Zechariah 8:20-23 :: Psalm 87 :: Luke 9:51-56
This evening’s lections highlight for us a very important paradox about what we might call “the Religious world-view.” In our readings from the Hebrew Bible, both Zechariah and the Psalmist remind us that the beauty and goodness of religion have the power to bring people into a relationship with the Divine. Surely, this is true for just about every one of us here, whether we call ourselves religious or not. Both biblical authors imagine for us a context where the abundant beauty and goodness of God become so incarnated in the life and worship of God’s people that the people of the world will long for nothing more than to enter into that life.
Peoples shall yet come, the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Come, let us go to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ … In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’
Glorious things are spoken of you *
O city of our God.
Acts 11: 19-26
John 10: 22-30
I have found the news these last several month to be quite disturbing as we have witnessed the atrocities of war and persecution all over again. The tenuous grasp that Christian hold in places where we have lived and thrived for nearly 2000 years is further frayed as ancient churches and monasteries are destroyed and Christian communities expelled from their historic homes and lands. Whole Christian villages have been attacked and the inhabitants taken hostage, killed or driven into exile.
What is even more disturbing are the accounts of the deaths and martyrdoms of Christians. Christians have been thrown overboard from dinghies full of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, for the simple act of praying.(1) In Pakistan a young teenager died from burns to his body after having gasoline poured over him and being set on fire.(2) We know about the 148 Christians killed at the university campus in Kenya(3) or the 21 Copts(4) and 28 Ethiopian Christians(5) martyred in Libya. The list could and does go on, and it is incredibly disturbing.
Ezekiel 34:11-16 / Psalm 87 / 2 Timothy 4:1-8 / John 21:15-19
Today is a day which we have been hoping for, and praying for, for a very long time. A day of rejoicing. Our dear brother Jim is to make the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, as a professed brother of our community. And what a wonderful day, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, for the profession.
When these two great apostles first met Jesus: Simon the fisherman by the Sea of Galilee, and Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, neither of them could have imagined how Jesus would change their lives. When they said yes to Jesus’ invitation, “Come follow me,” their lives would never be the same again.
Jim, when you first said ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation to “Come follow me” as a twelve year old at Abingdon Baptist Church, Virginia, could you ever have imagined the adventures that lay ahead, and that eventually would lead you to this day – this day, when you will become a full member of this community, and our brother?
One thing the early Christians didn’t get quite right was the future. They expected that any day, any hour, Jesus would return and usher in the new order. The New Testament ends on a note of expectancy: “Surely I am coming soon”, he says [Rev. 22:20]. And references to future generations virtually disappear. The early church didn’t have much to say about future generations because they didn’t think there would be any—or, at least, very few.
For a long range, forward looking plan we have to look back, ironically, to the Hebrew Scriptures, the “old” testament. All through the Hebrew Scriptures are countless references to the children and the children’s children—down through the generations. Ancient Israel was intensely interested in future generations. Abraham is promised the blessing of countless descendants–they would be as numerous as the particles of dust on the earth, he would be the father of a multitude of nations [Gen. 17:5]. To have many descendants, stretching far into the future, was a blessing from the Lord. Ancient Israel looked forward, far into the future.
A friend of mine once proclaimed quite forcefully and with real passion that he believed in churches. What an odd thing to believe in I thought when I heard him. I believe in lots of things, but I wasn’t sure that I was prepared to say that I believe in churches. I certainly believe in God, and in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he continues to manifest his presence among us today in the sacrament of the Eucharist and in the gift of the Holy Spirit. I certainly believe in THE Church, that “wonderful and sacred mystery”1 which is “the blessed company of all faithful people”2 as various Prayer Books have described her. But do I believe in churches? That’s a different matter.
When I first heard my friend talk about believing in churches, I wasn’t prepared to go there. Churches after all, were just buildings and having served in a couple of parishes that had some quite wonderful buildings, I know how easy it is to slip from the worship of God, to the worship of buildings. And yet….
For over a decade now, we in the community have been dreaming, and thinking, and praying, and talking about these buildings. It all began one August during community chapter and discussions when we talked about how there must be an easier way to get in and out of the monastery. From there the conversation developed into wouldn’t it be nice if we had…? And what about…? We even talked about the unspeakable: have these buildings outlived their usefulness? Would we be better off selling and moving somewhere else?
Over and over again the conversations ended up here, in this chapel, talking about this place and what it means to us as a community and what it means to so many of you. For many of us, this place is much more than a building; it is a sacrament of God.
Zech. 8:20-23; Psalm 87; Luke 9:51-56
This evening we’ve been dealt four aces. The reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is about Jerusalem. The Psalm we heard is about Jerusalem. The Gospel is about Jerusalem. And next week I’m going to Jerusalem. So it looks like we are to reflect on the Gospel through the lens of Jerusalem.