1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)/Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17/1 Cor. 6:12-20/John 1:43-51
This scene from the Gospel of John seems camera-ready to me—if a bit odd with its very abrupt ending. John sets the scene: somewhere in Galilee “on the next day”—which happens to be the second day after Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River. The main characters are on the set. Jesus is ready with cryptic quotes. (“Where did you get to know me?” “I saw you under the fig tree.” The actor playing Nathanael is ready with earnest effusions. (Who would play guileless Nathanael? Maybe that guy that plays Jamie on that cop show “Blue Bloods”—Will Estes?) Somewhere in the background there’s got to be a fig tree. The cameras roll. The players play.
Then this strange and abrupt ending: “Very truly I tell you, you will heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” End of scene—that’s it; we have no idea what happened later that day. All of a sudden it’s chapter three: “On the third day there was a wedding…”
Luke 14:1, 7-14
There’s some delightful reading in the 32nd chapter of Ecclesiasticus, one of the books of the Apocrypha, in what we call the Wisdom Literature. It reads a bit like the Miss Manners of the ancient world, with advice about etiquette at dinner parties: if there’s music or entertainment, don’t interrupt by talking; don’t display your cleverness at the wrong time; if you’re young, speak only if obliged, and then only twice; if you’re older, only talk about things you actually know about; leave on time, don’t be the last to leave; and, above all, bless your Maker, who fills you with his good gifts.
Today, Jesus continues somewhat in the vein of the Wisdom Literature with sage advice about wedding banquet etiquette. But Jesus is not just speaking in the vein of the Wisdom Literature: Jesus is Wisdom—Wisdom itself, or, Wisdom himself—well, actually Wisdom herself: Sophia. Earlier in the Gospel of Luke in referring to himself, he says “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Jesus is Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia in Greek. This identification of Christ with Holy Wisdom is especially important in the Churches of the East. You may remember the great church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
So when Jesus speaks, we can expect to find deeper wisdom, deeper levels of meaning, the inexhaustible, infinite depths of the holy wisdom of God. He calls this teaching a parable, which means it’s about more than dinner parties.
It’s hard to escape our very human concern with matters of rank and status. And, yet, the gospel invites us to another place, another kind of self-awareness: a place of what we might call radical egalitarianism, a state of such deep identification with Christ himself that status and rank no longer matter. We stand before God as equals.
Or sit. I’m tempted to make a wager: the table at the heavenly banquet will be round. Perfectly round. Infinitely round, infinitely commodious, and—somehow–at the same time, infinitely intimate.
During the month of August, while the Chapel is closed, we are reposting sermons that we hope will inspire you to embrace play, rest, solitude, and recreation.
Jesus calls his disciples to many and various good works. In the story today they’re all exhausted. So he calls them to something very different: let’s go for a boat ride and get away from all this. So they go for a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It doesn’t say whether it’s a row boat or a sail boat, but out they go. It’s time for rest. Resting, getting away from it all, retreating is a spiritual practice. It’s also a religious duty: it’s right there in the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath Rest. The Sabbath Rest in the most literal sense is about taking it easy on the seventh day of the week. But Sabbath pertains to other time frames as well. We might have annual retreats or a monthly retreat day.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”
I can’t help imagining Jesus suppressing a little smile at this response. He’s just finished a string of parables about the Kingdom of God: the sower, the weeds among the wheat, the treasure found in a field, the pearl of great price, the net cast into the sea catching fish of every kind.
Have you understood all this? Yes, they say, without hesitation. Well, hardly. The whole point of parables is that they are open-ended and give fresh meanings over time, as we bring life experience to bear on them. We can’t say we’ve ever completely understood a parable, because it’s not meant to be understood, in the sense of complete comprehension. But, because we don’t know what we don’t know, we can think we understand.
One of my favorite things to do on a summer day is to go to that place where the primal elements of earth, air, fire and water come together in a most exhilarating way, and where we can step out into the edge of the infinite—and perhaps get a bit of vanity tan while we’re at it. I love going to the seashore. When I go alone, I’m often drawn to contemplation of the primal elements, how those fundamental entities of physics can add up to all this—quarks, gluons, photons, electrons, bosons, etc. And how the “all of this” of our experience is but a speck in the incomprehensible vastness of the cosmos.
And to ponder the sailboats in the distance, how the interplay of volumes and masses and forces allows the boats to remain on the surface of the water, how the force of the wind is matched to the resistance of a sail to move the boat from one place to another. How the wind itself is set in motion by the fire of the sun. How the wind and tides set the ocean waves in motion and how chaos is unleashed when they meet the resistance of dry land. How life itself emerged from the chaos of the sea. Quite by chance—or not quite by chance…
Hosea 10:1-3; 7-8, 12
“Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Words of Hosea. I’m not sure just why, but I find that word “righteousness” one of the more irritating words of the Bible. It’s a word used a lot but the Bible doesn’t come with a glossary of definitions. Perhaps my discomfort with the word is that it is so close to the word “self-righteousness”.
Everything God does is “mission”: The creation of space and time and the elementary components of the universe, living things, human beings, a moral and ethical realm encompassing all creation; sending the Son as teacher, healer, redeemer, savior, and lover of those created in God’s own image and likeness; gathering and inspiring a people, a Church, to carry on the work of creation, re-creation, and mission.
One Church within the Universal Church, the Anglican Communion, has embarked on a now decades-long conversation about God’s mission and the Church’s role in it. So far, five “marks” or signs of the Church’s participation in the mission of God have been identified:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth
Pastors, teachers, theologians, missionaries, historians, and other scholars have offered their various perspectives on these signs of God’s mission. But what might monastics and contemplatives have to contribute to the broader conversation? Perhaps the reminder that any “Marks of Mission” begin in lives marked by God’s love.
1 Cor. 10:1-4, 16-17
“Blessed, praised, hallowed and adored be our Lord Jesus Christ on his throne of glory in heaven, in the most Holy Sacrament of the altar, and in the hearts of all his faithful people.” So goes a prayer said by some priests when they return to the sacristy after a Eucharist.
Today we celebrate “The Body and Blood of Christ”, or “Corpus Christi”. It’s a feast added to the calendar in the 13th century as a way to celebrate the institution of the Eucharist outside Holy Week. Maundy Thursday, of course, celebrates the institution of the Eucharist, but there’s so much going on otherwise that day that it was felt we needed another occasion to commemorate this event and in a more festive way than is possible in the shadows of the Passion.
Proverbs 8:14, 22-31/Psalm 8/Romans 5:1-5/John 16:12-15
Today we celebrate an idea—an idea that represents our best understanding of the mystery and paradox of God: the Holy Trinity. There is one and only one God; and this God is a trinity of persons.
There’s a delightful poem about the Trinity called “The Creed of St. Athanasius”. Whoever wrote it (it wasn’t St. Athanasius) probably didn’t mean to write delightful poetry, but I do find it both delightful and poetic. Here are a few lines from the Creed of St. Athanasius:
“… we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Spirit. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Spirit uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Spirit unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Spirit Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Spirit Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord… And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped…”
Sometimes when I hear a confession or when I’m leading a retreat I ask people to do something that nearly always results in head-scratching—sometimes even some resistance. I suggest doing a kind of examen, that is, a review of conscience, or consciousness. When we do this in preparing for confession, what we usually do is make a list of our sins. That we sin is, of course, true. But it is only part of the truth about us. If we were to confess the whole truth we would have to say more. We would also need to acknowledge, or confess, the ways in which God’s love has indeed been active in and through us. So I will ask people to confess their goodness to others, their kindness and generosity, to confess the ways in which God’s love has been manifest in and through them. It’s looking through the other end of the telescope.