People often ask me: “What has surprised you living in the Monastery?” One surprise is how much we acknowledge, encourage and remember death. We acknowledge our own corporate and personal brokenness and fragility more than I experienced in other communities. We say in our Rule of Life that the Christian life is a path of death and detachment, daily letting go and dying to our old selves, letting go of abilities, personal preferences, and expectations for how God will call or use us.[i]
I have great gifts and want to focus on using them. I don’t want to acknowledge what I can’t do or ask for help or worse fall down in failure. Yet that happens here. I’ve got a great plan for how God can use me best, and I’d be glad to describe how that would happen. I avoid letting go. Perhaps you can relate? Dying and letting go is hard work! So I’m thankful we also remember many martyrs, including Vincent today, people who literally died for their faith, because they inspire us to endure, to stick to the hard work of letting go, to keep surrendering to God.
We don’t know much about Vincent. He was a deacon who was martyred in 4th century Spain for testifying to his faith in Jesus before a Roman tribunal. Listen to how we pray in today’s collect: “Almighty God, your deacon Vincent, upheld by you, was not terrified by threats nor overcome by torments.” Upheld by you. He didn’t do this on his own. Almighty God, our rock, refuge and stronghold held Vincent up and holds us up.
Likewise in our Gospel lesson, Jesus says who is worthy of attention, especially when we’re troubled. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it: “Don’t be bluffed into silence or insincerity by the threats of religious bullies. True, they can kill you, but then what can they do? Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.”[ii] Don’t get wrapped up in worry about humans who may threaten and kill you. Don’t hold so tightly to your personal preferences, your plans, and your abilities. Rather, pay attention to and surrender yourself to Almighty God,
“who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.”
God’s all-mighty power is deep knowledge and deep love. So deep every sparrow, and they are cheap and plentiful, is remembered. So deep every hair on our heads has been counted. So deep we are remembered and valued far more than many sparrows. Act in response to God, not human bullies, because God is more powerful and divine love holds us up—body and soul.
Today’s collect says: “Vincent, upheld by you, was not terrified by threats nor overcome by torments.” Not terrified by threats. Was he not afraid of being killed? As one often plagued by fear, that sounds like divine power! Perhaps “not terrified” means fear didn’t freeze Vincent. Perhaps he risked speaking out though afraid. I’ve often assumed faith means the absence of fear. That if I just had enough faith I wouldn’t be afraid. Fear doesn’t negate faith.
The collect petitions: “Strengthen us to endure all adversity with invincible and steadfast faith.” Give us courage. Courage and faith don’t mean the absence of fear. They are stepping into the fearful place. They are action, leaning into the situation as I am. Whatever Vincent felt, he was courageous by speaking and enduring much suffering. Courage and faith don’t mean absence of fear. They are stepping into the fearful place, risking action.
Where does courage come from? How do we become more faithful? By asking God, certainly, for this power is not our own. But how else are they nurtured or primed? What’s the root? In our Rule of Life, we talk about the courage it takes to make a life-long commitment, and we say the “foundation of this courage is a profound gratitude for salvation.”[iii] Though we may be afraid, we lean into risking commitment from gratitude for what we’ve already received.
When were you last aware of being held up? When did you last say: “I didn’t do that alone”?
God, you saved me. Sometimes the touch is palpable. Sometimes I have to stop and look back. Oh yes, that wasn’t just me. I was held up. Wow, God showed up there. Thank you!
“How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?”[iv] The psalmist answers his question with: I will fulfill my vows. I’ll offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Gratitude is the foundation of courage. I will, with God’s help, make a life-long commitment. I will, with God’s help, die to myself daily, again and again, leaning into the commitment I’ve made. I will, with God’s help, continue as a Christian with the baptismal covenant: worshiping together, resisting evil, repenting sin, proclaiming the Good News, loving my neighbors as myself, and respecting the dignity of every human being.[v] I will say “thank you” again and again.
Where are you being called to die today? Where are you being invited to let go?
Almighty God who has counted our hair and loves us more than many sparrows, holds us up—body and soul—in his hands. Being faithful doesn’t mean we won’t be afraid. It does mean we’ll risk action. What are the good things God has done for you? Recount them. Recall them. Remember and say thank you. With those memories in hand, facing the fear, risk one more step. Together as the Church, with divine help, we keep enduring death, keep surrendering to Christ, with the great cloud of witnesses, including blessed Vincent, surrounding us.
[ii] Luke 12:4-5, The Message
[iv] Psalm 116
[v] The Book of Common Prayer, p304-305
 SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter 12: “The Spirit of Obedience”
 Luke 12:4-5, The Message
 SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter 38: “Initial Profession”
 Psalm 116
 The Book of Common Prayer, p304-305
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