I Peter 5:1-4
The Christian life is a life of transformation. The call to follow Christ is a call to a lifelong process of conversion. It requires us to let go of our former identities – built on our gifts, our achievements, and our social standing – in order to embrace a new identity in Christ. It asks us to set aside our selfish goals and pursuits to take on a new set of priorities and values. It invites us to become changed people: people whose lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and humility. It summons us to treat every person we meet with dignity and respect, seeing that they too are made in the image of God. “If anyone is in Christ,” writes St. Paul, “there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, there is a new creation!” (II Cor. 5:17)
As human beings and Christians, our life of faith and relationship has its source in divine Love who eternally delights in each one of us as an image and likeness of God unlike any other. God’s yearning for companionship and union with all creatures has been, is now and always will be drawing us into the fullness of our created being, into the glory of the divine Life itself. Even now, divine yearning is active drawing us into community, to experience relationship with God and one another through shared worship and service. The present reality of our connectedness to one another in God, therefore, also rests on the foundation of all those who have gone before us as believers. There are some whom we have known personally, who have been instrumental in forming us in the love of Christ and our neighbor.
Today marks the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. We have made it a solemn feast, the highest category of feast days in the Church’s year, suggesting that this day and its focus is of utmost importance to us. The Gospel of Luke, from which we read this evening, spends more time describing the annunciation and birth of John the Baptist than it does describing the annunciation and birth of Jesus himself: John gets 24 verses; Jesus gets 21. So what’s so important about John? Why does he warrant this kind of attention? And what do we have to learn from him and his story?
Today is the Feast of St George, the patron saint of England and an heroic figure in the Eastern Church. As with many of the early saints, the life of St George is shrouded with legend. Little is known of his life or of his martyrdom. What we do know is that he was born of noble parents in the region of Cappadocia sometime in the latter half of the 3rd century. After the death of his father, he and his mother relocated in Palestine, where the family held some land. George was enlisted in the army of the Roman emperor Diocletian and became one of the emperor’s best soldiers. But his conversion to Christianity put George in direct conflict with Diocletian, who was a bitter enemy of Christians and persecuted them viciously. George spoke personally to the emperor in defense of the Christians. His opposition cost him his life; he was tortured and then beheaded at Lydda in Palestine in the early 4th century.
People often ask me: “What has surprised you living in the Monastery?” One surprise is how much we acknowledge, encourage and remember death. We acknowledge our own corporate and personal brokenness and fragility more than I experienced in other communities. We say in our Rule of Life that the Christian life is a path of death and detachment, daily letting go and dying to our old selves, letting go of abilities, personal preferences, and expectations for how God will call or use us.[i]
One of the most memorable family Christmas presents when I was growing up was that marvel of home entertainment called ‘the VCR.’ After heeding some advice from the clerk at the store about this new technology and strange words like “Beta” and “VHS” my parents purchased a video membership and our first VCR. This machine included cutting edge technology like a remote control that had a long wire that stretched a few feet and plugged into the front so you wouldn’t have to get up from your seat to fast forward or rewind. And on that Christmas Eve in the mid-1980’s by the light of the Christmas tree and a bowl full of popcorn we all sat down and watched the first of about 6 movies we had rented.
When I was a small boy, about 4 or 5 years old, My paternal grandmother, who had been a Presbyterian missionary to the American Indians for about 40 years, told me that when God wanted his Son, Jesus, to be born into this world as a human baby, God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus, and made her to be born pure; without sin.
In our first reading we find these words, “Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of … hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1:4-7)
Today we commemorate Leo, one of the great Bishops of Rome in the middle of the 5th Century, an important period for the Church.
As a teenager, my favorite musical and social activity was being in a church handbell choir. It was so important to me that I chose a college with a handbell choir. That greatly limited my options, and it brought me to Massachusetts, for which I’m thankful! In high school I also began solo ringing. Rather than a choir in which a dozen ringers each has a few notes, I rang from a six-foot table full of bells with a piano accompaniment. It is delightful but unusual art form. From solos at my home parish and my college chapel, most everyone knew me as “the bell guy.” When visiting my home parish, inevitably someone still recalls the bell solos and asks if I keep ringing. I haven’t rung for years. I have new pursuits and even new nicknames. Yet to many, I’m still “the bell guy.” That memory sticks. Visiting California, I usually run into that memory.
When I think of the early martyrs I often think of Tertullian’s words, “The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.” (Apologeticus Ch. 50) That simple sentence contains the answer to many questions about the martyrs’ willingness to face death.
Ignatius of Antioch was one of those martyrs, a century earlier than Tertullian.