Ephesians 1:17-19; Matthew 13:13-17
This concludes a four-part Advent preaching series entitled “Practicing Patience,” as we wait, watch, listen, and, this evening, look for the coming of Christ. What about looking? Where, at what, why, when should be looking? There is a difference, after all, between our experience and those who were waiting, watching, listening, and looking for the Messiah 2,000 years ago. We are not in the position of Mary and Joseph or Elizabeth and Zechariah, nor are we in the position of the shepherds in the hills, nor the magi in the east, nor nasty King Herod on the throne who were waiting for the first coming of the Messiah. As Christians we recognize Jesus born in Bethlehem as the Messiah, and that was 2,000 years ago. What we now celebrate on Christmas Day is a remembrance. It’s not a reenactment, nor is it a re-visitation – Christmas is not “the second coming” of the Messiah – but a remembrance, a living reminder, that Jesus the Messiah was already born among us, and is really present to us now, which invites a whole different way to look at life every day. That’s a promise, and that’s also a problem.
Dr. Charles Connick believed that stained glass is “the handmaiden of architecture.” Quite. We experience in this monastery chapel the extraordinary synergy of two devoted friends, who both were artisans and spiritual seekers: Ralph Adams Cram, the architect, and Charles J. Connick, the glassman. You have to be prepared to take it all in. As a visitor, you don’t simply walk into this monastery chapel from Memorial Drive.
First you must ascend, you must climb the steps. Most of the cadence of monastic prayer is based on the Psalms, which are chanted in this monastery chapel from early morning, before the dawn, until the completion of the night before we sleep. Many of the Psalms are Psalms of Ascent: about lifting one’s step, lifting one’s heart, lifting one’s hands, lifting one’s eyes to the holy place where God dwells. You must reenact that posture of ascent to enter this chapel as you necessarily ascend the steps, but then you must do one more thing. You cannot enter the chapel full stride. As you will know, at the top of the steps, you are forced to turn before you enter the rear door of the chapel, the antechapel. That turning is an experience of conversion. The word “conversion,” as the word appears in the New Testament Greek, means just that: “to turn,” to turn in a new direction in response to God. To enter this chapel you willingly ascend, and then you must change course – an act of conversion – before you cross over a threshold.
Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8; Matthew 22: 34-46
Tender is not a word that easily comes to mind when I think of Saint Paul or Leviticus. Usually Paul seems sharp or at times condescending and sometimes downright confusing. Leviticus, so concerned with purity laws is downright off putting, because I often feel that I could never make the grade, even if I wanted to. But this morning tender is the very word that springs to mind when I read them both. Listen again to Paul:
But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring
for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we
are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God
but also our own selves, because you have become very dear
When the construction was completed on the Monastery Chapel – I’m not talking about the extensive renovation work this past year but about the original construction completed in 1936 – the trades people and artisans who had labored to build this magnificent chapel gave the gift of these two stained-glass windows to my right, what are called the “Workmen’s Windows.”1 On the left is Saint Joseph the carpenter, pictured in the rondel with the young Jesus as his assistant and his mother nearby. The window on the right pictures Saint Luke the Physician along with the caduceus, the ancient symbol of medicine and healing.2 But what I find most interesting is that Luke is portrayed in the rondel painting a portrait of the Virgin Mary! Now you can find reference in the Gospels about Joseph being a carpenter3; and you can find reference in the epistles about Luke being a physician.4 But Luke the artist? Where did that come from? Not from the scriptures, but from tradition.
As I was praying over today’s Scriptures, one line in particular from St. John’s Gospel stood out for me: “Jesus said, ‘anyone who comes to me I will never drive away’.” And that for me is an apt way of describing John’s remarkable ministry. Like his Lord he would never ignore or turn away from someone in need, however desperate their lives had become.
The first time I met John was thirteen years ago, when I first visited the monastery. He was walking slowly towards Harvard Square in his own rather distinct habit: those blue denim farmers’ overalls! When I introduced myself, his whole face lit up with that wonderful smile – which has given hope and encouragement to so many over the years.
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Bruno, founder of the Order of Carthusian Monks. Little is known of his childhood, except that he was born in Cologne in 1032. After ordination he became the highly respected Rector of the Cathedral School at Rheims. In 1075 he was appointed Chancellor of the Diocese of Rheims. In addition to this Pope Urban II, who had been one of his students at the Cathedral school in Rheims, appointed him as his advisor. In 1084 Bruno and six of his companions began to feel the call to the monastic life. For a short time he and his companions lived with Saint Robert and a few others who eventually founded the Cistercian Order, but Bruno and his companions decided instead to found a more austere order. They settled in 1084 at Chartreuse, near Grenoble and followed an ethos inspired by the ideals of the primitive monasticism of the 3rd and 4th centuries of the desert monks in Egypt. Their ethos centered on silence, austerity and total renunciation of the world. Similar to the early desert monasteries Bruno and his companions chose to live in small hermitages within the monastery complex, and came together for prayer and on greater feasts for some of their meals, as Carthusian monks do today. Bruno died on this date in 1101.
Today seems to be “Complaining” Sunday. The lectionary gives us a choice of two readings from the Old Testament. The first is the story of the Israelites complaining against Moses and Aaron in the desert after their deliverance from the land of Egypt (Ex 16:2-15). They’re hungry and tired, and beginning to think that bondage in Egypt wasn’t so bad after all. “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread;” they lament, “for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
The second passage, which we just heard, is from the book of Jonah (3:10-4:11). You’ll remember that Jonah was the reluctant prophet chosen by God to warn the people of Nineveh to turn from their evil ways. It comes as a surprise and a disappointment to Jonah when the people actually do repent in response to his preaching, and he becomes angry — angry enough to die! he claims. The Lord then raises up a bush to provide shade for Jonah and he is consoled. But when the bush withers, Jonah’s anger returns and he starts complaining again, suggesting to God how unfair it is that God has chosen to be merciful to the Ninevites. Apparently Jonah thought they deserved to be punished!
1 Timothy 6:1-12
Our First Reading began with several general assumptions, things such as slavery taken for granted as inevitable parts of life in the period of history for which it was written. But life has changed and history has moved on. Nevertheless there are lessons to be learned from this narrative when we apply it to our present generation.
We know from our study of history that slavery has been recognized as an abuse of human rights. It has been outlawed now in most parts of the world for over a hundred years or more. But we can see that we still have employee and employer relationships that amount to a kind of slavery. Abuse of human rights can still be seen and viewed from the standpoint of Jesus’ teachings and brought into line with true godliness and mutual respect for one another’s humanity.
Luke 5: 1–11
This evening I am so full of thanksgiving that after more than a year we brothers are able to welcome you back to our Tuesday evening Eucharist. It is so appropriate that our Gospel today is all about vocation: about how God calls us to life.
The monastery is here because in 1866 Richard Meux Benson, Charles Grafton, and Simeon Wilberforce O’Neil answered God’s call and founded the Society of St John the Evangelist. We are all here tonight because in different ways we too have heard the call of God in our own lives and have said yes.
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15-20).
This passage appointed for today from the Gospel according to Matthew is undoubtedly helpful, but it requires some digging. First, a disclaimer. If you have a presumption that Christians, the followers of Jesus, are always going to be right and do right and never experience or cause an offense or breakdown in their relationships with other people, it’s simply not so. We can presume otherwise from this passage. We also know otherwise because of the endless squabbling between Jesus’ closest disciples. Remember how Peter, on whom Jesus said he would build his church, seems to have reached his limit on forgiving fellow Christians when Peter explodes and asks Jesus, “if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus answers him, “Not seven times, but, seventy-seven times,” which is code language meaning forever.1 Of course the subtext is this: offensive, disappointing, inappropriate stuff is going to keep happening between members of the Church. Jesus says our posture is to forgive. I’ll come back to that.