Sunday, September 22, 2019

15 Pentecost

September 22, 2019

Amos 8.4-7;1 Timothy 2.1-7; Luke 16.1-13

+ Today of course is one of those wonderful days. We get to celebrate. We celebrate our new bell tower. We celebrate our new bell—Hildegard. And we get to celebrate Hildegard too.

Here she is—this is her icon, which belongs to Sandy Holbrook. First, about our bell.

Over the past several months, we have heard a lot about our bell. A LOT. Maybe too much (but that’s all right). After all, this is not some frivolous thing we are adding to our church. It is not decoration or some “busy” thing. It is not. Nor is our altar. Not are our stations. Nor is anything else we use for sacred worship. To term these as “busy” is to demean authentic and traditional ways of giving glory to God.   

A bell in a church is a truly holy and beautiful addition.  This bell will be rung joyfully before out Masses and our worship services. It will be rung in celebration after marriages here. It will be tolled solemnly at the burial of our loved ones. And us.

In the Eastern Orthodox church bells are consider “aural (as in audible) ikons.” I like that image very much. What the icon, like this one of St. Hildegard, is to our eyes, so the bell is to our hearing.  So, in a sense, the bell is a singing icon.  It is allows us to glimpse in a very clear and tangible way the holy and mysterious that exists just on the other side of the veil that separates us from God and those who dwell with God.  

And it is no coincidence that the service we just did of blessing, anointing and naming the bell is very similar to the baptismal service.  That, also, is a very Orthodox tradition.

I recently read this account of bells in Russia.

“Up until the Soviet period Moscow was famous for its thousands of bells whose sounds reverberated across the city and far into the country. The Soviets were quite serious in their destruction of church bells and bell ringing was forbidden by law. Thousands of tons of sanctified and chrismated…church bells were destroyed and melted into industrial materials including weapons of war, the reverse of turning swords into plough shears.”

Whenever we are tempted to roll our eyes at the ringing of our bell, or whenever we forget the importance of bells in the church and the sound of bells before worship, remember the Christians in Russia for whom these very same issues were seen as threatening to those in authority. May we acknowledge our “singing icon” this bell, Hildegard, is a defiant force in the often defiant presence that is St. Stephen’s.

Just as St. Hildegard herself was a defiant force.   

Now, as you read in the newsletter and have heard me talk about incessantly since, it has long been a Christian tradition to name a bell after a saint. In England, they have named bells after saints since early Christianity. And it very much an Anglican tradition to do. As my seminary, Nashotah House, the bell in the middle of campus which rings the Angelus and calls to prayer is called “Michael” after St. Michael the Archangel.

Well, our new bell, given to us graciously by Dinah Stephens in memory of her children Jada and Scott and her mother Marian, is named, very appropriately Hildegard, after the great St. Hildegard of Bingen. (Or, as Michael Eklund said, “Hildegard of Ringin’”)

St. Hildegard was a German Benedictine nun, a mystic. She was also a great musician, which is also another reason why she is the namesake for our bell.

But the real reasons she was chosen as the patron saint of our bell is because she was quite the force to be reckoned with. And let me tell you, St. Hildegard would’ve loved St. Stephen’s and all it stands for. She would fit in very well here.  Though, to be honest, we probably would’ve gotten a bit frustrated with her at times.

At a time when women were not expected to speak out, to challenge, to stand up—well, Hildegard most definitely did that. She was an Abbess, she was in charge of a large monastery of women, and as such she held a lot of authority. An abbess essentially had as much authority in her monastery as a Bishop had in his diocese.  She even was able to have a crosier—the curved shepherd’s crook—that is normally reserved for a bishop.

And she definitely put Bishops and kings in their place. There is a very famous story that when the emperor, Fredrick Barbarossa supported three of the anti-popes who were ruling in Avignon at that time, she wrote him a letter.

My dear Emperor,

You must take care of how you act.
I see you are acting like a child!!
You live an insane, absurd life before God.
There is still time, before your judgment comes.

Yours truly,

That is quite the amazing thing for a woman to have done in her day. Even more amazing is that the emperor heeded her letter.  And as a result of that letter, she was invited by the Emperor to hold court in his palace.

By “judgement” here, Hildegard is making one thing clear in her letter. There are consequences to our actions. And God is paying attention.

For us, we could say it in a different way. If you know me for any period of time, you will hear me say one phrase over and over again, at least regarding our actions.  That phrase is  

“The chickens always come home to roost.”

And it’s true.

One of the things so many of us have had to deal with in our lives are people who have not treated us well, who have been horrible to us, who have betrayed us and turned against us.  It’s happened to me, and I know it’s happened to many of you. It is one of the hardest things to have to deal with, especially when it is someone we cared for or loved or respected.  In those instances, let’s face it, sometimes it’s very true.

“The chickens do come home to roost.” 

Or at least, we hope they do.

Essentially what this means is that what goes around, comes around.

We reap what we sow.

There are consequences to our actions.

And I believe that to be very true.

And not just for others, who do those things to us. But for us, as well. When we do something bad, when we treat others badly, when gossip about people, or trash people behind their backs, who disrespect people in any way, we think those things don’t hurt anything. And maybe that’s true. Maybe it will never hurt them. Maybe it will never get back to them.

But, we realize, it always, always hurts us. And when we throw negative things out there, we often have to deal with the unpleasant consequences of those actions. I know because I’ve been there. I’ve done it.

But there is also a flip side to that. And there is a kind of weird, cosmic justice at work.

Now, for us followers of Jesus, such concepts of “karma” might not make as much sense. But today, we get a sense, in our scriptures readings, of a kind of, dare I say, Christian karma.

Jesus’ comments in today’s Gospel are very difficult for us to wrap our minds around.  But probably the words that speak most clearly to us are those words,

“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful in much.”

Essentially, Jesus is telling us this simple fact: what you do matters.  There are consequences to our actions. There are consequences in this world.  And there are consequences in our relation to God.

How we treat each other as followers of Jesus and how we treat others who might not be followers of Jesus. How we treat people who might not have the same color skin as we do, or who are a different gender than us, or how we treat someone who are a different sexual orientation from our own.  What we do to those people who are different than us matters.

It matters to them. And, let me tell you, it definitely matters to God.

We have few options, as followers of Jesus, when it comes to being faithful.

We must be faithful.  Faithful yes in a little way that brings about great faithfulness. So, logic would tell us, any increase of faithfulness will bring about even greater faithfulness.

Faithfulness in this sense means being righteous.  And righteousness means being right before God.

Jesus is saying to us that the consequences are the same if we choose the right path or the wrong path.  A little bit of right, will reap much right.  But  a little bit of wrong, reaps much wrong.

Jesus is not walking that wrong path, and if we are his followers, then we are not following him when we step onto that wrong path.   Wrongfulness is not our purpose as followers of Jesus.  We cannot follow Jesus and willfully—mindfully—practice wrongfulness.  If we do, let me tell you, the chickens come home to roost.

We must strive—again and again—in being faithful.

Faithful to God.

Faithful to one another.

Faithful to those who need us.

Faithful to those who need someone.

Being faithful takes work.

When we see wrong—and we all do see wrong—we see it around us all the time—our job in cultivating faithfulness means counteracting wrongfulness.  If there are actions and reactions to things, our reaction to wrongfulness should be faithfulness and righteousness.

Now that seems hard.  And, you know what, it is.  But it is NOT impossible.   What we do, does matter. It matters to us. And it matters to God. We must strive to be good.  

Look, Hildegard is waving her finger at us. She is saying to us, “Do good! God is watching!”

Those good actions are actions each of us as followers of Jesus are also called to cultivate and live into.

As Christians, we are called to not only to ignore or avoid wrongfulness.  We are called to confront it and to counter it.  Hildegard did it when she wrote Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.  And we too should do it.  We are called to offer faithfulness in the face of wrongfulness.

So, let us do just that in all aspects of our lives.  

Let us be, like our bell, Hildegard, an “aural icon,” a loud, noisy icon, drowning out the forces of wrongfulness in this world.

Let us offer kindness and generosity and hope and truth and forgiveness and  joy and love and goodness, again and again and again whenever we are confronted with all those forces of wrongfulness.  

Let us offer light in the face of darkness.  

Let us strive, again and again, to do good, even in small ways.

For in doing so, we will be faithful in much.

“For surely I will not forget any of their deeds,” God says in our reading from Amos today.

What we do matters. God does not forget the good we do in this world. We should rejoice in that fact.

God does not forget the good we do.   What we do makes a difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

So let us, as faithful followers of Jesus, strive, always to truly “lead a…peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”

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