Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lent 1 B - Feb 22, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Randy Greve, OHC
Lent 1 B – Sunday, February 22, 2015

Genesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

Jesus in the desert
Since this is the season of confession and repentance, I thought I would lead by example. I have a bad habit that I am hoping to break during Lent this year. I, well, I like to read parish profiles. A parish profile as you may know is in the Episcopal Church the document a parish writes after their priest has moved on; the parish gathers data about the people’s interests and needs and crafts an inviting yet honest definition which may appeal to potential rectors looking for a new ministry. I don’t read them because I’m looking for a job, mind you, but because the parish profile is a unique window into how the writers of the profile, typically members of the congregation, define themselves as Christians in community with others.

The words of a profile are a window into the heart of the congregation. Here’s where the bad habit part comes in. In the vast majority of profiles I read the description of what the parish seeks in a priest and where the parish sees itself and its vision sound more like an ad for a corporate executive than a pastor of souls, sadly. Here is exactly what one parish wrote that it wanted in its next rector:
A dynamic preacher who can develop and deliver sermons that illustrate Biblical concepts relevant to today’s challenges. A visionary, collaborative, yet decisive leader who challenges and encourages us to grow spiritually and embrace our core values of Inviting, Growing and Living. A team builder who can set priorities, delegate, and manage staff and lay leaders by inspiring and empowering them to be their best. An energetic advocate for youth and child oriented programs who enjoys interacting with youth and children. A flexible and open-minded individual who appreciates leading an uplifting but reverent style of worship and music. A personable, compassionate, priest who enjoys engaging with our diverse congregation and visitors.
You get the idea. It’s the idealized image of community as the place where talking and doing and all things generally uplifting are ultimate. Now there was a time in my life when I would have written this and thought it good and right – this is the church, this is what it is to be about – communicate, relate, challenge, encourage, inspire, engage. I lived this in youth ministry for 12 years of my life. I don’t mean to be judgmental – much good I know can be done through this kind of vision. And besides, a rector has to be competent in all of these things in order to keep people happy and keep the institution growing and pay the bills.

Isn’t it interesting that the profile I quoted never mentioned God or the reign of God, never mentioned prayer, spiritual practice, self-care, retreat. It never mentioned solitude, character, soul, or heart. The Gospel lesson today seems to question the assumptions many have about the nature of Christian community. It is a totally different kind of formation profile. Jesus’ actions put the emphasis on soul formation working its way out into the world of others rather than merely keeping the institutional externals going as an end in themselves. 

For Jesus, the question for community is not "what do you know or do", but "what have you been through individually and together?" And going through means a deep facing of the self in order to allow it to be transformed by God. Jesus will feed the hungry, heal the sick, welcome the outcast, and preach to thousands – he is no mountain-top guru in perpetual meditation. 

But first, he is with the Father. The first act after baptism is to withdraw and be alone. He is abiding in God’s presence. He is being the Beloved Son. Jesus is modeling that the good news is first and always about receiving the free gift of grace. And so it is with us as God’s beloved children in Christ. We have always been and will always be God’s beloved. That is the essence of our creation. God does not wait for us to be good enough or do enough, God waits for us to stop and receive and act from who we already are, not who we think we can become if we try hard enough. Our love of self and others begins and ends in receiving the name “beloved”.

But receiving the gift of self leads to temptation. If you say “Yes” to God, all hell will break loose. The temptation comes as “I must be in control, I must be sufficient, I must do something, become someone" in order to be accepted and acceptable. What Jesus chooses instead is the path of life which is letting go and trusting the mystery of death and resurrection. Lent invites us into the wilderness of eccentric existence. The wilderness is the place of truth, of choice, of “not my will, but yours”. True abiding in the heart of God in silence and solitude leads into abiding at the margins with the wild beasts and angels - in the questions, in the pain and discomfort of life. 

This is the Christian journey – hearing God proclaim our true identity, abiding in God, proclaiming good news to the world. It’s a rhythm that says go into your closet and pray and then come out and disturb. Disturb by acting like God’s beloved. Disturb by resisting the safe and comfortable. Ask yourself and those around you ‘why’? Ask ‘why not?’ What does this mean? How does this reflect the love of Jesus? Agitate for the real. Perhaps we need a new kind of parish profile, a new way of prioritizing what constitutes our list of ultimates. A profile for a wilderness people who are willing to be real – real with our joys and struggles, our pains and sorrows, our questions and insights - for a community that will welcome us if we don’t feel very dynamic and don’t necessarily want to engage everyone all the time. The parish profile of a wilderness people declares that the behind-the-scenes and the intimate are just as important as big, splashy programs - sitting and listening to each other – listening to doubts, struggles, and grief. 

Sometimes profound love is in the smallest acts. Sometimes what can help change a person’s life is the vulnerability and honesty to say we don’t have all the answers, that very often being a Christian is hard and confusing and sometimes I choose the easy way. People who have been to the wilderness have a profile that says that it is O.K. to sit in the back row, to be alone when we need to be, to realize that authentic relationship is more about quality than quantity, that having one soul friend who really knows me is better than a hundred acquaintances. Wilderness people know that though we are flawed, though we fall, though we have a long way to go in the journey toward holiness, we are God’s beloved, that God chooses to use our voices and our hands and our feet. When we believe that and live that, then we truly proclaim with Jesus, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Epiphany 5 B - Feb 8, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Epiphany 5 B – Sunday, February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law
“And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
This last sentence of our gospel passage today summarizes both last week’s and today’s gospel; Jesus went around Galilee announcing the good news and healing people.

Last week’s gospel passage and that of today tell of one day in Jesus’ early ministry in Capernaum. It proceeds in four stages; Jesus goes to the synagogue, Jesus visits Peter’s house, Jesus heals many who come to the house, Jesus goes to the wilderness to pray in the night.


First, Jesus and his first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James and John) go worship in the synagogue. There Jesus teaches with an authority unexpected in a carpenter from a little backwater named Nazareth. His teaching is interrupted by a man with an unclean spirit. Jesus frees the man from the unclean spirit but not before the spirit outs Jesus as the Holy One of God.

In Jesus’ time and society, nonhuman persons such as angels, spirits and demons were considered higher up in the cosmic hierarchy.  There was Our God, the Most High God at the top. Then other Gods and sons of deities and archangels. Then angels, spirits and demons just above mere humans. Angels, spirits and demons knew more about higher spheres of existence than humans.

And that is why Mark uses an unclean spirit to validate Jesus’ unusual place in the honor system of his society. Jesus is not simply the son of a carpenter turned teacher and healer, he is the Holy One of God.


Right after his eventful visit to the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples go to Peter’s house. Jesus has compassion for Peter’s mother-in-law who is sick with a fever. He approaches her, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. I see tenderness in this moment and I wonder what it would be like to be seized by Jesus’ hand and lifted up out of suffering.

Peter’s mother-in-law, who unfortunately, remains unnamed because of Mark’s patriarchal form of writing, is healed instantly. That means not only that her physical ailment is removed, but also that she is brought back to participation in the community of her family home. She is so moved that, emulating Jesus, she brushes aside sabbath rules and starts serving those assembled in the house.

The mother-in-law’s reaction to Jesus’ ministry to her is one of engagement in community service. In that way, she prefigures the diaconal ministry that will come into existence in early Christian communities who also met in family homes. She is a proto-deacon, well before Stephen and his all-male (or so we are led to believe) colleagues.


As the sun comes down, the sabbath comes to an end and other villagers are now emboldened to bring their own sick and possessed to Jesus. They are now allowed to perform the work of moving their ailing ones to the door of Peter’s house.
Sabbath precluded anything that smacked of work but it apparently didn’t stop gossip. Jesus’ healings at the synagogue and at Peter’s house have echoed throughout the village. And people want a piece of the action.

And late into the evening, Jesus will cure many of their diseases and free many of their demon. By now Jesus has learned his lesson and he silences the demons before they divulge whom they know him to be.

We may wonder about this desire for secrecy about his divine nature. Why would Jesus not want that to become the focus of his ministry?

Jesus wanted most of all to teach his people about the nearness of the Kingdom of God. But that nearness had more to do with inner work than outer liberation from the Roman imperial domination system.

Two roles threatened to jeopardize Jesus’ ability to teach his people as he wished; one what that of Holy Man or super-healer, and the other was that of Messiah as seen in a political lens.

Zealous nationalistic jews were hoping for a Messianic uprising against the Roman occupation and people could easily have used Jesus as a catalytic figure for that if Jesus had so chosen. But the gospel shows us that Jesus’ fiery love of God does not translate into nationalistic zealotry.

The other role that threatened Jesus to get lost in his own vocation was how gifted he was at making people whole physically and spiritually. Jesus time and again gives people back to their community by healing their disease or freeing them from what possesses them.

People could readily relate to that part of his ministry and there was always more human misery to be cured wherever Jesus was. He and his disciples could have established themselves as healers anywhere they wanted. But the healing was only a sign of who Jesus was it was not the goal of his ministry.


And finally, that evening Jesus gets to retire for the night in the crowded home of Peter and Andrew and their families. He must have been weary from a very full day. But still, he awakes in the still of the night and chooses to slip away and go in the nearby wilderness to pray.

I find it tantalizing that the gospel does not tell us what Jesus prayed about or how he prayed. So I allow my imagination to fill in the picture for us. Maybe Jesus was wondering what he was truly called to and needed to discuss that with God. Was he called to stay on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and conduct a ministry of healing? That certainly seemed an attractive option to his Capernaum-based disciples.

Or was he called to teach the Good News of God’s Kingdom being near at hand? Or was he called to do both? But how could he make sure his message didn’t get lost in the hype created around the healings?

Whatever Jesus’ prayer was that night, he considered it important enough to pray to sacrifice some sleep for it. And by the time his disciples had successfully hunted for him, he was ready to keep moving deeper into his vocation.

It was probably not what the disciples wanted to hear, but Jesus wanted them to move on to spread his message widely. Later, he would return to Capernaum from time to time, but he would not let any single location have a claim on his ministry. And his ministry would continue to include both healing and teaching.


So what are our ministries in our lives? Are we letting any one ministry take over at the expense of the others? Are we attached to success in one at the expense of the need for the other?

Are we remembering to often take time away from the grind stone in order to talk it over with God and listen for what God is lovingly whispering in our heart?

Pray until you discern whom you are and what you are about and then pray some more that God will do the heavy lifting with you or even for you.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Presentation - Feb 3, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
The Rev. Matthew Wright
Presentation (transferred), Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Luke 2:22-40

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘[…] and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’”
Jesus coming at the end of times
I speak to you in the Name of the One, Holy, and Living God.

Today we celebrate Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, when 40 days after his birth, Mary and Joseph made an offering in the Temple on behalf of their firstborn son. But this is only one side of the coin of this feast day—the side that makes it a principal feast, recalling one of the major events in the life of Christ.

But prior to the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church remembered this feast as “the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary”—a name still used by our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Church of Canada. The day when, 40 days after childbirth, Mary went with her husband to offer the appointed sacrifice for her purification according to Levitical law. And so this feast day was also, historically, a Marian feast.

Whether because of embarrassment around misogynistic conceptions of female purity, or because of a general shying away from Marian devotion, we in the Episcopal Church have dropped the Marian side of our feast day coin, which personally I find a little unfortunate.

There’s also one other name for this feast day, which focuses not on why the Holy Family went to the Temple, but on what happened while they were there. In the Byzantine Rite, this feast is remembered as Hypapante—or, “the meeting”—a reference to the meeting of the Christ Child and his Mother Mary with holy Simeon and the prophet Anna.

Simeon, we’re told, “was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” Anna, “was of a great age [… and] never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.” These two often strike me, Anna in particular, as sort of “proto-monastics.” They live entirely devoted to God, in regular prayer and in constant hope for the fulfillment of Israel’s longing. They are, as Lynn Bauman describes the monastic vocation, eschatological beings (eschatology, of course, referring to “the Last Things,” to the end and goal of creation). Bauman writes:

To be an “eschatological being” means that practitioners of this path live now, in time, in light of this Ultimate End, […They] “proclaim the abolition of profane history” and announce the coming of a new [...] human community inhabited by the new humanity. Eschatological beings help men and women in the contemporary world to wake up […]. [They remind us that] there is an ultimate objective that is being realized even now...

Anna and Simeon were such reminders to Israel, abolishing profane history and living in light of their ultimate hope. And so it’s not surprising that they, of everyone present in the crowded Temple that day—these eschatological beings—noticed an unnoticeable couple with their infant, coming to offer two turtle doves, the offering appointed for the poor who could not afford a lamb. Anna and Simeon had cultivated a different way of seeing.

Now if Anna and Simeon are proto-monastics, Christ and Mary are monastic prototypes. If Anna and Simeon wait and hope for the eschaton, for the fulfillment of all things, Christ and Mary embody it. In Christ, the eschaton arrives as Person. In Christ there is no longer a hoping and waiting for the fullness of time, but a living out of it, from it, here and now.

Jonathan Wilson, who coined the term “new monasticsm”—at least in its current popular usage—writes that “living eschatologically is making present that which is yet to come.” Making present that which is yet to come. That’s what communities like Holy Cross do for the rest of us. That’s what, ultimately, all Christian communities are called to do. To make present, here and now in this world, a glimpse, an instantiation, of that which is yet to come. We are no longer called with Anna and Simeon to simply live in hope of Christ, but rather we are called to live Christ.

Wilson writes that, in our contemporary, postmodern world, we have lost a sense of telos, of an end-point, of a goal towards which everything is driving and around which we orient our lives. He says that the “recovery of teleological thinking and living [or, we might say, eschatological thinking and living] is one, perhaps the, critical task of the day.” And it’s communities like this one that exist to bear witness to that task—that we can create a coherent life organized around a meaningful, authentic, life-giving telos. That telos, of course, is Christ.

In the First Coming of Christ, recognized here by Anna and Simeon, the eschaton, our telos, our end, arrives as Person, as one embodying that final fulfillment. In the Second Coming—at least as my hero Teilhard de Chardin would have it—the eschaton will arrive, not as an individual Person but as a Community, a collective Person—as the fullness of the ever-growing Body of Christ as it comes into being through the whole of the human family.

Which brings me back around to the flip-side of our coin: that today is an equally Marian celebration. As most of you know, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately wading into Marian devotional writings as I prepare for the retreat I’m leading next month. And one of the most striking images I’ve encountered has come from St. Louis Grignon de Montfort, who wrote The True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. De Montfort uses Mary in a particularly eschatological way. He believed that we were approaching, or entering into, what he called an “Age of Mary.” And that while Mary was all but hidden in Christ’s first incarnation, for the Second Coming to happen, she must be known fully and openly. He wrote:

“In these latter times Mary must shine forth more than ever in mercy, power and grace…”

“The salvation of the world began through Mary and through her it must be accomplished.”

“For your kingdom to come, O Lord, may the kingdom of Mary come.”

To live eschatologically, to be eschatological beings in the Christian sense, we have to be Marian beings. For Christ to come in fullness, we have to collectively be Mary. De Montfort wrote: “As she was the way by which Jesus first came to us, she will again be the way by which he will come to us the second time though not in the same manner.” Not individually, but collectively. Not as a single person, but as a growing Body of Christ. And so we are called to be Marian communities, communities of surrender. Eschatological communities that orient our world, and God willing, the world, towards our true telos, towards Christ, through Mary.

The way of Mary prepares for the birth of Christ in our world on an ever-growing scale. As we daily repeat her “yes” with the bells of the Angelus—“be it unto me according to your word”—as we daily repeat her “yes” to bearing Christ, her “yes” today to offering him at the Temple, her “yes” to Simeon’s prophecy, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too,” as we keep saying “yes,” as we become Mary, the Word becomes flesh; we become eschatological beings, bearing Christ together.

And a sword will pierce our own souls too. We cannot mother the growing Christ and escape that piercing. As we open ourselves to Christ’s growing presence in creation and in community, with Mary we will feel the pain of Christ, as he struggles to come into form through each of us. Our hearts will become sensitive to the human, animal, and ecological suffering that surrounds us. If Christ came the first time through Mary’s surrender, for Christ to come in fullness, it will be through our collective Marian service and surrender.

And so I pray: On this Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, may we all be held in the sweetness of Mary, and may we slowly, slowly become her. May we keep awake and waiting with Anna and Simeon, eyes ready to see Christ in the poor and the unnoticed. May we collectively bear Christ for the world.