“The Mystery of the Real,” February 9, 2020, The Rev. Daniel Simons
Sermon preached by the Reverend Daniel Simons
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Solemn Evensong with Benediction for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
We are gathering here tonight in Benediction —beholding in the bread of the Eucharist the Presence of Christ. This might seem an arcane thing to do, but really, at a deeper level, it is the most natural thing in the world! Let me unpack what I mean.
When we were born, we came into the world with no sense of division from our source. A baby has no initial sense of separation from her mother. Actually, birth is that first rude disruption of that innocence, that sense of relatedness. And it just gets more disruptive from there.
And so we learn. We learn what is mom and what is not mom. We learn what is hunger and what is fullness. We learn what is safe and what is unsafe, what is mine and what is not mine, what is my tribe, what is my place, what are my limits. All these distinctions train us to believe that things are either this OR that. Right or wrong. Good or bad. Sacred or profane.
As we grow and learn distinctions, we unfortunately lose touch with that primal sense of connectedness that we were born with, and the sense of self that we create becomes self-ish and lives in a world where, unless I put myself first, there will never be enough, never asking “Enough for WHAT?”
Jesus addresses this tension of distinction and connection when he stops the adults from beating back the children and calls them into the center of his teaching. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it I to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs,” he says.
In an age of helicopter parents we might miss the scandal of his action. Jesus was not applauding the children’s innocence or purity or wonder, but rather their vulnerable unimportance. Of course children were precious then as now, but in a different way.
The majority of children died before adulthood, so you had lots of them if you could. They were more like livestock — an asset, insurance, a labor force, something to trade with in marriage, your retirement. But they were never seen as worthy of being the center of attention. They were still incomplete humans.
What Jesus is doing here by calling them to the center of the circle is what he is doing in the mirror story that follows it, where the rich man walks out of the circle because he can’t see the contradiction between holding on to all his stuff and stepping into eternal life.
It’s this inversion of things that the ego doesn’t like: that the way up is down, the way forward is inward. If you want to win you must be vulnerable, or as Paul says, When I am weak, then I am strong.
Queer theory has two central principles that orient the discipline. I think they succinctly encapsulate what Jesus is doing here and in almost every other recorded action in his ministry:
- Centralizing the marginal
- Breaking down false binaries.
By definition, God has no peripheral vision. The medieval Franciscan theologian Bonaventure said God is the one “whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” Everything is equally central to God. So if we’ve marginalized it, we are seeing with partial, obstructed vision.
Jesus centralized the children not because they were better than adults but because they had no voice, and were vulnerable, and were marginalized.
And to the second point: children have not yet learned to create the false binaries that often rule adult lives. They see what they see; they know what they know, Children don’t make-believe. They just make. And they believe.
When I was a kid, I used to play in the school yard under the Norway pine trees, with all the kids who didn’t fit on the sports field, and we used to build houses out of pine needles. We just bunched together the carpet of needles into floor-plans really. Walls and rooms and doors.
No one needed to tell us they weren’t houses. But they were real. Bunching those pine needles together really mattered. It would have been a totally different (boring) activity if we just had to sit there with our hands folded imagining houses.
Bunching together those pine needles and seeing the house take shape, and making additions and renovations was exhilarating and creative, and probably could have only happened because there were no adults around to give us advice on what we were doing.
I said earlier that at a deeper level the Veneration of the Blessed Sacrament was an entirely natural and obvious act — IF we are seeing it with the undivided eye with which God sees the cosmos, and if we are doing it like children.
We make things special so that by focusing on them we can see their connectedness to other things.
If we make the sacrament special in a way that is magically not like anything else on the planet, we simply perpetuate a sacred / profane dualism that cannot be true if God is the wholeness that holds all things in being.
But if we focus on one thing and see God’s presence intensely in it as a way of seeing God equally everywhere else, then we are on the contemplative path toward that whole-seeing, seeing as God sees.
When Javier and I got married, Sara Miles, who married us, looked into our eyes as we began the service and said “This is real.”
Those three words took our breath away and have stayed with us ever since. Something we could have barely imagined was suddenly made manifest.
What a mystery! Like this, what we are doing here. These mysteries are not things we will never understand, rather they are things we will be endlessly coming to understand.
So come, let us adore. Let us attend to the ten million sacraments of God in this world, and especially of this moment, this present moment.
This is Real.