Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers – Br. Curtis Almquist

This season of Epiphany, following Christmastide and prior to Lent, is a season when we remember the “manifestation” of God in ways and to people who would not have seemed first on the list. (The Greek word “Epiphany” actually means manifestation.) From the very start, Jesus consistently showed the warmest welcome to people who otherwise did not show up on the usual invitation lists – because of their race, or religion, or vocation, or gender, or marital status, which hit pretty close to the bone for Jesus. The report was that his mother had said that she had conceived him not through Joseph (who was her fiancé) but rather “through the Holy Spirit.” If a 15 year old uneducated girl came up to you this morning and said she was pregnant but there was no father. That she sort of got pregnant in a dream… I daresay we wouldn’t believe it. And you can bet this wasn’t believed 2,000 years ago. In her day, Mary would not have been believed (rather, she was probably mocked and castigated). Nor would Joseph have been believed. And so the story goes – and we can bet there were plenty of stories – Jesus was probably seen as “illegitimate” in his birth, and then, as he grew up, a misfit who needed to get a wife and needed to get a job… until he was 30 or so, was baptized by John and began his public ministry. Thirty years is a long time… and given that his life ended several years later in crucifixion, a good many people never did come to believe any of it. It’s probably no surprise that in his life and teaching, Jesus consistently showed how “the first shall be last, and the last first,” because this was very much his own story. Jesus says, “last shall be first, and the first, last.” And for us to make this quite personal, we could say that the last – the last person on our own list, the person (or type of person) who may seem least or last or lost… or simply a loser – is someone on Jesus’ own list, someone for whom Jesus has an infinite amount of love and with whom he plans to share eternity.

Momentarily we will be invited to pray the Lord’s Prayer. You’ll recall, this is the prayer that Jesus shared in response to his disciples’ request, “How shall we pray?” And you’ll notice that what we call “the Lord’s Prayer” is in first person plural, not first person singular. We don’t begin the prayer by saying, “My Father in heaven.” Nor do we pray, “Give me today my daily bread.” Our Father; our bread. Our relationship with God is quite personal, but it is not private. It’s not that our own needs are insignificant, nor that they go unnoticed by God. The point is, that we are praying for ourselves in the same way that we are praying for others. And the “others” are everyone. We could start with the people whom we see pictured on the front page of today’s newspaper… and we could continue our prayer for God’s care and provision for those whom we could most easily forget or disdain… especially those with whom we most disagree or even hold with disdain.

In the calendar of the church we remember today a bishop of the fourth century named Hilary. I could use a pun and say that Hilary was pilloried… even by fellow members of the church. He was betrayed and rejected by a good many people, especially those closest to him… which is the most painful. Hilary’s conviction was that the love of Jesus was large, not small, and that his love for Jesus needed to be large enough (in his own heart) to encompass even those who rejected him. So? The love of Jesus is large… and needs to be large enough in our own hearts to encompass those whom we could find least or last or lost whom God calls “my children.” How else will they learn about the love of God except through us? Let it be on earth as it shall be on heaven: that love wins out. Love wins out.

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  1. KC on January 21, 2015 at 19:50

    I never thought of the burden and stigma Jesus’ birth probably caused for him and Mary and Joseph.

    Thank you for the daily reading. I am blessed by them.

  2. Ruth West on January 20, 2015 at 13:09

    Thank you, Br. Curtis, for this good homily.
    I have heard the pronoun in the Nicene Creed debated. I know one fellow who feels it should definitely begin, “I believe…” since each person is asserting his own belief. However, many, including me, think we should say, “We believe…” since this is a community of believers stating their belief.
    I am glad to hear about Hillary and his great love and compassion.

  3. Ann on July 28, 2013 at 12:50

    All of your daily writings are full of love and wisdom and I look forward to reading them each day sometimes sending them off to people in need of the words that day. Thank you all so much and bless you.


  4. Eunice Schatz on July 27, 2013 at 16:00

    Actually, it’s Hilarious.

  5. Polly Chatfield on February 14, 2012 at 07:38

    Thank you, Curtis. It is all about love. The longer i live the more sure I am. Nothing is so constricting as dislike or anger or hate, and nothing so enlarging as love and compassion; and, as Hilary’s name suggests, nothing is so joy-producing as well.

  6. Mino Sullivan on February 14, 2012 at 06:48

    Thank you dear brothers for the wonderous gift of your ministry. I pray that you may touch ever more hearts and minds, and with grace, expand the love and peace in your hearts to the rest of God’s beloved.

  7. Damon Hickey on February 14, 2012 at 06:41

    In the New Testament, whenever Jesus says something like, “Ask, and you will receive,” he uses the plural “you.” That puts prayer in a very different light than the magical way it’s often viewed. It’s not a matter of my prayers for miracles’ being granted if I just believe and pray hard enough. It’s about the church’s prayers. And applied to the church, it’s more or less a statement of fact: what we (collectively) pray for our church will be granted. Our churches today have in fact been shaped by our collective prayers, spoken or unspoken, conscious or unconscious. Jesus is urging us to speak our prayers aloud to one another, consciously and intentionally, until they become one prayer–God’s prayer–for us.

    In nearly seven decades of reading and listening to sermons, this is the first time I’ve known a preacher to point out that Jesus addresses us on the subject of prayer in the plural, not the singular. That says volumes about how individualistic we’ve become and how removed in our thinking from the way Jesus thought and taught.

  8. Annika on February 14, 2012 at 05:17

    Love does win out. Because Christ is King of all that is and Christ is Love. Therefore love wins. Yeah Jesus!

  9. DLa Rue on January 10, 2012 at 06:09

    It’s several centuries later, and so can’t really be called a portrait, but the artist who did this miniature of Hillary is one whose other works (on the Roman de la Rose) I’m familiar with for their dance imagery:


    It suggests the persistence of his cult despite his difficulties throughout his life…perhaps it’s a hopeful thing to think that the value of someone’s work might in fact cause it to be remembered and recognized so long after their death; fidelity to the work we’re called to is important.

    Friends of mine who do Greek scholarship also view Hiliarius as a favorite saint, since he was one of the last of the Doctors of the Church to retain a knowledge of Greek before it was lost with the imperial divisions of the Late Roman Empire.

    Thanks, too, for the encouragement of this reminder: it’s so often thought that those who develop their minds become narrow in their thinking, whereas in the case of Hilairus, it’s just the opposite: as you noted, even in pointing out their errors of doctrine, he loved those he was writing about.

  10. Liz Goodyear Jones on January 10, 2012 at 05:13

    thank you Curtis. I love reading the words of the Brothers and thinking of you all with much love and prayer for your ministry. Thank you for this site. The Rev. Liz Goodyear Jones, head of school Long Beach, MS.

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