Monday, September 30, 2019

Saint Michael and All Angels - Sunday, September 29, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC
Saint Michael and All Angels - Sunday, September 29, 2019

Genesis 28:10-17
Revelation 12:7-12
John 1:47-51

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

I want to being with two quotes. The first, which we heard yesterday at Vespers, comes from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote in the 12th century:
“Today we celebrate the feast of the angels, and you wish me to preach to you a sermon worthy of the occasion. But how can we poor earthworms speak worthily of angelic spirits?”
The second is from the Anglican Church of Canada's equivalent of Lesser Feasts and Fasts:
“Many good and faithful Christians find it difficult to accept the existence of angels; for them, angels have no more reality in fact than unicorns, griffins, or the phoenix. It may be true that the existence of angels is not one of the things in which Christians must believe if they want to be saved. Yet whenever Christians say the Nicene Creed, they confess that God has created “all that is, seen and unseen.” Entertaining the possibility of angels may be one way of acknowledging the sheer diversity of life, visible and invisible, that God has ordained in creation.” (For All the Saints, 2007)
I preached last year on this same feast, and as I approached today's sermon I felt that I had exhausted then all that I had to say about angels and angelic spirits. But that is of course untrue. There is a cornucopia of literature about these mysterious beings, not only in Christianity but in also inter-testamental and later Judaism and in the ancient and contemporary religions of the Near East and beyond. And if you don't believe me, just Google “angels.”

Why should this be? I think because we are all looking for deep connection, and angels are one way of speaking about that great connection or re-connection between earth and heaven, between the natural and the supernatural, between us and God. The image of Jacob's ladder upon which angels ascend and descend could not be clearer. And for Christians, that ladder is nothing other than the Cross of Jesus Christ, as the marvelous hymn we just sang tells us: “Alleluia to Jesus who died on the tree and has raised up a ladder of mercy for me.” A ladder of love that re-connects all the cosmos to its primal and originating Source.

But if that be true, then any acceptable talk of angels must point us always beyond them to God and specifically to God as reveled most fully in Jesus Christ. When speaking of angels, it is very easy to get caught up in esoteric speculation about the existential status of these beings, their hierarchies, their fascinating influences on human beings, both bad (as we hear in the stories of Satan and other spiritual forces of wickedness) and good (which we celebrate today with Michael and all the spiritual forces serving a holy God). In fact, complex speculation on celestial spirits played a large role in the Gnostic religious systems that were the main competitors of an emerging Christianity in the ancient world.

But what if we took to heart the words of St. Gregory of Rome who, writing in the 6th century, tells us that the word “angel” means messenger and that it denotes not a nature but a function. Whatever these spirits may be, it is their message that makes them angels and it is their message that we celebrate today. So I ask you to consider this morning what is their message, both for ancient times and for us today.

Having seen it on the internet, I know for a fact that there are 23 interactions between human beings and angels in the four Gospel narratives, though there are other references to angelic beings throughout the Scriptures of both Testaments. What do the angels tell us in these interactions? What is their message? I think there are five pretty clear ones.

The first is: “Don't be afraid!” This is repeated over and over to put at some ease our hearts when they come close to a message from the living God. And how much we need to hear that message in this age and in every age. Don't be afraid. And why?

Because the angels tell us that they are here to proclaim good news...sometimes disturbing or disruptive or inconvenient—as, for example, “You're going to have a baby”--but in the end good, good for everybody. News that God is with us, dwells with us, comes to be among us: “Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people...”

Thirdly, the message of the angels is sometimes, as it was to Joseph: “Get out. Move on. Use your best skills and strength and wits to get to a safer home, a better place in life for you and for those you love.”

Fourthly, there is the message that God comforts us in affliction, as God in God's angels comforted Jesus after his temptations in the wilderness and in that time of great temptation which was the Garden of Gethsemane. Who knows what those comforting angels looked like to Jesus or to us? Invisible maybe. Maybe another person or a part of creation, but comfort nonetheless. We have all known such comfort. And I suspect that, perhaps unbeknownst to you, you have been just such an angel to another or to a suffering, unjust or imperiled society or planet.

And finally, and perhaps most central is the message of the angels that tells: “Christ is risen: he is not here! Go to Galilee, you will meet him there and not in this graveyard.” It is the great message of hope that we all long for, the proclamation that the final word for us all is not Death but Life, abundant Life, Life and Love overflowing.

Yes, these are ancient messages, but they are as new and as necessary and as welcome today as they were in two thousand years ago. Don't focus on the messengers. Focus on the message.

Oh, and there is one other message from the angels, given at the beginning of the Book of Acts. You may remember it. The apostles were watching as Jesus ascended into heaven, gazing upward, and suddenly two men in white robes stood by them and said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up toward heaven?” In other words, get a move on, there is work to be done, lives to be lived, folks to be loved and a message to be spread.  As the revised St. Augustine's Prayer Book so nicely puts it:
Remember Christian Soul 
that today and every day you have 
God to glorify. 
Jesus to imitate. 
Salvation to work out with fear and trembling. 
A body to use rightly. 
Sins to repent. 
Virtues to acquire. 
Eternity to hold in mind. 
Time to profit by. 
Neighbors to serve. 
The world to enjoy. 
Creation to use rightly. 
Kindnesses to offer willingly. 
Justice to strive for. 
Temptations to overcome. 
Death perhaps to suffer. 
In all things, God’s love to sustain you.
So let's get a move on. And may the angels guide, guard and protect us all.


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Pentecost 14C - Sunday, September 15, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Mr. Ben Hansknecht
Pentecost 14C - Sunday, September 15, 2019

Exodus 32:7-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-10

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

I’m very fond of stories. Done well, a story can be crafted in such a way as to help make sense of a messy world. They can turn the foreign into the familiar, or the familiar into the foreign. And, to paraphrase a favorite author of mine, stories are “a medium through which we can all connect in ways that we never could solely by explaining ourselves. Because art reaches inside us, and expresses aspects of ourselves that aren’t deliberate, there’s a truth and genuineness to them”.1 In this way, they give the reader or listener the opportunity to immerse themselves into the author’s point of view and experience a perspective outside of their own.

As a teacher, it is evident that Jesus was fond of stories too. Spread throughout the Gospels, he tells nearly 40 of them by means of his parables, each with the hope of guiding his audience, or at least leaving them with something to chew on. Personally, I find them to be the most approachable parts of the Bible. If you’ll pardon the simile, Jesus’ parables are like public swimming pools; depending on your comfort level, they are as deep or as shallow as you are willing to dive into. Sure, they may be simple on the outset, but like many allegories, there’s a lot to talk about for those who want to take the plunge.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about today’s reading from Luke. The scene is set with Jesus welcoming sinners and tax collectors to his table, where he and his friends are already seated with food and conversation. When he does this, when he makes room for them and opens up the dialogue to them, this is when the scribes and the Pharisees begin to grumble. They mutter to themselves, and I can’t help but visualize them looking down and shaking their heads at the impropriety of it all. Whether or not Jesus was able to hear their exact words, it isn’t that hard to guess what they were thinking about, and it is to them that he addresses his parables.

Now then, how far out do we want to swim? We could talk about the sinners, shuffling closer to hear Jesus over the crowded room. It might be assumed that they are the sheep and the coin. We can talk about how God loves them. How, even when they are lost, God is looking for them, anxious to bring them home. In fact, when he does, we could talk about how the whole world will be filled with such overpowering joy that it can’t help but be shared, for it is truly worth celebrating!

Or, we could talk about the Pharisees. Why are they grumbling? If they aren’t among the lost in these stories, surely that means they are a part of the flock, or at least members of the friends and neighbors. If so, shouldn’t they be happy that the Good Shepherd is out looking for his lambs? Shall we look askance at the fact that they’re the only ones missing from the table? Considering how not everyone who is lost is aware of the fact, perhaps they are the coins after all.

Lastly, we could spend our time together asking more personal questions. What does this have to do with me? Frankly, we’ve lost a big part of the cultural significance of these parables. Would the story even make sense if we were telling the Parable of the Lost Car Keys? I don’t know about you, but when I find mundane objects in my own life, even things I was actively looking for, I don’t feel the compunction to call my friends over and host a party! For, you see, we live in a time that accepts that most everyday items are ultimately disposable. After all, you can always get another. So, how do we make this relatable today?

To answer this question, I’m going to tell you a story of my own. Once upon a time, when I was about 6 years old, my family and I visited Legoland in Windsor, England. We were there with some family friends and having a great time. We soon discovered, however, that there was simply too much to do, sticking together as a single group. And so it came to pass that we split up and agreed to meet at the Gift Shop later that afternoon. Although I remember being there, and all the hullabaloo that followed, I confess that most of this story belongs to my mom. For, you see, when we arrived at the appointed time and the appointed place, one of us was missing: my younger brother, Josh.

Panic erupted. Hysteria ensued. The adults went about calling security. They gave his description: 4 years old, blonde, blue shorts, white shoes, and a hand-me-down t-shirt with a whale on it. Meanwhile, the rest of us kids didn’t know what to do. We were very worried, but looked to the adults for our cues. Backtracking our steps, the last place all the children were together was at the Creation Station, and so the dads left to start searching.

A long, long 15 minutes later, they returned with Josh in tow. Now, let me quote my mom to properly finish this tale.
“I did not hide my joy or relief. I told everyone: security, gift shop staff, my mother [who was with us], random guests ‘We found him!’ And you know what, they were all really happy for us. Not one person said to us, ‘What about my child? Why aren’t you happy about my child?’ Not even the other children with us were jealous of the attention paid Josh.”
When it came to something important, something real, my mom fully embodied the characters in these parables. So too did these total strangers embody the friends and neighbors who came together and celebrated in the heartfelt felicity of their companion. Even if we can no longer relate to the joy of finding a lost coin, the message of these parables lives on.

Now, as a 4 year old, Josh didn’t know the peril he was in. Much like the Pharisees, he didn’t even know that he was lost—separated from those who love him. The narrative grew deeper as he grew older, as he became more capable of swimming out of the shallows. When I asked for his permission to tell this story, all he could recall is being engrossed in his Lego creation; the rest comes from our collective memory, shared within the family.

I too know what it is like to be lost. To feel alone; afraid that no one is looking for me. I’ve felt lost when thinking about the future. What’s next for Ben Hansknecht? For much of my life, I’ve taken opportunities as they came, not really planning, just reacting. In the haze of memory, it feels like years would go by without ever having to make a real decision. Sometimes that would work out—sending me down a path I never could have imagined or anticipated. Other times, haha, not so much!

One of the best things I’ve stumbled into recently, however, would certainly be the Order of the Holy Cross and the Brothers who comprise it. Here at the monastery, I have found something that I was missing. I have found a more complete picture of who I am, or rather, what it means to be me. I have found happiness in the everyday, in the routine, in the rhythm of their life together. And, most importantly, I have found intentionality: the ability to sit down and say, “This is what I want, and this is how I intend to achieve it.”

To be fair, the river of life will always be taking me along for the ride, but now, I feel like I’m more than just keeping afloat. Here, I can say with gratitude that God is still searching, both for me and with me as I have spent this time discerning. Dear people. Witness the things I have found! Come and celebrate with me!


1 Sanderson, Brandon. “Voices in My Head: Part Three”. Dragonsteel Ent., 25 Sept. 2018.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Holy Cross Day - Saturday, September 14, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br.  Bernard Delcourt, OHC
Holy Cross Day - Saturday, September 14, 2019

Isaiah 45:21-25
Galatians 6:14-18
John 12:31-36a

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

In the death of Jesus of Nazareth, we witness the first act of a new creation which the Apostle Paul refers to in his epistle to the Galatians.

The second and third acts of this new creation are the resurrection and then the ascension of Jesus the Universal Christ. And I want us to focus on Act 1 of this new creation for now.

It may be nigh impossible, but I want us to focus on the crucifixion for a while without looking at it much from the perspective that the resurrection and the ascension give us nowadays.

Today, I remember Jesus’ passion and the place of the cross in his life. What meaning can we give to the cross from the perspective of a fully human Jesus coming into his passion?

To me, Jesus’ crucifixion achieves two important things that are often overlooked:
-First, it is his most powerful lesson in non-violent resistance to evil,
-Second, it fulfills the mystery of the Incarnation.

Of course, the crucifixion, and the cross as a symbol carry many more meanings than those. But I will focus on those two today.


First, Jesus’ crucifixion is his last lesson in non-violent resistance to evil. In Jesus’ case, the evil is the combination of the Roman domination system, on one hand, and on the other hand, the religious authorities’ use of, and participation in that domination system.

In getting Jesus condemned and executed, the religious authorities ensured (or so they thought) the longevity of their institution (Temple Judaism). They felt they were protecting the religious and cultural identity of the Jewish people by sacrificing nothing more than a bothersome and vexing troublemaker. They had cut a coexistence deal with the Roman authorities and didn’t want it subverted by a wonder-working itinerant Galilean preacher.

The Roman authorities decided that the alleged claims to political power made by Jesus were enough of a threat to the Roman Peace in Palestine.

They also wanted to keep public quietude at the emotionally charged time of the Passover festival. And that was worth sacrificing a possibly innocent man.

Further, terrorizing the populace by showing what destiny awaited (even alleged) opponents of imperial supremacy was worth doing to consolidate their dominance.

But what about Jesus? Why didn’t he run for the hills when there was still time? Why did he not choose to continue his teaching and healing ministries in less menacing environments than Passover-bound Jerusalem? He had a faithful support base in Galilee. Why not go back and deepen the ministry there?

I suspect Jesus knew his ministry had reached a perilous tipping point (whether in Galilea or Judea). Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was close at hand, indeed that the Kingdom of God was present.

He worked many wonderful signs that spoke of divine power. Many of his listeners, informed by centuries of hopes and expectations about a Messiah thought he would take the next step in their version of Messiahship and claim political power.

That would have involved rebellion against the Roman occupier. And such rebellion could not happen without extensive violence and bloodshed.

Many of Jesus’ followers may indeed have wanted him to be King of the Jews and a conquering and victorious King at that.

Earlier in this twelfth chapter of the gospel according to John, we have a report of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The crowds chanted: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!’

Jesus probably understood that the claim to kingship would lead to violent repression and suppression if he encouraged his followers to act out any further in this direction.

Indeed, this triumphal entry into Jerusalem very likely was enough to make the Roman authorities fear they had a risk of rebellion on their hands.

In effect, Jesus’ spiritual leading and teaching were at risk of being hijacked by an unstoppable political momentum. The populace wanted him King. He was not interested but knew it could no longer be stopped.
Jesus intuited or fully understood that his non-violent resistance to the political and religious authorities of Jerusalem would lead to martyrdom. I think that he chose to face this martyrdom to cut short the germs of violent insurrection amongst some of his followers.

In order to cement the non-violence of his ministry and maintain the spiritual nature of his teachings, he chose to remove the temptation of making him King of the Jews from the movement that supported him.

His death at the hands of the Roman occupier and his resurrection and ascension would compel his movement to focus on the signs and teachings he had given them rather than elaborate political liberation plans.

By choosing to face martyrdom, he preserved his movement from turning political and violent. He saved them from themselves and from massive retribution from the Roman authorities.

As John the Evangelist wrote: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).


Second, Jesus’ crucifixion fulfills the mystery of the Incarnation. Christ is also fully human and trod this planet, as a poor Galilean itinerant preacher.

God chose to accept all of the human experience, up to and including the shame, the pain, and the injustice that is the fate of too many of our brothers and sisters.

Looked at from the point of view of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the cross is a promise that God will not abandon us. It is a promise that God will somehow, someway, work to bring life out of death. 

From the point of view of the ascension, it is also a promise that the trinitarian Godhead knows what it means to be human, fully human, in all its wonderful and dreadful variety and woe.

The cross makes it clear how human Jesus was and is. He did not call upon his divinity to sweep the passion away and skip carefree to the inclusion of his humanity in the Godhead.

In his passion, the very human Jesus of Nazareth did not have the benefit of hindsight on what the cross would come to mean after his death.

Jesus suffered doubt, fear, anxiety, and abandonment in the leading up to and suffering on the cross. I don’t think Jesus knew he would be resurrected. I think that would defeat the fullness and authenticity of his humanity.

Facing death as any one of us was essential to his human experience. He died as any human; taking nothing with him and with no cognitive certainty of what awaited him.

But on top of that, the cross did put a horrible fulfillment to his incarnation. There is no human trauma or tragedy that Jesus cannot relate to. In Christ, God has a fully experiential human empathy towards even our worst predicaments.

Maybe the fullness of the mystery of incarnation meant that Jesus couldn’t die peacefully of old age in crumpled sheets and surrounded by praying friends and relatives. In any case, it would have been a very different incarnation.


So in our exaltation of the Holy Cross, let us remember Jesus’ teachings which he wanted to preserve to the point of accepting death.

Let us remember love of God, love of neighbor, and even, yes, love of enemies which he so beautifully demonstrated in his passion. Let us remember his preferential care for the poor whether economically and/or spiritually poor.

God became human and died on the cross, that we may hear these teachings, take them to our hearts, and embody them in our lives, regardless of how relevant the dominant culture around us finds those teachings.

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Renewal of Vows: Matthew Wright and Yanick Savain

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Aidan Owen, OHC
Renewal of Vows: Matthew Wright and Yanick Savain
Sunday, September 8, 2019

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

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

"Maw-age. Maw-age is what brings us together today."

I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Because, joking aside, marriage is what brings us together today. Specifically, your marriage, Matthew and Yanick, which is a foretaste for all of us of the marriage of heaven and earth, of the full and final unity of all creation with the One who loves us, sustains us, and makes us whole.

In the weeks and months leading up to this celebration, we’ve all spoken in shorthand of your wedding. But that’s not what we’re here for. Today is not your wedding, and it’s also not about your wedding. Today is about your marriage. And that’s something else altogether.

Today, we, your friends and family, and yes, the whole creation, too, rejoice with you at the wonderful work that God has done and is continuing to do in and through your marriage.

Over the last five years, it’s been an incredible privilege for me to witness the slow flowering of your vowed life together. Your union is that rarest of gems: a truly sacramental marriage. Which is to say, an outward sign of the commitment and love that God has for each of us. In and through your love for one another, you each grow in your love for God and in your understanding of God’s love for you. And you demonstrate that possibility for the rest of us.

But more particularly it is in your commitment to one another, in the stability of your vows that you flourish. You might say that having bound yourselves to one another, your hearts have slowly grafted together. Like a wound bound tight so that it can heal, your vows have bound together all the fragments of your lives and your hearts. And in that gathering and binding together, God has begun to make your two hearts into one heart focused in love on the one who is Love itself. We here today recognize, celebrate, and support you in the unifying quest that—God willing—you have barely begun.

Today we also celebrate the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t even go there in a marriage sermon, but I know how important this feast day is for both you. The Feast of Mary’s birth is one of only three birth feasts in the church calendar. The others being the Nativity of John the Baptist and, of course, Christmas. Mostly we celebrate folks on the day they died. But we as the Christian people recognize that in Mary’s birth a new age has begun. The door of morning has opened a crack, and the light has begun to shine in the world in an altogether new way.

A few weeks ago Matthew told me that because of the way a child forms in the womb, a woman’s eggs are fully accounted for late in her mother’s pregnancy. He was so excited, as only Matthew can get, and he said, “Can you imagine it!? That means that much of the essence of who you are was actually present in your grandmother’s womb!?”

It is, actually, an astonishing thing to ponder. That some important piece of who each of us has become and is becoming was present two generations before our birth.

So, too, for Anne, Mary, and Jesus. Imagine, a small and important seed of the person Jesus became present in his grandmother Anne’s womb. God yearning, even in the shadows of time, to be born into the world in Jesus. And for decades, really for century upon century, God yearning to make herself known to creation, and to draw all the world into the perfect wholeness of Love.

So it is, too, with each of us. God has been yearning from before the beginning of time to be born in us, as us. God has, for generations, been longing to be known as the sweet, tender man who would be Matthew and as the fierce, passionate woman who would be Yanick. God yearning through Becky and Tony, through Maria and Bernard, and countless generations, all the way even to Jesus and Mary and Anne, to Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, all the way to the beginning of time, to be known as you, in you, through you. Take that in for a moment.

If God yearns to be born in each of us and as each of us, then surely, my dear friends, God also yearns to be born in and through your marriage. To be known in a particular and incarnate way in the love you have for one another and in the life you make together.

As I know you know, your marriage is not ultimately for the two of you alone. It is a sign of God’s love for the world. Your marriage is a witness that God’s joy really is in us, and that in union with one another and with God, our own hearts can relax and open like the rose warmed by the sun. Your marriage is a witness that wholeness and healing and grace are as much a reality as the violence and chaos that plague our broken world.

May your marriage be a sign of hope in a hurting world,
A table richly laid for the feast of Love,
A soft bed for the weary traveler,
A cool hand on a burning forehead,
A star shining in the night sky, pointing the way home,
And the door of morning, opening to the light of the world.

May your marriage be one heart, and that one Christ’s, beating continually the rhythm of love in and for the whole creation.

I know it has been all of these and more for me, and for countless others. May it continue to be so for you, and for all of us, as well.

Pentecost 13C - Sunday, September 8, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Pentecost 13C - Sunday, September 8, 2019

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

Our Gospel begins with two sayings about discipleship, followed by two brief stories or parables to illustrate the importance of counting the cost and giving up all. The first saying is framed in stark language: "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple" (14:25). The word “hate” punctures pious romanticism. “Hate” may be hyperbole, but it does not underestimate the potential costs of discipleship. Life meets everyone with choices involving a measure of sacrifice and loss. Cost requires effort and resources.

Luke’s text begins and ends with hard words. Discipleship takes priority over security. Jesus speaks to the importance of loyalty and allegiance over all other competing loyalties, including family, self-interest, and possessions. When we do not consider the cost, then we are like a builder who makes no budget for a project or a king who makes no contingency plans for a battle. Both are bound to fail.

Jesus calls people to a kind of discipleship that is not cheap or easy, and not to be entered into without deep consideration of the consequences. Three times in this passage Jesus says that without a definite decision a person cannot be his disciple. It cannot be done on impulse.

We will always prefer preaching and teaching about God's covenant loyalty, rather than the covenant loyalty that is expected from us in return. Salvation is not merely a transaction. It is, at heart, a covenant relationship. And no relationship lasts without loyal commitments expressed in action.

This is what Paul is asking Philemon to do. The situation is delicate and illustrates Paul’s discipleship. He calls on this wealthy Hellenistic Christian not to fall back on the reigning patterns of prestige, discrimination, domination and violence that structured daily life in his day as it does in ours. He urges him to put aside past grudges, the need to be in control, and to not worry about respectability in favor of what is just and right. He calls on him to free a slave and forgive a debt, reminding him of the cost of Christian discipleship. Philemon is to renounce his privilege and be willing to suffer loss, socially and economically. He is asking Philemon to begin anew with Onesimus.

The Letter to Philemon has been called the most human of the Christian Scriptures as well as the most neglected of Paul’s letters. It shows how all of us are born into sinful systems, but we can and must, through Jesus Christ, find the love necessary to reconcile broken relationships, not in the abstract but in the real lives we live. Family is reconfigured by this new faith. Discipleship moves us beyond comfortable kinship ties to forge new relationships.

The privatization of the spiritual life blossomed in the nineteenth century, but many still cling to the notion that the purpose of the spiritual life is to enable people to flee the world for the sake of personal sanctification. It’s a spirituality that practices religion but does not identify with the Gospel message that embodies it. Jesus was concerned with helping people transform their lives. As disciples, we cannot be silent bystanders as homeless, uneducated, and abused children grow into illiterate, unemployed adults. We cannot stand by passively and accept institutional racism, social and economic injustice and constitutional changes that serve the privileged few. We cannot stand by and quietly accept the hateful, political slurs against the poor, women and people of color. We cannot accept the political corruption that erodes and destroys. As disciples, we are called to experience costly grace by being God's prophetic voice in the world. This requires us to give up our need to acquire, our yearning for success, our petty jealousies, our denigrating stereotypes, our prejudices and hatreds, and to examine our thoughts, words, and actions which keep us from the Christlike transformation necessary for discipleship. Discipleship is a process. It takes time and involves false starts and modest successes as we grow into the fullness of our humanity. As disciples we learn to face life’s challenges and joys with a spirit of love, hope, faith, and peace that leads us to deeper spirituality and prophetic witness.

As Christians and as monastics Jesus is calling us on an adventure that is full of tension, healing, bold thinking, and new life. We need to get specific because the abstract is a temptation. Abstraction, keeping things general, is a way to keep reconciliation at arm’s length. At the heart of discipleship is transformation. The cost is not just accumulating new information about life or even changing our behavior to align with Jesus’ teaching. Following him means that we cannot be shallow or uncommitted. As part of this transformation, the cost of discipleship means entering into an intimate relationship with Christ that teaches us that obedience to God is not blind. It is a thought-provoking and deliberate process in which we grow in our ability to ask the tough questions, not only of God but of ourselves. It’s awareness that brings about transformation.

In our country today we have lost the holy gift of awareness of the world’s needs. What we do and say, see and respond to, in our own day is the real seed of our own sanctification. It is the times we live in that are our call to courage. No exception is made for anyone. None of us, however isolated from the rest of life, is forgiven the responsibility. To be spiritually mature, we must each be about something greater than ourselves. We must think beyond our own small world to the effect issues are having on others and make a response. The quality of life we create around us as followers of Jesus is meant to seed new life, new hope, new dynamism, the very essence of a new world community.

Our first reading from Jeremiah makes the point that God is the potter and we are the clay. A potter does not work aimlessly, neither does God. Every turn of the wheel matters. God means to shape us for purposes that often exceed our vision and imagination, and which certainly exceed our preoccupations. The relationship between potter and clay, divine artisan and called community, is dynamic. God is determined, out of love for the world, to shape a community who bears witness to God’s redemptive purposes.

We and our endeavors to be the church are in God’s hands. We are not called to manipulate and manufacture the outcome; we are called to be faithful to the Gospel, to become new creations, works of art made by our Creator. A potter is not indifferent to the condition of the clay, so God is not indifferent to the way our collective life is taking shape. It’s our task to become good, pliable, usable clay. God is deeply invested in our common life. As the discarded clay of a misshapen vessel can be reworked into a new shape, so God can raise up out of the ruins of a community’s self-indulgence or indifference a new faithfulness and usefulness, practicing forgiveness, breaking silence about matters of justice, placing compassion ahead of self-interest.

Participating in the creative work of God is as messy and risky as working with clay. Expect to get dirty and face failure as we respond to the potter’s hand. Jeremiah leaves us with the vision of God up to the elbows in our making and remaking. The divine Potter hovers over us, shaping and reshaping us for our high calling as vessels of divine love and justice.  +Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Pentecost 12C - Sunday, September 1, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Josép Reinaldo Martínez-Cubero, OHC
Pentecost 12C - Sunday, September 1, 2019

Sirach 10:12-18
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

If we wanted to get a packed church this morning, all we had to do was put a sign at the top of our driveway that read: “Jesus... Pharisee... Meal... Join us this Sunday at 9AM. You don’t want to miss this juicy story of controversy only found in the Gospel of Luke. There will be provocation. Jesus will not disappoint!”

It is clear that Jesus annoys the heck out of the Pharisees. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ first Sabbath controversy appears in chapter 6. Jesus’ young disciples are hungry, and start plucking heads of grain on the field, and the Pharisees get all bent out of shape. On another Sabbath, he cures a man with a withered hand… in the temple! In chapter 11 he is invited to another dinner by another Pharisee and chastises the group for being so focused on outward appearance, and for loading the disadvantaged with burdens and not lifting a finger to ease them. And in chapter 13 he again heals on the Sabbath, a woman who had been bent over for eighteen years unable to stand up straight.

Christians of the US American persuasion tend to be comfortable with the Jesus who is the Son of God, the Word Incarnate, the healer with the gentle touch, the sage (or teacher if sage makes you uncomfortable, it’s too liberal, let’s say teacher), or Jesus the prophet. But what about Jesus who ate in unclean hands and hung around the “undesirables”. What about the Jesus who was called a glutton and drank more than his enemies considered acceptable. And what about Jesus the radical loud mouth, who said out loud what the privileged did not want to hear? That Jesus is not as easy to stomach. It is no wonder that a lot of what is known as Christianity in this country blatantly ignores Jesus’ teachings such as the one in today’s gospel lesson.   

Jesus is invited to a dinner party on the Sabbath hosted by the leader of the Pharisees. And Jesus is clearly controversial. “They were watching him closely.” Immediately after he arrives (in a passage omitted from today’s reading), he sees a man with dropsy (an illness that causes severe swelling) and he heals him, in the presence of the Pharisees. Let us remember that the Pharisees followed a strict interpretation of Jewish law, and according to their interpretation healing on the Sabbath was forbidden.

This is immediately followed by Jesus rebuking everyone there for their focus on honor and status. To those seeking the most prestigious sitting spaces at the table he tells a parable and ends it with the well-known aphorism: "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted". To the host he says, “When you throw a party, don’t just invite your friends and relatives and rich people. Invite the poor, the blind, the lame, and the crippled; people who can’t ever return the favor.” This is a radical critique of the social and political practices of that time and place.

The Ancient Middle East culture was focused on honor and shame, and this meant every move people made was calculated to increase their honor and decrease their shame. This was especially true about dinner parties. It was a big deal who was invited and who got to sit where. These details dictated the guest list and the seating arrangement of the next party. Every interaction was calculated to benefit one’s reputation. Jesus challenges the host to do something radical: to go outside the circle of influence and patronage and to invite those who could never return the favor, and who could never, according to social norms, adequately express their gratitude.

Ancient Rome was structured politically like a pyramid, with the emperor at the top. Everything good flowed from the emperor, and there was very little left by the time it reached the masses at the bottom. Gifts, mostly in the form of economic benefits, flowed down, and gratitude, both in the form of appreciation but more often as taxes, flowed up. We would like to think that these social issues are things of the first-century world of the New Testament and not problems of the western democracy of our time. But social distinctions do matter far too often in our time, even in Christian communities. What was explicit in the ancient world is implicit in our contexts.

Democracy was initially meant to offer a fair, more equitable alternative to systems of patronage and feudalism. But as commercial interests have overtaken democratic ideals, things have changed. Politicians in this nation, for instance, are bound to lobbyists, political action committees, and corporations that give them millions and millions of dollars to run their campaigns. Politicians are then much more likely to vote for the policies those groups want. Our country’s founders hoped to create a society that operated differently, but we have ended up with yet another pyramid culture in which power and money are concentrated at the very top.

And that is why this story in the Gospel of Luke is still so relevant today. Jesus calls us to seek to live by a different social system marked by radical inclusion. Jesus calls us to reach out to the poor, the blind, the lame, and the crippled. And who are these people in our day? They are those are the margins of society: the LGBTQ teenagers who are thrown out of their homes by their “religious” parents because of their sexual orientation; the margins of society: the transgender person terrified of how government policies will impact their life; the margins of society; the immigrant who has lived in this country for decades, working hard and now lives in fear of being deported; the margins of society; the asylum seekers who are being treated like they are less than human by our nation’s government; the margins of society: the person of color who has been profiled and wrongly imprisoned; the margins of society: the Muslim person who is looked upon with suspicion, prejudice, or even rage.

Jesus calls us to promote the Reign of God he founded here on earth; a reign for which the currency is humility, not arrogance; generosity, not avarice; hospitality, not fear. Jesus calls us to the God who reverses our priorities, hierarchies and values. The banquet at Jesus’ table is the banquet of the God of infinite mercy and love. A mercy and love that is available to every single one of us. No one is excluded.

¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo! ~Amen+