Sunday, March 28, 2010

RCL - Palm Sunday C - 28 Mar 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Mr. Matthew T. Leaycraft
RCL - Palm Sunday C - Sunday 27 March 2010

Isa 50:4-9a
Phil 2:5-11
Luke 19:28-40

The Divine Harmonic

I love the grand harmony implicit in every aspect of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Everything is alined, almost like magic. Jesus foretells that in the village the disciples will find tied up a colt that has never been ridden. They go, and immediately the colt appears, just as Jesus predicted. The curious owners arrive asking, as Jesus foretells (and well they might), why the disciples are untying the colt. They answer as Jesus instructed, “The Lord needs it.” This seems to satisfy the owners entirely. Off they go with the colt. Jesus seems omnipotent. Everything moves at his command. People, objects, even time itself, seem effortlessly within his grasp. He is free and everything comes to him.

The action speeds up and more join in. The disciples throw their cloaks on the colt. Almost supernaturally it seems, they lift Jesus onto the makeshift saddle. Everyone catches the spirit. The crowd surges toward Jesus laying down their cloaks before him. Disciples all, they were witnesses to Jesus curing the blind, healing the sick, and even bringing the dead Lazarus to life. Caught up in the ineffable wonder of God, the incarnate Christ among them, heaven and earth at this moment in rapturous unity, they sing out blessing God in Christ their King and praising the peace and glory of heaven now realized before their very eyes.

And yet, all this unfolds as Jesus knows himself to be in mortal danger. He walks boldly to what may come. In his greatest moment of glory he is at his most vulnerable. And yet, he is beyond fear: wide open, utterly free. His self offering is absolute. Obedience for him is his complete oneness with God. This is what leads him to give himself up to the situation as it unfolds. The offering of self in love is the only directive, the only authority. Nothing stands in his way either within him or without because in full obedience he is in divine harmony with all things: perfect love of God, perfect love of neighbor. And so, he is at his most powerful. Fully conscious even while riding on the little colt, he tells them, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out!”

Paul asks us to emulate this. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” But it doesn’t seem to be so easy. He asks us to be obedient.

Obedience. A loaded word for most of us. In our minds it implies some kind of objective set of rules or value system to which we must willingly or unwillingly comply. Rules. For some of us the word conjures images of self abnegation, the giving up of things, or desires, or individuality. Sometimes we relish the discipline of denial. Adherence to fixed rules is what we live for. There lies safety. It is our marker of identity. Often it takes the form of our maintaining our distinction from YOU, whoever you are, who don’t follow my or our rules. For others rules imply domination, repression, and punishment. The only thing to do is escape. We rebel. Make our own rule, a better rule. In the name of freedom which isn’t freedom at all. In our own compulsive reaction we act out in various ways. Fettered by rigidity or driven in license, our identity is of our own making. In both ways we are unfree.

As many of you know, my Seminarian Internship here at Holy Cross and status as a commuting graduate student between New York and New Haven means I log in hundreds of miles a week on the road. Have you noticed that high speed driving in recent years has taken on the psychic and adrenaline pumping intensity of intergalactic combat? I don’t quite know when this happened, but it is at times truly terrifying, weird, and exhilarating all at once. We travel down the highway among strangers. All these isolated and seemingly disembodied souls hurtling along shielded and concealed in the hard shells that encase them. The characters, stripped of their personalized and complicated masks, act out revealing themselves on an essential level. It’s primal and it’s dangerous.

There is the petite young woman in the gigantic black SUV doing close to 90 who breathes down your tail. With terrifying speed she races up behind you, her whole psyche bent on getting you out of her way in the passing lane. You can feel the energy, can’t you? Finally, frustrated and enraged, she swings to the right, passing you. Before you know it, she has aimed her vehicle directly in front of you. Though there is not much more than a car length between you and the car ahead, she’s pulling right in front of you. You want to scream, but you can’t. Time stands still - is this going to be it? Chaos, danger, and possibly death come in her wake. Fueled by blind anger, her rebellion is heedless of any reality but its own compulsive drive. As you feel the blood drain from your body, a death grip on the steering wheel, you slow down and make room for her. And off she goes, her trip an extended conflict with everything and everyone around her. Careless of the consequences, her reality collapsed into itself, love can not enter.

On the other side of the coin, I know a man in his late ’70’s who, making the trip from the Midwest to visit us, proudly announced when he arrived that for the entire length of the two day drive he never exceeded the 65 mile an hour speed limit. In fact, he proudly boasted, he did 60 most of the time, just to be sure he was operating within the prescribed boundaries. His companion, a woman of his own age, emerged from the car ashen and shaken. His immovable slowness, so contrary to the prevailing conditions, had driven the other drivers to frantic extremes, to avoid, get around, and pass him. Yet, he took pride in the mayhem, because he was right. No love here either.

To be honest, I am both of these drivers at different times. Reactive, rebellious, self righteous by turns. If you get caught up in this it is exhausting and debilitating. Adhering to the authority of an identity of our own making, sometimes conscious, much of the time acting blindly, we are lost. But, there are times we intuit another reality. Sometimes your drive down the highway and the path seems clear. Fully attentive in all directions at once, you synthesize your situation and act accordingly. You are free, unfettered by self and others, letting those pass who need to and wishing them well on their way. You accelerate, slow down, change lanes with spontaneous ease relating to situations and others in harmony, creating harmony as you go. The journey, exhilarating and nimble, is over before you know it. You arrive perhaps tired but happy. It was an experience of freedom, a liberation from self.

We get a glimpse of the deeper truth. Something drops away in us and we see our reality from a different perspective uncluttered by ourselves. In grace God enters freeing us from the falsehood of obedience to our inner demands, our inner demons - self created, self inflicted, conscious and unconscious. It can be as simple as disengaging from the highway madness, or it may be letting go of some primal state trapping you anger, hatred, judgment, fear or chaos, what have you, with all the violence of the demons that assailed St. Anthony of the Desert. With the insight into the truth comes freedom. We experience a relief so profound. And, as if that were not gift enough, love enters. Once you have a taste of the Divine Presence you want more, it leads you onward. It’s all you want. With every opening through the infinite grace of God, love fills the vacuum.

It is the movement of grace that brings us to a place like this. It’s a hospital really, for the trapped and blind. We come seeking freedom. Here we find a respite from our particular worlds in which we are defined. Stepping back we become more open to see ourselves as we are. In hospitality, community, silence, prayer, and the Eucharist, we turn our attention to God. Opening ourselves to God, God is able to enter us in new ways. We see more clearly ourselves as we are, free from our allegiance to our false authorities. In humility is our hope. The goal is true obedience, an opening of love so deep there is nothing else. The freer we are in that love the freer we are to love others. It is the divine rule, the one follows the other. Love of God love of neighbor, this is our calling, this the authority which more and more it is our delight to obey. In letting go we invite participation in the divine harmony.

Now as we enter Holy Week let us concentrate our attention and open our hearts to God. Let us look to those areas that confound us. The places where no light shines. The places that seem closed rather than open, those actions, thoughts, and feeling that seem to come from nowhere. Those are the places to look. Here is where we need to spend time. It’s a bit scary, we have everything to loose. We hold on. But, God is our constant companion. We see the truth, humility enters. We have nothing but ourselves, nothing but God.

With every opening, we enter the imperative of love, the radical freedom of obedience to God. We enter the gift of that true self within, born of God poured out from us to God and to neighbor . Bit by bit, from grace to grace we unfold. The old self drops away. Union with God and right relationship, fall into place. Each step lifting us closer to the freedom and glory of the Divine Harmony that greets us, enfolds us and leads us on until we can join with Paul saying:
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, .... every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

RCL - Annunciation - 25 Mar 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Charles Mizelle, n/OHC
RCL - Annunciation - Thursday 25 March 2010

Isaiah 7:10-14
Hebrews 10:4-10
Luke 1:26-38

Favored One

In our pantry we have a “gadget” called Holy Toast. It looks more like a cookie cutter. The idea is you press the mold into a piece of bread and as you toast it an image of Mary will appear. Well one day my curiosity got the better of me and I tried it. I pressed the mold into a slice of bread, put it into the toaster and waited. When my toast popped up no image of Mary had emerged. I shrugged my shoulders and thought...Mary does not make appearances to a Baptist.

Left behind in our pantry by an impish guest. Unconvincingly tested by an ex-Baptist monk...

When you grow up Southern Baptist you learn quickly that Mary is just a “B” actress in God’s theater. A bit player with only a small part to play. Jesus is what the show is all about and the only central character. All others simply have a small minority role.

When I was about 12 or 13 years old a Catholic family moved into our Baptist neighborhood. They went to church on Saturday afternoons, went to the beach on Sundays, had a house full of kids. They had many strange behaviors that made them all very suspect in our Baptist world. One of their sons was the same age as I and we became friends. I’ll never forget my Grandmothers reaction when she learned I had gone to church with him on a Saturday afternoon. I thought I would get extra credit for the additional time in church but she scolded “You didn’t pray to Mary did you? We don’t pray to Mary! We pray to Jesus!” The message was very clear--I had truly done something wrong by just being in a Catholic church.

So I must begin this morning by noting God’s great sense of humor in that the first sermon I am preaching in my monastic journey is about Mary. To this day, in fact as recently as last week, I still get questions of concern from my family about just where Mary fits into my faith, my worship, and my devotion. So I’ve learned to give a very evangelical response. In the God said it, I believe it, and that settles it philosophy of my upbringing I just say “God’s Word says Mary is the favored one and that settles it for me”.

Today is known as the Annunciation, the announcement of a divine birth by the archangel Gabriel. Gabriel is quite busy in this opening chapter to Luke’s gospel. He makes two visits to announce two different births; that of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. The stories hold both remarkable similarities and remarkable differences. But aren’t we in the middle of Lent? Isn’t Holy Week and our commemoration of Christ Passion quickly approaching? Shouldn’t the announcement of Christ’ birth come at the beginning of Advent? Here lies another conundrum for one who grew up Baptist and has embraced Liturgy late in his Christian formation. A little math will help us. Christ birth is celebrated on December 25th. Backing up 9 months from there we land squarely on March 25th.

I have always heard the Annunciation as a story about Jesus’ divine incarnation. To me it had always been a story about the miracle of a virgin birth, about God becoming man, and about God coming to live on earth among us. Today, I am no longer convinced that was Luke’s only agenda. The story Luke tells is very much a family story. It is a story of family scandal.

It is the story of a teenage girl, betrothed to be married. Not engaged in our sense of romantic love and weddings. Betrothal was a family arrangement where two families unite together. For Mary to turn up pregnant before the marriage takes place would be devastating news to both patriarchal families. It would result in great shame, humiliation and dishonor. This is the backdrop for Gabriel’s news for Mary.

This is the backdrop when Gabriel speaks to Mary saying “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” At that moment Mary had none of the status symbols required of her society to deem her a “favored one”. She had neither husband nor child to validate her existence. She was among the powerless people of her society. She was young in a world that values age. She was female in a world ruled by men. She was poor in a stratified economy. To say that Mary was perplexed by Gabriel’s greeting is one of the greatest understatements of all time. Not to mention that Mary also had to wrap her mind around the fact she was holding a conversation with an Angel.

Add it all up and you’ll see the facts conspire against Mary being a favored one.

Today, many assume and some erroneously preach that those who God favors will be blessed with social standing, wealth and good health. To be favored by God is equated with the good life. Yet Mary, God’s favored one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock. And next week we will follow that child as he is executed as a criminal. Status, comfort and prosperity have never been the trademarks of God’s blessing. This is a family story of scandal. The story has become so familiar to us that is familiarity masks the scandal.

If we read further in this first chapter of Luke we would see that Mary immediately goes to visit her Aunt, Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Again our familiarity with the story masks the scandal. Is this the story of a divine encounter between two mothers-to-be carrying infants with a divine mission? Or is this the story of a family sending a young teenage girl off to stay with a distant relative because of an untimely pregnancy? Or is it a story about both?

Gabriel had a window into Mary’s mind and heart which is why he called her “favored one”. Under normal circumstances Gabriel’s announcement would have been devastating news. In calmness and composure Mary only asks one simple question; “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”. I wish we had time to set the annunciation story of John the Baptist, which occurs at the beginning of this chapter, side by side with Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary.

In a similar story Zechariah questions how Elizabeth, his wife, will be able to conceive a child. But Zechariah asks a very different question than that of Mary’s. He questions “How will I know that this is so?”. Both Zechariah and Mary want to know how God will overcome the obvious obstacles of the physical body; one of old age, another of virginity. But Zechariah’s question goes further. He asks for proof. He asks for a sign. He asks in disbelief. And the archangel Gabriel was not amused. Zechariah’s disbelief left him mute and unable to speak until after John’s birth.

We see into the mind and heart of Mary from her response to Gabriel’s reply to her. “Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’” If Mary embodies a family scandal she also exemplifies the obedience that should follow from blessing. In the Rule of Benedict, our model for obedience in the monastic life, it states that obedience itself is a blessing.

As I have prayed over these texts the past several weeks this is the passage that kept surfacing for me. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary’s “yes” is unequivocal. It is an answer of profound faith. It is a statement of consent and of giving oneself fully to God. It is no-holds-barred obedience and the setting aside of her own fears and giving herself freely to God’s wishes. Her response was immediate. And in doing so Mary models for us detachment. She models for us the ultimate “letting go” of her concerns for herself and trusting God for the outcome.

The conundrum of this Advent story falling at the end of Lent is solved in seeing that the glory of Christmas and the glory of Easter are really about ordinary people saying “yes” to God. They are stories of what happens when we give our unequivocal consent. In doing so we are the ones scandalized as we allow God to lay full claim to our lives.

In Christ Name, Amen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

RCL - Lent 5 C - 21 Mar 2010 - Alison Quin

Christ the King Episcopal Church, Stone Ridge, NY
The Rev. Alison Quin
RCL - Lent 5 C - Sunday 21 March 2010

The Rev. Alison Quin often ministers to the Monastery community by celebrating the Eucharist for us on Friday mornings. She is the Rector of Christ the King parish in nearby Stone Ridge, NY. This sermon was written as a prose poem.

Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12: 1-8

Lazarus’ ragged breathing was the only sound in the room.

His sisters kept an agonized vigil at his side,

rising only to send for Jesus.

“Quick, run, bring him here.

Tell him Lazarus is dying!”

But Jesus didn’t come.

Lazarus drew his last breath.

An air of unreality descending,

the sisters began doing last things.

Washing and anointing their brother’s body,

trying to memorize the beloved face,

before covering it for all time with a cloth,

before they laid him in the tomb.

Friends and neighbors gathered,

bringing food, trying to console.

The wailing of the mourners was punctuated by silence

and then voices talking in hushed whispers

as if to avoid waking the dead man.

“Jesus is on his way!” cried one voice.

Martha rushed to meet him.

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died.”

If you had been here…

Why weren’t you here?


Jesus answers with an enigma:

“I am resurrection and I am life.

Whoever believes in me will never die.

Do you believe this?”

Martha believed—a miracle of faith

in a cloud of uncomprehending grief.

Mary came out next, weeping.

“Lord, if you had been here,

my brother would not have died.”

This time, the words pierced his heart

and Jesus wept as they led him

to the tomb where Lazarus lay.

“Take away the stone.”

“But he has been dead for four days!

The stench will be terrible.”

“Take away the stone.”

So they did.

“Lazarus, come out!”

Lazarus came out, weak, stumbling,

fingers fumbling at the cloth over his face.

Lazarus, impossibly alive again,

his mortal self reconstituted

by the Son of God, the Giver of Life.

The sisters, who went out weeping,

helped carry him home with shouts of joy.

Word got around: he even raises the dead!

Some were afraid—if we let him go on, everyone will believe in him.

And then the Romans will destroy all of us.

So from that day on, they planned to put him to death.

Jesus went away for a while with his disciples,

until it was time.

(We know what time that was—the shadow of the cross

still falls across our paths.)

Now he is at Bethany,

At dinner with Lazarus and the twelve,

with Mary and Martha,

celebrating the dying and rising.

Did they remember what Jesus had told them,

that he would die and rise again?

Did they sense that time past

and time future

and time present

were gathered into this one moment?

Or did their hearts fail them

when they looked into the abyss

and strained to take in the mystery

of joy and suffering held together

in the mind and heart of God?

Did they will themselves not to think about

what Jesus said

about his death?

At the house in Bethany, Lazarus and his sisters

already knew about

waiting for God

when all hope was extinguished.

Death and resurrection

was already written on their hearts,

and they believed.

Mary rushed to the shelf

where she kept her ointment;

the expensive stuff she was saving for her wedding.

She did what she could for Jesus.

She reached for him during his hour

and anointed him for his burial.

Her love was extravagant:

a whole pound of ointment!

Kneeling at his feet like a slave,

she wiped his feet with her hair,

A gesture of absurd intimacy.

The others averted their eyes, embarrassed,

except for Judas, who was angry

and scolded her.

The early church thought it was greed

that motivated him.

They accused him of stealing.

But maybe he was shocked and afraid

That Jesus would choose the path of suffering,

without even trying to resist the oppressors.

Maybe he could not bear

the awful mystery of death

(and such a death!)

leading to life.

Don’t our hearts quail before that mystery too?

Don’t we long for Easter without Good Friday?

And what about the poor?

“The poor will be with you always.”

Did Jesus really mean to condone poverty

and authorize the church to

spend money on luxuries?

Or was he simply reminding us,

in our abstract struggle for justice,

not to overlook the one standing

in front of us,

the one who needs our love?

Do we dare take that person’s hand,

and look with her into the abyss?

Can we kneel at her feet

and humbly serve, like Mary

and like Jesus?

Do we dare to love that one with abandon,

doing what we can,

spending what we have?

Could Judas and Mary be reconciled after all these years?

Can righteousness and mercy kiss each other?

And there is another question too:

can we let ourselves be loved with abandon,

as we face the various deaths in our lives?

Can we bear the intimacy and extravagance of God’s love,

revealed in the person kneeling at our feet?

Do we dare to believe, like Mary,

that dying with Christ,

we will be raised with him to new life?

Blessed, blessed is she who believed.

wherever the gospel is proclaimed

In the whole world,

What she has done will be told in remembrance of her.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

RCL - Lent 5 C - 21 Mar 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Adam McCoy, OHC
RCL - Lent 5 C - Sunday 21 March 2010

Isaiah 43:16-21
Philippians 3:4b-14
John 12: 1-8

I want to begin with an apology to the scripture scholars. Today’s Gospel reading is deeply complex when read alongside the other three Gospels. It occurs at structurally the same place - at the beginning of the Passion narrative, immediately after the authorities determine to have Jesus killed - in Mark, Matthew and John, but, strangely, it does not occur in Luke. In all three it is in Bethany, but in Mark and Matthew this event happens at the house of Simon the leper, while in John it seems to be at the house of Mary and Martha.

In Mark and Matthew the woman pours the ointment on Jesus’ head and is unnamed, while in John it is Mary, and she anoints his feet with her hair. Not only that, but this story in John is explicitly and a little awkwardly, linked to the story of the raising of Lazarus, which itself references this story. And to top it off, here are Martha and Mary acting precisely as Luke tells the story of their characters in another visit of Jesus to their house, one which does not occur in John. Many articles, even books, have doubtless emerged from these interconnections.

In the golden age of Anglican preaching, in the sixteenth and in the seventeenth and in the eighteenth and in the nineteenth and in the early twentieth centuries, we would have had time to explore these mysteries in depth, because the congregation would have been disappointed if the sermon ran less than an hour, and would have been back at Sunday afternoon service for a second, possibly longer, dose.

We could have strolled hand in hand together down the pleasant lanes of biblical textual investigation for hours. But I learned in seminary that eyes would begin to glaze at ten minutes and rustling and coughing at twelve, with outright rebellion at fifteen. I am sure those times have not lengthened since then. So let us confine our attentions to the story in John as it meets us, without further complications.

As we hear John’s version of the dinner at Bethany, we are probably trained by past experience to notice the extravagant woman, and to wonder if this is Mary Magdalene, traditionally associated with the other two versions of the story. But it is Mary of Bethany, at Jesus’ feet while her sister Martha serves dinner. For two millenia the Contemplative and the Active, an argument about the fruits of the gospel, are prefigured in these two women. And we will also notice the little dialogue about the use of money: Could it not have been used for the poor? Is not this a waste?

Visions of contrast rise up before us, of St. Francis of Assisi on the one hand and Medici popes on the other, or perhaps Dorothy Day and the gold-plated faucet handles in the televangelist’s dog house. Jesus seems to give the go-ahead to expensive church projects of all kinds here, warning the do-gooder community to examine its motives, to remember self-interest buried in the rhetoric of helpfulness. Or so the art and music and vestment and stained glass window and beautiful building people might think, as they eye the poor box when it starts to fill up a little.

There is actually a lot boiling under the surface of this little story. I want to suggest that there is even more than there might at first seem to be. And the key is in the setting of this dinner.

Remember whose dinner it is. Mary, Martha and Lazarus have invited Jesus to a big dinner party. Right after Lazarus has been brought back to life. By Jesus. Think about this for a moment. This is not your usual first century cozy family seder, opened up a little to include our dear friend, the young unmarried rabbi. This is a Resurrection banquet. John’s Gospel is framed by eight signs or miracles, the eighth being the Resurrection of Jesus.

The raising of Lazarus is the seventh, the final and greatest miracle performed by Jesus himself. It is the sign and seal of Jesus’ earthly ministry and of his identity as the Son of God, the Logos incarnate. John tells us that Jesus was sent into a world which he as the Logos, the Word of God, had made, but his own world does not recognize him. But here, in this little village outside Jerusalem, he is known for who he is.

Death has been put to flight, new life has been given to Lazarus, and through him, to his sisters and to the whole community around them. Jesus now is celebrated by this little trinity, this family of three apparently also unmarried siblings. Of all those he has touched and healed, they are the ones who not only turned back to thank him, but have invited him into their home.

Doubtless all of Bethany is there as well. Martha has probably spared no expense, but instead of getting help, she serves the meal herself. Lazarus, the first of redeemed humanity to be raised to life, is seated alongside Jesus, who brought him back from the dead, who is in the place of honor. His sister Martha is the manager of this great moment. In the way of practical women everywhere she is giving thanks in the best way she can, and it is the best way any of us can imagine: A perfect family meal, grander than usual, all the best dishes in use, a time of comfort and joy, to which, if it were our meal, we would pray that the Lord would come and be with us.

This is the foretaste of the heavenly banquet. This is the Resurrection Eucharist. This is the reason why Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. This is the reason he will endure the week to come. Someone finally got the message. Humanity is ready for redemption.

But of course, this is not just any meal, even a very special meal. Mary kneels down at Jesus’ feet, and anoints them with a pound of pure ointment. God knows what it cost. It disappears onto his feet, filling the whole house with its scent. And she does it with her hair.

Is there anywhere a more extravagant symbol of pure gratitude, pure love? Mary and Martha have received their brother Lazarus back to life. How can anyone possibly pay God back for giving back life? It is not possible. But this meal, this extravagance, tries to do so.

The greatness of Martha and Mary is that even if they cannot possibly repay the gift they have been given, they try. They do what they can do, and they do it the best way they know how. Nothing is stinted. No corners are cut. Not even dignity is left unoffered, as one sister does the serving and the other anoints the feet with her hair. There is not a shred of self-regard. All is given, all is shared.

But there is another, even stranger, aspect to this story. There is Lazarus, back from the dead, seated and eating and talking with Jesus, letting his sisters embody what for their culture is the epitome of feminine virtue. The raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel is the occasion for the famous remark of Caiaphas, that it is fitting that one man should die for the people, which is spoken in the paragraph immediately preceding this story. The authorities are looking for Jesus, because they want to kill him.

So this event is, as anthropologists would say, liminal. It is on the threshold of the living and the dead. This dinner is dangerous. It is a risky business, this Resurrection banquet. Lazarus was dead and is alive. Jesus is alive and will soon die. They all know both of these things. News of the authorities’ determination has surely spread. The ointment is for funerals, and Jesus tells them so.

This time at table is for all of them a time in-between, a time when life can become death and death can become life. It is the symbol of the new life of Lazarus in this world, already begun, with his escape from death, a symbol of the new life of believers whose lives will be given new, undreamed possibilities in the resurrection of Christ. And it is the symbol of the impending death of Jesus, shortly and violently to happen, but with his death to this world the beginning of new, undreamed possibilities in his Resurrection. “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”, says the Lord through the prophet Isaiah.

And this dinner in Bethany is also a symbol of a community which is already gathering around Lazarus, the first of us to find the new life in this life, and around Jesus, the one who brings that life, and through the loss of his own life, gives life to all. This community is born of the gracious generosity of Martha and the selfless sacrifice of Mary, of their recognition in the face of danger that something new is being born and must be celebrated. There is risk in this resurrection community. The world, which Christ came to redeem does not recognize him and wants to kill him. Peter will deny Christ three times. But Martha, Mary and Lazarus at some risk to themselves, host a public feast with the most extravagant honor for Jesus.

And so here we are today at another resurrection banquet. Is Lazarus with us this morning? Has anyone here found new life? Are we willing to set a table in the face of our enemies and feast publicly? Are we ready to be that small part of the world the Word has made that does recognize him when he comes? Are we willing to give the most precious gift we can think of? Are we ready get down on our knees, let down our hair, and wash the feet of Jesus?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

RCL - Lent 3 C - 07 Mar 2010 - Br. Scott

Parish of March - St Mary's North March - and - St Paul's Dunrobin, Ontario, Canada
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
RCL - Lent 3 C - Sunday 07 March 2010

Exodus 3:1-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

When I was making arrangements for the Diocesan prayer program, I was asked if I would preach on Sunday - and I said sure. I was even asked a second time; and a second time I said sure. Then I read the lessons for today... If I had realized how prominent a place manure has in this Gospel reading I might have thought differently...

Manure adds an interesting earthiness in this Gospel passage. For many of us, our only encounter with manure, at least the literal kind, will be in the form of the sanitized, composted fertilizer sold in garden stores. It doesn’t smell at all. Roses love it. In some ways, this is the way we want our Christianity - sanitized... nothing objectionable... nothing smelly...

That’s not the way of Jesus. Its not the real world. George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community, observed some years ago that the church was too ethereal while its people were too material. Somewhere in the background of this Gospel passage I hear a reminder to be on this earth - this rich and fertile earth that is God’s creation. That is what humility is all about - being earth.

The Gospel is not rarified. It is not denatured. Its not sanitized. When it becomes too ethereal than we are free to be too material.
But that is just a passing implication of this morning’s reading. There are really two big things we need to look at.

First, Pilate has killed a group of Galileans in a particularly disturbing way. And this raises the age-old question: Why did this happen? Or more explicitly: Why did God allow this to happen?

We hear echos and variations of this question whenever something terrible happens. Why did God allow (or even cause) an earthquake in Haiti? Why did God allow airplanes to fly into the World Trade Center in New York.

Jesus asks the crowd if they think the Galileans suffered this terrible fate because they were worse sinners than everyone else. Just as we might ask ourselves if the people of the US or Haiti, are worse sinners. Are these Godly punishment for particular wickedness?

Some people dare to answer this question yes, concluding that God causes, or at least permits terrible disasters. These people are usually then able supply all the details about why God does this.

The next time you are tempted to take one of these people seriously, keep in mind how Jesus answers his own question. The answer is no. Disasters are not punishment from God meted out to the guilty. We have it from the mouth of Jesus... from the mouth of God.

Jesus goes a bit further... a second disaster... People have been killed by a building collapse at Siloam. We go from manmade atrocity (Pilate slaughtering people at worship) to more or less natural disaster (a tower collapses). Are those who died worse offenders than everyone else? Again, there are those voices that want to answer yes, but Jesus is clear. The answer is no.

It would be really nice if Jesus went one step further. It would be nice to know why these tragedies do happen. But Jesus leaves that question alone. We can really only conclude that there is no reason. Sometimes things just happen. This is an unsatisfying answer so the question keeps coming up.

God’s world is a world of rich and exciting creativity. It has unending cycles of birth and rebirth. But those cycles of birth and rebirth also include death. Disaster strikes. Destruction follows. From the ashes new life takes shape. God’s creation is both constructive and destructive. God doesn’t tell us why.

The Gospel story doesn’t end there. I said there were two things to look at... And here is the second thing: Jesus shares a very brief parable. A man has a non-productive fig tree so he tells his gardener to replace it. No, says the gardener, let me nurture it a bit longer... we’ll give it another chance.

These days we make lots of room for plants that don’t do much... We simply enjoy their beauty. But this fig tree had a purpose - to produce food. It was not an ornamental shrub. Its failure to yield food means that somebody has less to eat. The fig tree’s failure has consequences. The decision to give it one more year and to give it manure also has consequences. The fertilizer could be used on more productive fig trees. The fig tree takes up space and it wastes resources.

So they give the fig tree one more year, but I doubt they’ll give it two...

Why, in the face of Pilot’s atrocity with the Galileans and in the face of this collapsing tower of Siloam, is this story of the fig-less fig tree on Jesus’ mind?

Jesus seems to be telling us that the things we want to see as God’s judgment are not examples of God’s judgment. Atrocities and disaster are not signs of God’s judgment. But, at the same time, we need to know that God’s judgment is coming.

When disaster, natural or man-made, happens we want to look at what they, the victims, did wrong. We want to suppose that they are worse sinners... which would make us better sinners... In some ways we’re looking for assurance that it won’t happen to us. We just need to get right and stay right with God.

No says Jesus. We’re all the same sort of sinners - or in the rich language of our prayer book tradition, “miserable offenders.” We’ll all perish as they did... unless we repent.

Jesus asks something of us. God will nurture us and tend us, but we’re going to have to produce some figs. We’re going to have to repent. What might this look like?

As we approach Easter, we’ll hear Jesus telling us that we will be known as followers by our love. Just as a fig tree must bear figs, so followers of the God of love must show forth love.

The church is too ethereal and we are too material... Those words of George MacLeod echo in my mind.

Its very nice in our Anglican tradition to get together on Sunday and pray good prayers and enjoy beautiful liturgy. If that’s all we do, its too ethereal.

Just as the fig tree gets its roots covered in manure, we’re going to have to be prepared to get our feet dirty. As a church we’re going to have to be more earthy and as individuals we’re going to have to be less material. We’ll have to share our stuff.

We’re going to have to comfort the sorrowful, not just by praying for them, but by praying with them. We’re going to have to feed the hungry not just by sending off money and food, but by breaking bread with God’s children who are hungry.

Breaking bread with the poor doesn’t earn us salvation. It teaches us about God. Defending those who are defenseless won’t get us into heaven. It will help us to know God.

Scripture tells us the kingdom of heaven is very near us - in fact its all around us. When we sit with someone who is dying, we can glimpse the Kingdom. When we spend time with a prisoner, they can tell us about the Kingdom. In the eyes of children we can see God’s Kingdom reflected.

Jesus’ parting words to us by way of Peter are “Feed my sheep.”

If we think this feeding can be accomplished at a safe distance - that’s too ethereal. If we think this feeding is a good way for those of us who are whole to help those who are suffering, that’s too material.

Bearing figs will fundamentally change the fig tree. Feeding God’s sheep will fundamentally change us.

In Jesus name, Amen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

RCL - Lent 3 C - 07 Mar 2010

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Lary Pearce, OHC
RCL - Lent 3 C - Sunday 07 March 2010

Exodus 3:1-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

Dig It and Dung It

The mention of figs and fig trees brings happy memories to me. My maternal grandmother had a large fig tree behind her house in coastal South Carolina. My mother knew what to do with figs. Most years she would buy several dishpans full of figs, put them in glass jars, and seal the jars. That was how she made fig preserves, which she would serve with hot biscuits and spicy sausages for breakfast.

Today’s gospel is not about a happy childhood memory. Rather, it is a stern warning to amend one’s life while there is time. Jesus’ mention of the tower of Siloam reminds me of other towers. There is the Tower of Babel which humans built in a sinfully proud attempt to reach heaven and making themselves the equals of God. God frustrated that project by confusing human language and dividing the human race linguistically.

Another tower is the world trade center with its two towers. If the people who died on 9/11 had known they were going to die would they have amended their ways. Am I any better than the people who died in collapse of those buildings? I think not. Things happen and I certainly am not competent to judge other people. Even Jesus deferred judgment to his father. That being the case I know that my duty is not to condemn other people. My duty is to comfort, to succor, and to love.

The recent earthquake in Haiti devastated that already poverty stricken country. Some folks, including a well known evangelist, Pat Robinson, think that the Haitians got what they deserved. He said the Haitians made a pact with the Devil during their war of liberation from the French. To pursue this line of thought a little further, were the people of New Orleans any more wicked than the people of New York City?
Another example that brings the problem even closer to home is, were the monks of Holy Cross Monastery holier than the monks of Mt Calvary Monastery, when their monastery burned a couple of years ago? I doubt it.

If I knew the day on which I am going to die, how would I change my life? I can’t honestly say that I would go to Church more or take communion more often. Rather, I think I would hope to think kinder, gentler thoughts toward my brothers, toward our guests, toward everyone with whom I come in contact. Also, I would spend more time in meditation.

I am under sentence of death. That is the human condition. Still, I know that Jesus died and showed the way through death to eternal life. Still like the fig tree I have some time before I die, and, unlike the fig tree I can cultivate my spiritual life, and, by God’s grace, prepare not for my death, but for eternal life. God loves each human being immeasurably, and he does respect the free will of every human so that they can accept or reject God’s love. I pray that I will have the wisdom to accept God’s love.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

RCL - commemoration of John & Charles Wesley - 03 Mar 2010

Berkeley Divinity School --- Marquand Chapel
Matthew T. Leaycraft*, Senior Sermon**
RCL - Service of Christian Unity in Commemoration of John and Charles Wesley - Wednesday 03 March 2010

* Matthew is a third year seminarian at Berkeley Divinity School. As part of his third year of study he is doing an internship at Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, participating in many Guesthouse-related ministries.
** A Senior Sermon is delivered at the end of a seminarian's studies as a sign of accomplishment in homiletics.

Matthew in front of the Archbishop's residence in Canterbury
February 2010

Psalm 98
Isaiah 49:5-6
Luke 9:2-6:

And he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.'
And He Sent Them Out to Proclaim the Kingdom of God and to Heal.

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

Parting from my fellow Berkeley classmates and Canterbury Cathedral pilgrims a couple of weeks ago, I met my partner, Steve, in London for a short vacation. My now good friend, Diing, stayed with us for two nights. Our quarters were in Chelsea, a residential part of London characterized by a confidant and offhand elegance. The harmonious street-scape there speaks of an ordered and prosperous way of living which seems to assume that things have been, and always will be, just like this.

On Sunday we decided to go to Morning Prayer at the very beautiful Chelsea Old Church. An embodiment of English tradition, it had been the parish church of Sir Thomas Moore and the site of Henry VIII’s marriage to Jane Seymour.

The church was crowded with elegantly dressed, mostly elderly parishioners. There seemed no where to sit except a remote corner at the far back. But then I spotted an empty pew at the very front. Having lost patience with the false modesty that won’t take the forward seats even when there is no where else and you’re in the way, I led our threesome boldly up the aisle and sat down.

I was vaguely aware that our arrival and placement had caused a quiet stir. Three men arriving together fit no established relational category. The fact that two were white, highly suspect of being gay, and the third, a tall African, simply did not compute. I am sufficiently American to have found my self consciousness roused by the relentlessly upper class Englishness assembled around us.

I began to doubt my choice of seating. Perhaps it was presuming. My unease increased as Steve leaned over to say that the woman he had been chatting with was the wife of the Vicar. She was seated BEHIND us. Could it really be advisable, not to say polite, to have plunked ourselves down in the pew ahead of her?

Mid-way through the service my remaining confidence crumbled. I noticed that each of the beautifully embroidered kneelers before us bore some motto or heraldic device applicable to the Queen, and only the Queen. A lone example might simply reflect a royalist enthusiasm, but six in a row really left me in no doubt that we were irretrievably in the spotlit land of public faux pas. Inside a voice shouted a single word that can not be repeated here.

References to the Queen during the service seemed virtually continuous. I tried to enjoy the really beautiful experience while looking forward to a fast exit. I later learned that, indeed, that pew is reserved for the Queen or another member of her family should they decide to pop in on a Sunday at 10:30.

Finally, it was over. Thinking, OK, let’s get OUT of here, we found the way blocked by the smiling face of the Vicar’s wife who introduced herself as Suzy. As she continued her get acquainted chat, her husband came along, introducing himself with a self deprecating humor. The next thing we knew Suzy invited us to the vicarage and we found ourselves sipping tea before her family fire.

An hour later we felt we had all made a new friend. Subsequent emails confirmed the genuineness of this spontaneous and wide open gesture of meaningful contact. Here was hospitality of a very real kind. Now, it may not quite take the form you or I might extend and the circumstances are perhaps unlike our own, but we will never forget the welcome that church extended and would be at home there whenever we might return.

Radical hospitality. It’s almost cliche. But, what can it mean? The Gospel of Luke tells us, “He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom and to heal.” This is the true work of evangelism, to proclaim the kingdom and to heal. Tonight we celebrate the lives and ministry of John and Charles Wesley, who, among their multiple talents and capacities, were first and foremost evangelists for Christ bringing the kingdom and its profound healing to thousands.

Together they changed the face of the english speaking church and ushered in much of what we now take for granted as the context of contemporary Protestant worship. Through them the Anglican Church reached whole populations who otherwise were alienated from the good news. And, in America and worldwide, the Methodist Church has made the kingdom manifest for millions. The trajectory of their energy still reverberates as our being here tonight testifies.

For the Wesleys, proclaiming the kingdom was profoundly invitational, an invitation into the divine reality fully accessible in the here and now. The message was that God’s grace is present and available, no matter your state of life, or education, or past sins. For the Wesleys there were no barriers. There was nothing that made anyone categorically “other.

While it is by no means my intention to unpack the Wesleys’ theology, John Wesley’s preaching and Charles Wesley's hymns powerfully evoke the unequivocal availability of God’s grace. John wrote:
How freely does God love the world! While we were sinners, ‘Christ died for the ungodly’ ... God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all. And how freely with him does he give us all things! Verily, free grace is all in all! The grace or love of God, whence comes our salvation, is free in all, and free for all...It does not depend on any power or merit in man; no, not in any degree...It does not depend on his good tempers, or good desires, or good purposes and intentions; for all these flow from the free grace of God. (1)
And Charles wrote in the hymn "Maker, In Whom We Live":
Incarnate Deity, let all the ransomed race render in thanks their lives to thee for thy redeeming grace. The grace to sinner showed ye heavenly choirs proclaim, and cry, “Salvation to our God, salvation to the Lamb!" (2)
And they made their audience everyone who would listen.
To whom are we not to preach it?, John (Wesley) asked. The poor? Nay, they have a peculiar right to have the gospel preached to them. The unlearned? No. God hath revealed these things unto unlearned and ignorant men from the beginning. The young? By no means... The sinners? Least of all. He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (3)
The two brothers are such extraordinary historical figures we don’t entirely see them in their human dimension. We perhaps now take for granted the degree of personal commitment, certain faith, and genuine love that alone could motivate and sustain such a potent and fearless ministry.

Luke quotes Jesus, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money - not even an extra tunic.” Such utterly fearless invitation to the kingdom can rely on nothing external. No material possession. No assumption. No expectation. Nothing. You step out on your own relying solely on Christ, boldly in humble faith. You have nothing to offer but what God gives you. Your life in Christ is all in all. This is the offering of true invitation.

Not kindness, or mere welcome, though it is those things. But, something so much more. Your God given self is all you have and in humble reliance your extend yourself, pouring yourself out for others. Through the spirit alone you become the kingdom, yours is the hospitality of the kingdom. The Wesley’s did this on a gigantic scale. But so did every itinerant Methodist preacher riding from parish to parish in early 19th century rural America.

In my case I know that without such a gift I would never have found my way to Christ. It was a Methodist minister, YDS alumnus and Trustee, Steve Bauman, who helped me find my way. Study and worship and community all helped. But, it was Steve’s deep founded faith and personal courage that enabled him to extend himself to me in such a complete loving openness and acceptance -- even when I had trouble fully accepting myself -- that led me dimly to perceive the reality and presence of the kingdom of God.

Nothing can teach you that in a way that lives within except it be through an offering of love. The invitation so complete, there are no barriers. The Christ in you meets the Christ in the other. In that awakening the world breaks open and at long last you see. And, once you have a taste of the divine that meets you, longing for longing, you step forward ever to meet it. The real ground of being, a joy in love so sweet, it takes your breath away. It’s all you want. It’s all you need. Invitation is the opening of the door that makes real transformation possible.

The Sunday following my encounter at Chelsea Old Church I found myself sitting alone in a pew of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, a small parish located in the very heart of the South Bronx. This inner city church community faces extreme challenges. Having some first hand experience with this part of the Bronx, I know these issues can quite literally be those of life and death.

I was there as part of a Berkeley class project. While I waited for my classmates I couldn’t help wondering what the reaction would be to us, the white Yalie visitors. Feeling out of place, questioning our purpose, and half wishing I hadn’t come, a young African American woman appeared at my side. Smiling, her hand extended, she said, “Hi, my name is Tina. What’s yours? Welcome to St. Margaret’s!

She seemed to have no knowledge of why I was there. I was just any stranger. She expressed not the least bit of wonder that a middle aged white guy in a blazer had appeared out of nowhere. We chatted and laughed together for some time. Her object was a joyous and genuine welcome and greeting. She made me feel part of the place and in union with her and everyone there. I entered fully into a worship experience in many aspects quite different from that to which I am accustomed.

Suzy and Tina in their different ways and contexts offered more than a simple welcome. It went deeper. Theirs was an outer expression of an inner truth that the kingdom is wide open. Barriers of custom, expectation, identity, what have you, were not overlooked, but understood, and as such rendered irrelevant. They left everything behind taking nothing for the journey. They acted in freedom extending themselves as themselves fully, unreservedly in the fearless zone of love. On that basis and that alone the kingdom of God was proclaimed through them.

As we contemplate ministry, be it through ordination or in some other context, it is good to reflect on the work of a church leader like Steve Bauman whose wide open, unqualified love made the way possible for a tentative seeker. And unforgettable is the prodigious outpouring of word and song of John and Charles Wesley whose embrace excluded no one and so ushered in a new era in the proclamation of the kingdom of God.

Let us bless all those who make their lives a living invitation to knowledge and love of God and grant us all the courage and perfect freedom to be like them, an outpouring of God’s love made manifest in the world through his grace.


1. Albert C. Outler & Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed., John Wesley's Sermons, An Anthology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 50.
2. The United Methodist Hymnal, (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), Hymn 88.
3. Albert C. Outler & Richard P. Heitzenrater, ed., John Wesley's Sermons, An Anthology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 46.

Monday, March 1, 2010

RCL - Lent 2 C - 28 Feb 2010

St. John's Episcopal Church, Kingston, NY
Brother James Michael Dowd, OHC
RCL Lent 2 C - Sunday 28 February 2010

Genesis 15:1-12,17-18
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Our three readings today offer a Lenten lesson of citizenship that is both timeless and rather timely. It is a lesson for every age, including, perhaps especially so, for our age. Essentially, these readings ask us questions, fundamental questions, about our priorities, and about where, and with whom, we make our stand. And in some ways, I think that this is what the journey of Lent is all about.

The first reading, from the Book of Genesis, is the story of God's granting of the land between the Nile and Euphrates Rivers, to Abraham and his descendants. This is what the people who were to be called Hebrews would eventually call their home, their country, the land of their citizenship.

It would take many centuries before the Hebrew people would eventually settle in the Promised Land, and still more for Jerusalem to be built, but the Hebrews became God's Chosen People and were given a home, a country, that they could call their own forever. But this was a Covenant relationship – not a free gift. The Hebrew people had to remain faithful to God by worshiping God alone, by keeping the Commandments, by acting justly, loving and living mercifully, turning swords into plowshares, and walking humbly with their God.

But the Hebrews were like every other people in that they sinned. Sometimes grievously. And so, mindful of that Covenant relationship, God sent prophet after prophet to teach, guide, correct, and call for the repentance of the people. But the people would have none of it. In fact, so often, they would turn on the prophets and kill them right in Jerusalem. And so, finally, God sent his Son, and by the time we get to Jesus, he is saying in an all too real foreshadowing “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (1)

And why did these prophets get murdered by their own people? I think it was because being asked to rend your hearts – to rip them open to God - allowing God to do the transformational work of conversion is just about the most difficult thing a person can do. To be told that your sacrifice of a few animals just doesn't cut it, as it were, makes people increasingly uncomfortable. It is easier to find ways to silence those who are shouting from the rooftops God's message of worshiping God alone, loving your enemies, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick and tending to the poor.

The attitude of many seems to have been that the giving of that homeland so long ago, was a free gift to be used however the people chose to use it. It would seem that the people thought that worshiping God alone, obeying the Commandments, acting justly, loving and living mercifully, turning those swords into plowshares, and walking humbly with God, was a choice, not an expectation. The people and the leaders of Israel convinced themselves that they had to act for the “good of the nation” by defending it, working to appease those who were seemingly more powerful than they, and not disrupting the economy. This was more easily accomplished by killing the prophets – and Jesus – than by heeding their words. After all, they had “real world” things to do and so would continue to mechanically observe the rituals, while not dedicating their lives to loving with genuine faith.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Where have we heard this in another context? Well, there are many right here in our own country that believe we Americans are the second Chosen People. From the time of the first settlers, the Pilgrims and those at Jamestown, many have promulgated the idea that, despite the fact that there were already other people here, the land that would become the United States was given by God to English speaking Christians and that it was destined to be, as Ronald Reagan would call it “the last best hope of man on earth.” (2)

We are, they contend a Christian nation and the nation that has been chosen by God to lead the rest of the world to freedom. We must therefore, the argument goes, maintain a strong military, solid borders, and a vibrant economy, at all costs in order to maintain our status as the New Chosen.

Now don't get me wrong, I love our land. We have been gifted with a land that has incredible natural resources and a political system that allows me to stand here and preach in this way without being arrested. Those are great things. My argument is that if we truly believe that we have been blessed by God with these things, we must put the things of God first. To do that, we must remember, as we heard in St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians, that “our citizenship is in heaven.” (3)

It is in this new country that we hold our eternal citizenship, and in which, we are “expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (4). This is a country in which the people are those who strive to act as Christ did and as St. Paul imitated: erasing the false boundaries of borders, tribes, ethnic groups, racial barriers, religious backgrounds. It is a country in which the people see the “other” be they strangers, foreigners, non-English speakers, as nothing less than their sisters and brothers. It is a country in which the people follow Christ by offering to lay down their lives for their friends. This is a non-violent country, and country in which the other cheek is offered and forgiveness abounds. A country where peace, justice, and mercy are not just nice sounding platitudes, but are actually lived.

That , my friends, is the idyllic sounding stuff. Hard to believe. Right? I'll bet some of you are saying to yourselves, what world is he living in because I've never seen such a place?

And that is true. But here's the tough news regarding the Good News. The citizenship in heaven that St. Paul talks about requires a passport. Without it, entry seems impossible. That passport is the Cross of Christ. A Cross that each of us are called to share the weight of, as we seek to carry it on our journeys to that New Land. When we each take up our cross, bear one another's burdens, and surrender to the will of God, we are in fact building up that eternal country which does have a name: it is called the Kingdom of God.

So, when we act as citizens of our temporary homeland, in our case, the United States, we must remember that it is the eternal homeland, the Kingdom of God, that we are striving for – both in this life and in the next. And if we are honest with ourselves, I think it becomes clear that as a society, as a political entity, and as an economic and military power, the goals and actions of our temporary homeland is not always in sync with the goals and actions of our eternal homeland.

And I think that this is what Lent is about. At least in part. So often there is such a strong emphasis on the personal aspect of sin and redemption during this time of year – and it's not that that sort of introspection is not important. But we forget that we are a community – the entire Church is the Body of Christ. And that Body is a compilation of all of God's people. And so, it is important to evaluate what as a community we are doing to help build up the Kingdom of God.

In the local community, here at St. John's, you serve those living with HIV/AIDS with Angel Food East. You minister to those in prison. You serve the poor in many different ways. This is exactly what the people of the new country, God's Kingdom do. But it is also important to pray as individuals and as community about where we have gone wrong, in what ways have we diverged from walking the path of God, which is also known as the Way of the Cross.

Do the needs of the poor, the widow, the orphan, come first? Do our actions, our spending patterns, our prayer life serve peaceful and hopeful goals? Are our eyes set – both as individuals and as a community – on the eternal homeland, or are we just thinking about the here, the now, the immediate?

When Jesus was approaching Jerusalem for the final time, he lamented, as we heard today, of “how often he wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem like a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (5) But, alas, like so many times before, the people of Jerusalem were unwilling to hear God's message and respond to God's love. But with a determination for the ages, Jesus would spread those wings one last time as he opened his arms wide on the cross in order to gather each of us under it. That Cross, that passport, is how we enter into the Land of the Resurrection.

But once gathered under that Cross, there is no turning back. The Cross of Christ is the New Covenant. We now have something much greater than a plot of land. Now, we are inheritors of all God's Kingdom. This is God's Covenant with us. But along with our inheritance comes responsibility, to one another, and especially to the most vulnerable – the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the mourning, perceived enemies, and those who are weaker whether they live down the street or around the world. A responsibility to care for them, to live in peace with them, to carry their crosses when the load seems to heavy for them.

Lent is a time to be truly honest with ourselves and with God. I believe that if we were to do that as a nation, we would have to admit that we have fallen short on our end of the Covenant of Christ's Cross. I no longer want to fight people on whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian Nation. I want to say to all my American brothers and sisters, and I say to you this morning: If we are going to claim to be a Christian Nation, then we have to live up to the New Covenant.

First, we must understand that no nation can be the last, best hope of man. Only God is the best hope of humanity. Worship God alone. And next, let us learn to act justly by helping to carry the cross of the weakest and most vulnerable among us in providing food, shelter, a fair wage and adequate health care for the poor. Let us choose to turn our swords into plowshares as we repent and find a way to end an unjust war in Iraq. Let us love and live mercifully as we abolish the death penalty, and care for those in prison. Let us walk humbly with God in finding alternatives to abortion, because we can admit that life is God's gift to give and take. Let us be good stewards of the temporary home God has given us, by working to end global warming. Let us claim our citizenship in Heaven by loving those who are marginalized, forgotten, and despised.

This Lent, allow Jesus to gather you into his Cross. When you are standing there, under God's wings, forget the rituals and open wide your hearts to God alone. Allow him to show you the way to the New Land. Offer him your whole being and enter into the New Covenant. All you need is your passport, which Christ provided on the Cross. AMEN.

1 Luke 13:34 NRSV.

2 Reagan, Ronald. “The Shining City Upon the Hill.” Speech delivered on January 25, 1974.

3 Philippians 3:20. NRSV.

4 Philippians 3:20. NRSV.

5 Luke 13:34. NRSV