver not.


In studying today’s gospel throughout the week, I found yet another hopeful gift to me. I realized that we cannot but imagine God’s coming age in terms of our own experience of time.

And God doesn’t need time, one of God’s nifty creations, for the coming age to be present to God. God is God not of the dead, but of the living. Already in the time of Moses, Jesus reminds us, forebears of Israel were alive to God. It is only in my present experience of time that the age to come seems to lay in the future. The age to come is already actual and present to God.

And if, as myself, you hope that some of your bygone beloved are forever adopted in God, it is a consoling concept to imagine them currently alive to God and interceding for us to become worthy of such adoption.


So, in one single answer to the Sadducees of his time, Jesus has rejected our anxiety to figure out God’s rising Kingdom. And all the while, Jesus is flinging open the gates of a wondrous adoption to eternal life in God. Thanks be to God for the stupendous offer that is always before us.

The Lover of All Souls says: My breath rises within you, quiver not.


Let us finish with the Apostle Paul’s prayer on behalf of his Thessalonian flock:
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)


Sunday, October 31, 2010

RCL - All Saints - October 31, 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Andrew Colquhoun, OHC
RCL - All Saints C - Sunday 31 October 2010

Daniel 7:1-3,15-18
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

Each year in Grahamstown, South Africa, there is a festival of the arts. It’s modeled on the Edinburgh Festival with music, drama, street theater, the Fringe and some wonderful nonsense and great food. I always loved it.

One year, a group of South African artists presented the Chester Cycle of the mystery plays. These date from the 15th century.

The group’s staging was wonderful… the chorus were saints. They were dressed in cloth of gold and their headdresses were fashioned to look like icons. Square and standing around their heads. Every time they moved, they glowed in the lights of the theater. Heavenly, beautiful and chilling at the same time. Not of us, not at all.

Then the music started… and the musicians played garbage cans and coke bottles. While I had been enthralled by the glowing beauty of the figures, the music brought me right back to earth, to incarnation, to roughness and pain… to life. It was brilliant! Holiness and the ordinary in a wonderful mix.

This feast of All Saints is like that. It captures the heart. This celebration of all the holy women and men from all time past and all time to come surely must touch each of us. It brings awe and wonder; it brings us to our knees in humility. It makes us look at our lives and wonder if we will ever make the roll of the holy ones.

And there’s quite a bunch of them. We really only celebrate the biggies here. Scholars, bishops, monks, nuns, popes, missionaries, kings and queens, apostles, martyrs, hermits and pastors. All with credentials that bid us admire and venerate them. And I do love them – all those holy people – some of them quite surprised, I’m sure, to have a feast day.

Most of them would be more comfortable with the dustbin band and the coke bottles than the great heavenly strings… because truth to tell, most of them didn’t try to be saints. They tried to be human – fully human as the Lord they followed was fully human. Fully in love with God’s people, filled with hunger… hunger of the mind, hunger of the heart. The fled to the desert and found themselves one with each other. Living in the cloister, they became fully aware of the poor at the door. They wrote, they preached, they debated; they traveled to distant places far from their homes. They suffered, they struggled - and God claimed them. And God made them saints!

Just as God has made us saints! On this feast we don’t merely remember the superstars but also the ordinary saints who, all unbeknownst even to themselves, transform the world. You know them – the foster mothers who always have room for one more; the nurses who take on double shifts rather than leave the suffering; the teacher who labors to bring light to a student’s eyes; the teenager who befriends the odd one out in class – all of them are saints. And they are everywhere. This church is packed with them – all the company, all the time. I believe that at the loneliest place in my heart, there they are – loving and holding me. I believe that when I walk and stumble, they are there to cheer me on. I believe that when I fall into the comfort trap, they convict me. I believe that when I have no strength to act, they act for me. And when we can believe that, there is no room left for despair or paralysis of fear. It’s the incarnation – Christ present in us. In all history, in every dark place where one of us shines, where one person gives food to the hungry, where one teenager scared of his sexuality is loved and unashamed, where the exhausted single mother is treasured as beautiful, there are the saints at work; there God is praised, there Christ is born again.

So this is a feast of hope and joy. It’s also a feast of calling, of pulling us forward into the dark places where we would rather not go. Jesus makes no bones about it. He doesn’t spiritualize the blessings – it isn’t the poor in spirit he talks about. It’s the poor, the dirt poor. Their hunger is not for righteousness, it’s for food. Luke the physician reports it as he knows it. And the woes are just as down and dirty. If you have everything now, don’t expect more. Life in the incarnate Lord is not cloth of gold and living icons for most of the world. It’s garbage cans and empty bottles and grubbing for existence.

So we join the saints at the dumpsters, in the churches, in the quiet places and in the streets. This is a feast of wonder and delight and promise because the saints are here – canonized or unrecognized; prelate or your Aunt Helen; wise old men or children. All here, all hungry and thirsty, and all gathered with us at the altar for the only Word that can satisfy. All the heart of God is here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

RCL - Proper 23C - October 09, 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Adam McCoy, OHC
RCL - Proper 23C - October 10, 2010

2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

Some years ago I was walking down East 109th Street from St. Edward’s Church in East Harlem, where I was the priest, toward the subway and the super at one of the buildings said hello. I stopped and said hello and pretty soon it was clear to me that he had something to say. Now if you live in New York City and one of the supers has something to say, even if he’s not your super, you should generally listen, because they know lots of useful things. He said to me that he had been watching me over the past few days and he saw that I had not been smiling much, and wondered if something was wrong. I said something noncommital. And then he said something I have not forgotten. He said, “You should be smiling because you know about the love of God. And if you can’t show it, Father, how can anyone else?” I thanked him and went on my way. It took me a while to admit to myself that I was knocked back a bit. I spent much of the rest of the day thinking about it, and when I saw him again I made sure I was smiling. I realized that day that I was one of the nine we just heard about in today’s gospel.

There were ten lepers. Ten lepers were cured. But only one turned back to give thanks, and as often happens in biblical narratives he was an outsider, the wrong sort of person. Today and every time this gospel story is read we give thanks for him. But what about the others? Because to be truthful, a lot of us are more like the nine than we are like this grateful Samaritan.

When we have problems, when we are sick, when things are not going our way, how often we sink into our situation and identify with it. Luke’s narrative shows this, actually. These people are called lepers. Just lepers. A more politically correct rendering might be something like “ten persons displaying symptoms like Hansen’s disease”. But the text is brutally realistic. In this telling they are described by their disease, as if they are their disease. Their identity for the purposes of the narrative is their leprosy. The are lepers. And as they turn away, all of them with faith enough to be cured, for they all do as Jesus tells them, the nine continue on their way. We don’t know what happened to them. But if they continued to be defined by the state of their health, they would presumably have become known as persons who were cured of leprosy, or perhaps Persons Formerly Known as Lepers. Maybe they became famous. But their identity would continue to be circumscribed by their condition.

In the moment the tenth leper turns back to thank God for the return of his health, however, Luke gives him a new identity. He is no longer just “a leper”, but suddenly, he is a Samaritan, a member of a particular human community. His ability to mingle as a normal person with others has been restored. He is now not a faceless representative of a disease but a member of a specific group of people, a part of a living people, with all that implies. He is human again. He is restored.

How many unsatisfactory categories can we put ourselves in? How many limiting labels can we apply to ourselves? We don’t have to seek far to find them.

What is the most dysfunctional aspect of the way we live our lives, the one which can define us if we let it? There is liberation in saying the word when we have been living in denial: Hi. I’m Adam. I’m a..... And then we name our addiction. Admitting to that identity is to start a journey of recovery. But it is not all we are.

What are the illnesses which constrain us in some way? We may not be lepers, but we can certainly be diabetics, cancer patients, gout sufferers, and there are times when we are so consumed by our ailments that we might as well become them. But they are not all we are.

What are the losses and failures of our lives? The jobs we did not get, or the jobs we got and lost. The friends no longer with us, the lovers, wives, husbands, family members, perhaps even children, who are gone but whose absence leaves such a gaping hole that we can hardly step over it in the morning to get on with things. Loss is real, and we can’t heal a loss until we face what it is. But it is not all we are.

When we define ourselves by what is wrong, we are reduced to something less than we actually are. If our inner sight is trained only on our dysfunction, our illness, our failure and our loss, then our sight is diminished, we see less, and our self shrivels. We pray for “it” to be cured as if “it” is the only important thing about us, and then when “it” is cured, we have been so focused on “it” we may have forgotten what else we could be. And so we go looking for another “it” to take its place.

But the tenth leper shows us a different way. That person had the focus or was given the grace to realize something wonderful has happened. It was probably an awkward and embarrassing moment, turning back, shouting, prostrating at Jesus’ feet. But in that moment the leper is given back a full human identity. And how wonderful it is that he is a Samaritan! God’s grace once again shows its power with the wrong kind of person! Maybe you’re the wrong kind of person. Maybe I am too. Maybe our wrongness is what God wants to lift up, to give to the world as a witness of grace and gratitude and restoration and wholeness from an unexpected source and from an unexpected person. Maybe the awkwardness inherent in us is what God wants.

How many times have we been given our lives back? It may be a simple way – curing a toothache that has become the unavoidable focus of our entire being while it lasted, or the resolution of some small but nagging problem. It may be something truly overwhelming – the discovery that a surgery can remove a tumor and give us years of life, or a relationship healed after years of hurt. I have to admit I’ve been given my life back more than several times, and I’m willing to bet you have too. And then what did I do when I got my life back? Most of the time, in a day or so I usually forgot all about it, and went looking for some other “it” to focus on. And when I do that, I will go on my way and not turn back to praise God. I will not make thanksgiving the center of my consciousness, but look for another incomplete identity, another way to be less than God wants me to be.

The difference between the nine lepers and the tenth is not the grace and goodness of God. God healed them all. The difference is that one of them was changed. He ceased to be a human manifestation of a problem and began to reorder his life. He put thanksgiving for his blessing in the middle of his life where his problem used to be and got back his full humanity.

I don’t remember what was on my mind that day when I met the super in the street. I can guess, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I was letting “it” take me over. I was becoming “it”. I know it wasn’t anything like the terrible disease those lepers had. But that super’s intervention was like the voice of Jesus to me. Quite apart from the quibbles about whether a priest’s behavior should present the perfect face of the community’s faith (which is often annoying to priests, but which quite a lot of people actually believe!), his question was reasonable. Why was I letting whatever “it” was take me over when the love of God was there for the taking? Go, just go, Jesus says, and the goodness of God for you will happen.

I got a big part of my life back that day. At least for that day I found the grace which allowed me to stop being defined by my problems, and at the end of that day I was able to turn around and praise God for it. I was able to move my self-preoccupation out of the spotlight and let God be there. Luke tells us that the odds are 9 to1 that we’ll slip back. And I do. But thank God for the 1.

Are we our problems? Or do we have problems? What is the center of our lives? Can we take ourselves out of the center and put God there? When our problems are resolved, can we turn in praise and thanks and remember who made us and loves us and calls us? And when they’re not resolved, can we live in the assurance of hope that the love of God is stronger than they are? Can we put “it” up against the love and call of God, and choose instead to center ourselves on God, to live in gratitude and thanksgiving? I hope so. It is the way to recovery. It is the way to full humanity. It is the way to restoration of our real identity as sons and daughters of the Most High.

Monday, September 27, 2010

RCL - Proper 21C - September 26, 2010 - Br. James

Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, CT
Br. James Michael Dowd, OHC
RCL - Proper 21C - September 26, 2010

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

Let's Listen to Moses and the Prophets

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This morning's Gospel passage from St. Luke is one of the more famous ones and throughout the Church's history has been used by many a preacher to illustrate God's wrath and the torments of hell that one will endure if they fail to live up to God's commandments. There are medieval sermons and paintings that are quite gruesome in their depictions of the suffering that the Rich Man received as punishment. But this is, after all, a story and I think it is important to not focus so much on these particular torments, but rather to get to the point of the story. And the first place to start is with the names of the characters.

Names are very important in Jewish culture and were often meant to indicate the type of character, temperament, and spiritual outlook of the individual. The Rich Man doesn't have a name. Yes, it is true that the Rich Man has often been called Dives, but that's simply the Latin for Rich Man. That which is important to him – his wealth – is how he is identified. Lazarus, on the other hand, is a derivative of the Hebrew Eleazar, which translates as “God is my help.” And so, that which is important to him – God – is how he is identified.

And right there, we have the first, and perhaps, most important distinction of these two men. The Rich Man is all about his money and enjoys his family, his friends, sumptuous feasting, great respect, the good life. His reward is in the present and will die with him. Lazarus, is all about God's help – and quite frankly, that help is not particularly evident in the present as he lies there at the gate of the Rich Man, begging for food, being ignored, while having dogs lick his wounds. His reward, it would seem, is yet to come. In a culture where names actually mean something this alone is quite a statement.

If we pay close attention to the story we see that Jesus is not condemning the Rich Man because he is wealthy. He is condemning him because, as we were taught in the First Letter to Timothy, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” for “those who are rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires.” The Rich Man fell into the temptation of narcissism, to be totally self-involved, of being more concerned with his own desire to gorge himself, than to throw even a few crumbs to a starving man outside his front door.

Money is not evil. In fact, a great deal of good for the Kingdom of God can be done with it. Being wealthy is not sinful. In fact, many wealthy people contribute to the building of the Kingdom. But wealth and all the comforts that go with it are a particularly dangerous temptation. If we hoard our wealth, if we do not share our wealth, if we ignore those who are not wealthy, then we face serious danger of losing our souls. Our souls belong to what we love. Where you place your love, is that which determines whether you are living a Christian life or not. God has already redeemed the world in Christ Jesus. So our choice, like the choice given to both the Rich Man and Lazarus is either to live a life that leads to heaven or to hell.

Now knowing how to live a life that leads to heaven as opposed to hell isn't so easy. But if we take the advice of Jesus to “listen to Moses and the Prophets” I think we get some good direction. This morning's reading from the Prophet Jeremiah seems, read out of context, a bit like an ad for Century 21. Jeremiah is told by the Lord to buy some land, he then enlists his cousin Hanamel to broker the deal, closes on the property by paying a considerable amount of money, signs the paperwork, and buries the deeds in an earthenware jar on the property for safekeeping.

What does this have to do with choosing heaven instead of hell? Well, in context, I think the message is clearer. All these real estate transactions are happening while Jeremiah is being confined by the Jewish King Zedekiah, in order to attempt to muzzle him; while the Babylonian army is besieging Jerusalem, and on the brink of overrunning it. Jeremiah has been calling the people to repentance and to amend their ways, all the while, standing with those same sinful people and passionately telling them of God's love and mercy. A symbol of that love and mercy is Jeremiah spending his own money – note that he was wealthy enough to purchase land – while a foreign army was about to overrun that land, so that he could communicate to his people that while some hell on earth was about to happen to them during the battle and with the ensuing exile, God would be with them and would one day restore them to their land where houses would be built, and fields would produce food, and vineyards would yield fruit.

Jeremiah stands with the oppressed of his land and points them to God with both his words and his actions. He does not abandon them when the going gets tough for him, or when the economy has soured, or while enemies are at the gates. He communicates to them with both his actions and his words that he believes in the God of mercy and love so much, that he is willing to invest in the future of their land by giving his treasure to it, even while an invading army is about to overrun it. Jeremiah's name, I might add, means “the Lord exalts.”

I've been thinking a good deal about these readings and how they apply to our own time. I think we are living through a difficult time. We are still fighting a war in Afghanistan. We continue to occupy Iraq. Neither country seems any closer to true peace than it was at the beginning of those wars. Terrorism continues to frighten us out of our sensible minds, poverty is on the rise, some are threatening to take newly acquired health care away from the most vulnerable, unemployment is at unacceptable levels, many good people have lost their homes. Lazarus seems to continue to starve right at our front gates.

And so there is great anger in the land. What fascinates me is not that there is anger, what fascinates me is who is angry. It is not the poor, the homeless, those who are going to lose their health insurance who are out making spectacles of themselves. No, the angry are a mob of people who continue to feast like the Rich Man, all the while heaping scorn, or worse, ignoring, the many Lazarus among us. People of means who are outraged that this country would attempt to actually assist those most in need. The irony of all this, is that many of these same people have named themselves Christian.

I could only wonder as this angry mob marched on Washington, presuming to compare themselves to a legitimate Prophet, Martin Luther King, as to whether they would halt their marching long enough in order to actually see those who suffer from poverty. I could only wonder if they would cease their chanting long enough to actually hear the cries of the homeless and unemployed, whom they trample with their marches. I could only wonder what a great heaven these folks could attain if they only put half of that angry energy to work for God's Kingdom. And then I remembered the words of Jesus and recalled that he ended the story by saying “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” And I wondered.

But wonder must always lead to prayer. Because a Christian must never lose hope, and prayer is the key to hope. When we choose to hoard our personal or communal wealth we lose our names, we lose our souls. When we choose to share it – especially when times are tough – we earn our names, we gain our souls.

My sisters and brothers, now is the time for us to place all of our hope in God, just as Jeremiah – he who is exalted – did in very difficult times. My brothers and sisters, today is the day in which we must totally place our faith in God, just as Lazarus – God is my help – did in awful personal circumstances. All of you good women and men, the Lord speaks to us today, this morning, here in Hartford, and he calls us to care for the poor, the oppressed, the hopeless, and even the angry among us, just as Jesus - God is our Salvation – did.

When we do this, when we choose hope instead of anger; when we choose to heap the plates of the poor with food, rather than scorn; when we choose heaven instead of hell; we will then have the right to call ourselves Christians, for we would have listened to Moses and the Prophets and Jesus the Christ. AMEN.

RCL - Proper 21C - September 26, 2010 - Br. Scott

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
RCL - Proper 21C - September 26, 2010

Amos 6:1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

In today's reading from the Gospel According to Luke we encounter the parable that previous generations would have known as the story of Dives and Lazarus. Its been the subject of musical composition, paintings, and such. Its one of the most portrayed stories in the Bible – probably because of its depiction of hell. For those looking for fire and brimstone – here it is...

These days its notable that Dives has been stripped of his name – he's now just “a rich man.” Dives never really was his name, just an adjective meaning, of course, rich man...

Lazarus, who had nothing in this world, has been allowed to keep his name – though his name is also, in a sense, an adjective. Lazarus is a form of Eliazar – which means “God is my help.”

Dives is rich and needs no help, and Lazarus is desperately poor and needs all the help he can get.

The presence of a proper name (or names in the days of Dives and Lazarus) leads some people to read this parable in strange ways. Parables, after all, don't contain names. They contain general references like “there was a man...” or “there was a man with a wine press...” Some believe this story is biographical; that it tells about specific people and their lives, and more importantly, their after-lives.

But the story is a parable – there is just no doubt about that. Dives and Lazarus are archetypes – not individuals.

The rich man, lets just call him Dives, isn't just rich – he is the definition of rich. He has nothing to do all day long except be rich. His clothes are as lavish as any royal garment, that's what the color purple tells us. And they are made of the same material as the highest of priestly attire, that's what fine linen tells us. The entrance to his home is as grand as the entrance to the Temple or the Governors palace – in translation the word gate is all that appears, but a word like “portico” might be more accurate. He leads a life of total abundance and comfort.

And Lazarus, the one whom God helps, is the definition of poor. Lame, covered with sores, the dogs who lick his wounds. He has nothing and no one.

Dogs licking his wounds is, in human terms, just one more insult. But Luke may have something more subtle in mind. Dogs, by nature – that is to say by the way God made them, lick their wounds. It is a form of cleaning and of comfort. It promotes healing and helps reduce infection... not that I recommend it...

If we can get beyond the initial “ick” factor, the dogs are, in their way and to the best of their ability, comforting and caring for Lazarus. They are doing what people, especially the rich man Dives, do not do. The dogs, in some way, are telling us about God's love.

And then both the rich man and the poor man die – this story does not linger on narrative... I love how it is just assumed that the rich man goes to hell – no discussion needed. And now he learns what Lazarus's life has been like – he learns suffering and pain. He also apparently learns compassion, for his greatest concern is for those he loves, that they might learn in life what he has only learned in death.

But the answer is that his family, his loved ones, already know what they need to know. If Moses and the prophets are not enough, nothing more will help – not even someone rising from the dead.

The economic realities of Jesus time were different than ours. Wealth was a zero sum game in that time. We take for granted that wealth can be created, as it were, from nothing. My wealth increasing does not depend on someone else's wealth decreasing. We live in a world where wealth can easily expand.

But in Jesus time, if I got richer, it meant someone else had to get poorer. It was a finite world. The amount of gold that could be found, or the amount of grain that could be harvested from a plot of land, didn't expand easily. A bad year could destroy the harvest, but in a good year, an acre of land could yield only so much. Wealth was more or less fixed. For Dives to win, someone, namely Lazarus, had to loose. You couldn't have one without the other.

So Dives had a real obligation to Lazarus. From its earliest days, Jewish law required giving to the poor. And Dives response to Lazarus was, in the internet parlance of today, an epic fail.

Jesus is not telling us about some past failure or future punishment in this parable. He's telling us about how we fail in the present.

Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep. I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you. Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. We know the texts just as Dives knew Moses and the Prophets...

We, unlike Dives and Lazarus, live in a world where new wealth can be created at unfathomable rates; where billions of dollars can wink into existence on the stock exchange in a good day of trading. On a bad day, they can just as quickly wink away...

Dives no longer requires Lazarus. In order for me to increase in wealth, it is not necessary for someone else to loose. What does this story have to say to us today?

I want to turn to the poet Edith Sitwell and her profound poem “Still Falls the Rain.” The poem was written in 1940 when World War II was beginning to rage. This poem, like so many, was given a nearly perfect musical setting by Benjamin Britten.

I'll read just a portion:

Still falls the Rain – Dark as the world of man, black as our loss -

Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails upon the cross.


Still falls the Rain At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.

Christ – that each day, each night, nails there - have mercy on us -

On Dives and on Lazarus:

Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.


Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man was once a child

who among beasts has lain -

'Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood for thee'.

Dives failure was not that he was rich. His failure was that he did not show Lazarus even the kindness that the dogs showed. He provided no food, bandaged no wounds, provided no comfort, showed no compassion.

And what of us? We have Moses... We have the Prophets. Take for example Amos who we heard from this morning: “Alas for those who are at ease – they shall be the first to go into exile... the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.”

We have the Gospels and new testament as well... for example, the letter to Timothy we heard from this morning: “As for those who are rich in the present age... they are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share...”

By any measure we are materially blessed. The amount of wealth in the United States today is unfathomable.

And we have hungry people, sick people who can't afford basic medical care, old people who are warehoused, mentally ill people who are sometimes left abandoned on our streets and other times locked away in prisons.

Dives asks Abraham to warn his loved ones and Abraham replies: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

Someone has come to us from the dead – someone we will encounter again as we gather around the Altar for Eucharist. We have all that Dives' family had and more...

Yet look around, listen to our social discourse, to our political leaders. Some of the most heartless voices are not those of the godless, but those who claim to be devout Christians. Look at how some of us grow ever richer – with Lazarus in our midst. The terrible conclusion forms in my mind: Abraham was right. We will not listen even if someone should rise from the dead... Our failure is epoch.

Yet Jesus story is not one of hopelessness. Edith Sitwell's poem is not one of hopelessness. Jesus is risen and comes to us again and again and again. My prayer is that each day we can listen more closely to Moses, to the Prophets, to the Gospel; that each day we can be better servants of God's love.