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Archive for June, 2015


BenedictFrom a Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 2015, (Given at St. Alban’s, Richmond, Virginia)

“I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”  -Romans 8:18

Friday, June 26th, in the year of our Lord 2015, creation groaned.  A man-made court issued a pronouncement on that which is not main-made but is ordained of God.  That Friday, God’s creation groaned as a man-made institution made a proclamation on marriage that is directly contrary to the law of God.  Against the law of the Constitution, too, perhaps, but more importantly for us as orthodox, traditional Christians it defied the law of God.  Creation groaned under its weight.

The ground under our feet has shifted fundamentally. “Discerning the meaning of the present moment requires sobriety, precisely because its radicalism requires of us as Christians a realistic sense of how weak our position is in post-Christian America.”

“It is now clear that extremism in the pursuit of the Sexual Revolution’s goals is no vice.” True, the Court gave a nod and a wink at the First Amendment in an attempt to calm those who might find themselves just a wee bit worried about religious liberty. But when a court is willing to invent rights out of nothing, it is impossible to have faith that the First Amendment will offer any but the most minimal protection to religious dissenters from homosexualist orthodoxy.  As Mr. Justice Alito warned, the decision “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

Of course, the next goal of homosexualist activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from religious institutions and faith-communities who will not submit. However, the more immediate goal will be the shunning, then the vilification and, finally, the persecution of dissenters within civil society. This already is happening in a number of venues ranging from wedding-cake bakers, to photographers who refuse to be party to homosexual “marriages”. As orthodox Christians, beloved in Christ, we must understand that this situation is going to get much more difficult for us.

As commentator Rod Dreher put it aptly, “We are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country. We are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution.” And, so we are going to be called to suffer for our faith. We are going to have to change the way we practice our faith and teach it to our children.  To do this we are going to have to build resilient communities in the face of suffering.

We may look for easy answers, but there aren’t any.  Suffering is complex, but you know it is a part of love, real love—particularly of loving others as Christ loves us.  “The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.” (Thomas Merton)

And so we come to the question of suffering which is treated straight on in the Epistle for the Fourth Sunday in Trinity.  Romans 8 is in a sense a unique passage in that it brings before us one of the most interesting and mysterious questions of human life: our fellowship in suffering with the world in which we live-a world that seemingly has taken leave of its senses-and the common redemption which awaits all creation.  This is the direction in which we must live, and work and teach.

Saint Paul’s main thought in this passage is that suffering is the pathway to glory.  Let’s say that again.  Suffering is the pathway to glory. And, since in that suffering it is not man alone, but all creation is involved, so all creation awaits and expects a redemption which shall be revealed through man when he reaches the goal of his life and enters upon the glories of eternity.  That’s a big theme.  That’s real comfort for us in times of suffering.

Saint Paul begins by comparing the sufferings of earth with the glories of heaven. Beloved in Christ, our sufferings are not light.  We know this in many ways. From the viewpoint of our broader Christian experience, the dreariest thing we can do is read or listen to the news, particularly in the last several days. In truth it has become a season of groaning, and the present one seems to be full of turbulence and distress.

St. Paul speaks of all creation groaning and travailing in pain. But here is the hope: so overwhelming is the glory to which they lead, that St. Paul deliberately reaches the conclusion that no real comparison is possible. We find the same thought expressed elsewhere in the words, “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”(2 Cor.)

How can he say this?  Well, my beloved, anyone who has only superficially studied Saint Paul’s life could fall into the error of believing that he had an easy go, a free ride, that he was unacquainted with sorrow and trial.  However, few people ever suffered more than he; but so clear is his conception of the glory to which these sufferings lead, that he speaks of them as “light,” as “but for a moment,” as “not to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed.”

So, then what are we to do, you and I?   As a third-order Benedictine, I have often said that a monastic type of life will be our future. This was echoed by Mr.  Dreher and others in the wake of Friday’s events.  We are called to what Mr. Dreher has identified as “the Benedict Option”.

In his 1982 book After Virtue, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new and doubtless very different St. Benedict,” while we await a new and different creation.

Throughout the early Middle Ages, St. Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped re-found civilization.

I believe that we orthodox Christians are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. So, how do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions and suffering?

We can begin with fervent, regular prayer in community, of the sort that goes on in St. Alban’s every weekday morning at eight o’clock.  We must study as the Benedictines, and genuinely work at learning our faith in a deep and profound way.  We must teach as have the Benedictines in their renowned abbey schools. We must work tirelessly as do the Benedictines and be hospitable to the stranger and sojourner so that we can bring them inside the community to teach. I am not certain if there are other ways, but we had better figure this out together, and soon, as the hour have grown very late.

“The actions of our Supreme Court on Friday last are signs of the times for those with eyes to see. This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert” or preaching repentance while chained to the top of a column in the village square. No. “This is the view of four Supreme Court justices, in effect declaring from the bench the decline and fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order” and the concomitant impending suffering of the traditional Christian order.

St. Paul would remind us though that these pains and sufferings, which wring a groan not just from the faithful, but from all of nature, are but the travail pains which lead to birth into a better world. If we allow it, these sufferings will carry us up, up into a higher state than we now know. This is the hope which St. Paul sets before us.  This is the hope of all creation-to be delivered from the bondage of our present state, and to be born into a new world wherein dwelleth righteousness.

Now? Now we have sorrow in the experience of the birth pains which precede that deliverance. But, beloved in Christ, morning is coming.  Morning is coming and all nature will share with us in the glories of this deliverance.  Amen.

-With profound thanks to Mr. Rod Dreher, Orthodox Christian, whose Time article I have “borrowed” liberally throughout this sermon.

 

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“LORD, thou hast been our refuge, * from one generation to another.”-Psalm 90:1

Longtime and well-loved parishioner Carolyn “Callie” Russell, wife of Charlie Russell, has entered the Larger Life in Christ. Services are scheduled for 11:00 am on Saturday, July 18th at St. Alban’s. A former Naval officer, she will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery at a date to be determined. Please join in offering our prayers to Charlie and the family:

REMEMBER thy servant, O Lord, according to the favour which thou bearest unto thy people, and grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of thee, she may go from strength to strength, in the life of perfect service, in thy heavenly kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

Memory Eternal.

In Christ,

Canon Nalls

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REMINDER-On Sunday, June 21 there will be a single service at 10:00 am. Bp. Lerow will be visiting the parish for Confirmations. A lunch will follow the service. Please plan to bring a dish and join us for a wonderful Sunday.
In Christ,
Canon Nalls

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