St. Simon’s on the Sound
October 22, 2017
I want to begin with some thoughts about Benedict of Nursia, perhaps better known to us as St. Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, the founder of the Order of St. Benedict and the author of St. Benedict’s Rule of Life.
Benedict was born in Rome, where he lived the life of a well-to-do Roman citizen for many years. However, by the time he was 20, the power-hungry political turmoil and the steep decline in social and religious values that permeated Roman society in fifth-century Rome drove Benedict, a deeply religious man, into self-imposed exile in Subiaco about 10 miles from Rome. There Benedict entered a life of prayer and ascetism. He lived for several years as a hermit in small cave. However, as time went on Benedict emerged from the cave and began life in the outside world, first as a monk and then as an Abbott, in a monastery not far from his cave.
After several years of monastic life Benedict found himself deeply disillusioned by the decadence that had invaded even the monasteries of the time. He, once again, withdrew to his cave where he wrote his Rule of Life – a roadmap that provided a daily guide to a lifestyle that he believed to be foundational to a truly spiritual life.
Ultimately, Benedict moved from his cave in Subiaco to the town of Cassino, Italy. It is in Cassino that Benedict formed the Order of St. Benedict - an alliance of twelve communities for monks. The Rule of St. Benedict became the way of life for all monks living within the Order. Perhaps, more importantly, it has become a way of life for thousands of people, both clergy and laity, and is still incredibly relevant as a guide to a spiritual life in our own world these 1500 years later.
The intent of Benedict’s Rule was, and is, to provide clear rules - ways of daily living - that support us in a life that is completely God-centered. The Rule is direct; it is clear; and, it is a relatively uncomplicated. It is a brief text that uses simple language to explain a way of life that has great meaning for us even now.
The Rule of St. Benedict is concerned with living a life that is completely God-centered: what that life is all about, what it demands of us, and how we are to live it.Benedict teaches us that if we want to live a spiritual life, a truly God-centered life, in this chaotic world of distractions, we must be deliberate in doing so. We must be aware of the distractions going on around us, allow ourselves to experience their impact on us and the world, and then understanding their impact, we must move beyond them.
Obedience to the Rule - the willingness to listen and respond to God in life - God always the center of our activities, no matter what else tugs at us - that is the way, writes Benedict - if we are to live a truly spiritual life.
In today’s Epistle, we read the opening verses of Paul’s first letter to his congregation in Thessalonica, where he had recently established a church. The letter expresses loving support to this, perhaps his most beloved community, is filled with praise for the way in which this fledgling church in Macedonia was both welcoming to visiting apostolic missionaries and proclaiming the Good News in their community, despite pressure to revert to their pagan ways.
“We always give thanks to God for all of you…remembering before our God and Father your work in faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ,” says Paul.
Later in the same letter, Paul writes,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. Thess 5:12-22
Paul preceded St. Benedict by almost 400 years, but their messages are essentially one and the same: maintain a peaceful community, love and respect each other, work to propagate the common good, and continue regularly in prayer and the reading of scripture, to refresh and re-focus your life. These intentional behaviors focused on the sacred are both central and essential to leading a God-centered life.
I begin with Benedict and Paul because I believe that their sound advice on the ways in which we can, all of us, live out our baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves and striving for justice and peace among all people is of critical importance in today’s world.
I can assure you that in recent days their teachings have been of critical importance to my own personal reaction to and ways of coping with events of the past several months. And, as I thought about writing today’s sermon, I was wondering if you also were struggling with similar feelings and, like me, in search of ways to refresh your spirit - your faith – in the face of daily distractions that pull at our emotions, as well as our faith.
Our political world has become a minefield of strong and unyielding opinions that seem always to focus on the negative. This side versus that side, he said – she said, polarization of the most dangerous sort. Divisiveness that leads not to unity, but to hate, violence and terrorism.
Our media is saturated with talking heads who probe mercilessly for scandal and controversy. Tweets scroll across our TV screens shouting out messages designed to polarize those who hold differing views. Character assassination is common. Fake news leads us down dangerous paths of misinformation and erroneous and negative opinions.
And then, of course, there is the onslaught of natural disasters that has befallen the world - hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and fires. The destruction has been unfathomable: entire areas - heavily populated areas - of our world now uninhabitable, too many people have died - too many people are suffering.
And then, we come to the massacre in Las Vegas. There are no words to express the horror, the trauma, the scar on our corporate psyche that this event has inflicted upon us all. A priest that I met recently shared that the Sunday after this horrendous massacre she could not preach - instead she led her congregation in an extended period of silent prayer. The horror of it all was too great for her - she could find no words to express her grief.
What are we do to with all of this - these feelings of grief, shock, horror, and disbelief. The reality that so many things that were once sacred to us are no longer sacred – no longer valued. So many values that we all once held no longer exist.
In today’s gospel Jesus commands us to serve God, giving to Caesar only what is due a persona in authority over civil matters. We are to “Give to God the things that are God’s.” God is the supreme and eternal being. His love for us is unparalleled and unceasing. His faith in us unwavering. We are to love God as He loves us, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, always - no matter who, no matter when, no matter where.
Jesus’ command is easy to comprehend, and an easy one to give lip service to. However, living into that command is far from easy. In fact, almost impossible if we are numbed by the events of our lives and the world and distracted by other gods, Caesar type gods.
That’s where Benedict and Paul enter in. Benedict informs us of a way of life that leads to God, no matter what is going on around us. A disciplined life that pushes us into regular and prayerful readings of Scripture, well-defined love and humility based ways of interacting with those around us, and a way of life that forms beloved communities.
If Benedict gives us the Rule, it is Paul who gives us a model to consider - the church in Thessalonica. A church built and sustained by those living in a community of prayer, love, and disciplined focus on serving God, despite the pressures imposed by the Roman Empire of worshiping other gods.
That leads me to St. Simon’s and what all this means for us sitting here, oh so many years later. St. Simon’s is our beloved community. A place where we come each week to gather in prayer and the reading and study of scripture. A place where we gather each week to discern the work that God has given us to do. And, perhaps most importantly, a place from which we are sent out, out into the world to build beloved communities.
St Simon’s is an important place. It is a place that offers us the abundant life that God has in mind for us. It is a place that we treasure, a place where we are loved and where we love others, a place that draws us to it not only on Sundays, but also on many other days of the week, to seek and serve God, through prayer, education and fellowship.
St Simon’s is our oasis in the desert world of hunger, disaster, violence, terrorism, personal grief and so many other feelings that can lead to both personal and spiritual numbness.
St. Simon’s is our spiritual oasis in the midst of the multiple tragedies that we are witness to. Without St. Simon’s it would be so easy to succumb to a numbness that dulls our faith and leaves us spiritually adrift. And, once numbed to the world around us, it would be so easy to become numb to the love of God. To lose sight of God’s plan for us - not only a plan of servant hood, but also a plan of life filled with abundance and joy. Abundance and joy that, both intentionally and unintentionally, spills over in the lives of our families and all those whom we encounter.
Our Gospel begins today with the phrase, “The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus.” Of course, Jesus would have none of it. He wisely dealt with their distractions without ever losing sight of God. In the end, it is the Pharisees who are tricked into confusion and retreat. God reigns.
My prayer for us all is that we will use the gift of St. Simon’s as the abundant, joyful, and loving oasis in our lives that it truly is. I also pray, that as we go forth into the world after each Sunday’s dismissal we will use the tools offered by those such as St. Benedict to stay refreshed throughout the week, and that we allow our sense of abundance, joy and love to spill over to others as we go about our day to day business, at home and elsewhere.