Sunday, August 26, 2012

13 Pentecost

August 26, 2012

Ephesians 43.15-22; John 6.56-69

+ Every since I was about fourteen years old, I have a strange fascination. And it is a strange one. Back then, people thought it was pretty weird. No, it’s not a fascination with science fiction or even poetry or, God forbid, sports. No, my fascination back when I was fourteen was with and still is with monasticism. I love anything to do with monasteries and monks and nuns and all that interesting things. I find it fascinating that people are called by God to devote their entire lives—their day-in and day-out lives, to God. My interested in monasticism has led me to visit many monasteries in my life. And it lead me to actually be a kind of non-monastic associate at one.

This past August 13 was a momentous day in my life. On August 13, I celebrated the twentieth anniversary of my oblation as an Oblate of St. Benedict. This, of course, is one of the most important things I have ever done in my life—right up there with my baptism and my ordinations to the Diaconate and Priesthood.

An Oblate, for those of you who might not know what one is, is a person who makes promises at a particular Benedictine monastery, promising to follow the Rule of St. Benedict while associating with a monastery. Sadly enough, I am an Oblate without a monastery at the moment, because the monastery at which I was an Oblate—Blue Cloud Abbey—closed earlier this month.

But, when I made oblation on that day in 1992, I promised to “offer myself to Almighty God as a Benedictine Oblate and I promised to serve God and all people according to the Rule of St. Benedict.”

As I said, that day in 1992 was a very important day to me. In some many ways my identity as a Christian was formed, hand-in-hand, with my identity as a Benedictine. And I think this was St. Benedict’s intention all along.

The Rule of St. Benedict, that all Benedictines strive to follow, whether professed members of religious communities or those of us “out here” in the world, is essentially a down-to-earth, structured way of living out the Gospel. I have been amazed many times over these last twenty years by how many times the Rule of Benedict has surprised me and delighted me in new and innovative ways—even after I thought I knew for sure everything there was to know about the Rule and how to apply it in my own life. And I have found it especially very effective in my pastoral ministry as well.

Certainly for all of us here at St. Stephen’s who practice our sort of “rule” of “Radical Hospitality,” we find that hospitality rooted very solidly in the Rule of St. Benedict, wherein St. Benedict admonishes Benedictines to receive everyone as Christ himself. Very radical, even now. And that is, very much, what we do here at St. Stephen’s.

Another very important aspect of Benedictine spirituality is one that has been very beneficially spiritually to me. It’s called Lectio Divina. Lectio is nothing more than a prayerful reading of Scripture. As one monk I heard once described it, “Lectio is the prayerful reading of Scripture, meditating on the message, and asking how it can be applied to my own life at this time.”

In other words, Lectio allows God to speak to us, though the Word. It allows the Word to guide us and direct us where we are at this moment in our journey. It is a powerful prayer experience and once that has yielded countless joys and surprises in my own spiritual life.

For Jesus’ followers, as they lived with him, they had their own form of lectio to some extent. They too lived and mediated on his Word. And in doing so, they recognized what that Word meant to them. These were words not of just any teacher, any wise counselor. These words carried something more, something substantial to them. This Word they heard coming from Jesus’ mouth was not the voice of an ordinary man, but of God.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find Simon Peter answering that question of Jesus, “Do you wish to go away?” with strangely poetic and vibrant words.

Peter asks, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

For all of us as followers of Jesus, the Word (which we find contained in scripture) is essential. It not only directs our lives, it sustains us, and feeds us and keeps us buoyant in the floods and tempests that rage about us. The Word is the place to which go when we need direction, when we need comfort, when we need hope. The Word is essential to us because, through it, God speaks to us. The Word is essential to us because it is there that we hear Jesus directing us and leading us forward.

The irony for me, however, is most poignant when I listen to those detractors who use the Word in such cutting ways. We of course hear them all the time. People who use scripture to support their homophobia or their political beliefs or their condemnation of others.

I have always warned parishioners and students to be careful of using Scripture as a sword, because, I say: remember. It is a two-edged sword. If you use the Word to cut others, trust me: it will come back and it cut you as well. However, if we use the Word to affirm, to build up the Kingdom of God, if we allow the Word to be, in our lives, the voice of Christ, then we in turn are affirmed.

As Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we heard this morning: “take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

That sword of the Spirit is an amazing weapon. It is a powerful device that carries more strength and influence than any of us probably fully realize. And because it is so powerful, we need to use carefully.

We need to use not in anger, not in hatred, not in oppression, but in love. When we wield this sword in love, we find love being sown. When we wield this sword in compassion, we spread compassion. When we wield this sword to shatter injustice and oppression, we find justice and freedom. When we wield this sword as a way to clear the way for the Kingdom of God, we find that we too become a part of that building up of the Kingdom.

We too are able to clearly hear Jesus’ voice in our lives. Those words of eternal life that Jesus speaks to us again and again in scripture truly do break down barriers, build up those marginalized and shunned and, in doing so, we find the Kingdom of God in our midst.

When a Benedictine monk or nun makes a profession of vows they pray a wonderful prayer. Their prayer is: “Accept me, Lord, according to your word, and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”

I love that.

“Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”

This is our prayer as well.

“Accept me, Lord, according to your word, and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”

We too have prayed to be accepted according to God’s Word. The sword of the Spirit has swiped the veil of separation from us and has made us one. And none of us, in this oneness, in this kingdom of God in our midst, is disappointed in our expectation.

When all are seen as one, when all are accepted, then our expectation will be fulfilled. But we need to keep listening, to keep straining our ears for Jesus’ words to us. We need to keep listening so God can speak to us—so the Word can speak to us and through us. When God speaks to us, we respond. When the Word comes to us, we then need to engage it. This is what prayer is—holy conversation.

And as the Word is spoken to us, as we hear it and feel it, our response is the same as those who heard the Word spoken to them by Jesus.

“Yes, Lord, you have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

So let us hear those words of eternal life. Let us embody that Word in our lives. Let is share that Word through the good we do in this world. And when we do, people will know. People will know who we follow. People will know that the Word we embody in our very lives is the Word that the Holy One of God.

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