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Hypocrisy – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

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What a joy it is for us brothers to be back worshipping in this beautiful chapel, and to be back worshipping with you our friends. We have had a very good summer, but we have missed you! We had a wonderful retreat at Emery House, and then our annual time of Chapter and discussions, and planning for the future. It was very fruitful and grace filled. It’s always lovely at Emery House. And, while we were away workmen finished off some of the renovations here at the monastery. We have been remembering you in our prayers with thanksgiving – and do hope you have had a great summer.

I guess because we are located at the heart of so many colleges and universities, that September really feels like the beginning of a new year. And what a wonderful way for us to start our new year this afternoon by clothing our postulant, Brian Pearson, as a novice. I hope you can be there to support him.

We have lots of exciting plans for ministry and teaching during this coming year. On Tuesday we will welcome three new interns who will live and work with us during this new year: Seth Woody, Waylon Whitley and Andrew Sinnes. And in a couple weeks time we will be welcoming a new postulant, Ruben Alexis.

Emery House is looking very beautiful. But it takes a lot of work to keep the grounds in order. I know last week Br. James spent a lot of time on the tractor – and the brothers are also looking after the bees, the chickens, and now four new pigs, and four very noisy but friendly geese! Yesterday we hosted a retreat day and picnic for homeless men and women from Boston. During this year we will be welcoming a succession of long-term residents at Emery House, living alongside the brothers – and we’re also very grateful to those of you who have spent a day at EH as volunteer gardeners. We love sharing this beautiful property with as many of you as we can! Do please visit!

So much of our ministry as brothers is centered on our two guest houses here and at Emery House. It is a joy for us to welcome retreatants from all over the world to spend time living in these two sacred spaces. You might this year consider making a retreat yourself, or suggesting it to a friend.

And so we look forward to an exciting year ahead of us with lots of activities – but at the very center of everything we do here and at Emery House, is worship. Our lives here are centered on worshipping in this sacred place five times a day.

What is it which is so powerful, so compelling about worship? What draws us to be here today: what draws us, what holds us? I was reflecting on this question as I prayed over today’s Gospel from St. Mark, where Jesus is comparing our outward acts with the secret thoughts of our hearts. I would say that worship is so compelling because it is the one place I can come and be completely open and honest before God. Here, we do not need to pretend. Before God – as I look at God and God looks at me – I can be who I most truly am. As we say in that opening prayer, “To you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.”

No need to pretend. No need to “keep up appearances.” You may know that British comedy series “Keeping Up Appearances.” You will know Hyacinth Bucket, who insists her surname is pronounced not Bucket but Bouquet, and who is a rather eccentric, social climbing snob, and who is in constant fear of being embarrassed by her working class relatives Onslow, Daisy and Rose. It’s all very silly, but there’s enough truth in it to make us laugh, because we all know a little of how we too like to keep up appearances! Little distortions of the truth, little embellishments of the facts to show ourselves in a positive light, ways we try to impress – name-dropping – ways we try to enhance our image.

You could say that the Gospel today from St. Mark is all about keeping up appearances! The Pharisees and scribes were complaining that Jesus’ disciples were not observing some of the external traditions of the elders regarding ritual washing of hands, cups, pots and bronze kettles. Jesus actually becomes very angry with them. They are more concerned with the externals, the appearances of things, than with what is actually going on inside their hearts. Unclean hands, pots and pans do not matter. What defiles, damages, a person is an unclean heart.

Pretending to be someone you are not. Living a lie. These draw from Jesus a terrible rebuke. “You hypocrites,” he says. Hypocrisy is right at the top of those things which make Jesus angry, I think because it can be so destructive. “Keeping up appearances” can be amusing and pretty harmless, but it can also grow into something which is destructive and corrosive. We can slowly become alienated from our true selves. We can allow others to make us into the person that we are not. This is a challenge in any relationship or marriage – allowing the other to become who they truly are. We can live a life of pretense in order to be accepted and praised. And in the process we can lose our souls.

In Dante’s Inferno the hypocrites (and the Greek word means “actor”) are clothed in huge choir robes, made of solid lead, gilded on the outside with gold. The cloaks are so heavy that the hypocrites can hardly move. That is an amazing image of the bone-weary insanity of trying to keep up appearances! Dante describes the garb of the hypocrites as “O cloak of everlasting weariness.”

But here, in this place, where the Lord is present, we can shed our heavy cloaks of pretension and appearance. We can stand before the Lord, who knows us and loves us and accepts us – “just as I am.” So, worship is firstly a time when we can be open and honest before the God who knows us and loves us. But there is more. Not only does God see us as we truly are, not only does he love and accept us as we are – but, secondly, he also challenges us to change and be transformed – to become that unique person whom God made us to be.

The community of Taizé in France has a Rule, and in it it says this: “In worship we can stop hiding from God, and the light of God can heal and transform even what we are ashamed of.” God longs to heal us and transform us. It’s as if God longs for us to shed the heavy clothing of pretense and appearance – the clothes which once gave us confidence and strength, but which now just weigh us down. But then God longs to re-clothe us with Christ, whose burden is light, and who can set us free.

So, perhaps at the beginning of this month – a new term, a new year, we might take stock of our lives and, to use Dante’s image, look carefully at the clothing – the outward vesture – with which we live our lives. Is there some garment which weighs us down, and which God is inviting us to shed? Perhaps certain attitudes, habits, prejudices, addictions, illusions – ways in which we live our lives which need, if we are honest, to be stripped off. “These weight me down, and I long to be free. But at the same time, I’m afraid to shed them. I am so used to these old clothes – I’d hardly know myself in new ones.”

Perhaps today, during this worship where we can be truly honest and open, no need to keep up appearances – today perhaps God is challenging you to take off some garment which weighs you down – some disordered attachment, some damaging indulgence. Take it off, and leave it at the altar, and return to your seat lighter. It is hard for God to re-clothe us in Christ when we are already fully dressed!

So today, as on the day of your baptism, allow God to re-clothe you, to transform you, to transfigure you, that like Christ, you too may shine forth “in raiments dazzling white.”

Amen.

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21 Comments

  1. Jenny on February 10, 2017 at 15:55

    To whom all hearts are open and all desires known. I am always encouraged when I say this because it includes not only those desires we prefer to keep in the dark but also our desires to love and serve , even if we do not always manage to fulfill them

  2. Cara Leslie Berton on February 10, 2017 at 05:37

    WHAT an exploration of “the
    Journey.”
    I was always told that it took
    Forty years to go through the journey because the Jews rebelled against
    G-D, and never acknowledged all the miracles given them.
    It is always a rather punishing interpretation.

  3. Nicki Bourne on October 19, 2016 at 10:16

    I love the way your sermons inspire such vital honesty in readers and that I can be a part of it all here on email, to start my day. Brother Geoffrey, your enthusiasm at being home is just plain fun. I hope you keep this handy for perusing on “dumpy” days. Not to make light of your wonderful leadership, I thank you for the whole thing, and other readers for their offerings.

  4. Jennifer on October 19, 2016 at 09:46

    “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
    – Hebrews 12:1

  5. Challenge | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on October 19, 2016 at 00:06

    […] To Read More and to Leave a Comment, Click Here […]

  6. Dee Dee on June 26, 2016 at 12:33

    Oh my goodness, what a profound sermon. I am so thankful to God for helping me gather the strength to lay down my leaden cloak a few years ago, and I ask your prayers for my dear friend who is struggling with the same burden. It is very hard. Thank you for your wise words of encouragement, Br. Geoffrey.

  7. Christopher Engle Barnhart on June 26, 2016 at 08:18

    Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

  8. Rhode on June 26, 2016 at 08:18

    I cling to my ‘apart-ness’ while praying for God to draw me deeper into relationship with Him and to others. He desires I clothe myself in Christ. But, my many robes are thick. So we work together to peel off layers one at a time. Layers I artfully contrived to hide my pain, fear, shame and control. At times this process leaves me raw and vulnerable. Sometimes, in anger, I grab back a layer…. I read ‘my grace is sufficient…’, and articles such as yours cross my path. I am learning to trust Him through the many valleys of my inauthentic self. He restores my soul.
    I so enjoy these emails, thank you.

  9. […] To Read More and to Leave a Comment, Click Here […]

  10. Robert on November 13, 2015 at 08:43

    I, too, wear a leaden cloak, of addiction. At the age of 73, I am deeply weary of it. Please pray for me that I might, finally, shake it off. And may I, when I pray, think of others who are similarly burdened. Thanks so much for Brother, give us a word.

    Robert

    • Roberta on November 13, 2015 at 09:52

      And so I do pray for you. You are not alone, and throughout the day and night, know that prayers are uttered on your behalf – for you and, yes, others similarly burdened. God’s peace, brother.

      • Christina McKerrow on November 13, 2015 at 12:48

        Today is my daughter’s 56th birthday. She has been going to AA for a year. Every day is another step for all those struggling with addictions. I pray for you. And, I pray for my daughter. Blessings. Christina

        • Christina on October 19, 2016 at 09:33

          A year later – again my prayer is with you. Life is not easy, is it. My daughter is still going to AA and so far, so good, but as you know, every day is another step. God’s blessings upon you. Christina

    • Jennifer on November 14, 2015 at 07:44

      Praying for you, Robert.

  11. MIchael on November 13, 2015 at 07:51

    While God sees all and forgives our imperfections and foibles, it is often ourselves that we can not forgive or can’t allow God to redress us. To take off the coat of fear requires a grace I do not possess at this point, but I will continue to pray, ask, listen, and believe in the mystery.

  12. Ruth West on July 7, 2015 at 13:48

    Br. Geoffrey, I so enjoyed reading this sermon.
    “Keeping Up Appearances” is one of my favorite T V Shows. It gives such a message to all of us!
    I pray that God shall strip me of all those heavy garments of pretense and clothe me with His Spirit.

  13. Page on July 5, 2015 at 08:08

    Very poignant for my life right thank-you

  14. Sarah Acland on July 5, 2015 at 06:40

    What a great way to start the day!

  15. anders on January 30, 2015 at 13:01

    Thank you for your kind invitation to you and your animals putting you on my destinations wish list. You have also defined a bridge between the hypocrisy of faith I grew up with—a cloak of everlasting weariness—and the spirit I found at Taize and expect I would encounter at Emery House. How can they be of the same religion? I may not get struck by lightning in giving up my old evangelical teachings, but the dazzling white raiments are also on back order. So I find grace sheddng my old clothes. Despite feeling vulnerable and naked, I know I am already loved and sometimes like your four geese, that’s enough to honk about.

    • Carol Jo Pettit on February 10, 2017 at 10:11

      And here we are in 2017; just can’t begin to tell you what peace your messages bring yo me. Thank you so much. cjp

  16. elizabeth d hoffman on September 8, 2012 at 19:10

    Sing it Brother Tristam!! Sing it from the mountain top!!! I pray that you give this sermon to the House of Bishops… I’m going to pass this on to all my friends. Just brilliant!!! Yours in Christ, elizabeth

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