17B Mark 7:1-8, 14-15,21-23 "Revelation," Flannery O'Connor, Pharisees, and Mary Grace, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, AR, September 1, 2018

17B Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. “Revelation,” Flannery O’Connor, Pharisees, and Mary Grace

September 1, 2018 St. Mark’s Joanna Seibert

The Pharisees and some of the scribes, the religious leaders of the day, have heard about Jesus/ and have come all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee to see him for the first time/ up close and personal. Jesus is already suspect since he left his steady job in Nazareth to roam the countryside with no visible means of support except from a few women. HMMM… OOOH, right away they eye him not following the law, disobeying the purity codes, no hand washing. Oh goodness, there is more. “Also, many other traditions,” not washing the cups and saucers. They don’t hesitate to question Jesus, and in return he comes right back with scripture from one of his favorite parts of the Hebrew Bible. “Isaiah wrote about you hypocrites. You honor and worship God with your lips, but your heart is far from God. You honor your own traditions, not God’s commandments.” Then Jesus gets really fired up describing that it is not what goes into a person, but it is what comes out. It is about what happens when the outside touches the human heart inside of us/ and whether we respond with love and peace or we respond with one of the twelve evil intentions he describes. I suspect we all are pretty familiar with at least a few of them. /

Perhaps if Jesus wanted to tell a parable today to teach us about “honoring God with our lips, but defiling him with our hearts, he might send to our computer’s “in box,” Flannery O’Conner’s last short story, “Revelation,” for our required reading this Labor Day weekend. I will entice you with the story’s cliff notes.

The scene opens in the waiting room of a doctor's office in the South, where a smug Ruby Turpin is chatting amiably with another woman who is a stranger to her, as Ruby surveys the room and sizes up the other people seated around her. (Her name Turpin, reminding us of turpentine, may give us a clue about her real personality.) A gospel hymn plays on the office radio, “When I looked up, and He looked down.” The woman Ruby talks to/ sits near her overweight homely daughter, Mary Grace, whose face is blue with acne. Mary Grace also is reading a thick blue book. She is home from a school in the north called Wellesley College.

(I hope you are paying attention to the names of the characters and O’Connor’s description of the them, Turpin, Mary Grace, blue.)

Mrs. Turpin feels a tremendous degree of self-satisfaction regarding her own position in the world/ and in this doctor’s waiting room. Her caste classification boils down to race and ownership of land. Since she and her husband Claud own a house and a little land to raise pigs on, she considers herself obviously superior to people who own only a house. And since she is white, she considers herself superior to any blacks, regardless of how much property they own. But after this her classification system breaks down. She cannot decide what to do with people who have a lot of money but are common,/ or those who have "good blood" but have lost their money and have to rent. What she is really thinking, however, is how could anybody in any way be superior to Mrs. Turpin?

Inevitably Ruby Turpin's reflections break into speech; she joyfully says, "If it's one thing I am, it's grateful. When I think who all I could have been/ besides myself/ and what all I got, /I just feel like shouting, 'Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!' It could have been different!... Oh, thank you, Jesus, thank you!"

 At that moment Mary Grace apparently can no longer tolerate this self-congratulatory blather and hurls her blue book, which happens to be called Human Development, /at Mrs. Turpin, hitting her over the left eye. Mary Grace then lurches across the waiting room and lunges for her throat. Mary Grace is subdued and falls into some kind of fit. Mrs. Turpin leans over her and "the girl's eyes stop rolling." At this point Mrs. Turpin asks her, "What have you got to say to me?" Mary Grace answers as she is carried from the waiting room to a psychiatric hospital, "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog!" /

Mrs. Turpin finds this comment very unsettling, and she wonders if it may be some message from God, who may be trying to intervene in her life. "How," she asks God later, "am I both a hog and me? How am I both saved and from hell?"

In O'Connor's world-view, however, both of these things are perfectly consistent. O'Connor believes that Mrs. Turpin is indeed a hog, just like the ones she raises, who live in a pig-parlor where their feet never touch the ground. And simultaneously, Mrs. Turpin is saved because everyone is entitled to God’s saving grace. That Mrs. Turpin is neat and clean, pleasant to the black workers, and volunteers time at her church is nice, but it is not what entitles her to God’s grace; God’s grace is offered freely to all: prostitutes, tax collectors, poor and well to do blacks and whites. Remember that the harbinger of this message in O’Connor’s story is named Mary Grace.

  Still anxious, Ruby Turpin returns home. While working on her farm she questions God out loud. As she contemplates the "message" God has sent her, she has a vision of the souls of the characters from the waiting room walking up to Heaven. “There were whole companies of those who are dirt poor, /clean for the first time/ and bands of blacks in white robes,/ and battalions of people she considers freaks and the lowest dregs of society shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end, the rear of the procession is a tribe of people like herself and Claud who have always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. ..They are marching at the end of the line, behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone sing on key. Yet she can see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues are being burned away.” Ruby Turpin is at the end of the line, but she and all the souls are shouting Hallelujah.////

There is of course one difference between Mrs. Turpin and the Pharisees and the scribes. When Ruby Turpin has “the book thrown at her” she stops/ and turns around in her mind to see if there is a message. The Greek word is metanoia, to turn around, to repent. We know from later on in our story that most of the Pharisees and scribes never turn around, repent. They will only look for a way to destroy the messenger. Jesus’ message of change is too painful. The message is outside of the box of their tradition, now human tradition. They have forgotten the essence of God’s commandment of love and grace open equally to all, to everyone. Period./

My experience is that there are people in our lives today at church, the workplace, at home, at school, on the streets who are speaking to us about changes we need to make in our spiritual and physical lifestyles,/ our addictions,/ our prejudices,/ the things that come out of our mouths that defile us,/ but we, like the Pharisees, fail to listen to them. The message may be too painful, or we do not see the messengers as persons of authority, because we are superior to them because of our education, our wealth, our social standing, our race, or the land of our birth. Each of us will have the opportunity this week to encounter Mary Grace and her blue book of Human Development./

O’Connor says Mary Grace may not be pretty. Mark says Mary Grace will not be the authority figure we are accustomed to hearing. Mary Grace may not wash her hands. Mary Grace may not be able to sing on tune or even speak our language. She may be someone we would unconsciously consider beneath us.

Brother L’Esperance from the Society of St. John the Evangelist writes that “Revelation is not a far-off event that happened in some by-gone time. Revelation is something that is happening in the here and now.

 Right here, today.” //

And we are just at the right place today at St. Mark’s! This week a multitude of events will begin  that can bring revelation, a new way of life. There is  a retreat Saturday with Barbara Crafton,  also the catechumenate program, EfM, and most especially the five-week parish wide spiritual tune-up during  the formation hour where adults and children will meet St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century monk who developed simple tools that have connected men and women for centuries to a personal God. /

I pray that in these coming weeks we like Ruby Turpin will have a “revelation,/ a revelation” and will look Mary Grace directly in the eye,/ attempt to sit a little closer to her in the waiting room of our hearts/ and if possible,/ ask her to tell us a little more about God’s plan for Human Development/ so that we can keep singing Hallelujah/ with her/ in tune/ or out of tune.

 

Flannery O’Connor, “Revelation,” The Complete Stories, 448-509, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 1989.

Karen Bernardo, “Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Revelation,' Storybites. 2018.

 “The Eyes Have it, Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Revelation,’ William Andrews,  The Literature of the American South, A Norton Anthology,  Norton 1998

Br. Rovert L’Esperance, “Revelation, Society of Saint John the Evangelist, ssje.org  Daily Email.

Joanna joannaseibert.com

14 B John 6:35, 41-51 Babette's Feast, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church

14B John 6: 35, 41-51

Gulf Shores, Alabama,  Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, August 12, 2018

Babette’s Feast

“Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”’/ Today’s gospel is about an alternative kind of spiritual food,/ a new experience of love,/ and a different form of sacrifice. Amy Jill Levine refers to the parables as Jesus’ short stories. This is my favorite short story of food, generosity, love, and sacrifice that I think is a modern parable Jesus might use for  today’s gospel.

Hallelujah! This one word is repeated over and over again by an elderly villager in Isak Dinesan’s short story, Babette’s Feast. The Danish movie received the Academy Award in 1986 for Best Foreign Film. The story takes place in a remote Jut(hut)land community in western Denmark. Babette, a refuge from the 1871 civil war in Paris arrives mysteriously one night to be the housekeeper and cook for two aging sisters, Martina and Phil/i/ppa. She is sent there by Philippa’s former singing coach who wanted Philippa to become an operatic star. Both pious sisters have given up their own lives and loves to carry on the puritanical ministry of their deceased father in this small costal settlement. Their father was the founder of a religious sect based on a return to Reformation principles. Martina was named for Martin Luther and Philippa for Luther’s friend, Philip Melanchthon.  

As the years pass, Babette’s only French connection is a lottery ticket that a relative renews for her each year. And you guessed it, after twelve years in exile she wins the French lottery, a prize of ten thousand francs. At the same time the sisters are planning a simple celebration with the remaining congregation on the hundredth anniversary of their father’s birth. Babette surprises the sisters by offering to prepare “a real French dinner” for the event with some of her money. The two sisters live to serve others; they are unacquainted with being served. The exchange between the sisters and Babette is an icon illuminating the generosity of God and our response to that generosity. The sisters reluctantly agree. /

Since their charismatic father’s death, the congregation has become joyless. Old quarrels and fears have resurfaced. One woman constantly nags a man about whether God will forgive them a sin of their youth. The old hymns they sing fail to bring any sense of comfort or fellowship. The sisters’ devotion to the community is no longer appreciated. What is ultimately lacking in this remote congregation is grace. Their religion has become abstract, remote, a set of brittle orthodoxies rather than a living faith, not unlike the religion of the Jews questioning Jesus in today’s gospel.

 Soon the sisters become alarmed as they grasp the scope of Babette’s plans when boatloads of supplies arrive from Paris, a live turtle, quail, exotic wines. As Babette begins her elaborate preparations, the sisters fear they have led their congregation to a Satanic Sabbath by a sorcerer.  They meet with the group and decide they will eat the meal, but they will pretend they have lost their sense of taste. They will make no comment on the delicacies they have never seen or eaten before,/ pretending they are eating their usual diet of bread-mush and boiled cod. They will subtly  reject the gift./

 Soon it is apparent in our story that Babette has become a vessel for the incarnation, for grace itself. Her meal is both a feast and a sacrifice; and, like a sacrament, it has an efficacious effect. Martina, Philippa and the others come to the elaborate dinner in their staunch plainness. The feast table is resplendent with silver candles, fancy serviettes, sparkling china./ A last minute guest, General Lorens Loewenholm, who does not know about the “no response pact,”  also is resplendent in his Swedish cavalry officer’s uniform. He tastes the first wine to be served, the Amontillado./ “The finest wine I have ever tasted!” he says. Next come real turtle soup and Blinis Demidoff, thin pancakes with caviar and sour cream. At the general's astonished exclamation of “incredible!” the other diners sit quietly eating and drinking with the same blank, disinterested expressions they have had every day for thirty years. One of the women tastes the vintage champagne and innocently, wonderfully describes it as a kind of lemonade./  The finest wine is poured for each course. The main course is Cailles en sarcophages,/ truffle stuffed quails in their pastry shell coffins. Hmmm. Were quail served at another feast some years earlier in another wilderness with another delicacy called manna? In typical French style the next course is salad, then cheese, cake, exotic fruit, brandy and finally coffee. //

Too much food for 9 am!

 But the meal works mysteriously on the guests in unexpected ways. Some reminisce about their absent master, making the feast a true memorial meal./ But our fortuitous military guest, Lorens,/ Martina’s former lover, perceives the meal, and the hand behind it, for what it is,/ just as the disciples on the Emmaus road came to recognize the Lord in the breaking of bread.

As you have guessed, Babette formerly owned a famous Paris restaurant. Lorens recounts from memory only one comparable meal, years ago in Paris, prepared by someone with the “ability to transform a dinner into a love affair that makes no distinction between bodily and spiritual appetite.”

As the extravagant celebration works its transformation, the polarities begin to blur; the distance between seemingly opposites fades. Bitterness is replaced by sweet exchanges. Phil/ippa sings with an angelic voice; the company silently, peacefully listens,/ feeling, remembering./ Martina and Lorens gaze lovingly at each other;/ the other two diners who agonized over a past elicit relationship kiss; other conflicts are touched and resolved.

The concluding highlight of the story is the General’s speech. He expresses the Pastor’s words spoken so long ago, illuminated now for all. “Mercy and truth, my friends, have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.”

Babette finally reveals to the sisters that she is indeed the famous chef of the Cafe Anglais - an artist who longs to express her creative genius. She tells them that the cost of the dinner was all of the ten thousand francs. She is now poor. The village and the people are her home forever.1,2,3

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

Today’s gospel is about another heavenly banquet, the Holy Eucharist. It is about another feast by the one who gave all that we too might be transformed, that we might know in our minds as well as our hearts the great love of God for each of us, so that we might have new life today, the beginning of eternal life. This modern story of love and sacrifice was Babette’s own version of the Eucharist, illustrating the life changing transformation, our own transfiguration that can occur when we partake of this sacrificial meal of grace and love, remembering…remembering….remember. Frederick Buechner writes that there are two ways of remembering. We go back from the present into the past. We are back with our spouse on our wedding day./ The second is to call the dead past up to the present. We remember those we loved who have died, our spouse, our mother, our grandmother or grandfather and we feel them beside us. This is what Jesus means when he later says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” ( 1 Corinthians 11:24). The Eucharist is not a nostalgic trip. It is a real presence of Jesus that we are called to bring up.4 This is what happened at Babette’s Feast. What returned from the past to the present was love, joy, reconciliation. The same joy and celebration and love are offered here at this very table.  Come; let us now partake of God’s Feast. Hallelujah!  

1Robert A. Flanagan, Babette’s Feast: The Generosity of God, Jacob's Well, Spring/Summer, 1998.

2Steven D. Greydanus, Babette’s Feast, Vatican film list, 1987.

3Valerie O’Connell, Babette’s Feast, a review.

4Frederick Buechner, “Memory,”  Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words, Frederick Buechner Quote of the Day, August 1, 2018.

Feast Day of Joseph of Arimathaea 12 step Eucharist St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock

 Homily on Feast Day of Joseph of Arimathaea at 12 Step Eucharist

August 1, 2018, Luke 23:50-56

12 step Eucharist St. Mark’s Episcopal Church

Today is the feast day of Joseph of Arimathaea. “He was a good and righteous man… and had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.”  That’s us!! I think we all are here tonight because we are waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God and are hoping to find some part of it right here in this very chapel,/ a  very thin place, filled with the prayers of thousands before us. We have much in common with Joseph of Arimathaea.

“He did not agree to their plan and action.” But what did he do about it? did he speak up for Jesus? There is no record that anyone testified on Jesus’ behalf. We are like Joseph of Arimathaea. We see injustice and wrongdoings in the lives of others and ourselves, but we often do not speak up against them./ We fear what might happen to us. W fear the consequences of speaking out./ We fear what we do or say might be offensive and hurt someone, or heaven forbid, we would become unpopular.

But then a transformation occurs, what we might call, a moment of clarity. Joseph personally goes to Pilate. What bravery. He asks for Jesus’ body, personally takes the nails out of Jesus’ hands and feet, washes off the blood from his head, his hands his feet, his side, his back, wraps the body in a linen cloth and lays it presumably in his own tomb./

Are we Joseph of Arimathaea? Is there a point where we can no longer live our lives with a mask? We no longer pretend to go along with the old crowd. We look inside ourselves and speak our truth and act on it.

 A  fictional modern-day Joseph might be Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer in 1932 Alabama in To Kill a Mockingbird. He unsuccessfully defends Tom Robinson the black man accused of raping a white woman.

Another modern-day Joseph of Arimathaea is Rosa Parks, the black seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama who decides one day she is too tired to walk to the back of the bus and changes the course of civil rights.

And of course, there are those in 12 step Recovery who one day decide they can no longer live this way/ and take off their mask of perfection and a secret lifestyle/ and admit they have a problem/ and seek help/ and in turn help others.  Think about it. We who are gathered to celebrate this 12 step Eucharist know what it is like to be Joseph of Arimathea. I think there is a Joseph of Arimathaea inside of each of you, making a stand, changing the way we have been relating to ourselves,/ to God, / and to the world.

Joanna joannaseibert.com

 

Do not be Afraid 12 B John 6:1-21 St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, July 29, 2018 Joanna Seibert

 Do not be Afraid 12 B St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Little Rock, July 29, 2018

Jesus says, “’It is I: do not be afraid.’ Then the disciples wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

I well remember the times I delivered information bringing fear to people who previously had joy. Part of my medical practice was performing OB ultrasounds. Most examinations were joyful, pointing out the precious parts of that developing baby, the heart beating, the tiny hands often in the baby’s mouth, the kicking legs, and lastly the private parts  that would determine the right color to be painted in the nursery. Rarely we found abnormalities. The hope was that this would alert new parents and their physicians to complications that needed addressing immediately after delivery. But as we followed these mothers and their babies, at each examination I saw increasing fear and anxiety about the future. I saw families now living in fear. Many abnormalities were minor, but for months parents met with other physicians to discuss the worst-case scenario about their expected child. There were exceptions, and we did find life threatening abnormalities,/ but they were less frequent than the minor problems that caused so much fear during a time already full of great anxiety.

Jesus says, “It is I: do not be afraid.”

Our communication system is excellent, but it seems more and more to be fear based. Fear has become the tactic to get more viewers, more listeners, more readers. “Stay tuned to the weather tonight. A storm may be approaching from the west.” We don’t pay attention to the political scene unless “breaking news” comes across our screen. With few exceptions, more than 90% of newscasts are about what is wrong in our city and world,/ robberies, murders, political fighting and corruption. Imagine again that tiny baby in the mother’s womb. If he or she could hear and understand today’s news, do you think they would want to come into our world after hearing the nightly news!/ This information is important, but our lives are being dominated by weather and crimes and politics on the local and national news.  This is what people talk about in “shops and at tea.”

Jesus says, “It is I: do not be afraid.”

Perhaps some of you will remember the first week of the swine flu or H1N1 pandemic in 2009? In our country, sports events, schools, conferences were canceled in states where no confirmed cases were reported when only 141 unconfirmed cases of the flu were reported in our entire country. The most ridiculous reaction was the killing of hundreds of thousands of pigs in Egypt. The country had no cases of the flu, and the flu is not transmitted to humans by pigs even though it is called Swine Flu.

Jesus says, “It is I: do not be afraid.”

A group I once worked with only talked for a whole year about how we had no money, could do no programs, might not make salaries.  Our staff meetings were fear based, dominated by the half empty glass, pessimistic thinking. At year’s end, we had a substantial surplus left over in the budget. Some might say we had the overage because we lived so frugally, but I cannot express how depressing and filled with negative paralyzing energy that year was. It was hard to see Jesus leading us in that workplace.

Jesus says, “It is I: do not be afraid.”

I have also had the privilege of working with people of vision who could see opportunities and steppingstones instead of stumbling blocks. My husband and I came to Little Rock in 1976 to help develop the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. We were the first physicians in our specialties. I remember well the people on the ACH board with vision and hope. Many of them were Episcopalians, Mary Hodges’ father, Ed Penick’s brother, Sissie Brandon’s husband, Charlie Whiteside, and later Diane Mackey. If they had been fear based about the lack of funds at Arkansas Children’s Hospital we might today still have a 20 bed children’s hospital with a girls and boys ward.//

The words “fear not” or “do not be afraid” are repeated in almost every book of the Bible.  God’s command not to fear is repeated more times than the command to love. That should tell us something about how much God wants us not to live in fear. Of course, Jesus also says we should be meek as lambs and wise as snakes, telling us to have faith.

Faith means believing in something we cannot always see or seeing God at work in something that seems almost as impossible as walking on water. My experience is that if we only believe in what is not risky /or the bottom line/ or on the surface and fail to see the potential, the vision, the possibilities, the heart and soul,/ we lose our way, sink and soon begin to live in darkness. We will walk this fine line between vigilance and hype with every issue in our lives./

Henri Nouwen reminds us about living in fear, being tempted to be safe,  holding on tightly to what we have when strong winds blow.

“As fearful people we are inclined to develop a mind-set that makes us say: ‘There's not enough food for everyone, so I better be sure I save enough for myself in case of emergency,’ or ‘There's not enough love to give to everybody, so I'd better keep my friends for myself to prevent others from taking them away from me. There’s not enough money, so I better hold on tightly to what I have.’”1   This is called scarcity mentality.  It involves hoarding whatever we have, fearful that we won't have enough to survive, to make it through the storm to shore. “The tragedy is that what we cling to so tightly ends up rotting in our hands.”1/

In today’s gospel Jesus feeds a large crowd of 5000 people with five barley loaves and two fish. Perhaps the major miracle was not that these loaves and fishes somehow feed the crowd, but that the people shared food instead of hoarding it so that the uneaten fragments filled twelve baskets.2 

  In our 2006 General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, Katherine Jefferts Schori preached about fear at the closing Eucharist shortly after her election as presiding bishop. She said: “fear is really a reaction, often an unconscious response to something we think is so essential that it takes the place of God. ‘That's mine and you can't take it, because I can't live without it’ -- whether it's my bank account or my theological framework or my sense of being in control. ‘If you threaten what defines me, I will respond with fear.’ Jesus calls us to look beyond these lesser gods..  Jesus gives birth to a new creation/ of love -- and you and I are His (beloved newborn) children.”3

Our previous presiding bishop tells us to listen to the message that God constantly whispers in our ears above the storm. “You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

When we  keep our eyes on Jesus and his love, we are promised that we will lose sight of fear. When we keep remembering we are God’s beloved, when the seas are rough, even in the dark, we begin to respond with less fear. When we know we are all God’s beloved, we begin to recognize God’s presence  in our neighbors and even in those we find the hardest to love.

 When we think we have lost sight of Jesus, we always know where to find him. Jesus is walking in the dark on the rough waters looking for the weakest, the poorest, the most excluded who are desperately trying to weather the wind and the storm in their makeshift boats and rafts. When we spy Jesus with them, we realize they also are our beloved brothers and sisters, and we hear Jesus calling us to help Him bring them to land.

As God’s beloved children we can continue to squabble over the inheritance God has given us,/ or /we can claim our own image as God's beloved and share and recognize that beloved image of God,/ within ourselves,/ within the members of our family,/ within members of this congregation,/ and within our community outside this upside-down boat we worship in.

“Jesus says, ‘It is I: do not be afraid.’ Then the disciples wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.”

1Henri Nouwen, “The Temptation to Hoard,” Daily Meditation for May 6, 2009, Bread for the Journey, a Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, Harper One 1997.

2Malinda Berry, “Living the Word,” Christian Century, July 4, 2018, p. 21.

3The Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. Homily preached the General Convention's Closing Eucharist, Columbus, Ohio, Wednesday, June 21, 2006,

Joanna Seibert

St. Benedict Feast Day 12 Step Eucharist July 11, 2018, St. Mark's Episcopal Church

Benedict of Nursia   Feast day. July 11, 2018 12 step

Today at this 12 step Eucharist we celebrate the feast day of Benedict, the founder of the western monastic life. Benedict was born about 480 in central Italy and educated in Rome. The historians among us will tell us that this was a terrible time to be an Italian and especially a Roman. The Roman empire was dying and there were constant invasions from so called “barbarians” from the north. Civilization was crumbling in the western world. It would be as if our country were under constant invasion and we had become a war zone like what we see on the nightly news in Syria.

But how marvelous does God work. Out of this decaying civilization comes a resurrection, one man who in his attempt to lead a better life develops a rule of life that changes the world. Benedict tries to escape and live as a hermit in a cave above Lake Subiaco, about forty miles west of Rome. But after several years, he realizes he cannot find peace, can not find God in seclusion, but must seek God in community. In forming a community, he develops a simple rule of how to live in community that monastics as well as ordinary people like you and me follow to this day.  Imagine that. We can be healed in community where we could not be healed by ourselves. Sounds very 12 step! His rule is about how to live with each other, how to see God in each other, how to serve God, and how to serve each other.

A few things to remember about Benedict…

1.           Benedict was never ordained. A man who changed the religious life of the world, never ordained.. imagine that. Could God be calling you to do the same.

2.           Besides a rule of life, we owe the preservation of the Holy Scriptures and other ancient writings in large measure to the patience and diligence of Benedictine monastic scribes.

3.           The Benedictine rule was one of balance: living a life of work, study, and prayer: four hours of prayer, five hours of study, six hours of work, one hour of eating, and eight hours of sleeping.

4.           We also owe many of the early labor-saving devices such as windmills, water wheels, rotation of crops to the Benedictines, so that they would not be spending all day at their labors but did have time for study and prayer. Imagine that. Religious people developing windmills, water wheels, and crop rotation!  Benedictines strongly believe in the dignity of work.

5.           Here are some examples of the rule. They are like reading Proverbs:

Live in the presence of God.

When there are difficulties,/ be silent and wait for God.

Be content with everything and everyone.

Love to be silent.

Laugh only at yourself.

Be simply yourself.

My favorite part of the rule are the first words in the prologue which must have been taken from our reading from Proverbs: “Listen with the ear of your heart.” Listen with the ear of your heart.

Today, almost 1500 years after his death, at this Eucharist and healing service in this beautiful chapel, may we hear Benedict whisper in our ears, “today, listen with the ear of your heart.”

Joanna  joannaseibert.com