Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost B - May 24, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Randy Greve, OHC
Pentecost – Sunday, May 24, 2015

Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Pentecost flowers arranged by Bros. Joseph and William
When I was a boy growing up in a Southern Baptist church, one of the songs we learned was “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.” I think the idea comes from Jesus’ statement that we are the light of the world and that we are not to hide our light under a basket. It reminds me of sayings like “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” and other such ditties that are designed to inspire me to do my little part to spread the light of niceness and kindness in an evil world. Actually, it’s not the world that is evil, but the song. Yes, “This little light of mine” is an evil song and must be stricken from church from now on. It sounds warm and fuzzy – and there is a kernel of truth there, but “this little light of mine” is not the story of Pentecost, not the story of what it means to be church. There are two main problems with the song: God’s light is not little – and it’s not mine. The real story is not that I am given some bit of light with which to push back evil as best I can. The risen and ascended Christ is Lord of the universe, of all of it, of every heart, from all eternity and forever and ever. The light that shone down in fire on Pentecost is the light that fuels the stars, that shines in me and in you – it is the glory of God reflected in creation, in beauty, in truth, in love, in each human being fully alive. It is the biggest thing in the universe. And it is not mine to do with as I want. I couldn’t any more hide the light of God’s glory than hide the sun’s light on a bright sunny day. It shines before me, shines during my brief breaths on earth, and shines after I am dust.

The song’s subtle temptation is to the place where we are comfortably small and have some measure of control over what is happening around us. The song assumes that the cosmic story of salvation is too big and we have to cut it down to size, my size, (the size of me!) so that my life, my choices, my power is ultimate. This terrible song captures the spirit of the individualistic age. The good news is that the story of the world and for the world this Pentecost Sunday is so much more wonderful, so much more exciting, so much more terrifying, that we cower from the very un-believability of it and yet are drawn in by its beauty and wonder. Because although a life with me and my little light is tempting, what I really most deeply want is to be connected to the light of you and you and you so that together we can best express the glory of God already shining in us and around us. That’s the story I want to be a part of !

The scriptures for Pentecost frame the spiritual life from that cosmic perspective. Acts and Romans in particular give us two distinct but important images of prayer that get us out of the shell of our own fantasies and into the grander reality of God’s presence and action in the world.

The popular misconception in spirituality is that prayer is supposed to generate some kind of affirmative emotional feedback loop to let me know I’m doing it right and once I find the secret, I can just assemble the elements and shine my little light whenever I want. Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s not the deal. So, what do the readings give us?

First, Acts. The Day of Pentecost itself is certainly one of those “big” moments in salvation history and the spiritual lives of the apostles and the rest of the community. The Holy Spirit comes in the form of wind and tongues and the transcending of languages - unpredictable, uncontrollable, controversial, mysterious, unique, powerful, life-changing. The church is officially and fully born and sent out into the world to be weird. The whole event is the celebration of pure gift –the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit to live and proclaim and serve the Gospel. They didn’t wallow in the “wow” of it – they didn’t try to bottle it, they never asked years later “why doesn’t it feel like it felt on Pentecost?” They received the power God offered and went out to work.

Then, the lesson from Romans. Perhaps St. Paul would be the great advocate of ecstatic states in prayer. He of the road to Damascus fame, a bright light, a voice, a mystical encounter with Christ – tell us how to have the “wow” moment, Paul! Give us a little light for our own! The passage from Romans 8, written between 56 and 58 AD, more than 20 years after his famous conversion, is not pointing us toward shining our little light. Instead of bliss, we get this language about groaning and weakness and rather than telling us how to pray he tells us we don’t know how – we can’t know how.

So what are we being told about prayer? These lessons are images of the spiritual life. Sometimes we will have intense experiences that are our own participation in the big moments like Pentecost when God graces us with the gift of the awareness of our being deeply known and loved and forgiven and filled with hope that God is able and willing to save us, comfort us, and give us direction. Often they are markers of a major life change or growth in our own faith journey. Prayer in these moments is this palpable sense of being aflame with love for God and our neighbor in a community of joyful expectation. For these moments we give thanks.

But for most of us most of our spiritual lives will be hanging out in Romans. Most days what is conscious is our own groping inadequacy, our capacity to get in our own way, the searching for some sign of the divine at work, the temptation to settle for my little light. These times, when compared to Pentecost moments, can feel dry. Nothing seems to be happening. Prayer seems to be the cold and boring babbling of meaningless words to an absent God who doesn’t care. This is normal. It does not mean you are doing it wrong, it means you are human. The challenge is to trust that something is happening even when nothing is happening. For these days and weeks and seasons and sometime years we also give thanks because the Holy Spirit is no less present, no less at work in the times of groaning than in the Pentecost moments. Beneath our groans, unknown to us, are the sighs of the Spirit who knows our hearts, knows and wants our growth, and can plead on our behalf even when we don’t know what to ask for.

So two images of prayer: the first is prayer as the surprising and ecstatic visitation of the spirit with dramatic power and deep conversion transcending our words. The second is prayer as reality beyond our words where the Spirit transforms our groaning into intercessory sighs. Neither image is particularly interested in my definition of prayer, my program or agenda or routine or feelings. The images do not refute the use of language, they refute making my language my little light. So, given this, what does the monastic community do here day-by-day? We gather together in this sacred place and say and sing words – lots of them. Whether in the joy of connecting or in the agony of our own resistance and isolation, we keep gathering and speaking and singing. Why? At its best, liturgy creates the opportunity to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit – whether that be the gift of Pentecost or the gift of groaning or something in-between is up to God. We show up and receive the gift given by God. Liturgy is the fuel the Spirit uses to plant us in God’s presence and turn our desire into holy sighs of praise. Both ways of prayer are very interested in my heart - my real openness to God’s mysterious work in the world, in us, in me, through me, and sometimes even despite me. The light is not small and it is not my light – that’s the maddening and wonderful adventure of the life of discipleship.

May God give us the patience and grace to enter into the Pentecost moments and the times of groaning in our prayer lives that we may trust the transforming light of the Holy Spirit in us and in the Church. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Easter 6 B - May 10, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Easter 6 B – Sunday, May , 2015

Acts 10:44-48
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17
Abide in my love.
Today’s gospel is about love and relationship. Jesus is in the middle of what is called his farewell discourse in the gospel according to John. The farewell discourse takes four chapters of the gospel of John. Our eucharistic lectionary explores it for three weeks prior to the feast of Pentecost. We started last Sunday with the metaphor of the true vine.

The farewell discourse encapsulates Jesus’ teaching and instructions to the disciples prior to his passion. And the central message of the farewell discourse comes in our passage of today. The central message that Jesus imparts on the disciples and on us is to love one another as Jesus loves, as God loves.


But first, Jesus invites us to abide in him as he himself abides in God the source of all existence. To abide is to live somewhere, to remain, to persevere, to have stability. The disciples are invited to become permanent residents in living out God’s love, in living out God’s commandment. 

This is a continuation of last week’s metaphor of Jesus being the true vine and us being its fruitful produce if we let God prepare us for it.

Jesus invites us to share and taste his joy; the joy he finds in being in relationship with God. Jesus wants our joy to be complete as a result of right relationship with God, as a result of loving God and obeying God’s commandments. This is not a soppy and sugar-coated kind of joy. Jesus models this joy for the apostles on an evening when he fully expects to be betrayed into his passion. And yet, the joy of loving relationship endures, even beyond death.


But what does it mean in our day to day lives to love God actually rather than in devout pronouncements. In order to be in right relationship with God, we need to be in right relationship with one another. And that means loving our neighbor without condition and without limit. 
This love is not slavish servility nor bossy care-taking. In our text today, the Greek work is agape which is a love which desires and prefers what is good for the other, for the community of those who share meals together.

Jesus even points out that the ultimate agape love of our neighbor could involve giving our lives for our neighbor. 

Now most of us aren’t in a situation where our neighbors need our life to be offered up to love them. Instead, most of us are confronted with the day to day nitty-gritty of doing what we can to make our neighbor and the planet’s life a little better. 

Often this doesn’t require heroics but a consistent attitude of seeking the greater good for all involved, not just for number one. But persistence and stability in this endeavor of bettering life for individual others and for all creation is a noble form of giving our life for our neighbor.

In loving others that way, we put God first in our lives in everyday words and actions. And when we do this, we are in right relationship with God, we love God as Jesus asks us to.


But do not be mistaken. Jesus chose you to do this loving on earth, in your life, now. You may have responded to his invitation, but God chose you and loved you first when you were still being formed into this existence. Your loving is God’s loving. It is your abiding in God’s love that enables you to respond in love to God and thus to your neighbor. 

You have the choice to respond to Love or not, but Love brought its embrace to you. It is not what you achieved, achieve or will achieve that made you deserving of love. Your mere existence as a child of God ensures you are bathed in the love of God.

And in telling us how to love God in our neighbors, Jesus establishes the new covenant; a covenant of friends not that of a master and his slaves. Our NRSV translations uses servants but the Greek word doulos means slave. 

In our old covenant, we were expected to obey the 613 commandments of the Law in awe of God. In our new covenant, we are given a summary of Love’s law that we are expected to embrace for love of God. We are to love as friends, because we empathize with God our friend, our beloved parent, and we want to requite God’s love.

In Jesus, we are shown what it means to live into God’s love. And as friends, Jesus expects us to enthusiastically join in his love of God. Jesus’ love has established a new relationship with God. If we abide in Jesus’ commandment and love God as we love one another, we abide in God’s love.


In his farewell discourse, Jesus is showing us that God is relationship and love. The christian doctrine of the Triune God presents us with three persons who love one another into singleness. And through the humanity of Jesus we got to have that love modeled in our human experience of existence. Because we abide in Jesus’ love, we abide in the love of the triune God.


This week, this community got to hear another farewell discourse. It was the discourse of love as out-poured on our departed brother Andrew and on this community he chose to love. Family, friends, brothers loved Andrew in his departure from this life and hundreds conveyed their love to us through e-mail, texts  and social networks comments. 

It was a striking demonstration of how God’s love had been at work in Andrew’s life and our own. Let us remember to continue to love one another into God’s love within these walls and far, far beyond them.

Thank you, Andrew, for another great lesson in love.
May you rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon you and that Celtic harp you’re strumming for heaven’s denizens.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Easter 5 B - May 3, 2013

St. Thomas, Whitemarsh, PA
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC
Easter 5 B – Sunday, May 3, 2015

Acts 8:265-40
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

I am the true vine
Jesus said: “God helps those who help themselves.”

Jesus said: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

Jesus said: “Pray as though everything depended on God and act as though everything depended on you.”

Of course, Jesus said nothing of the sort. But it is amazing what people believe. Sometimes it's amazing what we believe, though we may never admit it to anyone else and often, not even to ourselves.

Last week we heard Jesus tell us: “I am the Good Shepherd.” And today we are presented with another of those great I AM statements from and about Jesus: “I am the true vine.” And like all the I AM statements in St. John's Gospel—I am the bread of life, the light of the world, the door, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life—they fill us with wonder and consolation, and also if we are honest, with a host of questions: What precisely is this bread? Where does this door lead? What is truth?

And even as we are consoled by these images, we may find ourselves challenged. In today's Gospel passage, as soon as Jesus identifies himself as the true vine, he reminds us that his Father is the vine grower. And here he comes with his saws and pruning hooks and shears. And none of us escapes his attention: pruned if we are fruitful, thrown away and burnt in the fire if we are not. Yikes!

Yet there is also a sweet side to all this agricultural imagery, a sweetness captured in that marvelous word Abide: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

In what does this abiding consist? What constitutes it? Buddhists often speak of “calm abiding” as a central practice. It is the fruit of their own self discipline, of detachment, of a deep and persistent acceptance of the fragility and impermanence of all things. There's a profound truth here that we Christians can assimilate and learn from. Indeed the Christian monastic tradition shares this practice and much of this outlook.

But Jesus invites us to something more dynamic and breath taking than simple self discipline... not that self discipline is ever simple. He invites us to intimacy with him, an intimacy of mutual knowing and mutual loving, and of a patient and ever-deepening trust in the presence and power of God at the heart of the universe and at the center of our own hearts.

Trust in God. Abandonment to Divine Providence. Surrender. These are not easy words. I think of something the late Gerald May wrote some years ago. May was a psychiatrist and spiritual teacher at the Shalem Institute in Washington, DC. He commented particularly on the dynamics of addiction. Writing about one of those popular adages often, but mistakenly, attributed to Jesus—the aphorism: “Pray as though everything depended on God and act as though everything depended on you”—May says: “It appears to encourage prayer and intimacy with God, but before you know it, it tells you to act as though God weren’t in the picture at all.” Indeed, it soon results in the very opposite of abiding in Christ, leading us rather to exaggerated responsibility and individualism of the worst sort.

Why then do we so glibly accept such advice? Why is such teaching so popular? Here again May cuts to the heart of the matter:
...I think such sayings are popular because they rationalize our mistrust of God and our subsequent desire to master our own destinies. They are propaganda for willfulness. The falsehood of the adages is so acceptable precisely because the Gospel truths they undermine are so radical. The Gospel truths invite a degree of trust in God that seems impossible in the so-called real world. And they require the most awful and awesome spiritual sacrifice: letting-go of control. - from Shalem News, Vol 25, Winter 2001
I know I'm not alone in struggling with this one. How many times have I prayed “God is God and I am not” only to find myself slipping into saying: “I am God and God is not.” Maybe it is just a parapraxis, a verbal slip of the tongue. But maybe it is also my own rebellious heart struggling to accept the fact that ultimately I do not control things... certainly not the Big Picture, but increasingly the many little pictures as well. Maybe I'm not quite ready to accept the fact that I dread appearing foolish. Or that I positively fear the claims of faith. Or that maybe I feel that since I've always carefully played by the rules, I'll have a pass on all that is unpleasant or difficult. Why take any risks? I imagine that this sounds familiar to at least some of you.

Yet not all is lost. On the contrary, perhaps all is found, the pearl of great price. For beyond all our control needs lies a freedom that comes from trusting in God, in surrendering to God. Trusting that God will not abandon us to meaninglessness, to despair, or to the emptiness that comes from the utter exhaustion of trying to be in charge of all things. Trusting that when God gives us something to do, he will give us the grace to accomplish it, whether or not we meet with success. Trusting that, as Dame Julian taught: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

How many of us have discovered this depth dimension when suddenly faced with a difficult medical diagnosis or a lost or broken relationship or some disgrace, public or private, that has shattered our carefully crafted self-image? When we have come at last to recognize that we are simply human, redeemed sinners, just like the next person... limited, finite and yet wonderfully created in God's image and marked by an infinite longing and drive for the Eternal, for love human and divine? What a great, if costly, gift!

Jesus speaks to us today and says quite simply: “...apart from me you can do nothing.” We depend on him, whether we know it or not... on his fellowship, his hidden presence, his transformative power. Indeed, the whole creation does. Without him we really can do nothing. But on the other side of that dependence, that surrender, that desire to give our hearts and our lives over to Jesus, is a marvelous fruitfulness and a generativity that will astonish us.

Jesus says: “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Giving it all up, receiving it all back... once again it's the Easter mystery. Which is our mystery as well, yours and mine. God is glorified in our being and in our doing and especially in our surrendering to Him. Together we can abide in Christ, the true vine. Together we can be a blessing for each other and for the world. Together we can become a living Alleluia.




Monday, May 4, 2015

Easter 5 B - May 3. 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Joseph Wallace-Williams, n/OHC
Easter 5 B – Sunday, May 3, 2015

Acts 8:265-40
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8
Listening with the ear of the heart
It is clear to me – as I look at them – that the readings this morning are intended for – as my grandmother would say – ‘grown folks’ or at least those who have been touched by the disarming and all encompassing love of God.
God does not wait for us:
  • To be fixed
  • To be whole
  • To be perfect
  • In order to love us.  
God loves us into wholeness but that wholeness is not the absence of scars if the post resurrection appearances are an indication of what we too will be. And that is good news.
I think to better understand our readings we will need to spend some time reflecting on what I think is one of the most beautiful chapters of literature the world has ever known. 
You know it; its read at lots of weddings. 
"Though I speak in the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Love bears all things, believes all things, Hopes all things, and endures all things. Love, never fails."
Ain’t it beautiful!?

But he includes some other words in that beautiful chapter of poetry, words not as beautiful as the rest, but words all the beauty rests on. 
It's the 11th verse of 1 Corinthians 13 I'm talking about:
"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became an adult, I put away childish things."
There is a difference between being infatuated with the idea of Jesus and living the love He teaches in the Gospel. You see, that is a grownup matter.  It is a matter for ‘grown folks’. As best as I can tell, we live in a society, which says you're only young once, but you can be immature for a lifetime.  You know She who finishes with all the toys, they tell us, wins the game. 
But living for, and, in Jesus is different.
I love children and I have spent a lot of time with them.  One thing I notice is that small children  repeat one word: ‘mine!’  But you know those little tyrants never say it just once.  They say, :"Mine, Mine, Mine!" But, for the grown up Christian, there is no such thing as mine!  There's only what God has shared. 
"All things come of thee O Lord and of thine own have we given thee...."  That is what the old people used to say in church. 
But this is not a popular idea in America and not even in church, really. In our world, we look out for number one.  We say, "I got mine. You get yours."  But the Christian life is different. The grown-up Christian knows and understands that our futures are eternally linked. The grownup Christian knows that God always provides enough manna to match our hunger.  The grownup Christian knows every heart beat is gift; every nickel, a gift.  It is because everything is gift; we blaspheme when we cry out mine.  Or at least we sound childish.  Just think about the church in the book of Acts. They shared what they had and by sharing they distinguished themselves as a different kind of community.
Though the word love is repeated countless times by Paul, the word "our" captures the practical side of what it means to be a grownup Christian.
Jesus invites us to abide in him. To make our home in him. To get up real close. To listen to him closely.  To act like him. To love as he does. To be as vulnerable as he is.
A grownup love listens to the voice of God the voice of humility that says:  “That deep within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. We’re split up and divided against ourselves. And there is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives.
When we come to the point that we can see God in ourselves when we can see God at work in us.  We can then look in the face of every person and see deep down within them "the image of God," We can begin to love them in spite of. No matter what they do, because we are able to see God's image there.  When we listen to God and the world around us we hear what is said and what is not said.  Love hears with the heart.  It hears the Spirit's groaning, too deep for words. 
Sometimes just listening is the best expression of love. If you remember the old King James Bible, you remember that in the gospels, all of Jesus' words are in red ink.  And compared to the words in black ink, Jesus says quite a bit less than everybody else. I used to think that Jesus was so deep he only needed to say a little to teach his listeners. Just drop some pithy saying and then it's on to the next preaching gig. But, now, I think his few words in comparison to others might mean that he was just really good at listening.  Real understanding comes from real listening. And real listening, grownup listening isn't simply waiting for a chance to speak; grownup listening takes courage.
Perhaps we have forgotten that Dr. King taught us that riots are the language of the unheard. The question for this nation the question for us is are we listening?  Will we hear the voices of our young people: Crying out in pain, Crying out for help Crying out of change? Or will we allow the spectacle of violence to become an excuse to turn away? 
Beloved if we apply defensiveness in our listening when we should apply courage, well, we've just missed what God was trying to reveal to us.  "God is love," the Bible tells us; and yet God's first language is silence.  And God only sees fit to break that silence with a "still small voice."  We've got to listen for God and to each other.  That's the only way we'll grow in God it is the only way we can abide in God. 
I know this maybe some difficult stuff because we can be such a chatty bunch--all of us--with our breathless busy lives.  Despite the Bible's warnings, we still measure success by verbosity and amounts of information.  But if a business can be measured by its profit margin, then a grownup Christian life should be measured by how much time is devoted to quiet, focused on hearing from God and from God's people.  Sure, we're getting older, but are we growing up?

Paul finishes all this talk of growing up by saying, "I used to think as a child."   Well, what are childish thoughts?  I have noticed that children are always sure of one thing, that they are right.  They will say to you with those beautiful childish faces, "You know I'm right.  I'm right about everything." We have beautiful faces too, but we are not always right.  Preachers are not always right.  Presidents are not always right. The justice system is not always right.  Economic policies are not always right. 
Yes, it takes a real grownup to admit being in the wrong.  And it takes a real grownup to hear an apology and move on.  It takes some real growing up to apply the words of our faith, "If someone offends you, go to that person directly."  Notice, it doesn't say send a terse email and then write the person off. 
The grown up Christian knows that when the opportunity presents itself to defeat your enemy, that is the time, which you must not do it. You see the grown up Christian knows there will come a time when; the person who hates you most; the person who has misused you most; the person who has gossiped about you most; the person who has spread false rumors about you most.  There will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. You see love does not seek to get back at the other for wrongs done. That is the meaning of love.  Or as Dr. King said: "In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It's not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all".
  • If we are really abiding ……
  • Living in God's love
  • Or at least striving to
  • Then The disease of racism will no longer be

The burden of Black and Brown people and the Shame of White People.  So what measure of love are we willing to extend to one another?

Beloved our: Marriages, Our work, Our church, Our children Our world cannot afford for us to be anything less than gospel ‘grown folks’.