A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sermon for 11 July 2010 - St. Thomas the Apostle

Good traveling requires equal parts of planning and inspiration. Planning, because we need to know where we're headed, what is our journey's destination. How are we going to get there? Personally, I like to study a bit and find out all I can, and what I'll want to see and do. Inspiration is important, because the best parts of a trip are the things that surprise us, the wrong turn that leads to a breathtaking vista. It also helps to know someone who is familiar with the destination, who has been there before, and can help us avoid some of the pitfalls and dangers inherent in travel.

As children we go to Grandmother's house, on family vacations, to our best friend's house, to church, and have even traveled to far off worlds in our imagination. "Remember what Bilbo used to say (in Tolkiens's Lord of the Ring): "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.""

Once, my parents planned a trip across much of the nation, up into Canada, back down the St. Lawrence Seaway, through Maine, eventually Virginia, and, what I was really excited about, to Washington, D.C. Leaving our hotel early in the morning, my sister and I half asleep, we made our way towards D.C., but after half an hour, we found ourselves circling back to where we started, we repeated this a number of times and couldn't figure out how to get to the Francis Scott Key Bridge and across the Potomic River. Now fully awake, my dreams of seeing the stately dome of the Nation's Capitol, teh mall and it's grand monuments were dashed. We were going to be stuck in the Commonwealth of Virginia forever. We could see the bridge, but we couldn't figure out how to get to it.

My Dad, with a look that said, "Brace yourselves", drove onto the railroad tracks circling the hotel, terrified, boom, ba-boom, we road the short distance to the bridge road, got back on the road and finally crossed over into the promised land. Why didn't we go back to the hotel and ask for directions? I don't know. We could have used the help of someone familiar with the area.

There are, of course, other journeys: the journey from child to adult, from young to old, from the comfort of home to finding our place in the world. There are paths of self-discovery and Christian rites of passage. At our baptismal adoption we are made heirs of a heavenly city and we are marked as God's own forever. We are given a passport that entitles us to begin anew, to enter the King's Highway - El Camino Real.

There is an ebb and flow to the Christian journey. We go up to the Temple Mount and back into the world. It is a daily pilgimage of prayer. It is a journey into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In Prayers For A Planetary Pilgrim, we pray with the poet, "I bow before you, Divine Father, Holy Mother, Eternal Source of my existance. Your heart is my home, from you I have come and to you I journey this day."

This journey is exciting, for by turns and rises we can glimpse the domes of the Celestial City, the City of Shalom, that new Jerusalem of peace and joy in God's presence. But like the mountain that seems so close, it is further away than we first thought. We descend into valleys of dryness in prayer and only by grace can we make the steep ascent to that Golden Gate. We enter this gate with thanksgiving and God's courts with praise.

But soon enough, obligations require us to go back into the world, back to work. Refreshed, we begin our steep descent to Jericho, and, here, we meet up with today's Gospel lesson. It says that robbers surprise us. They strip us of our dignity, the honor due to every child of God regardless of color, education or national origin; we are attacked by unkindness, petty jealousy and spite, lack of hospitality, shelter, and sufficient food.

We are mentally and emotionally beaten down by economic insecurity, under-employment, injustices, sickness and unbearable loss. Next is the hardest blow, people we trust the most, the priest - church leader, a particular family member, our dearest friend, sometimes even our helpmate that promised to be there for life, leave us. We have even been our own enemy and have hurt our soul by sin. We are left for dead, feeling alone and vulnerable.

Now comes the Samaritan we call "Good". This Samaritan, an outcast, who in a sermon preached by Martin Luther, is of course our Lord Jesus Christ who shows love to both God and his neighbor: "Toward God, in that he was obedient to him, came down from heaven and became man, and thus fulfilled the will of the Father; toward his neighbor, in that he immediately after his baptism began to preach, to do wonders, to heal the sick. And in short, he did no work that centered in himself alone, but all his acts centered in his neighbor."

Jesus, loving with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, is moved to pity for our condition. Not stopping to question the cost, he binds our wounds, annoints us and heals us body and soul. He stands vigil and arranges for our basic necessities - shelter, food, clothing.

The incarnate Jesus gives us the "posada" or shelter he and his family were once refused, the one who fasted, feeds us with his own body and redeeming blood and clothes us with his own righteousness. Knowing the immensity of God's love for us, knowing healing of body and soul, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God, we can begin again. In Communion our strength renews. Find warmth by telling the story of our rescue and redemption, like those on the Emmaus road, hear Jesus speak through Moses and the prophets, and in the breaking of bread eyes will be opened.

We must see Christ in all his creation - reflections of a loving God in every person we meet. Out of an over-abundance of love, we, without even thinking, reach out in love. Like a certain Belgian Priest volunteering to serve the Leprosarium on Molokai, our hand goes out without us knowing, in an impulse reverberating the love of Christ from the cross.

Last year in early November, a vast number of Pilgrims ventured to Rome for Damien's Canonization, including a small contingent from St. Thomas the Apostle - Hollywood. The day after Blessed Damian was named Saint, there was a special Mass at St. Paul's Outside the Walls. At the peace I turned to the person closest to me and naturally reached out to give peace. I looked down and was horrified. The man in the wheelchair, about to clasp my hand, was a patient from the colony at Molokai, a leper. Honestly, there was an impulse to pull away, but looking into his eyes, I saw him. I saw Jesus bracing for rejection, the pulling away of hands would signal that he is still an outcast, somehow unclean, and unworthy of love.

Still looking into his eyes, I clasped his rough hand and hugged him. We felt peace. We both experienced healing and were made whole. Strangely, roles reversed. I became the embraced. Let's make our homes in the heart of Jesus, fully warmed in His love, so that they never grow cold and callous to the needs of our neighbor.

What must I do to inherit eternal life? The answer lies in following the path our Lord walked. St. Augustine expounds in a happy paradox that "not by journeying but by loving we draw nigh unto God. To Him who is everywhere present and everywhere entire we approach not by our feet but by our hearts". The first Psalm puts it like this, "Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers." Therefore avoid the uninformed or mean-spirited advice of those that argue over exactly who is our neighbor. If we can find the face of Jesus in the Leper, we can find it in ourselves and others. Do not take those paths that lead you and, by your example, others further from active loving, instead, delight in the law of the Lord and on his law of love meditate day and night.

You will know you are on the right path when you are thinking of others first before thinking of yourself. Then you will be like trees firmly planted by streams of life giving water, and you will yield the fruit of righteousness. Your leaves will not wither. All that is done in Love's holy name will prosper and you will be given the laurel crown of everlasting life adorned with every good deed.