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Friends, Food and Rest – Br. James Koester

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Br. James Koester

2 Kings 19: 9-21, 31-36
Psalm 48
Matthew 7: 6, 12-24

A number of years ago I was in Jerusalem. A small group of us had made our way from St. George’s College into the Old City. We had ended up at the Church of the Resurrection and after spending some time there, were on our way back to the College. Now I had walked to and from the Church and College dozens of times before, and depending on the route I took, would often pass the Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church, which is literally just around the corner from the Church of the Resurrection. The grey steel doors of the Russian Mission were always closed and locked, in spite of a sign posted by the door telling you what hours it was open. It was never open. It was never open, at least until that day.

 

Now I have been in Old City of Jerusalem often enough to know that posted signs telling when a holy site will be open are mostly never true. Holy sites, especially the Orthodox ones, are often shut when they are supposed to be open, but only occasionally open when they are supposed to be shut. Because of that, over the years I have developed a rule of thumb: if there is a holy site that you are interested in seeing, if it is open when you pass it, go in, if even only for a few minutes. It may never be open again when you next pass by.

 

Walking into the Mission of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Old City was like stepping back in time. The walls were lined, not just with icons, but with photographs and paintings of various members of the Russian royal family. It was as if the Russian Revolution and the ensuing Communist era had never taken place. You almost expected the Czar to appear from around the corner at any moment!

 

But the real treasure of the Russian Mission is a part of the city wall that predates the current wall of the Old City. What makes it fascinating is that the wall contains a small opening, a little bigger than a person which would allow people to go into and out of the city when the gates were shut. This opening would be easily defended in case of attack, and just as easily opened to allow a person to pass through.

 

According to the Russian Mission, it was an opening like this that Jesus was referring to when he spoke of the eye of the needle.

 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.[1]

 

Having squeezed my way through this narrow opening in the city wall, I can assure you that it would be impossible for a camel, even if not carrying anything, to manage the same.

 

Scripture is full of reminders that a life of faith is not an easy option. We are told as much today. Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who will find it.[2]

 

It seems odd that the life which Jesus invites us to follow him in, should be such a hard one. But then the very one who invites us to deny [ourselves] and take up [our] cross and follow[3] is the very one

 

who though he was in the form of God,did not regard equality with

God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself,taking the

form of a slave,being born in human likeness. And being found

in human form, he humbled himselfand became obedient to the point

of death — even death on a cross.[4]

 

The paradox of the good news of the Gospel is that only those who remember that they are but dust, and to dust they shall return, are capable of accepting the presence of eternal life in each passing moment and receiving ever fresh the good news of hope[5].

 

We brothers discover this paradox in the vows we take at profession. Just as the disciples found riches in the following of Jesus for everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life[6], we find freedom in limitation and abundance in simplicity. It is this same paradox that the Beatitudes invites us to trust the promise of divine fulfillment hidden in things that the world counts as barren and negative.[7]

 

But you don’t have to be a monk to discover that the Christian vocation is a demanding one, for the life of the baptized is not child’s play. It demands our all, for in it we promise to continue faithful, even when we don’t feel like it; to repent and return to the Lord, even when it demands us to turn our life around and change our ways; to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ, even when that will put us at odds with those around us; to seek and serve Christ in all persons, even when we are being told to be afraid of them; to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of all, even when there are those around us who would argue that certain people are not deserving of dignity.

 

To be a Christian in our culture and our society is no easy thing, because it demands of us to live in faith, instead of fear; to live in hope, instead of despair; to live in love, instead of enmity.

 

It is for that reason that the needle’s eye and the narrow gate are so difficult to pass through, because it is so much easier to live in fear than faith; it is so much easier to live in despair than hope; it is so much easier to live in enmity than love.

 

But that is not the invitation we have received, for the One who teaches the paradox of the Beatitudes, who invites us to follow through the narrow gate and the hard roadof faith and hope and love, is the same one who promises abundance of life[8]to those who do follow.

 

As women and men of faith, trying to walk the baptismal road, we all know that the gate is indeed narrow and the road hard. But we know too the promise of heaven, not as some distant and obscure destination, but in the company of friends, as food for the journey, as resting places along the way.

 

Today Jesus reminds us that the gate is indeed narrow, and the road is indeed hard, but he has given us friends, and food and rest to encourage us, to feed us and to renew us for the journey ahead. And that is what makes this journey of faith that we are on possible: friends, food and rest.


 

[1] Matthew 19: 23, 24

[2] Matthew 7: 13, 14

[3] Matthew 16: 24

[4] Philippians 2: 6-8

[5]SSJE Rule of Life: Holy Death, Chapter 48, page 96

[6] Matthew 19: 29

[7]SSJE Rule of Life: Engaging with Poverty, Chapter 8, page 16

[8] John 10:10

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1 Comment

  1. Ruth West on June 28, 2016 at 01:40

    Br. James, I loved your sermon. There are so many quotable passages! Such as: “To be a Christian in our culture and society is no easy thing. Because it demands of us that we live in faith rather than fear, in hope instead of despair; in love instead of enmity”. What would we do without the friends, food and rest along the way? Thanks for teaching us.

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