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Setting Your Mind on Divine Things – Br. Eldridge Pendleton

Genesis 22: 1-14 Psalm 16
Romans 8; 31-39 Mark 8: 31-38

Peter is the Everyman of the Gospels. He also serves other purposes. In last week’s Gospel Satan tried to tempt Jesus off his path. This week Peter is Satan. We, like Peter, become Satan when we set our minds on earthly things and ignore divine things. In this Gospel episode Jesus speaks of the assurance of his own suffering and death, and the tribulations in hand for those who follow him. The “earthly things” Peter and we focus on are protection and self-preservation. These two things may preserve us and our narrow “world,” but a reliance on them ultimately will bring us the suffering we work to avoid. Divine things on the other hand move us out of ourselves to focus on other people and their needs. They cause us to engage with others and in doing so find wholeness and happiness for ourselves.

The film Brokeback Mountain , based on a short story by Annie Proulx, and touted in the newspaper ads as “the gay cowboy movie,” has received a great deal of media attention in recent weeks. And, not only in newspaper editorials but also in religious periodicals reviewers have offered thoughtful and often courageous comments about the film. Record numbers throughout the United States, Canada and Europe have now seen the movie, which is less about cowboy love in the 1960s and more about the universal human need for intimacy with another. That is why so many heterosexual men and women have been able to identify with it and have been so profoundly moved by it. No movie about the love of two men has touched such a wide audience before. Viewers immediately sense that what they are seeing is scenes from real life, not fantasy. They know that such a relationship could happen in their hometown, in their family or community or it could happen to them. And maybe it has happened to them, and from it comes painful recognition. Since the movie was released I have had a number of conversations with people who say they have seen their own life in it, their own “road not taken,” in the tragedy of the two young men in Wyoming. For it is a tragedy. Despite these friends’ consuming love for each other, their relationship ends badly. Fear, caution, the need for protection and self-preservation on the part of Heath Ledger’s Ennis del Mar, causes their love to slowly wither, and the frustrated desperation of the other, Jack Straw, brings about Jack’s death.

This is certainly no conventional love story. Nor is it like stories of homosexual love one usually sees in movies or confronts in fiction. The story is set in the American heartland. Both protagonists are masculine in demeanor and outlook. Both marry women, have families and easily fit into the culture around them. Had caution and fear not held Ennis del Mar back and they had made a life together, theirs might still have been lives of suffering. But by their courage in acting on their love they would have taken the step away from what the Gospel identifies as “human things” toward “divine things,” taking a chance on life that, confronted with a similar situation, many of us would not have the freedom to do. As it turned out, after Jack’s death, Ennis was left with the regret of what might have been.

I think Brokeback Mountain is a perfect illustration of the lesson Jesus was trying to teach his disciples in the Gospel today. To live the Gospel message truly and fully and to aim for a place in the Kingdom of God one must throw caution to the wind as Jesus did and love. God gives us friendships that have the potential to make us complete, to be “fully alive,” as St. Ireneaus would say. These friendships may be formalized by vows or not be. But whatever form they have, they demand that we take chances to love and not hold back. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Often when we change our behavior and more toward what Jesus calls “divine things,” this new way of living brings struggle, frustration and suffering. But the alternative is a life of fear, a constricted existance, never fulfilling one’s potential as God’s beloved, never experiencing human intimacy that will lead one to intimacy with God. I am convinced that our spiritual growth and conversion comes from our friendship with others. These teach us how to focus outside ourselves and love. For most this take the form of marriage, for a few the vowed life of religion, but for many it is through friendship with another and sometimes that gift of intimacy rests in a same sex relationship. In our relationships with others we run the same danger that Peter does. By being afraid or out of some need for self-preservation, or face saving we hold back. We run from the difficult conversation. We withhold our attention, our love, our engagement, and because we hold back we open our lives to spiritual and emotional emptiness.

Jesus knew that his message of love and his concern for outcasts and sinners was dangerous business. He knew that living the way he had chosen and speaking and acting bravely could get him killed. But he continued to do so anyway. He warned his followers of their danger, but they persisted in preaching his gospel. They offered their lives for life. Don’t believe otherwise. There is a cost to living and loving, to being involved with “divine things.” Suffering is as much a part of it as the good times. But through this way of living, moving from cautious isolation to liberation, we can claim our place in the Kingdom of Heaven, the redeemed life God has for us. Jesus promised a quality of life to his followers marked by unconditional love (especially for the powerless), forgiveness, peace, honest encounters with evil and injustice, healing and freedom from all kinds of captivity. When we focus on “divine things”, the world is turned upside down: losing one’s life is saving it, and saving one’s life is losing it.

In taking part in the Eucharist this morning why not call to mind the friendships and loving relationships that have formed your life and give thanks for them. And, if needed, ask for the courage to make them more, to move from living a life of caution to one of liberation, one that concentrates on divine things.

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13 Comments

  1. Fred Adams on May 4, 2015 at 10:49

    Thanks for the expansive message. I saw Brokeback and we held silent for many hours afterward. I was so moved. It is so sad that so many of us followed the dictates of society vs. our hearts, and dare I say it, the sometimes too gentle guidance of the Holy Spirit? Thanks for pointing out so more than the surface story.

  2. Jennifer on May 3, 2015 at 11:26

    This is a brave message in many ways, one I’m reading for the first time in 2015 when the Supreme Court is hearing a case on gay marriage. I still don’t know quite what to make of it myself, but I a mom with not having all of the answers. But, while I confess I have not seen the movie myself, I am puzzled by an aspect of your message. You hold these fictional men up as positive examples and encourage their throwing caution to the wind to love each other. But they were both already married to other people? What of marriage vows? It seems the same sentiment you applaud here is what leads many married individuals to justify infidelity (of either sexual orientation). I don’t see that as something to be encouraged.

    • Ruth West on May 5, 2015 at 16:55

      I fully agree with Jennifer. I have seen gay relationships up close, four in my immediate family. I can say with some proof that their lives are not “liberated” nor “gay”. One died with AIDS after both partners were into addiction. One has disowned her parents, telling them she never wants to see them again.
      One has recently broken up with his partner, highly critical of him for lack of character traits. No, I certainly cannot agree with you nor the movie. I love these members of my family, and I feel sure most love me. Even though the Episcopal Church has stressed your viewpoint, all but one has drifted away from the church. May
      God have mercy on all of us and love Christ Jesus as He loves us.

  3. Christina on January 29, 2013 at 09:27

    Dear Br. Eldridge. Thank you for your beautiful words. I have several friends and family in my life who are gay. My grandson and his partner; his younger sister says she is a lesbian; and an unhappy friend whose family are not loving towards him, and whose partner has moved on to another relationship. My heart breaks for him. From the 1980s a young friend of my daughter developed AIDS – with care and drugs, he is still with us but he too is in a broken relationship. Ours, can be an overwhelmingly sad world. It makes me weep. Christina

  4. Jean Ann Schulte on March 3, 2012 at 19:43

    This is one of my all-time favorite sermons. Each time I read it, I gather renewed courage to “throw caution to the wind as Jesus did and love…take chances to love and not hold back.”

  5. Fiona Martin on March 3, 2012 at 11:10

    I so much enjoy your “e-sermons” I wonder if any of your community remember a trip to the island of Iona in the early 90’s? I was warden of Bishop’s House then and remember your visit well tho’ I thought the SSJE Community was based in North Carolina…My grand daughter has just won a scholarship to UNC Chapelhill and I had hoped to find a spiritual oasis for her there and was disappointed to find your house no longer existed.

    I am happy to pay for my pleasures and will make a small donation in return for your excellent sermons but not being very computer literate that may take some time!! Fiona

  6. John McCann on March 3, 2012 at 11:01

    Thank you for these wonderful words. I am traveling on a path of discernment (probationary as of January 2, 2012), and I particularly love your conclusion, which Iwill hold in my heart and mind at Eucharist tomorow at Trinity Church. Not a day goes by that I dont listen to the SSJE words of the day, and read the sermons or lessons. I save some togo back and reflect on, as I try living my FSJ Rule, and always read an SSJE rule a day, and listen to the reading.

    Your website, and words and thoughts of wisdom are with me. At Trinity, I am lucky to have a spiritual guide, Father Daniel Simons, who has taken a special interest in my study in hopes of becoming a Fellow.

    Staying on the path isn’t always easy, but it has brought a depth and richness to my Journey as a Christian. I have the misfortune of being disabled with a back injury, so I cant go to an “office” but, it has brought the unexpected blessing of being able to study, pray, study the EFM course, and attend two Eucharists a week. I will remember to say a special prayer in the Chapel, tomorrow after te regular service, and I thiinkof you and your Brothers every day.

    Blessings,

    John

  7. andy on March 3, 2012 at 10:15

    very good as all ways it help me with my SERMONS each time i have to write one thank you and GOD BLESS Andy

  8. Polly Chatfield on March 3, 2012 at 08:27

    Thank you, Eldridge. You have taught, and continue to teach, me so much about the fulness of love.

  9. jane goldring on February 5, 2012 at 12:09

    thanks eldridge for those words. i think with Gods help when we can help others in need or guidence we receive back two-fold. All we can do is be our selfs and do the best in what we have been blessed with. jane

  10. Gerard Pelletier on February 5, 2012 at 11:56

    Thanks for your tremendous insights. I believe that only one who has experienced the unconditional love of Jesus can understand, appreciate and share today’s word as you have.

  11. Gerard Pelletier on February 5, 2012 at 11:51

    Many thanks for your tremendous insights. I believe only those who have experienced the unconditional love of Jesus would understand, appreciate and be able to share the WORD as you have. Keep up the good work.

    Gerry Pelletier S.M.

  12. Christopher Rivers on February 4, 2012 at 09:21

    So wise and eloquent. And so moving. Thank you.

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