Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 25, 2014
May each day hold a greeting from the Spirit of God, each night be visited by the dove of peace, and the life of God-with-us be lived in wisdom, truth, and grace. Amen.
I’ve always enjoyed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mystery story characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Many actors have played these roles in film and my favorites are Basil Rathbone and Bruce Nigel. The two happened to be camping in the desert; they set up their tent and fall asleep. Some hours later, Sherlock Holmes woke his friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson replies, “I see millions of stars.”
“What does that tell you, old chap?” asks Sherlock Holmes.Watson ponders for a minute. “Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it’s evident the Lord is all powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Sherlock Holmes is silent for a moment, then speaks. “Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent.”
Sometimes in delving too deep into a mystery we miss the obvious. John’s short Gospel this morning is full of theological depth and mystery and we could spend more than the usual twelve minutes unpacking what is hidden behind these seven verses. Let’s not. Let’s first look at what may be obvious from the frame work of our worship today.
Today is “Rogation” Sunday from the Latin word “rogare” which means “to ask for,” “to beseech.” Historically, it was a day when the church asked for God’s blessing for the seed, for the soil, for those who labor in the fields and for all of God’s creation which includes all of us. The hymns and anthems are richly full of imagery of seasons and soil and all the blessings with which the earth has been endowed by the Creator.
The other obvious theme of the day is love. Jesus speaks of love to his friends as he prepares them for his imminent departure, the overflowing love they receive from him for one another and for the world, a love that will be emboldened by the coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. This love is far more than just an expression of emotion. It will be exemplified and will come to life by how they will live and treat others, not just by what they say they believe.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Typically, we take this to mean that we are asked to avoid the things that God codified into law for Moses and the Hebrews. We don’t steal, lie, disrespect, murder, etc. We may take it a step up and look to the two great commandments that instruct us to love God with our all and our neighbor as ourselves. Or we may keep it really simple and use the standard, the new commandment that Jesus gave us on the night of his betrayal: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
I wonder, though, if we might broaden our understanding of the notion of love and its expression through observing commandments. We have developed affection at St. Paul’s for Celtic spirituality, celebrating the Eucharist each Thursday evening with prayers and music that reflect this tradition and its beautiful theology.
You may be aware that it is an ancient tradition that draws from a rich and diverse selection of Celtic sources on creation and that it clashed with the tradition fostered by Rome and, sadly, lost the battle. The prayers of the Celtic Saints are filled with experiences of God’s presence in creation, simplicity of living in harmony with creation, and awareness of the sacredness of all things. The Psalms are full of praise for God’s handiwork in nature, and Celtic Christianity followed in that tradition reflected in prayers and poems which spoke of God’s power and majesty revealed in creation.
Six times in the Book of Genesis we find “And God looked at the Creation, and said: ‘It is good.’ This speaks to the Sacred Presence that is to be found in us and in the physical, sensual, natural world. St. Columbanus said – ‘If you want to know God, first get to know God’s creation.’ If there is any one word that would sum up the essence of Celtic Spirituality, it’s the word “presence—” awareness of the Sacred Presence at every moment of life, in all places.
Each day allows us to explore a different aspect of creation as a manifestation of God, revealing divine presence at the heart of everyday life.
In the second reading today, we find Paul addressing a group of first century Greeks, acknowledging how extremely religious they were but worshipping at an Altar honoring an unknown god. He tells them that the God who made the world does not live in shrines made by humans. Furthermore, God is not far from us nor is God somewhere at an unbridgeable distance but very present is so many and diverse expressions of Sacred Presence.
When we gathered for that glorious liturgy of the Great Vigil last month and renewed our baptismal covenant, we did so with the addition of two promises: Will you cherish the beauty of God’s creation, and protect the integrity of all living things? Will you respect the diversity of life on earth, and protect the goodness of God’s creation?
If the love and honor and respect for creation that our holy ancestors the Celts held so dear can inform our relationship with creation in all its manifestations, these are commitments—commandments—we need to take as seriously as all others. Perhaps Jesus might have added to the list of his parting instructions, “If you love me, you will cherish the beauty of God’s creation, protect the integrity of all living things, respect the diversity of life on earth, and protect the goodness of God’s creation.”
One final obvious theme of this weekend is remembrance. We remember the precious gift of freedom and all those who gave their lives so that we might not lose it. We remember those who are still not yet free—both for whom that circumstance is obvious and for whom it is not. We remember that God’s gracious abundance supports and sustains our lives. We remember that the bounty and beauty with which our earth and our lives have been blessed tells us that God’s economy is one of abundance, not scarcity.
Indeed the key to the spiritual life is remembrance: of God, ourselves, one another, all creation and our inescapable relatedness to each. And we remember that God is ever abiding with us, that God has moved in with us, that awareness of that Sacred Presence is obvious at every moment of life and in all places. And for that we give profound thanks.