Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Epiphany 4 C - Jan 31, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
Epiphany 4 - Sunday, January 24, 2016

Jeremiah 1:4-10
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

No one is prophet in his own land
Television dramas with plots that span weeks often begin with some sort of flash back or recap – Perhaps an announcer solemnly intones “Last week on Lost in Space...” for example. And this week’s reading from Luke needs to use that device... 

Otherwise we're starting in the middle of something. Jesus reads from Isaiah and says – today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing... except we didn't hear what he read… unless your memory of last week is particularly keen. 

So... last week, in the Gospel according to Luke... Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah...  From the 61st chapter: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Now here is an interesting thing... Luke tells us that Jesus is reading from the scroll of the book. But for some reason Jesus takes liberties with Isaiah... and I suppose if anyone has that right, it's Jesus... Because of translations both then and now it is a bit murky. But there is no doubt that Jesus has left some things out and put some things in... Isaiah calls for binding up the broken hearted and a day of vengeance for our God. Jesus strikes those, but brings sight to the blind, unlike Isaiah.

These are, on the surface, minor changes, but they shift the meaning of what Isaiah said. God, as known in the Hebrew Scriptures, is often a god of vengeance. But, with the incarnation of God in the man Jesus, we know God in a different way. We know a God of forgiveness, of compassion, and of love. Jesus is not mis-quoting Isaiah. He is updating him.

So that is the thing that leads to this week’s reading... Jesus reads, sort of, from Isaiah, and then tells his listeners that today they have heard this scripture fulfilled. 

OK - so we're not quite ready for this week’s reading... because there is one more "Previously in the Gospel according to Luke" reminder. Luke, at the start of last week’s reading, describes Jesus as filled with the power of the Spirit. It is Luke's own version of the "Previously in the Gospel according to me" device. 

Jesus is filled with the Spirit at the time of his baptism. It is an important detail. The reading from Isaiah begins with "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me..." and for Jesus the Spirit is upon him because in baptism he is anointed. It is not clear if those gathered around Jesus at the moment would have understood the link, but Luke's audience surely would have. 

Jesus is anointed in baptism with the Spirit – just as Isaiah is anointed in the Spirit.

Now on to this week’s reading... 

For some reason I am reminded of a short passage in a fiction book called "Dreams of Sleep" by Josephine Humphries. Life, for the lead character, is more or less falling apart. In a depressed moment she approaches her refrigerator and becomes fixated on the vegetable drawer. It is filled with vegetables she bought in previous weeks with the intention of eating, but there they sit – no longer edible. And she thinks to herself how easily things slip from ripe to rotten... 

Here is Jesus talking to the hometown crowd. They are loving him. All eyes are upon him. Words like "approval" and "astonished" describe the crowd. And then how easily things slip from ripe to rotten... Suddenly words like "enraged" appear. They want to kill him. All this within a few sentences. How can this be?

Well – Jesus has a way of saying things folks don’t want to hear. Jesus has gained a reputation as a healer and the crowd wants Jesus to cure everyone... to fix everything... to be the Messiah that they are longing for. And more than that, they want to share in Jesus’ glory. They know him… they grew up with him… they want to cash in. 

But Jesus is not that messiah. Jesus doesn’t let them down gently. He shatters the illusion – a dangerous thing, but necessary for spiritual growth as much then as now.

There were lots of widows at the time of Elijah in Israel, Jesus reminds them, but Elijah wasn't sent to any of them, but rather to a widow in Sidon... And there were lots of diseased people in Israel at the time of Elisha, but they are all left to suffer while Naaman the Syrian is cured. In case you missed it – both these people are gentiles... heathens... not God's chosen people. And yet they were chosen over the chosen people. How easily things slip from ripe to rotten.

Shattering illusion is painful. When our illusions are shattered we often focus our pain by directing it as anger at the one who has done the shattering. In the arena of our blood sport called politics, there is something approaching lust for the trashing of political leaders. We build them up beyond reason and then watch with prurient interest as they fall back to earth. But they didn’t do anything. They simply are who they are. Our illusion of who we want them to be is the issue.

Jesus is not illusion. Jesus has no part in the illusion. The illusions belong to the crowd, to us. And these illusions have to be shattered because they are not real. And more critically, the illusions stand in the way of knowing the real Jesus. Could Jesus have been more gentle in the disillusioning? I don’t think so. Illusions are powerful and beguiling. A gentle nudge away from illusion is not likely to break the spell of illusion. Jesus rips the band aid, as it were…

Our illusions need to be shattered. Otherwise we cannot be in a meaningful and constructive relationship. Not with Jesus. Not with our spouse. Not with our community. Nothing real can be built on a foundation of illusion. 

Nonetheless it hurts when our illusions are punctured. When it happens we get angry and it seems natural to focus that anger on the object of our illusion… Just exactly as the crowd does to Jesus. Look how far they go. They could simply have gotten up and walked away. But instead they more or less try to herd Jesus over a cliff. Rather than have their illusions destroyed, they seek to destroy the object of their illusions. 

This protects the illusions. If Jesus won’t play along, we can dispose of him and find a new focus for illusion. That way we don’t have to be disillusioned. That way we don’t have to change, to be responsible, to grow… Likewise these days, when Candidate X shatters my illusions, I blame him or her… but the illusions are mind and I need them shattered. 

In this passage from Luke, Jesus puts two big agendas in front of us. First, he has come to release captives – to release us… to restore sight to the blind – to us… to bring good news to the poor – to us… and to declare God’s favor. Second, we are going to have to be in relationship with Jesus, not as powerless dependents waiting to be rescued. That is illusion. But as children of God… as people of God… with Jesus as our brother.

We have to be willing to see. We have to be willing to give up being oppressed and to give up oppressing. We have to be good news to the poor. We have to let go of the illusion that Jesus is some great external power. Jesus is in us. We are the body. 

It is a comfortable illusion that if we are devoted enough, prayerful enough, faithful enough, that God will rescue and protect us and make everything nice. The truth is that if we are devoted and prayerful and faithful, God will walk with us into pain, sorrow, and hardship – for these are in great abundance in our world. In baptism Jesus is anointed – and in baptism we are also anointed. 

Our greatest joy is to bring good news, to bring the love of God to those who need it most.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Epiphany 3 C - Jan 24, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Epiphany 3 - Sunday, January 24, 2016

Neh.8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

The paired readings from Nehemiah and Luke present the wondrous event of public speech bringing to pass what it proclaims. In Jesus’ debut in his hometown synagogue at Nazareth he states that the promise of good news brought to the poor, release given to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and God’s jubilee year is fulfilled as soon as the words struck home.

What are we to make of this enigmatic statement which produces, first, congregational amazement at the giftedness of the hometown boy, followed by rage upon his identifying them with the hometowners who cannot accept a prophetic message from a fellow hometowner, one of those traits mentioned by Garrison Keillor in stories about his mid West prairie home. In Lake Wobegon it behooves you to diminish your aspirations.

Nevertheless there must be those beside the burghers of Nazareth who are capable of hearing and believing, of suspending disbelief in the presence of this prophet, in whom word and fulfillment coincide. Are we the burghers or do we stand elsewhere? A clue lies in the quality of our expectation; for example:

The first would clearly be the Torah festival described in the reading from Nehemiah. Ezra the priest, fluent in Hebrew, read from the book of the law of Moses from early morning until midday to a large congregation of those who had returned from exile, a specially staged reading over that stretch of time. 

One can see what a command performance this was by surveying the narrative which precedes it - Nehemiah’s plea for the exiles, his dispatch to Jerusalem by the Babylonian king, his inspection of the walls of Jerusalem in total disrepair, the organization of repair despite the formidable hostility of those who’d been excluded from the exile, the establishment of Nehemiah’s administrative ‘creds‘ as the work proceeds in his dealing with oppression and the foiling of hostile intrigue, the completion of the city wall, and, importantly, carefully compiled lists of the categories of returned exiles directly preceding the account of the Torah festival itself. 

It’s as if Israel were freshly reconstituted as God’s people in a second exodus upon its rescue from captivity and was standing at Mount Sinai for the first time, and hearing the law of Moses for the first time, and therefore weeping in realization of their transgression. We can see that the buildup to this is extremely charged and creates an expectation whereby the words proclaimed become a kind of living event. 

Here’s a little commentary on that: On the opening Broadway night of “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Marlon Brando among others, Tennessee Williams, the playwright, sent Brando this telegram: “Ride out, boy, and send it solid. From the greasy Pollack you’ll someday arrive at the gloomy Dane, for you have something which makes the theatre a world of infinite possibility.” The play, as you remember, was given a half-hour’s standing ovation that night. And there came a voice from heaven, “Ride out, boy, and send it solid!”
Expectation, expectation.

We have it also in the Order’s archives almost beneath our feet.
When Br. Adam and I transported them from West Park to the Episcopal Church’s facility in Austin, Texas back in 1976 and were leafing through some of the boxes deposited there, we came across an advertisement put out by Fr. Huntington for a teaching mission he was about to give. Of course it gave all the info to entice people to attend, but the kicker was its concluding statement characteristic of Holy Cross mission promos of the period which simply said in large type, “Expect Much.”

The emphasis suggests the conversation in the pivotal chapter of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple in which Shug asks Celie if she ever found God in church, reminding her that the only occasions in which she herself found God in church were related to the God she brought into church with her.

It suggests a lesson brought to me on a sunny Saturday morning a while ago in Berkeley, California where I happened to meet Raymond Brown leaving the breakfast cafeteria of the Jesuit School of Theology. Dr. Brown had given a lecture the previous evening, so I recognized him and thought, “Aha! my chance to verify the theory I’d concocted to explain the Feeding of the Five Thousand in the Fourth Gospel.” This in relation to the homily I was to give in a local church the next morning. So I go into this song and dance which I thought pretty good, but which dodged the issue of God’s inbreaking. When I finished, Raymond Brown gazed at me a moment, then practically exploded, “But they were expecting this!”

Another example:
One of the contributors to the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church is Charles Price who as well as being a gifted hymnologist was an extraordinary theologian and teacher at the Virginia Theological Seminary in the 1980s and 90s, before that the Preacher to the University at Harvard in the 1960s and 70s, the position, in fact, held at one time by James Huntington’s father. I think it’s no exaggeration to say that Charlie Price was esteemed thesalt of the earth in his ministry at Harvard, attracting people far and near to the eleven a.m. Sunday worship in Memorial Church. It was he, incidentally, who hired Peter Gomes onto the church staff in the sixties, where Peter went on to imprint his own indelible mark.

I was one of those who regularly went to hear Charlie preach on a Sunday morning and what I always remember in addition to those sermons delivered with rhetorical elegance is the atmosphere of expectation and waiting which could be cut with a knife inside that spare white Colonial interior looking like a Cistercian house of worship.

Yes, the word of God was amazing, and a catalyst to what we’d brought with us - like the demonstration of a supersaturated solution in organic chemistry which appears as a clear liquid, but if you add only a crystal, the entire solution changes into crystal.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Epiphany 2 C - Jan 17, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Joseph Wallace-Williams, n/OHC
Epiphany 2 - Sunday, January 17, 2016

Isaiah 62:1-51 
Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11
The Marriage at Cana, Gerard David, Louvre Museum
Maybe I'm just hearing things? Did anyone else catch all that? Maybe our familiarity with this text makes it hard to catch it all? Maybe this will help: 

• Hospitality and its importance.
• Scarcity and Abundance, 
• It's okay to have a party and a good time.
• Attentiveness and Disobedience.
• Family tension.
• Fear and Shame. 
• Isolation vs community. 

 And I could keep going!!!

I think this text from John's Gospel offers us, three important and timely lessons if we would but listen. The first concerns the issues of the old and the new. The second concerns the power of intercession and the third concerns the topic of obedience.

The Lesson about the Old and the New in the text: The Old wine was still wine, even if it was not the premium stuff. The Old stuff just before it gave out was enough to make them think that all was well and they were still in control. The old stuff gave a sense of security.

Now before I go on I think it important here to say that I love old things. I love studying history.  I love antiques. Most of all I love old people. And anyone who knows me and knows me well will tell you that I have a deep respect for tradition and that I'm also not afraid to challenge orthodoxy with orthopraxis and critical scholarship. 

All that being said I think it is often all of that old stuff, not the total emptiness or rock bottom that obstructs conversion and our way to Christ.

You know all of those:
• Past hurts, grudges and bitterness.
• Unflinching denial.
• Old attitudes and insecurities. 
• Passive aggressive behaviors disg
uised as piety.
• Old habits and ways of coping that if we are honest with ourselves never really worked to begin with.
• Outdated information.
• Artificial smiles and politeness that thinly veil rage. 
• Sexism, racism, homophobia and ageism disguised as prudent advice.
• Lifeless rituals and rules that coalesce to create old, dry religion.
• Just stale, Stinking thinking and pessimism disguised as realistic thinking.

Old and New.

Freshness and Stagnation.

Jesus stretching us making us really uncomfortable.

Jesus working shaping us 

Calling the best out of each and every one of us.

The lesson on the strength and power of Intercession

We are often so in the thick of our emotions and inner stuff that we can’t see the full picture and not know up from down right from wrong or make the distinction between hope and fear. 

Like the people in the story who see the reality of what is about to take place realizing their powerlessness and reached out to someone who is more powerful than they themselves. 

We too need a:
• Praying community.
• A community that is faithful and spirit filled surrounding us. 
• A Community bold enough to speak the truth.
• A perceptive community that will continue to encourage and challenge us to grow more fully into holiness despite our resistance.

And as companions to one another after we have spoken the truth we must like Mary make intercession to the One who has power and authority. 

The quiet confidence she displays in the text comes from, I think, an intimate relationship with the Whom she was speaking to. So Mary is neither upset nor unnerved by the response of her son.  She is confident that he will act in some way to her petition.
So, before she exits stage left and drops the microphone she tells the wait staff to do whatever He tells them.

Which brings us to the lesson on obedience and cooperation with the spirit:

Like that wait staff at the wedding reception we too need to be prepared and willing to do whatever He tells us: By any means necessary!

  But here’s the catch to this risky, radical obedience to the Will of God: What God asks may not make any obvious sense to us at the time. But as my ancestors would say:“ We will understand it better by and by. “

This is where the robber meets the road. This is where actions speak louder than words. This is where real discipleship real obedience is the hardest--when it has to be mixed with deep faith because we know that God provided back then and that same God is faithful, and true now.

The radical obedience of the wait staff in today's gospel reading prepares the ground for Jesus to take an empty and inadequate situation and make the best out of it. And the result is that everyone at the event profit from the obedience of a few. 

All God needs is just a few folk who will do what Jesus says. Just a few folk who catch the vision of what could be, while the many criticize, based on what already is. Just a few folks to be a voice crying in the wilderness.  Just a few people to resist the status quo and opt in to the vision offered by Christ.  Just a few who know where true life is.  Just a few who know where fullness of joy can be found. 
Beloved don't get it twisted numbers can fool you: Big crowds can give a false sense of security and approval and a couple of people can give a false sense of defeat. 
Signs and wonders do not require a large group. All God needs is just a few folk who will follow Jesus and do what he says is plenty 

The Path of faithfulness and Discipleship is not always fun stuff but it’s definitely the stuff that will make us Saints.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Feast of the Epiphany - Jan 6, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Reinaldo Martinez-Cubero, n/OHC

Epiphany - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Isaiah 60: 1-6    
Ephesians 3: 1-12    
Matthew 2: 1-12
Amahl and the Night Visitors
Having been born and raised in Puerto Rico, where today is a day of big celebration, this Feast of the Epiphany, or El día de los reyes, as we call it, has always had a very special place in my heart. On La víspera de reyes (the eve of the Epiphany), children in Puerto Rico cut grass and place it in a shoebox by their beds with another little container of water for the camels, and a wish list. The next morning the grass has been eaten, and there are presents by the bed. Los reyes will bypass your house if you are not asleep, so on Víspera de reyes children are motivated to go to bed early and fall asleep. I’ll never forget the night before día de reyes when I was awaken by some noise in my bedroom. Being the kind of young boy that I was, who always wanted to follow the rules, I was instantly terrified that the wise men would discover that I was awake. I kept my eyes very tightly shut and did not move. I must have fallen back asleep right away since I don’t remember anything else, and the next day I was able to enjoy my presents.

In my adult life as a performer, teacher, and theatre director, the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian-Carlo Menotti is the opera I have performed most. I have trained children for the role of Amahl, and have also produced and directed the opera several times. In the opera, Amahl, a boy who can walk only with a crutch, and his mother live in ancient times in much poverty. One night, three splendidly dressed kings appear at their door. They are on a long journey to bring gifts to a wondrous child and they ask if they can rest at their house. The mother welcomes them, and goes to fetch firewood. Amahl seizes the opportunity to speak with the kings. King Balthazar answers Amahl's questions about his life as a king, and then wants to know about Amahl. Amahl responds that he was once a shepherd, but his mother had to sell his sheep. Now he and his mother will have to go begging. Amahl then talks with King Kaspar, who is childlike, eccentric, and a bit deaf. Kaspar shows Amahl his box of magic stones, beads, and licorice. Later, while all are asleep, the mother attempts to steal for her son some of the gold that was meant for the Christ child. She is thwarted by the kings' page. When the page is grabbing the mother, Amahl attacks him. Seeing Amahl's weak defense of his mother, and understanding the motives for the attempted theft, King Melchior says she may keep the gold. The Holy Child will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. The mother says she has waited all her life for such a king and asks the kings to take back the gold. She wishes to send a gift but has nothing to send. Amahl, too, has nothing to give to the Child except his crutch. When he offers it to the kings, his leg miraculously heals. He asks his mother if he can go with the three kings so he can present his offering to the child himself. The opera ends as Amahl bids farewell to his mother, and leaves with the kings.

During the past two weeks it has been quite fun to study the sources for the traditions from my childhood, and the inspiration for the many variations of the legend of the wise men, and the many beautiful stories they have inspired. In addition to the readings we heard this morning, I have read many commentaries, and exegeses, and watched really fascinating documentaries. But I have to say that I got very little from all of that that I would want to share this morning. What is in my heart, however, came to me as I was hiking last Saturday. It was not a long hike, but it was longer and a bit more difficult than I was expecting. And then, I found the overlook of the beautiful Hudson valley and the river, and I praised God and gave thanks. I started thinking about that journey in the story of the wise men. A journey into the unknown to find and pay homage to a baby the stars have told them is to be king of a culture and religion not their own! There is a significant lesson in that. Astrologers that follow the constellations of the stars and pay attention to their dreams! I love it! All of a sudden these lessons from Isaiah and from Matthew were speaking to me about the light, and how our lives are journeys, often in the dark, searching for that light.

Speaking during difficult days when the Babylonian exiles had returned to Jerusalem to find the place still pretty much a ruin, and the ancient glories of Israel a distant and painful memory, Isaiah comes full of hope and joy for a bright future. "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you." Likewise, we today are called to get up and be in relationship with this light that is God’s love breaking into a world that has been covered in darkness.

In Isaiah we read "Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn." This is the same light from which all things come. In the Christ Child we see the light of God. Everything in the universe shines because God is at the heart of it. The epiphany story invites us to open our eyes to the light that is everywhere, even beyond our inherited boundaries. We need the light that comes from other cultures, and nations, and religions as much as the species of the earth need one another to be whole. Our reading from Isaiah this morning says: “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.” (A better translation from the Hebrew is: “your heart shall enlarge” or “your heart shall stretch”). The light of God always stretches our hearts in such a way as to open them to those who are ‘other’ and different. Without such a stretching, we cannot receive those who are not like us. Hearing and receiving what this verse implies could help the current, unfortunate debates in this country about refugees, and immigrants.

The lesson from Matthew’s Gospel also is a story about finding light way beyond the boundaries of what is familiar to us. It offers us an archetypal journey. We are invited to embark on that journey, however long or difficult. We are invited to open ourselves to wonder along the way. We are invited to find that star that shines in the darkness of unknowing, and to follow it. We are invited to kneel and give praise when we encounter the sacred in the most ordinary of places. We are invited to carry our gifts, our treasures, no matter how small or insignificant we think they are (like Amahl’s crutch) and give them freely because that heals us. We are invited to listen to the wisdom of our dreams. And when we need to, we are invited to take another road. Feliz día de los reyes! 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Christmas 2 - Jan 3, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. José Folgueira, OHC
Christmas 2 - Sunday, January 3, 2016

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a
Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

The flight in Egypt

“God is in charge”

In today’s Gospel we see Joseph and Mary threatened by forces too strong for them. They are warned that Herod the Great, a famously brutal ruler, was hunting for them. Like millions of other refugees, past and present, like myself, they had to flee. God’s own Son becomes a transient, homeless, migrant, alien. Like some of us at times in our lives, they had to hurry away from serious trouble. Many of us have known what it means to be in the grip of hands too strong for us. The hands too strong for us can be external; some of us have known mistreatment and various forms of imprisonment. But very often those strangleholds are internal, the grip of fear born from past experience, from trauma or abuse, for whatever reason unmanageable. 

So here is Joseph, a Jewish carpenter by trade. And his viewpoint of it all was one of obedience and willing service, and a sense of the meaning of who Jesus was and that God was at work in redemption for His people Israel. 

The Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel does not say take thy wife and son; for though Mary was properly his wife, yet Jesus was not properly his son. 

The child is mentioned before the mother, not only because of his divine nature and office, in respect to which he was her God and Savior; but because it was the preservation of the child that was chiefly regarded, and for which the providence of God was particularly concerned.

Joseph understood that he had a great responsibility as the earthly father of this child, to protect him, to rear him, to train him up, to provide for him, and to love and prepare him for whatever was to come in the years ahead.  

This is certainly a story about whom to trust, and fortunately for us, the pagan astrologers know better than to trust the king who claims piety and faithfulness. The powers of the world can never be trusted with the good news of God’s love.

Joseph is a man of God, a man of unquestioning obedience and willing service. He is man of prayer and a man of God’s words. Through faith he recognized the hand of God in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Son of God taking flesh as the Son of Mary. Joseph is a man of action, diligent in the care of his family and ready to do the Lord’s bidding. 
Joseph fearlessly set aside his own plans when God called him “to take to the road” and to leave his familiar surroundings, his home, friends and relatives and the security of his livelihood in order to pursue a hidden mission God entrusted to him as the guardian of the newborn King. God has a plan for each of us. With the plan God gives grace and assurance of his guiding hand and care. Do you trust Him for his plan for your life? Are you willing to sacrifice your own plans for God’s plan? 
Are you willing to give God unquestioning service and to pursue whatever mission he gives you?

We can learn from all this that:
- The safest place to be is where God leads you. The Wise Men followed a star, and it led them to the Christ child, also they followed God’s instructions and they escaped Herod’s wrath. Joseph followed the Angel’s instructions in a dream, and escaped to Egypt, and also followed God’s instructions and they escaped the wrath of Archelaus.
- The safest place you can be, is in the center of God’s will. Whatever path you take in life, God knows where it will lead. How much better to follow the path that He leads you down.

God is in charge. You can always feel safe when you are living in God’s will. That’s not to say that bad things won’t happen to you. But, God is in charge. Everything that happened in the Christmas story was planned by God. You can see His hand in the Christmas story every step of the way. God is in charge.

Joseph and Mary didn’t have their baby in Bethlehem. Their dream of going back to Nazareth to live a quiet and peaceable life, were postponed for a few years. Their life was nothing they had planned or expected.

Guess what? God is still in charge. He didn’t leave Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem to go it alone. He didn’t leave them in Egypt to tuff it out. God still on the Throne. God is still in charge.

“Lord, make me a faithful servant and guardian of your truth and word. Help me to obey you willingly, like Joseph, with unquestioning trust and with joyful hope.”


Friday, January 1, 2016

Holy Name - Jan 1, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Peter Rostron, OHC
Holy Name - Friday, January 1, 2016

Numbers 6:22-27
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:15-21

Happy new year by the civic calendar.  Welcome to 2016.  Today’s feast is about naming. Biblically, naming is all about the theology of identity, consecration, and vocation.  Holy Name, always eight days after Christmas as was the length of time between Jesus’ birth and the event of his circumcision and naming, is the Jewish ritual initiation into the covenant by a physical sign and the giving of a familial or religious name.  The name Jesus means "Yahweh will save".  It was given by the angel Gabriel to Mary and Joseph.  This feast occurs within a series of holy days of the Lord’s life which note and celebrate the Christ come among us as human and revealed to the world as Messiah – Christmas, Holy Name, the Baptism of the Lord, Epiphany, and the Presentation.   Each event and the Church’s liturgy thereof highlights an aspect of the life of Christ presented in the Gospels which gives us a glimpse into the mystery of the incarnation and its explosion into the world.  Today, as Jesus receives his name which is promise and mission, so we remember that we are recipients as well and receive our names – our identities and vocations anew.

Scripture is loaded with meaning-names and name-changes.  God’s name, biblical shorthand for God’s personality and character, is a frequent means of referring to God.  The scriptural importance of names and naming is noted in the fact that the word “name” occurs 944 times.  With biblical characters, often it is the changing of a name that provides a before and after contrast, highlighting the significance of the character’s identity.  A turning point of self-understanding or a conversion within one person and reverberating out to the community can change an Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, Cephas to Peter, Saul to Paul.  Names matter.  The new name sets a new agenda.  Although more frequent in ages past, from time to time a monk of our Order will take a name at the first profession of the monastic vow that connotes a new identity - the past is gone, a fresh identification is taken on. 

In this culture we have largely lost the connection between name and identity.  A new baby's name is just as likely to come from a book of baby names as from some family history with the name.  Or sometimes the ego goes wild in the form of naming.  Former boxer George Foreman, now famous for his electric grill, has 12 children: five sons and seven daughters. His five sons are George Jr., George III ("Monk"), George IV ("Big Wheel"), George V ("Red"), and George VI ("Little Joey").  Guess who this family is about! 

Rather than receiving a name identity, the empire is organized around the sorry task of categorizing - defining status, value, and worth based on whatever external criteria are deemed most important – appearance, money, position, talent, intelligence, or the lack thereof.  Identity and value are not given by God but earned or inherited.  This kind of judgment shows up as labelling or “name-calling”.  To call someone a name that is not their name is to attempt to impose an alternate identity.  Whenever I fall into sin and label someone and thus de-name them, I have decided to dehumanize and embrace the lie that I have a right to treat someone as subservient to me - less than human.  And even if I am getting better at biting my tongue when tempted to speak my labels, I think name-denying things about other people – “wrong, useless, stupid, lazy, stubborn, forgetful, failure.”  When repeated often enough, the other person becomes my label so that I am unable to see anything of him or her but my label.  Then I have succeeded at mentally stripping him or her of dignity as a person for me.

A label, a category, or a judgment is the opposite of a name.  It is the profaning of a person's name, and therefore their gifted identity.  The culture is very good at this and to the extent that we swim in it we get polluted by this prevailing attitude.  Labelling and name-calling is a sport among many politicians, commentators, and others who engage in the perpetual struggle of "us-versus-them".  The chatter of much news coverage does not hesitate to de-name and de-humanize in the service of victory for my side.  We are going to hear much de-humanizing speech in this election year of 2016.

But there is good news.  The good news is that we do not have to live in the illusory and demeaning world of labels, we can live as named people.  We are called to live as the people of God, the Church.  God is in the naming business so the Church is in the naming business.  That is how God has chosen to bestow honor to each and every one no matter the circumstances or externals of life. We as the Church are at our best when we remember that we each have names and then treat one another accordingly.  And because we are in the naming business on God’s behalf, we as Christ’s body resist every force, structure, act, movement, ideology and methodology that engages in de-naming and dehumanizing anyone.  The same love that compels us to reach out toward the marginalized and oppressed – the de-named in whatever their distressing disguise – also compels us to refute the evil of de-naming within ourselves and in those around us.  It is easy to rationalize our labels, join the crowd, demonize the other, ally ourselves with those who agree with us and hide behind the excuse that everybody is doing it.  Sadly, there are some within the Church who dirty the holy name of Jesus by their insults of their brothers and sisters.  As a young teenager said at youth group once, “People who hate other people are terrible, I hate them.” 

Your name and my name are sacramental and not available for abuse.  In the liturgies for holy baptism, confirmation, holy matrimony, ordination, and prayers for healing we call our brothers and sisters by their God-given names in order to remember and make explicit the presence and worth of the persons before us, persons who are receiving God’s grace in those moments.  These acts actualize the reality that the Church is in the naming business and therefore against the labelling business.  The Church engages the mission of God of seeing people, welcoming people, engaging and forming people – all people - not creating or reinforcing labels that foment enmity, suspicion, fear, mistrust, or walls that preserve the us and them of the world. To know and call someone by their name is to acknowledge their worth and value and therefore to take a stand for connection and community and against the demeaning and divisive forces of this world.

Living as named people is not a utopian vision of problem-free ease.  Dialogue and disagreement are normal and natural aspects of community life within the body.  Living with each other as named people does not mean we will agree with each other or even like each other all the time.  We are not called to passive relativism that minimizes our own ideas and feelings for the sake of some surface level mutual accommodation and tolerance.  Living with names is the intentional, sometimes difficult work of recognizing that as we all desire to grow together, move forward together, we each must bring our unique name and voice and gifts to that journey.  When all are offering themselves for the good of the body, life happens and we see each other as the persons we are.  Yet temptation will raise its head so we must remember that within the body nobody gets to de-name or hijack the mission, nobody gets to claim power or status over another as a way to demean someone else’s presence and voice.

At the dawn of a new year, let us resolve that in our various contexts – families, churches, workplaces – that we will resist the path of collective tribalism and remember and see and relate to one another as people named and called and valued by God. Amen.