Saying it’s so; Making it so – Br. James Koester

Br. James Koester

1 Thessalonians: 5: 1-11
Psalm 27: 1-6, 17-18
Luke 4: 31-37

Two stories. Two very different places. Two very different outcomes. But both connected with the thread of tonight’s gospel reading.

The first took place here in this chapel one Tuesday night a number of years ago. I had preached. Now it was perhaps not one of my more brilliant sermons, but I thought that I had a point to make, and that I made it moderately well. Afterwards someone came up to me and said, “James, just because you say it’s so, doesn’t make it so.” Clearly it had not been one of my more brilliant sermons. It doesn’t matter how passionate we are; nor how brilliant our argument; nor how forcefully we speak; just saying something is so, does not make it so.

The other story took place in Rome last November. Brother Geoffrey and I were there together for 10 days and it was early in our time there. We had just finished an early supper and were on our way back to the hotel. Before we headed home, we thought we would stop in the nearby church to have a look around. We walked through the door and were both stunned. We were stunned, not because the church is especially beautiful, although it is; nor because it is especially ancient, although it is. We were stunned because the church was packed. There, in Rome, on a week night, we found ourselves in a church packed, not with tourists taking in the sights, but with 100’s of worshippers in the midst of Compline.

What we had stumbled upon was the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay Roman Catholic dispersed community with 1000’s of members around the world, including some here in Boston. They were founded in 1968 by a group of Roman high school students and have dedicated themselves to working with the poor and marginalized. They publish an annual guide for the homeless in Rome entitled Where to Eat, Sleep and Bathe in Rome. They work with refugees and people living with HIV/ AIDS; campaign internationally against the death penalty and take active and influential roles in peace negotiations around the world. Because of their work in areas of justice and peacemaking, in 2002 they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. They are committed to prayer and Bible reading, spreading the gospel, work with the poor, ecumenism and dialogue with people of other faiths and no faith.

Now I tell you these two stories, partly because Sant’Egidio in English, is St. Giles, and today is his feast day. But more importantly I tell you those two stories because unlike that sermon I had preached a number of years ago, the Community of Sant’Egidio speaks with authority, an authority deeply rooted in their life of prayer and action. Because they live it, and not simply say it, whatever they say, is indeed so.

Jesus stunned the crowds at Capernaum who were “astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.”[1] This authority with which he spoke came not from his ability to quote scripture or use examples from other scholars and prophets, but because what he said was demonstrably true. It was so, not because he said it was so, but because he showed it was so.

Remember that just before this scene in Capernaum took place, we find Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth. It is there that he reads from the Prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.[2]
Jesus concludes his reading of the prophet by declaring that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[3]

Luke places the story of the synagogue at Nazareth at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. For the next three years, indeed for the next 2000 years what Jesus said is so, not because he can quote scripture, but because scripture comes true in his life, and through his life, in the life of those around him.

The people of Capernaum were astounded, not because they heard scripture quoted, but because they saw scripture come alive. All around them, and indeed us, wherever Jesus goes: good news is brought to the poor, captives are released, the blind see, the oppressed are liberated. It is so, not because Jesus says it is so, but because he makes it so. Come out. Be healed. Your sins are forgiven. Arise. Stand up and walk. Fear not. Peace. Receive your sight. What Jesus says is so, not because he says it, but because he does it.

In each case Jesus speaks with the authority of one who not only knows about God, but who knows God. And Jesus knows God because he lives in such union and communion with God that people saw and see in him, not a prophet or a miracle worker but God, God with us: “Emmanuel”.[4]

What struck me about the Community of Sant’Egidio is that people see in them, not a community that knows about God, but a community that knows God and lives in union and communion with God. What they say is so, not because they say it, but because people see it. In them people not only hear scripture, they see scripture: blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers.[5] They hear and see people speak with the authority of God, just as Jesus spoke with that same authority.

To live in union and communion with God, is to live like Jesus who:

though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. [6]

It is when we live in union and communion with God, speaking not as people who know about God, but as people who know God, that we can speak with the same authority as did Jesus. But knowing God, not knowing about God, rather knowing God is a dangerous thing. It requires us to be like Jesus. It requires us to empty ourselves and take on the form of a servant. It requires us to become obedient, even to the point of death. Only then can we say that we truly know God.

It is this willingness to empty himself that gave Jesus the ability to speak with the authority of God. Can it be any less for us? It is this willingness to walk the path of self-emptying love that gives the Community of Sant’Egidio the ability to speak with the authority of God in matters of peace, justice and compassion. Can it be any less for us?

To speak with the authority of God requires us to live like Jesus. Only then will things be so, not because we say they are so, but because like Jesus, we are prepared to make them so.

[1] Luke 4: 32

[2] Luke 4: 18-19

[3] Luke 4: 21

[4] Matthew 1: 23 and John 1: 14

[5] Matthew 5: 3ff

[6] Philippians 2: 6-11

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  1. Elizabeth Hardy on September 28, 2019 at 10:52

    Refreshing. The struggle for authenticity should be real for all of us – otherwise we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us…..We sometimes live a very schizophrenic life as Christians. If we are to be a light to the world we have to look closely at where our words are not in line with our actions and try to close that gap. Thank you Br. James – that WAS a good sermon! Elizabeth Hardy+

  2. Jeanne DeFazio on September 27, 2019 at 12:16

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful experience. Your community has been a beautiful experience for me as well. God bless you!


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