Love looks to the eternal. Love is indeed ‘ecstasy,’ not in the sense of a
moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out
of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self- giving,
and this towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.
(Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas)
Today we at St. Michael and All Angels are doing two things. First we are continuing our spiritual journey together, one that we have been making for some time. Each of us is here because as a spiritual family, we have dared to be embraced in the loving arms of our Saviour Jesus Christ as a people in exile or exodus. What I mean is that we have been like wayfaring people, seeking a home, a place and space where God might move us and where we might be moved by God. We began our journey into the wilderness at the Hoyte Cathedral, where we were blessed by the kindness and generosity of Pam and Otho. It is not every day that a married couple is asked to turn their living room into a make-shift chapel, a fellowship hall, and the command–central of Christian missionary activities such as ours. More cynical people would have rolled their eyes and said that there was no room for them at the inn. (St. Luke ii. 7) To Pam and Otho we offer our heart-felt thanks and gratitude. And from there, thanks to the good offices of Arianne, we made our way to the ABCCM. Arianne’s colleague Bill, whose mission serves the hungry, the naked, the homeless, and the lost, decided that there was always more room for strays and waifs like us at his inn. The people that Bill serves are looking for love, care, compassion, and a helping hand in an otherwise cruel and insouciant world – oblivious, as it is, to the raw, tangible, and real pain that infects a nation that has lost its spiritual way. How apposite and appropriate that we spiritual pilgrims were given refuge in such a place. For we too had been seeking the love, care, compassion, and pity of others as we prayerfully sought to find a place and space to continue our healing journey of salvation. So to Bill we offer great thanks for having provided to us wayfaring pilgrims an oasis in the dessert of this difficult world. And now today we find ourselves here in what used to be TheTutti Frutti Yogurt Bar. And please don’t ask me to explain the spiritual significance of that name!
Now I said that today we are doing two things. Having described the first, I now turn to the second. We are coming out of a kind of exodus and wilderness and into a place of stability and fixity. By the Grace of God we now have a place and space that we can call our own. But this does not mean that our journey has ended. Rather, in some radical sense, our spiritual pilgrimage together is just beginning. For some days now so many of you have been working tirelessly to make ready this place and to lay a foundation. Thanks to your labors of love, now from an immovable and stable spot we can begin the true mission to which we are called. Our mission is the spread of the Gospel of Love.
In my opening remarks I quoted the, now, Emeritus-Pope Benedict XVI. I have repeated the words of the retired Pontiff of the Roman Church because I feel a great sympathy for the labor of love that he brought to the world through his tireless work of preaching and teaching. It may be that the world had not been ready to have the kind of Pope that Benedict was. He was a scholar, a teacher, and according to good sources an exceptional pastor. Relying as he always did on the learning that he gleaned from his Master St. Bonaventure, the Doctor Seraphicus,or the Doctor of Love, he exhorted his flock zealously to the love of God as revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ. His theme was one of Love, and yet his understanding of it was both prudent and cautious. He knew the human condition, and so understood that true love is a thing obtained and possessed only by hard work, determination, effort, and persistence. Love looks to the eternal. Love is indeed ‘ecstasy,’ not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self- giving, and this towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God. (PopeBenedict XVI, Deus Caritas) Love is always about a journey out of one form of life and into another, or out of the human and into the divine, over and through the rough terrain of trials, sufferings, pain, and death and onto the trail that leads to eternal freedom and salvation.
And what a wonderful theme with which to begin our new journey together here today! We find ourselves at the end of the Church’s Resurrection season. We have been learning about the hard and difficult trial the Apostles endured during Jesus’ forty days of appearances to them. In that time their knowledge expanded slowly, as Jesus Christ –Love in the flesh - began to draw them into the net of his mission. From the Apostles we learn that Jesus’ mission is the labor and work of Love that is slowly understood, received, applied to human life, and then shared with others. Jesus’ mission is not easy. It calls every man to a process of progressive and patient transformation. Jesus’ mission is our mission, and that mission is a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed, inward-looking self towards its liberation through self- giving, and this towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God. (Ibid) Christ draws love out of his friends the Apostles. When he meets them on the first day of the week, they are broken-hearted and tormented by what must have seemed friendship forsaken and love forlorn. But their Love returns, it rises up before them and then slowly from within their hearts they become ecstatically one with Christ’s mission and meaning. Christ desires that as he came out of himself, down from heaven and into the earth, so too will his friends now come out of themselves, up from the earth and into the same ecstatic Love that returns to the Father. Love is a journey out of the self and into the discovery of God. Those who follow Christ travel with him to the origin and source of all Love, God the Father, and then out again and into the world, that others may be swept up and into the same ecstasy that leads men to their true destiny, meaning, and freedom.
And yet, as Pope Benedict suggests, the Mission of Love that is to characterize the Christian journey is not some temporary charismatic experience. It is the work of a lifetime, an ongoing ecstasy. Ecstasy means coming out of oneself, and in the Christian context it means coming out of and away from the self-centered self. As we all know, this is very difficult business. For this reason St. James exclaims to the members of his new and budding Christian mission this morning, Be ye not hearers of the Word only, but doers also. (St. James i. 22) For whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (St. James i. 25) Eternal Love offers true liberty or freedom to man. The one who patiently and persistently embraces this Love discovers that it is the eternal desire of God’s Word for man in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is Love made flesh, and He is also God’s Word made flesh. God’s Word is the ecstatic love and desire for our salvation. Yet if we merely hear this Word, and do not embrace it in our hearts and souls as what God desires for us to obey and follow, we are like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (St. James i. 23, 24) If we only hear the Word and fail to obey and follow it, we are lost like those who forget who they are and what they need. We forget that we are sinners in need of salvation. We forget that we are lost and need to be found. We forget that we are sick and need a physician. Our vocation and calling, our mission and meaning, are to journey in Jesus from sin into righteousness, from futility into meaning, and from death into life. What is clear is this: Jesus alone loves this new life into being. To embrace his love we must obey and follow him, remembering who we are and what we need. To embrace his ecstatic Love we must die to our old sinful selves, and give ourselves to that Divine Passion that alone reveals and discloses our authentic meaning in the discovery of God. For… whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (St. James i. 25)
My brothers and sisters, today we begin our mission from a secure and stable place that will become our spiritual home. This is Rogation Sunday. Rogation is a derivative of the Latin word rogare, meaning to ask or pray. Jesus tells us today to ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (St. John xvi. 24) Love calls us to journey with him back to the Father and beyond. And thus we should ask and desire that he will give us the wisdom and power to accomplish the same. Today we are called to ask for his love, to petition his mercy, to seek out his wisdom, and to obtain his power that we might become a part of his ongoing mission and labor. We ask that we might not be hearers only but doers of the Word…. (St. James i. 22) We pray that we might allow God’s Word to be seen and heard in the evidence of our lives. We pray that we might pray as Christ Jesus prays, or rather in his name and nature – so that our prayer becomes a part of his converse with the Father by his Holy Spirit. We pray, in other words, that we might reveal the Eternal Love that not only moves the heavens and the earth, but stoops down from on high to transform and carry every human being back into its ecstatic embrace. Let us close with the words of Sir Philip Sydney, no stranger to God and his ecstatic love.
Leave me, O love which reachest but to dust;
And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things;
Grow rich in that which never takest rust,
Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings . . .
Draw in thy beams, and humble all thy might
To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be;
Which breaks the clouds and opens forth in light,
That doth both shine and give us light to see.
O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide
In this small course which birth draws out to death,
And think how evil becometh him to slide,
Who seeketh heav’n, and comes of heav’nly breath,
Then farewell, world; the uttermost I see;
Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons