Sunday, June 30, 2019

Pentecost 3C - Sunday, June 30, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Aidan Owen, OHC
Pentecost 3C - Sunday, June 30, 2019

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Galatians 5:1,13-25
Luke 9:51-62

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overflowing. Amen.

There are really just two ways to God: the way of love, and the way of need.

The way of love is the way of the mystic, who is totally absorbed in God. The way of need is the way of the addict, who recognizes that it is only God’s grace, given moment by moment, that saves her from drowning in the abyss of her own obsessions and illusions.

Whichever of these ways we start on, we will eventually find ourselves on the other as well. For they’re really the same way, seen from different angles.

The mystic, seeking God above and in all things, will long to be freed from whatever is not God and from whatever would hinder her full recognition of her unity with God. The addict, relying on God’s grace moment by moment, will come to love deeply and fully the one who sustains her.

Addict and lover, love and need, so closely intertwined as to be one path, one being. Like the human and divine, united in Jesus, and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, in each of us as well.

So it is with the fruit of the Spirit, of which Paul writes to the Galatians and to us.

“For freedom Christ has set us free.” (Gal. 5:1) I would imagine that most us can say “yes” to this statement. That most of us have experienced the freedom of Christ, and freedom in Christ.

And yet, the further we walk down the road to freedom, the more obvious it becomes how unfree we all remain. The roots of sin, to use traditional language, run very deep. As soon as I recognize a selfless or generous action as the gift of God, my ego takes credit for it, and I feel puffed up with pride at my growth in love.

Paul knew this phenomenon very well. Why else would he chastise the Galatians? “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.” And again he tells them, “If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal. 5:13; 15)

Though we are free in and through Christ, we remain, in the words of twelve-step spirituality, chained in the bondage of Self. We are both free through Christ’s liberating love, and enslaved to our own obsessive self-regard. In other words, we are both the lover and the addict, free to love and be loved, and in desperate need of further freedom.

In the odd and paradoxical way of the things of God, it is when we most fully recognize our desperate unfreedom, our enslavement to our obsessions and illusions, that we are closest to freedom. Just as it is when we are most fully and deeply absorbed in our love of God that we are most powerfully aware of our need of grace and mercy.

Love and need, entangled. Addict and mystic, our twinned selves.

In her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson captures this dynamic beautifully:
Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden. Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water—peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know anything so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing—the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.1
“For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow.” Indeed.

When we do we long more powerfully for self-control than when we have just said something rash and hurtful, without thinking it though? When do we long for love more fully than in our loneliness? When do we yearn for generosity, kindness, and peace more strongly than when we most powerfully feel their lack?

To want means both to be without and to desire. Such is the human experience of God.

Contrary to reason, our longing for God is not a sign of God’s absence. It is perhaps the truest sign of God’s presence. For our thirst for God can never, at least in this life, be fully quenched. The more we have of God, the more aware we become, paradoxically, of our distance from God, and the more we long to bridge that distance.

In other words, our love for God is our need of God, and our need of God is the sign of our love for God. Or to paraphrase Thomas Merton, “our poverty is written in us as God’s glory.”

Yes, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. And to the degree that we are still in unfreedom, we can rejoice that our need holds us close to God, until the time that need blossoms into the love we so desperately want. Until the time when our very craving gives us back to our beloved, and we two become fully one once more.

1 Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (New York: Picador, 1980), p. 152.

St. Peter and St. Paul - Saturday, June 29, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Bob Pierson, OHC
St. Peter and St. Paul - Saturday, June 29, 2019

Ezekiel 34:11-16
2 Timothy 4:1-8
John 21:15-19

Peter and Paul are the two great apostles identified with the city of Rome, because both of them were martyred there.  Both of them were significant leaders in the early church.  Jesus called Andrew's brother Simon by the name of Peter, which means “rock” and said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”  And the Scriptures relate the role that Peter played in leading the group of disciples Jesus left behind.  But Scripture also allows us to see Peter as a very fallible human being.  It is to Peter that Jesus says, “Get behind me Satan!” and Peter is the one apostle that denies Jesus three times on the night before his death.

Of course, Paul didn't start out as very saint-like either.  When we meet him in the Acts of the Apostles we are told that he is actively seeking out these new Christians to arrest them and put them in prison.  He stands by silently as the crowd stones Stephen to death.  He's a good Pharisee and proud of it, until he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, and that experience changes his life.

Isn't it curious that Jesus chooses two very unlikely men to lead his church and spread the Good News about the Kingdom of God?  You would think he could do better than that.  But I think Jesus knew what he was doing, because he knew the hearts of each of them, and once he had won their hearts, he had very loyal and convincing disciples.  They knew that the power working in and through them was not their own power, but the power of God.  And I would guess that others around them knew that also.

Even as important as each of them was to the life of the early church, Scripture tells us they were not always on the same page.  Peter was the apostle to the Jews, and had a very difficult time adjusting to the understanding that God's kingdom did not belong only to the Jews and those who followed the Jewish Law.  Paul had to remind Peter that Peter had once welcomed Gentiles as Christians because they believed and received the Holy Spririt.  It had nothing to do with following the Jewish Law.  The Council of Jerusalem was the first of many times that disciples of Christ had to come together and air their differences in order to discern how God was leading them.  They trusted the Holy Spirit, promised by Jesus to the Church, to lead and guide them.

Peter followed Jesus' call to “feed my lambs” and to “tend my sheep.”  Paul followed Jesus' call to out to all the nations, and proclaim the Good News.  As imperfect as both of them were, they were faithful to their call.  And that's why we remember them today.

What can we take away for ourselves on this great feast?  First, we know that God uses fallible men and women to do God's work in the world, and we shouldn't let our foibles and sinfulness discourage us or lead us to think that God is not calling us.  Second, just as the Spirit guided Peter and Paul and their followers “into all truth,” that same Spirit is with us today, giving us the help we need to discern God's guidance for our times.  And finally, just as Peter and Paul were strengthened and nourished by their strong relationships with the Lord, we are strengthened and nourished by our prayer and our own relationship with the Lord, gathering each day at this table to receive the Lord's Body and Blood, just like Peter and Paul.  They are with us today, reminding us that God is faithful and we can be disciples, too.

Nativity of St. John the Baptist - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Bob Pierson, OHC
Nativity of St. John the Baptist - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Isaiah 40:1-11
Acts 13:14b-26
Luke 1:57-80

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

In the first volume of her three volume work on Religious Life, entitled Finding the Treasure, Sister Sandra Schneiders says that the call to religious life, centered in love of God and love of neighbor, is a prophetic vocation.  I believe that to be true, and I want to look at our scripture readings for this feast of one of the greatest prophets, John the Baptist, to see what we can learn about what it means to be prophetic today.

First, we heard that wonderful passage from Isaiah, chapter 40: “Comfort, O comfort my people.”  Isaiah says the prophet's call is to “prepare the way of the Lord” by announcing the good tidings that the Lord “comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”  It's not a message of gloom and doom, but rather one of hope and joy.  “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”  Being a prophet is announcing God's love and mercy to the world.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul says that before the coming of Jesus, “John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.”  In announcing the coming of the Lord, John's message was not gloom and doom, but rather a call to get ready, and pay attention.  It was an encouragement to leave behind our old way of life so that we can receive the New Life that Jesus has to offer.  Being a prophet is telling people to wake up to the presence of God in their lives.

And in the gospel passage, St. Luke's “Canticle of Zechariah” which we pray every day at Matins, we hear that the “holy prophets of old” announced that “we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”  God “has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, we might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”  Being a prophet is reminding the people of God's promises for protection and deliverance, for mercy and forgiveness.

Like John the Baptist, we are called to “go before the Lord to prepare his ways.”  We are called to “give knowledge of salvation to God's people by the forgiveness of their sins.”  The “tender mercy of our God” will break upon us, giving “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death;” guiding “our feet into the way of peace.”  Being a prophet today is reminding the world that Jesus came “not to condemn the world” but that through him “the world might be saved.”  And the world desperately needs to hear this good news because for some reason too many people have proclaimed the bad news that “God's gonna get you,” and that's what people have believed.

You may have heard me relate the story of how I came to understand God's love for me in a church in Toronto, where I heard a verse of a familiar hymn that I had never heard before.  The hymn is “There's a Wideness in God's Mercy,” and the verse I had never heard before goes like this:
But we make God's love too narrow, by false limits of our own.
And we magnify God's strictness with a zeal God will not own.
As prophets today, we have the wonderful task of teaching people that, in the words of Richard Rohr, “We do not become good so that God will love us.  God loves us, so that we can become good.”  That is the Good News we are called to proclaim by our lives today.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Pentecost 2C - Sunday, June 23, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Josép Reinaldo Martínez-Cubero, OHC
Pentecost 2C - Sunday, June 23, 2019

Isaiah 65:1-9
Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

It is generally agreed upon that the original version of the gospel lesson this morning is in the Gospel according to Mark. In Mark’s Gospel, it is part of a series of stories in which Jesus moves back and forth between Jewish and non-Jewish communities, foreshadowing that the gospel would eventually break through barriers of, in Saint Paul’s words, “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female”, and would offer good news of salvation to all of God’s people. In our gospel story this morning, Jesus and his friends have crossed the Sea of Galilee into the country of the Gerasenes, a territory occupied by Gentiles.

Jesus is met immediately by a demon-possessed man.  The man is identified as a "man of the city," and is on the margins of society. He is naked, in other words, completely exposed, and has no home but lives in the tombs, in other words, he is as good as dead for the people of the city. The people of the region have tried to keep him in chains, to bring him under control, but have not been successful. He is a problem! When he sees Jesus, this man throws himself on the ground in a posture that seems as of one begging for help while at the same time howling in protest. The literal translation is "What to me and to you, Jesus, son of the Most High God?"  The expression means something like "leave me alone!" Have you ever been met with a “leave me alone” that clearly sounds like a cry for help? I have, more than several times in my life. By the grace of God, in some of those occasions, when appropriate, I have been able to say: “No way will I leave you alone.” For me it has been a way of paying it forward because you see, there have been times in my life when I, too, have shouted, “Leave me alone!” and it has been a cry for help. And by the grace of God there have been incredible people in my life who have refused to leave me alone.

“Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion;’ for many demons had entered him.” The usage of the word translated as Legion in this passage refers to something very specific. The country of the Gerasenes was the location of a Jewish revolt in 67 A.D. that was brutally put down by a Roman Army of close to 6,000 soldiers. One thousand Jewish rebels who had been besieged in that region were slaughtered. The gospel writer identifies Roman military oppression with the demons that possess this man. So when this man says that he is Legion, he is saying that a massive mob of demonic power has seized him.  He has been overwhelmed, overrun, fragmented. Have you ever felt like your life has been broken into 6,000 pieces? Have you ever looked in the mirror and said: “Who are you? I don’t recognize you.” Has your head ever been filled with conflicting thoughts and voices? Have you ever lost your bearings, suddenly no longer knowing what your life is about? Have you ever wondered if you are going crazy? We have all experienced times of isolation and loneliness when perhaps our dreams and hopes have been shattered, or our marriage or very significant relationship has ended, or the death of a loved one, or the challenges and pains of aging, or perhaps our faith and beliefs have been turned upside down. I would bet many of us in this room could think of a time when we felt we were losing the self we knew.

Jesus asks the man his name because the first step in getting rid of the demons that enslave us is to be able to name them. The man calls himself Legion but that is not his true name. That is not who he is. It is, rather, what has become of him. And he has been dispossessed of his humanity, an alien to the town. And why? Well because there always has to be a scapegoat. There’s always the one to whom the group points the finger and says: “Oh, she is such a mess!” “We don’t want him here. He is crazy. Let him self-destruct somewhere else.” “She is nothing but trouble.” But it never fails! The person to whom we point the finger is holding a mirror in front of us, and revealing something to us we are trying very hard not to know.

In this brilliant story Jesus redirects the demons from the possessed man to the herd of swine that ran down to the lake and drowned. For the Jewish culture of the time pigs were unclean. The point, however, is that, the demons are gone! And what happens when the demons of a scapegoat are gone, and the scapegoat is functioning in a healthy way? Well, those who were pointing the finger are going to have to change or their own demons are going to start showing up really fast! When the people of the city hear what has happened, they go to Jesus and find the man "from whom demons had gone out sitting, clothed and in right mind, at the feet of Jesus. And they were afraid.” The man who had been identified as naked, living in the tombs, out of control, without a home is, by the end of the story, clothed and in his right mind, no longer out of control, and now being taught by Jesus. He has been saved. And what are the implications of this event for the people in the town? You see, the way it works is that, they all had a part in the problem.

The assurance of the Gospel is that, Christ comes to the Legion of our lives. He did for the man in today’s Gospel, and he does for each and everyone of us. Christ comes before us with a truth that challenges us at the places in which our lives have become fragmented and distorted. Christ comes before us with a truth that challenges us when we are not true to ourselves. Christ comes before us with a truth that challenges us at the times when our identity has been lost and shattered. Christ comes before us as the one with inner clarity, focus, and understanding. Christ comes before us as the presence of wholeness, and integration. Christ comes before us as the image of who we truly are. Christ comes before us revealing the original beauty of our creation. Christ comes before us, yes, but we have to be able to name our demons, because Christ ain’t codependent.

Jesus comes to the man seeing and knowing a truth about him that the man can neither see nor know for himself. How can he? He has been convinced that his name is Legion. But, Legion is never our ultimate reality or true identity. Yes, we may know what it is like to be Legion. We can tell that story. For every story about Legion, however, there is a counter story that shows us who we really are, our true self, and that’s the story Jesus wants told. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” ¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo! ~Amen+

Corpus Christi - Thursday, June 20, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Rev. Matthew Wright, CRC
Corpus Christi - Thursday, June 20, 2019

John 6:47-58

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

Corpus Christi.  The day we’re given to celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist; the mystery of the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood; the mystery of the food that’s at the heart of our lives when we journey with Jesus.

And the Gospel reading appointed for today might make our relationship to this food sound a bit ominous: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  So on the one hand, there’s the cannibalistic edge—really it’s more than an edge.  And on the other hand, there’s the seeming exclusivity of it—if you don’t do this, there is no life in you.  But rather than brush this off as some kind of outdated, exclusivist theology, let’s take it seriously for a few minutes,  What does it mean: “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”?

Well, first of all, if this is true, then the reverse is also necessarily true: “If you have life within you, you do eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood.”  As Jesus says elsewhere in John’s Gospel, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.”  And so abundant life, life fully alive, is the sign of Jesus’ eucharistic presence, the sign that one has feasted on Christ’s Body and Blood.  So we should look to those who are fully alive if we want to see what it means to truly eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood.

And I imagine we’ve all known at least one such a person over the course of our lives.  Someone whose presence we love to be in because they radiate joy, life, love; or maybe even someone who’s presence we’re a little afraid to be in, because they bear so much truth, so much love.  Whichever the case may be, we’ve all likely known someone who was abundantly alive—and they may or may not have been formally religious, or maybe even Christian.  If you have abundant life within you, you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood.

The life of Christ is the life of the world.  It is the life of a river or a tree or a star, the life of the poor, and the hurting, and the hungry; it’s the life within you and me, begging to be liberated and feasted upon.  And so we have to be careful to never make this mystery of Christ’s life, Christ’s Body, smaller than it is.  Nothing falls outside of the Mystery of Christ—“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”  On this Feast of Corpus Christi, Jesus gives us bread and wine, grapes and wheat, earth and water, to remind us that this whole universe is his body and blood.

And so we also have to be careful to not sentimentalize this Christ-life, to not make it something tame and precious and manageable.  The Christ-life, life fully alive, is wild and beautiful—and sometimes a little scary—and it spills over and outside of our neat boundaries and our tidy boxes—and yes, our beautiful tabernacles.  It’s all of life.  And so to truly eat his flesh and drink his blood is to fully participate in and embrace this wild, messy, glorious life we’re given.  That’s how we eat his flesh and drink his blood… and when we don’t do that—when we don’t participate, embrace, engage—that’s when we have no life in us, when our life becomes small and tight and fearful.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says.  The bread that is life is Jesus.  And so can we learn to meet and embrace and receive each moment of life as bread?  As sustenance?  As nourishment?  As Jesus?  Admittedly, it’s a tall order.  There are some moments in life, there are some people in life, I do not want to receive as bread, as Jesus.  But can we find, or at least look for, the bread, even there?  Can we look for the way in which a difficulty or a frustration if embraced might be able to strengthen us, teach us something new about ourselves, push us more deeply into community, engage us more fully in this feast that is life, that is bread, that is Jesus?

Now sometimes, of course, it’s too soon, sometimes it’s only years later when a difficult moment from our past suddenly becomes a morsel of bread now, becomes strength now, in the present.  Sometimes it takes a long while for one of life’s experiences to be ground and milled into flour and to be baked and to rise into bread, into nourishment.  Kabir Helminski, a Sufi teacher, says that “Eventually, we begin to see that even a bitter drink is sweet, when it is from the Beloved.”

Can we find the sweetness within the bitterness, and see even those moments as the blood of our Beloved Jesus poured into the chalice of our life?  Can we see his hands kneading the dough that is the difficulty and pain of our lives and our world so that, little by little, all of it can become Communion bread?  Paula D’Arcy says that “God comes to you disguised as your life.”  And not just the “good parts” of your life.  God comes to you disguised as your life.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says.  And so, if life is bread, and that bread is Jesus, are we always willing to say yes to Jesus?  If life is bread, and that bread is Jesus, do I always want to receive it?  Eucharist is practice for learning to say yes to all of it.  Week after week, and here in the monastery, day after day, we come forward, extend our hands, receive the bread, drink the wine, and say “Amen.”  We receive and accept the gifts of God and we say, “Yes.”  And never forget that these are broken gifts—broken bread, crushed grapes, poured out wine.  And in a very real way, we’re receiving and saying yes to our own brokenness, we’re receiving and saying yes to each other’s brokenness, and we’re being reminded that this messy thing we call being human that we’re all doing—this is the bread of life, this is Jesus.

I think of all the weddings, and funerals, and baptisms, and house blessings, and ordinations, and professions of vows at which I’ve shared in Holy Communion.  In moments of celebration, of grief, of welcome, of commitment.  At each of them, Eucharist.  This is what we do to remind ourselves.  This is what God does to remind us.  Each moment—a birth, a wedding, a profession, a death—all of it, the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Eucharist is a mirror of our life.  We are the Body of Christ, coming forward to receive ourselves, to say Yes, Amen, Thank you, and to eat the gift of our own lives.  “God comes to you disguised as your life.”

Jesus goes on to say in the Gospel, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”  What if we heard this not as the creepy language of cannibalism, but instead as the language of pregnancy, of the interabiding of a mother and child?  Just as an infant abides in its mother’s womb and is nourished by her flesh and blood, her body, so too we abide in Christ and Christ in us.  Julian of Norwich says of the Eucharist: “A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself.  He does so most courteously and most tenderly, with the Blessed Sacrament, which is the precious food of true life.”

Our Mother Jesus, the Word Incarnate in all creation, is the very life of the world, the life that we have to embrace and consume in its fullness if we are to be truly alive.  The flesh of the Son of Man is the flesh of our human experience, the Body of this moment.  “God comes to you disguised as your life.”

And so, as we all come forward shortly and the two arms of the circle that we’ll form around the altar begin weaving in and out around the bread and the cup, look around and see what’s happening—the bread and the cup the heartbeat of Jesus, and here we all are in the great circulatory system of the Body of Christ, receiving nourishment and being sent out, and learning every time we come forward to once again say Yes.  Yes to our brokenness, yes to our beauty, yes to our Jesus who is bread that is life.  Yes, yes, to all of it, yes, amen!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity Sunday - Sunday, June 16, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. John Forbis, OHC
Trinity Sunday - Sunday, June 16, 2019

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

In Burnt Norton of the Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot writes, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” 

We and the disciples are faced, this Trinity Sunday, with the Farewell Discourse again, just when we thought it was all over.  Jesus thinks the reality the disciples can’t bear is truth amid saying goodbye to their teacher and friend, anticipating and being confounded by his impending death that he has predicted to them again and again.  By this point, the disciples must realize that it is inevitable.  It’s a strange scene upon which to even try and overlay the Feast of the Trinity. 
But perhaps in this passage, lies a key that could unlock the Trinity conundrum for us.  We could consider the possibility that there is not a more appropriate scene upon which to be thinking about the Trinity.  All the disciples understood at the time is that Christ’s departure threatens to end all their hope in what will come.  We have the advantage of knowing that there is so much more awaiting them … and us. 

Yet, I wonder if some of the resistance and confusion around the Trinity is due to another reality, that is hard for humankind to bear, that God is full, rich, abundant, multiple, yet one.  In my limited vision how can I bear that he is both, that in God is the possibility of abundant creation and life beyond my imagination?  How can I bear that the Spirit will come right before me and give me a message directly from God?  This Spirit, Jesus doesn’t explain or describe very well, other than to say that she can only speak what she hears from God. 

Her identity is filled out a little bit better by Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians, 2:10.  She really listens to God’s truth.  “What no eye has seen nor ear heard nor the human heart conceived, What God has prepared for those who love him.  These things, God has revealed to us through the Spirit, for the Spirit searches even the depths of God.” 

In this light, the Spirit is no small comfort and evokes such beauty, but it can also be an ominous prospect.  God is much safer as one single entity at a remote distance, watching us live our present stuck between what Eliot again describes as the intolerable reality, “what might have been and what has been”.  The disciples are certainly in this place now.   

The Son, fully a part of humankind, also bears being in the space between “what might have been and what has been”.  The difference is that it is by his own choice.  He comes to where we are and dies a cruel death, showing us just how such a present can lead us to death. 
But what Jesus’ life and teaching offers is the good news that God is not just one.  God is not alone.  God calls us to a present full of multitudes, a new Creation, the Incarnation and Resurrection and a Pentecostal fire and breath, a present of an indwelling of the world by all three, God, Son and Spirit, within us.

Psalm 8, assigned for today, asks the question:  “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”  Judging by how we don’t honor God’s image in ourselves, in each other and in Creation, it is a perennial question for humanity.

The Spirit, “a master worker” or as another translation has it, a little child at God’s right hand, seems to have no interest in the question.  She might be too busy, tugging on God to play with her in the molds and shapes of mountains down to the “world’s first bits of soil.”

“I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”  She comes by this delight honestly because God’s image is still in us.  God takes delight in us. 

Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that we ARE justified by faith, believe it or not.  But our faith or belief in God’s grace is not enough.  What about Jesus’ faith and love for God’s limitless life?  This love is what he has from God, and his glory is to see that love declared to us. 

We can’t escape the Spirit.  She responds by “raising her voice … on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals” and cries out what the Son doesn’t have words for. 

When the Spirit declares to us what can only be said by God, she glorifies Jesus.  Paul claims, we “share in that same glory”.  What she declares to us that is God’s given to the Son glorifies us.  Then, suffering leads to endurance, to character and finally hope.  Peace does not mean the end of suffering, but it is the persistence of hope and assurance that no matter how much reality we bear, we have God’s love poured into us and are still capable to pour that love out of us into each other and the earth. 

Indeed, this truth is beyond what we could bear, except by the majesty of the movement of heavens, a circle drawn on the face of the deep, the formation of skies, the rush of “fountains of the deep” and the wild sea barely contained by God “when he marked out the foundations of the earth.” 

How would we live differently if we didn’t just accept that God desires to make a home among us, with us and within us, but that the Trinity in all their progeny and multitude is already howling through us?  Maybe we could finally embrace the one and only Divine Present breathed through with eternal Future.  Amen.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Pentecost Sunday - Sunday, June 9, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. James Koester, SSJE
Pentecost Sunday - Sunday, June 9, 2019

Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:14-17
John 14:8-17, (25-27)

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

The Gift of Pentecost
Those of you who know me, will perhaps remember that my undergraduate degree is in history. All my life I have been interested in history. There was even a time long ago when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, my response was more likely to be a pioneer, than anything else. I remain fascinated by history, and for obvious reasons, especially by the history of the revival of monasticism within the Anglican tradition.

Reading the history of the monastic movement within Anglicanism is lots of fun, because you come across all kinds of people, some of them inspirational, like Father Huntington or Father Benson, and some of them just plain nuts, like Father Ignatius of Llanthony.

The task of the historian, as I see it, is to study the past, in order to make sense of the present. That is an historian. An antiquarian on the other hand is interested in the past for its own sake. And that’s where Father Ignatius comes in, and why he is an important person to remember. Ignatius was largely an antiquarian, attempting to revive a way of life as it had been lived in some golden age long, long ago, and far, far away. Benson and Huntington, I would argue, were historians, looking to an historic movement in the Church of Christ and recreating it to address the age in which they lived.

As monastics living in monasteries, singing plainsong, wearing habits, it’s easy to close our eyes and pretend that nothing has changed in 1000 years. That was the trap Father Ignatius fell into. He was an antiquarian. It is no wonder that his community lasted only a few years after his death, and few people today have heard of him.

Huntington and Benson on the other hand were keenly aware of the world and its needs as they then existed, and reaching into the Tradition adapted a traditional form of Christian living to address those needs. Over 100 years later, Father Ignatius is long forgotten, and you and we are still doing the work begun by our Founders.

The lens through which we look at things then, is really important. Are we historians, looking at the past in order to discover lessons for the present, or are we antiquarians attempting to recreate the past for its own sake. Today as we celebrate the Day of Pentecost, that’s a real question. And for Father Benson, the answer was clear. Pentecost is important, not because of what it did once, for a group of people long ago, in a land far away, but what it means for us, here, today. We are not here as antiquarians to freeze frame the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but to discover how they are continuing to be manifested in us today.

Father Benson, and my hunch Father Huntington, was not interested in the past. The revelation of God as an event lost in the distance of time was of no interest to him. What he was interested in was how God was revealing the Divine life today. He wrote: Revelation is the coming-forth of the eternal God to the living soul. What is revealed to others may be written down on parchment, but the revelation of God cannot be conveyed. It must be the voice of God speaking in the soul [now], the hand of God lifting the veil of eternity [now], the light of God shining in the inmost depth of the soul [now]. And so the revelation of God is really a thing ever present. It is not revealed once and for all, but what He has revealed He has perpetually revealed and He will go on revealing. We are to live in the consciousness of that perpetual revelation which the living God is making to us [today].1

This is the promised Spirit of God in the gospel I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever,2 and who will teach of everything.3

The gifts of the Spirit are being poured out upon us then, today, even now, and we must realize those gifts, not simply in the sense of comprehending them, but of making them actual, making them real. Again, as Father Benson said, if we would but realize that we are the children of the kingdom now, that God’s gifts are made over to us now, that we have them in possession [now], then we should find all comfort.4

Brothers, I am convinced that the Church needs us. I am convinced that the Church needs communities such as OHC, and SSJE. What the Church doesn’t need are more antiquarians. There are too many out there as it is. What the Church needs are communities deeply rooted in the Tradition, and where the revelation of God is not a dead event, frozen in time, but a living, breathing, consuming fire. The Church desperately needs the witness of vibrant, centered, focused, prayerful, healthy, strong, mission oriented, monastic communities. That’s what Father Huntington and Father Benson began over 150 years ago in New York and Oxford, and that’s why we must embrace the lived reality of Pentecost today.

Again, as Father Benson says, in a somewhat different context, [the] life, the love, the joy of Jesus, and today I would add the gifts of the Spirit, must be a reality taking possession of our souls [today]. This union with Jesus is no abstract union of fancy. It is the union by which our nature is to be perfected, and for which it is formed. The taking of our flesh by the Son of God was not an accidental or remedial measure only, but part, we believe, of His original plan to unite us to Himself. He gives us our nature for the purpose of eventually gathering us into Himself.5

The gift of Pentecost has been given, and God pours out the gift of the Spirit upon us again today, not as the historic re-enactment of the antiquarian, but as the lived reality of the revelation of God who is ever present and ever new. It is our joy and privilege, not simply to share in those gifts, but to realize them, making them real in our lives, and for our time. But these gifts come with a warning label, for our God is a consuming fire.6

It is those gifts, and that fire, which are ours to have in this life, when we become, like Abba Joseph, fire ourselves.7 And once aflame with the fire of God, we will see tongues of flame dancing upon our heads, and burning within our hearts, and the day of Pentecost will blaze forth upon us, once again.

1 Benson, Richard Meux, Cowley Calendar, With Some Words Chiefly from the Unpublished Retreat Addresses of Richard Meux Benson, 1932, page 61 – 62 2 John 8: 16 3 John 8: 26 4 Benson, Cowley Calendar, page 71 5 Benson, Richard Meux, Instructions on the Religious Life, First Series, 1927, page 28 6 Hebrews 12: 29 7 A young monk visited Abba Joseph and said to him, “Father, as best as I can, I say my prayers, I fast, I meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” The old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “You must become fire itself.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Seventh Sunday of Easter - Sunday, June 2, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC
Seventh Sunday of Easter - Sunday, June 2, 2019

Acts 16:16-34
Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21
John 17:20-26

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.
Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega:
All times belong to him and all the ages.
To him be glory and power through every age for ever. Amen.

This prayer is familiar to many who attended the Easter Vigil.  It is the prayer commonly used while the priest blesses the Paschal Candle at the very start of the service and, taking its light from the new fire, heralds our Lord's Resurrection.  Here at Holy Cross Monastery it was particularly striking this year. Due to the liturgical equivalent of a “wardrobe malfunction” the fire never caught on. But our nimble altar party managed to get the candle blessed and lighted and we were off once again with our Easter observance.  Of course Christ's Resurrection did not and does not depend on our ritual actions. As Rowan Williams once said:  “No matter how early you get to the tomb, God has already been there first.”

I find myself regularly praying this formula of blessing from the Easter Vigil liturgy.  It is a bracing reminder that the course of this world and our life together in it is ultimately in the hands of Someone greater and more enduring than we are.  The whole cosmic story stretches from before the primordial beginning to the very end of time. And at the beginning of it and at the end of it and at all the times and seasons between, there is Christ, the eternal Word, creating, reconciling, healing, redeeming, transforming.  It is a prayer of a big faith, fitting our small stories into a cosmic setting and helping us make  sense of our life and times.

It is also a prayer which captures the message of the Book of Revelation, that mysterious final book of the New Testament also known as the Apocalypse of John, that is, the great unveiling.  We have, in fact, been hearing every Sunday since Easter portions of this book.  Admittedly they are the passages focused on the promise of life and light and a new heaven and a new earth and of the universal invitation to all who are thirsty to come and drink.  The sections having to do with the seven plagues and the moon turning to blood and the four horsemen riding over the earth and the bottomless pit and the bowls of the wrath of God—all the really dramatic parts—are left for another time...usually for the office of matins at seven o'clock in the morning. But whatever else it may be, the Book of Revelation assure us that God is in charge and that we can hope...for a new age and a new order of justice and peace.  It is a hope that gives us the courage to work for just such an age and such an order.

We find ourselves today in a strange period in the church year.  On Thursday we celebrated the feast of the Ascension of our Lord. Christ has returned to his Father's side, his disciples have witnessed his departure, they return to Jerusalem and they worship and they wait. What next? What happens now? What do we dare hope for or fear?  Where shall we go? What shall we do? Who are we? We are all familiar with these questions. They are constants in our human condition when we feel in between or fall between the cracks of life.  It's a situation that recurs regularly.

I want to share with you two vignettes about this experience, the experience of those first disciples in the days after the Ascension and in our own day.

The first has to do with a story that I have related many times. It's actually not my story but comes from our late Br. Andrew Colquhoun, that beloved, curmudgeonly Scotsman.  He told of one of his aunts who had a tendency toward malapropisms, getting words ever so slightly wrong with rather humorous results.  In one instance, in an effort to console someone who had suffered a difficult setback in her life, Andrew's aunt tenderly said: “God doesn't shut one door but he closes another.”  We can laugh at this, of course. But you know, this sounds pretty accurate in many cases.  How many of us know people or have ourselves been in situations where not just one but several doors closed almost simultaneously, whether they be doors of financial or educational or romantic opportunity or of physical or emotional health or of spiritual aliveness?  But it is also a truth that folks who experience this closing of the doors learn, if they are resilient and circumstances of life do not overwhelm them.  And that is that when the doors close and we are exiled to the hallway, we discover that life goes on even there.  It may take time for our inner eyes to adjust to this new and unfamiliar environment.  But we find that we are not alone there and that the conditions, while far from our dreams or desires, are bearable and sometimes even interesting in new and unexpected ways.

I wonder if this was the experience of that apostolic band of men and women who were disoriented and perhaps left bereft and grieving by the exquisite absence of Jesus from  their lives and who yet, as Luke says, “were continually in the temple blessing God.”  The doors, it seems, were closed.  All the doors. God had tantalized them and captured their hearts and minds, and fired their spirits in and through Jesus. And now they were left in the lurch...waiting. Yet even in their waiting—in their waiting together—they found the way to form a community and to worship God and nurture hope in each other.  It was a hope that was richly rewarded.  Yes, sometimes: “God doesn't shut one door but he closes another.”  But that's never the end of the story, not for those early followers of Jesus and not for us.

The second vignette is a bit more personal.  As I reflected on the Ascension this week and looked at various icons and images of the passing of Jesus into the havens, I was struck by how the men and women stand there gazing up, just as we hear described  in the Acts of the Apostles.  What were they experiencing, feeling, perceiving?  As I reflected I was taken back to 1968 when I was nineteen years old and went away to Europe for a Junior Year Abroad.  I had lived at home for my first two years of college and hearing the adventures of my high school friends now away at college or university, I was envious and longed to escape and share in similar adventures.  I saved up my money from part time jobs and summer labors and scraped together enough to live on the cheap in Belgium while studying at a venerable university.

I booked passage on a small student ocean liner, and my parents went with me to New York City to see me off.  I was standing on the ship's deck waving to them and they were on the dock waving to me.  It was just like in the movies.  And then the horns blew and suddenly I noticed that they were getting smaller and smaller.  Seriously, I don't know what I expected, but to use the language in St. Luke's account of the Ascension, they withdrew from my sight. It was so disorienting.  And at once I felt a great fear and a great freedom.  I was on my own at last.  And it felt...well, scary and full of possibilities I couldn't even imagine.

I wonder now if the experience of those early disciples wasn't something like my experience on a small ship slowly moving away from New York.  It was I that was moving, not my parents who were still there on the dock waving until I couldn't see them any longer.   And I wonder: maybe it wasn't Jesus who moved at all or ascended. Maybe it was disciples who moved..moved away from their Risen Lord so that they could experience both the challenge and the freedom and the joyous possibility of becoming the new born people of God.   What if Jesus in some real sense is still there on the Mount of the Ascension, waving to us and saying to our hearts: “Don't be afraid. I'm still with you. I'm always with you.  Now go out. Go out into the world. Go on. It's OK. Be my church. Be my body in the world. Be alive. Be the Good news that you proclaim?”

Well, this is a bit of stretch perhaps. But it seems to me that God is always stretching us to take our place in the cosmic story and to make our mark, however large and small, in the world.  And in this liminal period between the feast of the Ascension and celebration next Sunday of Holy Pentecost just as in all the in-between or liminal spaces of our little lives and our corporate history as a people and species, we are reminded: the story is larger than us and wider than us and far more vast than we can imagine.  And at its beginning and at its end and at every moment and every place in between, there is Christ, our courteous Lord...dwelling in the hallways with those for whom so many doors have been closed and waving at us from the dock.  And speaking softly to our hearts saying: “It's OK. I am with you to the end of the ages. Now go live.”

And so we pray again:
Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega:

All times belong to him and all the ages.

To him be glory and power through every age for ever. Amen.

Ascension Day - Thursday, May 30, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Randy Greve, OHC
Ascension Day - Thursday, May 30, 2019

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 24:44-53

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

The wrong place to begin is to ask, “What happened?”  But, if we were to begin there, of the big mysteries of the faith, I would rather talk about Easter.  Maybe that is why I got assigned to preach Ascension.  I do not claim to be able to explain miracles, but I can in some sense at least imagine the resurrection.  In the darkness of the tomb, beneath the linen shroud, specific things happen - blood begins to flow, neurons fire, nerves awaken, muscles twitch.  The same body that was on the cross, buried, and sealed in the tomb has been raised.  Then the gospels go out of their way to tell us of Jesus’ physicality in eating, touching, even revealing his scars after the resurrection.  Although he is also clearly different, he is there, he is present in a way that corresponds to how we naturally want to understand presence – a particular someone who is somewhere, even if he does occasionally vanish into thin air.  The ascension, as an event equally in time, equally involving Jesus’ body, forces the inevitable question, “Where did he go?” which is a bit of an improvement on the wrong question, “What happened?”, but only a bit.  The word in the text is “up”, which does not help very much if we think merely in the categories of natural physics.  Ascension invites bigger questions, even the meaning of simple words like “where” and “go” and “up”.  A new consciousness is needed.

Keeping open to what some of these words might be pointing to, we remember that the ascension is two realities.  The first is that Jesus, continuing as fully human and fully God is at the right hand of the Father in heaven, interceding for us, ruling and reigning over the universe.  His physical, risen body is “somewhere”.  The second is that, as Leo the Great says in his sermon on the Ascension, the visible presence of Jesus has passed into the sacraments.  It is not half in heaven and half here, but heaven and earth are joined in the risen, ascended, exalted body of Jesus the Christ.  Jesus’ particular human life is joined to heaven.  Jesus’ ascended life is joined to earth.  Jesus is not now dismembered from human life and experience, but adorned by it, fully glorified in the very flesh that was born, lived, died, was raised, and ascended. Glorification is the passing from the specificity of his earthly and even risen life to the yet incarnate, but universal state of life as and in heaven.  Jesus participates in the beyond time and space of his presence with the Father and the Holy Spirit which is called heaven, and under the veil of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the water of Holy Baptism, and the other outward and visible signs of sacramental grace truly continues his ministry of presence and work among us in his Church.  By his very ascending into heaven, to the realm or office of reality beyond our present senses, he is able then to descend continually and universally and gift us with the inward and spiritual grace of his life through the Holy Spirit.

All that to say that we do not proclaim a mere memory of someone who once was but is no more; or worse yet a mere spiritual presence to which we may look for ideas and concepts.  Given that, I would like to explore the notion of an ascension-informed and infused spirituality.  Meaning that if heaven and earth are joined, if the presence we proclaim is indeed the case, what might the longing for union and transformation be like?  What we believe about how Jesus is present in and to our souls informs what spiritual life will be, the nature of what kinds of persons we are invited to become.

We say with confident faith that Jesus is present here, now.  Through the Holy Spirit and within our sacramental celebrations, that is real and true.  However, Jesus’ absence to our senses and direct encounter is a quality of his presence.  This mystery is often neglected as an aspect of maturity in Christ and misunderstood as something wrong, not working, a failure to unlock the secret to bliss.  As N.T. Wright says in Surprised by Hope, “…the one who is indeed present with us by the Spirit is also the Lord who is strangely absent, strangely other, strangely different from us and over against us, the one who tells Mary Magdalene not to cling on to him…”  And then Louis-Marie Chauvet has this wonderful phrase in his book Symbol and Sacrament “the presence of the absence” of Jesus, which for him is the essence of faith.  Because it is by faith that we are taught to long, to hope, to watch, to wait, to love.  It is the very presence of the absence of Jesus that stirs the cry “Come, Lord Jesus”.  So this spirituality is an awareness of soul that he for whom we most deeply crave is seen in glimpses, through a dark glass, not as yet see face to face.  Our prayer and other spiritual practices are energized by the expectation that we will, in our own death and resurrection, join the incarnate Christ in heaven and become like he is.  But this hope is less our comprehension of the meaning of the mystery of the ascended Christ and more the acceptance of the dazzling wonder of his strange otherness.  The resurrection accounts and the conversion of Paul give us some stories of this.  Jesus’ untouchability for Mary Magdalene, his disappearance from the table at Emmaus, the ascension itself, the bright light of his appearance to Paul all apply metaphorical language to an experience which leaves as many questions as answers.  It is a pattern which continues to operate within our own discipleship: the transformation begins in the encounter, but echoes long after Jesus is “gone”, because he is not gone.  He is present in his absence.  His withdrawal is part of his coming.  He is both processing and recessing at the same time.

So we are invited within our souls to dance with the paradox that Jesus is both “somewhere” in a way that makes encounter possible and real, but never circumscribed within our containers of understanding or located exclusively in this and not that, only with us and not also with them.  This is where the nature of the mystery directly confronts our stubborn pride and selfishness.  We like to re-particularize God in ways we can define.  Rather than inhabiting the mystery of the presence of the absence of Christ in this life, we rush to fill the void by creating a Jesus of our own design.  But Jesus is not available to be hired as the mascot for our projects or the guru for our narcissistic self-enlightenment.  He does not enter into our conflicted “us/them”, “in/out” categories which say, “If we are right, those who are different must be wrong.  If we believe the Bible, those with a different interpretation must be lesser Christians.”  Certainly there is right and wrong, truth and falsehood, yet Jesus presents a way of reconciliation and justice that begins within the individual human heart and then works itself out into the surrounding community – rain on the just and the unjust.

 A spirituality of ascension is a willingness to accept that while by God’s grace we are at times given consolation and peace, the presence can also visit us in an acute sense of absence.  Prayer is abiding in the growing capacity to be visited by the strange otherness of the ascended Jesus.  It is an intimacy that will not yield to familiarity and comfort according to our categories, but evokes humility, reverence, and service.  The gift of this absence is that it can clear the way of images and metaphors that may have served a purpose at one time, but that now get in the way, too narrowly define the relationship or are features of an earlier phase and need to be replaced with different images, or none at all.  There is a wisdom saying, “If on the road you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.”  I would adapt it to say, “If on the road you meet a Jesus who is nothing more than a larger version of yourself, who agrees with you, likes what you like, hates what you hate, kill him.”  That is not the transcendent Lord, but an invention of your ego.  When the simultaneity of transcendence and immanence opens up in us, we will encounter the Lord who will say and do things we do not like or understand.  He will love people we would rather he not.  He will seem slow or inactive in relation to my agenda for instant change, immediate satisfaction.

As we gather in a few moments around the altar, where Christ deigns to be present to us under the veil of bread and wine, we participate directly and physically in the joining of heaven and earth in Christ’s ascended presence.  This great mystery is the demonstration of Christ who passes from heaven into bread and wine, from bread and wine into us, and from us into the world to live and proclaim the dazzling wonder of the One who fills all things and with whom we will dwell forever. Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Easter - Sunday, May 26, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Richard Paul Vaggione, OHC
Sixth Sunday of Easter - Sunday, May 26, 2019

Acts 16:9-15
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
John 14:23-29

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.