Sunday, May 29, 2011
May 29, 2011
+ This past week I had lunch with a long-time friend of mine. She is a novelist—she’s published five fairly well-received novels—and she is also a Quaker. And in addition to that, she is also an avowed non-believer. Yes, you CAN be a non-believer and a Quaker, I guess.
Now I know you’re thinking: that priest has so many friends who are atheists and complete non-believers. And I do! Actually, I consider them a true blessing in my life. I don’t know what I would do without my non-believing friends. Because they do help keep things in a very perspective.
For example, at lunch this week, my friend was explaining how she was dealing with a bit of in-fighting at her Quaker meeting house. I actually thought it was somewhat humorous to hear about Quakers fighting among themselves—committed as they are to peace. With a very exasperated sigh, she said to me, “I have come to believe that organized religion really does contribute to a lot of the problems in the world.”
I couldn’t argue with her. I actually agree. And I believe most of us here this morning would agree as well. Organized religion—made up as it is by so many fallible, dysfunctional human beings—is bound to fail at times. But, then, so is any other human organization. And I truly believe that it’s actually politics that have consistently contributed to our human problems again and again throughout our history. And it doesn’t help when politics and religion combine.
The point, however, that she made was a valid one. We do fail miserably when we allow organized religion—as opposed to real spiritual living—to dominate.
In our Gospel reading for today we find Jesus explaining that although he is about to depart from his followers—this coming Thursday we celebrate the feast of Jesus’ Ascension to heaven—he will not leave them alone. They will be left with the Advocate—the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit. He prefaces all of this with those words that quickly get swallowed up by the comments on the Spirit, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
And just to remind everyone, that command is, of course, “to love.” To love God. And to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is what it means to be the Church. To love. To serve. To be Christ to those who need Christ. To be a Christ of love and compassion and acceptance. Without boundaries. Without discrimination. When we forget this, when we fail to do this, we become the religious organization my novelist friend despairs against.
Of course, following these commandments of Jesus is not easy. It is hard. And because it is hard, we find ways, again and again to remind us how to practice this radical love.
We are doing so this morning. Today is Rogation Sunday. Rogation comes the Latin word “Rogare” which means “to ask.” Traditionally, on this Sunday, we heard the Gospel in which Jesus said,
"Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you".
Today, with our current lectionary of scripture readings, we actually find him saying, “”I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate…” From a very simple perspective, the thing we are asking today, on this Rogation Sunday, is to keep those commandments of Jesus.
Now for some of us, this whole idea of Rogation Sunday and the procession that we will soon be making outside at the conclusion of our Eucharist this morning might seem a bit too much. The fact is, it is something that has been done for centuries in our Anglican Tradition.
In the 1630s one of my all-time heroes (you hear me quote him and reference him often), Anglican priest and poet, George Herbert, commended these rogation processions. He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:
1. A Blessing of God for the fruits of the field.
2. Justice in the preservation of boundaries of those fields and properties.
3. Charity in loving, walking and neighborly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any.
4. Mercie, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largesse, which at the time is or ought to be used.
Now for us, as good city folk, we aren’t as concerned about the agricultural aspects of the Rogation blessing, at least not here at St. Stephen’s. But even here, in the city, we are thankful for our natural world.
It has been a long, hard winter. And this spring has left much to be desired. We have battled blizzards, snow and another particularly horrendous flood. But we are now enjoying the spring. The earth, that seemed so dead, so unforgiving, so bleak, is now alive.
What we are doing today is thanking God for this renewal. And we are asking God’s blessings on this growth. Because we are Christ to those who need Christ, we are asking that the blessings and abundance that come forth from this earth are shared with those who would not normally receive those blessings.
It’s not just a coincidence that Rogation Sunday falls within the Easter season. We are still in the Easter season. We are still celebrating that victory of Jesus’ resurrection, of how life does always win out over death. We Christians do know a few things about rebirth and renewal because we celebrate those themes every time we gather together and remember Jesus’ resurrection.
For us, modern Episcopalians, Rogation might mean something slightly different than it did for George Herbert. For us, we are reminded in our Rogation celebration that we are stewards of this natural world and we need to continue to be good stewards. We can not squander this natural world we have. But we have to preserve and respect it. We are also reminded that there is an inter-connectedness to the world around us. What happens in this natural world affects us—and affects us deeply, as we who live here in this part of the country know quite well. It is also a time for us to be mindful, as we always should, of relief of the poor. There are people who are not benefiting from the fruits of this earth. There are people who starving, who drinking unclean water, who are suffering from poverty and neglect, who are prey to insects carrying disease, who are suffering from famine and drought.
And there are people who are suffering from the affects of nature gone wild. There are people, this morning, who are homeless following the tornados that have been striking across the country. And there are people who mourning this morning for the loss of people in those storms.
Today, we are mindful of those facts. As you can see, the rallying themes of this Rogation time are hope and justice. And as George Herbert reminds us there is always room for charity.
As we process out at the end of the Eucharist today, I ask that you remember Jesus’ call to us, to love him and to keep his commandment of love. It is more than just sweet, religious talk. It is a challenge and a true calling to live out this love in radical ways. As we process, as we walk together, let us pay attention to this world around us. Let us ponder the causes and the effects of what it means to be inter-related—to be dependent upon on each to some extent, as we are on this earth. We do need each other. And we do need each other’s love. We do need that radical love that Jesus commands us to have.
With that love, we will truly love our neighbors as ourselves. Our neighbors are more than just those people who live next door to us. Our neighbors are all of us, those we do in fact love and those we have difficulty loving. And our neighbors also include this earth and all the inhabitants of it.
That command of Jesus is to love—to respect—those with whom we live and share this place. Let this procession today truly be a "living walking" as George Herbert put it. But let our whole lives as Christians be also a “living walk,” a mindful walk, a walk in which we see the world around with eyes of love and respect and justice and care.