Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Proper 25 C- Sunday October 15, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Josép Martinez-Cubero,OHC 
Proper 25 Year C- Sunday, October 15, 2016

St. Maximos the Confessor

Seventh century Christian monk, theologian, and scholar St. Maximos the Confessor wrote: 
"The person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power. Such a person, having achieved some things and eager to achieve others through this divine power, never belittles anyone… Like a good and loving physician, God heals with individual treatment each of those who are trying to make progress."
In today’s gospel reading of the parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee lifts himself up by belittling, and pointing the finger at others. He is not like those sinners, thieves, adulterers or the tax collector. His religious narcissism is a form of spiritual self-justification. In today’s society, we use many tactics to justify our self worth: intelligence, talent, alma mater, career, political views, where we live, experience, piety. 

Living without self-justifications makes me feel vulnerable, and my worst tactic for that self-justification is often self-righteousness. But day-by-day, as I continue working on my own slow conversion, I experience little glimpses of what it is to live liberated from the need of self-justification. As I come to accept that through grace God accepts me fully and unconditionally, I do not, for any reason, need to prove myself, point the finger or judge others.

The tax collector, standing far off, prays for forgiveness. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” He returns to his home justified. Jesus’ statement at the end is quite clear: if we exalt ourselves, we will be humbled; if we humble ourselves, we will be exalted. It is a frequent theme in the teachings of Jesus. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. Any who want to be my disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. Whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. You also must wash one another's feet. Those who wish to save their lives must lose them. All those who humble themselves will be exalted.

It is a theme blatantly ignored in a culture that rewards self-promotion and celebrates success; in a culture where self-promotion bleeds into other-demotion; in a culture where in order to get to the top others are pushed down or out. It is a message lost in an election season of division, demonizing hatred, and disconcerting violent acts. The words of the Pharisee are timeless and his goal is as current as the morning paper. But any time we fall prey to the temptation to point the finger at other groups, we will find God on the other side. 

With weeks of divisive rhetoric during this horrendous presidential campaign season, we can offer an authentic and visible witness of the God who lifts the lowly and humbles the haughty. But, let us be careful not to start pointing the finger at the Pharisees of our time, lest our prayer becomes, "Dear God, I thank you that I am not like other people: hypocrite, overly pious, self righteous, or even like that Pharisee. Dear God, thank you for teaching me that I should always be humble."

The Pharisee misses the true nature of his blessing. He has trusted in himself. His prayer of gratitude may be spoken to God, but it is really about himself. He locates his righteousness entirely in his own actions, accomplishments, and being. He has turned his piety into golden calf, and has worshiped it as an idol. The tax collector, on the other hand, knows that he possesses no means by which to claim righteousness, and therefore places his hopes and claims not on anything he has done or deserved but entirely on the mercy of God.

This parable is not about self-righteousness and humility as much as it is about the grace of God who alone can judge the human heart, and who determines to justify the ungodly. At the end of the story, the Pharisee leaves the Temple and returns to his home righteous. This hasn't changed. The tax collector, however, will leave the Temple and return home justified. This parable is about finding ourselves, over and over again, with nothing to claim but our dependence on God's mercy. 

When this happens, and we are able to let go of our human-constructed divisions, then we can stand before God aware only of our need for what some weeks back Br. Robert James described as “the ridiculous nature of God’s grace, and our call to live in it.” It is a call to acknowledge our sins and to know we are forgiven. It is also a call to accept God’s grace, and to move into the arena of sanctification, and being blessed to be a blessing to others. Then, we can move from "God have mercy on me a sinner!" to "By the Grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Cor 15:10) The Grace of God. This is what the tax collector receives. It is available to the Pharisee as well, but he sees no need for it.  ~Amen

Monday, October 10, 2016

Proper 23 C – Sunday October 9, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC 
Proper 23 Year C- Sunday, October 9, 2016

"Ten Lepers Healed" by Brian Kershisnik, 1997

Today’s gospel tells us a story of gratitude and faith. And Luke, the gospeller, shows us that genuine faith can come from unexpected corners. There were a great number of reasons for the enmity between Jews and Samaritans.

Samaria, the name of that kingdom's capital, was located between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. The Samaritans were a racially mixed society with Jewish and pagan ancestry. Although they worshiped Yahweh as did the Jews, their religion was not mainstream Judaism. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as canonical, and their temple was on Mount Gerazim instead of on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Because of their imperfect adherence to Judaism and their partly pagan ancestry, the Samaritans were despised by ordinary Jews. Rather than contaminate themselves by passing through Samaritan territory, Jews who were traveling from Judea to Galilee or vice versa would cross over the river Jordan, bypass Samaria by going through Transjordan, and cross over the river again as they neared their destination. The Samaritans also harbored antipathy toward the Jews.
This enmity between Jews and Samaritans underlines a number of stories in the gospels according to Luke and to John. Jesus, it seems, did not shun crossing Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. His interactions with Samaritans are one indication that his ministry became inclusive of non-Jews.
In today’s gospel, ten lepers approach him at the outskirts of a Galilean village at the edge of Samaria and ask him for mercy. Merriam-Webster defines mercy as “kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly.” Lepers, in first-century Palestine, were indeed treated harshly.  People lived in dread of leprosy, a loosely defined term used to describe any skin blemish or eruption that looked suspicious.
In Jesus’ time, it was thought to be radically contagious. Skin blemishes could also be an indication of liturgical uncleanness. The result, was that people with leprosy lived in total isolation: banished from their homes, from the loving touch of spouses, children, parents, from their faith community - so feared that even to cross the shadow of one with leprosy was thought to cause contagion.
Lepers lived alone, away from the community. Sometimes, they banded together to become a small community of misery, as seems to have been the case of our ten sufferers.
So when the ten lepers approach Jesus’ band of disciples and call Jesus Master and ask him for mercy they are being quite daring. In other such cases, the answer they might have received could have been a hail of stones or sticks shoved their way to keep them at a distance.
But rather than mete out harsh treatment on them, Jesus offers healing. “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Only the priests could have put an end to the lepers’ exile. They were the ones, not physicians, who could declare them healed of their leprosy and therefore liturgically clean. This would have heralded their return to community.
To the credit of the ten lepers, all of them needed to have faith in Jesus. The way Luke tells their story, they had to turn towards Jerusalem and attempt the journey there to meet the priests while they were still lepers. It is only as they went, that they were made clean.
But as that happens, nine lepers continue on their way to meet the priests. No doubt, they are so excited about what’s happening to them, that they can’t wait to be accepted back into their families and community and they forge ahead.
Only the Samaritan leper, stops in his tracks, marvels at his healing and is moved to turn back, praise God, worship Jesus and thank him. Only the Samaritan gives primacy to relationship with the Living God vs. religious propriety.
Jesus notes the ingratitude of the nine Jewish beneficiaries of his healing as compared to the gratitude of this Samaritan one. Only the Samaritan turned back. We can see this as a symbol of deepening conversion (metanoia). Our Samaritan changes direction. Not only does his healed body turn to Jesus but his life re-centers on God’s Word made flesh.
Only the Samaritan worshipped God in the person of Jesus and gave thanks.Not only has he been made clean; he has also been made well. Of the ten convalescents, he has come closest to experiencing the Kingdom of God here and now.
Eventually, Jesus sends him back on his way to the priests and greater social inclusion also.
We find the story of the ten lepers only in the gospel according to Luke. It focuses on the life of faith in two ways.

First, Gratitude is central to our faith experience. It puts us more closely in the presence of God’s grace. Jesus does not test the religious beliefs and practices of the Samaritan. His praising God and thanking Jesus are enough.

In our own lives, do we notice our graces? Do we offer thanks for them? Tonight, at the end of your day, count your blessings, if you can, and praise God for them.
Second, nothing stops the inclusivity of our loving God. Lepers and Samaritans alike are worthy of God’s mercy and grace.

Do not fear that you are beyond God’s mercy. God delights in your turning towards her and showers you with grace regardless. Do not exclude whom God loves. Look at whom you recoil at and learn to love them like God does.

Thank you, Jesus for your presence amongst us. Thank you, Jesus for your love manifested to one and all. We turn our hearts and minds towards you. We want to draw close to you and adore you. Invite us at your table. We are ready for your feast.Amen.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Feast of The Dedication The Monastery Church, October 4, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. John  Forbis, OHC
Feast of The Dedication The Monastery Church, October 4, 2016

This wonderful church that has been part of the prayer life of this Order for over a hundred years.  And we are to give thanks for the fellowship of those who have worshiped here for all of those years including now.  We can think of this structure as a safe place to find God and be filled with God’s joy and peace, but we would be in denial if we didn’t recognize that right at the doorway of this place there is the threat of injustice, exploitation and wide divisions between races, between the haves and the have—nots, and other discriminations against those who are the other, due to gender, sexual orientation, beliefs and simply those who experience life differently from ourselves. 

The Church is to be a place of vigilance and perhaps even the first line of defense against the moneychangers, whose only goal is to gather as much and make as much profit as they can at the expense of many, to block the entrance for the other to enter and be filled with God’s joy and peace.  The symbol that this building represents is sometimes a space that confronts us. If we are truly praying and seeking to find God here, we may have to face and become sensitized to such discomfort and astonishment before we are filled with God’s joy and peace.  There is not a more appropriate day to remember this than on this Feast of the Anniversary of the Dedication of this Church.

When Jesus enters the Temple after entering the city of Jerusalem riding on a colt and causing enough turmoil in the city, the first group he seems to zero in on are those who are exploiting people during a religious ritual in what is possibly called the Gentile court.  This is the entrance where the foreigners and “outsiders” are to enter, but the moneychangers are blocking their way.  Jesus’ anger is directed at them, certainly, but maybe even more directed at the authorities of the Temple who allow this kind of travesty to take place. 

Perhaps their motives are to keep the Gentiles, those who are unclean, out of the Temple.  His turning over the money-changers’ tables clears the way for the “impurities” to flood into the Temple.  But in and with Christ, there are no “impurities”, no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no man or woman, no black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor but all have a place in this “house of worship”, not only in fellowship but as one.

Christ makes the mountains level and rough ways smooth.  He is the great leveler and any kind of duality has no more place here.  In this “House of Prayer”, there is only room for unity, not injustices or exploitation. 

In this “House of Prayer”, Christ is also the great leveler within each of us and a challenge against our own dualities, our own prejudices and unjust attitudes against others or ourselves.  Otherwise, each of our Temples, either in the midst of our community or within ourselves, are just another “den of robbers” and therefore nothing to celebrate at all.

The way is now clear for all of us to enter, to have access to God’s abundance and love. And if we are to receive this abundance and love fully, we are to become mere children, and yet no less than children of God, heirs of God’s promise.  However, that fact demands a certain responsibility.  The Church is to be alive in us and through us.  The Church is to be the flesh and bones of who we are as God’s own.  We become the very stones of this Church itself. 

The heart of the Church is to beat with our heart and still beats with the hearts of all the children that have entered here to worship and to find God.  Its voice of praise has to be our voice of praise, even to have the audacity to say, Hosanna, to the Son of David to the threats of all who act unjustly, who exploit, who block the way for some to enter.  And at the very foundation, the cornerstone of this Church, must be Christ, where our heart ultimately beats with his heart because we are filled with his life through the Spirit which breathes with us, through us and in us. 

So we act, not with guile, insincerity, envy or slander, but with the righteousness, mercy and justice to clear the way and even drive out all that blocks some of the doorways so that all who desire to seek God may find him here in these walls, amongst all of us.  It may even mean having more audacity to knock down tables and disrupt business as usual.
This action may be out of our comfort zones, but we can also thank God that, depending upon our motivations, such a deed, is what can keep us alive as a Church in Christ and with Christ, no matter what the consequences might be.  For Christ, the consequences, of course, led to the cross, and yet he is still alive within us and we are alive through him and in him, particularly if we are to follow him.  Amen.