The Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle
For many prayerful people, God’s love is largely theoretical. They can intellectually grasp that God is love, but they do not feel it. I have been among this class of people, and I have listened to others express a similar lament. When someone tells me they intellectually know that God is love but they do not feel it, I ask them the same question that was put to me when I felt this way: “Who is Jesus for you?” Often, this question takes people by surprise. Often, (and it was the case for me) there is an uncomfortable silence, and a level of uncertainty is expressed. For many prayerful people, Christians among them, even people who love God, and who desire to follow God; many of them remain ambivalent about Jesus.
These are the end times. I said that to be provocative, though for some people, today, it may hit a little too close to home;[i] but it really is an end time. It’s the end of the liturgical year. In two weeks it will be Advent. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year – a time of expectant waiting for the Savior to come into the world for the first time. But that’s in two weeks. Now, it’s the end of the liturgical year, and so our readings are apocalyptic in tone in anticipation of Christ’s Second Coming. When will the Second Coming take place? Jesus said, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first….Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”[ii]
2 Kings 5:1-15
Leprosy is a skin disease, though, in the Bible it is considered a state of ‘uncleanness’, rather than an illness. A person afflicted with leprosy is encouraged to present themselves to the priest, and not the physician. Leprosy is a spiritual condition, and we can understand it as a metaphor for an inward state of alienation. Unlovely, unwanted, lepers are relegated to the fringes of society, and are to be avoided. But most of us know that an unattractive skin disease is not a necessary condition for feeling estranged. Feelings of alienation, being misunderstood, not fitting-in, feeling “less-than”, and apart-from, being on the outside looking in, this is a real experience for many people. Alienation, the experience of not feeling as if one belongs, is a spiritual condition that Jesus came to save us from. Jesus came to save outcasts and sinners. The Bible often characterizes alienation metaphorically, as leprosy, which brings us to the story of Naaman from our first reading.[i]
How did your journey to the Monastery begin?
I’m a cradle Episcopalian. I grew up going to church and was an acolyte, a crucifer, a torchbearer, and a server. I enjoyed the church youth group and socializing with kids my age in the fun activities they put on, but I found church boring. Like many people, I stopped going at the first opportunity. I don’t think I ever made the connection between being a church-going Episcopalian and having a relationship with Jesus. Certainly it was the receiver, not the message, that was broken, but that element wasn’t really communicated to me. So I left the church and became wayward (in my own way).
All Souls’ Day – Preaching Series: Finding God in Harvard Square
This is the last in our preaching series, “Finding God in Harvard Square”, and the title of this sermon is, “The Soul of the Body.” It is the last of the series, suggesting perhaps that the body is the last place we may expect to find God.
This sort of thinking coincides with the feast we keep today, All Souls’ Day: The Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, a day specifically set aside for remembering those who have died, those who, so far as we know, no longer have earthly bodies.
In many respects, we have been taught, and we do feel at times as though our bodies are mere vessels’.We may revere our bodies as temples at times, though we may also view our bodies as prisons which prevent us from living to our full potential. We may go back and forth. Many of us have ambiguous relationships with our bodies.
When war broke out in heaven, Scripture tells us, “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the world – he was thrown down to earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”[i]
But just because Satan, literally God’s adversary, was cast out of heaven and thrown down to earth, does not mean the war is over. Just that the front line has moved.
In the calendar of the church, we keep today the feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. Michael is the angel who led the battle against God’s adversary in heaven. Michael’s name is the war-cry of the angels in heaven. Michael’s name means, “Who is like God?” It’s a question; a rhetorical question. No one is like God. When Satan desired in pride to be like God, he faced Michael. The name makes clear that no one is like God but God.
On a recent visit to Emery House, a friend humorously remarked that waking up to his dawn simulator alarm clock with recorded birdsong is not quite the same as the real thing. What my friend said is funny, because it goes without saying. Of course it’s not the same! There is a lot more to the early mornings at Emery House than the gradual light of the sunrise and the frenetic clamor of birdsong. Waking up in clear and observable nature gives a person an awareness of being part of something larger, greater than one’s self. That’s why I like to pray here.
Before we can be raised to newness of life; first of all, we have to die. That’s the part we don’t like; but there is no other path to resurrection. Before we can be raised to newness of life, first of all, we have to die; and we know that. Many of us have been there. Many of us can say that we have died; some of us more than once; and all of us are dying. That’s the part we don’t like. But it’s an indispensable part of our Christian identity: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life. (1) That is our identity. We are buried with Christ by Baptism into his death, and raised with him to newness of life.
This is not a once and done thing, and we know that, too. Recognizing our identity in Christ Jesus is a lifelong process: we die and we rise, we fall down and get up, we are buried and raised over and over again. Before we can be raised to newness of life we have to die, and we know that.
Shrove Tuesday, and the days leading up to it, are days for taking stock – inventory. ‘Shrove’ from the English word ‘shrive’, which means ‘to confess’; on Shrove Tuesday, we take stock, we confess what we find, and get rid of – use up – what doesn’t belong, in preparation for Lent.
The practice of taking stock and confessing has a long history in the Christian tradition. Beginning with the desert fathers and mothers of the 3Rd and 4th centuries; the desert monks placed a high priority on taking stock. “Pay attention to yourself,” the desert monks were fond of saying. (1) “Pay attention to yourself.” The desert monks were aware that the greatest danger facing human beings was self-deception; the kind of self-deception that denies the need for healing, the need for others, and the need for God. It’s the kind of self-deception that pretends to be God by trying to be perfect; but we are not perfect. I know; that’s not news. None of us really thinks we are perfect; far from it, usually. But isn’t it true that many of us often try to be perfect, don’t we often try to be good, try to do better, and isn’t it frustrating? The desert monks recognized this tendency in themselves. They recognized the tendency in themselves to try and be perfect so they could be close to God, and they saw it did not work. They recognized this tendency in the desert, and they found an answer in the desert: “Pay attention to yourself!”
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
Those who have faith have confidence. Confidence literally means ‘with faith’. From the Latin ‘con fides’, meaning ‘with fidelity’. Confidence literally means ‘with faith’.
Faith is belief that is not based on visible proof or evidence. “[F]aith is the assurance of things hoped for,” we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, “the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is belief that is not based on visible proof or evidence, and those who have faith have confidence. They know who God is, and they know what God can do. They trust in God’s promise, they trust in God’s power, and they trust in God’s provision. Those who have faith have confidence.