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Sermon for the Feast of St Benedict of Nursia

Article posted on 24 July 2017 Leave a Comment

Introduction

The day set aside for Benedict is on Tuesday but it seems appropriate to bring it forward to today for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we can remind ourselves of Lent 2015 when we studied a little of the Rule of St Benedict, and secondly, the recent visit of Bishop Steven of Oxford and his vision for the Diocese has resonances of St Benedict also.

Jacob

But let us begin with Jacob.

The name Jacob conveys much about the character of this man. He was a deceiver, a grabber, a man of ambition who cared little for any in his path. Tough, single minded, ruthless.

Through deception he had stolen his elder brothers birthright for which Esau threatened to kill him. He fled from his brother’s wrath and spent many years with his uncle Laban. He was successful, but having fallen out with Laban he deceives him leaving secretly with the family heirlooms. He is heading back to where he came from when he hears that Esau is heading straight for him with an army of 400 men. The stakes are high.

He develops schemes to pacify his brother but at the same time begins to reflect and re-evaluate his life. He has matured and is no stranger to God, he has had some significant spiritual experiences, but perhaps his relationship with God has not been as open and honest as it should have been. He feels a deep sense of being alone. There is a saying that in the wilderness, the only person you will meet is yourself.

The Ford of the Jabbok

And so we hear of this mysterious wrestling with God at the ford of the Jabbok.

Faced with great difficulty he acknowledges his own need of God, his dependence upon the grace of God. He clings on to God refusing to let him go until he blesses him. God does so and gives Jacob a new identity; he becomes a changed man.

Our personal Jabbok

The name Jabbok means ‘a place of passing over’ but it also means ‘struggle, and to empty, to pour out’. It is a place of total surrender.

David Wilkerson of Cross and the Switchblade fame, says some talk of two crossings in the Christian life. There is the Red Sea; a delivery from the slavery of sin and the Jordan; being fully baptised in the church and Holy Spirit. But perhaps there is a third. The Crossing of the Jabbok. Now, we can cross the Red Sea with the multitudes and the Jordan when surrounded with friends, but we cross the Jabbok alone. This is the private space of ourselves and God.

Bishop Steven

Bishop Steven has given us words to explore his vision for the Diocese. Contemplative, Compassionate and Courageous. Opening up the meaning of contemplative he links it first of all to the verse from the Beatitudes, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.’ In other words, blessed are those who know their need of God.

Unpacking contemplative, he calls us to our faith seriously as a dialogue with God. A dialogue is two people thinking together. Imagine having a dialogue with God.

He calls us, ‘to wrestle with God’. To experience our crossing of the Jabbok.

Creating the Space

But we do not live in the wilderness beside the Jabbok river. We live in the busy world with all its demands and stress, distractions and irritations. Where do we find our place and space for the experience of Jabbok?

Esther de Waal, the author of Seeking God, the book we studied about Benedict, once gave a talk at St Paul’s cathedral. You can watch it on YouTube. In this she makes a wonderful comparison with the life of Benedictine monks and the architecture they lived in. She stresses that the monks earned their living. Monasteries were busy places full of the clutter of busyness and people, except for the cloisters. Around the rhythm and structure of the day, the cloisters were always there as an uncluttered space usually with a spring of water – the source of life at the centre. Walking around, the monks would never be far from a symbol of the source of their being.

Where is the uncluttered space in the architecture of our lives?

Are our lives structured around a centre of our source of being?

Where can we, as Benedict says, ‘hold ourselves still before the gaze of God.’

Integrating and Acting

The Rule of St Benedict is a humane and realistic discipline to help create that uncluttered space and using it to lead us to Christ. One of its key rules – stability, is about living with the reality of present circumstances. It is not about escaping, but integrating.

It is also about a quality of listening which involves mindfulness, an awareness which turns listening from a cerebral activity into a living response.

Compassionate

One response given by Bishop Steven is to be compassionate and courageous. In our gospel, we hear how Jesus had compassion on them for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Compassion is more than empathy, and includes a gut wrenching desire to do something about it. Steven calls us to listen to the communities around us and to identify with the lost, the least and the last. He quotes Pope Francis, ‘the church’s very credibility is shown in the way she shows mercy and compassion and love.’

Courageous

To be courageous is to deepen our vision of what it means to be human, to make a difference in our communities, to be bold and consistent in our evangelism and witness and to face the future with great hope.

Then he said to his disciples, ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.

Amen.

 

Terry Winrow

9 July 2017

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