Welcome to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

Feast of Saint John the Evangelist

Preached by the Rt. Rev. Joseph Clark Grew II

The Rt. Rev. Joseph Clark Grew II, is the retired Bishop of the Diocese of Ohio, a member of the Fellowship of Saint John and a long-time friend of the community.  The brothers were honored to welcome Bp. Grew as the guest preacher on the Feast of Saint John the Evangelist (FSJ Day), our patronal feast, May 6, 2006.

When Curtis invited me to preach at this festival service, I decided that I had a couple of options. Given that I am preaching, as Curtis gently reminded me, to the choir, I could speak directly on great matters of faith by reading extensively from “the Book of Homilies.”

The “Book of Homilies” was produced in the16th century at a time when English bishops were reluctant to grant preaching licenses to the clergy. This was partly because they were worried about heresy, and in part too because the Crown fussed that in the age where attending sermons was as popular a form of recreation as watching reruns of Seinfeld and Law and Order, rabble-rousers in the pulpit could create political trouble and cause riots.  Having no license, the local parson then was charged with reading sermons other people had written – sermons specifically found in “The Book of Homilies.”

These sermons have uplifting titles such as “of the misery of all mankind;” “Against swearing and perjury;” “An homily against disobedience and willful rebellion.” And so forth. Lots to choose from both then and now…. And when the cleric had finished reading through “the Book of Homilies,” and some of the sermons were so long as to be divided into several parts, he was to return to the beginning and start over again. The idea was that in time the preacher would provide some illumination in the context of the Reformation.

“The book of Homilies” is interesting, often curious reading, and I confess that there are times …well for example, in front of the House of Bishops – no sense in mentioning any names – when I would simply like to let fly with the homily entitled “Against excess of apparel.”
But I chose option Two instead, and my spirit began to gather in the memories of the times I have been welcomed here over the years – the days and nights I have spent here – when, like so many of you, I became the recipient of all that this community offers – the changelessness of this space, the forbearance and good will of the community, the silence, the absolution, the prayer – especially the prayer, real friendship, and the gift of Jesus who offers us to each other here.

I think of the beloved Disciple primarily in that way – as the one so often depicted at the foot of the cross with Mary, as Jesus offers them to one another. So often John is painted with his head tilted inward, glancing down, perhaps waiting for some final word found in the suffering that his friend endures for the sake of the whole world.

As we in the church face the demands of living in this global environment – as we try to witness to the gospel in a world defined more and more by immigration and the plight of aliens and refugees, by the collisions of language, culture, and religion, by public arrogance, even in our own communion, even in our own church …….arrogance which can lead to marginalization and poverty, and unspeakable violence – can we reach beyond our deeply held opinions, and see that the final word from the cross is the unconditional love that God holds out for the whole of creation?

What happens to me here at the monastery is that I slow down. The silence slows me down. The liturgy and psalms slow me down. The rhythms of the community’s life slow me down; and when that happens, I can begin to notice the world that’s in front of me. It looks nothing like the world I have known for most of my life.

For Decades we have been telling ourselves that our life here removes us from the troubles of much of the world. We have thought that we would be able to protect our interests, as we have hoped for mid-eastern oil, without fear of too much interference. We have been concerned, but rarely have we allowed global events to affect our fortunes.

It’s a mark of our national character to think that we are divinely blessed. One the outside at least, we have been the innocents who go about our business and want everyone to join us. We see nations and neighbors of all sorts in age-old conflicts, and we wish that they would put aside their ancient insults and get on with the prospering that we have discovered for ourselves in the New World. We have built for ourselves a house of cards, and now we know it.

Most of the causes of emigration fill me, and I imagine fill you, with grief, but when that grief is kept isolated and unexpressed, we may be sure that hopelessness will follow. Where there is no preaching and no praying and no protesting about oppression, there can be no hope for change.
The Good News is the Divine promise that the world will be made whole……………………

And so then there is always the blessing of being sent forth from here into to proclaim that News. The final blessing is always a holy moment; that is, just feeling that you are ready to go, that you can go, that it is time to go. that it is time to notice again and love the Creation again and take up a mission again. No license is required.

This blessing, this sense of well-being, being well with God, is what’s holy.  Perhaps it is something akin to Jesus breathing on the disciples and giving them Spirit and sending them out.

I have always thought of blessing as light, and I still do. It is a light that helps me see that I am meant for something that I cannot name even now, but that Thomas Traherne, the English mystic, in one of his moving poems, calls one’s “purpose.” {“To the same purpose;” Penguin, selected poems and prose, p. 131}

Whatever name I give to that purpose, it has to be centered in the mission of Jesus.  Abundant life. Freedom. Peace, forgiveness…. justice for all people. That the beauty to which I am to reconnect is the birthright of all people.

At the heart of Gospel living is our need to be in the midst of as many diverse and different people as possible. I think that the redemptive work of the church right now is to live into the light and blessing of that mix. I think that is what God, through this community, gives to us; namely, the desire that we are to be sent forth from here, sent forth from every Eucharist and from every baptism to take up an active, demonstrative public love………….

These words belong to the poet, Sara King Carleton:

What was the blind man thinking of when I spoke of light as a thing to love? When he asked me, “Is it blue,
This light that is always over you?”

I answered, “There is no color at all.
Of course, it’s white along a wall,
And green where the pines lean in too close;
Over the housetop, sometimes, rose.

And yellow like gold on flattened grain.
And black when clouds hang down with rain. And Purple on the shadowed snow,
And grey when fog-drenched sea winds blow.

But light is not color.” He nodded his head.
“I understand,” the blind man said. {“Sight” from “To all Wayfarers,” Fine Editions Press, New York}

I like to think of the light reflected in the colorful lives of dissimilar and diverse people as a thing to love.

We should be profoundly thankful for this Festival Day and those who live and pray and work here, for you, the brothers, help us find truth and then reconnect our purpose with the purposes of God.

I have gotten to the age now where I can see clearly how short a time we have in any one place. When I consider that there is such a place as this – in my life and yours and in the life of the church, and when I slow down, I can also notice that into the monastery come practical concerns – the cost of health care and burning fuel oil and maintaining the infrastructure – not to mention the expense of traveling through the church and to the world with such joy and devotion, I know that the Friends of SSJE will be faithful because our lives are woven together here, one with another and with all living things before God.

As we move away from Easter Day and towards Pentecost, we will hear passages from St. John’s gospel in which Jesus, as he teaches his disciples, insists in various ways that how they live in this world really does matter. They are to love others as they have come to know that God loves each of them, and by living with gentleness and kindness and compassion, in standing against every injustice and making peace, ministering to the human needs and frailties of creatures who are, simply, like each of us, the children of God, they will make known in this world what is Holy.

And the holiest thing of all is to see that the stone is removed from the tomb and the linen rolled up in a place by itself, to know that the one who isn’t there lives. And we can believe in the glory that keeps us in tact and together for the sake of the Gospel.

As we see the desolations of this age, as boundaries are drawn – boundaries that categorize people as alien – alien from the Latin “alienus” meaning “unsuitable,” we can remember and give thanks for what happens in this place; namely that we can experience a change of heart and spirit and become open again to noticing how Christ can and does heal the universal urge to make our neighbors into adversaries.

“You are witnesses to these things,” Jesus says. As I was sent, so now I send you.

We rarely need to go very far.

People in Boston, like everywhere, are in a hurry, and there was a day when I saw myself and a lot of others ignoring a man on the street who is always asking for a handout. This man is a regular in a specific location next to where I live, and his endless solicitations are both alien and irritating. It makes me feel safe to discount him.

On one particular day, a passerby in a business suit, with a cell phone and a briefcase, emerged from a Dunkin Donuts, went to the man and handed him a coffee and a bagel; and then sat down with the man and they quietly talked.  It is a small thing really – a person going into the public square and recognizing someone as a child of God – but it is not a usual thing.
The Scriptures insists that holy living begins with repentance, a willingness to change, to be transformed. For it is in our allowing things to be different than they have been, than we have known them to be, that the history of God’s saving acts in the lives of God’s Holy People in fact springs.

This Festival Day, should serve to remind us of our own calls to step into the light for what St. Paul calls the common good, knowing that we must live carefully – as blessings – amongst the other creatures of God. And if we do, then there will be a new consciousness that says that aliens are to be welcomed and valued and embraced. No longer will we be afraid. And then in time we can begin to care for each other as we are meant, to celebrate and nurture life in every way.

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